The Friday after photographing the Bay Area band Train, I took the Railroad Avenue off ramp and started my new job with Pittsburg Unified School District. I am teaching photography and advising the yearbook at Pittsburg High School.
My first day with PUSD was also the ninth anniversary of the day my father shot himself. Nine years ago, I was lost. (A few months ago, I was derailed by my father’s suicide!) Now, to paraphrase Eric Clapton, I got a feeling that this could be the start of something serious. My heart belongs here and sometimes I wonder if I was meant to be here the whole time.
My father would have loved Pittsburg, California. He loved old Chevy’s. While he may not have enjoyed sing a longs, he took me to see Grease when I was a kid. We ate at old diners that reminded him of his youth. He would have found the best Mexican restaurants within the first week. This is the part of my dad that I remember and love. (The other link is painful, but makes me a better teacher. This link has photos from August 16, 2013.)
Every August 16th, I buy cards for my children. I intend to write about the previous year telling them how much I love them. Some years I write immediately. This year I bought cards at the Railrood Book Depot in Old Town. The cards are blank inside. On the outside is a photo of the Railroad Book Depot. I had not intended to buy any books, but right next to the cards was a large beautiful used copy of Ulysses. (I have discussed James Joyce in previous posts.)
During my odyssey the last year, I have been studying Joyce and Ulysses. It was probably a coincidence that Ulysses was next to the cards, but it still feels that I belong in this town.
After my first day of work, I drove to my old home town and visited friends who attended my old high school. I drove straight to Resistance Tattoo in the Tower District to see J Esparza and Karen Clark. I have known both for about thirty years. Esparza owns the tattoo shop. He and I are close friends. Karen and I do not know each other as well, but she is an important person in my life. She is one of the earliest supporters of my writing. She helped me through difficult times simply by acknowledging me.
Karen and I met to discuss how she can begin writing. She wants to know whether she has the ability to empower people with her writing. I told her that she already has. Her message is powerful. When Karen is not writing, she is quite successful, but according to Karen, “I never attended school.” She meant that she never attended college, but we knew what this meant. It became our running joke.
I never attended school, I went to Fresno High.
Fresno High is similar to Pittsburg High in many ways. Both schools suffer from an identity crisis and until recently both schools experienced an infrastructure problem. PHS recently finished a major remodel. Fresno High is finally catching up with its past and replacing “the bunkers” with modern wings that match the main building.
For many students, the detours led us in directions we did not expect. Some graduates returned home. Some never left and some moved away and landed in Pittsburg. I suspect that my new students will question authority just as those of us from Fresno High have continued to challenge those in power. My students may not trust most of their teachers just as we did not immediately trust ours.
I still do not trust that my used edition of Ulysses was complete, so when I arrived in Fresno I opened the last page to see if the last three words were there, not because I wanted to know how the story ends. (I have not read it.) I needed reassurance.