Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Nineteenth Hole

Jesus and Moses went out golfing, it being the seventh day and a day to rest, they decided to do it on the links. Coming up to the second tee, Moses notices that Jesus has out his nine iron. "Hey, your holiness, you sure you got the right club there?"
"Don't you worry about a thing. This is what Arnold Palmer would do." Sure enough, Jesus knocks the holy crud out of the ball, but it slices into the rough. Moses shakes his head as he walks up to set his ball down.
A few holes later, Jesus finds himself with a rather tricky lie on the edge of a sand trap. Once again, Jesus pull the nine iron.
"Really, Jesus?"
Jesus looks back over his shoulder at his partner, "It's what Arnold Palmer would do." With that, he takes a big swing, clearing a stand of trees but landing and then rolling into an adjacent bunker.
Moses sighs and moves down the fairway to find his own ball.
With all the tricky play and alternative clubs, other golfers have begun to back up behind these two, and Moses is becoming a little self-conscious. That's when Jesus uses that same iron to send the ball a mile, and straight into the lake. He takes off his shoes and socks, and walks down to the bank, then very serenely, Jesus walks out a few feet on the water, rolls up the sleeve of his robe and leans down to pluck the errant ball off the bottom of the lake. "Can I get a ruling here?" he calls from ten feet off shore with barely a ripple beneath his toes.
One of the other duffers who has been watching all this looks on in astonishment. "Wow. Who does that guy think he is, Jesus Christ?"
"No," says Moses, "He thinks he's Arnold Palmer."
Aloha, Arnold. You stomped on the Terra, but you always replaced your divots.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Who Cares?

You may be sitting out there, staring at your screen, trying to figure out why I have not as yet had anything to say about the marital discord of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Let me put your mind at ease: I do care. Really. Not as much as I care about the upcoming election. Not as much as I care about car stereos that I used to own. Not as much as I care about lawn darts. With all of this being said, I suppose I can understand why you might be sitting there, staring at your screen wondering when I would get around to discussing the marital discord of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Well, fret no more, because here it comes.
The first thing that I have to say about Brad and Angelina's looming divorce is that it is none of my business. Absolutely none. Which is part of the reason why I feel so free to comment on it. I have nothing to gain or lose by speaking my mind on the relationship struggles of two of Hollywood's biggest stars. That's the reason I feel comfortable saying that it's amazing that two of Hollywood's biggest stars bothered to get married in the first place. Back in the day, when they were just two happy-go-lucky kids on the rebound from their previous high-profile relationships. Remember, before Angelina Jolie was named special envoy to the United Nations, and started adopting all those kids and solving the refugee crisis all on her own, she was wearing a vial of Billy Bob Thornton's blood around her neck. Typical girl-next-door behavior. If the girl next door happens to be Dracula's daughter. Or Jon Voight's daughter. Maybe this isn't the model of stability we were looking for.
And what about Brad? He had previously been happily ensconced in a romance with America's late twentieth century sweetheart, Jennifer Aniston. He broke her heart and sold a ton of magazines when he ducked out on poor, sweet Jenn to cat around with that hussy. The hussy previously known as Mrs. Billy Bob. And so, with all of this background, why would we expect from these two speeding locomotives anything but a train wreck? Well, because it's Hollywood and we would all like to believe in that happy ending. Instead, we got a Hollywood ending. A messy, finger-pointing, tabloid ending with everyone wondering what could possibly have gone wrong. Who is to blame? I can tell you: Me. I am to blame because I care. Too much. Too much because I care at all.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Talking To

Conversations are, for me, like getting to lick the bowl after mom has made chocolate frosting. They are generally a treat, and when mom was in a generous mood, she would leave more around the edges, leading to a more satisfying experience. When she didn't, then there was a lot more scraping with a spoon and the rewards were much more limited. These are the kind of conversations that tend to circle around topics like the weather or the day of the week. Discussing concrete realities that are best described by math don't tend to bring a lot of joy. Still, the opportunity can still be a value-added enterprise. Having a two minute discussion on the plight of the local sports franchise is a way to connect with those who might otherwise be ignored. "Whew, it's another hot one, isn't it?" or "Almost Friday," send a message that we are, somehow all in this together.
And then there are those interactions that are best described via our frosting analogy this way: Mom tells you there is a can of Betty Crocker  ready-to-spread double fudge that she just doesn't need. It's yours. Dig in. This is how I feel when I get to go to my annual eye doctor appointment. For some years now, I have been happy to heed the call when his office rings me up. Sure, I still harbor some of those little anxieties about getting older and losing my once vibrant health. In this case, I fully expect to be told that my eyeballs are fine, it's just the optic nerves connecting them to my brain that are frayed and in need of replacement. I don't expect good news from doctors.
Except this one. Starting with the simple exercise of the exam, looking at a scramble of letters in ever-decreasing fonts, he gives me praise for each line attempted and commiseration for those missed. Since it's our family eye doctor, there is always an inquiry into the health and well-being of the rest of the brood, and then we are off like a shot into topics ranging from favorite cheeseburgers to Mel Brooks. I came to the realization that I may have been having all these entertaining dialogues with my dentist if not for the fact that he had his hand in my mouth so much of the time. As long as we kept to the pace of the exam, Doctor Thornton and I were free to wander, conversationally. On a visit about a year ago, we did a full half hour on the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and still had time to upgrade my prescription. Ultimately, once the checkup had been concluded and we moved on to the business of choosing new frames, my wife came in and we spent another half hour kibitzing with the staff and trying on a hundred different spectacles. The good doctor had moved on at this point, chatting up his next patient. Lucky stiff.

Monday, September 26, 2016


Last winter, I spent most of a lunch period trying to coax a first grader off the floor of his classroom and into the cafeteria. I used all my best moves: quietly cajoling, being stern, counting, calling home, pleading. Christopher would have none of it. He had fallen apart, and none too quietly. He was in near hysterics, having kicked off one of his nice new sneakers and was frothing about on the floor in tears. Most of the noises that came out of him were not precisely verbal. After a fifteen minutes of waiting for the storm to pass, I finally figured out what his main issue was: his shoes. They were nice new shoes, the kind that kids his age were anxious to have because they did not come from Payless. These were the real deal. They were also at least a size too small.
And once I was able to make this connection, Christopher was begging to take his shoes off. His teacher had been encouraging him to put his shoes on so he could walk to the cafeteria. If you walk to the cafeteria, you can have your lunch. If you have your lunch, you can go outside. If you go outside, you can play. Christopher didn't want to play. He wanted his shoes off.
To be fair, there was probably no way to know this before it happened, since Christoper is mercurial on his best days. Christopher is the last kid off the playground after recess, since instead of walking to his line he is off chasing a ball or another student, usually with some mild bad intent. Christopher is a challenge when his shoes fit.
Eventually, I got him up off the floor, in his socks, and we walked to the office where his mother had arrived to pick him up. She had become used to coming by in the middle of the day for one reason or another, but this day I made sure to let her know that there was no particular malice in his actions. He wasn't able to communicate his discomfort. He needed words.
Now he is a second grader. Christoper is still a handful. He still needs to be corralled on any given day, but he is working on his words. This past Tuesday, I was waiting out in front of the school with him as he was the last of the kids to be picked up after dismissal. He had a good day, and he showed my his behavior contract: Three stickers. Good job, Christopher. As I watched him flit about on the stairs, I tried making conversation. I noticed he had Marvel super heroes on his backpack. I asked him who his favorite Avenger was.
"Hulk," he replied, without hesitation.
I noticed that The Incredible Hulk was not one of the characters represented on his backpack. This was an organic idea. "Why is that?"
"Because he only becomes the Hulk when he gets mad."
Way to use those words, Christopher. You've come a long way.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

And Things Were Going So Well

This may come as a shock to you, especially if you were under the impression that once we elected an African-American president that racism had ceased to exist. Many people believed that the elimination of racism could be traced back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. What a relief for those of us who lived through the latter half of the sixties to find out that all those riots and so forth was all just bad sportsmanship. What folks needed to understand was that we had it fixed, and they didn't need to go messing it up all over again just because of some perceived slight.
The perceived slight of being shot and killed by a police officer, for example. When adjusted for populations, African Americans were killed at a rate three times higher than their white counterparts. Does that sound like a problem? One that needs fixing?
Okay, so maybe it's not racism. Maybe it's just really bad policing. Still sounds like a problem that needs to be fixed. Or maybe it's a new problem. Maybe we had that whole racism thing all wrapped up in a nice neat bow, and then somebody came along and threw a monkey wrench in it. And who might this person be? According to Kathy Miller of Mahoning County Ohio would like us to believe that it was that African-American president we elected.  “I don’t think there was any racism until Obama got elected. We never had problems like this. … Now, with the people with the guns, and shooting up neighborhoods and not being responsible citizens, that’s a big change, and I think that’s the philosophy that Obama has perpetuated on America.” 
Got that?
Oh, and Ms. Miller was, until oh-so-very-recently the campaign chair for a Mister Donald Truh-uh-ump in her home state. She resigned somewhat abruptly after she made these observations on race relations in America, including the assertion that, “If you’re black and you haven’t been successful in the last 50 years, it’s your own fault.” And perhaps now would be an excellent time to mention just how not-black Ms. Miller is. And will be. And always has been. All of this rhetoric seems to be part of the Trmpuh campaign's watch words for potential minority voters: "What have you got to lose?" 
In Ms. Miller's case, the answer was obvious: Her job. Now if somebody could just do the same for her boss.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


I missed my wife when she went away to her college reunion. I spent a lot of time wandering around the house, bumping into things, looking for things to do, and when televised sports finally wore out their appeal, I turned to the next logical outlet: Al Gore's Internet. I sat on the couch with my laptop next to me, and each time something occurred to me as a "Hey, I wonder what happened to," or "What is up with that?" I typed and clicked and found a wellspring of infotainment that I knew existed but rarely fully accessed.
That's because I live in a world with precious little time to devote to surfing the web. When I turn on my computer, it is usually with intent, and that intent is usually business related. I teach technology to five year olds, so finding a web site that delivers content and fun for them is an exciting find. Okay, "exciting" may be overstating, but gratifying nonetheless. Then, if there's time, I check my email and hope that someone has sent me a link to a cat video or an offer to help some poor Nigerian Prince. The idea that I might hop from page to page, looking for connections to bits and pieces of my fragmented memory and imagination doesn't figure into my daily routine. This is a good thing, since the world wide web has only become more and more dense since we got our first AOL account so many years ago. And I mean that in as many ways as "dense" as the word will allow. Back in those days, I used to have a bit that I would do when watching the coming attractions at our local movie theater. I would insist loudly that I would only buy a ticket for a movie if it had its own web site. That was funny, twenty years ago.
Now everyone and everything has a web site. I could not begin to see the entirety of what the web has to offer in just the few days that my wife was gone. Unless I lived in North Korea. Earlier this week, someone in Pyongyang's IT department messed up and dropped the veil on that republic's Internet. There were only twenty-eight domains listed. Of course, just as soon as the door was cracked open, it was nailed shut again, so the half hour I might have afforded myself getting to know the length and breadth of North Korea's Internet will have to be put on hold. But it did make me think: I'll bet those North Koreans get so much more done without all that unfettered pointing and clicking.
What a relief.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Raking Muck

Whenever I hear "Boulder, Colorado," my ears perk up. It's my hometown, after all. I still have a good piece of my heart there, and not just because I spent my formative years traipsing about the tundra there. I have family there. When something happens there, good or bad, exciting or not so much, I wonder how it will affect them. Natural disasters like forest fires and floods are the most frightening alerts that come my way, but happily so far these reports have all proved to be more fret than actual fear. My family does a pretty good job of staying safe. While I watch news reports of smoke pouring over the front range of the Rocky Mountains, or tiny-minded college boys swimming in the rising waters, I wonder how things will be when I return home for a visit.
Will I see the scars on the land? Will the forests still be scorched? Will I recognize the place? This doesn't take into account the urban renewal that exists in all towns, but most profoundly for me in this college town at the foot of the Rockies. All that geography is still stored in the back of my mind, and sometimes when I am having trouble sleeping, I go for drives on the streets of my youth. I imagine what used to be and every so often what is, once I have seen it and made corrections to my internal map.
And then there was this two-night CBS show about the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. In some horrible commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of this little girl's death, the Columbia Broadcasting System turned its inquiring eye toward that college town at the foot of the Rockies. Twenty years ago, a little girl was found dead in her family's home on the north edge of town. I know the neighborhood well. It was where my father had a paper route once upon a million years ago. It was just up the hill from the University from which I graduated. I know those tree-lined streets well, and even though I had already moved away when the story hit the tabloids, I can remember feeling a connection to the people who stayed. Murder of any sort is a pretty rare occurrence in Boulder, and anything this tawdry was certainly way out of character for where I grew up. There was months of speculation and cable news coverage of every detail and every lead that panned out to nothing. For years, rumors and theories swirled around, and each time some "fresh revelation" was made, cameras showed up and videotape rolled. I watched, not because I was invested in the case, but because I got to see pictures of where I used to live.
When the show aired last Sunday and Monday, I told myself that I didn't want to watch. I didn't believe that Scotland Yard and the FBI would combine to crack the case after decades of rumor and innuendo, but I could watch the city of my birth slide past in the background as they made their own conclusions about what really happened that night so very long ago. Not for very long, however. Dredging up tabloid awfulness in the name of justice made me glaze over at some point, and I fell asleep. And I dreamed of Boulder and its majestic Flatirons and glorious sunsets and all the places I knew and loved and the people I knew who still lived there and couldn't wait for this dark cloud to pass again. In my dreams, I was driving back home again. Without a cloud in the sky.