Monday, January 23, 2017

Real Wrath Of God Stuff

In the early morning hours of January 20, 2017, a thunderstorm swept through the Bay Area, dumping inches of rain in just a few minutes. The rain rain rain came down down down indeed, with apologies to Pooh and Piglet. I pulled the covers a little closer to my chin and thought how happy I was to have a roof over my head. A roof that had recently received an upgrade and with the repairs came solar panels. So clever. So comfortable. So full of hope for the future.
But it was inauguration day, and the skies were as dark as they had been for several days. Clouds persisted with only moments of sunshine peeking through to give the faintest ray of hope. Then something came into my head that wasn't Pooh and is wasn't Piglet and it wasn't Disney. It was Travis Bickle. Taxi Driver. I thought about the way Travis feels about the rain: "Someday a real rain is gonna come and wash the scum from the streets."
This was not a safe or comfortable feeling at all. This was not hope for the future. This was the interior monologue of a man who felt he was pushed to the edge. As the rain continued outside, I thought about ways to push these ideas from my own head. "The sun'll come out tomorrow," I thought. "Bet your bottom dollar." Of course, this is the same little voice that insisted that it's a hard knock life. Outside the rain persisted. Lightning crashed. The gods were angry. The Flying Spaghetti Monster was not his usual benign presence. My instinct was to pull the covers over my head and wait it out.
Good job, instincts, since eventually the downpour backed off to a sprinkle. The gutters ran full and sure enough, the trash moved down the street. Which seemed like a good thing until it became clear that all that garbage was headed for the storm drains. And out to the bay and into the ocean. There was no more filth on our streets. Now it was finding its way into our streams and aqueducts and seas. The conservation of garbage. It was just being rearranged.
And I thought about what was going on back on the right hand side of the country. The sun had already come up in Washington D.C. It was a new day. Someday a rain will come there too. Where will the trash go?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cloudy With No Chance Of Meatballs

There was a time, way back when, Main Street in Louisville was a Mecca for pastaphiles. There was Colacci's. There was Luigi's. There was the Blue Parrot. On any given evening, if one was full and the wait for a table was in the ridiculous to extreme category, you could keep walking down the avenue until you found a booth for you and your party. It was understood by the regulars to these establishments that the food and the service was all pretty much aligned to a standard set by the Colacci family back in 1955, when their eponymous establishment started serving spaghetti and meat sauce to the hungry masses. Depending on where you parked and the foot traffic, you would be happy if you ended up getting your anticipatory bread and water within thirty to forty minutes. Then it would be necessary to eat your weight in noodles, sauce and your choice of meat. There were sausage patties and link. There were those who chose gnocchi. There was ravioli and lasagna, and if this was all too much to consider, there were combination plates. Why choose when you can have it all?
Well, now you can't really have any of it, because after years of all kinds of other change, the last stop on the list, The Blue Parrot is closing its doors. This was the one of the three that opened first, nearly a hundred years ago, and sent the Colacci brothers on their way down the street to open their version. When Colacci's was sold and became the Empire Lounge, the fare turned decidedly hipster, followed somewhat abruptly by the change from Luigi's to Zucca Italian Ristorante. "Ristorante" is a pretty good indicator that you will find something artisan or hip on the menu, since it's a foreign word. "Italian Restaurant" would be sufficient for most of us looking for mounds of spaghetti with meatballs. My family spent plenty of Friday nights making the trek east to Pastaville. When I have made my trips back home, I have made it a point to get my fill, and drag my son along to taste the heaven.
Because that's what these places offered. Until they stopped. It seems quite likely that another eatery will open on the site of the old Blue Parrot. It worked for Colacci's and Luigi's. What isn't as likely is that those eateries will be around in ninety years. Ninety days? Probably, but they don't build them like they used to. Not that we wouldn't mind, but getting a large order of spaghetti with meatball just got a little harder in Louisville, Colorado.
Aloha Blue Parrot.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Don't Know Much About History

In a week that celebrated the eighty-eighth birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the inauguration of our forty-fifth "president," it might be time to get a little historical perspective. Who better to turn to than Governor of Maine, Paul LePage"You know, I will just say this: John Lewis ought to look at history," LePage, who is white, said in an interview on WVOM-FM. "It was Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant that fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple thank you would suffice." Just a tiny bit of clarification here: Jim Crow laws didn't exist during the Grant administration and an electoral deal that put Hayes in office led to the end of Reconstruction and the removal of federal troops, setting the stage for the creation of Jim Crow laws that followed. 
Oh, and John Lewis? He, according to Wikipedia, "is an American politician and civil rights leader. He is the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, serving since 1987, and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. His district includes three-quarters of Atlanta." If you read a little further down the page, details about Congressman Lewis' certifications become a little more clear: "John Lewis was the youngest of the Big Six civil rights leaders as chairman of SNCC from 1963 to 1966, some of the most tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement. During his tenure, SNCC opened Freedom Schools, launched the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and organized some of the voter registration efforts during the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign. As the chairman of SNCC, Lewis had written a speech in reaction to the Civil Rights Bill of 1963. He denounced the bill because it didn't protect African Americans against police brutality or provide African Americans with the right to vote." He is also the man the forty-fifth "president" tweeted as being "all talk and no action." Hard to argue with the kind of action we have seen from the Krispy Kreme doughnut selling worthless degrees and steaks. All of this confusion about what happened when could be linked to John Lewis' refusal to attend this year's inauguration. The Twit in Chief went on to tweet, "John Lewis said about my inauguration, 'It will be the first one that I've missed.' WRONG (or lie)! He boycotted Bush 43 also because he..."thought it would be hypocritical to attend Bush's swearing-in....he doesn't believe Bush is the true elected president." Sound familiar! WP." The WP refers to "Washington Post," This would be the organization that routinely uses a fact checker on the Twit's tweets. To lift the veil just a little further on the "Bush 43" inauguration, it should be noted that at the time of that party, there was still a good deal of doubt about the outcome of the presidential election of 2000. Some thought that contest was not completely legitimate. 
So, it's like history, I guess. Opinions vary, and it written by the victors. And on Twitter. 
Yeesh. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

You Can Go Home Again

Last week, my wife and I took turns visiting Boulder. We were going to meet up with our respective parents. We were paying our respect to our parents. We had to fly back to Colorado to do that. Which was okay, since it afforded us the opportunity to commune with the commune that is/was our hometown. In the past, we have split up to make the job easier. Sometimes she has gone on ahead while I have stayed home until my work schedule allows me to get away, but we have always ended up together. That means that we spend a couple nights apart, which usually means I putter around our house until it's time for me to fly, eating TV dinners and trying to keep the rugs clean. Once we have been reunited in Boulder, we make the trip back to Oakland together.
This has a tendency to expand the meaning of home. If you subscribe to that notion that home is where the heart is, then things start to get a little confusing. We do a pretty good job sharing our hearts with those close to us, and now that our son is off on his own adventures for a good part of every year we have to be more expansive than we may have been once upon a time. My mother lives in Boulder. Her father lives in Boulder. This stretches our heartstrings in ways that we did not anticipate all those years ago when we located our base of operations a thousand miles away.
That being said, I don't know if it is possible to describe the power and love that I felt while standing in the presence of my mother and my two brothers. This is where I came from, and when I looked out the window to see freshly fallen snow cradled on the tree branches outside, it did not feel foreign. Not in the least. At the same time, there was a voice in my head calling me back over the hills and valleys to the city by the bay where my wife was waiting, having finished her check-in the day that I arrived. We had, by some odd chance of flights and coincidence, managed to miss each other coming and going. Now I was meeting with my tribe just as she had met with hers.
While we missed each other in ways both old and new, we were glad to give each other the chance to tag off on the Rocky Mountains and the people with whom we grew up. Outside, things in my hometown had rearranged themselves in little ways that made me remember how they used to be, but inside it was quietly amazing to me just how much the same they were. It felt like home. Because it was. And so was the living room on the left edge of the continent where my wife busied herself, waiting for my return. It was a profound feeling of belonging that came to me as I made my way to the airport to fly back west. My membership in Boulder had been renewed, and I was heading back to my newly expanded sense of home. It felt a little like growing up.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Istanbul Is Now Constantinople

Sure I complain about this stuff because, as I was reminded by a very good friend, we are getting old and crabby. Things aren't the way they used to be. This didn't use to be a strip mall. That's where you used to buy the best donuts in the world. Nowhere is this syndrome more apparent for me than in the context of professional sports. Never mind the fact that when pitchers and catchers report to spring training they will be doing so in a universe that accepts the Chicago Cubs as defending World Series Champions. I just barely became accustomed to the idea of football being played on Sundays in the City of Angels. Now there will be two of these. San Diego will no longer be a destination for visiting NFL franchises. Unless they want to take a day trip to Legoland, of course.
The Los Angeles Rams used to be the St. Louis Rams. Before that they were the Los Angeles Rams. I might try to explain this to my wife, for example, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. She gets the story about Peyton Manning being cast aside by the Indianapolis Colts in favor of a younger quarterback. That's how he came to be the second Denver Broncos quarterback to win a Super Bowl. I don't bother to try and describe how those Indianapolis Colts used to be from Baltimore and how they slipped out of town under cover of night amid all manner of hue and cry from the fan base there. The folks in Baltimore needn't have worried, since they were gifted with a bunch of Ravens for their trouble. This pained the football fanatics in Cleveland because the Ravens used to be Browns and they took all that history and fled to the barely sunnier climes of the East Coast. After a few minutes of gut-wrenching indecision, Clevelanders were given a brand new team that they chose to christen in the least imaginative way possible: The Browns.
But it doesn't stop there. After having held on to its Oilers for decades, Houston was relieved of their team that turned into the Tennessee Titans, missing the obvious opportunity to become the Tennessee Tuxedos, but this is another matter for later discussion. Houston was patient for their requisite seven minutes before they had the Texans bestowed upon them in order that the great state of Texas would not fall behind Ohio in terms of the number of professional football teams calling the Lone Star State home. Sometimes football franchises just spring out of the ether, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Seattle Seahawks. This is called expansion. The rest of this is just rambling around the country with great big trucks looking for a community where a group of hard-working young men can set up camp and find their way in this nutty, ever-changing world.
And I want it to stop.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Shared Vectors

There I was, sitting on a BART train, riding toward part of my eventual destination: The San Francisco Airport. I looked at the people around me, all traveling in the same direction: roughly south. By the time the doors opened up and we spilled out onto the platform outside the parking garage, the group that had started the journey with me across the bay had dwindled to a few compared to the packed car that made its way under the bay. Now as I made my way out into the cool night air, I watched as these now familiar faces that had made it to this final stop began to drift away. Some of them trudged along beside me. Some of them walked in silence. Others kept their idle chat going in excited bursts. We were travelling. There was adventure ahead.
This is when it started to occur to me that I really had no actual bond to these folks beyond a shared vector. I suspected that most of them would be meandering off in the direction of their chosen airline and terminal, while I continued my dogged pursuit of the next phase of my itinerary. I would go to Terminal 2. I would check in at the security checkpoint. I would slide my carry-on bag through the X-ray machine and wait my turn to walk through the metal detector. Once inside, I would call my younger brother and see if he had made his necessary connections to meet me at our gate. Then we would fly halfway across the country to return to our hometown. Together.
It had been a long time since the two of us had been in Colorado together. We had been taking turns visiting our mother and our older brother, tag-teaming on the effort to stay connected to the family we had left behind some twenty-five years ago. Now we were sharing this trip. I had someone to talk to, much to the annoyance of the poor woman who sat on the aisle as our plane took off. We have fifty-plus years of amusing anecdotes and a shared sense of humor that made us great company for the relatively short time in the air. That woman who sat next to us was a stranger, and will always be that, since we made no real effort to connect with her. We were too consumed with the brotherly connection we enjoyed.
The same could be said for the hundreds of other passengers who sat in front and behind us. Some of them may have been on that BART train earlier in the day, but they faded into the faceless crowd of not-my-family once we were off again to baggage claim. There we met up with my older brother and his daughter, and all that shared experience bubbled over once again as we carried out luggage out into the Mile High darkness and the car that would take us home. Once again in the bosom of my family, safe from the distractions of all those strangers with shared vectors.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Don't Think Of A Purple Gorilla

See? It's just about impossible not to. It is the part about the marketing plan for the new film called Bye Bye Man that bugs me so very much. The legend, generated by the studio, is that if you say the title character's name or even think it, it's too late for you. Creepy, shadowy Bye Bye Man will slink out of the shadows and end you or those you love because that's what creepy shadowy types like him do in creepy shadowy movies like the one in which they find themselves. Many years ago, it was called Candyman. Now it's time to put some new tires on this tired vehicle and take it for a spin around the neighborhood.
Who cares? Who doesn't like a good scare now and then? I like my horror movies as much as the next guy, unless that guy happens to be Forrest J. Ackerman, in which case there is such a thing as humility. So I defer to his obsession but maintain that his was the one on which I modeled my own.
I digress.
Scary movies are a good thing. They can be very cathartic. They provide an escape that other films can't. They remind us of what it means to be alone in the dark. So why would I want to raise a fuss about this now? Payton Leutner. She's the twelve year old girl who was stabbed nineteen times by two classmates who were trying to appease the scary apparition known as "Slenderman." You may be familiar with this character if you have spent any time poking around the creepy, shadowy portions of Al Gore's Internet. If you ask most anyone over the age of, let's say twelve, you are likely to get a scoffing laugh and the assurance that "Oh that's not a real thing." Payton's classmates weren't completely clear on that point.
Just like Pokemon cards seem to linger on long past their half-life, horrible notions like scary clowns and tall faceless men wearing black suits seem to hang around elementary school bathrooms, waiting for the young and gullible to snap up yet another victim. Not that the experience of the Leutner girl is one that gets repeated with any frequency, but its mere existence gives fuel to the fire that burns in those little sugar-fed imaginations. For a few weeks every year since I became a teacher, I have to shoo girls out of the restroom for the expressed purpose of breaking up their seances with Bloody Mary. I have no idea how this little piece of urban folklore stays alive, but I suspect it is the precise reason for movies and memes that play on the same fear: Calling up evil from the mirror or the drain or the closet door. Why couldn't it be something pleasant? "IwannaberichIwannaberichIwannaberich" and before you know it, you are showered with fistfuls of cash. Nope. It doesn't play. It's always more interesting to have it be buckets of blood.
Now try not to think about that as you go to sleep tonight.