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Discussion Guide: The Fire Escape Stories, Volumes I&II

It is always my honor to discuss my work with book groups. I am frequently asked if there are certain questions and/or topics that the group members should consider in advance of our session. Following is a guide that I have developed after the many discussion sessions I have led. I hope you find it helpful in your conversations! If you would like permission to distribute hard copies or digital copies of this guide, or if you would like to arrange for a book group discussion, please simply email me at chuckwrites@hyahoo.com. Thank you...and enjoy reading!--Chuck

 

DISCUSSION GUIDE FOR—

THE FIRE ESCAPE STORIES, VOLUMES I & II

By Chuck Cascio

1) What does the opening episode of Volume I imply beyond what is stated in the text?

2) Have you ever sat on a fire escape? What did it feel like to you? What did you do there? If you have not ever sat on a fire escape, based on Volumes I&II what is the closest comparison you can make from your own life?

3) What does the fire escape symbolize in these stories? Does the symbol change over time? If so, what does it come to symbolize?

4) Describe how you picture the main characters--the narrator (Mikey), Sally-Boy, Big Sal, Massimo, and any others who stand out to you.

5) Single out one secondary character whose role seems particularly significant in her/his impact on the boys' lives.

 

nine episodes that make up Mike Burnss strongest childhood memories of living in Brooklyn New York in the 1950s. 2 2

 

6) When Mike's family moves at the end of Volume I, what concerns for him  and expectations do you have of him as the family drives out of Brooklyn?

7) How does the tone of the narration change in Volume II and what is the impact of that change on the reader?

8) What does the narrator's reaction to various life events in Volume II such as racism, discovering that his neighbor is a female, seeing the increasing popularity of the Panificio and Sally-Boy's reaction to it, the JFK assassination, etc. affect you as the reader? How do those events seem to be shaping Mike's life?

9) Identify at least three subtle events and/or passages that are most telling about the split occurring between the lives of the two boys.

10) Has the fire escape saved anyone in these stories, symbolically or otherwise? Or does the fire escape imply the failure of attempts to save lives that are impacted by forces either outside of their control or forces that people refuse to accept?

Copyright, Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved. For permission to make or distribute copies of this guide, please email chuckwrites@yahoo.com.

A YouTube Conversation About the Arts

A YouTube Conversation About Writing, Teaching, Learning, and the Arts

Watch my conversation with Sean Murphy, founder and CEO of 1455 Literary at: 
 

 

Thank you, Sean, for these flattering comments, for the wonderful conversation, and for your important work at 1455 Literary (www.1455literary)!!!

By Sean Murphy--It's Back to the Future with this next installment of 1455's "The 14:55 Interview":

Known for many (MANY) years as one of the most popular --and flat out best-- teachers in the history of Fairfax County, Chuck Cascio has also spent decades writing (journalism, sports, non-fiction, and lately, fiction). He also did no small part in helping infuse purpose and passion into your humble narrator, and, as the supportive, encouraging, and exceedingly patient faculty advisor (i.e., editor-in-chief) of South Lakes High The Sentinel, inculcated a respect for the discipline--the nuts and bolts of what real writing entailed.

So it's with great joy that I chat with "Mr. Cascio" about a great many things, including his memories of being a precocious writer-in-training stealing glances at his parents' copy of The Catcher in the Rye and why 1968 was such a momentous year in American (and Cascio family) history, and why the theme of coming-of-age recurs in his work. Special praise is doled out to "Born to Run" and Lost in Translation (an unimpeachable one-two punch for easily recommended album and movie), a heartfelt and welcome tribute to the amazing, if under-read, Wallace Stegner.

Chuck confesses he still needs to read Anna Karenina (don't worry, I'll keep on him, and by the way, that's always a reminder that my friend Jeanne McCulloch's remarkable memoir ALL HAPPY FAMILIES takes its title from Tolstoy's immortal opening lines). We also talk about why it's worthwhile to reach out to a writer, thanking them when their work moves you.

 

On that note, I know I am one of THOUSANDS of appreciative students (I won't say "former" student, b/c once Chuck teaches you, you stay taught) that want to thank Mr. C. for being something rare in this world: a positive role model and inspiration. I still can picture the sweat on our brows as we cut and pasted (with a razor blade, kids) articles for another issue of The Sentinel, but I'm delighted that my happiest memories of him have yet to be made.

Watch the interview now: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLznxZDM8mQ

 

 

 

 

The Day of the MLK Assassination-April 4, 1968

Prof. Staunton Speaks on the Day of the MLK Assassination-April 4, 1968:

An Excerpt from my novel, THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074V8CRGX

     “Langston Hughes asks us if dreams deferred dry up like raisins in the sun or if they stink like fetid meat and, of course, he must know the answer is yes to both—we know both are true because we see those truths in people every day, people who dry up with their dried up dreams, shrivel with their emaciated love affairs—and yet Hughes tries to convince us that it is wrong to give up on dreams because if we do, as he puts it in another poem, ‘Life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.’

     “So the same man who poses the question in one poem, ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ warns us in another that without dreams our lives will not fly. If you are writers, you are dreamers by definition, so you must wrestle with Mr. Hughes’s thoughts—some of you will, some won’t, some will be haunted by dreams deferred, some will forget about dreams altogether, some will look around and dream of outrageously ostentatious houses—the measure of opulence today being size and amount whether in square footage of homes or horse power or number of cars—and exotic vacations and perhaps beachfront mansions and cabin cruisers.

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    “So many of you will be fickle to the dreams and words and passions that move you now, and by letting it all dry up or trading it all in, you will become vulnerable repeatedly to what we should have seen coming:

    “The squeezing of the trigger of the rifle whose scope was focused on Martin’s round black head, the assassin waiting, holding steady, calm, a horrifying distortion of Hemingway’s grace under pressure, slowly focusing on the hairs that covered the epithelial cells drawn tight across the cranium that stored one man’s extravagant and bold dreams—the perverted assassin turning his perverted dream into reality as he fired and felt the powerful kick of the rifle butt warm against his shoulder, and in the instant that he blinked from the explosion and smelled the acrid odor of gunpowder, he watched through his scope Martin’s exploding head, while inside that broken head confused and gasping dreams now spun madly in milliseconds into blackness and then hurtled out the exit wound or dripped out of the entry wound.

     “The assassin ended those dreams, betting that all of us will let them all dry up along with our own dreams, which we will trade in for comfort; in so doing, the assassin hopes to turn you all into assassins, murderers, killers, hypocrites. After all, he had the courage to act on his perverted dream and to gamble that we are not as courageous about pursuing dreams as he is. So what happens, I ask you, to a dream deferred and deferred and deferred and deferred…” 

     Staunton repeated the word, banging his fists on the podium while we sat in a silence only death itself could duplicate, until, finally, after screaming the word “deferred” one more time, his voice cracked into falsetto, and the blue veins in his neck bulged like tree roots, and his face shone like a beacon, and he looked up, panting, into the face of the tall woman with the long hair, who was noiselessly crying, and extended his arms to her. She embraced him, his white hair touching just below her mouth.

Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved

Time for a "National Staff Meeting For Educators"

IT’S TIME FOR A “NATIONAL STAFF MEETING FOR EDUCATORS”
by
Chuck Cascio

(Note: I taught secondary school for 27 years in Fairfax County, VA, the nation’s 10th largest school district.--Chuck Cascio)

      President Joseph Biden has correctly called the fact that millions of school children are still unable to attend school in person due to the novel coronavirus a "national emergency." He and his staff are outlining ways to make the return happen as soon--and as safely--as possible. The need for vaccination of all school personnel--teachers, administrators, and support staff--should be at the very top of the list. That is why I think something that might be labeled the "National Staff Meeting for Educators" should be instituted immediately.

     The National Staff Meeting for Educators would require that all in-school personnel report to a school or schools that would be identified as vaccination centers over the course of approximately 10 days. As staff members are vaccinated, they would then be required to return to school (except in cases where mitigating health issues might compromise the vaccine's effectiveness). Since studies indicate that even the first dose of vaccine can provide up to 80% protection against the coronavirus, if other precautions such as mask wearing, social distancing, thorough cleaning of lavatories, cafeterias, and classrooms throughout the school day and other precautions are mandated in schools, then it makes sense to phase back in-class instruction.  The National Staff Meeting for Educators would then be repeated four weeks later so school personnel could receive their second dose.

      What the dreadful coronavirus has "revealed" to many parents and politicians is that teachers are actually "essential workers."  Comments in editorials, opinion pieces, and general conversation use that term daily in reference to teachers, but most often in the context of demanding that they return to in-school classes. So if there can be a slight bit of good news in the context of coronavirus life, it is that the stereotypical image of teaching is disappearing: Teachers do not simply just roll into their classrooms each day, prop their feet up on their desks, tell a roomful of attentive and obedient kids what to do, and eventually a bell rings and life goes on for everyone. 

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Will school buildings and their parking lots fill up again soon?
   
    It seems that virtual learning spurred by the pandemic has created an awareness among the public that things are, in fact, more productive and healthier for everyone when teachers, administrators, and the many support personnel who contribute enormously to the daily job of educating students are actually back in the school building. Because of the individual experiences parents have dealt with and the studies documenting how student learning, socialization, and personal well-being are being negatively impacted by schools not being open, parents, politicians and educators want a return to in-school instruction. The question facing everyone is how to do it safely for all because it makes no sense to have teachers return to schools without being vaccinated; doing so, among other potential dangers, opens them to the possibility of being asymptomatic carriers to their own families and communities.

    Under the leadership of President Biden, the country is establishing realistic precautions as we move toward reopening. The CDC has outlined logical steps, including the wearing of masks in schools; regularly screening students for symptoms; providing cleaning, disinfection, and hand hygiene protocols; and a detailed list of "Strategies for Protecting K-12 School Staff from COVID-19." 

     In Chicago, the nation's third largest school district, a tentative agreement between the school system and the teachers union has been reached, which proposes to vaccinate 1,500 Chicago Public School staff members each week under a new program developed during the collective bargaining process. That is definitely commendable, and it shows that districts and unions can reach a logical, safe approach to the reopening, but with thousands of in-school personnel in Chicago, more needs to be done…and it needs to be done more quickly. But at least Chicago has a possible model in place to build upon.

     Approximately half the states in the country have already started vaccinating their teachers, but the process is slow and the other half of the country is not responding to this educational emergency. If President Biden would adopt the National Staff Meeting for Educators and find a way to roll out, say, National Guard trucks filled with vaccines to the specified schools where educational staff members are to meet, get vaccinated and then return to their school buildings, it would speed up the entire process. In addition, it would emphasize what people are finally starting to realize:

TEACHERS ARE ESSENTIAL WORKERS!

(Copyright Chuck Cascio; All rights reserved, including use of the label "National Staff Meeting for Educators.")

 

 

Turning the Corner

TURNING THE CORNER
by
Chuck Cascio
 
 
 Over the past year, I have--
 
>>>Seen the empty parking lots of shuttered businesses.

>>>Heard a president say that a pandemic that has now killed as many Americans as were lost in World War II would "disappear."

>>>Missed visits, hugs, laughter, and vacations with my kids, grandkids, other relatives, and friends.

>>>Felt the disappointment of students unable to attend college, high school, or elementary school with their classmates, and the social interactions so critical to those brief years.
 

>>>Missed the outings to concerts, theaters, movies, restaurants, and other simple social gatherings.

>>>Seen a presidential election marred by anger, lies, and disgraceful comments and actions by the "leader" in power.
 

>>>Witnessed with sadness, horror, and anger the assault fueled on our Capitol by a demagogue, an assault that included the hateful racist and anti-semitic signage and screams reminiscent of another era in another land along with chants to hang the vice president and kill some member of Congress.

>>>Come to realize that this presidency and this pandemic have revealed tragic evidence of simmering anger, a desire for "privilege," and an incomprehensible fear of seeing others gain the fundamental elements that make life comfortable, enjoyable, and fulfilling for each individual. 
 

Yet...there is now a corner to be turned, and I believe (or want to believe) that we are turning it because--

>>>I have seen people determined to defeat the killer virus by adhering to rules of wearing masks, social distancing, and other steps to safeguard health even when threatened by those who felt their "privilege" was being compromised.
 

>>>I have seen more kids outside playing and adults walking than had been the norm as they sought diversion from the suffocating events surrounding them.

>>>I have learned to compensate for missed relationships by using other means of communication that are not as intimate but are still rewarding.
 

>>>I have seen individuals treat employees with great respect and kindness in health care, grocery stores, education, and other professions that we finally realize are "essential."

>>>I have come to value more than ever the passage of time, the simple joys of daily life, and the importance of understanding that reality extends beyond ourselves.
 
   Perhaps as the hate-filled presidency of the past four years and the nightmarish events of the past couple of months end, we will move toward a greater sense that we are all in this together. The virus--whether defined as corona or politics or both--has proven that.  
 
   So as we turn the corner, let's consider the value of health for all, employment for all, security for all, and opportunities for all.
 

   Let's turn it and not forget the raging hatred we have experienced, but let's not let that define our future. 

   Let's turn it and take new pleasure in seeing the parking lots fill, the schools reopen, the family and friends return to our lives, and the simple, personal ways we have learned to fill our lives. 
 

   Let's turn the corner...and take the new, open road ahead.

 

Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.