Driver Re-Education

Written By: sherridaley - Aug• 05•13

If this country were run by the DMV, things would shape up in no time.


You know this if you have ever tried to argue with the rules and regulations set by the state with regard to auto registration, licensing, emissions inspections – or if you have recently tried to get away with not paying an out-of-state traffic violation.


The people at the DMV have been specially selected to listen to your excuses with the same interest level and facial expression of a stray dog eating out of your garbage can, except the people at the DMV make better eye contact.  These people cannot be reached by telephone.  In order to ask important questions, you are required to stand in long lines in an ugly building in a bad neighborhood. People will do anything to avoid a visit to the DMV.


Most people have mastered the art of car registration and license renewal, but moving traffic violations remains an uncharted sea of bad choices.


I have learned, for instance, never to argue with a traffic cop.  TRAFFIC COPS ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.  I didn’t learn this until way too late, but that’s another story.  However, former Connecticut police officer Richard Wallace wrote a helpful little primer called An Educational Guide to Speeding Tickets, in which he says that the devices used to track your speed are often inaccurate.  Unless you broke the sound barrier, it’s possible the cop’s gear was bad or that he tagged another car.  With this mind, he claims you should be able to talk your way out of your ticket in court.


I’ve done this. Once I convinced the judge to let me do community service instead of paying the fine and I spent a couple of pleasant Saturday mornings stuffing envelopes at the public library.  This saved me $170. Once, the prosecutor offered to lower the fine to $50 and save me the couple of hours it would have taken in court.  I paid it and skated out of there before 9 o’clock in the morning. Once the prosecutor waved a hand at it and dismissed the whole thing without even telling the judge, who was sitting right there.


This is all well and good,  but here is the deal which is not explained to you in the courtroom, nor is it printed on the back of your speeding ticket: if you pay the fine without questioning it, you do not earn points.  If you take the issue to court, you get the points – and the number of points you get is determined by the judge or the prosecutor or somebody.


While I was driving home, chuckling and congratulating myself for the way I had beat the system, these tickets were fed into a computer and sent to Headquarters where a form letter was a punched out and mailed to my home.


In most situations, this computer-generated task takes a nano-second, but the DMV holds this information until you think you have gotten away with it and until it is way too late to change anything. This letter informed me that I was required to go to a four-hour “driver re-education” class which is only held on weekdays and occasional Saturdays and which would cost me $60 – more if I didn’t pay in advance.


If I didn’t get this done in 60 days, my license would be suspended, and it would cost me $100 to get it re-instated in addition to the $60.  They did take credit cards.


Which is how I ended up in driving school at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning when I would much rather have been gardening.


Granted, I don’t have much of a sense of humor lately. The man I was seeing told me bluntly that I was boring, and when I said, gee if you feel that way, maybe we shouldn’t be seeing each other, and he said ok.  A couple of days later, I fell down the back stairs while letting the cat out and broke my foot.  So I can’t say I was approaching my re-education with a particularly good attitude, but arguing would get me nowhere. I knew that.



Statewide Driving School was located in the back of a three-story Victorian house on a side street of a neighboring town.  The front of the house was an interior decorating business run by two housewives and an Irish setter.  Several of my fellow criminals were moseying up the walk when I got there, and they didn’t look much happier than I did.


All those statistics that say most accidents are caused by males 18-25 were certainly borne out at Statewide.  There were 24 of us: 22 were guys.  There were a couple of marginally unwashed construction workers, a guy wearing full motorcycle gear, and one guy who looked like an accountant with serial-killer tendencies, but by and large we were not a scary group.  Certainly not a group that needed to be re-educated.


Our instructor was a retired schoolteacher who had written on the blackboard, in nice block letters with smiley-faces in the O’s, GOOD MORNING. MY NAME IS LEN and things went downhill from there.


It took 45 minutes to take roll.  During this time, we learned all about Len and his career and where many of us had gone to school and what we did for a living.  We waited patiently for late-comers, and about 9:30, Len started “class.”  We learned how few minutes we would gain on a 75-mile car trip if we drove over the speed limit.  Len told us that if we went 75 miles an hour instead of 55, we would not get there in an hour.  We would not go 75 miles, if we went 75 miles an hour.  He had a mathematical equation which proved that, math which I am still puzzling over, but none of us questioned this.  After this, we learned about the difference between Disneyland and Disney World, his relationship between his daughter and his now ex-son-in-law, his gall bladder operation, and the highways he took on his cross-country trip in a van with his wife and family.


At 10:45, we took a break.  A couple of guys stood around in the parking lot desultorily smoking cigarettes, some people made calls on their cell phones, and a few wild ones left in their cars to find coffee.


The guy in motorcycle leathers was ten minutes late returning from the break, but nobody, including Len, said anything to him. We all politely shifted our chairs and let him in.  This was when Len was telling us about his army days and how the world was heading to hell in a handbasket because nobody used his turn signals anymore.  This was somehow related to the odd haircuts kids-these-days were getting that signaled that the end is near.  Then we learned about how much better things were before high-rise apartment buildings and memory typewriters, and then we watched a film on the tragic outcome of drunk driving, although none of us were in for DWI.


At noon, we were handed a final exam. A few sample questions follow:


1.    Under normal traffic conditions, a good driver develops the habit of looking ahead of his vehicle a distance equal to about:

  1. 5 seconds
  2. 10 seconds
  3. 15 seconds
  4. 20-30 seconds


(This has to be a trick question.  Distance can’t be measured in seconds, can it?)


2.  Of the following vehicles, which one calls for you to leave the most extra following distance?

  1. delivery van
  2. cars
  3. school busses
  4. motorcycles


3.     Implied consent laws pertain to:

  1. motor vehicle use issues
  2. motor vehicle ownership issues   
  3. DWI arrest issues
  4. Connecticut “no-fault” insurance


(If you know the answer to this one, you will admit to having recently been stopped for DWI.)


Here some sample questions to which I would have known the answers:


1.    How long has Len been married to his wife?

  1. 40 years
  2. 50 years
  3. too long
  4. Len is single.


2.    How long did Len’s son drive on the Massachusetts Turnpike before getting stopped by the state police?

  1. 45 miles
  2. about 10 seconds
  3. the same amount of time as it takes Arlo Guthrie to sing “Alice’s Restaurant”
  4. all four years of his undergraduate study


3.    What kind of people work for AAA?

  1. idiots
  2. under-educated numbskulls who think they’re better than everybody else
  3. highly skilled technicians
  4. Asians



We all finished our tests about the same time.  Len told us that it didn’t matter what we got on the test, thank God, and we went over the questions and answers out loud.  There were 16 questions. About half way through, I asked the girl how many she got wrong, and she said, “I can tell you how many I got right.”  The guy at the end of my table said, “I just answered B on all of them.”  When we got to question #8, the man across from me asked, “There were more questions on the back?”


I asked the serial killer accountant to figure out my grade.


I got a C.


But I can drive.

Read me… or not.

Written By: sherridaley - Jan• 07•13

I liked The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison and I am going to go out and get his other books, All About Lulu and West of Here.kI’m a snot when it comes to books. There are so many really bad ones out there.  Sometimes I get about 60 pages into a book, and I think, ” Clearly the author is sleeping with the intern who is reading through the slush pile.” and I have no respect for the intern because I would never sleep with anyone who was such a bad writer.

But back to Evison.  I like his book. This is an unusual plot line.  The main character is a stay-at-home dad until his successful wife decides to move on, and then, lost and lonely with no discernible job skills, he becomes a caregiver to a disabled teenager.

A road trip ensues, complete with a runaway girl teen, estranged fathers, broken hearts, and wheelchair accidents. I hate books with tidy endings, and this book does not have one. Like real life, things are not quite resolved at the end of the book, and perhaps never will be.


Then there’s Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck. I became a fan of Larson when I read Isaac’s Storm and, shortly thereafter, In the Garden of the Beasts. The first is about a murderous storm that practically wiped Galveston TX off the map, but it also the history of the United States weather service. The book flips from one story to the other until they meet, and the reader  (well,me, anyhow) can barely wait for each installment.

It was the same with In The Garden of the Beasts, which juxtaposed an American ambassador’s family in Berlin and the rise of Nazi power.

But when it came to Devil in the White City, which told the stories of an architect and a serial murderer during the Chicago World’s Fair, I flipped over the architect’s progress and focused on the fiend who lured women into his clutches and did horrible things to them.  I was, metaphorically, one of those people (you are, too, I know it.) who slow down to look at a highway accident.  The architect was a bore.  The fiend was irresistible.

So it was with Thunderstruck.  Read about Marconi’s invention of the telegraph?  Or the self-effacing doctor who peddled snake oil and was completely pussywhipped by his voluptuous and selfish wife until he … but I don’t want to spoil it.  Just flip past the Marconi stuff.

What’s really great about Larson is that his books are entirely non-fiction.  The research he has done is more than admirable. It’s unbelievable. They read like pulp fiction, but I guess real life does, too.

A Real Live Ghost Story

Written By: sherridaley - Dec• 27•12

Eric Nuzum’s memoir boils down to a sentence he writes near the very end of his book: “…I don’t believe that places are haunted, but I do believe that people are haunted.” And poor Eric Nuzum is haunted indeed.

I don’t think that all the mind-numbing drugs and alcohol he ingested as a teenager were much help in making sure he saw the world as a logical place, but the reader is no more educated about the mysteries of the Little Girl in the Blue Dress that haunts him or the elusive girl Laura he might be in love with. And we readers are sober. Maybe.

It’s a worthy read. It may inspire you to drive down Clinton Road in New Jersey to scare yourself or visit the abandoned Mansfield Reformatory. Nuzum seems set on giving himself a heart attack.

As for me, I don’t invite ghosts or search them out. I had a few other-worldly experiences after Philip committed suicide. Strange, almost comforting experiences – which were also experienced by his brother and his fiancee. We traded his ghost back & forth for a few years, less often as time went on. But I agree with Nuzum. I too believe that people are haunted, and they bring the ghosts with them wherever they go. Although Nuzum calls his book and his efforts in it GIVING UP THE GHOST, I am not at all sure he has.


Read This Book… about Indians…

Written By: sherridaley - Dec• 26•12



Louise Erdrich’s newest called The Round House was a surprise, even though I always carefully scour the New York Times Book Review section to be sure I don’t waste my time.  … I hate that.  I usually get 6-7 library books at a time so if I get a lousy one, I can just flip to the end to see who got murdered or married, toss it on the floor, and pick up the next one in the stack.

The Round House promised a mother attacked, adolescent trauma, and life on an Indian reservation. I was intrigued and not disappointed.  In fact, Erdrich is such a fine writer that I did not hurry through the prose to get to the plot.  That’s the sign of a terrible writer – when the plot carries the book, not the words. Would be nice if they were of equal weight, but that seldom happens.

Maybe here.

No romance, unless you count the ghostly presence of the Ojibwe tribal ceremonies and spirits. Or the efforts of our protagonist’s father to reach his damaged wife after she has been brutally raped.

Basically, it’s a mystery, but with none of the tricks of the trade. I was less concerned with solving the mystery than I was with how everyone was going to deal with it. What happens could only have happened within tribal law — and there’s a sort of satisfying curiosity about it.

The ending reminded me of the final scene of The Graduate. Benjamin and Elaine (in her wedding gown) are in the car.  They ride together, saying nothing, until Elaine says, “Benjamin?”

And Benjamin answers, “What.” And they just keep on driving till the credits roll up.

The final sentence in The Round House is “We just kept going.”



Annuals Die.

Written By: sherridaley - Sep• 03•12

Fall is not a happy time for any gardener, but it’s especially bad for me. I relate to plants and bushes like I do people, which puts me slightly left of center but not scary. My friend Ingrid ripped out some some begonias to give room for her impatiens and left the begonias lying on the ground with their naked little roots exposed – to die there, drying out in the sun, an ignoble death. I snatched them up and held them to my chest.  “Ingrid, how could you?” I planted them in my yard and they are thriving.

Which leads me to the awful truth about autumn.  Annuals die.

This is hard for me, which is why I don’t plant many annuals, but we need them for color. Actually, what we need them for is instant gratification because we humans are selfish little shits who cannot wait for a simple cone flower to bloom. Nor can we read the packages of those seeds ($1.29 for hundreds of flowers rather than $7.95 for one) to see when they bloom and carefully plan so that a variety of perennials color our gardens from May to October.  For that matter, we don’t even read the little plastic thing that’s stuck in the dirt when we buy a plant for $7.95.  Nuh-uh. We can’t walk past a $15 geranium in July or a lily in June. They cry out, “Take me home! I will look beautiful next to your porch!”  We hear them; we feel their hunger.

Or maybe it’s just me. In fact, it’s probably just me. Although I see my share of people at Home Depot fingering the blossoms of marigolds and looking over their shoulders guiltily. Annuals are a sure sign that you are an impatient, uneducated, selfish gardener. Had you had any brains, you would have planted perennials that would be poking their gentle heads up out of their dirt and opening into white and yellow blooms in May.

Which is why this time of year is hard for me. I must rescue my annuals and take them in pots to my classroom where I teach.  There they line up like grateful refugees on the windowsill. 30 or 40 of them. Desperate for attention and Miracle Grow.

But that can only happen after I have dug them all up out of the garden and put them in pots and schlepped them one by one in canvas grocery bags to school. This takes weeks. Geraniums. Gerbera daisies. Ferns. Tropical flowering trees. Purple shamrocks. Fucking green shamrocks. Jesus.  It’s a mess.  It’s a chore.

But I have to let the marigolds die. There are far too many of them.  And they have been the best annuals I have ever had: bright and hardy and full of color all summer. I sit on the back steps with a glass of wine and stare at them.  “I’m sorry,” I whisper.  “You’ve been great.”

I can’t even tell my psychiatrist about this little emotional, seasonal blip.  This is between you & me.  I have to let the marigolds die, and I feel like shit about it.





A “Don’t Read” and 2 “Do Reads”

Written By: sherridaley - Aug• 22•12

I really wanted only to write about books I love so that my friends could read them, too, but I must warn you about TOWNIE by Andre Dubus III.  You may have, like me, fallen in love with HOUSE OF SAND & FOG – the book and the movie – and you may be tempted to read his memoir.

Don’t.  Dubus grew up first a wimp — and then, trying pathetically to make himself into a Charles Atlas so nobody would kick sand in his face,became a muscle-head.  He tries to explain, psychologically, why he liked to beat the shit out of bad guys, but he only succeeded in convincing me he was a thick-headed mule with a very bad temper.

The story takes an eye-rolling turn for the worse when Dubus dreams that a Bible-thumping black preacher (his wife is black) predicts that he is going to die.  He wakes up sweating and terrified, and a copy of the New Testament just happens to be on his bedside table.  He flips open the Book to a random page in Matthew and reads, “Love one another.”  And he never has the urge to stomp someone’s head in again.

Isn’t that nice?

Throughout the book, I was more interested in his father than I was in him, and part of that is due to the fact that Dubus was mystified by him, too.  So upon finishing TOWNIE at the airport, I gave it to a stranger and promised myself that I would get Dubus’s FATHER’s work from the library and see where Dubus’s talent came from.  It’s certainly not clear from this memoir.


But DO read John Irving’s new book IN ONE PERSON about a surprisingly well-adjusted bisexual man.  He goes from wearing his girlfriend’s bra to bed to having sex with the town librarian, who is a sexy woman with a penis.  Almost everyone in the book has some sort of sexual dysfunction, if you consider gender fluidity a dysfunction.  It was a shock to read the cover story of the New York Times Magazine (August 12) about boys who like to wear dresses … the very day I finished Irving’s book.  Remember not to take much of anything Irving says too seriously.  He’s still the same old crazy John Irving.

And DO read A LADY CYCLIST’S GUIDE TO KASHGAR.It flips back & forth from the 1920s to current day, from the Middle East to London, but after while it comes together.  An 11-year-old girl gives birth and dies in the desert right on page 3, the rest of the book offers everything from missionaries, lesbians, and a homeless man fleeing from immigration officials. Somehow it all works.

Bad Day at the Dump

Written By: sherridaley - Aug• 21•12

I still take my garbage to the dump. I am too cheap to pay to have it picked up, and I actually LIKE going to the dump. So yesterday I am hauling a big plastic bag of household debris out of the trunk when a young woman scampered up and offered to help.

I thanked her politely and said I could get it myself, but she reached for it anyway. “Oh, let me!” she exclaimed, all joy and sunshine. “I know what it’s like.”  She grabbed one end of the bag.

I thought we were having a female bonding moment until she said the next thing: “I live with my elderly mother and I’m used to helping.”

ELDERLY? “I’m fine,” I assured her. Elderly? I grabbed the other end of the bag.

“Don’t be silly.” She smiled at me kindly. “I can help. I’m used to it. This is too heavy for you at your age.” AT MY AGE?

She began to tug, and for a split second I considered tugging back, but I remembered the kitty litter and envisioned the plastic exploding and the cat shit, coffee grounds, and potato peelings that would settle in our hair. I let her have it and she tossed it in the garbage pit.

I wanted to punch her.

“Any more?” She shouldered her way past me back to the car and dragged another bag out of the trunk.  I wanted to grab the back of her neck and smash her face against the roof of the car, maybe break her nose. Elderly, my butt. How about you come run 5 miles with me, lard-ass?

She chattered on cheerily. “I’ve been living with my mother for a few years now and I know how hard it is to be getting old and not getting help.”

I’m more concerned about not getting laid, I thought as I watched her unload the trunk, my hands twitching.

She looked helpfully at me, wiped her hands on the seat of her pants.  “Look, you ever need any help, you could call me.”

“No,no,” I demurred. “You’ve been enough help. Thanks. Really.  Thanks a lot.”  I became aware that I was clenching and unclenching my hands. When she walked away, I decided she did have a big butt.

Elderly, my fucking ass.

First in a series

Written By: sherridaley - Aug• 15•12

This defies a category, in my opinion.  First, read this…

New Jersey kids win $500,000 settlement after being forced to eat on school’s gym floor

By NBC News staff and wire reports

Seven students forced to eat lunch on their New Jersey school’s gymnasium floor for two weeks as punishment won a $500,000 legal settlement, their attorney said Tuesday.

The 2008 incident involved fifth-grade students at Charles Sumner Elementary School in Camden, N.J., who were disciplined after one child spilled water as he tried to lift a jug onto a cooler, according to lawyer Alan Schorr.

The students filed a federal lawsuit against the Camden Board of Education, which agreed to the settlement, Schorr said.

He said the incident took place against a backdrop of discord between the black and Hispanic populations in the impoverished southern New Jersey city. The children were Hispanic.

Schorr said the vice principal, who was African-American, punished all 15 students in a bilingual class by making them eat off paper liners normally used on lunch trays. (While there were 15 students in the class, only seven sued.)

“The African-American kids were eating at tables, with trays, taunting these Hispanic kids who were forced to eat on the ground,” Schorr said.

The vice principal has since transferred. reported that the board of education had approved the settlement but not admitted any guilt.

It added:

“Under the settlement, the students will split $280,000, which works out to $31,428 each. Their attorney, Alan H. Schorr of Cherry Hill, will get $220,000.”


The children’s teacher was fired after encouraging them to tell their parents about the punishment. The teacher won a $75,000 settlement earlier.

Neither school officials nor their lawyers could be reached for comment


Of COURSE they can’t be reached for comment.  Anything they could possibly say would be wrong.  First of all, “backdrop of discord” has “gang activity” written all over it, and I sincerely doubt that spilling water was the real reason for discipline. Something doesn’t sound right and I, for one, would like the rest of the story.

In today’s tender atmosphere of racism and profiling, why is does this article make it so clear the ethnicity of all involved, except, by the way, the teacher who was fired?  (And, by the way, the lawyer, who walked away with the lion’s share of the money.)

1.  Why is sitting on the floor, eating off paper placemats, such a dreadful punishment?  Sounds a lot like a picnic.

2.  When bullying has become a by-word in today’s news and lawsuits, why weren’t the African-American students who “taunting” the Hispanics disciplined?

3.  With public schools systems in such dire need of funding, wouldn’t that money be better spent on school supplies, textbooks, school staff salaries, and the like? (Don’t bother answering that…it’s rhetorical.)   If the students felt their educations were compromised because of the incident (which I doubt), that money could have been put away for their college educations.

We all know what this was: an egregious abuse of the justice system.  Shame on the judge for not throwing it out of court.

Bird Sex

Written By: sherridaley - Aug• 13•12

Zebra finches are about the size of my thumb and they’re very cute. They won’t mate unless they have a little covered nest that affords them privacy.  I think that’s proper. The males are quite helpful: not only do they do most of the nest-building (which in the case of caged birds amounts to “feathering” the nest with ripped-up newspaper), but they also sit on the eggs so that the females can go bowling, or whatever birds find to do in a birdcage.

I can watch them for hours, me with a glass of wine, them all peeping about, splashing in their birdbath, and yanking scraps of paper into their nests. They also sweetly nuzzle each other’s necks, ruffling feathers in gentle foreplay. I sometimes have more than one pair of birds and I have seen my share of eggs hatch.  Upon hatching, the babies look like boogers with hairs growing out of them. Not very pretty, but they grow up quickly, and it’s fun to watch the momma bird feed them. Birds are easy pets, and when I had too many birds in a cage, I’d take them down to the pet store for adoption.

I tried to keep an  even number of males and females, but I ended up with two females and a male.  Then, slowly, I noticed one female looking a little haggard.  Most of the feathers around her neck had been plucked out, probably in a sexual frenzy by the male, although  never saw him do it.  He looked completely innocent when I peered in at him, all hopping about and chirping.  The other female preened.

After a few more days, the haggard female was so weak, she couldn’t hop up onto a perch, and then, one morning, I found her lying on her side, dead. Sadly, I carried her outside to the yard and buried her under some leaves.  I figured it was probably not the worst way to die, making love until you expire. Or perhaps it was a crime of passion, the male AND the female killed her so they could be alone, and sure enough a few days later eggs appeared in the nest.

I watched happily as the little couple popped around collecting shredded paper and sharing the nesting duties.  When the babies were born, I was so excited.  I love watching those little hairy boogers grow into tiny feathered birds.

Then. One day. I came home from work and all babies had been thrown from the nest and lay in various states of dead at the bottom of the cage.  One lay floating in the birdbath.  “Crime of passion, my ass!” I shouted at them. “Baby killers!! You heinous little monsters!”  I opened the cage and snatched the two of them from their perch, shoved them in a brown paper shopping bag and stapled it shut. In a fury, I drove to the pet shop.

“I have to exchange these for some nice birds!” I told him, breathing hard. I told him all about the murders while the two birds beat their wings helplessly inside the brown paper bag.

And here is what I learned about bird sex.

1.)  The males can be easily distracted from the females with a little bit of brightly-colored straw.  They’ll peck at that for hours instead of their girlfriends, giving the girls a break. So I bought a tiny red & green broom of straw to tie inside the cage.

2.)  The females need a place to go to be alone, when they don’t feel like making love – other than the nest, obviously — so I put a branch of plastic leaves in the cage where they now occasionally hide.  Male birds are remarkably easy to hide from, apparently.

Eerily, it seems those two fact could apply to humans.

So this post is just to educate you on the intricacies of the lives of caged birds, if you ever thought life would be boring in a cage. Sex, rage, jealousy, murder, passion. Incest, for all I know. I can’t tell them apart once the babies are grown. I try to stay out of their personal lives.  Once the straw and the plastic leaves are in place, they’re on their own.





Written By: sherridaley - Aug• 10•12

I had a dream last night about someone I loved very much.  He was mean to me in the dream. Not that he meant to be mean, but he wouldn’t say that he loved me. He didn’t say he didn’t, but he was evasive and distracted and didn’t pay any attention to me.

I wanted to go home in my dream, but he wouldn’t let me. Come with me to this party, he told me, and so I went with him, and everyone we knew was there, and I was proud to be there with him, and I almost forgot that I was hurt.

Then I woke up and I looked out at the dark in my room and wondered why I hadn’t heard from him in so long and where he was, and then I remembered that he was dead. He’d been dead for 30 years.

It took me until noon to get over it.