Category Archives: Jersey Boy

Why I Am Blessed to Teach: Three Vignettes from My Montessori Experience

Not long ago I took a job as a teacher.

That being said, I have been a teacher for well over a decade.  But, wishing to expand my portfolio and branch out, I accepted a position in a new school.  Now I can say that I have the following variety of teaching and/or administrative experience: large school, small school, co-ed, single-sex, diocesan, private-independent, mid-sized, teacher, vice principal, secondary, and elementary.  Why not toss Montessori into the mix?  It couldn’t hurt to learn a new way to teach and beside, my own children attend a Montessori school.  This could be both beneficial to my resume and fun!

That entire last paragraph could be rewritten thus:

But, having temporarily walked away from the insanity of working in “industrial” schools I had accepted my new life delivering blood samples and lab mice for a courier company.  One Sunday night the director of the school where my children are students texted to say: “Look, dude, I’m desperate.  Your daughter’s teacher quit.  I’m not entirely convinced it isn’t the girl’s fault.  Since it’s nearing the end of the year we’re scraping the barrel, pal.  Can you handle a dozen 1st-3rd grader’s?”  Also, she texted right after I had consumed a few gin and tonics so there’s that.

There is a line in Scripture that says “You have put into my heart a greater joy than they have from an abundance of corn and new wine.” (Ps.4)  I don’t know who “they” are but I do believe Our Blessed Lord has infused me with a great love for teaching and for the children (and sometimes adults) I get to teach.  It’s twisted, really.  I don’t know many other people who get excited about working with children and teenagers and yet I can’t help myself.  And you know it must be real when it’s a greater love even than wine or an abundance of corn for that matter.  By the way, the New American Bible translation from 1970 sucks.

And since it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t share some of the scenes of this life with you; here now a brief sketch of this past Friday morning and my interactions with three particular students.

Student X, boy, 7 years-old

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Sure looks like a “Thunderclaw”, doesn’t he?

The morning was off to a smashing start.  One of the families had brought rabbits to school.  As in, they brought actual bunnies.  And the bunnies were to remain at school.  “We’re donating them!” the mom said lovingly.  “It’s a great way for the kids to learn about stuff and it’s very Montessori.”  Perhaps I don’t know enough about this Montessori method.  And “stuff?”  Yes, it’s a fabulous way for them to learn about reproduction.  Come to think of it, my son’s getting to be about that age.  This might be more straightforward then having “the talk” with him.  I’m getting rabbits for the house.  Anyway, one young man rushed me on my way in the door.  “Hey look!  It’s Thunderclaw!” he shouted as he tossed a black dwarf rabbit in my face.  “Ack!” I shouted in return as Thunderclaw almost took a mug full of black coffee to the face.  It’s a good thing I have the patience of a saint – St. Augustine, pre-conversion.

A little while later I found myself sitting at a table that was about two feet off the ground across from Student X.  We had just covered a lesson on honeybees.  X was diligently tracing a hexagon over and over onto a sheet of paper.  He had already composed five sentences about these insects (in cursive) and was now illustrating the hive.  Burning the heck out of a yellow colored pencil he put the pencil down momentarily in order to suck his thumb.  The teacher in me stepped aside and the dad moved in.  “Son, you don’t want to do that,” I said gently yet firmly.  “Um, yeah I do,” came his reply without glancing up.  He was still admiring his honeycomb.  “No, no you don’t.  Do you know what will happen?” I asked.  “Yeah, um, it calms me down.”  I had to fight with everything I had to stop from saying “So will a Xanax” but I managed instead “First, you answered a question I had not asked.  I asked what is likely to happen in the future.  You responded with what is happening now.”  Crickets.  “But I like it,” came X’s reply in the cutest high pitched voice.  “You’ll need braces, son.  It’ll mess your teeth up.”

I thought I had won the argument based on my stellar logic.  Unfortunately I was arguing with a kid.  “I’m already getting braces.  My dad told me so.”  Well, you can’t beat that reasoning, I suppose.  “Plus, um, plus…  Uh… Oh yeah, my orthodontist told me I was a very lucky boy and I would have to get headgear!”  “Sounds like your orthodontist is the lucky one,” I shot back.  I smiled at X and marveled at his certainty and confidence.  He, of course, picked up his pencil in the other hand because apparently he’s ambidextrous and continued his masterpiece.

Student Y, boy, 8 years-old

A short while later I had just stepped out of a tiny bathroom where I had gone to scroll through Instagram and generally catch my breath when Student Y ran up to me.  Where he came from I could not say.  The kid’s a ninja.  He’s about the size of a capuchin monkey and just about as wiry.  And I love this kid.  That’s why I almost didn’t mind when he practically pulled my 200 lb. frame down to the floor by trying to climb up my leg to tell me something.  “HEY!  Can I read to you?”  This is one of the most rewarding aspects of working with little children.  He’s just learned to read in the past year and is still inching toward a milestone they call the “reading explosion” or something like that.  I may have made that term up but the point is he’s teetering on the brink between sounding out some words and racing through a paragraph.  And he’s excited.  And he wants me to be the object of his new-found skill.

We sit on the reading carpet (invented by a Nazi, for no adult ever said “Yay! Let’s get down on the floor for this!”) and he proceeds to a thin, purple-covered book.  It’s a leveled reader.  It is not his level.  His is red.  The purples are for a different stage, like two stages above him.  But, I admire his pluck.  Go for it, kiddo.  The stories in these books all follow a phonetic theme.  Unfortunately that means they sometimes give the characters names that have never been used by real people.  This was the story of a terrier named Sollie.  Y struggles with this.  “Solo was a timid puppy.”  “No, son, not Solo, Sollie,” I correct him.  “Sally was a timid puppy,” he tries again.  “No, son, not Sally, Sollie.”  “Sully was a tim-”  “Oh for God’s sake.  Sully was the Miracle on the Hudson pilot and, you know what?  Yeah, let’s just go with Sully.”

He continues.  I come to learn that Sully was indeed a timid puppy.  His owner Shiela had to carry him around.  He wanted to be brave like his dad.  He liked to eat meat.  Except, Y read that as /mat/.  “Y,” I said gently yet firmly, “in English, when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking.”  Crickets.  “OK,” he said, “/meet/”.  Good.  This happened a few more times.  The theme here was vowel clusters.  Then Y came to this sentence.  “They went to the pier.”  He read this as /pyre/.  “Y,” I said, “that’s /peer/.”  “But did the first vowel not go walking that day?” he asked most sincerely.  “Damn English,” I thought to myself.

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When two vowels go walking, a terrier eats a toddler.

Finally Y reached the climax of the story.  “When Sollie ran down to the beach, a toddler held out her hand with some cookie pieces.  Sollie ate them.”  First, Y read that as “cookie /pi-cees/” and I did not correct him.  Second, I noticed that Y was looking most confused.  “Why would he eat them?  He must be a mean dog.”  “What are you talking about,” I asked.  It turns out Y thought Sully ate the toddler, that rat bastard.  I clarified the story for my young friend.  And then I laughed at the thought of a terrier eating a toddler who would obviously be three times his size.

Student Z, boy, 6 years-old

I have saved the best for last.  Student Z is a young man who has only recently joined our class.  He had previously been in the “younger division”.  He was starting to outgrow that classroom so I agreed (happily) to let him come over to my class.  I’m friends with his parents and he’s such an awesome kid.  When I’m at their house he’s bouncing off the walls, full of energy, typical little boy.  In school, he is studious, reserved, almost shy.  I can tell he is eager to please and to do a good job.  Z is on the cusp of getting the hang of reading.  And hats off to anyone who has ever taught another person to read.  It is NOT easy.  Sidenote: In complete seriousness, the lady who runs this school is truly gifted.  I watched her sit down with a child last week and, in the most loving and gentle way, teach that child, encourage that child, and celebrate that child’s accomplishment.  It is a gift.

Thunderclaw?!  Who named that bunny?  Crazy Horse?

I extricate myself from the reading carpet and head to a ledge that reminds me of a bar only without alcohol.  Z follows in tow holding onto one of the manipulatives we use in Montessori.  It is a wooden tray containing flash cards with three and four letter words.  Other than the wooden tray I’m not sure how this differs from other schools.  Our goal is to pull six cards and sound them out.  Then Z will write those words in his notebook.  “Z,” I say, “Let’s toss in a few four letter words!”  Then I laugh at what that sounded like to my own ears.  He was game.

First word: “puh… ahh… puh.  POP!”  He smiles broadly.  He got it.  “Great job, Z!  And that was super fast!  Let’s do another one.”

Next word: “luh… ahh… tuh.  LOT!”  Another huge smile.  “Yay!  Amazing!  Ready for the next one?”  He nods excitedly.

Third word: “juh… ahh… muh.”  Only this time I must stop him.  “Sorry, Z,” I say holding my hand up.  “Not every A sounds alike.”  He looks puzzled.  “Let’s try it again.”  I hold the card up.  “juh… ahh…”  “Nope,” I say.  “Um,” he asks, “How does this A sound?”  “I’m glad you asked, Z.”

“Juh…aeyh… muh.  Say it with me.”

And in that moment I realized I was teaching him New Jersey English.

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You gotta’ problem wid dat?  I’ll see you on Bloomfield Ave.

When his mom and dad start wondering why he’s suddenly started speaking like Joe Piscopo (or me for that matter) they need only look at my upbringing.  Garden State’s finest spreadin’ the Jerz.

Proud to be spreading my heritage in this sleepy Texas town, I turned from the bar with no booze, put the cards away, and clocked out for the day.

My work here is done.

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Harvey’s Mailbag

First, a big thank you to the many of you who sent me messages after my last post.  It is nice to be appreciated for your writing.  For me, it’s nice to be praised for something that was about my dad.

One of my sisters pointed out (rightly so) why Dad would have been laughing at me running.  He was an actuary.  Numbers never lied to him and the more data he could get his hands on the more complete a picture of your impending mortality he could paint for you.  Runners, it seems, tend to die.  Well, if I remember this one correctly, it had something to do with the fact that all human beings die.  In a nutshell, though, runners tended to enjoy a negligibly similar mortality with non-runners (there was always that control group).  In other words, overall, running doesn’t make you live longer or shorter.  But it did correlate with death from (do not quote me on this) an enlarged heart.  Again, there wasn’t a direct cause and effect, just a correlation.  Whatever, I’m going to keep running so I have a way to burn up the nervous energy of an ex-smoker – as in, “What do I do with my hands!?”

Now then, on to the rest of the mail.

Six and half years ago, right after moving to Texas, my wife, in-law’s, and I traveled to Oklahoma one night to see one of my favorite singers – the immortal Frankie Valli.  I then wrote a story about it.  I’m not even going to link it.  If you want, you can find it for yourself.  In that story, as in so many stories I’ve written over the years, I employed a sort of absurdist humor.  For the uneducated or uninitiated, this type of humor is represented by several key hallmarks including series of events that do not follow (often in an extreme fashion, also called “non sequitir humor”), descriptives that are patently false yet played for reality, and a sense that the narrator may in fact be suffering from dementia.  In my story about Mr. Valli, the reader ought to be able to tell a few things.  First, I truly do love this man, his voice, and his contribution to the world.  There is no denying that.  Second, I am using absurdist humor to prop him up.  In other words, at an age when every human on the planet has outlived his actuarily lifespan; Frankie Valli is still making a buck, doing what he loves.

So I received the following comment…

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Takeaway: People read Harvey!

At first I wondered if the person posting the comment was a personal friend of Mr. Valli.  Then I began to realize something…  There is at least one person who read a post of mine almost seven years ago and remembered it well enough to dredge it back up.  In an absurd way, this person just validated my writing.  But let me address the issue at hand because I do not like to stifle criticism.  I’m a big boy and I can take it.  The comment was civil in tone.  Let’s assume that we live in a world in which a guy from Newark, NJ can’t poke some fun at an idol of his who also happens to come from Newark, NJ (which is a pretty awesome place, by the way) and is a gazillionaire celebrity who’s probably seen worse on the pages of Billboard Magazine.  Let’s assume.  Well, then, Mr. Valli and your dear family, I apologize for hurting your feelings.  If you’d ever like to suggest that my writing is crap please feel free.  It’s on me this time.  I promise I won’t even cry.

In the meantime, if you’d like to keep reading I will keep writing.  And Frankie, if you’re reading this and you ever feel like sending me an autographed headshot for my kids (who also adore you), let me know.  I’ll send you my address.

Musings from 35,000 Feet

Yes, I’m on a plane.

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‘Bout to get my flyin’ on…

Where am I headed? Well, let’s start with a quick recap. I started writing this blog for my kids. Everything I write here is because of them. Ultimately I want them to be able to read this and see how perfect a life they made for me. So even when it seems I’m writing a funny post with no bearing on their lives it all still comes back to them. I can laugh because they exist and they make me smile.

I’m headed to the Fatherland. Regular readers of this space (both of you) know that I’m referring to New Jersey. Technically I’m headed to LaGuardia – a “nifty” little airfield at the far reaches of Queens, NY. When you have to book a ticket with 24 hours notice you can’t be choosy.  When it first opened as Glenn Curtis Field in 1929 (work with me here, I’m trying to teach, you twat), Queens was a sleepy borough of about 50 residents and a handful of chickens.  By 1960, former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s wish to be immortalized by a slower-than-molasses, aging, crumbling public works project would come to fruition with “LGA Phase 1”, alternately referred to as “the building of the Central Terminal Building”.  In fact, in the 1960’s this facility was seen as the airport of the future.  Unfortunately for the good people of Queens, the future held such things as the Jumbo Jet, airline deregulation, and not-asbestos.

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She (they) followed me onboard, honest.

I once had a friend – a makeup artist on a television show on which I worked – refer to Queens, his home borough, as, and please pardon the expression, “the most f*cked borough”.  “Where else could you have 69th St. intersect both 69th Pl. and 69th Rd. all at once?” he opined.

Where in the hell was I?  Ah yes…

I’m flying in to see my dad. He’s had a massive stroke. I think my mom said the doctor called it a “big” stroke. Apparently not calling it “massive” makes it sound less severe. But it’s serious enough that I got the ticket and here I am.  Dear readers, I’m handling this, as I always do, because the two people who gave me life taught me to do this, with humor.  Work with me.  And a few paragraphs back when I referred to you as a twat, I meant it as the British do.  Slipping back to my story…  Dad’s always been competitive and I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of teenage boy, bawdy joke hiding in the fact that he’d be pissed to not have it called a “massive stroke”.  For the record he had a massive stroke once before when I was 16 and he was 56.  Miraculously he recovered from that one almost immediately.  I don’t see that happening this time.

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If I understand, we’ll land and then the Sharks and Jets will go at it.

Kids, when you read this years from now I want you to know something. I love my father. Our relationship (his and mine) is not like yours and mine. We’ve bonded over bizarre things. I figured out how to make high-end cocktails for him. He gave me a copy of the book The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy for Christmas when I was in 7th grade. See? There you go. Children, he’s a good man and everything I know about how to be your father comes from him. I know I’m not perfect. I don’t think I can say that about him. And he taught me a sense of responsibility and of family and of just doing what needs to be done.

twins airport

Here’s my dad, my twin sister, and me during one of my first forays into an airport.  So it was HE who started this whole obsession!

And I read that book cover to cover several times so all of you who know me in real life and wonder how I know something about everything, well there’s a small glimpse at an answer.

That’s why I’m on a flight to LaGuardia on a Monday night. I have a row entirely to myself which is good because I don’t think I’d want seatmates seeing me like this. I really want a cigarette. Sorry. Steam of consciousness. I hate that style popularized by Stephen Crane. I can actually hear my dad telling me some fun fact about Crane and how he grew up in Newark like us and how Civil War vets would have sworn Crane was old enough to have fought in the war because his writing was so vivid.

Let’s divert a moment.

I’m watching a documentary on the plane about Anthony Weiner. Pig. Disgusting cretin. As Dad would say “the man will never get hemorrhoids. He’s a perfect asshole.” And yet… this film is so fascinating. It’s about New York more than Weiner. It’s about my home. It’s the nexus of the universe wherein I grew up. And I love New York so much. The people – though we’d probably disagree on 9 out of 10 things politically – are good people and I miss them sometimes. It’s nice to know that in an hour I’ll be flying in over the East River, over the greatest city on earth. I’ll see the Freedom Tower and Roosevelt Island and Queens. I just wish it wasn’t for this reason. I’m a little scared because I don’t know what condition he’s in.

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Watching Weiner.  If that was my face I’d probably want to showcase other parts of my anatomy too.  Couldn’t be any worse.

Man this Weiner is fascinating.

The flight attendant just gave me two drinks and only charged me for one. God bless him.  Unfortunately I think he wants something from me that ain’t never gonna’ happen.

There was a woman standing behind me at the gate back in Texas prattling on and on with someone on her phone.  Conversation went something like this.  “Then these two self-righteous jerks tried to tell me all passive-aggressive that the two of us shouldn’t have kids and then my husband was like ‘Well we can but they’ll never learn music.  I forbid it.’  And I was all ‘Who do you think you are?  I’m a musician and you suck.  I seriously wanted to cut her.'”  It was too perfect.  I had been hoping for something for paragraph 14 since I arrived at the terminal and here this lady was just spouting it forth for me.  I didn’t care if she could see me.  I put my coffee down, took out my phone, and started jotting down every word she said.  You’re welcome.

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The Big Apple at night, in January, from 9,000 feet, when your dad’s had a stroke.

This flight is bumpy. The captain came on before we took off and announced it was not going to be an easy flight.

My God this movie is incredible. It’s like a train wreck. I want to watch but I can’t. But I must.

My nephew is picking me up at the airport. He’s a rideshare driver too. He’s agreed not to charge me for the pick-up. I’m laughing at that prospect. He’d NEVER charge me.  Or I’d kick his ass.

What else could I tell you? I have some fun pictures to run through my flights entertainment options. They kind of describe my flight style these days.

But the reason I started writing this is to ask your prayers.

And now that I’ve done that I think I can get back to my Weiner. 

Large Tuesday!

It’s Mardi Gras!  That means…

Eat.

Everything.

In.

Sight.

At the end of the day I rounded things off with this baby.

It’s a pepperoni and sausage calzone.

It’s so hard to find a decent one like this (like you’d find in Jersey) here in Texas.  This one is decent.  That reminds me, wasn’t I into running or something?

Christmas in the Fatherland: Day 11

Today is the day we say goodbye.

Today is the day we give hugs and kisses.

Today is the day we…  when did it get so cold?

So when we arrived it was almost 70 degrees.  Today, New Year’s Eve, it was in the 30’s.  Go figure.

We visited my brother one last time.  He had come home the previous evening.  Before heading over to my sister’s house I got a text that he would need to go back to the hospital.  He had been vomiting for the past 18 hours.  This is not good.  He doesn’t want to die in the hospital and I understand that desire.  But his pain and nausea cannot be managed at home.  My poor sister feels like she’s let him down.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  She (and the rest of my family) have taken such good care of the man.  He will NOT die alone.  He will die in the grace of the Church.  I’m only truly sad that I didn’t get that much time to spend with him and that I will likely not be present when he goes home.

Pray for my brother, please.  Pray for peace and comfort and acceptance.

I believe this is our last picture together.

By the way, don’t worry about the picture.  He told me “Post this all over the internet.”  He’s a down-to-earth sort of guy.  He doesn’t front, as they say.  I believe in prayer and in the Communion of the Saints.  Pope Francis calls this the “Year of Mercy”.  The Merciful Father will take care of him.  Please keep praying.  Annie, I’m especially asking you to bring this one to the Pink Sisters.  You’ll know what I mean.

OK, I have to move on…

We headed to the airport.  My daughter and I returned the car while my wife and son checked us in at the terminal.  There’s a monorail to take us back to the terminal.  Ascending the escalator I discovered that my daughter apparently does not like monorails.  Five and a half minutes later we alighted the car and went back down toward security.  My apologies to the other passengers on that airtrain.  She’s not normally like this.

I managed to capture a moment where she smiled on the monorail.

Our terminal has been remodeled in the past few years.  We took in the sights and sounds of a beautifully glistening promenade of shops, bars, and restaurants.  We passed plate glass windows framing jumbo jets with livery promising exotic travel.  England, Germany, Japan.  We continued until we reached the end of the terminal.

“Where the hell is our gate?” I asked.

And that’s when we discovered that our gate, gate 88, required a bit more work to reach.  At the very end of the hall was an escalator.  Above the stairwell, a sign read “Gates 85X-89” with a down arrow.

Great.  Oh well, perhaps there’s an exciting new level of shopping that I wasn’t aware of.

No such luck.  We reached the bottom to discover a windowless, basement rec-room where the gates were just doors opening to the tarmac.  Our plane was a small number.  Let me just cut to the chase.  We boarded this puddle-jumper and spent four hours in turbulence.

And another where she smiled in our rec-room terminal!

Perhaps I should not have watched that marathon of Air Disasters on NatGeo last night.  Then I wouldn’t have been prompted to pour two gin and tonics, glance out the window, and shout belligerently at our flight attendant “Why haven’t the wings been de-iced?!  Do you want another Dryden on your hands?” referring to the doomed fate of Air Ontario flight 1363.  Thank God I only yelled that phrase in my mind.  OK, I said it out loud but only to my wife and the surrounding three rows.  I would never tick off a flight crew.  They’ve got the keys to the liquor cabinet.

After two hours, this was my tray table.  It was a bumpy flight.

At least the dog was happy to see me again…

We landed.  My mother-in-law greeted us.  We headed home.  Wilma and my sister-in-law had prepped our home with food and drinks for a New Year’s Eve gathering.  We played games.  We put on silly hats.  We blew cardboard horns.

5-4-3-2-1… Happy New Year!

My wife and I kissed and I realized once again how much I love my family.

Happy New Year, dear readers.  May your 2016 be filled with peace and joy.

Please keep reading.

Christmas in the Fatherland: Day 10

Today was the last day before heading home.  This makes me a little sad.  But I’m also a little anxious to get back to my own bed.  We took it easy today.  My sister’s children had received a “selfie booth” for Christmas.  Not familiar?  Basically, it’s a large pop-up booth with a green interior.  About five people can pile into said booth and, using an app and a bunch of included props, can take a bunch of pictures with various backgrounds.  Basically, it’s pretty freakin’ awesome!

Green screen’in it.

Son playing with the props.

Afterwards, we headed to my sister’s house for a little wine and cheese.  It was one final opportunity for all of us to hang out dinner the Christmas season and enjoy faith, family, and fellowship.  I really am going to miss the time we’ve spent here in the Fatherland.

To hide my tears, I adopted an alter ego.

Christmas in the Fatherland: Day 9

I thought I’d take things in a slightly different direction today.  I’ve actually done this once or twice before so it’s not a complete innovation.  Today, we set off for an excursion into Manhattan.  At Christmas time, there’s no better place to spend a day.  Since I loved this so much growing up, I couldn’t not bring my kids to share in the joy.  Here now, the pictures.

First up (not pictured) was a visit to Toys-R-Us Times Square.  My brother works in Times Square (with the group that actually organizes the ball drop) and he met up with us for a few moments.  Turns out this was the last day this location of this particular toy store would be open.  Bought a $20 toy crown for 18 cents.  No joke.  Nicest of all was that my brother handed each of my kids a fistful of the actual confetti that would be tossed from the rooftops in a just a few nights!

Next up, the M&M Store…

Personalized some candies…

The Rockefeller Center tree is still magnificent (even in daylight).

The crypt containing the remains of Bishop Fulton Sheen

Exchanging scarves with my son shows my fashion savant.

My son finally got to see the statue of Balto the sled dog in Central Park.  He’d read a book about him a few months back and couldn’t stop talking about it.

We tired them out so much that on the ride home (through the Holland Tunnel) they didn’t even flinch from their sleep when I pointed out the state line.  I used to love this as a kid.  Still think it’s pretty neat.