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!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Crank It Up

The natural progression of things: Boy gets stereo. Boy gets car. Boy gets car stereo. It's a story I know well, and it is currently getting another play in our driveway. This makes sense, since car stereo is the place where I would fully expect to intersect with my son's love of cars. For months now, my eyes have glazed over as my son has described all the moving parts of the automobile he would eventually own. He has entertained all kinds of notions about mufflers and ignitions and wheels and all manner of other modifications he could make to his once and future car. I changed some spark plugs back in the day, and certainly added my share of oil to the crankcase of my Chevrolet Vega, but I would not have labeled myself as a grease monkey.
I did, however, spend a good deal of time and energy connecting speakers and equalizers and cassette players and radios to the interiors of cars that I owned as wells as those of my friends and family. This was an extension of the enthusiasm I had for home stereo systems, generated in large part by hanging around with my older brother who was fascinated by all things tweeter, woofer, and component. Finding new and louder ways to play music at home and in our cars was our prime directive. The seventies and eighties were a magical time when it came to portable stereo. Not the Walkman kind, but the Carman kind. A couple of my friends offered to come over and help me install my new Jensen triaxial speakers in that misbegotten Vega. It took six hours and as many hacksaw blades, but they finally found a way to get them effectively mounted on the inside of my car. It was a traumatic experience, and I swore that if anyone was going to tear up the vinyl of my car, it was going to be me.
I added a graphic equalizer, then upgraded the radio and cassette player. I stayed busy connecting wires: blue to blue, red to red, and what's this green wire with a black stripe? I made them all work, eventually. More often than not, the stereo equipment in cars that I owned far outstripped the value of the cars themselves. As I have mentioned here from time to time, I don't really like to drive. But I do like to listen to music. By taking that music out of the house, my parents weren't there to tell me to turn it down.
That's why I went out in front of our house this past weekend to watch my son move his own music out to the streets. There was some mild frustration, and some equally mild cursing, but mostly the scene was familiar. I wanted to get my head up under the dashboard and start snipping and splicing, but I knew this was not my time. Not my car. Instead, I went inside and burned a CD for my son to test his new system: Aerosmith, Van Halen, Judas Priest. His car. My music. Once everything was hooked up and ready to go, he did the right thing. He turned it up.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Some Days Are Diamonds

The time has come, the Walrus said, to speak of other things: Of cleats and bats and stolen bases, of curve balls and rings. The Giants and Royals will square off in a battle between two wild card teams that few, if any, baseball pundits would have expected. That's what makes it so exciting. Underdogs, essentially, slugging out for the championship of the World.
Around my house, we're trying to rejigger our rooting expectations. Do we go with the Bay Area team, in spite of the fact that they seem to be making a habit of winning a World Series every other year? Or maybe we continue to pull for the Royals, who have gone nearly thirty years without a trip to the big dance? The team from Kansas City would also be the schadenfreude choice, as they were the ones who sent our Oakland Athletics home with a bang and a whimper.
Then there's the whole Kansas connection. Once upon a very long time ago, my father's father left his home in Salina, Kansas, explaining to his wife that he was off to Chicago to watch the Cubs play the Detroit Tigers in the last World Series that featured Chicago's North Side team. The Cubbies were my grandfather's team. My grandmother didn't care. She let him know that if he left, he would be coming home to an empty house. He went to the game. My grandmother moved her children to Boulder, Colorado where my father eventually met my mother and started his own family. That's where I came in.
If not for the World Series, there would be no me. That's why I wondered aloud to my son, after the Giants won their now seemingly obligatory National League pennant, how much it would cost to go see a game in this year's Fall Classic. He and I have seen our share of baseball together. We have the distinction of never having attended an Oakland A's loss. At times we have considered the potential of buying season tickets, just to test that streak, but now the number of baseball seasons we will spend together is dwindling. Why not make one last big show of our love for baseball? This was the musing I left my son with as we went to bed last Thursday night.
As Friday wore on, my mind filled with workaday concerns. Until just after three o'clock, when I received a text from my son: "Cool son thing - I checked out WS tickets. $600-$15,000." I wrote him back: "Well, there's always TV." Just like there's always baseball. Forever.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Foreign Correspondence

Foreigners. What do they know?
Well, for one, they know a foreign language. So they've got that going for them. They are also acutely aware of just how creepy we Americans are. For example, there is the simple conversational move of saying, "pardon me" before asking a simple question. What's the big deal? Do you have the time? I'm just looking for a little information here.
Well, if you're not from these shores, you may have missed that little piece of polite interaction that allows us to intrude into someone else's day only with a mild apology for interrupting whatever reverie they might be enjoying. "Pardon me, do you have the time?" It suggests that we, as the interrogator are asking a favor, since it is not the rest of the world's responsibility to keep us informed of the time. It also puts wiseacres like myself in the position of simply answering, "Yes," and walking away. We could be asking for just a moment out of their day, but it is still their day. It is not a huge intrusion, but we're not doing anyone a favor by asking them for bits of information that could be gleaned from the watch around your wrist or the phone in your pocket. If only you hadn't forgotten both of them in your mad dash to get out of the house that morning.
Still, there's a time and a place for civility, which sounds a lot like civilization, which is what America is still busy creating. European cultures have been steeping in their own juices since before we were busy wiping out the native population of this continent. A lot of us came here from Europe, but apparently we left our manners back home.
Or maybe it's just the arrogance that comes from being in first place. When you're a Super Power, you don't have to say you're sorry. Or excuse me. Or even thank you. Everybody knows it's your planet, and the rest of us are just here to roll our collective eyes at you. This might also explain our cuisine. Cheez-Whiz means never having to say your sorry. I looked it up.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Dignity. Above all: Dignity. That is what I would appreciate from my party of choice, the Democrats. Yet, here they were, filling up my inbox with topics such as, "painful loss," and "we regret to inform you." There was even one that showed up whining, "David, we're begging you." It was so nice of them to make their pleading so very personal. Money. They want it now. Great big wads of it. Joe Biden wrote to encourage me, "I trust that you're listening when Democratic candidates ask for help, David, and if I'm confident about where these elections are going to end up, it's because I have so much faith in you." Flattery, Mister Biden, will get you nowhere.
You see, I've given in the past. I contributed to senate races and both Obama campaigns, as well as a variety of ballot measures. I understand that the price of freedom is five to fifty dollars, all bundled up in stacks that will never match those great big checks that corporations disguised as people write every day. I used to donate money because it made me feel like I was a part of the solution. Now I feel like giving is not what they're after. The want me to give in. 
Surrendering to the inevitable is what I refuse to do. Of course I'll give you twenty-five dollars because I did it once before. You've got my e-mail, why not just keep pounding on the digital door until someone answers? Well, here it is: No. You can keep "pleading...PLEADING," and telling me that "all hope is lost," but I'm not caring anymore. The terrible sameness of politics as usual in these United States has left me numb to the suggestion that any one candidate could make a difference. 
That's awful, right? Well, if it's my fault that the senate ends up in the hands of Republicans, I will have to take that in stride. Short of running for political office myself, I just don't see how putting more money in this particular hole is going to make any sort of difference. Billy Connolly once admonished us, "Don't vote, it just encourages them." If we give them our money, it can only do something much, much worse. It could legitimize what they are doing. Or in the case of our congress, what they are not doing. The bottom line for me is this: They are not currently electing anyone. All of these histrionics are in anticipation of an election that will take place in a few weeks. This is all about raising money to tell us all about the election that is coming up in a few weeks. And how to vote. 
If you really want my vote, quit asking me for money. That's not how I work. I'm thinking that instead of begging and pleading for my spare change, how about a nice gift? For me. But I won't beg. That wouldn't be dignified.