Thursday, June 30, 2005


Hypothetical: If you were house-sitting and dropped by one morning to find a couple of long-stemmed roses, a pair of crystal wine glasses with a little red still lingering in them, and a receipt for a deluxe box of chocolates in a place that you expected to be vacant - what would you think?
More clues: There was no sign of forced entry. Nothing in the house had been disturbed, just the addition of these objects from "outside." Oh - and one more thing: the eighteen year old son has gone away with his parents.
Here's what I put together: The son had told his buddy that he and his parents were going to be out of town for a few weeks, and if he had any notions about entertaining a young lady friend, he knew where the hide-a-key was.
An alternative notion: Roving bands of serial datists have been terrorizing the neighborhood and they had carefully entered the house by some nefarious means, executed a brief bit of compulsory seduction, and slipped off into the night.
Ockham's Razor is the principle proposed by William of Ockham in the fourteenth century: ``Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate'', which translates as ``entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily''. In this case, should we ignore the easy connections between the scheming minds of boys in their late teens, or should we instead start a search for the love-bandits. I know that boys will do what they need to do to help their buddies out when they can - especially when it means that a romantic notion can win out over a back seat. I wasn't able to get upset with this kid - I've been that kid. He brought her flowers - he spent twenty-eight dollars on Godiva chocolates. He didn't leave beer cans in and around the house. What really happened that night will be a mystery for all time - tearful farewell? freshman foreplay? innocent rendezvous? A gentleman wouldn't reveal - that would be indiscreet.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Burning Down the Road

Somewhere they're buying crepe paper and confetti. They're making up lists and printing them out. I'm not on the mailing list, however, so I don't expect an invitation. They won't have to make a name tag for me. My twenty-fifth high school reunion will take place in my absence.
This is interesting to me for the following reason. I have a friend who has told me that it didn't even occur to him that his high school had football games on Friday nights until we attended one together as adults. By stark contrast, I can say that I never missed a game that Boulder High played while I went there. It certainly helped that since I was in the band, I got in for free - and the away games were a matter of a bus ride and playing in the Pep Band. For a deeply cynical band geek, I had a lot of Panther Pride.
Many of the most profound relationships of my life were forged in those years. I return to that era with great affection again and again. I feel fortunate that my wife shared many of those experiences and allows me to (periodically) wallow in them.
I remember where I parked my Chevy Vega most mornings - Bandiland (a geek ghetto of sorts) across the street from the school. I listened to a lot of Styx back then - and AC/DC. I remember bringing home my first DEVO record along with my first Elvis Costello. My girlfriend's shocked reaction: "You're not going to get into that punk rock, are you?" I remember the bus rides to exotic locales like Douglas County and Cherry Creek. During lunch I would hang out in the band room keeping an eye out as we liberated Mountain Dew from the pop machine. My wife likes to tell people that the first time she saw me I was perched on top of the pop machine - acting like a monkey. I wouldn't deny the action, but I think we'd met - however briefly - before that.
Looking back, it all seems hyper-real - full of drama. Everything was the epitome. When we listened to "Stairway to Heaven" in the studio (in the band room - wouldja believe it?) we weren't happy until the sound would actually begin to bow the plexiglass windows when the Zep really started to rock out. I taught a lot of people how to drive stick shift on my poor car. I made a name for myself as a leader among geeks. I lost my virginity. These were heady times. 1980.
Twenty-five years later, I consider going back. I wonder what happened to the gang of mine - "the kids."
But I know - the stuff that matters still does. I don't need a party to remind me.
"And in the darkest
If my memory serves me right
I'll never turn back time
Forgetting you, but not the time"
- Green Day

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


This came to me in the middle of the night. It seemed funnier than a lot of my dreams, so I thought I'd share it.

Monday, June 27, 2005


All this discussion about super heroes lately has me thinking about uniforms. When I was in eighth grade, I tried out for the middleweight football team (thank heaven for that distinction, I never would have lasted with the bigger boys and was never exactly a lightweight). After the second day of practice one of the other guys, who was blessedly less familiar with the whole team sports concept than I was, asked me when we would be "getting our costumes." In retrospect, it wasn't a really dumb question, but of course we wouldn't be wearing costumes so much as uniforms, right? Costumes were for play - uniforms were for work.
As for the super types, most of these guys are running around in what amounts to long underwear, and we're not talking about baggy wool union suits either. These deals are Lycra or some space age miracle fiber that leaves very little to the imagination. Superman seems to have a bit of discretion - he wears a pair of red shorts over his blue tights, limiting his exposure. The rest of these fellows don't seem to be as concerned with the impression they are making. We can only hope that none of them resorts to stuffing their codpiece - that would be decidedly un-super.
Then, just like the concern in sports, will they be needing any protection down there? I will only assume that Lex Luthor, Dr. Octopus, and the Riddler would result to a kick in the groin when cornered. I was a wrestler for a couple of years, and we did wear tights - and a cup for just such an eventuality. Proper laundry and hygiene was an absolute must for that particular get-up.
But the costume I will always remember most was one of my first - I was selected to play Peter Pan in Kindergarten. I felt fortunate because I knew that I owned the perfect green shirt already, and I had already figured out how to make the hat - feather and all. All that was missing was the tights. It was my first collision with macho. How to maintain a five year old boy's masculinity in green tights? I remember tears and a lot of frustration and eventually the realization that I was playing a part - after all.
These days NFL players wear all kinds of shiny undergarments and call them "Body Armor." So be it - but I'm guessing that they still don't call them costumes.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Our Tax Dollars At Work

Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge fan of NASA. I realized one of my childhood dreams on my fortieth birthday by visiting the Kennedy Space Center. I spent more than a hundred dollars in the gift shop. I'm wearing my Apollo Thirteen sweatshirt with the words "Failure is not an option" on it as I sit here typing this blog. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is probably my favorite government institution.
That being said, I can't help but wonder what is going on there these days. We are about to spend three hundred and thirty-three million dollars on a space probe that will land - ever so briefly - on a comet. Check that, they hope that the probe will make impact with the comet, Tempel 1, on the Fourth of July. If they did all their calculations correctly and the solar winds don't shift and nobody forgot to tighten the nut that holds the air orifice "O" ring in place...
If everything works right, scientists hope to get "some really great pictures" of the collision. Mostly they want to see what happens when one smaller thing going pretty fast runs into something much bigger going much faster. Scientists have likened it to standing in the middle of the road and being hit by a semi-truck going 23,000 mph — "you know, just bam!" NASA, it seems, has been taken over by a group of thirteen year-old boys. To support this conclusion, I offer up the evidence of the name of the space probe: Deep Impact. They picked the name of the disaster movie about asteroids hitting the Earth that wasn't very good. "Armageddon" has a much tougher ring to it.
So, on July Fourth, if they got everything just right, they hope to make a big hole in Tempel 1 - "the impact should produce a stadium-sized crater about 150 feet deep and 650 feet wide." At the same time, these same scientists are pretty sure that what they're doing won't send the comet on a collision course with Earth. But that would be pretty cool, wouldn't it? Sheesh.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Three Wishes

I can still picture the corner in Three Wishes toy store. Located in Crossroads shopping center, it was by no stretch of the imagination a warehouse along the lines of Toys 'R' Us or Kay Bee Toys. Instead, it was a small to medium retail space that was crowded with the toys of my youth. I kept primarily to the first two aisles on the right. If I went straight down the center, I could find plastic model kits and Airfix toy soldiers of all eras and armies. The aisle behind it remains the grail of my toy dreams: the GI Joe aisle.
For many years my grandmother would take me to Three Wishes to give me - ironically one wish. I could buy one toy for my birthday. I knew what I wanted, and I knew what my conscience told me (and what my mother reminded me: "Your grandmother is not made of money."). On those summer days I would stand in the dim light afforded by the towering shelves and consider my options. I could buy another model plane or box of Afrika Corps soldiers and have our neighborhood experts come by in a day or two to criticize my glue and paint technique. I could get new molds for the thingmaker, or some glow-in-the-dark Goop. I could get a new GI Joe, or some new equipment for the Joe and pals.
Then one year it was different. Among the GI Joes I spotted a character I had only seen for a moment on TV - Captain Action. We were a solid Hasbro GI Joe household, and I was making an awful brief of toy etiquette by branching out like this, but here's the deal: Captain Action wasn't just any action figure. It turns out that Captain Action was secretly all the super heroes - he had all the costumes and abilities of Superman, Batman, and the Lone Ranger. He was made by Ideal.
I brought him home that day. He stood a head shorter than the standard GI Joe, but I didn't let that bother me, he had a ray gun and a sword. I even got an extra prize - the Batman costume. Go ahead and fight the commies if you must, I'll be back here fighting crime on the home front. Each one of the new costumes came with a comic that explained Captain Action's connection to Flash Gordon, the Phantom, or Aquaman. It really hit me where I lived.
Captain Action's retail life was only a few short years, but I still carry a bit of a torch for him. When a retro-repro came out a few years ago, I bought one to share with my son. It was nearly impossible to find any of the super hero costumes for him, and I cursed myself for not taking better care of my originals. Still, I have my memories, and that's where Captain Action rules - thanks Grandma.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Your Teeth Are Jewels, Not Tools

Today was dentist day. My wife and I packed our mouths up to the dentist's office at eight in the morning for a little dental prophy. I made sure to get up early enough to brush, floss and rinse with Listerine before the visit. This would be the dental equivalent to cleaning the house before the maid arrives, but it's the way I do things.
Why? Dental guilt, plain and simple. I yearn for those "good checkups" when I can be lifted from the chair with a bright smile and a clean conscience. I have a history of cavities in my youth, and I learned to expect a second appointment - a return for fillings. As an adult I have become much more aware of my oral hygiene - compulsively so. I use a Sonicare brush and floss twice daily. I use a mouthwash to prevent decay and gingivitis.
Still, I have surrendered to the notion that no matter what I do, my mouth is a plaque factory and each visit will involve a certain amount of scraping and prodding. It is during these sessions that I reflect on the absence of ceiling art in dentists' offices. Most of the time spent in a dentist's office is flat on your back, staring at acoustic tiles. I've counted the holes and made an estimate of the square footage of the room by counting the number of tiles - you get the idea. All of this because I have to wait for the grinding and polishing and picking to finish so I can receive my scolding.
"Are you using floss?"
Yes. Twice a day.
"And you said you're using a Sonicare brush?"
"Brushing for the full two minutes?"
"We're going to put a watch on that number thirty - it's starting to get a pretty deep groove in it."
"Here's some new floss and a medium bristle brush. Are you using tartar control toothpaste."
Yes. I don't run screaming from the office. I have to go out to the lobby where the hygenist recounts her findings with the dentist and anyone who happens to be within earshot. I take my nice clean teeth and go home. For lunch I have an Oreo just for spite.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Built to Last

"It turns me on to think of growing old." - John Denver
God bless his pointed little head, John may have been on to something in his gee-whiz way. I turned forty-three on Tuesday, and today I went out and picked up my new glasses. Glasses with progressive lenses. Okay, bifocals. I did a lot of moaning about it at the time, and the doctor was very nice and told me that it wasn't any kind of emergency and that I could easily go another year if I wanted to, but the day was coming. Who am I kidding? It's here now. I was holding CD covers up to the light at a certain angle and squinting to make sure I got the right track, I was making vague guesses at serial numbers for warranty forms. The sag of my corneas had begun in earnest.
When I picked up my glasses today, I got a three minute lesson on how to use them. I was instructed to "sit on the couch, read a magazine and watch TV." That was just the kind of hands-on experience I could wrap my head around - maybe even do some full-scale research. When I got home, I started picking up pieces of paper with fine print and practicing on them. I read the ingredients to a Pro-Max bar and found out that they have a gram of trans-fat in them. Maybe I've missed a few "harmful or fatal if swallowed" warnings here and there - thank goodness for that background in stunt-eating.
But what came true at the end of the day was this: I could see again. I've been wearing glasses since I was five years old, and I've been quietly waiting for the day when the lights would go out for good. Not today. Today I read the copyright information off of my son's Star Wars action figures. Not exactly the fountain of youth, but it'll do.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

That's News To Me

The chatty folks on the morning radio were wondering aloud today about news. Specifically, they were concerned with just what it was that made something "news." At its most basic level I suppose any new information could be considered "news." But really - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes? News?
My mother would be the first to confess that a fixation on the activities of film stars dates back to her youth - when she devoured movie magazines as soon as they made it to her parents' drugstore in Granby, Colorado. Hollywood gossip has been a staple of the American diet for more than seventy-five years. There is a continued vicarious thrill that those of us just outside of the limelight get from knowing who is dating whom and why they haven't been arrested yet. The trials of Fatty Arbuckle and Errol Flynn were no less sensational in their time than Michael Jackson's legal woes.
And now, the difference: Diane Sawyer is a reporter. Matt Lauer is a reporter. They are not gossip columnists on the Hollywood beat. We are now fed a steady diet of "infotainment" along with the suicide bombings and boy scout rescues. The line that separates news and none of your business has been blurred beyond all distinction. Ironically, no less of a media icon than Stephen King chose to weigh in (on the pages of Entertainment Weekly) about the media's treatment of the Michael Jackson trial. The idea becomes meta before you can really consider it - "Should I be interested in what the celebrity horror writer thinks about the child molestation trial of the celebrity pop star?" It's all a little too much.
The grouchy old man in me remembers when the news was on for fifteen minutes at the end of the broadcast day (before the test pattern came on). One guy read the headlines, local sports scores, and then made a stab at what the weather might be for the next day - Good Night.
The twenty-four hour news cycle requires that we make up news. That's why this "runaway bride" thing has had more than the allotted fifteen minutes. When we run out of celebrities to fret about, we fabricate them. The scary lady who bought a finger to put in her Wendy's chili had a nice run of about a month and a half. Again, then things get very post-modern as the TV movie gets made and, if possible, runs opposite the trial reenactment on Court TV.
We have to sift through information that ranges from a daily body count to recipes for a tangy summer salad surprise to an investigative report on the undercover cop who raised pigeons with Mike Tyson. Is it news? I prefer my news to be clickable - let me find a link on Yahoo and read the news that matters to me. When I want to know how Sandra Bullock decided to have painful elective surgery, I'll click on it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Persuasive Report

Dear Mr. Caven

I think you should pass me on to the fifth grade. I know I am not the best kid but I did good on decimals because you taught me. I can teach my sister how to be better than me. You are the best teacher.

Sincerely, S.

This kid has a hard time staying in his seat. This kid has a hard time paying attention. This kid has a hard time getting along with his classmates. This kid has a hard time. I knew this at the beginning of the year. I had looked at his file. It was thick. I talked to his teacher from last year to gain insight. She told me there wouldn't be a lot of surprises. What I saw was what I got.
I was happy for the days that didn't require a trip to the office. I got used to the fact that his medical referral sheet was four pages long - mostly for missed breakfast. It was a novelty of sorts when he started taking medication for his allergies that made him sleepy in the mornings. He was quieter.
All year long he was angry about something. Sometimes he would growl at me. Sometimes he would just walk out of the room. He rarely turned in homework. He only worked in class when he received one on one attention from myself or one of the girls who sat next to him. His favorite subject was classroom disruption.
And he wrote me this letter. I did assign it - but I didn't tell him what to write. He came up with the page above(written large, but neatly, skipping lines). I heard the words of my father in my head: "There are no bad kids, only bad behavior." If I held him back, another year of fourth grade would certainly just be more of the same - if not worse.
I'm going to pass him on to fifth grade.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Child Friendly

Tomorrow is my birthday, and a couple of people asked me what I want. My standard answer for the past thirty-three years has been the same: "Toys. Plastic toys." I feel a great sense of relief that my son is willing to go to Toys R Us and just wander the aisles - just looking at the permutations of polyvinylchloride. I have my eye on a couple of things, but it's mostly a vicarious thing these days - the toy pipeline to our house is now pretty clogged with the demand my son places on it.
No, tonight I find myself remembering toys past. Dangerous toys with sharp edges and questionable wiring. The first one that always comes to my mind is Yardarts - also known as Lawn Darts. These babies were eighteen inches long with steel tips that you were supposed to toss in a soft arc in the air to try and land one in the middle of a target circle. It's a cute enough notion, and I'm sure that with enough adult supervision none of these projectiles would find their way winging toward a younger brother or family pet. They just didn't consider the portion of every ten-year-old's brain that says "I wonder what would happen if I..." These were weapons - no two ways about it.
A more creative outlet was found in Mattel's Thingmaker. Pour the Goop into a mold, plug in your heating unit and then the fun really starts. The molds were metal, and capable of withstanding and maintaining a very high degree of heat. The goop would heat to a point, then needed to be removed and cooled in a special cooling tray (box of water). If you didn't get to the mold on time, your house would smell like burning tractor tires for about two weeks - burning Goop really reeks. Once the mold has cooled completely (ten-year-old patience, same kind of problem), you carefully peel the rubber thingie out of the mold and attempt to trim it and attach it to some other piece that you have created earlier. Something I'm sure Mattel didn't want us to do was to take the wet, cooled mold and drop it back into the heating unit. I'm sure they didn't expect us to try and return the rubber bits back into Goop by melting them down in the heating unit. Maybe there was some lengthy safety dissertation somewhere in the directions - I didn't read them. Here's what Mattel did expect us to do: for at least one of the kits - The Fright Factory - encouraged kids to make fake teeth and tongues and put them in their mouths. Really - with assurances of them being "non-toxic." As my wife and brother-in-law have pointed out, this means "safe to eat" to kids.
I understand that Mattel is now marketing a new "safe" version of the Thingmaker (with a light bulb for a heating element). You can buy Yardarts on Ebay. Alas, it's not the same. I'll hold out for some assembly required.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Rib Eye By Any Other Name

There's a lot of confusion around here on this Father's Day. We were trying to discern what to burn on the grill this afternoon (as is the tradition of my people), and the question of Dad's favorite meat came up. I have gained a true and abiding affection over the years for the boneless rib-eye steak. The cut of meat itself is pretty self explanatory - it comes from the center of the rib and is generally more marbled and tender than many other cuts. It has come to our attention that this cut is sometimes referred to as "Delmonico." For a more in-depth dissertation on the subject, I refer you to the following link.
That set me to thinking: For a good many years I had my go-to steakhouse, the Wrangler 2. They did some pretty amazing barbecue there, but I had my favorite and I ordered it the same until they started asking me if I wanted something different before sending my order in, out of courtesy. They called it the Trail Herder. It was a twelve ounce rib eye and I had mine medium and basted with their sauce, with cole slaw and ranch fries. I ordered the "cattleman's cut" as opposed to the "cowgirl's cut." And now we reach my point - the "cowgirl cut" was the same steak, just three ounces less. I would suggest that you have to be mighty solidly in touch with your masculinity to walk into a steakhouse decorated in branding irons and barbed wire samples and ordering a "cowgirl's cut" - if you're a man or a woman. The implication being that maybe you just aren't man enough for those last three ounces of meat. Wasn't it enough that I ordered a "Trail Herder" in the first place, now I have to give the modifier of boy steak or girl steak? Is this the world I want to live in?
Okay - the truth is I still probably wouldn't do the "cowgirl's cut" - enlightened eating habits and all. I want a rib eye steak that makes me have to think about those last couple of bites. And then eat them too.

I'm A Dancer

I know how Boon felt in "Animal House." When Otis Day and the Knights came to play at the Deltas' Toga Party, he was in heaven. He stood next to the amps and sang into his beer bottle and the music went right through him. He danced because he could feel it.
For many years I refused to dance. All through elementary school I connected dance with that one unit each year in P.E. when we had to do the Virginia Reel and the Mexican Hat Dance - with partners. I got the music and the rhythm, but the partner thing made me extremely nervous - right down to the sweaty palms. As a perennially round kid, I didn't look forward to P.E. very much, but the dance unit was death to me.
In junior high school I attended the sum and total of one dance in three years and I can only recall one dance - "Let It Be" was the last dance of my ninth grade year. I remember trying to dance close, but I wouldn't unclench my fists - I was afraid of dancing that close.
By the time I got to high school and finally got a real girl friend, dancing close was not as big a deal since I saw it as a prelude to making out later anyway. It was around this time that I began to act out my lurid thoughts by dancing way too close with friends of mine who happened to be girls - for comic effect. On one such occasion a passing policeman pulled over and asked if the young lady needed assistance. "No," she laughed, "we're just fooling around." That young lady is now my wife.
In college the music was louder and faster, and I learned to dance for catharsis. I danced alone before Billy Idol suggested it, and kept doing it until I turned thirty. After that, the dance parties started to dwindle for me. Part of being a grown up - a husband, dad, old fart.
For the past few years, the Dads' Club at my son's school has sponsored an end of the year social. We have a band that plays mostly squonky jazz, but can do a little Rolling Stones and some bad funk when they get it on. It was last year that one of the other dads pointed out, after I had been hanging on the edge of the dance floor threatening to shake my moneymaker, "Hey, it's paid for." True enough - it was our party and I could dance if I wanted to. I danced most of the rest of the night. I danced for an hour or more at this year's party. I got good and sweaty. I danced a few dances with my wife, but mostly I flounced and hopped and twisted the night away all by myself. It felt good to be moving and shaking parts that might have otherwise atrophied. I'll be sore in the morning. It will be worth it.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Teddy Bear's Picnic

We had a talent show at my school today. I waited for the talent to show up - there was a lot of video-inspired lip-synching and fanny shaking, but not a lot of actual talent. Then one of my students showed up doing a very impressive bit of native Samoan dance. Her traditional costume got most of the attention, since Pacific Island culture is mostly absent from our daily experience. When she was done, there was polite applause - then it was time for another flurry of bass-infused choreography inspired by MTV.
I drifted back to my days as a sousaphone player. My music teacher had me audition for my junior high talent show in eighth grade playing "Teddy Bear's Picnic." The Drama teacher had a clever inspiration after I had finished - why not have somebody in a bear suit dance around me while I played? Wouldn't that be cute? In hindsight, I think it would have been just as cute to have a thirteen year old who was approximately the same shape and size as the instrument he was playing standing alone in a spotlight - but I've never been one for cheap theatrics (unless they involve controlled combustion). But I was in eighth grade, was I going to be a prima donna and miss my chance at stardom? The guy in the bear suit showed up at the first rehearsal. I was used to working as a solo act, and the antics of a kid in a bear suit was distracting, to say the least. The night of the performance, my parents came and watched as the bear suit stole the show. All my friends told me how much they enjoyed the funny guy in the bear suit. Oh yeah - that guy in the bear suit was a riot. The next year I auditioned a piece called "Funeral March for a Marionette." I wasn't asked back.
Talent, it seems, is somewhat subjective.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Rainy Days and Recesses

It was a cosmic joke, I suppose, that on one of the last full days of school this year that we would have indoor recess. As a teacher, I cringe mightily whenever I hear those four short bells followed by one long - it means that the brief sanctuary that I am offered each day will be just the opposite. I will spend thirty minutes looking for missing checkers, explaining why we can't go to Eminem's website on the Internet, and keeping this one from running over that one and so on. It wasn't always that way.
Once upon a time, I was the one having the recess. I would frown and pout outwardly for the sake of my classmates - but inside I was full of good cheer. Indoor recess meant a chance to meet my friends on a playing field where I felt comfortable. Board games instead of four square. Chess instead of kickball. And if all else failed, I could sit in a corner and read. That was probably the best deal - more sustained silent reading. I would guess that if there had been such a thing way back then, I would have been one of those kids clambering for the Internet connection. The smart kid - four-eyes over there - the one who never talks to anyone.
But that's not completely true. I have a couple of very nice recess moments - a couple. Like the time I pretended to be Mary Symanski's robot and played four square for her. I didn't have to play well, since I was a robot and all, and it seemed that she thought I was really cute while I was doing it. It would not be the last time in my life that I would act goofy for a girl's attention. As a matter of fact, looking back on it, it seems to have set the precedent for it. Still that was pretty much the exception, recess wise. The times I remember best were inside. Maybe the whole idea of bringing the anarchic notion of recess into the controlled environment of the classroom appealed to me. Maybe I'm just not an outdoorsy guy.
They say it might rain again tomorrow. It's okay. I can handle it. I've just got to remember to bring a good book.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I'll Show You Fair

"If this guy could see the clowns that are operating on him, I think he'd faint." - Trapper John from MASH.
I was filling out report cards this evening - trying out various permutations of the phrase "hard worker but easily distracted." It occurred to me that I could probably find this same comment on one or more of my elementary school report cards, but the notion of "permanent record" didn't really exist then, did it?
Nonetheless, here I am, creating someone's permanent record. When I was a senior in high school, my Elementary Functions teacher Mr. Seery took me out in the hallway and said this to me: "I can't fail you for your behavior, but I can make it very hard for you to pass this class. You're an instigator." It's true. I was an instigator - at times a real cutup. So I dropped the class and ended up in Selected Topics in Math - math you can skip.
That was twenty-five years ago, and now I'm busy deciding the fates of ten and eleven year olds - or at least who gets a raise in their allowance and who gets to eat standing up for a day or two. It's a trivial bit of power, but one that I feel momentarily ambivalent about. Does anybody really read the comments on their report cards? Or are they just looking for that bottom line - Placement for Next Year?
No one in my class if flunking - pardon me - no one in my class is being retained this year. Are there students who would benefit from one more solid pass at fourth grade? Yes, there are. By the same token, there are at least a few who were ready to move on sometime in February - but that's not how we're running things this year. For now, you have to wait until Mr. Caven says it's time to move ahead one space. Mr. Caven - the Instigator.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Revenge of the Empire

All this talk about Star Wars lately got me to thinking. The guys in "Clerks" lamented the loss of civilian contractors in the explosion of the second Death Star at the end of "Return of the Jedi" (or was that "Revenge of the Jedi?"). We tend to downplay the loss of civilian life when it isn't a form we recognize - American, human, you get the idea. It's not hard to imagine that some galactic version of Mr. Brady was bringing his interstellar brood on board that day to show off all the latest advances in design and planet-destructing ability when suddenly - Boom! (digital emphasis to be added here in twelve years)
The loss of life, evil or not, is always a tragedy, but the thing that has gone without discussion for these many years is the eventual collapse of the galactic economy. Until now, that is. Once the rebels have ousted the Evil Empire, what future awaits the common folk of - say - Tatooine? Suddenly the vast military industrial complex that was the Empire screeches to a standstill. Every one of those Death Stars was guaranteed jobs for hundreds, if not thousands of certified welders and sheet metal workers - space welders and star sheet metal workers. The vast armada of Star Destroyers didn't just spring up out of nowhere - they were part of a vast and profitable series of contracts with various outside contractors and their employees. And don't think for a moment that they weren't union workers - how else would you explain that little "design defect" that allowed not one but two of these gargantuan space stations to be blasted apart by one man fighters?
Once the Empire exists no more, what happens to all those clones wandering around in white armor? They're going to need real jobs, and they're not exactly equipped for flipping burgers - I would expect them to leave the first dozen or so baskets of fries on the floor judging from their wretchedly poor aim. No, this would require some sort of massive re-education program that would cost millions, if not billions of dollars - er - Republic credits.
What about tourism? Well, the problem with the tourism industry is that all the really cool worlds left in the galaxy have been blown up by the Empire. Would you really want to spend a week with the Gungans on Naboo? "Yousa say yousa wanna daquiri?" No thanks. I'm afraid that the only answer is to start the whole cycle up again. The Empire may have been oppressive, but you know the hyper-trains always ran on time.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Saddest Movie Ever

There are certain movies that, when flitting about in channel roulette, I find myself landing and staying even though I've seen the film dozens of times prior. A partial list: "King Kong," "Citizen Kane," "Animal Crackers," "Stripes," and (of course) "Roadhouse." These are the sure-fire ways to get Dave to ride the couch hard for two hours. Repeat watching is a lot like macaroni and cheese - or anything with cheese for that matter - it's comfort food for the brain.
To this list I will now add "Superman II." This is the one where Superman (who it turns out, really is a dick, at least in the comic books) decides to give up his super powers to marry Lois Lane. After a pretty simple process that seems to involve going into a sound-proof booth and having a red light turned on him, Supes becomes (in real life) Clark (nerd) Kent. We should all be so lucky to have our potential mates be willing to change/sacrifice to the super extent that Clark does for Lois.
That's not the reason I keep watching. Once there is no Superman, the Earth is ripe for conquest by General Zod and his black vinyl posse. Lex Luthor gets into the act by making Lois hostage bait (Superman's girlfriend, after all) and suddenly the world isn't safe without Superman. Sooooo - Clark has to go trudging back up to the North Pole (or thereabouts - wherever the Fortress of Solitude is) and has to undo the deal so he can commence to whupping some super butt again.
To skip a reel or two of Superman getting even, there's the last couple of minutes - where things get really interesting. Superman has gone back to being Superman, but Lois still knows that Clark is Superman. To alleviate this situation, Clark plants a big wet super-one on Lois, and when she is able to focus again, it's like the whole thing never happened. Clark is just some goof that helps her keep tabs on her big crush: Superman.
Here's the kicker - no one erases Superman's memory. He's stuck with the thought of what could have been, and he's going to keep working two desks away from the love of his life knowing that he can never really have her. Wouldn't that super suck?
Still, don't think Superman (we said he was a dick, remember?) will let this end without somebody getting some super abuse. Back in the first act, when Clark has lost his powers, he gets bounced around by a trucker in a roadside diner when he tries to stick up for Lois when he is no longer the Man of Steel. Before the credits roll, Supes heads back to the diner and wipes the place up with the trucker - considerately leaving a little something on the counter for any of the damages he may have incurred while crushing the spine of the mere mortal. What a sense of humor these Kryptonians have!
If you're ever trying to get in touch with me - remember to check the AMC schedule first for "Superman II" - I won't be answering the phone.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Bad Chemicals Revisited

It happened again. A distraught mother drove her child to a spot in rural Sonoma County, shot her then shot herself. The little girl was five years old. How bad would things have to be to make that kind of choice? I remember being in Seattle a few weeks after Kurt Cobain shot himself and looking out across the lake toward Mount Rainier - the view he would have had every morning from his front porch. That and the face of his baby girl. That must have been some bad crazy hurt to want the lights to go out forever.
Still, Kurt didn't make the choice to take anyone with him. Frances Bean lives on. That option was not left to Jineva Driscoll. We'll probably get to see a lot of pictures of Jineva over the next week or two. Smiling face with teeth askew - probably with a favorite stuffed animal.
If the sign says "Not A Through Street" - why not turn around and go back where you started from? How bad does your day have to get to pick that as a way out?
On a few different occasions, I have sat slack jawed in front of the History Channel as they replay the story of Susan Smith and how she let her Mazda roll into a lake with her young sons strapped into their car seats. Now we're falling off the crazy/evil pie charts. She watched the car sink to the bottom, though it took a good long while. Then she ran home and started lying about it. What sort of bizarre rainbow would her EKG have painted during that week?
Part of me hopes that there will be more revelations about Jineva's mother: drug use, Satan worship, family history of mental illness. But even more I hope that I won't think about her. Let her move into that dark patch of history with the others. I know that I will never be able to fathom the mind of a mother who becomes desperate enough to end her child's life - or a father - or a stranger. For that I can be grateful, and I can wish for relief from the bad chemicals.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Spare Time

I was trying to remember just exactly what I used to do with my evenings before I got married and had a kid. I lived in a one bedroom apartment - so there wasn't a lot of maintenance to do. As a matter of fact, it took me almost a year of living in the same place to figure out that the dishwasher was broken, since I was subsisting primarily on TV dinners and take-out pizza.
This past week I went to Open House at my son's school, hosted three of his friends for dinner and a playdate, attended a meeting of the Dad's club, and went to the retirement party of our school's secretary. I just returned from a friend's baby shower, and soon it will be time to begin the bedtime ritual of pajamas, toothbrushing and book at bedtime. I am consciously stealing away for the minutes it takes to pound out this blog.
There is a certain relief to having each waking moment preplanned and structured. If you can get from place to place in a timely fashion and remember what you're supposed to do once you get there, it becomes a kind of zen exercise. Questioning it can become a little troublesome. Trying to incorporate a new pattern or wrinkle into a well-worn schedule can be extremely difficult. My compensation for this is home-improvement projects. Once they get going and the power tools come out, I can lose myself in the process. Equity building as a creative outlet - my wife makes lists and I wince as they grow longer, but secretly I look forward to those moments when something new is being built. A flushing toilet or a new window sash - they lie outside the rut.
I never took a shop class, and it is only now in my fifth decade of life that the nails I pound go in straight. It turns out that home repair is similar to baking - read the directions first for best results. I know that Monday is coming and the lawn needs cutting, but I confess that I wouldn't know what to do with more spare time. Before the wife and kid, I used to hang around at a pizza joint, drawing cartoons on paper plates and waiting for the next best thing. Well, how 'bout that - here it is.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Middle Age Man

I've been working at this weight-loss thing for about a month and a half now. It started when I got the notice for my driver's license renewal. They wanted to know if anything had changed - address, hair color, corrective lenses, weight. Well, what's it to ya?
I suppose I've always been a little sensitive about my weight. My junior high school nickname was "Tuba." I was never grossly obese, and I wasn't hiding Milky Ways under my pillow, but I was shopping for school clothes in the "husky" section. I'm old and clever enough to understand that genetics will not allow me to alter my generally panda bear shape, but there is a certain amount of inflatability that is entirely negotiable.
Since the birth of my son eight years ago, I had been slowly drifting toward two hundred pounds. I rationalized this by considering my advancing age and wisdom. The two-century mark seemed appropriate to the epoch in which I found myself. Stay married long enough and I suppose you can make any radical shifts over time seem like a normal rite of passage. The swelling and sagging that had begun in my son's first years had become the excuse to let it continue. It was natural and inevitable.
Then I began to think about the surrender I was affecting. The peanut M&Ms before bedtime weren't a privilege, they were a right. I had earned them - not unlike the nickname I had acquired for my middle age: The Thresher. Just don't get your hands or feet too near the whirling blades, and don't leave utensils on your plate while they are being cleaned, they will only gum up the works.
I'm thinking more now about my days as a wrestler. I drank iced tea because it was a flavored drink with one calorie - without sugar or lemon. I worked at becoming lean - the relative shape remaining that of a fire plug, but a lean fire plug.
I'll continue to try and eat for nutritional needs, not for emotional or psychological satisfaction. I've got another ten pounds to go to return to my old driver's license. Ten pounds have already gone away. I know the curve very well, and the next ten will be harder than the first, but it's my gut and I'm working on it.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


I see the boys standing on the corner – playing with cancer as they smoke their first cigarettes. They are waiting for their world to begin. A fresh page for them to color – this one will be red. How long have they been here? When will they be gone? That one started shaving last Saturday. He nicked himself just below his Adam’s apple. When they move, they move as a group. There is safety in numbers in the jungle and out in the street. Sometimes they forget they have real names. They call each other things that would make their mothers blush, and it makes them proud. Someone yells from a passing car and they salute. If they had to run, they couldn’t. Fashion and attitude weigh them down: baggy jeans and what’s it to you? So safe and so close to dying.
They lean on trash cans and street signs. The weight of everyday pulls them down. They talk about tomorrow like it was ten years from now - time is elastic and painful for someone yearning to be twenty. The deals they make turn them into kings for a weekend, then it's back to the corner. Back to the broken fences and painted sidewalks - back to the place that feels like home.
The women in their lives are mothers and sisters. Girlfriends take too much time and effort. They all know the same eight girls, and none of them has had a date since they could drive. It doesn't keep them from talking, though - shouting and hooting, making a cell phone call. It's good theater.
Someday there will be fewer of them. One is moving with his family to Nevada. It sounds like a foreign country. Another will join the Army because there was nothing better to do. A few of them will take a vacation in corrections, but they'll be back. Under a streetlight that has just come on the momentum shifts again.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Sports Rant

I just spent the last few years building up a dislike for Jerry Rice. Sure, I know, Greatest Of All Time, holder of more records than I can begin to list here, and an Oakland Raider. This did not fit with my world view. The Raiders are the Evil Empire. I was raised at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and all things silver and black are to be reviled and detested on general principal. Jerry had gone over to the Dark Side. He was using his Jedi skills to aid the enemy. Bad, bad Jerry.
Now Jerry's wearing orange and blue, and I have to modulate my thinking: Has he seen the light and wants to walk in the sun one last season before being laid to rest in some bizarre NFL version of a Viking funeral (not the Minnesota kind)? He's 42 years old - I'm 42 years old. Isn't anyone worried about him endangering himself out there? What if his bones turn to powder right in the middle of a deep slant? He's old, right?
"Stay down, Rock!" snarled Mickey at Sylvester Stallone as he pulled himself off the canvas one more time. Rocky wanted to go the distance - but Jerry? He is the distance. Jerry Rice is the standard by which all other wide receivers are measured, and yet he has this wild notion about going out and stretching the limit just a little bit more.
Now Brett Favre thinks he might like to hang around a year or two more - see what he started? At least he's got the taste and decorum to stick with one team. I hate to think about brittle old Joe Montana hopping up from his sideline rocking chair to go out and lead the Kansas City Chiefs to one more win. Kansas City? Who was he kidding? He did, in retrospect, provide me with one additional heartbreak by providing a last-second comeback for the Chiefs on a Monday night right after John Elway had given the Broncos a last-minute lead. That night there was only one man who could have done it better than John, and he just happened to be playing in the AFC West, damn it all.
So maybe it's payback - Jerry Rice will lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl and he'll go out on top. That's what they do with race horses - let them retire while they still have some spring in them. Then put 'em out to stud.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Little Piece o' my Heart

I recently logged onto and signed away the bits and pieces of my tawdry existence. The problem I'm having with this is based primarily on two Monty Python skits.
The first is from the film "Meaning of Life" in which a pair of rather thuggish types in medical garb (played by John Cleese and real-life doctor Graham Chapman) show up to harvest an unsuspecting donor's liver. No matter that he was still very much alive, he had signed the forms. I worry about this kind of humanitarian brutality. With all those people waking up in hotel bathtubs missing kidneys these days, it certainly gives me pause. A knock at the door - and there they stand: the California State Organ Enforcement Squad. Governor Schwarzenegger has determined the best way to mediate medical costs in these troubled times is to claim all those wayward glands, nodes and giblets. The going rate on the Iraqi Black Market is $500 a kidney. You can live a very happy and productive life with only one kidney, right? And hey, five hundred smackers puts me that much closer to a big screen TV.
The other scary notion comes from a much earlier period - "The Undertaker Sketch." A man (John Cleese) walks into an undertaker's (Graham Chapman - these guys again?) and asks what he can do with his mother, who has recently passed away. After deciding against the initial suggestion of dumping her in the Thames, tow other options are explored:
U: Oh well, we won't dump her, then. Well, what do you think: burn her, or bury her?
M: Um, well, um, which would you recommend?
U: Well they're both nasty. If we burn her, she gets stuffed in the flames, crackle, crackle, crackle, which is a bit of a shock if she's not quite dead. But quick. And then you get a box of ashes, which you can pretend are hers.
M: (timidly) Oh.
U: Or, if you don't wanna fry her, you can bury her. And then she'll get eaten up by maggots and weevils, nibble, nibble, nibble, which isn't so hot if, as I said, she's not quite dead.
And therein lies my peculiar rub: If I'm not quite dead. I don't want someone rooting around my insides unless I have completely and comprehensively shuffled off this mortal coil. I've read those touching stories about the boy who gave up his eyes and his lungs and his nose and his cuticles so that others could see, breathe, smell, and have something to chew on. I worry about showing up in the afterlife unable to carry on a conversation with someone because of an urgent need for my lips.
But I did go ahead and register - in spite of all my donor paranoia. If you come knocking at my door, late at night, don't be surprised if I ask for ID before I start showing off any "spare body parts."

Monday, June 06, 2005

Licks off of Records

I feel fortunate that I came of age during a renaissance, of sorts, for cover songs. New Wave opened the floodgates for all kinds of sublime musical combinations. DEVO's "Satisfaction" stands as a hallmark for this kind of mutation. It might take a listen or two before Stones recognition set in, and after that it offers the chance to make sense out of lyrics that had gone unnoticed before. DEVO's version plainly points out the consumer issue at the heart of the song. What's on television may not be the truth.
Another favorite band of mine, Oingo Boingo, has made bookends on their career by including a cover song on their first album and their last. "Only A Lad" includes their version of "You Really Got Me" - a much more desperate and frantic reading of the Kinks' classic (Kinks' Klassic?). On their last album, they do a version of "I Am The Walrus" that is every bit as bloated and sonically burdened as "You Really Got Me" was young and lean.
The Dead Kennedys have a few covers in their catalog, but none equal the anarchic spit in the eye of "Viva Las Vegas." Their version really sounds like Hunter S. Thompson just before the bats arrived on that sun bleached stretch of highway. I'm not sure even Ann Margret could keep up with this one.
Making Beatles covers work is a much more challenging task - there have been countless polite renditions but straying too far from the original source tends to make listeners tense - just ask the Residents about that. The Damned's cover of "Help!" is just an exercise in speed Beatles. They do much better with Love's "Alone Again Or..." - so much so that it often takes casual listeners by surprise to find out that they didn't do the song originally. For a treat, check out Beatallica - a Beatles/Metallica hybrid that about as many successes as failures, but when it works - it's magic.
This brings us to the subject of tribute albums. By their very nature, tributes tend to be way too polite to make any vital contributions - too respectful. There are some mild exceptions - such as Jill Sobule's sweet little take on Warren Zevon's "Don't Let Us Get Sick." Most artists seem concerned with "making the song their own" - which tends to leave one shrugging shoulders, wondering why they picked the song to record in the first place. Again, every rule has an exception, and for this I would pick Johnny Cash's version of Trent Reznor's "Hurt" as the perfect example of form over function.
Great songs are great songs - and songwriting will win out even when the singer lacks. I only own one Grateful Dead album - but I play the disc of their songs covered by other artists at least twice as often. Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan provide some pretty amazing raw material for any aspiring vocalist. Check out this kid Jimi Hendrix's reworking of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower," or imagine that it took Manfred Mann to take "Spirits in the Night" to number one on the charts. That would be the potential power of cover versions.
The other power would be that of conviction. Nothing works better than a straight face. For this, I cite Lyle Lovett's "Stand By Your Man." The irony is thick as maple syrup, but Lyle isn't smirking - he's singing from the heart. It's not gender confusion, it's just damn good advice.
A few manifestations ago, U2 - a recognized leader in B-side covers - made a show of performing "Helter Skelter" on "Rattle and Hum." In Bono fashion, he announced "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, tonight we're giving it back!" It has been the wish of my friend Joe and myself to take the stage at Madison Square Garden and explain, "This is a song U2 stole from Charles Manson, and tonight we're giving it back." Sing - sing a song. Make it simple, to last your whole life long.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


My son decided not to spend the night at his friend's house last night. He was a little sad to miss sleeping out in the tent, and waking up for a breakfast that almost certainly involved bacon. At the same time, however, he was also filled with great sense of relief. At eight years old, he's just not comfortable with the idea of waking up in a place that isn't his.
I get that. I was that kid too. I still feel some of that anxiety when the sun goes down and I'm not in my own house. Comfort, safety, control. I can find my way to the bathroom in the dark. I know what is in the refrigerator and the cookie jar. I know the sounds the dog makes, and the ones my family makes.
When I was eight, I used to watch from my friend's house down the street for my father's car to turn the corner - heading home. We had plans for me to spend the night. We would stay up late and watch Creature Features and trade Wacky Packages and sleep in the foldout bed downstairs. Then I realized my family was gathering and I wouldn't be there. I could usually hold it together until it got dark, and then the real scary demons would begin to dance and play in my mind. To this day, I cannot say what my biggest fear or concern was. I can still sense it: a crushing and consuming panic that could not be turned off.
It didn't help that the older I got, the more ridicule I received for being homesick. I didn't go to summer camp. I didn't spend weekends on my cousin's farm. I stayed at home. Not that I didn't try - I made many well-intentioned efforts to shake that fear. It was that same fear that kept me from leaving home to go to the College of Santa Fe as a freshman. In retrospect, I'm happy for the direction my life has taken me since then, but I have dozens of "what-ifs" to reflect upon.
I have a standing agreement with my son that I will come and pick him up from any overnight. We're still waiting for the one that feels right. He's told me that he wants to go to Cal Berkeley so he can come home at night. I'm not sure I'm ready to talk him out of if just yet.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Yeah, Duh

That's how every page of my new book will end. "Yeah, Duh." It's going to be about the "differences" between men and women. There seems to be some discussion and a great deal of money to be made around this notion.
Men and women are different. In a world where we spend a lot of energy to be politically correct and sensitive about pointing out the things that make us unique and special, there seems to be a vast industry connected to the division between the sexes.
Well slap me and call me Doctor Phil - who would have guessed?
While I was in the shower today, my wife read to me from Oprah's magazine. She told me that men seek intimacy from their wives. Women have a large group of friends who help them process their worries and concerns, she went on, and men tend to seek their wive's approval in the absence of this close circle of friends. There was a lot of other details that I missed through the running water, but I was struck by this: She was reading an article to me about something I ought to be an expert about. I've been a man for a while now, and some of these insights seemed to have missed the mark by just a little bit.
It filled my wife with glee to hear that I was willing to be a "contestant" on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." I think her notion was that my wardrobe and personal grooming would receive the Fab Five makeover. I had noticed at the end of just about every show (after the kvetching about "shaving against the grain") each lucky straight guy had his living room remodeled - and the centerpiece was a big screen TV. I'll shave with a Hello Kitty razor if someone gives me a 60 inch plasma screen.
Men and women are both from Earth. We like to revel in our differences because it adds an element of danger to the whole dating process. Women love to shop. Men only like to buy. Women like to talk about their feelings. Men head off to their caves to contemplate. Or not. We get ourselves in trouble by expecting a division between us. I wouldn't diminish gender differences as a reality, but as a cottage industry I would remain skeptical. I don't understand the men around me any better than the women, even though we're supposedly on the same team. Maybe it's just because I was sick the day they showed "that movie" in seventh grade. Yeah, Duh.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Real Deal

Many years ago, I was an habitual viewer of the TV show "Hill Street Blues." I enjoyed its humor along with the weekly justice and pathos. It was my gritty urban soap opera. I remember the admonition of every roll call: "Hey, let's be careful out there." I had been watching for several seasons before it occurred to me to ask my older brother, a cop, if he liked the show.
"Why would I want to watch that?" he asked. "I go to work every day - I don't need to watch it when I come home."
Fair enough.
A few years later I got hooked on another weekly drama set in a Chicago Emergency Room. I was flattered when my wife told me that I reminded her of Doctor Green, the head of the "ER." I expect it had as much to do with the hair line as it did the content of his character, but I took it as a compliment. A friend of mine who is an ER nurse confessed to being addicted to the show herself - not for the medical drama, but for all the romantic entanglements. "One episode of that show has the number of major traumas we see in a year," she said. Apparently, in the real world, life and death struggles are a little less common. Often things were downright boring - lots of time to clean bed pans.
It's not surprising then that I have mixed feelings about the show "Boston Public." Who knew running a high school could be this torrid? I avoided it like the plague when it was first on, but now I find myself looking in on reruns. I wince at the cast of young models who make up the faculty of Winslow High. I sneer at the cartoon antics of the vice-principal. I wonder how many of the "students" are under the age of twenty. Then I relax, and I find myself enjoying the moral certitude - the righteous indignation that these educators get to pontificate about. It's enough to make me want to renew my credential. When the hour is over, I feel a little dirty, but satisfied at how well things worked out. Some justice was meted out. Teachers really are powerful.
But now it's time to get back to grading papers.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Come Aboard, We're Expecting You

My wife and I were talking the other night about frugality - which one of us pinches pennies til they scream. I suggested that I live in a world that I don't fully understand, influenced at once by my mother's very pragmatic budgeting sense and my father's need to spend money to release tension. Such was the case many years ago when our yearly family trip expanded from the usual station wagon train through the desert southwest and became a full-blown whirlwind extravaganza.
We flew to Mexico, where we savored the culture as fully as any middle class white family could - with only the translating skills of my older brother and a sporadically used Spanish phrase book to guide us. The sun, the sand, the sunburns, and a lingering sense that this was a trip of a lifetime.
But wait, there's more - in true Bob Barker Showcase tradition, when we were finished in Acapulco, we boarded the Princess Italia to sail a leisurely path up the coast to our final port of call: Los Angeles. Our cabin was dark and small for a family of five, but it mattered little to the three boys who were about to have the run of the ship.
Every deck had its surprises - often we would push a button on the elevator without looking, just to see if we could get lost. There were many special hiding places and secrets, but the place I found myself returning over and over again was the bottom deck - The Cinema Deck. I saw "Darling Lily," "Wait Until Dark," "Catlow" and fell in love with "Little Big Man" down in steerage. Was I old enough to be watching these films? Probably not - but with all the shuffleboard and other silliness going on up in the sunshine, who was going to check IDs down in the dark?
Then there was dinner. Every night we went to first seating - I think they hoped that it would keep us from lingering and interfering with the upper crust. Our waiter's name was Mario Bodino - an especially charming fellow who understood the importance of roast beef and chocolate ice cream for growing boys. We named his apparently mute assistant "Ichabod" after the character in Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." He kept the plates moving and the forks clean. When we finished dinner, we stopped on our way out to grab a handful of after dinner butter mints. Returning to our rooms and finding that all our mints had been consumed, we left our parents to relax in their cabin while we returned - this time holding our shirt tails out to scoop as many mints as we could carry back to our beds where we worked ourselves into a minty fresh frenzy before returning to the elevator races.
Happily, they did not set us adrift before we landed in California. The last night we skipped the chocolate ice cream for the more impressive Baked Alaska. We left a few mints in the bowl that night. My memory is of weeks at sea, but I know that it was only a few days. When we landed, we headed for Disneyland.
This was how my father saw the world. If that money had been saved, it might have become a downpayment for a house for each of us, or a nest egg for my parents to relax on in their golden years. Instead, it was a game show prize - a four door blowout that I remember fondly thirty years later. The Princess Italia is gone now - it was cut in half and refurbished to set sail again as TV's Love Boat. I didn't get to play shuffleboard on the Lido Deck with Julie, or party with Doc and Isaac, but I had the time of my young life then.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

America Needs You, Mr. Felt

There are no more secrets. W. Mark Felt was "Deep Throat." It wasn't Martha Mitchell. It wasn't Alexander Haig. It wasn't John Dean's tailor. It wasn't J. Egdar Hoover (which would have made the nickname even more purient). It was the former second-in command of the FBI. We found this out via no less an investigative juggernaut than "Vanity Fair." Oh Bob and Carl, how the mighty have fallen.
Turns out that Mr. Felt had been on a short list of "Deep Throat Candidates" for some time, and either he just got tired of keeping a secret at 91 years old, or Vanity Fair's stock has just risen over that of say, Geraldo Rivera's. Maybe a combination of the two.
That doesn't matter anymore. Bob Woodward didn't bother to waste time on denials, and W. Mark Felt seems just as glad to be done with his legacy. After all, Hal Holbrook had already played him in "All the President's Men" - not a bad bit of casting, it seems. Henry Kissinger was predictably pissy about the whole thing - grumbling about the inappropriateness of raising this traitor to the level of hero when he should have been protecting his president. My guess is that he was still ticked off about Erlichman naming him as "Deep Throat" before John passed on a few years ago.
It matters to me because the Nixon years were my political awakening. In sixth grade I was churning out political poetry with an eye on only one prize - the removal of that old crook. It was helpful to be eleven years old at the time - the black and whiteness of the situation was so much more clear. Nixon was a bad man and had us sending boys to a war on the other side of the world while he sipped tea with Chairman Mao. He stole an election and his Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) established the modern standard for dirty tricks that still stands today.
And what about today? Most of the major players have passed on or have their own shows on Fox News Network - how can it matter? Ask Dan Rather. With all the horrible nasty awful mess that occurred around our last presidential election, Dan lost his job because of "Memo-gate." Go figure. Did he need to check his sources better? Probably - but here's the deal: Nobody knew who "Deep Throat" was for thirty plus years, and he still managed to bring down a corrupt regime. Nice job, Mr. Felt. Now if we could get Vanity Fair to start mucking around with that guy who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.