Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Encounter

I was walking up the path between our house and garage, and sitting placidly in our back yard was a tabby cat. A tabby cat that was a little tubby. For a moment, I considered my options: I could continue on into our basement and ignore this feline presence. I could make a display of my disapproval and send the cat back over the fence from whence it came. I could make attempt to make friends. It was around the time I rounded option number two that I heard my wife's voice in my head, admonishing me to give peace a chance, at least where kitties were involved. So I took another tentative step up the path and considered my introductions. "Here kitty, kitty, kitty." No, too menacing. I could make squeaking noises, but that would probably be confusing to the cat and I didn't want that on my hands. So I opted for the best opening I could imagine at that moment, "Hello," I said.
The tabby, for his part, didn't seem to register me as he gazed off into the middle distance. I took another step forward, ever conscious of my posture and expression. Non-threatening. I tried to block every other thought out of my mind aside from the "hey buddy, let's be friends" stream.
Another step.
Big smile.
Another.
"Hey, kitty."
That's when the rotund ball of fur rolled up onto his feet and padded away. Not even looking back. Not a "Sorry, gotta run."
Then he turned back, perhaps sensing my disappointment. Cats have no lips, but the looks said "Hmmm?" to me.
I tried to gather my moist plaintive face. "Don't go."
But he did, switching his tail behind him. Just a few leisurely feet away, he squeezed through a couple slats in the fence. And he was gone. 
That's when I started to miss my dog.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Little Bruce Springsteen

I have, I confess, probably uttered these words myself. Probably within the context of "What do you want to listen to? How about a little Bruce Springsteen?"
My wife, who upon her first encounter with Bruce in a live setting marveled, "He's so tiny! But he's so happy!"
For the record, Mister Springsteen is no tall drink of water. He stands five feet ten inches tall. Which makes him an inch taller than me. So when I say I look up to him, it would be true. And not just because of that slight height advantage. 
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Last week at a rally in Minneapolis, the "president" fluffed up his crowd by insisting that “I didn’t need BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z. I didn’t need little Bruce Springsteen," in order to win the 2016 election. Which is true from two perspectives: First, all three of those performers were firmly entrenched in his opposition's camp. Secondly, he really only needed an electoral college and a vast sea of Russian hackers to get elected. 
And Bruce Springsteen is half a foot shorter than the stack of orange bologna that currently resides in the White House. To paraphrase the old joke, I didn't know they stacked bologna that high. 
Me? I need Bruce Springsteen. I can tell a story about how his music pulled me out of lethargy and depression and it would be true for a dozen different occasions. This is the man who wrote the words "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive." 
He's also the guy who, some thirty-five years ago, would announce from the stage, "Remember: In the end, nobody wins unless we all win." That reminder is a precise encapsulation of the problem in which our country is currently mired. Or like he said in this intro to the cover of Edwin Starr's War: "Because in 1985, blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed."
Which has always been kind of a theme of the Trump regime. Blind faith. My eyes are open and so is my heart. There is nothing little about Bruce Springsteen. Or his fans. And if the guy who managed to drive his New Jersey casinos into bankruptcy was curious, we don't need him. At all.  Not even a little. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Days Are Just Packed

I used to wonder about how The President of the United States could find time to do things like pardon Thanksgiving turkeys and show up to graduations and commencements. The personal appearance type of thing. Of course, this sends my mind tumbling back to the morning of September, 11 2001 when then President and personal friend of Ellen DeGeneres George W was caught reading The Pet Goat while America was under attack. Oops. There was a sharp drop-off in classroom visits for Mister Bush after that episode.
These days it seems that the current "president" has little else to do but photo ops and Twitter Time. While blathering on social media policy decisions are made in those pockets of time when his thumbs are not otherwise occupied. Abandoning the Kurds? That choice was made between checking out the new White House tennis pavilion and looking up the proper spelling of "hamberders." This gave him just enough time to toss off a pithy remark about how "they didn't help us with Normandy." A reference the "president" cribbed from right wing columnist Kurt Schlichter. Leaving many of us to scratch our heads and wonder about this association, but undermining the reality of thousands of Kurds being slaughtered by invading Turkish forces.
Then there's the NBA. As that sports league attempts to deal with the reality of human rights abuses by China, and how to business with a repressive dictatorship, the "president" chose to hop in on the issue. Not by helping to illuminate the democracy protests in Hong Kong or to delineate his administration's position, but by pointing fingers and calling names. Probably still stinging from being turned down by his offer or hamberders to the two time NBA champion Golden State Warrirors, the "president" referred to head coach Steve Kerr as "a little boy" and derided his choice not to speak directly about a topic he admitted he was still trying to understand. Imagine: becoming more informed about an issue before tapping away on your phone something about which you know little or nothing.  “It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.” Mark Twain probably didn't fully anticipate social media at the time, but he was onto something. Or, to quote another author of something more than tweets, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Powerless

Be on alert, they tell us, in case we have to shut down power to portions of the city.
Not a riot. Not an earthquake. Pacific Gas and Electric is cutting off electricity to avoid having high tension wires clanging together, throwing off sparks and starting wildfires. Like they did a year ago. Last year, hundreds of thousands of acres burned because of these kind of incidents. This year, not to be caught doing nothing, California's major provider of gas and electric is going to avoid that kind of mess (read: lawsuit). If there's no electricity, you can't blame electricity for the fires, now can you?
Meanwhile, the average consumer is sitting in their comfortable home, watching all this unfold on their big screen TV, with a load of laundry going in the basement, contemplating a trip to the refrigerator to see if there is any leftover birthday cake. What will, what can, they do?
As it turns out, not a lot. They can wait anxiously for an announcement that all is well and the current will not be disrupted. Or they could go out to the local mall and buy up a raft of flashlights, batteries, and coolers full of ice. Charge their cellular devices so that they will have contact with the powers that be if there is a break in the grid. The laundry might have to get hung out on the line. Reading books by candlelight? Sounds romantic.
And if you work at a school? Prepare for "Blackout Procedures." At this point it is important for me to explain the use of quotation marks is that last sentence. Those were the words the school district sent out, but after twenty-three years I can say that I have never been made privy to what precisely is meant by those words. We can keep the kids safe, and happily there will be daylight to watch them. We won't have phones or bells or computers or projectors to make even a shadow puppet. And yet, we have been told that we need to keep our students at school until dismissal. Unless you happen to be the high school up the hill which has cancelled its classes because they don't even want to deal with it. Those are the "Blackout Procedures" as I understand them.
Meanwhile, we all say a prayer for that last bit of ice cream that has been waiting patiently in the freezer for whatever occasion to be finished off. Which may be my own personal Blackout Procedure.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Awake

"I think everyone who chooses to stay out of politics(which is your right) should make a mental note of where they would draw the line and feel it necessary to get involved. Then ask yourself, is it possible that point already happened, but it happened too slowly to notice." This sentiment comes from Captain America, or rather the actor who portrayed him on the screen, Chris Evans. It made me wonder once again about how I managed to stay essentially unfettered from politics for a decade and a half. Then it occurs to me, "Hey, weren't you drunk during the Reagan/Bush administrations?"
Not W. I was sober and fussing in those years. I wrote hundreds of blogs, referencing the forty-third president as "Pinhead" almost exclusively. I used this platform to shout in the face of the beast. I cried "foul" when it was and "look out" when I saw bad things coming. I used this little corner of Al Gore's Internet to wave my flag and preach to the choir I had assembled.
And every so often, I would hear back from someone outside the bubble. Much in the same way that I heard from the occasional conservative voice while I was busy extolling the virtues of POTUS #44. And now we have "elected" #45, who seems to be as polarizing an individual as I can remember. Hindsight tells me that we like to remember that Richard Nixon, #37, opened China and helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency. A decade allows me to see a picture of George W. Bush sitting next to Ellen DeGeneres at a Dallas Cowboys football game without launching into a fit of conspiracy theories and suggestions for boycotts of the NFL and all of Ellen's sponsors.
But that doesn't seem to hold the sway it used to.
Not in the face of what confronts us currently. The very basis upon which I believe our country was founded (equality, freedom) is under attack. When I have conversations that turn on the topic of politics because it is uncomfortable, or switch abruptly to the weather, I worry that we may be losing touch with what makes us such a great country. It's not our economy. It's not the Stock Market. It's the way we care for those less fortunate. It's not our won/loss record. It's how we play the game. Right now the deck is stacked against us, and we all have skin in this game.
Don't fall asleep now.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Just

I have not made a secret about my feelings regarding jury duty. I tend to swing from a mild ambivalence when it comes to my civic duty to the abject fear of being stuck somewhere that I would really rather not be. I suppose a certain percentage of this antipathy arises from a feeling that being called once a year, like clockwork, has left me feeling somewhat persecuted. Add that to the anxiety I bring along to each and every new situation and you've got the makings for some solid paranoia. Yet, when I am called, I respond. Sometimes I ask for a deferral, a delay that makes me feel like the whole matter is somehow under my control. But it's not, really.
Hence my whining. 
Recently I read an article about a young man from West Palm Beach in Florida, who was sentenced to ten days in jail, one hundred fifty hours of community service and told to pay a two hundred twenty-three dollar fine for sleeping through his alarm. The alarm that was set in order to get him to jury duty on time. He was further instructed by the powers that be  to pen a “sincere” apology letter. Deandre Somerville, the youth in question, was supposed to be on a jury for a negligence case linked to a car accident at the end of August. He did not make his appointed seat. He had overslept. His absence caused the trial to be delayed by forty-five minutes. For this, he was sentenced for ten days in jail and a year of probation. That year was later cut to three months and his community service reduced from one hundred fifty hours to thirty. As part of that community service, he has been asked to give a weekly talk at the jury office about why jury duty is so important. 
Outraged yet? 
How about tossing in that Deandre lives with his grandparents and helps take care of his grandfather in addition to his  work with after-school programs for the West Palm Beach parks and recreation department. It would seem he has some prior relationship to public service. Now he has a criminal record. And a weekly gig at the jury office. 
That'll teach him. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Make 'Em Laugh

That couch.
That was all I could think about when my wife first asked me: That couch.
That couch full of drunken, stoned Arby's employees that I had the temerity to assume would be my captive audience. That couch full of blank stares as I launched into what I was sure would be my moment. That couch full of apathy as I attempted to work my comedy magic. That  couch full of an audience that could have cared less for my comic stylings.
I never wanted to stand in front of that couch again. Which is why, when my wife asked if I would do five minutes of comedy before her play at the Oktoberfest celebration up the street from us, I cringed. Normally, I would allow myself to be introduced as "a funny guy." I have even gone so far as to introduce myself as a "semi-professional comedian." I served as the emcee of my son's elementary school variety show for six straight years. I hosted the opening of the grocery store in our neighborhood a while back. I am the guy they hand the megaphone to when my elementary school needs someone to announce the students of the week. I am, as they might say, accustomed to public speaking. I tend to pepper those moments of public speaking with witty banter and amusing anecdotes. I still want to be that funny guy.
Which is why I took the gig. I wrote some notes, ideas for bits that would relate to the setting. German. Beer. Polkas. Beer. I started to build on those notes, crafting a solid five minutes that would not only provide some laughs but also serve as an adequate introduction to the reason everyone was there. I was the opening act. Not the headliner. I mentioned this in my remarks.
"I'm not Van Halen," I told the crowd, "I'm the guy who comes out and plays the accordion before Van Halen."
And I said some other things that the beer-soaked crowd found mildly amusing. I focused on one guy who was sitting three tables back. I saw him laugh. A few times. And best of all, he wasn't sitting on a couch.