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17 February, 2018 12:54

February 17, 2018

It’s been almost two weeks since it happened, and I want to try and take a stab at laying out my thoughts and feelings. No, not about the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl, but about my friend Matt Hallman passing away in the wake of that game.

Matt and I were friends in high school, in the ways that students in the same class sometimes need to be, but also in the way some creative types are friends. By that I mean, Matt was super creative as a visual artist, while I spent my creative time both on stage as an actor and in the orchestra pit as a bass player. We both wrote, though, as we had different ways of seeing the world that we wanted to share in our own ways. Hallman was never too worried about the spotlight, whereas I wanted some recognition of the stuff I wrote, submitting to and eventually getting my stuff published. That didn’t stop Hallman from going his own way, spectacularly. This is the only real story I have about he and I.

If there were ever a time where I could have said Matt and I came into conflict, it was on the publishing of an underground newspaper during our time at the high school we attended. It was a collection of art, creative writing and rants against the stuffy system we knew as students, but the writers took shots, not only at teachers and policies, but at guys at the school who had in some way crossed the line, or sold out, or whatever crime we thought in our teenage years was worthy of derision.

In one of the rants, the writer referred to someone by the handle "Mr. Claypool", as an example of someone who was a fool, someone with some measure of talent on the bass guitar, but who totally didn’t warrant the arrogant attitude he carried around with that talent. If there were any doubts the writer was talking about me, he’d gone on to say something to the effect of how Mr. Claypool wasted his time on stage and on poems of dubious quality. The only person in our small, college-prep high school to whom that applied was really me. Some of my other friends were mad, either for themselves or for me, but when they showed me, they were uneasy. I had a short fuse, and my teenage insecurities were sure to send me into an apoplectic rage.

When they showed me, I did have no small measure of anger at first, but as I read, and re-read the piece, I realized that the writer was correct: I WAS an arrogant prick. Did I think it was a bit unfair, the knocks on the theater stuff and my poetry? Maybe, but when the rumbles started that the powers that be were going to punish and perhaps expel those responsible, the names started to eke out. Though I can’t remember all the people involved, Hallman and another mutual friend Mark were among the writers. I respected these guys, even as a teenager, as they created without any need for recognition or yearning for applause like I needed.

When the admins at school came to me, thinking (rightly, as it turned out) that I knew who these creators were, though, I refused to tell them what I knew. If they’d kept up the pressure on me, I probably would have folded, but I wanted to protect my friends, even if they were lampooning me. Creative freedom, freedom of the press, those things meant something to me then, as they still do now. Hallman might have been sticking it to me in print, but he was funny about it, and he didn’t deserve an expulsion or punishment over expressing an opinion.

My memory dims as to what eventually did happen, but I do know that both Hallman, Mark and the others were not expelled, but given relative slaps on the wrist and asked politely not to do it again. They didn’t, preferring to focus their energies in other ways, and even writing and submitting pieces to the school’s literary magazine, of which, by senior year, I was one of the chief editors.

That incident evaporated. Hallman and I had German class together, hung with different guys that somehow came together over music, and then we graduated high school and went different ways. Except for one or two run-ins over the years, we never really hung out. I was busy dropping out of school, trying to find my way as an adult. He did similar, but did a stint in the army. There are stories out there that you can google, if you’re so inclined. I won’t retell them here, because they’re not my stories. I will close, however, by telling you how Hallman and I reconnected after years.

Sometime last year, right around the time I would begin my short-lived career as a middle school teacher, Matt and I reconnected through the auspices of Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous addiction platform. We were chatting on it one day, and we made the decision to actually have lunch. I made me way downtown, met up with Hallman, who was wearing a shirt with a cat face sticking out of a burrito. I laughed; this was exactly the kind of off-kilter, funny stuff I remember being part of his makeup.

We decided to go to Tattooed Moms on South Street, and spent the almost two hours over drinks and pierogies and tater tots and sandwiches, talking of all the stuff we’d gotten up to as adults. Matt told me stories of his military career; I told him stories of being married, divorced and improvising, both on and off stage. It was great. His face lit up when I talked about my then-fiancee, now-wife. He didn’t have the luck I did, despite being a better looking dude (who was much better with money than I am). After a few hours, he had to get back, as he’d just bought a house in Delaware, and needed to get some other things lined up for things he was going with veterans, and other volunteer things he had in the works. I didn’t want it to end, as I had to go prepare some lessons for middle school English class. We walked back to the Walnut Street Theater parking lot, where he’d parked, and he gave me a ride to the El station stop so I could get back to the Frankford Transportation Center where I’d parked my car. We made plans to do this again, maybe get some of our mutual friends together for a hang. Sounded great!

It never happened. We never saw each other again, in the flesh.

Though we talked plenty on Facebook, teaching and then me getting a new job took up a lot of my time, and him searching for a gig down in Delaware, along with his other pursuits kept him. I even talked to him online a few days before the Super Bowl. Then I learned of his death. I won’t get the chance to hang out with him again. At almost 40, I’m starting to realize that if I don’t take the time to do that more, with the friends I still have, I’ll lose opportunities to forge some memories with some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.

Take care, folks. Go call a friend and makes plans, but EXECUTE those plans!

All my best,
Matt Lydon


Pancake Observations from the first day of Summer Vacation 2017

June 22, 2017

Seriously, make yourself some pancakes.

After making hundreds of pancakes, I’ve got some observations:

1. Do not use oil instead of butter/margarine in the liquid part of the batter. Your pancakes will have a denser consistency that is not particularly pleasing to this pancakeur. (yeah I just made that up)

2. My best pancakes have come from either my electric griddle (thanks Dad) or more recently, from my now-properly-seasoned 12″ cast iron pan. Neither of which I have to put down oil or butter on grease up the pan for proper pancake cooking/flippage.

3. A cup of yogurt, watered down with a 1/4 cup of water and blended in a blender, makes an excellent substitute if you’re out of milk. Ditto for flavored coffee creamer, if you have that on hand, instead.

4. I’m a fan of using grams, instead of our US oz and cups etc for cooking/baking. Get yourself a digital scale, folks. They ain’t expensive.

5. Thanks to chef Matty Matheson, I use my sieve/strainer as a sifter for putting together my dry ingredients. I didn’t think sifting made a difference til I tried it. it does. Do it.

6. Top with whatever you want. Don’t have syrup? How about some of that yogurt (not watered down) or even some jelly and water, reduced, to make your own flavored syrup?

7. Folks, if you’re single, learn to make pancakes for the apple of your eye. It landed me my first wife, and though that didn’t work out, my wife-to-be is a big fan of my pancakes. And folks, if you don’t know how to cook at all, and you wanna learn, pancakes are a great entryway to learning how to cook, in my opinion.

8. Mentioned above, but folks, please get yourself a cast iron pan and learn to take care of it. Properly taken care of (instructions are easy to find on the Internet), a cast iron iron is a cooking thing of joy forever. Also, ladies, if some jackanapes “gentleman” thinks he’s funny and tries to give you that chauvinistic, MRA-type line of “get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich”, say nothing. Simply get your cast iron pan, and brain him but good.

9. MRA, aka Men’s Rights Activists: eat your own stupid fedoras. Besides, no one’s making you pancakes anytime soon, unless you hold your MRA meetings at the local Denny’s or IHOP.

10. And this is back to everybody: enjoy your summer, whether you’re working, off completely (students), or off illusionarily (teachers)!

Much love, Matt


April 20, 2017

Almost done my first full year teaching in the School District, and there are more days that I hate it than I don’t. Even when i consider that most of my students like me, I dwell on the students that are the behavior problems. I’m not great at writing or executing lesson plans. I am hopeless at modifying or accommodating for my SPED students, AND I don’t know Spanish, Chinese, Arabic or any other language that would help me with some of my students. Almost everything tells me I shouldn’t be a teacher. My heart tells me I’m wasting my time, and my stomach and nervous system seem to agree, showing up with the dry heaves at least once a week. The older I get, though, my options are limited. What can I do now? What do I WANT to do now?

A friend asked me if I had a better plan, recently, and I had to admit to her that I don’t have a better plan. I’ve NEVER had a better plan. Mostly, I’ve meandered through life, and that’s gotten me some great adventures. Memories and experiences are great, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. When I tell stories to my students, and they ask, "Mister, what HAVEN’T you done?" I know they ask from a place of wonder, yet it always feels critical. Like, whoa, you failed at SO MANY THINGS, and now THIS? I know that’s ME saying that to myself, but I’m having a hard time believing its anything else but failure.

Still, I have about 60 school days left, and the district DOESN’T want to fire me. This may indicate I’m not nearly as incompetent as I feel everyday. And yet, that feeling persists. Do I keep persisting, or is that only for Elizabeth Warren? Maybe I’ll never know, but I do have to to wonder: should I/will I ever answer the call to be an actor on a full-time basis? Do I have the guts? Some would say I have guts a-plenty, working as a teacher. Still, I’m not sure.

This episode in self-doubt has been brought to you by 30 Something Floundering Man: The Guy You Hope You’ll Never Be.

All my best,

Tsunami, Both Feet Planted

December 11, 2016

A dream I had just before wakingI was a young man
walking behind a trusted older person in my life
dad? boss? counselor? leader?
there were children that looked up to me
asking where we were going
and was I in trouble?

some yards away, the waves of the sea raged
crashing with burgeoning fury
on a shrinking beach
the sky, gray, the wind whipping
the world tied to a post

the leader made a turn, headed up a cross street
perpendicular to the beach and the fury
but I stayed put
watching and waiting for the inevitable
crash and wall of water
the guttural suck of sand
as the liquid giant reared up
gathering everything into itself

lightning flashed, and, turning
i noticed an oar in my hand
and suddenly
I was in a boat on that street
the tiny skiff about to be
drawn into the maw
of angry Mother Ocean

I sat down, gripped that oar
and steeled myself in the direction
of that great wave
lightning crashed

and I awoke.

this is not an unintended dream
this is not a random series of images
this is the message that I’ve needed

get paddling, teacher, leader
or you will be crushed
lost at sea
on land


The Uphill Battle

November 26, 2016

I’d like to think that I didn’t suffer from procrastination and frustration earlier in life, but I know it was always there. When I was younger, things were easier, or maybe the bar was set lower. Maybe I just had easier times clearing those youthful challenges. The closer I get to 40, my challenges are not insurmountable, at least I don’t think they are. What makes it seem like that, though, is that I suffer from cyclical bouts of depression and the distraction brought on by life in the current connected world. FOMO. Twitter. Facebook. Instant Messaging. Texts. Cell phones, smart phones, personal digital leashes that keep YOU on a tight rein, even as they purport to give you freedom.

Whoops, here I am, procrastistractinating*. let me pause while I go finish my previous task…

It only took me this long to complete my task:

So it seems like I need to focus way more, right? But, short of moving to a cabin with no electronic distractions, how do I do that? It’s a meditation I’m working on. Of course, I need to meditate on that outside of working on what I need to get done for other people. Hopefully, I’ll figure that out.

All my best,
Matt Lydon

*procrastistractinating: [sniglet, verb] the process by which one does not get one’s work accomplished through active distracting of one’s mental and physical faculties in order to avoid the work at hand.

Distraction, No Traction

November 25, 2016

I quit Facebook. Again.

Although, somehow, i think this time, it’ll take. Of course, I still have myriad distractions, but the biggest one, Zuckerberg’s beast, is now no longer one of them. That’s good. I’m SO behind on grading and lesson planning for my classes. Good thing it’s Thanksgiving weekend, and I have the long weekend.

We’ll see how it goes. There’s life out there beyond Facebook, folks.

All my best,
Matt Lydon

Substitute Teacher

August 28, 2016