Monday, October 15, 2018

Ride By

Sometimes I write about shootings that result in the deaths or injury to dozens. Sometimes I rail on about the nearly one hundred Americans who die every day as a result of gun violence. Just recently I wrote about the relative safety of the route I take on my bicycle commute to school every day. All of this came rushing together as I rolled past the intersection of High Street and Congress Avenue. A thirty-seven year old man was shot and killed there this past Tuesday.
I know his friends called him Dre.
I know he was loved.
I know this because of the number of candles and inscriptions on the wall of the convenience store that have been left there since. The empty bottles left by mourners compete with the burning wicks, kept lit night and day. The local news had this to say: "A nineteen-year-old man was arrested Tuesday night as a suspect in the fatal shooting five hours earlier of another man in East Oakland, police said Wednesday."
This is not an obscure act in Oakland. The seemingly randomness of it does not take into account the terrible repetition. Guns going off in neighborhoods all over Oakland, so many that the city has employed a system called "Shotspotter," a computer aided listening system that can be used to detect gunfire on the streets and yards and alleys and everywhere else guns might be going off. Or they could rely on the eyes and ears of passersby on a busy thoroughfare like High Street at four o'clock in the afternoon. 
Last Tuesday, I was wrapping up my after school program at my school at four o'clock. I walked my fourth and fifth grade students who were working on a community service project to bring more kindness into their world to the front steps. That was when Dre was shot. I went back to my room and cleaned up some loose ends. I left just after four thirty. That was when Dre was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. When I came over the hill, four blocks away, yellow tape was blocking the intersection where the altar would be mounted over the next few nights. Dre's friends waited until the police had cleared the corner and picked up their cones and other caution and investigation reminders.
And that's when the monument began.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Rock The Vote

Of course I voted for DEVO. After nearly forty years of slavish DEVOtion to the spudboys from Akron, they are at last nominated for a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They are not, by any means, a shoo-in. The group that David Letterman once referred to as "The Fisher-Price of rock and roll" are part of a class that includes eighteen other artists: Def Leppard, Janet Jackson, John Prine, Kraftwerk, LL Cool J, MC5, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Roxy Music, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Stevie Nicks, The Cure, The Zombies, and Todd Rundgren.
I have been one of those Hall of Fame kibitzers from way back, and I understand that all discussions about who gets in when is the reason for the Hall's existence. I am certain there are fans out there who are still anxiously awaiting their chance to vote for the Starland Vocal Band Winners of the Best New Artist Grammy in 1976, the SVC has a hit single and a TV variety show to promote their ascension into pop music's pantheon. "Afternoon Delight" hit number one on the Billboard Chart. By contrast, DEVO's big hit, if you'll pardon the pun, "Whip It" peaked at number fourteen. And no one was foolish enough to suggest that DEVO host their own summer replacement series. 
Still, some forty years after the fact, this bastion of the New Wave finds itself amidst heady company as votes begin to trickle in at a time when voting is a right we should all embrace. While it is true that there are probably places where your vote might make a more emphatic change, I would like to point out that DEVO played a fundraiser for Barack Obama back in 2012 in their home state. Barack Obama went on to win a second term. 
Need I say more? 
Okay. So maybe you're not convinced. There are still so very many more important issues of the day. Certainly that imposing list of fellow nominees is enough to make anyone ask, "Why DEVO? Why now?" 
To which I would respond, "De-evolution is real. Take a look around you." There is a reason my wife and I chose "Freedom of Choice" as one of the songs we played at our wedding. And so I ask you, on behalf of DEVO: If not now, when? 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

On The Dial

On the radio, that's where I heard the Beatles the first time. It is also the appliance that gave me comfort for decades with that little feature called "sleep." As I drifted off, all those songs from my youth formed my lullaby. The first time I heard The Police singing about Roxanne was at the breakfast table in my parents' house as I prepared to go out and face another day. On most evenings I could count on a quiet, relaxing dose of classical music as my mother filled the house with KVOD, and on Saturdays there was opera from the Met. At those moments when I felt the need to retreat to the rock and roll of my generation, I would head to my room and close the door where I could listen to the way the world was lining up pop culture for me. This was when I was listening to AM. These were also the frequencies that could reach our mountain cabin. The batteries we used to power that radio were a point of survival for us all. Whether it was news or weather or music, that was the machine that filled those tranquil hours of too much wilderness solitude.
That radio had an FM dial, but it amounted to nothing. No transmissions of that wavelength were going to climb up the hill into our cabin. Not without some enormous antenna. My love affair with FM radio began when I got my first real receiver. Something that could bring in those nineties and hundreds. KBPI and KAZY lived at the end of that span, and on any given night, you might find me in my room, headphones on, "studying." What I was really doing was listening to the radio. Lots of it. Pretty soon, my clock radio was waking me up to those same sounds, and once I had a car I had a mobile listening station for all the tunes that rocked the Rockies.
By a stroke of luck, the stations I listened to in Colorado had rather easily transferable formats. Hard rock, modern rock, and the inevitable Album Oriented Rock. They made it easier to feel at home when I moved to the Bay Area. And now, my radio listening time has diminished to about half an hour on weekday mornings. In the car, I tend to surrender to whatever the driver, my wife, has selected. The rest of the time, I am programming my own show: iTunes, Spotify, and so forth. The notion of calling up a DJ on the request line to beg for my favorite song has long since passed me by. But I can remember dialing and dialing the studio at KIMN and pleading with them to play Yellow Submarine one more time.
Now I just ask Google, who seems more than happy to fulfill my request.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Goodbye, Columbus

Raise your hand if you got Columbus Day off.
Let's see: That's, um, just about no one. I was asked by a few parents on the way out of school a week ago Friday if we would be open the following Monday. I had to scratch my head for a moment to imagine why. I could not remember an in-service or district work day. National holiday? What might that be? In twenty-two years of teaching, I have never had Columbus Day off. Why would we start now?
Working as I do on this liberal bastion of the left coast, I have never considered the possibility of a three day weekend in that first week of October. Christoper Columbus was a capitalist tool, wandering the globe in anticipation of new routes to extort the rest of the newly round planet for its riches. Or, if you happen to be "President," "Christopher Columbus’s spirit of determination & adventure has provided inspiration to generations of Americans. On #ColumbusDay, we honor his remarkable accomplishments as a navigator, & celebrate his voyage into the unknown expanse of the Atlantic Ocean."
As we have seen before, opinions vary.
How much? Well, consider this: Columbus, Ohio will no longer be participating in their eponymous holiday. Instead, the city fathers have chosen to go all in on Veterans' Day, just a month later, and probably a tad less divisive. Other cities have attempted to manage that kind of backlash by referring to an Indigenous People's Day, but have faced additional confrontations from Italian American groups as well as those Indigenous People who were not pleased to be copy and pasted over the man who they feel was responsible for their genocide. While Columbus the explorer will remain a Federal holiday, Columbus the city will keep on picking up trash and enforcing parking limits.
Meanwhile, back in the People's Republic of the East Bay, we will be taking October 19th off. Not because of Columbus, but because the newly shifted school year closes before Memorial Day, and we will therefore be taking "In Lieu of Memorial Day" to share with our loved ones. Perhaps to meditate on this matter further.
Or to stock up on Halloween candy.

Thursday, October 11, 2018


It would be so easy. All I would have to do is just keep showing up as I always have. And start taking instead of giving. And start caring about myself instead of others. And close my ears to the cries all around me. And close my eyes to all the suffering.
I am a straight white male in my fifties. I could toss a bunch of money at the stock market and enjoy the ride. I could buy a bunch of guns and ammunition to protect my home and wait for the insurrection. I could vote for the candidates who are going to make a more comfortable ride for me and mine without a care for those floundering all around me. I could choose to believe what and whomever makes it easier for me to sleep at night. I could start enjoying this white male privilege and start making it work for me.
Except I have eyes.
And ears.
And a heart.
Some might say it bleeds, and they would be right. It bleeds for those who have never enjoyed playing this game because the deck is stacked against them.
My eyes cry for those who have been left behind on this fast track to get the most the quickest way possible. I weep for those who never had a chance.
My ears ring from all the despotic rhetoric that exists solely to keep those who are not white males right where they have been for all this time: at the bottom. They burn because I know that when people talk about white privilege they are pointing at me.
I know that a great portion of the reason why I am where I am today is based on rules set forth by a bunch of guys like me who wanted it to be easy for guys like me to continue to be guys like me. When I say #MeToo, it's pretty hypocritical.
I know I am outnumbered. Common sense suggests surrender, though somehow this gang of white males cling to their places of power and spew hate and fear. Probably because they are terrified. I would be too.
If I were them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

What About Me?

I was never good at keeping a journal. There have been plenty of times that I have been given a notebook full of empty pages with the expressed intent of scribbling them full of my clever notions and stories. The idea that I would sit down on any sort of regular basis and make an accounting of the events of my life. Not that I wasn't necessarily up to the task. I have always been more than capable of filling up line after line of nominally meaningful prose. Or poetry. Or the occasional drawing or diagram. When I was in school and a teacher assigned a number of lines or pages to write, I was up to the task. Usually making sense. Usually working in some pithy comment or amusing anecdote, I am a storyteller.
The last time I kept a journal, a diary, was when I was in therapy. I was asked to keep track of my thoughts and feelings over the course of the week between appointments. I wrote dutifully every day, even if I wasn't always diving deep into my emotions and coming up with revelations that would bring me closer to understanding myself.
Sometimes I did. Like the casual observation that I tend to lean on a cheap laugh or wordplay when I am careening toward some sort of dramatic insight. I am not proud of the cheap laugh thing, but it certainly reminds me of where I came from. My father was an entertainer. A salesman by trade, but a raconteur as an avocation. He wasn't much of a writer, but he could tell a story.
And so could my mother. One of my favorite things as a child was sitting and listening to her tell stories about "the olden days." She wasn't a punchline kind of gal. She was a family historian. It was my mom who kept detailed accounts of family trips in little notebooks. Where did we stop? What did we eat? Who got the worst sunburn?
And then there was that guestbook at the cabin. At one point or another, we all took turns accounting for the cast and characters arriving at our doorstep. I wrote plenty of pages in that bad boy.
And then there's this. The last decade or so with daily updates on my attitudes and behavior. My opinions and beliefs. So the joke here is that I guess I have always been a journal keeper.
Surprise, surprise.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Spectator Sport

I used to live in Colorado. It snows there. Sometimes a lot. There are no indoor football stadiums in Colorado. If you want to watch football, you have to sit outside. Unless the powers that be decide to show the game on television. Then you can watch from the safety and comfort of your home. But, as I have discussed prior to this writing, concern rays have a very difficult time travelling through the air and television cables to influence the outcome of a game. This is why it is infinitely preferable to be seated in the stands, in order for your team to get the full use of one's concern rays.
I sat on a snow drift in Folsom Field on November 2, 1991 and watched my Colorado Buffaloes play the Nebraska Cornhuskers to a 19-19 standstill. The grounds crew kept the field clear, but couldn't be bothered to get the stands free of ice and snow, so the hearty souls who came out to make their voices heard and their concern rays felt had to do so in subzero temperatures dreaming of an outcome that would reward their foolhardiness. And dedication.
When I think about the hours I have spent watching spectator sports without receiving the outcome I feel that I have worked so hard to achieve. Just the other night, I sat down with my wife to watch the Denver Broncos play the Kansas City Chiefs. I asked my wife along for this experience because I hoped her somewhat muted but very sincere concern rays combined with my full bore obsession rays would help carry the day. And they were nearly enough. Nearly. Not enough to win. Or tie. Enough to have put up a good fight.
And three hours of my life have slipped by in the most unsatisfying fashion.
I relate all of this sports chatter not simply to annoy my younger brother, but to relate it to my feelings about the Brett Kavanaugh experience. The past few weeks worth of concern rays have done little or anything to affect the outcome of the confirmation vote. Part of me wishes that I could have stood with those on Capitol Hill, arms linked and chanting, "We believe women." Because I do. Part of me wishes that this blog had more readers, especially those whose opinion I might have captured and swayed. Ultimately, this was a series of futile gestures on my part. Resulting in a loss that will last far into next season. Into another generation.
Perhaps it's time to stop being a spectator.