Friday, August 26, 2016

Make A Dog Go Woof

You know the scene, if you are of a certain age or you have a certain amount of pop culture awareness: Lassie, the collie, comes running up to the young farmer who is busy fixing a tractor that never seems to be in proper repair. Lassie lets loose with a series of barks. She has what can best be described in canine terms as an expectant look on her muzzle. "What is it girl?" asks the young farmer. Another series of staccato barks. "Timmy's in trouble?" A firm but growing more anxious bark in reply. Lassie is losing patience with this exchange. "Timmy fell down the well?" A happy and relieved bark as the dog starts to turn in the direction of the well, looking back over her shoulder, waiting once again for this human to catch up to her alert. One more bark, this one is obviously "hurry!"
Though dull, the young farmer, Paul Martin was able to decipher what Lassie was trying to put across with her plaintive yelping. It is possible that Mister Martin possessed some sort of preternatural ability to comprehend dog speak. A rural Doctor Dolittle. While taking on this ability with mild aplomb, it should be noted that Paul Martin was not alone in this skill. Many of the human beings who came into contact with Lassie seemed to have a savant capacity to understand what was going on in her doggie mine. It could be that it was the dog and not the people around her who were special, and when she went off to that big kennel in the sky, Lassie took with her the secret of canine-human conversation.
I believe this is true because try as I might, the yipping from the dog next door continues to sound like noise to me instead of communication. It's not "I'm hot," or "I'm lonely," or "somebody fell down the well." More likely it has something to do with "It's three in the morning and I want someone to care about it." There is no danger, no fire in the barn. The beast has been fed and watered. It just seems to go off for fifteen to twenty minute intervals that can only be worse for those trapped inside with it. When it's all over, and peace resumes in the night, I wonder what must be going on inside that little empty head. Maybe the dog is just set for the wrong time zone, and a quick check of his control panel and some minor adjustments to his software would set him right.
Or maybe it's something more dire. Like spoilers from season seven of Game of Thrones.  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Caught In A Whirlpool

I used the phrase "gave up the ghost" last week when describing the circumstances surrounding our washer and dryer. Major appliances that have been in our service for many years now. Suddenly, or at least this is how it seemed, our washer stopped doing things that it had done so dependably for all that time, most notably washing clothes. To be fair, there was washing going on, but after that initial sequence, there was some rinsing but no spinning or draining. It was precisely this problem that generated the second problem: the dryer. In the very early hours of Sunday morning, when a lot of calmer, clever people are sleeping, I was out of bed and trying to coax our washer through those steps that it had begun to ignore. I stood there in front of the machine, wishing from the outside that my positive vibes would bring about spontaneous regeneration of purpose. "Oh, sorry," I hoped to hear the Whirlpool admit, "I was just pulling your leg there. I'm not broken at all. I was only looking for a little attention and now I can see that you care. You really care. I'll get right to that spinning and draining now because I wouldn't want anything to come between us."
It was early, and maybe I was imagining a little, because when I did open the lid, there was still a sloppy mess of wet clothes in a tub that showed no interest in spinning. I began pulling out shirts and socks and pairs of jeans, wringing each in the laundry sink happily located next to our now potentially defunct washer. From there, our still more than just moist clothes were ferried to our dryer. It should be noted at this point that our Admiral gas dryer has lived through three different washing machine administrations. It took a load of sopping wet towels and T-shirts and the rest to put such a strain on the tumbling capacity of this dedicated servant of our household that it became a gas fueled hot air blower. Don't let anyone try to tell you that all that tumbling isn't important. It's what gets those clothes dry. I'm here to tell you.
Had I been thinking clearly and not anthropomorphizing our appliances, I probably would have made a better choice than to put that kind of strain on the Admiral. I wasn't. Thinking, that is. I was expecting machines to solve my problems without thinking about their needs. I broke the dryer because I wanted to solve my washing machine problem by abusing it.
Cut to the next day when the repairmen showed up to undo the damage I had visited on our little helpers. They pulled a dozen socks from the gap beneath the washing tub and the launderizing machinery below. One of them was particularly mangled and was, along with his friends, the culprit. All those floating socks that found their way out of the wash chamber and into the recesses that caused the clog that kept the draining and spinning from happening. It wasn't their fault, really. I should know to load the socks in first, or at least that is what I know now. And I never would have subjected the dryer to the torture of all those extra pounds of water weight. Except I did. And I paid for it, in shame. And a repair bill that would not have replaced both machines.
But it would have been easier to treat them with the respect they are due.
I'm sorry. I hope to live long enough to show you that I know how to treat a washer and dryer. Forgive me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Observed Behavior

I know, statistics show that violent crime is actually going down over the last ten years and I should keep making a point of repeating this tidbit after every report of senseless death. It is extremely likely that even though the rate of violent crime is indeed down, the rate of reporting violent crime is up. Why wouldn't we be frightened by the "if it bleeds it leads" editorial stance that exists in our twenty-four hour news cycle?
Newark, New Jersey has had sixty-two homicides this so far this year. That means it hasn't been a great year for Newarkians, but they probably won't be pushing for any records when it comes to murder.
This may be because of the heightened awareness folks in that corner of the woods, what with their annual 24 Hours of Peace celebrations and all. The goal being to shine a light on the strengths of the community and the bonds that hold that city and so many others like it together. The rallies highlight culture and performing arts, all that is alive and vital in Newark. Increasing the peace is a difficult challenge when, all of a sudden, a spotlight is shone down on that place on that day.
Within hours of the festival, two denizens of the city were dead another critically wounded by gunfire. Not exactly the textbook definition of celebrating peace. Who is to say that these victims wouldn't have become victims even on a day that wasn't devoted to anti-violence? Statistics suggest that there will be a certain number of homicides over a certain number of days and it just so happens that some of them will coincide with the efforts to bring that number down.
Especially while people are staring at it.
Conscious observers may impact the outcome of such experiments. Conscientious observers may impact them, but in a way they hadn't fully intended. For those who have a bent toward breaking laws and causing pain, there might be just a little added something to the top of that trauma sundae by killing someone on the night when we are all supposed to not be killing someone.
It makes sense.
Sort of.
It makes sense in the same way that I feel compelled to return to those violent crime statistics while certain members of the press and the Republican Party would have us running for the shelter of our concrete bunkers and our well-appointed personal arsenals. We are safer now than we have been in a long time. Except for those who are dead.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Get Real

With under eighty days until voters here in the United States go to the polls to put an end to this long, strange performance art piece that has been our presidential election, we can only begin to imagine what twists and turns still await us. The trick is, we don't want to imagine too hard, since the way things have been rolling, we wouldn't want to put any ideas in anybody's head. There seems to be some room, admittedly, but anything that finds its way into those dark and scary places is just a seed for more craziness.
Like, for example: Donald Truhup apologized last week. Who could have seen that coming? "Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing," said the newly contrite tangerine metaphor for the Antichrist. As part of the restructuring of his campaign, Mister Prumt was trying out a new persona. He realized that he had caused some "personal pain," but went on to say that part of the reason why he rarely apologizes is because he is so rarely wrong. As I suggested earlier, the lines between fantasy and reality have become so blurred. Really blurred.
The Grand Old Party's last best hope may have come in the form of this reformation, not from the resignation of Paul Manafort, but because of the Dickensian rewrite of the essential character of their chosen one. If a series of revelations were visited upon Mister Tearump by spirits from the past, the present, and the future and when he awoke from his tempestuous dream, his whole world outlook had changed. No more snarky iinsults. No more insensitive comments about race, creed, religion, sexual orientation or any number of personal pain. A brand new day. A brand new Trumpsch. 
Can you believe it?
I don't know about you, but I don't. But that's kind of the way things have been going for the past two years. Curiouser and curiouser. But repentant? Let's get real, shall we?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Where To Start

I made a point to notice how empty the halls were. It was a Friday night, closing in on seven o'clock in the evening. I had arrived at school some twelve hours before, and the beehive of activity that was a building full of teachers preparing their rooms for the first day with their new classes had come to an end. There were still those who needed to put this item in its proper place, or arrange rows of desks and chairs in the most pleasing manner possible.
Empty desks and chairs. Just like the hallways. It is a rare occurrence to have that startling lack of children. It gave me a feeling of how the Rapture might feel if all those children had been sucked up into the sky by a forgiving deity, leaving us grownups to imagine what we might do with all those E-Z Readers and math workbooks.
It occurred to me that I hadn't heard a bell ring all week. Soon, there would be plenty of those as well. Clanging reminders of the time to begin the day, change activities, go to lunch, head home. There was structure to the day primarily because of that ticking clock. How many hours did we have left until there would be no more? After spreading countless acres of paper across innumerable bulletin boards and stapling miles of colorful border around them, I wondered not for the first time just how long those pristine vertical surfaces would survive without a nick or a tear here or there. The floors that had been polished to such a bright finish would soon be worn down by a trudging army of little feet. How much of this week of preparation would be noticed by the kids who would be going up and down those stairs, carrying their freshly laminated bathroom passes?
All that potential in one class list. First graders ready to show what they had picked up in that first, formative year of Kindergarten. Fourth graders already looking forward to the next year when they would rule the roost. These were all illusory figures who would soon become corporeal, manifested in the charges we were about to take with us on the journey called the 2016-2017 school year. Not all of them would make the trip. Some of them would bail before the end of the year, off to another school in another district, or across town. But the ones who were there on that first day would get to see us at our shiny best. Name tags taped to desks, bookcases full of carefully selected and categorized volumes. White boards up and down those hallways with one word written large: Welcome. Another year begins.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Demented And Sad, But Social

My wife said, "I guess all media is social media." Her voice came to me, as it often does, from behind the open lid of her laptop computer. Like so many of us, particularly those who live in our house, we tend to begin and end our days in front of a screen. There's all that news on which we feed. All those notes, tweets, messages and instametagrams, they won't read themselves. All those cat videos need to be considered and cataloged with the hours already compiled and discerned. There is so much media to be digested and then regurgitated in outward streams to keep the cycle moving. It's a full-time preoccupation.
There was a time, way back when we were young marrieds, and my wife and I would sit down in front of the television with our dinner to give ourselves the maximum amount of input for later dissemination. If we hadn't watched Must-See-TV that week, our conversations with others would suffer enormously. Keeping up with Ross and Rachel was a chore, but one we took on gladly. Around this time, I began to subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, which allowed me Cliff's Notes on pop culture that was starting to edge away from me. I was no longer living in the center of the demographic that would allow me to appear hip simply because I was standing where the media stream was aimed. I learned about Miley Cyrus, but I never cared about her. I cared a little about Lindsay Lohan, but I couldn't fully understand how she got to be so darn important. It was right about this time that Al Gore invented the Internet. Now my wife and I were compelled to find out more about people and things that millions of others were discovering and would most certainly be chatting about on the next trip to the water cooler.
I never worked anywhere there was a water cooler. And when our son came along, we moved our little family dinners back to the kitchen, where we could share pleasant, unemojied conversation so as to aid our digestion. We did a very nice job, I think, keeping social media and media of whatever other sorts out of those bonding moments. Then our son grew up and we all got smart phones, and tablets and laptop computers and now when we sit down in front of the television there are times when the three of us are juggling two different devices in addition to the communal screen to which we have all consented to pay attention. There is so much information and so very little time to gobble it all up.
It makes me think about those screen-free weeks that we used to try and participate in when my son was in elementary school. Little did he know that his parents were sneaking a peek at Jon Stewart after he went to sleep. A sad existence, but so full of amusement and distraction. We look up from our screens now and then to make sure the others got our text to watch the link on YouTube. Then back we go into the mire. Happy in our overstimulated blizzard.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


The headline read, "No Evident Connection Between Suspect And Victims In Face Eating Attack." I went back and re-read those words. It gave me pause. No connection? I would imagine that the connection of teeth to fleshy bits nose and cheek would count as some sort of connection. A rather intimate one.
Maybe I should back up a step, in case you aren't as prone to as I am to click on those odd and tawdry stories that have this kind of macabre tint to them. A nineteen year old Florida State University sophomore walked three miles into a suburban neighborhood where he found a couple in their garage where he attacked them. When officers arrived on the scene, Michelle Stevens was dead, as was her husband John who had the added complication of a rabid college sophomore on his chest, gnawing on his face.
I'll give you all a moment to decide if you want to continue with this discussion. A chance to digest, if you will.
What made this case even more disturbing, if this was really a frontier that needed to be mined, was that there was a similar occurrence four years ago in Miami: the case of the Causeway Cannibal. Another young man in south Florida who took a break from our collective reality and ended up making a meal of someone else's face. Not that face-gnawing is a practice limited to residents of Dade County. This behavior is linked to the use of "bath salts," or Flakka. In the same way that breakfast every morning is good, Flakka is bad. Like you would benefit from having breakfast every morning. By contrast, you would benefit from having Flakka, oh, let's say never. I am pretty sure that when you go out shopping for a chemical mood enhancer, the mood you're attempting to enhance isn't the hunger for human flesh. If you get stoned, you get an appetite for Cheetos. If you snort, vape, chew or swallow Flakka, you might end up doing your best impersonation of the Donner Party. Or being a walk-on for the road company of "Night of the Living Dead." Or the subject of some awful story people will read on Al Gore's Internet when they really should be doing something responsible like balancing their checkbook. Or writing a friend to encourage them not to rub, sniff, grind or otherwise consume Flakka.
Nobody did that for Austin Haurroff. His course of study at Florida State University will be interrupted. For some time. He currently enjoys our legal system's distinction of being referred to as the "alleged assailant." Not exactly the type of thing that looks good on your transcript. His status as a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity will need to be revisited. But he will always have a connection with John and Michelle Stevens. Forever.