Thursday, November 23, 2017

Simple Machines

I am thankful for pop-top cans. Back in the olden days, beverages came in cans that had to be opened with a church key can opener. One hole in the front for easy pouring and one smaller vent in the back to keep gurgling to a minimum. Sounds cool? It was a hassle.
Then came pull tabs, which were a revelation at the time. They did provide endless hours of amusement and craft-making possibilities. Mostly they created a rival for cigarette butts when it came to the most prevalent scrap of litter found on beaches, forests and city streets. Then, in 1975, the pop-top appeared. It came with all the convenience of the pull tab, but kept the tab attached to the can. The litter stayed attached to the can. 
Special thanks go to Daniel F. Cudzik, inventor. Thank you for helping save our environment. 
I am also thankful for the lumber and composites that sit above my family's head as we go to sleep each night. Since 1895, this bit of construction has kept the rain off our heads and the sun out of our eyes. We have shelter, and that is an amazing thing. That roof protects my family and our possessions. We tend to invite friends, family, and the occasional stranger to enjoy the comfort and safety of something under which we can sit, talk, sleep and play the occasional game of gin rummy. It is a place where we can stay until we decide to go out and brave the elements, with the option of coming back to be inside when we get tired or bored of being out in the wilderness. And all the while we could reflect at the distinct lack of pull tabs littering the outside. 
There is so very much for which we can be thankful that it seems ridiculous for this one day to ponder the alternatives: those things that we could do without. There certainly have been buckets and boxes full of disappointments and grief since last November, and I would like to suggest that on this day we take a standing eight count to give ourselves a moment to reflect on the things that continue to work in our lives. Pop-top cans. Roofs. The front door that when closed keeps out all those winds and scary monsters. When it opens, the choice of walking outside or welcoming folks inside. 
I am thankful for the bits and pieces around my life, and tomorrow I wish for everyone to have a chance to enjoy them, if only for a day. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

News That Needs To Be Fake

Yes. I saw the headline: The FAA Can’t Stop People From Throwing Live Turkeys Out Of Planes. I clicked on it. I really could not believe that this was an article that could be true. But it came from Huffington Post. I trust these folks. It cited a Turkey Drop in Yellville, Arkansas. The Federal Aviation Administration was asked to find a way to stop the annual festival in that corner of the map that uses the plummeting fowl as a promotion for their Turkey Trot. Their city website proudly announces  them as "Home of the Famous TURKEY TROT." Or infamous. Dropping turkeys from an airplane flying fifty feet above the ground seems like a bad idea for the people on the ground as much as the birds in the air. 
Really? I thought this was just a play on the episode of WKRP in Cincinnati in which Les Nessman, winner of the coveted Silver Sow Award as well as three Buckeye Newshawk awards, described the scene at a local shopping mall where his stations's owner and sales manager were pitching live turkeys out of a helicopter. It's a sit-com. It's not real. Even at the end of the episode, as owner Arthur Carlson returns to the station in the aftermath of the debacle of a promotion, he states, "As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."
For the record, no turkeys were harmed in the filming of that WKRP episode. Those in the Yellville festival were not quite as lucky. While it is true that Thanksgiving tradition suggests that  the mortality rate for turkeys is high, what brain trust got together to figure that replaying a scene from a seventies situation comedy in celebration of our annual feast was a good idea? 
Wouldn't it be better if this was a made up story? And while we're at it, wouldn't it be nice if we could select a news item each week to be the one that didn't happen? What a treat it would  be to turn back the clock and  tell everyone that the shooting in Texas was really just pretend, and nobody died. No innocent victims, fish, fowl, or human. Hit that big red FAKE button and put the brakes on any more carnage. That might mean that we would have to let Melania Trump turn out to be a replicant, but that should be left up to us. We, the people. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Made It

And so we made it. All the way to Thanksgiving break. It shouldn't be a surprise. The world keeps turning and the pages of the calendar keep falling off, making a mess of the floor beneath the calendar. Coming soon to a floor beneath that calendar: Winter.
It's a cycle. I get it. Fifty-five changes of season and there are still rises and falls in this great big circle. Each group of trick or treaters and every fireworks show. Birthday wrapping paper gets cleaned up in time for the Christmas tinsel to get ground into the carpet. Holiday meals are prepared, consumed and the nice plates are put away for another occasion. Whatever that is.
Now I teach. In a public school, and the rises and falls are well-worn ruts that make creases through modern American life. Before that, I worked in a book warehouse. My life took the shape of the UPS calendar. I worked when UPS worked. That's how we planned our wedding, once upon a time. The first of August was after our annual inventory and before the first wave of holiday orders started pouring in. I was back from my honeymoon in plenty of time for that.
It was the death of my father that put a crimp in my otherwise stellar attendance record. I knew that the day after Thanksgiving was going to be an explosion of retail fun and it was up to my crack staff of  book schleppers to stuff boxes full of new books to fill up the shelves of stores that needed what we had. It was my duty to be there to be sure that those orders went out on time.
And I missed it. Because I was in another state. I was attending to other matters. Before I could climb back into the ring with the whole American Free Enterprise system, I had to scatter the ashes of my father.
When I returned, the warehouse was still running along. I limped through the rest of the holiday season, and by the next spring, I was getting ready to leave the warehouse to start my career as a teacher. And buy a house. And have a son. And for the next twenty years, public education would shape the waves of my life. Summer vacations allow me to celebrate my anniversary. Thanksgiving break allows me to notice the seasons change and count the rings on the tree. The tree we planted on the front lawn. The one we hang lights on every winter. At our house. The one we bought with a down payment that came from the insurance money we got for joining the dead dad club.
So we made it. To another Thanksgiving break. Now can I get some help with all these calendar pages?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Don't! Stop!

I blame Mick Fleetwood. He's the guy who asked Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to be in Fleetwood Mac back in the mid-seventies. That was the alchemical decision that turned them into a Supergroup, responsible for dozens of pop hits. Including "Don't Stop." If you didn't live through the seventies, you might not be familiar with this ditty, penned by Christine McVie about the end of her marriage to Mac's bassist John McVie. It was sung by Mister Buckingham and Ms. McVie, but it helped introduce the world to the messy world of relationships in a rock band.
Like the one being lived by the aforementioned Lindsey Buckingham who was involved with the ethereal presence and vocalist known as Stevie Nicks. There was no hit single describing the abuse Stevie experienced at the hands of her collaborator and paramour. That was just part of the magic that swirled around the band back then.
This magic was powerful enough to last all the way into the early nineties, when Bill Clinton used "Don't Stop" as his campaign's theme song. The disbanded Fleetwood Mac re-banded to play the tune at Bill's 1993 inauguration. It was two years later that President Bill began his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. Fans of President Bill tend not to throw a light on the indiscretions of their favorite saxophone playing chief executive, but it might be argued that Hillary Clinton was due some special recognition for her patience while her husband sorted out his personal affairs. It was the stuff of impeachment, at least back in those days.
These days? It seems as though most every male human being has been or is becoming incapable of suppressing their prurient impulses. The daily parade of shame continued last week with the naming of Senator Al Franken, an announcement that left me wondering just exactly when this trend might stop. The good news is that women and men who have been oppressed or violated by sexual predators are finally being given a voice, and the actions of men that have been tolerated or excused by so many for so long are being shoved out into the light. The illusory power that men seem to have is been assumed by men is being stripped away. Franken's harassment of Lauren Tweeden comes in like an unwelcome tide that shows no sign of moving back out. The worst part about this story is that it most certainly connects up with others, experienced by victims too ashamed or afraid to come forward.
It also shows up as the allegations against Alabama's Roy Moore continue to muddy the Senate campaign. Al Franken has made his mandated apology. For what it is worth, Ms. Tweeden has accepted, and Franken has joined calls for an ethics probe. On himself. All the while, men continue to float excuses about this and that, including "not remembering" incidents in which they acted deplorably. The victims in these incidents remember.
That's what counts. That's what matters. Don't Stop Believin'.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Penalty Box

Death and dying. The ultimate penalty. So many innocent bystanders shuffle off this mortal coil simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ninety-three Americans die every day because they were in the path of a bullet that may or may not have been intended for them. The good news in this factoid is that the number is not higher. The idjit who went on a gun-fueled rampage in Tehama County, California might have pushed the average higher if the local elementary school had not been on lockdown. Reports say that the idjit with a gun fired at least thirty rounds into the building, but when he couldn't gain entrance, he went elsewhere to pop off a few more caps into four others, having already murdered his wife the night before. Police shot the idjit when they caught up with him, making the killed by guns total for Tehama County for that twenty-four hour period six. There will not be a lot of argument about whether or not the idjit in question deserved to die. That was good guys with guns justice, and the hardened among us will quickly point out how much we saved in court costs bringing this idjit to trial and all the consequent appeals process and so on. It was all over in a hail of bullets. Justice. Or what seems like it in 2017.
It's a timing thing, after all. Recently, an inmate on death row in Ohio had his execution delayed because a vein could not be found into which a needle could be placed for the lethal injection. After twenty-five minutes of poking around, medical personnel gave up trying to kill the convicted murderer. “We’re not going to rush to execute,” Gary Mohr, head of the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. “We’re just taking our time and I think that’s fine.” This came after officials had decided to allow this same inmate a special wedge-shaped pillow upon which he could rest on the gurney to "help him breathe" as they executed him. Just like that alcohol swab they use to clean the spot where the needle for the lethal injection will eventually go, it is important to be humane. 
Which may have had something to do with the mindset of the doctors who treated Charles Manson at a Bakersfield hospital. I suspect their Hippocratic Oath was stretched to its limits as they worked to keep the eighty-three year old murderer alive. Officials there said "It's just a matter of time." As J.K. Rowling, and countless others, have suggested “Death comes for us all in the end.”
Sooner or later, we all end up in the penalty box. It's just a matter of time. And timing. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Trust Verified

There is not a lot of room left for excuses. When Mitch McConnell says he will no longer support a Republican candidate for Senate, the margin has just moved past fractions to zero. If you have been avoiding anything that says "scandal" or "molest" or "grope" over the past week or two, you may have missed the part where Alabama Senate hopeful Roy Moore has been accused by a group of women who claim Mister Moore molested and pursued them when they were teenagers. As young as fourteen years old. Teenagers. 
While that settles, let us remember that Mitch McConnell Voted "No" on a government sponsored bill to reduce teen pregnancy by education and contraceptives. Mitch Voted "No" on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. What is Mitch for? He Voted "Yes" on barring the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. So, it would seem that saying "I believe the women" is something of a breakthrough for him. 
Then again, Mister McConnell is also a bit of a surfer. He tends to see waves coming in and going out and knows how to catch the next one. I hesitate to use the rats leaving a sinking ship metaphor because that would be degrading to the rodents. The real ones. The Grand Old Party is drawing a line in the sand on this one. Jeff Sessions said he has "no reason to doubt" the allegations. The Republican National Committee has pulled funding from Roy Moore's campaign. Always a little late to the party, Sean Hannity has decided to hop aboard the anti-Moore bandwagon. This may have had something to do with the number of advertisers that were jumping off the Sean Hannity bandwagon as he tried to figure out just what to believe, but now he has seen the light.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The election will be held on December 12. Less than a month for Republicans of all size and stature to decide how they feel about alleged sexual abuse. Alleged as in Mitch McConnell believes the women. 
Go figure. As for the fifteen women alleging sexual misconduct by one Donald "You Figure Out What The J Stands For" Trump, we all must sit and wait. 
Go figure. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Price You Pay

Right here on this spot I have bemoaned the state of commerce in these United States, when retailers feel compelled to keep their doors open to lure any an all potential shoppers into their brick and mortar lairs. We have taken to referring to this as "Black Friday," which is ridiculous for a fistful of reasons, not the least of which it has very little to do with a particular day. The idea that there was something magical about that day after Thanksgiving when the deepest and most insane discounts would be available for this limited window of time, well, it's not real.
Not when I am getting emails in September urging me to take advantage of Black Friday savings now! Maybe this a tribute to the Black Friday of 1869, that was caused by a pair of gold speculators who wanted to corner the market after the Civil War. This caused a panic that echoed through Wall Street and put the country's economy in a tailspin for months afterward. No flat screen televisions were bought or sold during this period.
Perhaps this is some kind of homage to the late Walter Becker, who plays an amazing solo in the midst of the Steely Dan track about greed and fear. Walter passed away in September. Coincidence? Maybe.
Most likely, the name of that day derives from the hope shop owners harbor that this one day, or in this case months, exists to drive all that red ink out of the ledgers. You've got a warehouse full of carrot peelers that aren't moving? Just wait until Black Friday. Knock the price down to just a little over wholesale and get rid of them once and for all.
And you don't even have to have your doors open and a staff of eager salesfolk at the ready to make all of those shopping dreams come true. Competition has made it possible for us all to experience those same savings on Al Gore's Internet. Best of all, you don't have to camp out for days in advance or show up outside your favorite store at dawn, foaming at the mouth, to enjoy this retail frenzy. It's going on now. Stay in bed and order that carrot peeler from you smart phone.
And yes, I know that my son's paycheck will experience a bounce of some generous proportion because of his willingness to put himself on that front line. He will be standing there when the doors crash open and the last best assault on holiday savings begins. Or ends. Will it interfere with our traditional Thanksgiving routine? Yes it will. I suppose the good news is that I know my son will be available online most every other day.
It's the price we pay.