Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mnemonics

What a great slogan "Good Guy With A Gun" is. It has that brevity that makes it hard to dislodge from your prefrontal cortex. It has the alliteration that makes it sing. It seems to make so much sense. Until you start to unravel it.
The number of good guys with guns that died in the line of duty because of a gun that wasn't in the hands of a good guy is forty-four. Forty-four good guys and gals with guns died because their jobs are inherently dangerous. Because, as most people will remind you, there are a lot more bad guys with guns who don't follow the rules who don't care who they shoot on the other side of that thin blue line.
And then there's Jemel Roberson,a church musician and a security guard at Manny’s Blue Room Bar in Robbins, Illinois. Jemel was doing his job early last Sunday morning when he asked a group of drunken patrons to leave the bar. Moments later, one of them came back with a gun. He opened fire. In the ensuing tumult, Roberson apprehended one of the men outside the bar. He had a knee on the bad guy's back and held a gun on him, suggesting that he did not move. Police officers arrived on the scene and shot Jemel Roberson. He was shot five times. Without ever firing a shot in anger, Jemel Roberson was dead. 
Two days before this incident, Roberson had played at his grandmother's funeral. 
Without casting any further judgments into these murky waters, let's just take guns out of this interaction. Security guard asks drunken patrons to leave a bar in the wee hours of the morning. One of them comes back looking for a fight. A scuffle ensues, and police are called. They show up and settles the dispute. Someone ends up being cited, maybe jailed, for their behavior. Order is restored. 
In this particular version, however, Good Guy with a Gun Gone. And the number of times this kind of thing goes wrong, it's probably worth remembering. Not just in your prefrontal cortex, but in your heart as well. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Evacuate And Shun

A very good friend of mine and I were joking the other night as we talked on the phone. She was relating to me how she had coordinated a five minute, a thirty minute, and a one hour evacuation plan. I suggested that we pitch an HGTV show, where she could go from home to home, advising others on the delicate balance of things you need when you can't stay in your house. Having just returned from two days away from her own home, evacuated from the path of the Thousand Oaks fire, our conversation strayed into some pretty dark places. Considering there were a great many people who had never had the chance to flee, or to ponder what items might make the trip away from their homes, there was an edge of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I.
Which made me start to inventory my own life. What would I drag out the front door if I only had five minutes to choose? Would I have the presence of mind to remember my carefully laid plan? The most obvious answer is the one where I take the irreplaceable: My wife and myself. The stuff would have to wait. People, we preached to our son from a very early age, are more important than things. But what about those animation cels? The movie poster collection? Somewhere in a recess of my mind, I recall insurance playing a part in this, but I cannot imagine that there will be a replacement for the frame signed by Chuck Jones to me. I don't expect there is a set price for wedding photos. Or DVDs of our son when he was a tiny boy. When we taught him that people are more important than things.
Still, there is a short list of things I would like to believe I would tuck under my arm when the flames came over the hill, or the house began to creak and fail in an earthquake. The photo album. That first edition of Breakfast of Champions. Our wedding cake topper. The file cabinet with the last twenty-five years of documents, warranties, and policies. Or maybe just my wits.
It pains me just a little to think about what Neil Young must have lost in the fire. It makes me smile when I think about the man who found his wife's wedding ring amid the ashes. It gladdens my heart to know that my friends and family are safe again.
For now.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Man

I have thought about writing this epitaph a hundred times. Stan Lee lived to be ninety-five years old, and I am still working on finding words to express the impact this man had on my life. For a period of time, I was signing my name with the parenthetical (the Amazing Spider Man). I read more comic books than your average nerd, and though I had dalliances with other publishers, I was a Marvel guy. This was the standard and the brand that I could trust. It was part of the road map of my life.
It should be noted that the first time I proposed to my wife, I did so as an homage to Peter Parker and his paramour Mary Jane Watson. As I mentioned, this was the first of many attempts, but it should be noted that a copy of that comic still stands on an altar next to our wedding photo. It is the way the legend has proved to be stronger than the more twisted path of reality.
If you don't know Stan Lee, you might have been asleep for the past fifty years, so I will tell you that he is the man responsible for heroes. Heroes like the aforementioned Spider Man, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Incredible Hulk, and Howard the Duck.
Yes. I went with my older brother to see Howard the Duck when George Lucas turned it into a movie. We paid full price. And we liked it. I watched the CBS TV version of Spider Man. Okay, I wasn't in love with it, but I watched. When Sam Raimi finally got his hands on the Webslinger, I was in heaven, even if that third outing went a little awry. But I was back in line when Andrew Garfield pulled on those red and blue tights. Twice. All this time, Stan was gearing up for a Marvel Cinematic Universe that brought us Iron Man, and resurrected Captain America, breathed new life int Black Widow and made Hawkeye cool.
With each new movie, I found myself drawn back to those comics. The ones I had read for so many years, and eventually introduced to my son. He and I sat in the audience of together and waited for the cameo from the man who brought us all these amazing stories. As many times as I have watched the Avengers on screen, I return to that frame where the Avengers discover Steve Rogers, frozen in time. This was the moment of my awakening, and ever since then, I have made mine Marvel.
Stan Lee stomped on the Terra and galaxies beyond our imaginations. Thankfully, he shared those worlds with us, and I that those ninety-five years were never enough, but I am eternally grateful for the gifts he shared. He will be missed. Aloha, Stan. And Excelsior!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Autumn Years

Autumn, for me, is a swirl of memories about  loss. When my grandmother died, my father drove my friend Darren and I around  while he picked up his mother's  ashes. Afterward, not knowing exactly how to  cap off an errand like that, stopped and bought us a case of beer. Which we put in the back of the car with that box of cremains. That was one fall.  A couple of  years later, as the leaves began to  turn, it was Darren who died. He was taken much too soon, before he graduated from college. It was my father who went to the hospital to pick up  my friend Joe, who lived through the car crash. He told  Joe that this was the time that he believed that dads should be able to tell kids  that everyone and everything would be okay. They both knew it wasn't. It wasn't okay. My parents bought us pizza that we may have eaten. We weren't hungry. It was a few more years before it was my father's turn. I was hungry on the day of my father's funeral.  It wasn't a car but a plane that got him. By this time, I had stopped drinking, but I went for a cheeseburger and sat in a booth where we had sat with my father so many times. It was almost twenty years before the undertoad reached up and grabbed our beloved family dog. I suppose she did us a favor by choosing the anniversary of Darren's death to go to sleep and not wake up. We buried her in our back yard. There was a chill in the air.
And all of these images come to mind when the days start to get shorter, and the shadows grow longer. I have been able to fill in the gaps with seasonal memories that don't come with graveside visions or ironic connections to those who have passed. Trick or treating with my son. Thanksgiving preparations and back to school sales. Most of those years have not included funerals. Still, at some point when summer is over, my mind starts to wander down those dark lanes. At some point I will sit and ponder my own existence and how I came to live here. To be alive here. I figure I owe that to those who went ahead of me. I am making autumn mean something more than loss. Yet, I can't help but be a little anxious at this time of year.
Because I remember.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions is a climate change denier. "Carbon pollution is CO2, and that’s really not a pollutant; that’s a plant food, and it doesn’t harm anybody except that it might include temperature increases," he said during a 2015 Senate hearing for EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
He called the Voting Rights Act a “piece of intrusive legislation,” a quote that he stood by during his failed 1986 federal judicial confirmation hearing.
One of Mister Sessions' staffers, Thomas Figures, testified that his boss derogatorily called him "boy" and joked about the KKK in front of him. Sessions' former co-workers also testified that he joked that he thought the hate group was “OK," until he learned that they "smoked marijuana.”
Figures also testified that Sessions called the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” 
Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump. “People don’t have to endorse all of his rhetoric, but he’s correct on the issues, substantively, and he’s where the American people want to be, and we as a party should celebrate this and join this movement.” 
Yes, there was a time when Jeff Sessions was appointed by the man who he felt was"where the American people wan to be." He became Attorney General of the United States. And when that didn't turn out to be a slam dunk for his boss to be immune from prosecution, his boss had to let him go. Or in this peculiar version of reality, he was "asked to resign." Now he's gone. In his place is an opening that will no doubt offer the "President" a chance to fill it with something more subservient and dedicated to the movement he inspired. Something more divisive and more supportive of the untouchable nature that this administration demands. Jeff Sessions, once considered to racist to become a federal judge, apparently wouldn't go fare enough.
Scary? Imagining there might be a future when we look back at Jeff Sessions' stint as Attorney as "the good old days?" Very scary indeed. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Paradise Lost

I decided to bring the fifth graders in from the playground early. In the middle of their recess, it became apparent that some of them were feeling the effects. Not from the nominal rigors of exercise, but the challenge of breathing in air that was increasingly laden with smoke. One hundred seventy miles north, a fire was burning, and in Oakland, we were feeling the effects. We went inside and played Heads-up/Seven-up. Much to the dismay of many of the fifth graders who felt there was no imminent threat to their health.
On this Thursday afternoon, air quality in the Bay Area was measured at 199, some thirty points worse than that of Beijing at the same time. Those with breathing challenges and other concerns were advised to remain indoors. Meanwhile, one hundred seventy miles north, things were much worse. In Paradise, California the air was on fire.
Thirty thousand people were evacuated in advance of the wind-driven blaze, and the quixotically named town burned to the ground. Homes, businesses, restaurants, a retirement home, all destroyed. Paradise was gone, but not forgotten.
These kind of wildfires are now becoming more prevalent, especially in high density areas that were once farmland and open space. Providing fuel for fires makes them burn longer, faster. They also occur more often in a world where the climate has shifted enough to make conditions tinder dry at a time when rain used to dominate the forecast for months at a time.
The year before I moved to Oakland, there was a similar firestorm in the hills above the city. Neighborhoods were wiped out. Hillsides were left barren. But it didn't take long before lots of people and their insurance money returned to the area and built new homes. Because of some twisted pioneer spirit. And that will probably happen in Paradise too. And these folks will live there as a constant reminder of what can happen, and whenever the wind blows in that certain direction...
I don't think this is the last time we will be having PE inside.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Stop Making Sense

Well, after all that heady business of midterm elections, it's nice to know that we can get back to basics: A mass shooting. If it seems like just minutes since the last one, you would be right. Instead of screaming at each other about red and white and policy, we go back to screaming into the night about the blood on the floor.
Wednesday night, a lone gunman walked into the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California and did what lone gunmen do: He opened fire. When it was all over, thirteen people were dead, including the shooter. Among the dead was Sergeant Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. Sergeant Helus was one of the first on the scene, and was hit multiple times by the initial spray of bullets.
Sorry. That's a bit of hyperbole brought on by trying to describe another senseless murder. "Spray of bullets?" I embarrass myself, and I beg your forgiveness. There is no polite way to describe guns going off in close proximity to human beings or other animals. "Hail?" I think I used that one a week or so ago as I discussed the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The synagogue whose name will now always have an ironic ring: Tree of Life.
Sorry. There I go again. I am trying to make some point by connecting the facts of the case with the tragedy itself. It's something humans do: Try and make sense. Which is why there will be yet another search for a motive. Why did this twenty-something walk into a bar and kill a dozen people? It matters most to those who lost a friend or loved one, but we all lean in to try and understand how such awfulness could erupt at a college-friendly watering hole in southern California.
The killer was a Marine who had previously been contacted by authorities earlier this year during a domestic dispute. He was evaluated by mental health professionals and deemed "not a threat." The handgun he used was purchased legally. And finally I apologize for writing any of this down, except it is the only way I know to try and make it fit into my world.
It should make sense.
But it doesn't.