Tuesday, November 19, 2019

It Took Seconds

Sixteen seconds.
That was my takeaway from the most recent school shooting. That was how long it took for a student at Saugus High in Santa Clarita, California to kill two of his classmates, wound three others, and then turned the gun on himself. The shooter had just turned sixteen.
Maybe there's something there. More likely it's just a terrible coincidence.
Sixteen seconds.
You will spend more time reading this blog than it took for that teenager to end three lives and change those of hundreds more. It takes thirty seconds to order a meal online. Texting your mom takes longer than sixteen seconds, if you go beyond just the emojis. There were plenty of students at Saugus High who took the time to do just that as they waited for the all clear, long after the shots had all been fired. Three off-duty officers from local law enforcement were first to respond to the incident. Because they were at the school dropping off their kids. These brave individuals did not hesitate. They rushed back into the school right after the shooting began.
"Don't Walk" signs count you down from fifteen seconds to get you across the street safely.
Go ahead. Count off "sixteen Mississippi" in your head. It would take anyone that long just to figure out where the shots were coming from.
And here's another thing that takes more than sixteen seconds: Conducting a lockdown drill. Many of the students who escaped had stories to relate, many of them included their relief that they had prepared for such an event. Practice makes perfect. It could be that lives were saved because of that preparation. Or maybe not, since the killer saved the last bullet in his gun for himself. When he ran out of ammo, he was done. Sixteen seconds is how long it takes to change a community forever.
Santa Clarita joins a seemingly never-ending list of cities that bear the hurt of being the site of a mass shooting. It took less than half a minute. It took just over a quarter of a minute. Usain Bolt can run one hundred meters in less time, but not the rest of us. We would still be standing in the doorway, looking back at the carnage that just erupted before the school day had even begun.
It's just not enough time.
Or maybe it's too much.
It's all too much.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Glitz

Pizzazz: an attractive combination of vitality and glamour.
I looked it up. Just to be certain. This was the element that NBC and Reuters said was missing from the first days of the impeachment hearings. Perhaps because we have become accustomed to pizzazz. This could be due to the evolution of paparazzi, or the elevation of news celebrities. We expect that the only good news is breaking news. If it bleeds it leads. No bores or snores. We need action. We need revelations.
The trouble here is that there is no revelation. All of this, the scandal John Oliver has taken to referring to as "Stupid WatergateII," has been played out in front of us in such a way as to numb us to the details. "So what if there was a quid pro quo?" "Hoax." "Witch Hunt.
Let me just pause here to suggest the following scenario: If, in 1692, any of the accused Salem witches had insisted that everyone read a transcript of a conversation they had that included the phrase, "I could turn your husband into a newt,  but I would like you to do us a favor though,” then it wouldn't have been much of a trial and all this shade being thrown on those unfortunate events way back when wouldn't carry such a stigma. The difference here is that the transcript released by the White House includes just exactly that. "I would like you to do us a favor though." Page Three. 
Yes. I understand that in the midst of a presidency that includes so many horrible moments and obnoxious statements this little "favor" doesn't match up to the pomposity and hyperbole to which we have become accustomed. It's kind of delicate by comparison. Business as usual includes the stripping of civil rights from previously protected groups, overturning government regulations meant to save the environment, and caging children. So what's the big deal about asking a foreign leader to do "us" a little favor? It's against the law. Big time
And though it may seem a little like passing out speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500, this is the place where the rubber meets the road. It is the moment at which hiding those tax returns and his business dealings in the past become a tapestry of deceit. As one former employee of his said, “He ignores the law when he doesn’t like it, he uses the law to get his way.”
So there isn't enough pizzazz for the folks at NBC? I understand that this may not be anything like their old Thursday Night lineup. No Friends. No Seinfeld. But make no mistake this is "must-see TV." With or without pizzazz. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pressure Drop

"The sunny optimism that likely propelled them into the field is rapidly fading as the result of low salaries, insufficient funding, and the often complicated social-emotional needs of their students." That's how the article by Reggie Wade for Yahoo(!) Finance began. I read on with interest, being a teacher. I got to the part that described the measuring stick used to define this drop in confidence, which suggested that in just a year that mark has moved from fifty percent to thirty-four. My first thought: Wow. We were only at fifty percent last year, and now we've dropped another sixteen percent. Those numbers are positively Trumpian.
All of this sad information came from The Educator Confidence Report, a document composed in conjunction with You.Gov, a survey site that crunches numbers of this sort. "Job satisfaction," how about "optimism?" How about reading the blog I've been writing for the past fifteen years? Probably not the most scientific way to gather data, but it might give a picture of what working in urban education is all about. The highs. The lows. The in-between days. There are a lot of those. Those are the ones with an asterisk next to them. The ones with a small victory mixed into the pudding, leaving a sweet taste of success that brings us rushing back for just that little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. 
Low salaries? I signed up for that. Insufficient funding? I'm ready for the battle. The often complicated social-emotional needs of our students? Okay. You got me there. That's a nut I have been trying to crack for nearly a quarter century. Using the template of my own experience in school and childhood does very little to prepare me for the Escape Room. That's where the confidence comes in. Can I figure out a way to invest my young charges with the enthusiasm that brought me to this job in the first place? Can I give them a little of that sweetness that gets me coming back the next day? That's my job, after all. Just like Mary Poppins, I'm looking for that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. In the most delightful way. 
And that little connection there is enough to get me through to Thanksgiving break. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Beliefs

On what do I base my feelings about Donald Trump? It could be the angry mob of sycophants that surround him. I would happily pick the other side of any argument that had Sean Hannity in it. Much in the same way I would do for just about any current administration official. The angry, darting eyes of a hunted animal are the giveaways. I have even opened my acceptance of these individuals to the exception of "just a job." They work for a man who made "You're Fired" a catchphrase. This is the kind of boss from whom you would shrink, find excuses to stay in the bathroom, hide under the desk. And when the lights come on and the cameras are rolling, you mindlessly repeat the talking points generated out of desperation and hope that you can find someone else to throw under the bus while surviving to the next list of meandering talking points.
That cult of borderline personality reeks of fear and desperation. Anything that runs on the souls of the individuals that are grist for the mill must require a sacrifice. The turnover rate for the "president's" A-Team stands at eighty percent. The message being thrown around from the top of that stack of turtles is that the fault lies in the dismissed, the fired, the resigned. And once their eyes stop spinning counter-clockwise, they will write their book describing life on the inside of that dryer full of rocks. The problem is all that stuff at the bottom, we are told. Not the howling windbag way up high. Looking down.
The hypocrisy in thought and deed, the never-ending greed, the hate and fear is terrifying, but this is a man who once tried to talk a kid out of believing in Santa. On Christmas Eve last year, the "president" and his wife were taking calls from kids, and this is what he said to a seven year old: "Are you still a believer in Santa? Because at seven, it's marginal, right?" 
Marginal? Really? This is the same man who suggested that the problem between Syria and Turkey should be solved with the following metaphor: "Sometimes you have to let them fight. It’s like two kids in a lot, you’ve got to let them fight and then you pull them apart." I give him a point for consistency, since that seems to be the way he runs his meetings. 
With those nuggets in place, I cannot find any reason to doubt any of the other scandalous, horrible moments attributed to our wispy-haired head of state. Those that are part of the record, video and audio recordings, stand on their own merits. Or faults. But when you tell kids they are "marginal" for calling the Santa Hotline and professing their belief in Santa Claus? 
Impeachment's too good for him. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

I'm Watching

Here is where it starts: You're out in the front yard, playing catch with your dad, and when you make an errant throw or the ball glances off your mitt and falls to the ground, the first words out of your mouth is, "I'm sorry." We are conditioned to apologize for not keeping the ball in the air. It is for this reason I believe all professional sports are fixed.
Come now. Don't stare at me with those unforgiving eyes. It happened in the 1919 World Series. Why wouldn't it be possible a hundred years later? Please understand that I enjoyed watching the spectacle as much as anyone without a specific rooting interest in what would be the least-watched World Series in the past five years. A Series in which the home team never won a game, which meant that every out had to be played. Home runs leaped out of each park, and a stolen base was recorded in game one, assuring a hungry nation that Taco Bell would make good on its offer of a free Doritos Locos Taco to anyone who could stumble into one of their restaurants between the hours of two and six on October 30.
Exciting? Sure. Fixed? Why not?
Bear with me for a moment as I point out that there are a great many adult Americans who continue to believe that Professional Wrestling is real. Considering there is a considerable overlap between this fan base and those that consider the eternal left hand turns of NASCAR high entertainment, and that so many of our great institutions have now become sullied by slow motion instant replay booth reviews, who would argue the point?
Okay. You're not convinced. How about the potential for these highly trained athletes to perform at such a high degree that they are throwing balls faster than I have ever driven my Prius and tapping their toes on the sideline even as they are careening toward the opponents' bench while all manner of chaos goes on around them? We are often reminded by announcer-types of the impossibility of what we have just witnessed and the improbability of a rookie kicker coming in at the last minute to push a ball through the uprights in the last seconds to pull off a victory. Except that's his job, and he's been practicing since at least mid-July for just such an opportunity. If he makes it, he's a hero. If he misses it, he will be replaced.
Then there's this: There was no television in 1919. Major League Baseball earns billions of dollars each year via its TV contracts with various outlets. The National Football League makes more than six billion annually. It is in their best interests to keep the ball in the air. All those enormous contracts given to players assure they continue to train for those moments of high drama and to keep the ball off the ground.
And for their silence.
Convinced? No? Just keep watching for proof. I know I will. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Ever

Time is fast approaching when I will have been alive the same number of years as my father when he stopped being alive. My older brother passed that mark this past year. Another trick of math tells me that I have now lived nearly another half of my life since dad passed on. Kicked the bucket. My personal favorite: Joined the choir invisible. A phrase I attribute to John Cleese, but was originally from a poem by George Eliot. Aside from the hairline that endure as a gift and tribute from my old man, I continue to keep alive many of his worst jokes and stories.
And the peanut brittle.
And the clock on the wall.
And the walls that surround me. By managing the insurance money I was given as a parting gift from dear old dad, my wife and I could afford the down-payment on the house in which we now reside.
So, no, there aren't many days that I don't think about him. A quarter of a century ago, there were plenty of other things on my mind. Starting a new life in a new state and striking out on my own. All those strings attaching me to being "Davy" and lashing me to a future that was only what happened in Boulder, Colorado had been cut.
And it all changed in an instant. There was a flash of time during which I began to imagine a life that brought me back to my hometown, to be the caretaker for my horribly injured father. It was long enough to imagine the scenarios in which everything would play out just fine. The relative comfort and safety of going back to my hometown came as a mild relief at that time. I was terrified at the prospect, but it seemed like the next logical chapter in my story. But first my brothers and I were going to have to sort out what was really happening.
My father died in the burn ward. He didn't make it home. Not until we carried his ashes up to the cabin he built and sprinkled him there, as he had often pontificated: "Scatter me here." Suddenly, I was released from that binding commitment of looking after an invalid. I was returned to my regularly scheduled programming. But nothing was regular about it. I had been pushed through a door into adulthood like I had never imagined. It was my older brother who carefully sifted through all the paper and accounts and did the heavy lifting. I returned to the relative safety of the west coast, where things eventually returned to normal. But a new normal. This was the one where a parking space for Donald Caven had just opened up, and one of the best things I ever helped create was someone to take it over.
Now it's his lifetime that dates this whole process. There's a burgeoning adult who has been indoctrinated in many of the same ways I was to the ways of the world. He knows many of the same songs and stories I do. And though it seems like forever ago, I know it is just ever.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Masonry

Hey, history buffs: Where were you thirty years ago?
It could be that you were still trying to put your life back together after the Loma Prieta earthquake that rocked the Bay Area even as the local baseball franchises went head to head in a World Series that had to be put on hold while both cities dug out and cleaned up. Batman had just been brought back to the big screen, setting up what would eventually become a burr underneath Martin Scorsese's saddle after a few more decades. George H.W. Bush was President of the United States. I mention most of this because I didn't have a blog yet and many of these events seem important to me.
Like the fact that it was thirty years ago that construction began on the first McDonald's In Russia. This was the kind of thing that led to the Scorpions recording their Glasnost hit, "Wind Of Change." And for those of you who may be too young to remember the Scorpions, they rocked like a hurricane, even though they were saddled with some pretty severe accents. But because they were from a country that chose to build a wall down the middle of what used to be their capital, we give them a pass here. And because it was thirty years ago that the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.
It wasn't an earthquake, or a stampede to be first in line for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. They use the metric system over there. After years of pressure from within and without, the edifice which had been the most outward symbol of divisions created by the Cold War was toppled.
I wasn't there. I watched it on TV. And it is just now occurring to me what a terrible shame it is that we weren't more equipped to deal with that groundswell of democracy. As those protesters leaped into the vacuum created by all those years of Soviet oppression, we gave them our best: blue jeans, MTV, and a chance to be "free." In 2019, walls are back in fashion, and the freedom that was chased for all those years is being turned back on itself. Those open borders are closing down as the European Union begins to crack under the strain of Nationalism. Boris Johnson has improbably turned Britain on itself to collapse under the weight of its inability to do those things that make a country truly free.
And now, just down the road, a new wall is being built. Because, we are told, "Walls work." If the goal is to build frustration and anti-government hysteria, then I would have to agree. I just don't see it as a step forward.
There's a new Batman movie being made.