Where Do We Go From Here?

Bienvenue, mes amis.

It’s been a while since I posted. Pretty much broke that promise of regular updates. The only thing consistent is my inconsistency.

As you have likely gathered, the school year is in full swing and I am, as per usual, up to my neck in work. Don’t take that as necessarily a bad thing, because I do, truly, love what I do…but I do put in some ridiculously long hours and I am grossly underpaid for the work I (and the vast majority of others in the profession in this state) do. Just because I get paid poorly, though, doesn’t mean I’m going to slack off. I could, but I won’t. Believe me, I’ve had enough terrible jobs for terrible pay where I effed around so much I should have been fired a thousand times over. I would push that envelope just to see if anyone would ever fire me. It pretty much never happened (there was one case, but I did get to cross off the “you can’t fire me! I quit!” routine off the bucket list).

I love what I do. There were really only ever two things that called to me and I could see myself doing for a living, and one called way more than the other. I love working with young people. I love exploring new ideas and concepts with young adults. I love to smell the lean calories burning as I challenge every perception of life and world the students have ever had. I love that my students, on the whole, hate me and my class while in it, but love me dearly and thank me for putting them through Hell after it is over. I love my job.

I really don’t mind the completely insane hours, either. Yes, there are times when I wish I wasn’t putting in 80+ hours in a week, but at least it’s a purposeful 80 hours. I’m not spending 70-80 hours slinging freight at the Walmart where I have 20 different supervisors who never worked a day’s hard labor telling me I need to cut labor costs and drive sales or I’ll be looking for a new job in 3 months. I’m also not paid nearly as well as a Walmart manager, which is truly sad, but that’s the way of things.

As pretty much all of you know, North Carolina is a horrid place, especially for education. There are some bright spots in the state, such as Asheville and Raleigh, but those do not, even remotely, outweigh the craptacularity that is the rest of the state. No level of awesomeness in Boone can make up for the utter shittiness of Fayetteville. Unless you are wealthy (or content living in abject poverty), North Carolina is not a place to be. I was discussing this with some other teachers as the year was starting and I made the declaration that the bottom is going to fall out of this state within the next 10 years unless major, sweeping changes are made.

There was a study recently conducted by Public Policy Polling (an admittedly slightly left leaning polling firm) that said prior to the 2010 Tea Party madness and, really, the 2012 election of Pat McCrory and his cronies, North Carolina was in the top 10 of state favorability. Per PPP’s findings,

While southern states generally found themselves toward the bottom of the list, North Carolina was an exception. It polled among the ten most popular states in the country, with 40% of voters rating it favorably to only 11% who had an unfavorable opinion.

There has been a drastic shift in the two years since that initial polling data. The favorability has dropped to 30%, a loss of 10%, and the unfavorable vote has more than doubled, going from 11% to 23%.

While still above water with a +7% favorability, that 7% ranks NC right at 40th place for popularity nationwide.

40th. It dropped from top 10 to 40th place. The commonality? Retroactive, regressive, caveman policies of a dangerous Republican-controlled legislature and governorship, an approach to “small government” that made it so small it could fit in any woman’s naughty bits, which, as we know, is exactly where government belongs.

The ludicrous abortion restriction law was passed by the legislature as an amendment to a motorcycle safety law. Gov. McCrory had pledged during the campaign that he would not sign into law any additional restrictions on abortion. So much for that one, Pat.

Add on to that the insane loosening of the gun control policies and practices here, such as easing the regulations on conceal/carry and expanding the places where a concealed weapon could be carried…not a good situation. I mean, come one, there is absolutely NOTHING bad that can happen in North Carolina in, say, March while at a bar with a legally concealed weapon. Nah, nothing happens in the heart of the ACC in March or April. There aren’t too many colleges of note down here. People’s allegiances aren’t that strong. Nothing crazy could happen, and certainly not with alcohol involved. What ever could go wrong?

And then you get to people like us – the teachers. We are all paid the same statewide. We receive state salaries. Some counties are able to pay a little extra in supplements in the summer, but not all counties pay well. Cumberland county, thankfully, pays a decent stipend. That stipend has been the only reason I survived the last two summers without spiraling into debt or having to borrow huge sums of money.

I am now entering my 3rd years in the state. I have received no raises, which is somewhat expected, and will not get one, at the earliest, for another 2 years (or 3, depending on where you draw the lines – year 6 will be the first raise, and it will be, hold on to your hats, $1,200).

At my current salary, which is $30,800, I make just that much too much to be classified as poor and, thereby, ineligible for most forms of public assistance. My take home pay, after taxes, deductions, etc., comes out to $1735/month. And we do only get paid once a month.

I really want you to let that roll around in your head a little bit.

I never entered teaching to get rich. I know it’s not a career that pays well. If I wanted to get paid, I would work for some multinational and focus only on the bottom line without giving a damn about how I got there. I never really wanted before, nor do I now, to be rich. I’d like to not have to worry if I’m going to make it to payday, but that’s nothing exclusive to me.

Hundreds of thousands of people, many with families, are living day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. I don’t stand alone in living so tight against the budget. It is a systemic problem in this country. And, for what it’s worth, you can really trace most of this back to the Reagan years and the necessity of the double income household.

I’m good with my money and, thankfully, living alone. I can make my $1700/month work, but barely. Sure, if I’m up against it I can cut out some leisure activities/pleasures, such as television. I don’t need TV, but I enjoy having something to relax to when I come home each night. I could eliminate plenty of small creature comforts to make ends meet if I had to. I am thankful that I am not in that position.

I am also not getting much ahead of the game. I’m paying down some debt, sure, but not paying down others *cough* student loans *cough* because I just can’t. Even if I cut out things like TV and my Netflix subscription, I cannot afford to pay my usual bills, buy food, and pay my full student loans each month.

I really want you to think about that.

That isn’t taking into account all of the stuff I pay for out of my own pocket for my students or our school. This year our school has moved to a new photocopy policy – we can make as many copies as we want…because we’re buying our own paper. We were given one case of paper (5000 sheets) to last the year. Once that’s gone, we’re on our own for making copies.

In the grand scheme of the year, an extra case of paper is, what, 45? 50 bucks? That isn’t so bad, really. Except you can’t pay 5 dollars a month for 10 months to buy the paper. And when you’re spent to your last dollar each month, it makes things a little difficult. Again, I am eternally thankful that I can manage my money well enough that I can afford a few extra each month and still be OK. Not everyone is in the same boat as me. Paper is just one small thing, but it is emblematic of a crumbling state that is so in tune with its own dogmatic bullshit that it is willing to destroy itself for some alleged higher purpose (that purpose, apparently, is to become the first negative tax state where lawlessness runs wild and women, blacks, Hispanics, and teachers are second and third class citizens).

I buy sanitary wipes and cleaning products for my classroom out of my own pocket. I always keep a stash of peppermints on my desk for both myself and the students. Those, while cheap, are not free. I have to purchase my own manilla (or, if I’m feeling fancy, colored) folders for the kids. I have to purchase lined paper for my classroom. None of these are huge purchases, but they do add up.

I could very easily say “No, I’m not giving you guys folders to use to submit and organize all of your materials for your research paper(s),” but does that really accomplish anything? No, it doesn’t. That’s just being difficult for the sake of difficult. And I know I’m not the easiest person to live/work/coexist with, but my kids don’t deserve that. I even recycle the folders when possible. I’ll apply the white out and write in new names each year. You want to know how bad it is? When the students see me doing stuff like this and say “Geez, the struggle is real for you, Mr. [name redacted].” Have I mentioned that we’re a Title I school and are approximately 80% black and Hispanic, and the no. 1 criteria for admission is the student must be 1st generation college attendee? Our kids know that the struggle is real…and when the students are offering to buy stuff for the classroom, you know your state fucked up along the way.

So, why don’t I just quit and leave? It really seems simple, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I am personally miserable here. I hate the idiocy of the state and being poor, but I love our school so much and I love what we are doing for the kids in our community. I love my coworkers and, really, I know that I, along with the rest of the staff, am making a difference in the lives of these young people. No manner of dislike for the state and the town in which I reside can be greater than the reward of the job.

So, no, it’s not such a clear cut thing. I do desperately want to get back to PA, Pittsburgh in specific, but I do have a known quantity here and it is, as Raymond Carver put it, a small, good thing. I’m OK with making my life my job. Our kids need it. I don’t have to balance all the things many others do. I don’t have a wife or girlfriend. I don’t have children of my own. I don’t have to worry about finding the balance between the hours for our program and the hours needed for home life. I can work 70+ hours a week without much of a problem. I’m not a social butterfly to start, and I really don’t find much redeeming about Fayetteville. I’m OK with focusing on work on the weekends and each day during the week. I’m OK with it because it serves a purpose.

And that’s a big deal. For years before coming to NC, I was in perpetual pursuit of purpose in my life. Teaching does give me purpose, and that is the biggest, most powerful factor for me. Despite my ongoing battles with loneliness and depression and so on, I’m never weakened to the point of breaking because I do something meaningful.

But, still, we are grossly underpaid and overworked in this state. And NC is a right-to-work state, so, there’s no union representation. Whoever would have guessed where there are no unions the workers would be badly abused? We’ll ignore the laughably poor pay we receive. The state of North Carolina is doing away with tenure for teachers. Are there some who abuse tenure rules? Sure. But there are just as many terrible teachers who keep their jobs because they have a winning record as a coach. Let’s not pretend like this is a one-way street. The state is taking away what little job protection we had. Until a few days ago, they were also going to do away with Master’s pay (those with a Master’s degree or higher received a slight increase in salary), but, magically, Gov. McCrory found some money in the budget to continue paying those with advanced degrees. Because, you know, when you have a recruiting and attrition problem with professional teachers, the first thing you want to do is take away job protection and incentives for continuing your education and improving your practices.

This state truly does not know its ass from its elbow and it is quickly going to realize it must pay the piper. As it continues the ideological spiral downward and outward, we need to ask ourselves “where do we go from here?”


The PPP poll can be found here

The North Carolina salary scale can be found here (pdf file)

Additional reading:

The blog, Teaching Speaks Volumes, is incredible. I highly recommend you spend some time there. This post caught my attention over the summer and I’ve been stewing over it for some time.

The blog “Making Our Way” also caught my attention as our school year was getting underway. A truly remarkable and moving post here, which said a lot of what I and so many others wanted to say but couldn’t find the words.

Back to Never Again

As some of you know, I do not sleep well. I haven’t slept well in 10+ years. There are a million reasons for this. There are rare occasions when I wake in the middle of the night and have a moment of clarity or creativity. I had one of those the other night. It wasn’t even super creative like when you have one of those wild, hallucinogenic fever dreams. It was just something so simple and succinct that came to me as I awoke. A poem. A very simple poem emerged from the darkness.


Lines Written in the Middle of the Night


I love you.

I miss you. Please,

come home.




Nothing special about it. Nothing that hasn’t been said 290784978 times in literature. But it all fit. And I could get back to sleep.


On Being Useful and Living Long

Howdy, folks.

I haven’t abandoned you. I haven’t forgotten. It’s been a pretty wild last few weeks. Come, take a walk with me.

In my last writing, I mentioned some plans going forward. The good news? Those plans actually became actions. Having been back in NC for about two weeks, I have begun, albeit slowly and when I have time, working on my book. It will likely be years to finish, if it even does get finished, but it’s something to work on/toward. I’m still open to anyone wishing to contribute, especially if they would like to write a foreword. The other item on the docket was attempting to finally lose weight and get healthy. That, surprisingly, has been the easier of the two. Not that either are easy, bear in mind. I’ve just been working on the health thing a little more…steadfastly.

I did get back to NC and with having to unpack and shop and so on, it took a few days. I spent the first week back just getting a little more into the swing of things and monitoring my diet a little more. The second week I began the DDP Yoga program. Many of you have seen the video that swirled around the internet about DDP Yoga – the story of Arthur and his transformation via DDP Yoga. If you have not, you can watch the video embedded below.

I don’t expect a transformation like that. Not at all. I’m well aware that those results are atypical. But I do expect some results, and after spending 1.5 weeks, I can definitely tell the program works, but you have to be mindful of a lot of other elements. This is not new or revolutionary. At the end of the day, we all just need to exercise more and manage our diets better. I’ve gone 2+ weeks and haven’t had red meat. And not as a means of some crazy fad diet or because of any dietician’s suggestion. I just haven’t eaten any (this, I will point out, will change next week when I’m on vacation with family in Florida). I’ve eaten a bit more chicken than usual, but that’s OK. I’ve certainly forced myself to monitor my actual caloric intake and be mindful of portion size.

The biggest problem for me has been portion control. I just never really paid any attention to it, and that is, in no small part, why I am the way I am. I am trying to keep a watchful eye on what I eat and when I eat. I still snack here and there, but now I do so with healthy/healthier alternatives – fruit, yogurt, granola, etc.. While those all have various fats and sugars, they are better than many other alternatives. Likewise, I’ve always been good about eating fresh produce rather than frozen and/or processed goods, but now I’m really, really forcing myself to purchase more perishable goods and use those because I hate to ever let anything go to waste.

At the conclusion of the first week with DDP Yoga, I successfully lost 5 lbs. I know quite a bit of it was collective water weight, but I have definitely trimmed a little fat. I’m not actually all that concerned about the number of pounds lost, at least not now, because I’m still in the early stages and it’s much more important to get into the rhythms and patterns of balancing eating, exercising, and work. Once the school year begins, the real test will come along with balancing those items. As you all know, I put in A LOT of time at school. I am making more of an effort this year to do more for me, in no small part because of actions that happened last year. I’m not going to neglect my job or, more importantly, my students, but I am going to put myself a few steps up the priority list.

I will start concerning myself with the number of pounds and things like that as I’ve really moved into the program and away from the baby steps. I can tell right now that I am building a lot of muscle in areas which I have neglected for a long time. I can tell, just by the way some of my clothes fit, that there are some minor changes happening. And that’s good. And I’m going to stick with it. But I’m not worried about the actual number of pounds lost because I can feel some of the differences already.

At the end of the day, I set out to lose some weight, improve my diet, and live a longer, healthier life. Those are not out of the question.

As for some other things, well, it’s been a weird few weeks being back here. I fully admit that returning to NC was very, very, very difficult. I was in Pittsburgh long enough to re-establish some roots. I was able to meet up with a number of friends and build some relationships I tore down in advance to moving down here. I was doing some of my famed amateur-but-still-somewhat-decent home repair for my mother. You may remember from a few years ago when I built the pond in the backyard of my mother’s house? Well, this year was an all new project.

A railroad tie and concrete block retaining wall had been falling apart for the better part of a decade. The steps that led up the hillside (and onto the deck of the old swimming pool, now the overlook above the pond) had, effectively, completely fell apart. The entire ground underneath the stone had completely washed out, shifted, and been dug out by chipmunks. The only things holding it together were some patchwork concrete block and large, flat stone slabs. It needed replaced.

This was a project completed mostly by myself. I did have a little help from my brother, but he mostly helped with hauling the bricks and doing a little (and I do mean little) digging. This was pretty much an 80/20 split in my favor. You can click each image below for a full-sized version.










So, there you go. When all was said and done, that project was completed for under $500 and took, in actual working time, about 6 days. I stretched it a bit longer than the 6 days in no small part because I could and there was no reason to kill myself. With that said – the project, from top to bottom, was a NIGHTMARE entirely because of the ineptitude of Lowe’s Home Improvement. I have never, ever, ever in my life had so miserable experience from a company.

It took three entirely separate trips to get the bricks ordered. The 1st trip was to comparison shop and get some feedback from the people in the lawn and garden department. That was a great trip. Sadly, it was the only good trip of the bunch. A few days later, after deciding on which bricks to order, we return to Lowe’s. As we walk to the back of the garden center, two employees, who were talking to one another, look in my direction and immediately turn tail and disappear. We waited for 30+ minutes for assistance in the garden center. None came. We asked the sale clerk to get someone. They called. Nobody came. We left without purchasing the bricks and supplies. Thus, we had to make a 3rd trip to make our order. The third trip started the same way as the 2nd trip. Nobody in the garden center. Had to have the sales clerk call for help. Every member of the garden center sales staff was on break at the exact same time. They had to get someone who was covering for the entire garden center plus working inside. He came out and we told him which bricks we wanted to order, how many we needed, and that we would need them delivered. As we were having them delivered, we were going to throw in a few other items to go along with it to save us even more trips. We ordered some bags of gravel and some bags of paving base.

He writes everything down and we all go up to the cash register. The girl on the register wasn’t entirely sure how to do a home delivery, but figured it out eventually. She entered all of the information, rang in our coupon, we paid our bill, and we left. The delivery was scheduled for a few days later. All was right with the world.

Skip ahead to the delivery date. The Lowe’s driver arrives and unloads the bricks. We’ve got a major problem. The bricks he’s delivering are the wrong brings. We had ordered the charcoal (red and grey) castle wall stone, not the pure red. I notify the delivery driver that these are wrong. I say to him that I know it isn’t his fault and I’m not upset with him, but this is a major problem. He tells me I need to take up the problem at the store because he had other deliveries to make that day and he could come by later to pick up the bricks. So, my brother and I gather up the receipts and everything else and head back in for yet another trip. We approach the customer service counter and were less-than-cordially welcomes by a miserable looking woman with an attitude in her tone of voice. I explain to the woman that the incorrect bricks were delivered and the delivery driver told us to talk to the store. The attitude worsens as she begins flipping through her book of barcodes looking for the bricks. Bear in mind, we have already told this woman that we had lined up people to help assemble the wall and that we couldn’t do an exchange. She then begins to get upset with us because she was under the impression we wanted to exchange the bricks for those which we ordered.

We remind her that, no, we can’t do an exchange and wait even longer to get these picked up and new bricks delivered. My brother and mother had made time in their schedules to help me with this. So, we ask for the manager, because we’re not getting anywhere with her. She calls him over and the first thing – the very first damn thing – the manager does is immediately blame us. He looks at the receipt and tells us that accepting the receipt was acceptance of whatever items purchased and that we should pay more attention to what’s been rung up. At this point, I lost my cool with him.

There were about ten different ways for him to handle this situation. That was the single-most wrong way to handle this. Instead of walking up and asking what was the problem and how can this be fixed, he IMMEDIATELY blamed us for the employees of his store being completely and totally inept in every fashion possible. My response to the manager was that, last I checked, I was not an employee of Lowes and shouldn’t have to go over my receipt with a fine tooth comb for errors because, apparently, the other team members routinely cannot handle the basic functions of his or her jobs. Either the cashier entered the wrong data or, and I suspect this is the case, the garden center employee who ran from me one night and then had to be drug out kicking and screaming to take the order info the next night wrote down the wrong information. The delivery driver did his job of dropping off the materials, but he was supposed to pick them back up and return them to the store. It was a massive failure on every level possible, and the manager had the cojones enough to blame us first. Like I said, there were so, so many ways in which the manager could have handled that situation, and he picked the absolute, 100% wrong way to do it.

After some back-and-forth with the terrible management, he offered to refund 20% (originally offered 10%, which was not met warmly). We weren’t looking to get the thing for free, far from it, but the gross incompetence of the staff and then argumentative-ness of the customer service representative and management was certainly worth something.

Wait, it gets better.

Unbeknownst to us, half of the additional items ordered (and paid for) in the delivery were also missing. We completely and totally missed this because of being so flustered over being given the incorrect bricks. Remember how I mentioned earlier that we ordered the gravel and paver base? Yeah, only half of what we ordered and paid for (our receipt, thank you very much, indicated that 6 bags of gravel and 4 bags of paver base had been purchased and paid for). Sooooooooooo….another trip to Lowes. Thankfully this was handled with the local garden center staff. We presented our receipt and notified them we were picking up the rest of our order that did not get delivered. They said OK and marked us off and let us go about our merry way.

So, in the end, we did get the wall built and everything turned OK, but we were beholden to Lowes because of their ability to deliver what we wanted. And it was all screwed up. Nothing went smoothly and most everything was wrong. After being told that we were wrong and needed to do the job of the employees, the manager, in a somewhat condescending way, refunded what amounted to the cost of the delivery, which was also a nightmare.

And that’s my story. So, please be very, very careful when purchasing anything from the Lowes in Monroeville, PA (Store #1660). I would honestly not recommend them for anything even remotely major after this fiasco. I plan on taking my business (or, rather, my family in PGH) to the likes of Home Depot or (semi) local business, such as Ace Hardware.

Destroying the Village

Howdy folks. I know what you’re thinking; “what is this madness? Walt posting twice? In less than a week? What dark forces are at play here?” Well, there are no dark forces at work, at least none of which I am aware. I did say I was planning on bringing the blog back, and I’m trying to keep to my word.

When I was student teaching and then working as a substitute, I set out to challenge myself on my old Livejournal (man, Livejournal…) to write one post per day, 100 word minimum, for 100 days. Over the course of those 100 days, I missed about 3 posts. I still met the 100 posts, but it took a few days longer. I can say, with some degree of certainty, that I was in a better place emotionally then. I do find writing therapeutic, and God bless all of you for reading whatever inane bullshit I put on the internet.

So why am I writing today? I wanted to give you guys an update on things and what to (hopefully) expect going forward.

I am not trying to delude myself into thinking that this blog is anything great or has a huge readership. It isn’t and it doesn’t. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to give it the old college try, both for my mental needs as well as for all y’all’s reading pleasure (or displeasure, as the case may be).  I like having an outlet, and I know others do, too. And this is as good a place as any, so…

I am looking at adding people who wish to write here. I’m pretty much open to whatever. I really, really don’t care what you write about and how you go about doing it. Got something on your mind? Be my guest. Working on a short story and want to get it out there for feedback? I’m only too happy to let you use this as a free forum. Dislike the extension of Dan Bylsma and, especially, Todd Reirden even more than me? Go to town.

At the core, I am looking to branch back out from just talking hockey. God knows I’ll do a lot of that, but I want to move beyond sports, and I need others to do that. I am not too proud to ask for help.

Griggsy has said he’ll be back to work on stuff and I’ve talked to a few others. If you are all interested, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Once I get back to NC I will spend some time retooling the blog, too. I’m going to make some cosmetic changes and so forth, so please be aware of that as things will be out-of-place and/or incomplete.



Well, this isn’t awkward. Nope. Not at all.

Howdy, folks. I know it’s been a while. A long, long while. A lot has happened since I last wrote. Some good, some bad, some in-between type things.

First, and foremost, I feel I need to apologize for effectively allowing this blog to go to pot since last October. There were a variety of reasons why that happened, not the least of which was my complete and total mental collapse. Good news, guys — I’m not dead!

Here’s the thing – I’ve got a ton of stuff on my mind and things to report, but I’m not going to bore you (and I do bore you) with a never ending post of babble and bull. I will focus on one thing in this entry with a little groundwork laid for future posts.

I have spent the last month, more or less, back in Pittsburgh visiting with friends and family. It has both been the greatest and more horrible thing I’ve ever done. Great because, obviously, I love my friends and family and generally just miss the “access” Pittsburgh provides to cultural events and dining and so forth. Certainly when compared to Fayetteville, Pittsburgh is the greatest city in the world. It has been awful, too, for mostly those same reasons. I now have to give those things up all over again, only this time, unlike in 2011, I have been actively cultivating friendships and close, personal bonds. In 2011 I had undergone a passive, borderline eugenics-like program, a culling, if you will, to make the leaving easier. Now? Total opposite. I’ve actually been growing and engendering the seeds into flowers.

That decision, of course, makes my return to NC…difficult. I am, I admit, conflicted. I do not want to return, but I know I have to. My end game, as it stands now, is to return to Pittsburgh as soon as possible. I fully admit, I am considering returning to PA at the end of the next school year even if I don’t have a job lined up simply because…well, that’s a whole different set of stories. Not saying it’s 100% a go, but it’s pretty much a coin flip now.

So, the main purpose of this posting. This isn’t just to show that I’m not dead, or, more appropriately, that the blog isn’t dead. I had considered just letting the name and everything lapse, but…it’s cheap enough to keep this bad boy running each year and sometimes I just need to write.

If you have not yet noticed, the tone of this writing has drastically improved since the last series of posts. That, my gentle snowflakes, is the purpose of this writing.

It has been a long, long, long times since I have felt like this. It’s been well over 10 years, possibly 15 years, that I have been able to hold my head up and look to the future with some degree of hope and promise.

I’m not saying this will last forever, certainly not without intense work, but I finally feel better about things. For the longest time I viewed my life and my world as the living embodiment of the great Rollo May quote on depression; “Depression is the inability to construct a future.” That had been me for a painfully long time. Every time I would look ahead, I could not, in any way, shape, or form, begin to piece together any discernible future. Not for me, not for others around me, etc. I was being perpetually hunted by the nagging thoughts how I simply did not belong among the people of this Earth.

But I have finally emerged. I finally am able to build a future, even a far-off future that is small in scope.

I have finally been able to set some goals for myself that I feel confident in and am approaching with a deadly seriousness. I have two goals set to begin immediately. The first goal, which is not at all unique, but I have had enough incentive otherwise in the last month, is to really, truly get serious about taking better care of myself. I’ve always put everyone else before me. I’m still going to care for others and do for others, but I’m going to make time for myself. That includes taking better care of my physical self. It has been a 20 year battle, but I have finally started to win the war with my own brain and thoughts. Now I need to win the battle with my fat ass.

I will fully admit there is a cosmetic level to this desire, but it is primarily from a health concern reason. I want to prevent things from happening and that is not the way I am trending at present.

Like I said, this is not a unique sentiment, but it is one that I am getting serious about in no small part because I am terrified of where things are going.

The second goal is to do what I have wanted to do for a long, long time – I am going to self-publish a book. It will be similar to the stuff I write here, but not the same (and way less hockey/sports talk). If you’ve read any of Sloane Crosley’s books, I am aiming for something along those lines – whimsical missives about life and the world’s idiosyncrasies.

There are other items that have allowed me to construct the future, but those will not be spoken of here, at least not now.

It is good to be back. Let’s make this a regular thing.



“The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls”

It has been a long, long time since I have written anything. It wasn’t for lack of material about which to write (NHL Lockout, replacement refs in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Pirates laughable collapse, the election, my personal life, etc). It was simply a matter of professional life absolutely consuming every waking moment from July onward. Because I am both (a recovering) Catholic and Irish, I always feel guilty when I write anything for pleasure when “there’s work to be done.”

As most of you are aware, I am a high school teacher by trade. This is not a post about the problems of the US Educational system or how poorly I get paid for a thankless job. This is about something far, far more profound and personal. Please, if you only ever come here for the sports and ramblings of a borderline personality, you may want to look away from this post. If, however, you are more interested in my thoughts on some psychological issues with which I have been dealing, please, continue reading.

Some of you out there actually know me, or should I say knew me, in the real world. As most everyone knows by now, “Walt Flanagan” is not my real name. It is the identity I have assumed for all my dealings online and otherwise. When when I created this blog in 2011 I paid the extra couple bucks to have an anonymous registration so it could not easily be searched and associated with my real name. Of course, if you have read this…ever or are even remotely capable of putting two and two together, it’s likely you can figure out precisely who is the person behind this madness.

Over the last year, I have undergone what I can only describe as truly moving and profound developments in my life. Moving away from PA was an “easy” decision because I always knew it would happen. Granted, I didn’t expect to end up in the ass end of North Carolina, but it is sometimes hard to know exactly where the current will take you. I had attempted to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for that parting. It did make the leaving easy, but the long tail has been the undeniably difficult part in this (for those unfamiliar, you can read up on the “long tail” here ).

I have spent numerous hours looking into some of the possible causes for my madness. The curse and blessing of being me is that I am very much in tune with my own stunning levels of bullshit. I know who I am and what I intend. I also know my strengths and weaknesses, especially when it comes to psychological instability. I am many, many, many things in this world. A doctor is not one of those things. That said, I know, without ever having been tested for any such maladies, that I “suffer” from a variety of psychological issues, including manic-depressive tendencies. Many of you have seen it in action when I am riding high or falling real low. Sometimes within the span of a few hours.

Continue reading ““The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls””

Winning the Parise Battle Loses the War?

Before I get fully underway, I first want to apologize upfront for the title being slightly misleading. I want it to be clear, from this moment forward, that I am a big supporter of the “do whatever you have to in order to land Parise” line of thinking. Keep that in mind as I walk through this. The points are a little…scattered and can possibly be accompanied by someone making a farting noise. Just some thoughts I have on the matter. Take them for what you will.

Here we stand, on the eve of one of the great hockey holidays – free agency. Tomorrow at noon many players across the NHL will become unrestricted free agents and can gleefully sign with any team willing to grossly, grossly overpay for their “services.”

Of course, some teams have already started the holiday. Yes, I’m looking at you, Calgary Flames and Dennis Wideman.

The Penguins have their own free agents needing taken care of, but there is one name most associated with the Penguins and tomorrow’s potential frenzy: Zach Parise. I’ve written before about the Pens’ pursuit of Parise, and I feel that the Pens WILL sign him. The signing, however, comes with plenty of risks, but also plenty of rewards.

Many have said that the Pens should put all of their respective eggs into the basket of signing Ryan Suter. While I agree with those people insofar that Suter is a tremendous player, I don’t feel he is the “answer” the Pens are looking for. Granted, neither is Parise, but there isn’t one singular player that can “fix” the team. It is my belief that the Penguins, generally speaking, have the correct defensive personnel currently on the roster and within the system to achieve success. With Niskanen signing his two-year deal, the defensive depth is solid. Additionally, with the likes of Strait, Bortuzzo, and potentially Despres being ready for a major role with the team, there is no “need” spend ~7 million for one defender. Even less reason to do so when the team is so deeply stocked for the next decade with skilled, potential star defensemen.

That said, goal scoring was NOT the team’s weakness during this year’s playoffs. What ultimately lead to the Pens’ demise was a movement AWAY from defensive play. The 2012 Penguins went the route of the 2008 and 2009 Washington Capitals. All offense all the time. And, much like the Caps, the Pens went down in laughable fashion. The forwards stopped backchecking. The defense was constantly (and preoccupied with) moving north and pinching. The goaltending, while left hung out to dry regularly, was abysmal. It was a complete team failure on so many levels, and that doesn’t exclude the coaching and front office.

So, it brings us to Parise.

Continue reading “Winning the Parise Battle Loses the War?”

Post Draft, Pre-Free Agency

With some of my thoughts and feelings out about the “Shero Draft Strategy,” I wanted to discuss a few thoughts I’ve had regarding the Pens going forward into free agency.

I, personally, don’t buy into the Ryan Suter stuff. I honestly think it’s a bunch of smoke and mirrors from Camp Shero to get teams like Detroit to bite first and hardest on Suter, leaving Parise to the Pens. Believe me, there are going to be plenty of suitors for Suter and Parise. In my heart of hearts, I think the Pens win the Parise sweepstakes as long as Shero doesn’t try to grossly low-ball him. Crosby and Parise being friends helps matters, certainly, but Parise really seems to fit the mold of what Shero and Bylsma have said the team needs – aggressive, skilled forwards with size.

Suter has stated he wishes to remain in the Western Conference, and I don’t think he’s going to bend for that. More importantly, I feel it would be folly for Shero and the Pens to go after him at the expense of the rest of the team. To land Suter, it will, according to most reports, take somewhere between 6 and 8 million per season. For ANY person who has been paying attention to the lunacy of the general Penguins’ fandom this season, paying a defenseman more than 4 dollars is apparently akin to genocide and will be met with scorn. Unless that player has a kitschy nickname or luxurious hair, in which case those players are safe. Paul Martin has become public enemy number 1 among the majority of (thoroughly uneducated, ignorant) Pens fans. Without fail, the first thing they mention about Martin is his $5M price tag. When pressed, the vast majority are unable to define WHY Martin “sucks,” but will gladly, gladly tell you time and again how “he needs to be better for $5M.”

Hold on to your hats if the Pens sign a guy like Suter for 6-7M/year. He’ll make one questionable turnover and the Consol Energy Center will burn to the damn ground. With that said, I think it’s clear that the Pens should not pursue Ryan Suter. I do, however, feel they should go after another defensive free agent…


Continue reading “Post Draft, Pre-Free Agency”

The Deep End of the Fan Pool

I am, by and large, a big personality. Those who know me in real life know that I can be…a little much to take. Those who only know me from online are fairly certain that I am mentally unstable and in desperate need of various medications.

They very well may all be right, but that doesn’t make what I say wrong.

Look, I am by no means an expert when it comes to development of junior hockey players. I know that most who are drafted do not go on to long, successful careers in the NHL. It’s a crapshoot. I get that. I never claimed it otherwise. I am not a professional scout. And in a mildly passive-aggressive retort: Neither are you.

I got a LOT of shit from a LOT of people who like to remind me that I’m not a professional scout. I would like to point out that neither are they. I have my opinions and, generally speaking, they aren’t particularly popular. I have not been shy for the last year-or-so in criticizing general manager Ray Shero’s draft strategy. The defense I hear regularly is “yeah, and look at all the stud defensemen and success they’re having in Nashville.” My response? “Yeah, they’re developing really great talent…which they can’t afford to cheap and continue to flameout in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the playoffs.” I know winning the Cup and making a deep run each year is unreasonable, but the laughable effort the last 3 years from Pittsburgh in the playoffs has been a massive, systematic failure from the very top all the way down.

Routinely I would hear people say “Shero is a ‘best player available’ type drafter.” Bullshit. The 2012 1st round (as well as 2011’s 1st and 2nd round) proved that Shero does not draft the best played available. When the Staal trade came down, I was over the moon. I like Sutter in exchange for Staal. I wasn’t familiar with Dumoulin, but I’ve heard great things. I was even more thrilled with us having a TOP 10 pick with a guy like Filip Forsberg just sitting there…and Ray Shero, almost as though he has an addiction he can’t kick, selects Derrick Pouliot, a guy generally ranked right around where the Pens originally stood at no. 22.

Shero then, again, selected yet another defenseman 14 picks latter with Olli Maatta.

Here’s why I have a problem with this strategy and the borderline ignorance of only using valuable picks on defensemen: The cupboard is completely bare in terms of forward development. Realistically, over the next 5 years, there’s only 2, maybe 3 guys currently in development at forward who could become legitimate NHL talents.

It wouldn’t be a concern if there was ANY depth behind guys like Bennett, Kuhnhackl, and, *gulp* Tangradi. Dominik Uher is about the only depth guy beyond those three who could see NHL action within a few seasons. I know there was a LOT of talk about a guy like Keven Veilleux, but injuries and general lack of spark seems to have tamped that down considerably. I am likely forgetting someone (and, my God, people will only be too happy to tell me about it), but the point still stands that we are choked up with defensemen and continue drafting more and more of them.

If you look at the defense right now, there’s Joe Morrow, Simon Despres, Scott Harrington, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait, Carl Sneep, Philip Samuelsson, Alex Grant, Reid McNeill, and now Maatta, Dumoulin, and Pouliot. Again, I’ve likely missed 2 or 3 guys, but that is immaterial.

So many times I hear people use the argument that “defensemen are the most sought after commodity,” and they are, generally, correct. But for those assets to actually be useful as a commodity Shero needs to pull the trigger and trade them. Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo have shown they are capable of playing in the NHL, but with how things have shaken out, it seems likely they will A: Walk for nothing, B: Get picked off waivers for nothing (assuming they don’t make the team out of camp), or C: will play a regular shift in the NHL night-in-night-out. Why don’t I include option D: Trade them for other assets? Because Shero has shown an unwillingness to trade his precious commodities.

He did pull the trigger on Goligoski, which worked out beautifully, but that still leaves a hilarious logjam both on the Pens and in the development channel. Then he moves Michalek for ANOTHER defensive prospect…after adding a defensive prospect in the Staal trade.

This would really be a truly wonderful thing…if the Pens, from top down, were planning on actually growing and developing the home-grown talent. They aren’t. They sign guys from outside. And they’re making a big push for at least one big time defensive signing while standing in opposition to promotion from within, at least on the foreseeable horizon.

Maybe, one day, far down the line the defensive corps will be guys like Morrow, Pouliot, Maatta, Harrington, Despres…but it doesn’t seem bloody likely, given the history.

It has becomes a relatively well-known fact that I am a “bad fan.” I routinely criticize the team and management. I have high expectations and do not stand for or defend substandard play. When the Pens fall in their well-known pattern of playing lazy defense, or the famous “switch flipping” mentality, I become unbearable. The dealings of Ray Shero have completely sent me over the edge.

I trust Ray Shero implicitly when it comes to getting players signed to cap-friendly, respectable contracts and making trades, but I don’t trust him when it comes to his drafting or moving the defensemen he’s accumulated.

So, of course, I took up the charge of saying the things nobody else is willing to say and thinking the things nobody else is willing to think. I just happen to take to the internet and actually say them for all the world to criticize me. I’m a bad fan because I don’t think everything the team does is wonderful. I’m a bad fan because I don’t like a lot of what the team does. I’m a bad fan because of being critical and having the wherewithal to actually state an opinion that goes against the grain.

I’m a bad fan not out of malice, but out of painful, deep love. I want this team to be successful in every aspect and continually be successful. The current model is NOT one of success. If I wanted a team that played 60 games that were really entertaining, 20 games that were laughably bad, and 2 games that were so-so…I’d watch the Vancouver Canucks.

With the draft said and done, we all turn our eyes toward Free Agency. Next Sunday, July 1, will really be the end result of the last few years under Ray Shero’s guidance. The two names most associated with the Penguins and their collective interests in free agency are F Zach Parise, currently of the New Jersey Devils, and D Ryan Suter, of the Nashville Predators.

A good number of people have already written that Parise is a foregone conclusion to come to Pittsburgh. I wouldn’t be too certain of that. He’s the biggest fish in this free agent class and will have a number of high profile suitors as well as some ludicrous contracts thrown his way. The Penguins, at present, have about $15M in cap space, which is impressive, but about half of that will go to Parise if they wish to sign him. I cannot even fathom what it will take to land Ryan Suter, but signing both is…possible. If the Pens are able to open up a little more cap space, I think both players will be signing here. If additional cap space is not an option, Shero will be forced to pick between the two.

Failure to land either player will be a complete and catastrophic failure on Ray Shero’s part. With trading Staal and Michalek as well as continuing to draft more defensemen, Shero has found himself in the position of having cap space, but also needs to be a big time player on July 1. Failure to land either leaves the Pens down an all-star caliber forward (though I am a big fan of getting Sutter from Carolina) as well as one of the better defensemen on the Pens’ squad from the last two years and 15 million in cap space effectively “unused.” Yes, there are other options, but then Shero may be forced to spend big on secondary or tertiary targets as well as give up some of those coveted defensive assets in WBS.

And so I find myself, again, in the deep end of the fan pool. I’m out in no-man’s land and I’m willing to tread water as long as need be, but I’m fully embracing my inner Randy Quaid from “Major League II.” I’ve fully embraced the snark and criticism…but it takes just one thing – one, small thing – to get me back to being the world’s biggest fanboy. I want this team to succeed. I want them to win every game and every championship for the next forever, but I know that isn’t possible.

The next ten days might truly define the Shero legacy. He’s a brilliant GM when it comes to contracts and trades. I’ve been told for years to trust in Shero and that Shero has a grand plan for all of this. Well, this is when we see what his plan is.

Well, that happened.

Folks, it’s about to get real ugly in here. I would have said it’s about to stink in here, but the Pens did enough stinking for everyone.


Season recap, grades, and looking ahead coming this week.


You’ve been warned.

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