Friday, June 24, 2016

So Close

I was thinking, for a little while, about how I can relax and let some of my ennui go in the wake of the somewhat surprising collapse of the Golden State Warriors in their quest for a second consecutive NBA Championship. I was thinking that I have lost a few Super Bowls in my day. That thought stuck around for a few days, and it even came out as part of our community discussions about how we were all going to cope with getting so close to the top of that mountain and then having to it the reset button and start all over again next Fall.
Then I was thinking, "Wait a minute, I never lost any Super Bowls. I never played in a Super Bowl." That's the bottom line. I watched a lot of Super Bowls, some of which involved teams for whom I have invested a lot of time and money in purchase of jerseys, bath towels, hats and note pads. I grew up watching the Denver Broncos, and for a brief period of time I considered playing for them. That was when I was in second grade. Dreams die hard, but my fascination with spectator sports only ramped up from there. I discovered over the years that I wasn't the athletic type. I was the watcher type.
I watched a lot of football, some basketball, and a little bit of baseball. I became fascinated with the notion that I could influence the outcome of certain contests simply by how much I cared. This gave me plenty of heartache as seasons came and went without any Super Bowl, World Series or NBA Championship trophies to show for it. When I was a junior in high school, our basketball team took state. The next year, when I was a senior, they made it all the way to the finals and lost. Major disappointment. Second best team in the whole state and that wasn't worth a day off school like we got the year before.
Then I thought, "Maybe I've been thinking about this the wrong way all these years." I didn't play in any of those games, why should I feel bad? Shouldn't I be getting some sort of personal apology from the teams that let me down? I bought the T-shirt, I sat and stared at the TV for all those hours, wading through all those truck and beer commercials, where's my appreciation for having stuck with it all those weeks just to get the news: Wait til next year.
Or maybe I should look into getting a roster spot.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Location, Location, Location

When we moved into this house some nineteen years ago, I was happy to see that there was a front and a back yard. It didn't seem like a big problem that if you set a marble down at the front door it would quickly pick up speed and roll with increasing velocity across the floor to the back door. I assumed that the work that the sellers promised to get done on the foundation of our mortgage would be repaired to the degree that this would only occur when there was a sudden shift in the earth's crust, as we were prone to such seismic events this made only a little solace for me, or if there were poltergeists inhabiting the corners and cupboards of our new home. The physical structure of our house became my ongoing avocation. All a part of being a land baron at the end of the last century.
While I was periodically overwhelmed by the way tasks seemed to pop up and regenerate, I was happy that we had a neighborhood. As our realtor had pointed out at the time, there are plenty of nice streets and blocks in Oakland that seem to defy the labels that get thrust upon it. Families raising kids could  do a whole lot worse than setting up camp where we did. There was a drug store and a grocery store within easy walking distance. An elementary school just up the hill, and a couple of parks that were just a stroll away for when those front and back yards got too cramped.
Over the years, like a lot of the east bay, there was a certain amount of gentrification. Property values went up as the scary stores turned into bakeries and copy stores. Whitewashed windows came down and "open" signs went up. We had landed in a spot that was on the rise. And there was a McDonald's. This may not seem like a big deal, but back when we were growing a kid in America who needed a certain amount of exposure to fast food and the toys that come along with that fast food, this was a treat. Especially for the part of me that was still that kid myself who needed those Golden Arches, even though the franchise up the street only sported those on the logo outside. I confess that it made it all feel just a little more like home to me. My move to California was eased just a little bit by the blessed sameness of the menu and interior McDonald's had to offer.
Last week, the doors closed at our local Mickey D's. The neighborhood had tired of that little piece of the fast food nation. Or it wasn't making money. Or the owners had given up trying to make it work. Whatever the precise reason, no one seemed to fully agree except to say that it was another failing business in our town.
There are those who would see this as a victory, with the potential for a locally grown and sourced business to pop up in its place. A healthy alternative to the McFood that has been on the wane for decades now. My own family has switched burger allegiance pretty solidly to those found at In 'n' Out. Fresh ingredients, and if you can avoid those bible verses on the bottom of your drink cups, it all feels pretty clean and happy. Which doesn't keep me from mourning the loss of what once was. My son's first Bionicle came from that McDonald's, and while that may seem like a trifle, it was in fact a door that opened for him in a fascination with Lego and action figures that continues to this day. We shared many a pile of "family fries" at that spot, and while our digestive tracts will still be dealing with the challenges presented by the meals we had there for years to come, it is the memories of that place that will last just a little longer.
McDonald's, you see, was my kind of place.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

For Ever

A couple days after a profoundly confused security guard shot up a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, there was another shooting. This one took place a few blocks from my house. It happened a little after noon in an intersection that I run past on a regular basis. The requisite shrine with candles, balloons and taped-up poems sprang up overnight. It was a microcosm of the tributes that have been set up for the victims in Orlando. There aren't enough balloons. There aren't enough candles. Or flowers or sidewalk chalk or poems. These memorials are set up to last as long as the memories can, but they never do, even when they use those mylar balloons.
Or spray paint.
Another couple blocks down the street from the intersection where a young man breathed his last, there was a fresh tag, in black. This one wasn't for the guy who was killed in the most recent drive-by. It wasn't in memory of any or all of those murdered in Florida. It was for a kid who was shot on a different corner, near my house: Edgar. Edgar died when he was just eighteen. He wasn't the youngest victim of gun  violence here in Oakland. There are plenty of kids younger than him vying for that honor. Edgar does have the distinction of being a face that I can put to the names and the places where people have been shot and killed. I would love to tell you that it is a face that I will always remember, but it has been eight years since he was cut down, and while I remember him vaguely from seeing him on the street way back then, and the pictures that were posted next to those burning candles and mylar balloons, when I see "RIP Edgar" scrawled across a sidewalk or fence or some other flat surface. Instead, I think of all the other names that have come before and since. A list that keeps growing. A list that is exponentially larger when you consider those who knew and loved those killed by stray or direct fire. The degree of separation keeps getting smaller. Soon, everyone will know someone who was shot.
Sure, it helps the curve to live in Oakland. Or Orlando. Or Detroit. Or Newtown. A list of names that keeps growing too. Sales of candles and balloons continue to grow. As more hearts break.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Happiness Is A Warm Gun


"I'm so upset about Orlando and what went down, but I can't believe these people would come out afterward and their answer to Orlando is to take away guns from the public. It's [expletive] mind blowing to me." First of all, sir, no one is suggesting that we take guns away from the public. That's exactly what makes all the gun control arguments turn into foaming-at-the-mouth-I've-got-my-pocket-sized-copy-of-the-Constitution-right-here exchanges. And I could understand how this kind of thing might get an ex-Navy Seal all agitated. He's going to want that AR-15 to recreate those battlefield experiences when the bad guys show up on his front lawn. Or maybe that curmudgeonly senator who has an ax to grind with our president, seeing as how he lost big and he's a veteran too, but maybe he misspoke. It's amazing how many people are lining up to shoot off their mouths at this moment when that should be the least of our worries. It's not about taking guns away, fellow patriots, it's about keeping guns out of the hands of the bad guys.
In case you were wondering, it wasn't John McCain or Dom Raso or some other regularly appearing face of the National Rifle Association who muttered those words. It was radio personality Howard Stern, who never met an end of a chain that he would not pull. He continued his rant with a metaphor: "Now, let's say I walked up literally to a sheep herd, and they know that every night the wolves pick off a couple of them," Stern said. "What if I went up to the sheep and I said, 'You wanna have a shot at the wolves? I'm gonna give you a pistol. You can actually even the playing field with these wolves whose fangs are out. You could shoot them and save your family.'" See, those of us without guns are sheep, and the only way to deal with wolves in his world is to act like them. We must all become killers. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, since he's the only one with a chance to read the Second Amendment.
Meanwhile, down the hall from Howard is another media type who surprised people with his somewhat clear thoughts in the wake of yet another mass shooting: Bill O'Reilly. After taking a few big wide swings at us bleeding heart types, he went ahead and said that it is time for some substantive discussion about gun control. After years of business as usual, it seems that there are some among us who are starting to smell the coffee, or the gunpowder or spilled blood. No one is suggesting that we repeal the Second Amendment. Okay, there are some, but mostly the question of gun control is just that: control. As Mister O'Reilly suggested, the idea of a "well regulated militia" included the word "regulated." 
Oh no. I am agreeing with Bill O'Reilly. These are indeed strange times. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

No Do Overs

Preserving Delegates’ Ability to Vote Their Individual Conscience

The secretary of the national convention shall receive and faithfully announce and record each delegate’s vote in accordance with these rules. If any such delegate notifies the secretary of his or her intent to cast a vote of conscience, whether personal or religious, each such delegate shall be unbound and unconstrained by these rules on any given vote, including the first ballot for the selection of the Republican nominee for President of the United States, without the risk of challenge, sanction, or retribution by the Republican National Committee. Allowable personal reasons shall include the public disclosure of one or more grievous acts of personal conduct by a nominee candidate, including but not limited to, criminally actionable acts, acts of moral turpitude or extreme prejudice, and/or notorious public statements of support for positions that clearly oppose or contradict the policies embodied in the Republican Party’s platform as established at the national convention.
These are the words in the proposed rule that the Republican Party is considering to allow delegates to "vote their conscience." Maybe when they were at this caucus or that primary, the delegate in question was caught up in the maelstrom of feelings that might have given them the idea that voting for a certain orange-skinned candidate was a way to set things right. To make America Great Again, They may have been under the impression that their vote would send a message. That message? Something along the lines of, "Can you believe that I actually voted for Trump?" And the giggling commenced. When everyone sobered up, and they looked at that sea of red baseball caps and thought about what they had done, there must have been some shame and regret. "You mean you did it too?" How are we going to get out of this one
I know: Let's make a rule that takes all those drunken sots and gives them one more chance to set things right. Really? You want that guy to represent the party of Lincoln and Reagan? He's a nutjob, you know that, right? He's not presidential.  He's a reality TV show. Wouldn't you like to take another crack at this? It's not too late. Like when they killed Bobby Ewing, and the ratings for Dallas fell off the chart. What could we do? Bring him back the next year and say that it was all just a dream. The idea of any one of those gentlemen stepping out of the shower to greet a shocked Pam gives me a little knot in my stomach, but that's how it works in the TV world. But probably not in presidential politics. 
Sorry guys. You might get some of the ketchup back in that bottle, but not all of it. Not enough. In the big book of saving face, this is the face they are stuck with. The orange one, with the great big mouth. There will be no wishing this one away. No take backsies. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Your Dad Did

And you're a chip off the old block
Why does it come as such a shock
That every road up which you rock
Your daddy already did
- John Hiatt "Your Dad Did"
My son came back from his freshman year in college and I listened to him talk about life in the dorm with his roommates. I told him that he now has his own college stories, so he no longer has to ask for me to repeat mine. Which was sort of disingenuous, since I still regularly repeat the stories my father told me. Some of them were about college, but since he didn't spend a lot of time in college there weren't as many stories to retell. Instead, I remember the stories he told about growing up in Kansas. Or his high school days in Boulder. Or the time he spent in the Army, driving a radio truck around Germany, keeping Europe safe from the potential Communist insurgence. Actually, to hear him tell it, there wasn't a lot of concern about communism, more worries about the fried chicken his sergeant brought along and the beer they acquired by pulling up to the beer hall in a tank and having the beermaids pass cans down the barrel. 
I probably spent way too long, as a kid, believing everything my father told me. Like when he told me that it was his time in the army, wearing a helmet for two years, that caused him to lose his hair. Or the time he and my older brother took my younger brother and I into the pitchblack passages they discovered in the ruins of Chichen Itza. "Be careful here, since there's a fifty foot drop straight down," he told us as we clung to him unnecessarily. There was no drop. There was no hole. He was lying. I wouldn't have plummeted to my death, but I did end up losing my hair. Even though I never wore an Army helmet. 
And then there were all those jokes. Hundreds of them. The ones I remember, anyway. Most of them were just straight up silly, and though the off color ones have been largely forgotten, I always loved the way he told them. They were better than the true-life stories, and they tended to flavor the ones from real life. Which made it ever more difficult to discern the verisimilitude of anything that came out of his mouth. Which wasn't really a problem, since I was sticking around for the humor. 
I tell my son the truth. I may embroider the edges from time to time, but mostly I keep things interesting by picking the stories I choose to tell. The funny ones, mostly. Every so often, I toss in one of those heartfelt man to man deals, just to keep me honest. I tell him my dad's stories, and he's heard a lot of that vast storehouse of jokes. They now get stirred into the mix with his own. Generations of funny bits handed down from father to son, with the expressed intent of getting a laugh. 
Like your dad did. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thanks For Nothin', Ben Franklin

Sometimes I forget what it sounds like when everything is turned off. That is what happened the other day when I came home from my morning run. When I opened the basement door to check on the laundry, I heard the phone ringing. This was odd, since the timing of phone calls coming into our landline usually precludes me having to answer the basement phone, but I picked it up anyway. The voice on the other end of the line was recorded. It was Hillary Clinton, asking me to join her in her quest to make America as good as it possibly can be. Or something like that. I hung up without making much more of it, since there was laundry to fold.
The music that had been pouring into one ear from my iPod stopped when I got upstairs and silenced it, anticipating that I would be standing in front of the cooling pile of clothes, watching the cable television shows that I might otherwise have missed. But there was no little red light in the lower right hand corner of my TV urging me to turn it on. I walked into the bathroom and noticed that there was no little green light on the handle of my Sonicare toothbrush, reassuring me that it was charged up and ready to go. In the kitchen there was no hum from the coils of the refrigerator and the clock on the microwave had gone to black.
My immediate reaction was to blame my son, the user of so much of our electricity, and as he had just recently returned home, I was quick to assign blame to him for this lack of power. I grabbed the keys to the basement where this whole enterprise had begun and muttered to myself mildly unkind things while my son slept. When I reached the breakers below, I noticed that none of them had been tripped. I made a note to apologize to my son for thinking those power thoughts about him.
Back upstairs, I busied myself with the laundry, noting that the good news was that everything was dry before we couldn't make it so. It was a breezy day and the sun was out, so I reckoned that we might have been able to dry things out on the line, but it would have taken more time. When I finished, I sat very still and noticed the quiet. Without all those circuits blaring away in their boxes and in the walls, I could hear the clocks ticking. I could hear the birds chirping and the kids playing outside. I went out on my front porch and a young father from next door asked if our power was out too. I told him it was, and he sighed. He held his little boy in his arms and I watched him wonder what to do with his son who was accustomed to being entertained by various electronic means. Go for a walk, sing a song, I suggested. "Like in the pioneer days." We laughed and waited for the next thing to happen. We waited for electricity to be discovered again.