Friday, July 20, 2018

Troubled Times

Green Day and Barack Obama - A Duet
What good is love and peace on earth?
When it's exclusive?
Where's the truth in the written word?
If no one reads it
A new day dawning
Comes without warning
So don't blink twice
We live in troubled times
"The politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear. And that kind of politics is now on the move. It's on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago."
What part of history we learned
When it's repeated
Some things will never overcome
If we don't seek it
The world stops turning
Paradise burning
So don't think twice
We live in troubled times
"I am not being alarmist, I'm simply stating the facts. Look around: strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it, where those in powers seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning."
We run for cover
Like a skyscraper's falling down
Then I wander like a troubled mind
"But in the strange and uncertain times that we are in,and they are strange, and they are uncertain, with each day's news cycles bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines. I thought maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and try to get some perspective, so I hope you'll indulge me."

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Friendly Neighborhood

Steve Ditko has gone to that big bullpen in the sky. If you're not familiar with Mister Ditko, this is the guy who drew Spider Man the first time. As with comic book origins, there is plenty of discussion about who did what for how much or how long and where did that web-slinging thing come from? Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and many others have a spoon in the pot that was stirred so long ago, a time in which comics were generated primarily by putting an adjective or noun before "Man." While so many men have come and gone, this one has stuck around. Like a spider, get it?
And what made Steve Ditko's "Man" so different? He didn't show up as a muscle-bound caped crusader. He wasn't a millionaire or an alien from another world. He was a weedy nerd of a teenager from Queens who had the misfortune of being bitten by a radioactive spider. He did share that absent parent thing that so many of our heroes endure, but the idea of having an adolescent navigating the hallways of a high school while intermittently battling super-powered bad guys made Peter Parker, Spidey's secret identity, relatable to a nerd who was instantly recognizable as such by his obsession with comic books.
Thank you for that, Steve. For a period of time, becoming Spider Man was a career goal for me. The idea that "amazing" would show up anywhere near my name was encouraging. The fact that I was unable to bench press a car or cling to vertical surfaces limited me to a certain degree, but having a mom who could sew did allow me to gain the use of a serviceable Spidey Suit. I did not use it for fighting crime as much as a costume for our Pep Band's super-hero night, the theme that I suggested and fought for until the rest of the band nerds caved. This was in the late seventies, before the cinematic renaissance of Marvel comics, when my costume easily outstripped the clunky version seen ever-so-briefly on NBC TV.
But reality was what really kept me from swinging from a web, and the cheesy TV show kept me going back to the comics, where fantastic things were more possible and occurred without visible wires. It would be another twenty years before Hollywood got it right. By then, I was buying Spider Man comics "for my son." Even my son was clever enough, at ten years old, to figure out that Spider Man 3 was an embarrassment. It would be another six years before Iron Man swooped into cinemas and stole my son's obsession.
Which is fine, for him. I will always remember that willowy costumed figure imagined by Steve Ditko, who helped Spidey stomp on the Terra. Aloha, Steve. Thanks for the memories.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Cup Of World, Please

Congratulations to France on the occasion of winning the World Cup. They beat Croatia four to two in Moscow over the weekend. France beat Croatia in Moscow. This is why it is called the World Cup. The whole world is involved. When my wife traveled to Europe, she encountered throngs of fans from various locales across the globe who were immersed in this soccer tournament that takes weeks to complete across a number of different stadiums and cities in the host country. Our friends who are biking through South America encountered a similar phenomenon on their travels. Football, the international kind, stopped the rest of the world as a new champion was crowned.
A World Champion.
Many, including myself, have made the observation that we have, in North America, a thing called The World Series, to which we are polite enough to invite some Canadians, but with the exception of 1993, it has been a United States-centric affair. We are clever enough to call the championship game of the National Football League "Super," even if all the swag printed afterward suggests the winners are World Champions. The same can be said for the National Basketball Association, which manages to stretch their chase for the trophy over a month and a half, but it's still the local boys who end up wearing the T-shirts and hats that insist they are champions of the world.
One tiny effort that has been made over the past dozen years or so is the attempt to bring international athletes to our shores to play our games. Dominicans and Cubans playing baseball. Australians kicking our prolate spheroids of pigskin. Lithuanians crashing the rim. As long as they come along to America and play by our rules, we're fine with the idea that they can be World Champions. We will even travel to China or London or Mexico City to put our games on display, but if you want to see it for real and in person, you had better make your travel plans to include Estados Unidos.
What about golf? There's a pretty solid bias toward the US of A, but since the game was born in the British Isles, there is a piquant of the rest of the planet. Which is horribly ironic, since our "President" claims that the only exercise he gets is playing golf. And it seems to me particularly unfortunate that, while visiting those same British Isles, that he did not choose to check out the links of Saint Andrew's. Instead, he and his cabal retreated to the country club he carved out of the historic dunes of Aberdeen. Where he can have McDonald's and KFC carted out to him, and the spectators have to howl at him from behind six million dollars of Scottish security.
What a different world this would be if we had a soccer fan in the White House.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

It's In The Way You Say It

Sorry To Bother You will make you think of a lot of things. It will make you think about more. If you have not seen Boots Riley's film, I invite you to take a walk on the Oaktown side and check it out. It may shock, surprise, sadden, enthrall you, but I don't expect that it will simply slide on by.
Here is what I thought about, in part, after I came home from a lunchtime showing: I became a teacher in Oakland just a few months after the Oakland school board passed a resolution recognizing the legitimacy of Ebonics, or African American English. As part of my intern credentialing program, I was given some very basic tools for teaching reading, ,writing, math and classroom management before being turned loose in a classroom in urban Oakland. I was never instructed in the delicacies or intricacies of Ebonics. All I knew was that it was legitimate.
Like many white teachers who found themselves in an urban Oakland classroom at that time, I found myself as intrigued by learning this dialect as I was in teaching "proper English." It was a fifth grade teacher, who was also new but not white, that suggested that in his class he would be teaching "money English." This was the kind of English that would get you a job. The kind of English that would get you money. He didn't discourage Ebonics between students, but he made certain that all academic discussions in his classroom took place in that distinct mode.
I felt a little challenged by this, since I was still recognizing my own struggle to acclimate to my new setting, and I was as pleased as anyone to have students respond to me in any way. I endeavored to model that version of English that could be found in the textbooks that we set in front of kids, and in the standardized tests that we administered to them in hopes that they could decode and interpret what sat on their desk. Somewhere in there, as the years passed, it became clear that I would also have to help bridge that gap by talking the talk. The talk that I could hear going on around me every day.
Not very much, since I am painfully white. I wouldn't try to mirror the speech or vocabulary used by the kids at my school. I will sometimes pick out a word or phrase, just to send a message: I am listening. Like the Spanish that I hear but rarely speak, I understand plenty but become confused when it comes time to enter into conversation, Ebonics is not my native tongue. I don't expect that students of mine will leave my room "sounding white," but I hope they are ready for a world that will hear them speak their minds. They are, we are told, terrible things to waste. No matter how you say it.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Next Door

I wish I could comprehend it: this anti-immigration stance that is so prevalent these days. Not just our "President," but across the globe. This idea that borders, lines marked on a map, somehow define who should live where. The United States is a nation of immigrants, and the lines put on our map were placed there out of convenience and time. It took us a while to wander as far as the Rocky Mountains, then extricate and exterminate the indigenous population to make room for settlers to come and plop themselves down where another culture had held sway for thousands of years. 
And in neighborhoods across the United States, where one group of immigrants showed up and eventually took over the shops and houses left by another. Entry level tenements that once housed folks from Ireland filled up with Italians and then Koreans and so on. Each of these shifts came with their share of grumbling and, at times, violence. Xenophobia? Ironic considering the natives here on these shores were generally welcoming and hospitable, providing us with the makings of a Thanksgiving feast. Or so the legend goes. 
White folks have ruled the roost here in North America for a couple hundred years. It's been a good run, but statistics suggest that it may be coming to an end. Like so much of what happens on this planet, that doesn't fit with that white-folk-dominance, needs to be challenged or argued. Or stopped. Don't let anyone else in who doesn't fit the parameters (white) set by those (white) in charge. If this sounds oppressive and evil, it was the basis of a regime that held sway in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. Now our "President" is visiting Europe, spreading a message: an influx of migrants fleeing violence and seeking asylum has caused the continent to lose its culture and “changed the fabric of EuropeAnd I don’t mean that in a positive way. I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you’re losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or fifteen years ago.”
My guess is that the Lenape might have similar feelings about Trump Tower jutting up out of a landscape that was once their hunting ground. But that was five hundred years ago. Ten or fifteen years ago, there was a shawarma place on that corner. Or maybe that was down by the United Nations. Things change. People change. Not attitudes. The actual people. Our "President" is talking about a continent with thousands of years of history, and he is quibbling about what happened a decade ago. 
Then I think about those woolly mammoths hanging out on the land bridge across the Bering Strait, watching those early humans wandering in their direction. "There goes the neighborhood." 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Don't Touch

Did you know that in Ohio it is against the law to touch a nude or semi-nude dancer? Or to have that nude or semi-nude dancer touch you? Suddenly, all the interest I ever had in going to a strip club has fallen by the wayside.
Not that there was a lot of interest in the first place. This is primarily because I once attended a bachelor party. It was a bachelor party for me, then a prospective groom. My brothers and buddies took me out for a night on the town and we ended up, around one o'clock in the morning, at the strip club at the far end of my hometown. I had been there before, but that had been during a blurrier time in my life. This was a place where I wore what is commonly referred to as "beer goggles." In those days, there was a lurid feeling of danger and possibility. Every Penthouse letter I had ever read came flooding back to me in a besotted refrain, "I used to think these letters were made up, but listen to this:" and so on.
On the night of my own bachelor party, I was sober. But I felt the momentum of the evening swinging in that direction, and chose to go along for the ride. Once we were inside, it became apparent that my pals were not going to let me nurse another Coke while we talked about the old days. I was given a fistful of bills and nudged in the direction of the scantily clad young woman on the stage in the center of the room. This was the rite of passage, I understood. I understood all too clearly because I wasn't drunk and knew that protesting was out of the question. There wasn't a lot of reasoning going on back at the table. And so I meandered on up through the gentlemen sitting ringside, and held out of five dollar bill. At this point, the young lady sashayed over to me and made a dip to a squatting motion, presenting her buttocks and hips to me, her hand gesturing toward the g-string at the top of her thigh. I moved a little closer and she helped slide the bill under that piece of elastic. She smiled and stood back up, but since I was very sober, I knew that this smile was not for me.
This smile was for her, and the forty-some minutes she had left on her shift. Last call was coming and she wouldn't have to hear that same ZZ Top song again until the next night she worked. She was counting the minutes until she got off work. She just made another five dollars in tips. I have no idea if that was a nice thing or just a mild annoyance. She was doing her job.
When I returned to the table, I got a lot of yuks and pats on the back. I had made the exchange, and now it was okay to call it a night. On the drive home, I suggested we stop and get some donuts. It was here I had the best time of the night, without the distraction of semi-nude women or booze, we told stories and laughed until the sun threatened. It did not occur to me then to notice the smile of the waitress who brought me my chocolate honey-dipped and milk. I assume it wasn't all that different from a lady I saw earlier that night. I tipped her too. I left that bill on the counter.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


I had a while to think about it. A few hours.
Or three weeks.
Or twenty-six years.
I was trying to imagine a truly representative response to the return of my wife after her trip across the pond. I had begun trying to imagine just how I should run, walk or fling myself at her after being away for most of a month. I am not used to that kind of separation. Did I want to play it cool and let her walk to me? Should I go for the big welcome home movie kiss, or the warm embrace that had been missing for so long? I replayed these various scenarios over and over in my mind as I sat at my computer, idly checking email and news while tracking her flight's progress toward San Francisco Airport.
Not the airport she left from, back in June. SFO is the only airport from which I ever missed a flight. That was twenty-six years ago. Three weeks ago, she took off for Italy from the International Airport down the street: Oakland. That one's easy. I know that place by heart. I flew out of there recently myself, taking advantage of a summer vacation that allowed me to play gin rummy with my mummy. When I got home, I still had time to mull over just how I would handle that airport greeting. Over and over.
It was that flight that I missed twenty-six years ago that affirmed my notion that this might not be the worst place to move my life. A place where I could spend time with this woman all the time, with some common sense breaks for work and the occasional day trip. It was nearly twenty-five years ago since we made that obsession legal by getting married. Hugs and kisses are the currency of our relationship, and I confess that I am sometimes stingy when it comes to handing them out.
But not after three weeks.
Not after twenty-six years.
When I saw her coming out of the customs baggage claim, which I found with a little help from signage and a clue from my wife, I did rush to her. And the good news is that she rushed to me. And I don't remember exactly how it all went down because it turned out that seeing her was such a relief that I forgot all those careful moves I had planned. The moment simply unfolded. Which is exactly how it should be. It has been. Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.