Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Brought To You By:

Did you know there was an election coming up? Sure you did. Especially if you've been hanging around your computer reading this blog, and if that's what you've been doing, thank you and now go out to the living room and say hello to your family. They miss you. Next, you should probably get that voter's guide that you set aside a month ago out from under the stack of Sunday newspapers and Taco Bell wrappers and take a look.
Or don't. It's just your chance to change the world in which you live by participating in democracy. You remember democracy, don't you? That thing we've been trying to promote across the globe in the same way Taco Bell has been trying to encourage us to think of them as a place for breakfast? Why not start planning now to get out and stretch those patriotic muscles that have atrophied since the last big election, when George McGovern lost in a squeaker.
I kid, because I'm a kidder. But this isn't anything to kid about. Well, maybe a little. For example, if you're a voter in Colorado, you probably want to make sure you have plenty of toner in your printer so that you can crank out as many ballots as you can for your favorite candidates and ballot measures. At least that 's what Megan Kelly of Faux News would expect you to do. Especially if you're one of those Democratic types. Ms. Kelly announced that Governor Hickenlooper, whose name I am not making up, signed a bill sixteen months ago that allowed citizens to print out their own ballots and hand them over to "collectors." Ms. Kelly asked wryly, "What could go wrong?"
Well, essentially the same thing that happens whenever somebody announces a factual error like "Dewey Defeats Truman." As it turns out, you can't really just print up ballots and wait for somebody to drop by and pick them up in Colorado. The bill that became law allowed the law, known as the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, specifically applies to military and overseas voters, who can receive ballots via email and return it with a signed affidavit by regular mail services.So maybe you should start by printing up some of those fake affidavits. 
Or don't, because in the end, voting should be every bit as easy and delicious as ordering a tasty breakfast from your nearest Taco Bell. And let freedom ring. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Welcome To Paradise

America, as I have often said, is a tough town. There are plenty of things to be frustrated about. There are plenty of things about which we can all sleepless nights fretting. Our economy. The upcoming election. The crime in the streets. Ebola. I could go on and on, since that is my tendency. But maybe today we should all take a moment to consider the alternatives.
Our president, knuckling under to partisan pressure, named an Ebola czar. Ron Klain will now orchestrate our nation's response to this plague. We worry that our capacity for treating more than a dozen cases in our special isolation units our country supports. The good news: we are not currently in danger of filling those twelve very prized beds anytime soon. Our percentage of the ten thousand cases estimated by the World Health Organization is about one thirtieth of one percent. In the meantime, just for safety's sake, stay away from bowling alleys.
Now on to the economy. Our dollar, as well as our cents, have taken a pretty solid beating as a result of all the turmoil in the world. The stock market has been buffeted by all manner of effects brought on by forces outside our borders. And yet, Wall Street recorded its best week in nearly two years. How could this be? Perhaps there is money to be made on pain and suffering, and we as a nation have never been too proud to overlook this fact. We are, after all, the guys who invented the smallpox blanket. We also spend a great deal of our money making smart bombs and stealth bombers to carry them, so be careful who you're messing with, world outside. We are sneaky, explosive and well-funded.
And then there's the whole justice thing. There are so many ways that our system of courts and all around jurisprudence. We send the wrong person to the electric chair. Our peace officers are sometimes less than peaceful. If you have the money, you can buy yourself a verdict. It is a far from perfect system. On the flipside, we are not currently hanging women for killing their rapists. They do that in Iran. We have a lot of kinks to work out still, but here in the Estados Unidos, we continue to be the place where the rest of the world longs to be.
And maybe that's a good thing.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gathering Wool

My very good friend and confidante from Manhattan left me a text the other day, wistfully remembering the days of our youth. The days of our youth that have now been spent. The days of our youth that we now chase in ways that sometimes embarrass us. Those were the days, after all. Time, if you believe Chrissie Hynde, is the avenger. When we were in our twenties, my friend opined, we did not know the danger that was waiting for us just outside the cozy confines of our college townhouse. All the beer games in the world didn't prepare us for what we would encounter once we finally embraced the reality of our surroundings. That was our thirties.
We grew up quick, and contrary to what Shel Silverstein might have you believe, we didn't grow up mean. We did, however, grow up quirky. There were some bends in the road that we hadn't fully anticipated and those were the ones that left a mark. We believed that we were indestructible, and for the most part we were.For a while. It was the decay that got us. Years of feigned ambivalence gave way to caring deeply about political causes. Suddenly we cared about who won and who lost. It mattered right down to the price of the beer that we no longer bought.
It made me think about relativity and that great scene in "Inherit The Wind" where Henry Drummond tells his old friend Matthew Brady, "All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away--by standing still." We don't grow older in any perceptible way until we come face to face with our youth, or the remnants of it. Becoming a parent made me realize just how much of a tag-team affair this life really is. It took generations to realize a Broncos team that could win the Super Bowl. It took fathers and grandfathers to link us to the past that included manual transmissions and a love for them. We continue to learn by watching time drift by. It's only when we close our eyes that we feel it.
I know that I feel time now the way I used to feel distance. I miss the way things used to be like I used to pine for the places of my youth. 
I haven't forgotten. I remember all the joy and pain and fear and laughter. It now comes in convenient bite-size morsels. And I savor every one. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Bait Shop

Sometime, when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, I think of one thing: "I could open up a bait shop." That feels like such a relief. Selling nightcrawlers to some of the most relaxed people on the planet: fishermen. I wouldn't even have to worry about whether they caught anything. I would have to endure the stories of the one that got away, but that would be okay. Most of the time I would sit out front, waiting for the sun to go down so I could hear about the day's travails. Fishermen's travails, mind you. Not the "Deadliest Catch" kind of travails,either. All the life and death stuff would be limited to a few trout and some drowned worms. 
But that's a dream. As was the suggestion my wife made to me a few mornings back: "What if you could get up in the morning and make a picture, and people would pay you for it?" She may have been reflecting on the episode of "Parks and Recreation" we had watched the night before, where Tom Haveford (Aziz Ansari) pays a commercial artist to paint a picture that he can pass off as his contribution to his office mural project. Or maybe she was contemplating the life we had both found as intermittently practicing artists ourselves. 
As a freshman in college, I chose Studio Art as a major. My faculty adviser was the head of the fine arts department, and I looked forward to many hours spent in and around studios where I would be splashing paint around, or carving great totems, or welding sculptures that stretched to the sky. That never happened. It turned out that my imagination was never a perfect match for my enthusiasms. I had great ideas for objects d'art, but not nearly enough d'edication to pull them off. For a year, I kept a model of what I envisioned as a towering edifice that described man's inhumanity to man. Or something like that. Maybe it was a rocket ship. I don't know. It never got big enough to be either one. It was just a wood model in a shoe box. 
Over the years, I have put in a lot of effort at painting that picture for money. Okay, maybe not a lot of effort, but it has always been my wish that I might someday get paid for my creative endeavors. I didn't get paid for the mural I painted on the floor of the loft in my friend's dorm room. I didn't get paid for the cartoon I painted on the wall outside of my own dorm room. By the time I was done with my freshman year, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to get paid for painting. 
Many years later, when we moved into our own house, my wife and I finally felt the freedom to paint on our own walls. We didn't get paid, but the entryway got a bit of whimsy with the appearance of broken bricks giving way to a bright blue sky overhead. My son's room got the most attention. My wife and I worked for the first nine months of our little boy's life to create a border that went around the top of that room, depicting the adventures of Little Pig. Later, when it became clear that trains were a life-giving force to our son, we painted a version of Casey Jr., the locomotive from Disney's Dumbo over the head of his bed. And then I pretty much put my brushes away, with the exception of the periodic touch ups I have to do on the side of the house. That's one color and doesn't require a lot of creativity, especially since we picked the colors out years ago.
Still, I wonder what life might be like if I woke up and went into art mode. My younger brother does that. When he isn't driving a bus or helping out in that community way he has. My wife does that, when she isn't administering her special brand of wisdom to the Parent Teacher Organizations of the world or getting someone else's website running or - come to think of it - I know a lot of people who are artists. They just do it in their spare time. And there's an art to that, too. Just like running a bait shop. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stayin' Alive

The other day on the radio, I heard the lady say, "At this point, more people have married Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola." It was precisely the kind of perspective that I can use on any given morning. With all there is to fear and fret about on our planet, it's nice to have someone come along and drop a little value-added into the mix.
This is also how I feel about ISIL attacking America. Currently, I don't believe that we need an ISIL czar, for example. I am not concerned with that horrible terrorist group landing on our shores and wreaking havoc. There is plenty of havoc to be raised in their own neighborhood currently, and so I don't expect to have to add automatic weapons to my survival stockpile. The survival stockpile that is already full and overflowing with haz-mat suits and ventilation units to protect me from all manner of airborne viruses and such.
Or maybe I should be more worried about that American-ISIL connection. Three teenage girls from Denver who had been missing since last week and were reported to be traveling to Turkey were picked up in Germany and sent back home, U.S. officials said last Tuesday. Remember when teenage girls used to run away from home to join their homicidal boyfriends right here in the good old USA? Apparently these girls weren't satisfied merely going on a killing rampage across the Great Plains. They were all starry-eyed for jihad. Maybe it's time for another reboot of "Red Dawn." I don't know what the Arabic word for "Wolverine" is, but I'm pretty sure Patrick Swayze won't be showing up in the desert anytime soon to lead this ragtag group of rebels.It does seem oddly possible that Charlie Sheen might decide to join up with ISIL. Charlie was a Wolverine, once upon a time. He drinks tiger blood. And in the oddest of coincidences, his dad played Charlie Starkweather in "Badlands," more or less. 
Now I'm a little bit scared. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gone Dog

A year makes a great big difference. I no longer get a lump in my throat each time I look at the corner of our kitchen where the water dish used to live. I don't tear up when I look at the spot on the living room rug where her bed used to be. One of her beds. We knew that she preferred the couch, but mostly she respected this line of demarcation. Until we left the house and she was free to plop herself down wherever she pleased. For a while she took to the lofty climes of our bed, where the ravages of time and her aging bladder took its toll on all of us. We became somewhat immune to the not-so-faint odor of doggie incontinence.
But I digress. I don't miss her for that. Nor do I miss her for the fistfuls of white fur that covered most horizontal surfaces in our home. Had we chosen to, we probably could have constructed an entirely new pet from the genetic material we collected after she was gone.
Gone. It's not a happy word. Maddie has been gone for a year now, and it has become easier to leave the house, but I confess that coming home is still a chore. I still desperately miss the greeting that awaited me each time I opened the door. Head slightly down to accept the scratches she enjoyed behind her ears, back end wagging. This was her way of showing love and deference to the leader of the pack. At my house, I don't always enjoy this distinction, but I could with her. She recognized me as the bringer of food, the scratcher of bellies, the guy who would take her out for a run around the block. I was also the guy who would have his patience tested by those same walks around the block, the ones that were off leash. When we left the gate open, she would go out into the neighborhood looking for somebody's trash to sniff and roll around in. When I went after her, she would run ahead a few yards, then look back to see if I was chasing. Most of the time she stuck to the same route: the one that went around the block. Time and time again, I played this game that always ended with her running back into the front yard, as if that was where she had been the whole time. Because that was essentially what she was doing. Her idea of her front yard was just a little different than mine. Her front yard stretched out to wherever the scents of whatever horrible thing she might find to ingest or froth about in. But she always came home.
Over the past several months, I have had to become used to leaving the front gate open. My son has a car now, and his arrivals and departures are far more frequent than Maddie's used to be. He can come and go, where Maddie used to have to wait for specific permission. Or someone who failed to latch the gate properly. Now she's gone. I can't say that she's gone for good, since there's really not much about her being gone that is.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Play Nice, Or Don't Play

One of the things I stress on the playground where I work is sportsmanship. It is kind of an obscure concept for five to eleven-year-olds, but we do the best we can. This is true of many of the lessons we try to teach in elementary school, but if we can catch them while they still have those stretchy and absorbent brains, we all might stand a chance when it comes time to solve simple problems in the adult world.
For example: What should happen when you don't agree with someone else on the playground? It is not okay to hit, or spit, on the person with whom you are having a disagreement. That would only make things work. We start with "I messages." We encourage kids to share their feelings about the situation that caused the conflict. For example: "I don't like it when you laugh if I miss the ball." Or "It makes me feel bad when you cut me in line." We teach best by modeling the behavior we would like to see. That's why I would expect that the best place in the world for this kind of instruction would be "The Show Me State," Missouri.
Unfortunately, we can't always expect what we teach to stick the first time. For instance, "I don't like it when you hang the United States flag upside down," would have been a much better opening line than simply grabbing it from a protester, inciting what could best be described as even more of a ruckus. Maybe, "It makes me feel bad when you put the handcuffs on too tight." Upside down flags? Handcuffs? What kind of playground was this? Well, it wasn't exactly a playground. It was just outside a sports facility in St. Louis. You might think that after having watched the hometown team surprise the reigning world champs, Rams fans might have been in a more forgiving mood. It could be that the lack of forgiveness was also being felt on the part of the protesters, who were outside the Edward Jones Dome calling for justice in the case of Michael Brown.
I suspect that people who pay upwards of one hundred dollars a ticket to watch professional football in any city don't expect to walk out of that experience and into civil unrest. I'm also guessing that citizens of Missouri might have become desensitized to the sounds of voices raised in anger, but I could be wrong. Maybe the best outcome would have been for both groups to enjoy their First Amendment rights and keep it at Freedom of Speech. I know we have that lawful assembly thing in there, but I'm pretty sure our founding fathers didn't include a "Freedom of Scuffling" in any of the original versions of the Constitution. They chose, as we do now, to use their words. Good modeling, Mister Madison!