Wednesday, November 11, 2009


We have a wonderful wedding coming up over the near horizon. It is the lovely Mary Pat who will be gliding down the aisle. It is hard to believe that in a month from today, little MP will be a Mrs. What a stunning bride she will be!
Our daily mail is full of response cards, most of them saying “yes”, with only a few regrets. And that is all well and good, since you write them out hoping people will attend. But anybody who has done this lately knows the drill. There is supposed to be something like a 20% expectancy of “no’s”, so maybe you “overbook” a little. You know, “Old Uncle Gerald and Aunt Zelda, they won’t come. They never show up, God love ‘em.”
So guess whose card showed up in the affirmative today? Boys and girls, we ain’t nowhere near that number with about a month to go.
No worries, though. I can stuff a ham sandwich in my tux coat, maybe throw a few more plates out. Jill likes celery sticks and dip, and Joanie, she can snatch a couple of chicken strips from the grandkids. I am reminded of the scene in the movie “Father of the Bride” where Steve Martin learns of the passing of an old business associate, and he yells “YES, two less!” to the horror of his family.
But really, in the grand scheme of things, it’s only money.
Speaking of which, the mail also yielded an envelope with a retirement projection I requested. I immediately began pounding the calculator, checking the numbers to see when this momentous occasion might occur. What with our investments… check that, the bequest from my parents, and Jill’s retirement account having taken a beating over the past year, this event of bidding adieu to the scholars of North County will, alas, need to be delayed. Looks like I’m showing up in khaki’s and button-down’s for a few years more.
But like I said, it’s only money.
And today, again courtesy of the friendly mailman (ours really is a nice guy), we got an annual report from an organization called Meds and Food for Kids. I think I may have mentioned them here before. It seems that this St. Louis-based foundation that produces a peanut butter-like nutritional product called Medika Mamba that saves over 4000 Haitian kids a year from starvation and malnutrition is launching a capital funds campaign. They have visions of replacing the current converted two-story house they now use to put together their life-saving concoction with a modern production facility.
And so amidst the wedding preparations, the fretting about post-work finances, and the very real fact that can you believe there are only 65 more shopping days left ‘til Christmas, it looks like a check will soon be in the mail to bring a smile to that young child with peanut butter on her chin.
Hey, you all know it as well as I… it’s only money.

Friday, September 11, 2009


You could never accuse me of being on the cutting edge of technology. I was the last kid on the family block to have such now-commonplace gadgets as a garage door opener and a cordless phone. I play the old cassette tape recorder in the basement when I work out. And I still don’t know how to program the VCR. What’s that you say… there’s something called TIVO? Well, what will they think of next?
However, tech challenged as I am, I have recently become a member of the Facebook family. This social networking phenomenon started in 2006 boasts over 200 million users. I have run into people from long-past years, and even found out some things about the family before my wife, which is a real coup since she could have been a top agent for the CIA the way she gathers information. She might tell me something and I smugly say “Yeah, I knew that, saw it on Facebook,” to which she merely rolls her eyes and laughs softly at the idea of Grampa hob-knobbing in cyberspace with the young and restless of our clan. From my exhaustive research, which mainly consisted of talking with my daughters and my students, I have found out that there are many other avenues to spread the most inane facts of ones life to the universe. They carry names like MySpace and Bebo for the younger set, Linkedin for business purposes, and Skype for those into the visual method of e-talk. Then, there’s that old reliable, texting. Speaking of which, I don’t leave messages on anyone’s cell phone anymore, since they never checked them anyway. The return call consisted of this: “Hey, you called?” “Yeah, didn’t you get my message?”
To which the answer was always “no”, delivered in a somewhat exasperated tone. So I’ve joined the ranks of the Thumb Warriors, and the results are mixed. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think the fat little digit that faces in a different direction from its four mates was made for such a dexterous activity. Maybe I can invent a new device where good old Thumbkin functions as he was meant to and we can tap-tap those miniscule keys like the Good Lord intended when He invented index fingers and Blackberry’s in the first place!
As popular as these methods may be, there are some problems.
Texting while driving is like rolling down the street with your eyes closed. Once you put something into the air, or wherever it goes, it’s out there, baby, for all to see. And talk about addictive. With all due respect to those who partake in e-talk, is it really necessary to tell your network that “I just got home and boy am I tired.” So go to bed, already!
I have a theory. All these electrical impulses bouncing around in the stratosphere at all hours of day and night may be the real reason behind global warming.
Hey, maybe I should Tweet about it?

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Yellow seems to be the prevailing color these days, especially on the highways and byways of our fair community. Those large purveyors of our youth, the school buses, are signaling the start of yet another school year.
For some, kids and parents alike, it’s just the latest piece of the recurring puzzle. Shopping for shoes, a new backpack, maybe even a computer on tax-free weekend. A fond farewell to the lazier days of a summer well spent.
But for others, those entering into a new era, it can be a time of tears and trepidation.
Our little clan is feeling it at both ends of the school age spectrum. At the front side, the older grandkids are stepping out into the world of pencils and crayons with full force. The first two girls are big-shot first graders now, relative veterans in the game. The next, the first boy, is tackling full day kindergarten. It was a precious moment when Clara, one of the vets, called her younger cousin the day before school started.
“Don’t be nervous, Bubba. I was at first but then it’s okay. You get used to it.” A bit of love at the “littles” level.
Now at the other end of the school span, we have the story of the Joanster. Off to mid-Missouri we trekked last week, two carloads of clothes and bags and shoes and hampers in tow. As we packed up that morning, I stopped for a moment and looked around the neighborhood. Where did that little kid go who at two years old grabbed the string of ID cards and her big sisters swimsuit and toddled 2 blocks to the community pool? Who at four insisted she spoke Spanish, and jabbered incessantly to her Cabbage Patch doll with the broken piece in the noggin that she named Baby Shaky Head? The kid who rolled up and down the sidewalk for hours on her scooter with best friend Sammy, their pink oversized helmets jostling all the way?
How could it be that this beautiful birdie was about to fly?
Those nests we build seem to take a lifetime to finish. Then, in a day, in an hour, in an instant, they’re empty. For us, this marks the end of a 34-year era. For her, it’s the start of a grand adventure. Joanie’s mommy, who has used up her yearly allotment of Kleenex during these past few days, has a favorite quote for moments such as this. It comes from the song “Closing Time”, and it goes “Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.”
For years, we had a poster that also helps sum up what this is all about. The script is simple, yet profound.
“There are two great things parents can give their children. One is roots. The other, wings.”
As we and countless others out there bid goodbye to our own, some for a day, some for longer, we pray that these roots have grown deep enough.
And that those wings may they have the strength to reach heights unimagined.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


It seems that everywhere you turn lately, people are losing their jobs. Or their organization is downsizing, leaving them wondering if the next visit to the boss’s office will include a complimentary cardboard box for their personals. This economic downturn that we are experiencing is being felt in every facet of our lives, every profession, and every community, as well as every age group. I know of more than a few men and women who have been cut from the payrolls and are having considerable trouble securing a new job. Age discrimination is supposed to be illegal, but one friend of ours decided to color her hair from a lovely silver to up her chances in the job derby. And guess what… it worked.
My own profession of teaching is not immune to troubles. Generally considered a recession-proof field, education is seeing not only cuts in staff numbers but also an overall reduction in new hires. Some boards of education are being forced to face the problem of increased classroom numbers in order to meet their fixed budgets. They are simply not filling the open jobs that have come about through attrition.
There is a problem here. Some folks in the older ages who find themselves jobless have taken up “re-careering”. Originally termed for those who have retired and then still find a need to use their skills in other full-time pursuits, we are finding many who are looking to education as their ace in the hole. Our own state has a controversial program that is designed to speed up the certification process for those who currently have a degree. Those for this plan see it as an opportunity to bring experienced and mature professionals in the sciences and other areas into the classrooms. The opponents, some of whom are the teacher associations and some of whom are school districts themselves, cite the lack of methods training offered in the certification process.
I can see both sides as having valid points, but lean toward the former, especially if the new teacher can handle the rigors of 25+ not-always-so-eager learners for 7 hours a day, 186 days a year. Of course, what with the aforementioned cut backs in many districts, these folks may have difficulty finding that opening.
There is an emotional side to all of this, to be sure. Having to leave a place where you have enjoyed not only the work but also the people you see everyday is not easy. Then, the task of retooling the resume, seeking job leads, working the internet, networking and otherwise selling yourself all over again can take its toll on even the most optimistic job-seeker. Especially now, when much of what they are hearing is not good news. On the other hand, some have been able to use this time as a rebirth. They really didn’t like the job, or the people. This layoff might just be a blessing in disguise, giving them a good excuse to branch out into areas they have always wanted to try but feared to because of the security of their current position. But now that the rug has been pulled out from under them, they have the chance to take that road less traveled.
I guess the message here is one of hope. In spite of the times, there are opportunities.


Saturday, July 18, 2009


It was a tough stretch a few weeks back for some iconic Baby Boomers. After a long and many would say courageous battle with cancer, Farrah Fawcett passed away. The Texas girl with the fabulous set of teeth who did more for the feathered hairstyle than The Six-Million Dollar Man did for slow-motion running burst on to the scene with her 1976 poster that became the best-selling pinup in history. That shot was considered somewhat risqué at the time, but when you see it again, it is tame by today’s standards. Hard to believe she was one of “Charlie’s Angels” for just the first season. To many, she will always be the Ultimate Angel. Maybe she is again.
Then, some mere hours after her passing, another Boomer of renown hit the deck. The self-proclaimed “King of Pop”, Michael Jackson, ended his time on this stage in characteristically controversial fashion. The news was abuzz with “was it a heart attack, an overdose, an accident? Did his doctor have something to do with it?” Of course, as in many stories such as this, we may never know the true cause of his demise. The world went into a weeks-long mourning (at least the news world) over the loss of an inarguably talented but equally tormented soul. Nothing can diminish the stamp he put on the face of music. His contribution to the genre of music videos may never be equaled. I stood as enthralled as the next person the first time I saw “Thriller” performed. He had a gift like no other. But, like many in that business, his demons managed to overwhelm any good he had to offer. There will forever be the questions regarding the nature and extent of his involvement with young boys, acquittals notwithstanding. Wonder will always exist concerning his bizarre physical transformation. And now, the allegations of his possible drug abuse.
The memorial to his life, televised live throughout the day and costing the cash-strapped city of Los Angeles a reported $4,000,000, just seemed to punctuate how skewed this planets values have turned during his tenure as pop icon. Every news outlet that could hustle a camera had its crews poised to capture the most minute overdone moment. And now that it is over, we will have a front-row seat at the sad drama of his family’s fight over custody of his children and control of his estate.
Then there is the story of Billy Mays. Born in 1958, this hard-charging guy from Pennsylvania, who got his sales chops hawking portable wash machines along the Atlantic City Boardwalk, takes an early exit from what was promising to be a fast climb to an iconic status of his own. A tag line on his website, “Life’s A Pitch, Then You Buy”, seemed to be ironically prophetic for the way he went out. For me, this man’s death was the saddest in the string. Regular guy hits it big, and then, kaboom, it’s over in an instant.
So it’s “Farewell, Farrah”, “Later, Michael”, and “Godspeed, Billy.”
Three very different additions to the pages of history.
(From "A Boomer's Journal". Suburban Journals of St. Louis, MO July, 2009)

Friday, July 03, 2009


Remember that old cliché that the only thing constant is change? Well, this took on a whole new meaning the other Sunday when we watched a rainy afternoon’s worth of old home movies. How little the trees were 15 years ago! And where did all our neighbors go?
That kid in the movie riding her training-wheeled bike is now getting ready for college. Jill and I had legitimate dark hair. And how about that cordless phone! Looks like a walkie-talkie from an old WW II flick. But one of the things that struck us most was wondering how the holy heck we survived six kids in this house.
Speaking of this house, it has indeed served us well. But now, as littlest birdie gets set to fly, it’s a bit more than we need.
This ticklish subject of downsizing enters our conversation more and more these days, as it does for many of the Baby Boomer generation. Talk of moving brings many questions to this demographic as they leave behind the family homestead to enter condos, apartments lofts and active adult communities. This last is a fairly new idea in the housing market, offering amenities such as pool and spa, golf courses, card rooms and planned outings.
People are selling off their extra furnishings, gifting their progeny with their very own “Amazing Rubbermaid Tubs O’ Stuff” accumulated over a lifetime of kid-raising, and rolling the lawnmower down to the curb with a “Free” sign slung over the handle.
And maybe this is a good thing.
When our parents died, we had plenty of issues to contend with, not the least of which was what to do with their life’s accumulation.
My brothers and I still marvel at how much mom was able to squirrel into her small two bedroom retirement apartment. And Jill’s parents had a two-story house-full that took over a year to parcel out.
My bride’s semi-annual purging party will pretty much save our kids from that task. But there are just some things you can’t part with.
I’ve managed to hang on to a few containers of my past, in spite of her not-so-subtle hints to toss my Boy Scout badges and City Champ jacket.
Any move would require some decisions. Even a math-challenged dude like me can figure out that it makes no sense to go smaller but keep a similar mortgage. We’ve considered condos and even renting, but that means no yard or basement for the kids to escape to when grandpa has had it with the eleventeenth screaming lap around the family room.
Our ideal getaway would be a ranch style with a yard and garage and finished basement, near highways and shopping and some nice restaurants, and within shooting distance of at least 3 cheap golf courses (I snuck in that last one, Jill). And honestly, we can’t imagine a life where the short-bus ride to the casino is the highlight of the week.
So do we stay or do we go?
This old neighborhood is looking better every day.
( From "A Boomer's Journal", Suburban Journals of St. Louis, MO July 1, 2009)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Here is the latest column from the Suburban Journals, St.Louis, MO

I have many gifts in life, not the least of which is the gift of time. My job gives me some summer days when I have really nothing to do. That is a bonus that I do not take lightly. If you ever get a day like that, or even a few hours, here are a couple of things that you might consider.

* Get under a tree, lie on your back, and observe the intricacy of the branches. Watch how they interact with the wind, how the sun shifts across the spaces, the shadows on the leaves, and how you can just barely make out a patch of blue here, a cloud there.

* Next time there’s a rainstorm, don’t be afraid to get wet. Be careful of lightning, and be somewhere where you can change easily, but try standing out in it for even a few minutes. You will laugh out loud at how totally drenched you can get in such a short time.
* Wake up before sunrise and turn east. See the horizon as it lightens, first pink, then pale blue, then into the days yellow. Close your eyes and feel the warmth grow as the minutes pass.

* Sit with a one-year-old and watch her eat a popsicle with only a diaper on (the kid, not you!). Fight the urge to wipe away that sweet goo rolling down her chin and drip-dripping onto her fat tummy. After all, it doesn’t bother her one bit. All she knows is how great that cold feels on those swollen gums. Marvel at how she fights to get that last morsel in the middle, by now a soft, slippery sliver that will not be lost. Then, when she hands you the empty stick… get her another.

* Read a book in two days. Keep it under 250 pages. Blaze through it like Mine That Bird shooting the rail at the Kentucky Derby. Escape into the characters, devour their world. Laugh, and cry. (I have a suggestion, but that would just be too much self-promotion.)

* Play 9 holes by yourself on a weekday. The crowds are back to work (sorry, guys), and you can be as bad as you want, with no pressure from buddies commenting on your shots, or worse, saying nothing as they suppress their grins as you smoke that egg hard right and a good 20 yards into the thicket. On the flip side, you also have no obligation to insincerely mumble praise at your opponents drive, even as you secretly wish it had hop-skipped just past the ladies tee. Playing alone is underrated, really. You can talk to yourself without fear of commitment to an institution, doing your own hushed commentary…”Anselm needs this slippery 15 footer for his first U.S. Open.” Or drop a few balls anywhere you want and keep hitting til you get it right. Then, after paring that #5 where you always go 2 over, just sit in the cart and let the waving breeze cool your forehead. Oh, and don’t dare keep score. No one would believe you anyway. Hey, it’s a practice round, dude.

Yeah, I know I’m spoiled. My wish for you this fine day is one of time, time to do something simple that adds to your enjoyment of this wonderful season called summer.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


A friend of mine, John Pearson, has published a novel about his first year as a teacher in the Texas schools. I have reviewed it here.
Check it out if you get a chance.
Take care. T


John Pearson has a future in stand-up comedy if he ever decides to leave the classroom. But from the tone of his stories in his book LEARN ME GOOD, it doesn’t appear that will be anytime soon. The kids he encountered in his first year teaching certainly supplied him with a wealth of material to spin his tales, all with a minimum of 10 laughs-out-loud each. And Mr. Pearson throws his own two cents in with each vignette, showing the reader that he has been bitten, and badly, by this “educamakashun thing.”
He takes us through a school year that has a steady turnover of students, some for the better, some for the worse, and makes us hear the voices of children of all manner and ability who are crying out for a good educational experience. We meet Esteban, who calls out firmly and forthrightly each time he answers, even as he gets them wrong again and again, and Marvin, who likes to choke people “just a little”, and Re’Joice, who has to defend herself against the moniker that has been hung on her. And then there’s Mark Peter, my personal favorite. He had a way of making himself invisible, borrowing from the world of professional wrestling, no less. If you can survive a kid like him, you can survive anyone who may come your way in a career.
Amidst references to “Cool Hand Luke” and “Little House on the Prairie”, John Pearson shows us that he understands this business and is going to ‘keep on keeping on’ to figure it out. It is clear the his future students will be the better for it.
As the main character Jack Woodson would say to someone who forgot his name, “Nice job, Barry.”
You have to read the book to find out what that one means.

Tom Anselm, teacher and author


Sunday, May 31, 2009


A few years ago, I saved a life. No, I didn’t pull a baby out of a burning building or give someone CPR. Nothing that dramatic. All I did was pick up a little worm that was struggling across my patio and lay him (or her? can you tell?) in the soft wet grass. I wrote about how this seemingly insignificant act had great meaning for that oligochaete. The reason I bring this up today is that I swear I saw him (her?... how do you tell?) the other day under the patio chair and I do believe he/she/it nodded as if to say “thanks” before squirming into the yard.
There are some days we may feel just like that worm. For some reason known only to that Big Gardener in the Sky, we find ourselves struggling across some tough pavement. The sun may be beating on our backs. The concrete is getting dryer and we are starting to think it would be a whole heck of a lot easier to just shrivel up and quit. Maybe it doesn’t look like anybody is going to come by and lift us up into that cool lawn.
This may have hit home for those of us in the Boomer demographic. We are seeing our investments, if we have any, taking a nose dive unprecedented in modern economic history. There may be a lay off involved, and the subsequent deleterious effects of the ending of medical coverage, danger of mortgage default, and the sheer loss of something meaningful to do with our days. It could be a decline in health…hey, we ain’t getting any younger, sports fans. Or troubles with grown children, for whom we never really stop being mom and dad, no matter how old or far away they may be. Of course, we seasoned citizens have no corner on this market of difficulties. Those raising families face equally challenging issues such as child care and schooling and what the heck to feed this gang of mongrels who will not get off my leg for one sweet second so I can sneak downstairs and do a load of laundry before we all end up wearing plastic bags to church!
Whatever the burden, we may be looking for that somebody to pick us up off the steamy pavement. Whether this comes in the form of a kind word, a favor, or a few bucks to tide us over, the help would be welcome.
Still, none of this may happen. Then, it just takes perseverance. As in all things, bad and good, this situation we find ourselves in is temporary. And like good old Mr. or Mrs. Worm (does anyone out there know how you can tell?! Seriously!), we need to just keep on wiggling, hoping for that lift, but willing to crawl it out if need be.
In 1941, during the worst period of the German bombing of Great Britain, Winston Churchill spoke to students at his former school. That speech became one of great inspiration and hope to the beleaguered English citizenry.
His words can be ours, as we fight the good fight against what may seem like insurmountable odds.
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never.”
(from "A Boomer's Journal, Suburban Journals of St. Louis, MO May, 2009)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Sometimes is just seems like life is flying by. Before you know it, it’s Friday again. Maybe it’s a function of having a big family, or maybe it’s just the phase we’re going through. For some reason, I expected it to be different.
They say that when you hit age 40, you’re over the hill. So I guess being two decades past that, I must be slipping down that slope at a pretty good clip. When I was younger, I wondered if it would slow down some, you know, as the hair thinned and the knees creaked as much as my rocking chair. But no!
Which brings me to our youngest child’s graduation. Yeah, The Joanster, little Joansie, Joana Wee, has finished high school with flying colors and is soon to be a Tiger. Our baby is a woman!
How did this happen, all of a sudden? Wasn’t it just the other day she put on her sisters two-piece, plucked the resident cards from the junk drawer and strolled 3 blocks down to the local pool. At two years old. Jill came home and said, “Hey, where’s Joanie?” Did we panic? Is the Pope German? Running along Halls Ferry like we were on fire, pleading with people walking their dogs, hearts constricted like the Grinch’s. Thank God the life guards knew us and didn’t turn us into Social Services.
Then there’s the next one up. Mary Pat is marrying in November. Huh? Little MP, the kid who regularly donned pink snow boots and stocking cap to watch TV… in June. The athlete who should have never been allowed to run cross country, since her face always turned redder than Mark McGuire’s before Congress. THAT Mary Pat?
And did I mention the wifey is retiring. Wait just a minute here, sports fans. I got four years on her! Just kidding, since she has fought the good fight for a long time, and is definitely in line for this move.
The flip side of all these significant events, once you get past the amazement and the tears and the “Huh?’s”, is that me and that retired lady will be empty-nesters in a couple of months. The recent grad thinks that maybe we’re being a bit too giddy about this prospect, even as she “stresses out” about moving on and out. And maybe we are, but it is hard to contain our glee. It feels like a long, slow, deep breath, followed by a smile of gratitude, and accomplishment. Theirs, and ours, really. Just a memory are the years of doing the happy dance after finding a dollar in the dryer, or cashing in the coin jar to get milk and formula. Gone but not forgotten are the long nights of wondering if one child would ever stop throwing up, or another would ever get home, or still another would ever find their path.
At 60, I guess I’ve put in a good 75% of my allotted time. A glance at my own high school classlist shows a few who can’t say that. So, trust me, I’m not complaining.
But maybe I need to borrow a line from Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise if things are going stay at this warp speed.
“Scottie, I need more power!”


Tuesday, May 05, 2009


(I will be posting the biweekly columns that I write for the Suburban Journals of St. Louis. They appear courtesy of that publication.)

What a crazy time of the year is springtime.
A quick look at our calendar has us booked for nearly two outings every weekend, not to mention the preschool graduations and baccalaureate and birthdays and end of school celebrations during the weekdays. Not that I’m complaining, since every happening is one of joy and accomplishment.
One of the most significant of all spring events is the graduation ceremony. With each, there is the requisite commencement address. That word, “commencement’, has always intrigued me. It’s very meaning shouts” new beginning.”
Back in 1997, a writer produced a famous graduation speech. It started out with the words “Wear Sunscreen.” I read through it yesterday, and found it impossible to improve upon. But here’s what I would say, if given a chance.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of 2009”.
Albert Einstein, that famous mathematician was also quite a philosopher. He once said “Not everything that can be counted, counts; and not everything that counts can be counted.” And this from a guy who made his living from numbers.
Another fairly famous guy by the name of Jesus had something to say about worrying, something we all do even though we know it does absolutely nothing to change what happens. When he talked about the birds in the air getting their supper, he was telling us to chill out. Most of the awful things we think will happen seldom do.
I learned way too late in life from my mom and mother-in-law and wife to never pass up a chance to be nice to somebody. A kind word, a simple compliment, even a pat on the back. And the corollary to this is “Smile so much people will wonder what you’re up to.”
I am also learning to try everyday to do my best, knowing that some days, that may not amount to a whole heck of a lot. But on others, the ones that work, my head can hit the pillow wondering just how I could possibly top this day.
Don’t dress in the dark, or at least lay out your socks the night before. Put a hat on in the winter. And always wear clean underwear. The Joaquin Andujar Maxim, Youneverknow, holds true here.
Old Abe Lincoln was right. Honesty is the best policy. Sometimes, your integrity is the only thing you can call your own.
If you want to excel, practice. A lot. Very few of us are so gifted we can just wing it. There is a reason Tiger Woods plays so often on Sundays.
Strive to love, but also strive to learn to accept love, for it is the essence of life that is too often invisible to the eye.
Never pass up an opportunity to hold a baby.
And remember that the three most welcome words in any speech are “So, in conclusion.”
So, in conclusion…
Trust in a Higher Power, what ever you may conceive that to be. You may stray from this in the coming years, but know that He is always there, peeking out of the blinds, waiting for your headlights to come down the street.
And, oh yeah… the “sunscreen” thing?
That, too.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Here is the story about the book signing.... with an added bonus at the end.

Sometimes a guy can get the full yin and yang of life in just one short day.
A few weekends ago, my glorious daughters arranged for a gathering at Moon Beans Café on St. Francois Street in the heart of Old Town Florissant to celebrate the publishing of my novel and hold a book signing. What they almost did was throw dear old dad into panic mode when, trying to surprise me, they had Jill order some books from the publisher. When I casually checked their message center one night before going to bed, I saw a giant order. Of course, I had placed no such order, and wondered who in their right mind would steal my credit card number and then order my books. The Joanster roused mom from deep sleep to explain the whole clandestine affair. A book signing? So this was real? Did I need a haircut? Better get some good pens. What if nobody shows up? How many copies should we get? Needless to say, sleep did not come easily that night. I had no idea what to expect from this, but I ordered up a case of books and hoped for the best. And the best is exactly what we got.
All the grandkids were there to lend good old Paw Paw their moral support. Luckily, the sun was strong and the sky as blue as a robin’s egg, so they pretty much had the run of the grounds. The event started out slowly but for the next three hours solid we had a full house. Family and friends, friends of family, two couples we hadn’t seen in at least 20 years, teachers from my school, even a guy who came for his mother.
“She’s an avid reader of your column, and asked me to get her a book,” he said.
Mrs. Fischer, I hope you’re enjoying the story.
To say I was grateful would be gross understatement. More like profoundly humbled. The setting was charming, the food tasty, the weather perfect—but most of all, the love was palpable.
I looked up once, eying the young with the old, the relative meeting the friend, and literally got a lump in my throat that wouldn’t go down. And believe it or not, we sold out! Took orders for another dozen copies! Success beyond my wildest expectations, for sure.
And now for the yang.
One of our own, a nephew, is a Marine lance corporal, and had just finished intense training for overseas duty. He was home that same day for a short visit. He was soon to ship out to the dangerous hill country of a foreign land. That night, we gathered to honor his commitment, to wish him well. To pray him home.
The sweetness of that afternoon blended into the bittersweet of the night. Pride in success, but even more pride in one about to carry out his duty to country.
And all in just one short day.


Friday, April 03, 2009


I was afraid to open the package. Didn't know just what it would look like. Would it be big enough? Would it look professionally done? How did the cover art work?
Fear not, said a Guy in a pretty Good Book. So I tore along the dotted line and out popped....
Yes, sports fans, YOU'RE NEVER TOO OLD FOR SPACE CAMP is alive and well and looks great even if I do say so myself. And people are buying it, as well. It is available at

Funny story here.
The other night, I was checking the messages from the publisher, They had one there about resubmitting an order for four dozen books. WHAT?! I didn't order no 48 books, at a bill that was more than I paid for my first car!! What was going on? How could this happen? I looked closely at the invoice. My credit card number was correct. The security code was correct. I couldn't figure out who would steal my credit card and THEN try to buy my books? It just didn't make any sense.
I was in a growing state of cognitive dissonance, when The Joanster walked in to the room.
"What's wrong, Dad?" I explained.
She grinned, and left the room.
In comes the lovely and talented wife, groggy from being woken up out of a sound sleep.
"Jill, somebody ordered a %#$$-load of books and used our credit card and what the hell is happening?" said I, as I put the finishing touches on a query back to the publisher, who had noted that they deleted the order and awaited further instructions from me.
Jill smiled, ran her fingers through her hair, and said "I ordered them. It was supposed to be a surprise."
"Yeah, you're lovely daughters wanted to do a surprise book signing for you so we ordered the books. They are so excited, and we wanted you to see it in the article in the Journal this week." (She was referring to a story done by Brian Flinchpaugh of the Suburban Journal, where I write my column. You can see it at
So after awhile, I calmed down, resubmitted the order and marveled at how I am not worthy of such love.
The book signing is April 11 at MoonBeans, 450 St. Francois Street, in the heart of Old Town Florissant, from 10 to 1 pm.
Come one, Come all.
Should be fun.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kicking and SCREAMING into the 21st Century

I am pushing the envelope, stepping out of the box and I hope to stay out, moving out of my comfort zone... in short, I am embracing the technology available in this modern world to promote my writing.  
At a workshop this weekend the speaker said that if you are serious about marketing what you write "Shame on you if you are not on Facebook."  My youngest daughter The Joanster is appalled that I am contemplating this. But guess what, hon.... daddy is heading in that direction.  I already have a webpage on called, amazingly enough, "Tom Anselm" (clever, no?) You can get there simply by doing
And of course if you are reading this, you know about the blog, the blaaag, the blaahggg.
(What a weird word.  I heard only last month that is comes from  a contraction of sorts from "weblog".  Now it is a standard part of the English language.)
Stay tuned for the book... should be fun.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Here is the first chapter of You're Never Too Old For Space Camp, my novel about the fascinating adventures of a veteran middle school special ed. teacher. Should be published by spring, if all goes well.



“Why’d they have to pick yellow?”
I wondered this to myself, half out loud, as the school buses rolled into the lot. A black girl with blue eye shadow and pink fingernails over by the door glanced at me with an absent look, and then went back to checking her cell phone. Over by the benches, three would-be studs were crowding around a lass who was obviously what one could call an “early-bloomer.” She was drinking up the attention, until one of the guys accidentally “broke wind”, as they say in polite circles. And loudly, at that. With a roll of her eyes, and an “Oh…My….Gawd”, she spun off, in search of girl friends to hug and squeal with. As for the three young men, they collapsed into puddles of laughter, beating each other on the back with calls of “what a dork’ and “you loser” and other less printable epithets.
Ah, yes, it was that time-honored moment, the exact end of summer, the beginning of who knows what will happen.
It was the first day of school at Cedar Grove Middle School .

“So, Joe. I can see that you haven’t gotten any brains over the summer,” said a voice to my right.
It was Eddie Railey.
Eddie and I had gotten to Cedar Grove within a few years of each other. We had played in a softball league together before that, and I told him about the job opening up in Social Studies. It was hard to believe that was over 15 years ago.
We no longer play softball, by the way.
“Mr. Railey, sir….Hey, I guess we both are dummies, since you’re standing here, too.”
It was standard practice for teachers to complain about how fast the first day of school comes, even though most of us still felt that tingle of coming attractions we had as a kid, like ”who will be in my class..will that pretty red-haired girl sit next to me?” And now, “will I be able to do this for yet another year?”
“How was your summer? Overall, I mean,” said Eddie.
“Good enough. Got a lot done around the house, to Julies’ delight. Played a ton of golf, some with you, if you recall. Drank some beer, also with you. All in all, successful,” I said, as row upon row of long yellow vehicles fouled the curbside with their diesel exhaust.
“Lucky you. Three weeks ago, I had to go down to Texas , to help my mom and dad move into an assisted living place. Pretty nice place, but they hated to leave their house. Then I get home for a week, and get a call in the middle of the night that dad died. Just sitting in his recliner one afternoon, watching “The Price is Right.” Mom thought he was nodding off, like he did all the time. An hour later, she goes to wake him to see what he wants for dinner. And that was that.” Railey choked up a bit, turned his head. “A peaceful way to go, I guess.”
“Oh man, why didn’t you call me? I had no idea.”
“Nobody did. That’s okay. Besides, it was in Texas, and they wanted to be buried there.
Been there almost 20 years. The funeral was small, since most of their friends were dead anyway. Dad had one brother, but he passed away a couple of years ago.”
Eddie Railey shrugged.
“Mom is here with us, till we can get things squared away.”
Over by the door, Miss Pink Fingernails was howling.
“Go ahead and bring it then. Bring it on.”
Railey saluted me, and strode slowly over to the scene.
“Now, children. First day jitters? Let’s see if we can at least get into the building before we get suspended, what d’ya say, huh?’
“Mr. Railey, we just playin, man,” said a smallish boy with a budding Afro.
“Yeah, just playin’, is all, Mr. Railey,” says the girl, now smiling at the big teacher.
I look over at Railey. He seems to have the situation well in hand. Literally. He leads the two off to see our beloved administrator in charge of discipline, Mr. Wilton X. Davis, III, in spite of the kids claims of a truce.
“Have a great year, Joey. Catch you at lunch,” Eddie yells back at me. He has a firm but benevolent grip on each kid’s arm.
I turn my attention to the scene before me.
The sidewalks were filled up by now, buses having disgorged their contents like big yellow hoses. It is a diverse gathering.
Black kids, white kids, mixed and Asian, a few girls with heads covered with white scarves going long down their backs, wearing designer jeans. Here is a boy who looks like he’s about 10 years old, there another who might have driven to school.
Young women wearing long jean skirts, their hair past their back pockets. A girl, I think, with black eye shadow, black jeans that could fit two people, and a spiked dog collar. A dog collar! Oh, Mr. Principal?
I say a short prayer for them all.
“Mr Akers. May I see you for a moment?”
My prayer is broken into by the venerable Joanna C. Sloan, Ph. D., assistant principal. We dropped the “vice-principal” moniker a few years ago. “Too negative”, said the School Board. Dr. Sloan, as she prefers, no, demands to be addressed, even by those who have known her for years, is already in a lather about something or other.
“Mr. Akers, I…..”
“Call me ‘Joe’.”
“What? Oh. Fine. …… Mr. Akers, you are supposed to be at Door 15. This is Door 17.”
She waits for my response, hands on hips.
I look at her, and flash my best fake smile.
“Oopsies,…. my bad, as the kids say. I guess I should have read the memo, huh?”
She fails to see the sarcasm, mild as it is. As I move dutifully to my correct post, Dr. Sloan is already off to make the sidewalks safe for democracy, barking orders into her walkie-talkie. She manages an exasperated glance my way, just to make sure, I am heading in the right direction.
“How long till the bell? You a teacher here?’
I turn to see a man-child blocking the sun, about 6’2”, 220 if he’s a pound. I instinctively feel the need to make a good impression on this creature.
“Well, good morning to you, too,” I smile.
He pauses, then grins widely. Thank God. I continue.
“First, I’m afraid I have no idea what time it is. Are you really in that big a hurry to get inside? And second, yes, I am a teacher here. Name is Mr. Joe Akers,” I say, extending my hand. This future All-State offensive lineman looks at my hand. He engulfs my fingers in a mitt the size of a baseball glove. But he doesn’t know how to properly shake hands, something I find more and more of in kids these days. All soft and awkward. A social ineptitude that needs correcting. But not right now.
“Davon Arnold,” he offers, in a deep husky voice. “And yeah, I gotta get my schedule for my classes. We just moved her and my momma registered me, but I got no schedule.”
“Nice to meet you, Davon. Here’s what you do. You’re at the wrong door” (we have something in common) “so go around to those front double doors, the blue ones, and when the bell rings, go to the guidance office. Can’t miss it, first door on the right. They have schedules for all new students.”
Davon gives me a look that I can’t quite figure out. Does he think I’m just another white guy teacher who is messing with him? Or is he unsure of what to do, new kid, no lay of the land yet? He continues to look at me. I begin to get uncomfortable. Then, he grins, gold tooth prominent in the front.
“Yeah. Thanks….guidance, right?”
“Sounds like a winner,” I say, breathing easily again. “Good luck, pal,” I offer, as he works his way through the crowd like Moses parting the Red Sea .
I hope he remembers me with kind thoughts.

The last busses trail each other off the lot, and the air quality improves measurably.
The morning sky is achingly blue, nearly cloudless. Light breeze, about 70 degrees. Last Monday about this time I was driving my Maxfli Noodle into the woods off the third tee at Eagle Cove. Ah, well. As the Beatles said decades ago (was it really that long?)…
“Oobla dee, oobla dah, life goes on…..”
I have made the mistake once again of standing directly under the outside loudspeaker.
As the bell (which is really not a bell, but a mechanical tone, except we still call it “The Bell”) rattles my teeth, I pull open the freshly-painted blue double doors and marvel at the kid’s Pavlovian response. Short of salivating, our little puppies herd themselves nicely, funneling through the doorway, then split into different directions in search of …..
“Let us discover the answer to this together,” I say out loud as Miss Pink Fingernails slides by, jamming that cell phone into her size XXL purse. She looks at me like I am goofy. And you know what?
She might just be right.