Monday, October 31, 2005

Treat Inventory 2005

My son's biggest Halloween wish as he drifted off to sleep tonight: "I wish that I could get a box of Junior Mints as big as this bed." He also said that he had first thought a box as big as the house would be good, but "that might make me sick." Good that he has a sense of scale.
On the candy front there was some discussion of favorite candy bars. My mother pines for Butterfingers, while my mother-in-law waxes rhapsodic for Almond Joy. My wife felt a void in her life because she no longer has a favorite candy bar.
It used to be that she craved Sweet Tarts. That was a constant during her pregnancy. There are those that theorize that is how we created a son with such a sweet but periodically acerbic character - our little sour patch kid.
Father and son agree on the importance of chocolate. He spent some time this evening after trick-or-treating, sorting: milk chocolate, Snickers, Tootsie Rolls and Pops, mints, and "other." The "other" pile contained all the scary taffy and hard candies that could not trace their lineage back to some form of chocolate. His biggest quandary? Chocolate Laffy Taffy.
The big prize of the night was the full size Hershey bar. The kind that you can break apart into bite size rectangles - or even to use in a s'more (if you were forced to go camping and mingle your Hershey bar with marshmallow and graham cracker). I suggested that this lady was essentially handing out twenty dollar bills. If word got out, there would be a line out into the street.
Finally, a word about this "Fun Size" nonsense. I do not know of any good reason to believe that a candy bar as big as your thumb is "Fun." Excessive packaging, yes - fun, no. The vision of a box of Junior Mints as big as your bed? Now that's Fun.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


The other day I got a phone call from my friend in New York. He asked if I could guess what his Halloween costume was going to be. I tried to come up with something clever and timely, "A Federal Indictment?" Nope. "What do I do every year?"
Then I remembered: Evil Clown. You have to love a guy who knows a classic and sticks with it. He's now in his second decade of the Evil Clown bit - and this year was really special. Big tie, big shoes, funny hat, and white contact lenses to make the whole thing - well - evil.
That being said, I reflected on a conversation we had lo those many moons ago, when the first Evil Clown appeared. We were both on our way to becoming chemically unfit to operate machinery of any kind, but before everything became too squishy, we agreed on this: People tend to have just a little bit of their character peek through their Halloween costumes. Sometimes it's a known thing, like an Evil Clown. Then there's the other end. Couples who show up to the party dressed "as each other." I can appreciate the easy access to costume. I can understand that it can be very cathartic to do a little role-playing in any relationship. Still - what are we saying with that one?
On the other end of the spectrum is the guy who came as a fireman - complete with oxygen tank and ax. Maybe he always wanted to be fireman when he was a kid, right? Well, he was a fireman. Talk about your incredibly grounded personalities.
My costumes tend to lean in the villainous/monstrous vein. Masks are a source of comfort for me, and have been since I bought my first Frankenstein mask in Disneyland when I was ten years old. Make of this what you will - I already have.
This year my son will be Darth Vader. My wife is Princess Leia. I considered joining in on the theme, but chose instead to go with the DEVO radiation suit and the newly acquired Energy Dome. I'm in touch with my new wave side, after all.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I Am Your Clock

Here comes more darkness. Prepare to fall back. All of us early risers will appreciate the extra hour to get the planet warmed up for us before heading out into the fog, but I'm not sure everyone wins with daylight savings time. Sure, there's the initial thrill of getting that extra hour of sleep - but I can't for the life of me remember the last time that meant that I actually slept an extra hour. I just woke up, looked at the clock, and thought "Hey, I could still be asleep."
When I used to work late-night at Arby's, there was always a lot of discussion around daylight savings time. Did that mean that we got to close an hour later, or were we supposed to wait until we were closed to move the clocks back? Six months later we wondered if we were supposed to stay open past the clock switch. It was all fairly arbitrary, since no matter when we locked the doors, there would always be one hungry drunk boy pounding on the glass, demanding his Beef'n'Cheddar.
Along similar lines, a bill to extend daylight savings time to Halloween is proposed in almost every session of Congress, with the purpose of providing trick-or-treaters more light and therefore more safety from traffic accidents. ChildrenĂ‚’s pedestrian deaths are four times higher on Halloween than on any other night of the year. Also, for decades, candy manufacturers have lobbied for a Daylight Saving Time extension to Halloween, as many of the young trick-or-treaters gathering candy are not allowed out after dark, and thus an added hour of light could mean a big holiday treat for the candy industry. More daylight, more Reese's Peanut Butter Cups - pretty simple equation.
Tomorrow morning I'll be doing myusuall bleary walk through the house, resetting clocks. I will probably forget one - I always do (the microwave or the thermostat). We will continue this aimless adherence to Standard Time until we all Spring Back. In the end, I guess it's all about resilience, isn't it?

Friday, October 28, 2005

An Idea by Any Other Name

Sylvester Stallone is bringing Rambo back to the big screen. This comes hot on the heels of the deal he made to write and direct "Rocky VI." Raise your hands if you paid money to sit in a movie theater for "Rambo III." Okay, now how about a show of hands for "Rocky V?"
That's pretty much what I thought. Here's the problem: There are no more ideas. All the stories have been written. All the films have been made. There is not one single original thought left on the planet. The Law of Conservation of Energy basically states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can change its form. The Law of Conservation of Mass basically states that mass cannot be created or destroyed, but can change its form. The Law of Conservation of Ideas states that ideas cannot be created or destroyed, but can change form. That's what remakes are. That's what sequels are: Conservation of Ideas.
I was never more impressed by this than when it was suggested to me that my son's "Star Wars" experience is comprised of Episodes I, II and III. He has a great appreciation for the "later episodes" - but those are DVDs. His big screen trilogy is the story of Darth Vader, not Luke Skywalker.
I don't blame VH-1 for all those "I Love the (Whatever Decade)" shows. They are merely operating within the principal of Conservation of Ideas. Remember Pet Rocks? Remember Whizzers? Remember The Jackson Five cartoon? All of these ideas exist in a firmament that is kept alive by the memories and limited imaginations of the entertainment industry. How else could one explain the need for a live-action version of the Fat Albert cartoons? Hey-buh guys-buh, that's-buh pretty-buh lame-buh.
Still there is great comfort to be found in the familiar. Remember what they did when Bob Dylan first plugged in his guitar (you can relive it all on DVD)? We want to be entertained, but we don't much care for being challenged. Ethiopian food is great, but a cheeseburger is a sure thing.
Getting back to Sly, I've got this suggestion: computer graphics allow us to seamlessly integrate characters from one era with another. There is no reason why Rocky Balboa couldn't meet up with his monosyllabic doppleganger, John Rambo, to rid the world of the terrorist threat of radical Islamic boxing promoters - the ultimate buddy/action/feel good film of the year. As Sly himself might say, "Ahbsolootlee."

Thursday, October 27, 2005


The thud you are about to hear is my mother laughing so hard that she fell off her chair while reading this. (Wait for it)
This afternoon my son walked home from school all by himself. Well, he walked with a friend who lives up the street, but he did this without the omnipresent parental supervision. They even stopped at 7-11 to get a Slurpee. I heard about this after the fact, and I must confess that I had mixed emotions.
Mixed emotions? He's eight years old, after all. I went through a list of all the things that I had done and all the places I had been by the time I was in third grade. I remembered riding my bike to Ben Franklin's - the local five and dime store - with the neighborhood gang. I recalled similar raids on the area's 7-11s, for the purposes of acquiring Odd Rods and Wacky Packages by the case.
Truth is, it couldn't be a straighter shot from the school to our front door, and it's all downhill. He's been making the trip for four years now without incident. He even called before he left the school to see if it was okay to stop and get a Slurpee on the way home. Isn't this kid ready? Why should I worry?
The apocryphal tale of my wandering in my youth goes back to the mountain cabin where I spent many summers. When I was still very young, my mother admonished me for wandering away because, she said, "You're not familiar with the territory." I considered this a moment and told her that "I was getting familiar with the territory."
That's what happened today. My son was getting familiar with the territory. Vaya con Dios.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rest and Live in Peace

Near the top of the hill next to the school where I teach a small shrine appeared two years ago. Attached to the chain link fence was a sign made with poster board and magic markers that read: "RIP Thomas." There were lots of other messages scrawled with various writing implements and with varying degrees of legibility. There were a bunch of empty forty ounce cans and a few smashed bottles of Remy-Martin scattered among a sea of burned out candles on the sidewalk. After a few weeks the wind, weather and neighbors disappeared the altar. Thomas' memory was kept in hearts, not by the street. I didn't have to ask around much at my school to find out about Thomas. There were varying reports about just how much or how bad or how innocent or corrupt he was - but everyone agreed that seventeen was far too young to be shot and killed.
The Thomas shrine has reappeared twice since, to commemorated his birthday. This past week the sign read: "Why'd ya hafta go and die?" Something about merging young men with high-caliber ammunition would be the first explanation that comes to my mind. There weren't as many candles or bottles this year, but the mylar balloons hung over the fence for a good long time before they were cut down. Thomas was loved.
This week I learned that the sister of one of my students just had a baby. My fourth grade sister is now the aunt to her sixteen year old sister's child. Nine years ago, I was her sister's teacher. I remember how she ran out of her classroom on the first day of standardized testing. I have every hope that her coping skills have improved substantially since then. Parenthood is regularly as challenging as most standardized tests. Still, I couldn't help but marvel at the cycle of life in that neighborhood. Seventeen year olds fighting and dying while sixteen year olds are giving birth to another generation. And so it goes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

An Artificial Mark On The Wall

George Carlin used to do a bit about a newscaster reporting on the holiday traffic death toll. "And the number of people who have died on our highways this weekend is down substantially from last year... C'mon America! You're not trying!"
This is essentially how I viewed the news today that American troop deaths in Iraq have met and reached the two thousand mark. Is this a sense of pride I feel at the sacrifice the families of those soldiers have endured? Is this a continued sense of outrage at our continued need to show the world just how much Iraq is not like Viet Nam? Is this a number that will continue to grow as we have been assured that our presence will be required for at least another two years? I can answer "yes" to all of these.
The next is an exercise that fourth grade teachers really love. Try to imagine two thousand of any one thing. It's easy enough if you picture a theater or stadium, with every seat filled (big theater, small stadium). Two thousand pennies? That's twenty dollars. Close your eyes and visualize two thousand metal boxes. How about two thousand carefully folded American flags? It puts me in mind of one of my mommy friends who suggested that video games should include virtual attendance to all the funerals of the cyber-deaths that occurred while playing.
Many years ago, while visiting Muskogee, Oklahoma, a group of us young college types were rambling around the outskirts of town in search of a place to flop around on the grass and drink beer. We settled on a tranquil little spot, with a duck pond and a picnic table. The six of us consumed a case of beer, and we were ready to move on to our next destination. On the way out of the park, we saw a sign identifying our surroundings as the Veterans Hospital. The marquee below carried this message: "The price of freedom is visible here."
Back in 2005: "We owe them a deep debt of gratitude for their courage, for their valor, for their strength, for their commitment to our country," said Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist.
"Our armed forces are serving ably in Iraq under enormously difficult circumstances, and the policy of our government must be worthy of their sacrifice. Unfortunately, it is not, and the American people know it," said Sen. Edward Kennedy.
In an e-mail statement to Baghdad-based journalists, command spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said media attention on the 2,000 figure was misguided and "set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives." He described the grim statistic as an "artificial mark on the wall" and urged news organizations to focus more on the accomplishments of the U.S. military mission in Iraq.
Try counting to two thousand out loud. It takes a long time.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Twenty Years Ago Today

Twenty years is an awful long time. Time has a way of softening and filtering the harshest realities. I used to make a solemn occasion of the week before Halloween. Many friends had to endure my morose sentimentality as I reflected on the passing of my youth. Maybe I'm old enough at last to savor the "good old days." Over the past decade, I have made it a point to steer clear of making grand pronouncements and declarations on October 24, but I feel that twenty years offers up a kind of milestone.
Twenty years ago today I had my first slap-in-the-face, cut-your-hamstrings, ten-thousand volt experience with the loss of a friend. Darren, our "little buddy," preceded Bob Denver to the afterlife by lo these score years. The pain has all but disappeared, but the memory of just how abrupt his passing was lingers. I can't actively miss him anymore, but I know that he (his spirit?) continues to hang around. Not in any profound, furniture-moving kind of ways, but in pleasant wisps of inspired lunacy.
I know this because he made a promise to his little sister. Twenty-one years ago, Darren was back in Oklahoma (Muskogee) for the summer, and he was hanging around the house watching movies. His sister came in and started watching with him. The feature that afternoon was John Carpenter's "The Fog" (recently remade, for no apparent reason this Fall). His sister was getting solidly creeped out by the story of a Northern California fishing town, built 100 years ago over an old leper colony, that turns out to be the target for revenge by a killer fog containing zombie-like ghosts seeking revenge for their deaths. Pretty tough stuff for a pre-teen Baptist.
Sensing his sister's unease, Darren struck this note: "If I was going to come back, I wouldn't try to scare people, or bug them. I'd be more like a Three-Stooges-type-ghost." And now I think he has done just that. I'm not a big fan of afterlife, it seems a little too simple just from an accounting standpoint (an ever-increasing population diluting a limited number of available souls), but the goofy energy that was once Darren seems to hang around some days like that creepy mist from the movie.
I had no idea that I was going to be growing up so much, so fast. For a while I made every effort to keep it from happening. How was I to know that a door had been kicked down and I was being dragged to my eventual future? We made big footprints in those days. It was true twenty years ago, and it is true today: Darren truly stomped on the terra.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sudden Death

I like sports. You would probably describe me as a sports fan (from the Latin "fanatic"). I rarely sit still as I watch my favorite teams play. I find that a lot of excess pacing and stomping about helps stimulate blood flow to my brain that might shut down if I held still too long. I get a lot of sideways looks from my friends and family when a game is close and I feel the need to will my team onward.
As obsessive as my behavior can be at times, there are plenty of folks who make my celebrations and remonstrations seem polite or quaint by comparison. Soccer fans (from the Latin "hooligans") in England will periodically show off their extra zeal by burning something down or inviting riot police to join in the fun had in the stands. Uday Hussein went one better in Iraq, back in the bad old days, and made the soccer stadium a focal point of his torture campaign. Soccer players were among the athletes who said they were beaten and otherwise abused when they returned from losses in international events. Uday was a "bad fan" (from the Latin "psychotic").
Keeping this in mind, my wife will routinely check in with me about my level of commitment. "How much are we going to care about the Broncos this year?" To be honest, I usually end up caring more than I would like to, but I'm having some success monitoring my blood pressure and other bodily functions. I'm sure there are plenty of stories about fans (from the Latin "idjits") who have dropped dead as the home run cleared the fence, or the field goal hooked wide right, or the ball, puck or other projectile banged off the intended target without completing the score. That would be ridiculous and or tragic - depending on how much of one's estate was invested on the wager that the fan's (from the Latin "moron's") family was left to pay off.
It is, after all, just a game. Isn't it?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

"a place where all the mutants go"

It will be Halloween soon. Our house is currently being transformed into a kitschy house of kid-friendly horrors. Paper spiders and bats adorn the front window. A very large black and green spider is crawling across the pillars on the porch. Just about every horizontal surface inside is covered with some grisly or ghoulish chotchkie. There are lots of candles shaped like pumpkins, a candle holder shaped like a severed hand, figurines representing all manner of frightening creatures (some of which are bobble-heads, limiting their terror quotient).
The pervasive nature of the scary bits started me thinking: wouldn't it be scarier if there was just one horrible thing in an otherwise normal setting? My mind flashed on the image of the ear in the middle of the vacant lot at the beginning of "Blue Velvet." That was disturbing. Horror spends most of the time hiding in the closet. Steven Spielberg knew that the big rubber shark wasn't nearly as scary as the thought of a big rubber shark. Fear is lurking just out of the corner of your eye.
When I was a teenager, my room was in the basement. Sometimes I would leave the light to the stairs off as I went down to go to bed. When I got to the door of my room, I could feel the big dark room behind me full of winged demons and killers with stainless steel hooks for hands. Turning around would make them go away. Turning on the light would make them appear before my wide eyes. I waited for a sound as the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. When the light did come on, there was nothing there, but my heart racing from the momentary exercise.
We're putting our fear on display, to keep them from becoming real. The skeletons and fanged aliens are curiosities to be inspected. When you can get a good look at them, they're not so scary after all. On Halloween we can dance with the dead and shake hands with monsters we made up in the first place. In ten days we can put them away again until next year.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Those Who Can't Teach...

Two letters used to send a chill through my bones: PE. As a round kid whose school clothes came from the "husky" rack, I learned to cringe once a week when it was time to head to the "all-purpose room." I took secret pride in the fact that my fourth grade teacher seemed to share some of my disdain, as she referred to it as the "no-purpose room."
It probably didn't help matters that our phys-ed teacher was a caricature of phys-ed teachers. His hair was slicked back with Vitalis. His extraordinarily muscular physique was always on display in a dazzling array of polo shirts that were one size too small. His tan skin gave off a healthy George Hamilton glow, and a stick of Juicy Fruit kept his jaw working when it wasn't blowing a whistle.
The girls loved him, and he loved them right back - not in any particularly unhealthy way, just in a way that made us gawky boys feel just a little more insignificant. He made very little secret as to which ones of us were his favorites. I spent four years in the gymnastics unit mastering the backwards roll while others were learning to do handsprings and roundoffs and tinsicas (my God, how exotic!). While the rest of the class was flying about on trampolines doing swivel-hips and cradles, I was stuck on check bounce. That's the one where you learn how to bounce and stop. I crawled up on the trampoline, made my three attempts to bounce and stop - and then headed back to the edge again to wait for another chance at ritual humiliation.
And so it went. I actually looked forward to the square dancing unit, since it was the one activity with which I was comfortable. Boys didn't much care for the Virginia Reel, but it came as a welcome relief for me. I knew that there was still months of embarrassment left ahead.
I knew that just before the spring thaw came, we would be doing "Stations" - a kind of obstacle course for the under-coordinated. There was jump-roping, pull-ups, peg-board climbing, and my personal albatross: the rope. It sure seemed simple enough to just pull yourself up a little way, then grab on with your legs until you were ready to pull yourself up again. Simple in principle, all but impossible in execution. I was able to conquer the backward roll, the cartwheel, the round-off, and the front-seat-back-front-seat combination on the trampoline before I could climb even half-way up that rope.
By the time I was in sixth grade, my upper body strength had started to catch up to my size, and I was finally able to struggle to the top. I wasn't greeted at the bottom with cheers and appreciation for my grand ascent. I got a check next to my name.
More than thirty years later, I take my own class full of kids out on the yard for PE. We play cooperative games. We encourage each other. I emphasize the education over the physical. I let the physical part happen. Some kids are fast, some can throw, some can catch. They can pass just by participating. They're kids, after all.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Portrait of An Artist as a Second Grader

I owe the fact that I am still writing to my second grade teacher, Miss Hoff. She was my first avid reader. It was in her class that I wrote the timeless classic "The Drunken Snake." At the time, I was primarily writing to have an excuse to draw cartoons. If I wrote a story, I would need to have illustrations. It was this same impulse that drove me to churn out "Snoopy Versus The Denver Broncos." It was obvious that I was headed for greatness - or third grade.
In third grade - Miss Pyle's class - I kept my proverbial light under a bushel. I was afraid of Old Lady Pyle. We all were. We stayed in our seats and kept our heads and voices down for fear of reprisal.
Fourth grade came as a kind of renaissance for me. Miss Stuart recognized my latent talent (same letters, hmmmm) and set me to work on a series of picture story books. My first successful outing was "Arthur the Fish." It told the story of Arthur, a pink fish with blue spots who left his home in search of one true friend. I borrowed liberally (shamelessly) from "The Point" as well as other pop culture homages. I was asked to go to other classrooms and read my story and share it with other kids in my school. This did little to distance myself from the "Teacher's Pet" label that had been stuck on my forehead for some years already.
"Arthur" was followed by "Larry the Lion" and "Parry the Parrot" (my alliterative period). These covered very similar terrain, but offered me the chance to draw several other animals. My biggest stretch was "The Day It Snowed Ten Feet Deep." I confess that drawing ten feet of snow turned out to be a very limited challenge. It was also during this time that I became a hired pen, illustrating others' stories - primarily for the chance to see my name in print one more time. The best collaboration of this type was "Bubbles the Bear" - the story of a pink bear who went out in search of one true friend. I might have felt a twinge if I had been throwing any original thoughts around myself that year.
Toward the end of fourth grade, I was asked to share one of my stories with a sixth grade class. Up til then, I had been working primarily with my peers, or kids that were younger than myself. I knew when I walked into the room that I was in trouble. The snickering and eye-rolling didn't stop until I was on my way out of the room again. I had my first experience with a "tough crowd."
Shortly after that, I decided to focus my energies on reading other people's stories. I would save mine until I felt ready to share my vision with the world. I also felt completely embarrassed and defeated by the experience. This is how a writer prepares. Long periods of gloom and frustration sprinkled with moments of wild inspiration. Moments like "The Drunken Snake." Thank you, Miss Hoff.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Central Casting, Baghdad

"You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order!"
Someday, Al Pacino should have the chance to play Saddam Hussein as he goes to trial for his crimes against his own countrymen. Al would have just the right amount of regal bearing (think "Richard III") and psychosis (think of most of his roles after 1980).
Here in the United States, we love a good celebrity trial - whether it's Winona Ryder getting caught stealing sweaters, or OJ Simpson getting caught - well, not getting caught. In Iraq the Trial of the Century has just begun. Say what you want to about Saddam, he's got chutzpah. Take this exchange between himself and the presiding judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, to open the proceedings:
Amin: These are official matters, we have to hear from you your identity. These are formalities, so please.
Saddam: I don't have anything against any of you. But adhering to the truth and respecting the will of the great Iraqi people in choosing me, I say: I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect to its people, and I retain my constitutional right as the president of
Amin: These matters can be put off until later. This is not the place.
Saddam: Neither do I recognize the body that has designated and authorized you, nor the aggression. All that is built on a false basis is false."
(After repeatedly refusing to give his name, Saddam finally sits. Amin read his name for him, calling him the "former president of Iraq.")
Saddam: I said I'm the president of Iraq ... I did not say deposed.
Yeah, Saddam you go girl! Er, I mean, you go deposed former president of Iraq. Later, Saddam stood, smiling, and exchanged greetings with other defendants during a break in the proceedings. He then asked to step out of the room, but when two guards tried to grab his arms to escort him out, he angrily shook them off. The guards, wearing blue bulletproof vests, tried to grab him again, and Saddam struggled to free himself. Saddam and the guards shoved each other and yelled for about a minute. In the end, he was allowed to walk independently out of the room, with the two guards behind him.
He's more than just a little bit crazy, this guy - but he's still the head nut case in Iraq. Again, I return to the wit and wisdom of Al Pacino in "And Justice For All": "At this point, I would just like to say that what this committee is doing in theory is highly commendable. However, in practice, it sucks... and I'm not going to answer any more questions." It's a natural. I'm tellin' you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sugar and Spice, but Not So Nice

A wave of pity came over me yesterday morning as I intercepted a note between two of the fourth grade girls in my class. It was not for them, although the part of me that remembered being convinced that the best way to communicate was on scraps of paper no bigger than a post-it was still barely visible in my rearview mirror. I felt pity for the boys in my class as it became apparent to me that, once again, the girls were flying ahead on the superhighway of maturity while the boys were stuck idling on the shoulder.
Lots of driving imagery here, but I digress. The note listed, on one side, "Cute Boys." None of the young men who made the cut were to be found in my class. Only one of them even attends our school, and he is in fifth grade. The rest of the young men were just that - media types who were staring adolescence square in the face and milking it for all it's worth. The other side contained a list titled "Gayboys." This is where the names from my class appeared.
Normally, I make a quick suggestion of what we could do with notes that are passed in my class: post them on the bulletin board, use them for repeated line writing, or the ever-present standby reading them aloud. This was different. The level of cruelty shocked me, and I asked the girls to come back to the classroom at lunch so we could discuss possible consequences. I have a zero tolerance policy for any kind of name-calling, and this seemed to be slightly beyond the pale. I wanted to know why they felt it was okay to just be cruel for cruelty's sake.
When they showed up at lunch, they came with the appropriate amount of shame and candor. They knew that what they were doing was wrong. They got some extra cafeteria duty and some time on the bench during the next lunch recess to get over whatever inspired their impulse for slander. Or is it libel? I can't remember the distinction.
Why did that have to happen? The girls aren't what I would consider troublemakers - they were just experimenting with the kind of judgments and labeling that they will get to do and have done to them for the rest of their lives. I wanted to tell them that I hoped that they could make this their one and only experience with this kind of hate, but I don't think I made that strong an impression. Don't get me wrong - they won't be passing notes in my class anymore, and I imagine they will think twice before they start throwing around "gayboy" labels anytime soon. They know to sneer at the idea of being paired with a boy for reading practice. They will always snicker when the suggestion is made that two boys or two girls care deeply for one another. They even have a hard time expressing their love for their parents.
The girls aren't alone in this, they're just a little more sophisticated about it. By the end of the year, the boys will be every bit as harsh and unrelenting to each other and the girls around them. It's part of growing up, and it's terribly sad. I wish that I could follow them around for the next ten years, intercepting notes and handing out cafeteria duty.

Monday, October 17, 2005

TV Funnyman Charles Rocket

"They've put a net there to catch their fall
Like it'll stop anyone at all
What they don't know is when nature calls, you go"
-Barenaked Ladies, "War on Drugs"

Charles Rocket killed himself on October 7. Some will say "Charles Who?" Others will speculate that he committed suicide in 1981 when he "let the F-bomb fly" on live TV. Charles was part of the house-cleaning cast of Saturday Night Live in the 1980-81 season. You remember - the one that nobody watched?
I was watching. I was watching a comedy car crash from a distance. You had to slow down and look at it, even though it was horrible. Still, Charles was the pet of new SNL producer Jean Doumanian. He was going to be the next Chevy Chase or die trying. Again, that death was put off by some twenty-plus years.
After he was unceremoniously fired (what do you have to do to get fired from that show? You can be as bad as you like, but don't say "that word"), he kept his head above water and worked in fluff like "Earth Girls Are Easy" and plenty of episodic television. He had a recurring role on "Moonlighting" as David Addison's brother. I remember at the time thinking, "Hey, that's Charles Rocket. He's still around?" Different answer now.
Charles even had a nice little part in "Dances With Wolves." He wore a beard and rode a horse, and he was just a little sympathetic to Lieutenant Dunbar when they came to take him back to civilization. He ended up getting whacked by Lakota warriors. Maybe that's what got him thinking way back in 1990.
For the past decade, Charles has been making a living as the voice of various animated characters in features and video games. His star never fully faded from view, but he got third billing in his next to last film behind Brian Austin Green (of "Beverly Hills, 90210" fame). The suffering must have been exquisite.

"They say that Jesus and mental health
Are just for those who can help themselves
But what good is that when you live in hell on earth?"
-Barenaked Ladies, "War on Drugs"

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Pardon Me?

Every so often, someone will lob a hand grenade into the middle of a perfectly lovely relationship. You know the ones - like "So, when are the two of you going to settle down and get married?" or "Don't you get tired of living in that little apartment all by yourself?" You know you only have seconds before calamity strikes, but we tend to stand there staring. Then BOOM it's too late.
This morning it was the second child question. It was a lovely Sunday morning. The sun was creeping into the bedroom and there was no place we all had to be for the first morning in weeks. And all of a sudden, there was a mad rush to mess things up. Couldn't we please turn on the television and avoid any contact that might create stress in this otherwise tranquil moment? Too late. The pin was pulled and there were just a handful of seconds to act.
What to do? Jump on it and sacrifice myself? Run screaming from the room? Pretend to speak only Farsi? I was trapped, and though I could feel my blood running cold in my veins, I remained calm. I remembered the chapter from the self-help book that I read about communication - something about repeating back what you heard to make sure that the conversation remains clear and distinct. That didn't work, so I panicked. I reverted to sarcasm.
This was not my best response, but it moved me to a position that I could defend: my total lack of sincerity.
There was a spin, a parry, and a thrust. I watched it all in slow motion, like bullet-time in "The Matrix" and I still couldn't keep it from blowing up in my face. Then, just as abruptly as it had come, the crisis passed. We went about the rest of our day without any serious psychic or bodily injury. We laughed. We played. We even relaxed a little bit.
Maybe the conversational anti-personell ordinance is most useful for keeping one's self-preservation skills in check. We survived - this time...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Derivation of Impact Force Formula

They're out there right now. They're in my living room. I don't know how long this will go on, but I think if I left it up to them, it would be all night.
The boys are playing with Legos. There are hundreds of little plastic interlocking blocks spread in a thin layer across the floor. I live in terror of having to walk around tonight in the dark and finding a carelessly overlooked piece or two. That's the worst part.
The best part is watching and listening as they negotiate the design and building of their vehicles. There are turbo engines and spoilers that are wider than the machines are long. There are front wheels that are one quarter the size of the ones on the back. They are all equipped with some kind of tactical weapon: lasers, photon torpedoes, missile launchers. But most of all, they all feature prominent front grills, since the game tonight is seeing just what kind of impact it will take to spray the component parts of at least one of the vehicles over the entire surface of the living room rug.
It's a stress test. The sound of Legos spraying in hundreds of directions at once is followed immediately by the sound of three boys giggling maniacally. This is an interesting development, after spending years prior to this protecting and preserving each Lego creation in its completed, pristine form for months at a time. It's the beginning of a new phase. Nothing lasts forever. Like most things in this life, Legos are transient.
It's getting quiet again now. The discussion has turned to who is the winner of the demolition derby. There is a lot of respect being paid to each of the designers, with suggestions offered to the vanquished. It's time for a chocolate chip cookie break.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Goldie Hawn-y, Chevy Chase-y

"What's new that's good that's in?"
I spent many a Friday night listening patiently to that question. I used to work in a video store, and I became very well acquainted with the general public's taste (or lack thereof) when it came to a weekend's entertainment. I should point out that I entered the world of video rentals in the dark days of the first Republican regime, before the Clone Wars, before Blocks were Busted. We even rented Beta back then.
We had two-tier pricing back in those days: you could get a membership and rent movies for three dollars apiece, or go the non-member route and pay five bucks a flick. The savings over just a couple of months made it obvious to just about everyone that you'd have to be a major-league ninny not to have a membership. If you were a member, you could reserve movies up to a week in advance. Oh yes, membership definitely had its privileges.
Working at a video store had its privileges too. I watched movies for days at a time that I might never have had the time to see. I instituted "Theme Sundays" during which we would select a group of films that were organized around some specific (and usually arbitrary) connection. We had "Giant Rubber Monster Day," "Pets That Kill," and my personal favorite: "Sweaty Sunday" - featuring "Cool Hand Luke," "Das Boot" and as much of "Body Heat" as we could get away with playing in the store.
It wasn't all fun and games, though. Trying to explain to a customer why we couldn't go out and hunt down the guy who had kept our only copy of "Strawberry Shortcake's Holiday Surprise." Keeping a straight face as the elderly gentleman asks you for a "classy porno." Listening patiently to a mother explain over the phone that the VCR that we had rented to her wasn't working - only to find out that she had neglected to connect it to her television set. On second thought, maybe it was all fun and games.
I worked with a group of people who knew a lot about movies and knew what they liked. I had a lot of great discussions about some great films, and some great discussions about some really bad films. I liked nothing more than seeing a customer come back the next day to tell me how much they enjoyed the movie I made them take home the night before.
Things have changed mightily since then. We don't have discussions with video clerks, and if you can use Netflix you can avoid the clerks completely. The commentary tracks on DVDs do the work that we used to do. All the "didja know" stuff is now part of the public domain. You don't even have to be a member of the club.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Give Peace A Chance

Can't they all just get along? Well, I guess since it's really not "all" anymore - just two of them - I wonder why Yoko and Paul can't just let the past become the past. This past week, John Lennon's widow accepted an award from the British music press and she suggested that her late husband suffered some insecurity centering on the number of artists who chose to cover Paul's songs as opposed to his. "I said, 'You're a good songwriter, it's not June with Spoon that you write. You're a good singer and most musicians are probably a little bit nervous about covering your songs,'" Ono said.
Okay - fair enough. Sounds a little like a self-esteem issue that could be worked out with a little bit of therapy and maybe a good hard look at yourself in the mirror. Where was Stuart Smalley when John needed him? "I'm good enough. I'm a strong enough song writer, and doggone it, people like me." Here's the catch: John's self-esteem ceased to be an issue almost twenty-five years ago. Why would Yoko bother to mention this little anecdote at this particular time in history?
Could it be that right about now Paul is starting to toy with the writing credits of Beatles songs. "Lennon- McCartney" songs will now be referred to as "McCartney-Lennon" songs. "This is not a divisive thing," insisted McCartney spokesman Geoff Baker in London. "It's not Lennon or McCartney. Even if Paul did 95 percent or more on these songs, he's not asking that John's name be taken off. He just doesn't think it should be first."
Paul, who used to be known as the "cute" one, is now better known as the "pissy" one. He also shares the distinction of being the "living" one (along with Ringo -once the "funny" one - who remains the "patient" one).
In the past few years there has been a movement among sports franchises to sell the rights to naming the stadium at which the teams play. Candlestick Park has had several different names, causing city officials to scramble about every few months or so to put up new signage in South San Francisco to direct fans to "Name of the Month" Stadium. Everybody knows that it's Candlestick Park. Just like everybody knows that it's a Lennon-McCartney song. Paul would write "I've got to admit it's getting better," and John would chime in with "Can't get much worse." It's a symbiotic thing, an alphabetic thing - like Abbot and Costello. Abbot wasn't funnier than Costello, his name just started with a letter that came before his partner's. Perhaps Ringo's patience will eventually be rewarded, and all the publishing rights will somehow magically transfer to him in the advent of the untimely event of Paul's passing (wasn't he dead around "Abbey Road" anyway?). Wouldn't that be "funny?"

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hold on to your Smurf...

UNICEF has had a lot of great ideas. One that sticks clearly in my mind is "trick or treat for UNICEF." If you don't remember, the concept was pretty simple: after you had finished begging you neighbors for candy, you would hold up a little orange box and ask them to kick in some spare change for underprivileged kids across the globe. This almost never turned into cash money for kids to go out and buy still more candy.
Picking Danny Kaye to be the world's goodwill ambassador to children was a great idea. After Danny passed away, Audrey Hepburn was a worthy successor until her untimely death in 1993. The fact that UNICEF hasn't seen fit to name one single goodwill ambassador since may be indicative of the problem that surfaced this week. Belgian TV has begun broadcasting commercials produced by UNICEF picturing Smurfs and their village are seen being bombed by airplanes. You remember Smurfs - little blue characters with white hats and pants, supremely optimistic?
The video is peacefully introduced by birds, butterflies and happy Smurfs playing and singing their theme song when suddenly out of the sky, bombs rain down onto their forest village, scattering Papa Smurf and the rest as their houses are set ablaze. The bombs kill Smurfette leaving Baby Smurf orphaned and crying at the edge of a crater in the last scene of the video and finishing of with the text "don't let war destroy the children's world."
Get it?
Well, I confess that I never had much love in my life for Smurfs. For a while when I was in college I had a stuffed Smurf that we ritually abused at the start of every trip in my car. The Death Smurf suffered greatly, and as I reflect back I know that the little blue guy never did anything to deserve having his head slammed (repeatedly) in the door, or his nose burned by the cigarette lighter. It was unfortunate for Death Smurf that he ended up in a college kid's Volkswagen bug.
Still, that was one Smurf. I was not annihilating the entire blue race. To what end? Belgians are never going let war destroy their little mushroom houses and dismember them just for effect. Smurfs are part of the pop culture firmament there. How would they feel about the Snuggles bear catching some shrapnel? Or the Rugrats losing limbs to some poorly placed land mines? Nope - it has to be Smurfs. It just wouldn't be as tragic. "We see so many images that we don't really react anymore," said Julie Lamoureux, account director at Publicis, an advertising agency that drew up the campaign for UNICEF Belgium. "In 35 seconds we wanted to show adults how awful war is by reaching them within their memories of childhood."
Well, I guess if they're looking to expand the campaign to America, I can always suggest Strawberry Shortcake.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Gull in a Million

I may have made a tactical error in life-planning when I chose to read "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" at age eleven. Richard Bach's allegory about following one's passion was not wasted on me. The problem was that I was prepubescent and my passions were still vague at best. I had a solid sense that there was greatness ahead of me, but I had no idea what that greatness might be connected to.
Jonathan is consumed by his love of flight. I can remember watching the flaps on the wings of the airplanes we rode on as children, then later holding my hand out the window of a speeding car, dipping my fingers like flaps to control the lift and turns. Jonathan is eventually rewarded for his tenacity with a visit from two gulls who take him to a higher plane where he can continue to study and perfect his soaring and gliding. The birds he left behind continue their grubby existence - flying only to continue their meager existence. In a shimmer of light, Jonathan transcends.
This messed me up for a while. It messed me up every bit as much as the notion of Billy Pilgrim sitting on the edge of his bed in "Slaughterhouse Five" waiting for the Tralfamadorians to come and take him away. The idea that there might be a more relaxed and focused reality waiting out there for me seemed like a great one. At the onset of adolescence, it became even more vital. Give me some open beach and a clear sky and I could work things out.
The shimmering light never came. I never met wise Chiang. My feet remained firmly rooted on the earth. Now I look back and realize that the story came true for me, at least on one level. I have returned to the earth that I never left to become a teacher. Little Fletcher Lynd Seagulls surround me daily. We prepare to solo in a world less concerned with perfection than survival. I want them to soar.
"Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gullĂ‚’s life is so short, and with these gone from his thoughts, he lived a long fine life indeed. "

Monday, October 10, 2005

What Happens Next?

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
That's not completely true. I'm very concerned about the ongoing strife in the middle east, the recovery of the Gulf Coast region, the devastation of the earthquake in India and Pakistan, our continued inability to manage our economy and our ecology, the struggle for all people to be treated like all people want people to be treated, popular culture swallowing all other culture, and public education. There is probably a longer list, but these are the things that show up as potential projects for the folks on the planet to work on for the next few weeks until a new set of catastrophes come along.
Now, back to the end of the world thing: I think that Nostradamus (and the rest of his ilk) may have been completely correct any number of times. The end of the world is, and has been, nigh for some time now. Check out the havoc wreaked on the Earth over the past eight or nine months. Doesn't it conjure up a phrase like "Wrath of God" in your mind? Certain scholars have suggested that Nostradamus predicted three "Anti-Christs" would come to power and lead their people through tyrannical reigns to eventual ruin. The fun part comes when you try to time the list out so that you can pick the tyrant of the moment as number three. Some would say that Napoleon and Hitler were the first two, with the third to be named as the mood strikes. There was a big rush to paint Osama bin Laden as the third, then Saddam Hussein. Nostradamus scholars almost never suggest that one of these bad guys might come from "the New World." How convenient.
Still, I can't help wondering if maybe we humans didn't get just a little too self-sufficient for our own good. The Black Plague didn't get us all. AIDS continues to consume lives at an alarming rate, but not all of us. Earthquakes, fires, wars, still didn't manage to take us all out. Not yet, anyway. That whole threat of nuclear annihilation? We seemed to have dodged that warhead, too. Maybe God just never expected us to be so damn reasonable - and scared.
And resilient. How many times can San Francisco get knocked down before we all just walk away in disgust. What kind of virulent strain of super-flu has to come along before the folks down at the CDC just throw up their hands and say, "We've got no idea. I guess you might as well off yourself before this one gets you." World Wars stand at two, with the "good guys" prevailing in each. Super-intelligent apes have not yet taken over and moved to domesticate humans (more Charlton Heston than Nostradamus). Whatever the disaster, human beings keep bouncing back and adapting to fit the new paradigm. Nice work, God or Darwin or arbitrary randomness - we survive to encounter our next survivable calamity. So I'm hopeful - and coming from me, that means a lot.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Are We Not Grateful?

There was a couple standing near the door on the way out of the theatre last night, complaining to an usher. They wanted to know why DEVO had only played a little more than an hour. I wasn't wearing a watch, so I had no way of verifying this, but when I got back to our car I checked the clock and realized that they were just about right. After a moment of reflection, I decided that I would choose to look at the glass as being half full. Yes, the show was short - but it was intense.
It was my son's first rock concert. At eight years old, he was blissfully unaware of the desperation exhibited by the opening band, Bow Wow Wow. He was enthralled by the big drums and surf guitar that pounded its way through his ear protection. Annabelle Lwin even asked our indulgence as she and her band played a new song. A new, slow song. When at last their set was done, everyone, including my son asked the same question: Where is DEVO?
After a short break, the lights went down and the video screen lit up with distant memories of De-Evolution. The radiation suits, the rubber chicken masks, Booji Boy sticking a fork in the toaster, "Toil is Stupid," and of course, the Energy Domes. The throbbing bass carried over as the Spudboys took the stage. They launched into a ferocious set of songs that were recorded when most of the crowd was almost certainly too young to remember - if they were even born yet.
Age has taken its toll on DEVO's physical shell. Gerry Casale spent the show strapped to a device to hold him upright - "I'll bet you thought this was just a prop," he told the crowd, "It's here to hold me up until I have surgery on my L6 and L7 vertebra." Mark has a head full of silver hair. Alan wasn't pounding drums anymore, nor was Dave Kendall, but Josh Freese kept things moving without missing a beat. The Bobs (Casale and Mothersbaugh) held down their end, especially Bob M. - who gave us moments of guitar worship from days gone by.
I heard a couple of songs I hadn't hear since the last Republican regime was in power. Gerry reminded us that our president is constant proof of de-evolution. We clapped our hands, we made silly gestures, we sang along and begged for more. But when it was over, I didn't feel cheated. I had gone back in time and shared some of my past with my son. He loved it. We've been listening to DEVO since he got up this morning, with a short break to watch "Sonic X." My cup wasn't just half full, it runneth over.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Convention has it
syllables will be the same
it's five, seven, five
Thus began my Haiku odyssey way back in sixth grade. I was showing off my understanding for our student teacher, Tess Straw. It seems to me now like something from central casting - this fresh-faced girl working toward her teaching credential, her boyfriend Hank stopping by on Fridays to play chess with the clever ones. I did so want to impress Miss Straw. I had a pretty fair-sized crush on her (for an eleven-year-old). I saw each game against Henry as a duel. When she taught us about different forms of poetry, I heard the wistful tone that used to describe Haiku. I saw my opening.
My first attempts were standard, nature-related efforts. I heard the beat of the syllables in my head, but I tapped them out on my desk for good measure. It was important to be precise. I moved quickly to some joke haikus - the form is well-suited for the "Knock-Knock" joke. Tess noted my progress and encouraged me for being "playful." Oh yes, that was the reaction I was fishing for, but it hadn't brought the gush of emotion that I had hoped for.
Even then I realized my limitations as a romantic. I would never be able to keep a straight face for seventeen syllables and share my true feelings. I chose instead to work from my strengths, the intellectual side. I decided to go post-modern. If I could astound her with my cleverness - I was in!
I got a big, red smily face on my paper. Tess Straw left our class in the early spring to continue her studies. I have this lovely memory of her strawberry blonde hair and her sweet smile - the one on her face, not the one on my paper.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Not-so-shaggy dog story

It's a shame, really, that most people who met Rupert never knew him as the king (or Prince) of beasts that he truly believed that he was. Many of my friends only came to know him in his later, more flatulent years. Those of us who knew him all his life understood that it was only a passage, not the entire story. I miss him today.
Rupert, or Prince Rupert (as his papers named him), came into our lives hard on the heels of the passing of another beloved pet, Snoopy. Both were black dachshunds, and I'm sure that there was some trepidation on my parent's part when it came to getting a "replacement" for a puppy who had only lasted long enough to break our hearts. We needn't have worried. Rupert was definitely in for the long haul.
Rupert had what amounted to the doggie version of the Napoleon Complex. He liked to stand on the front porch of our cabin, chest puffed out, and bark down into the meadow. The resounding echo effect certainly fed his mighty ego, as he was the toughest thing for yards around. He was exceptionally good at opening the screen doors with a bump of his nose, and if there was a squirrel foolish enough to cross the path out the back door, he was off like a shot and all we could do was wince in anticipation of the door slamming shut after the spring caught it.
In the mountains, he was a different dog. He ran with labradors and retrievers. He imagined himself a worthy opponent for not one, but two huskies. They tore him up. After the mauling, Rupert crawled under my parent's bed and wouldn't come out for anyone or anything. His good friend and canine confidant, the real King of Aspen Meadows, the German Shepard Thor came to pay his respects. Thor crept under the bed with Rupert and stayed there with him until he could face the day again.
There were a number of different encounters with porcupines and other wild beasts that should have taught him a lesson, but Rupert was determined to assert his presence. In his later years, when our trips to the mountains were less frequent, he did become more sedentary. A friend of mine observed that he was "kind of like an old man - it's like 'Hey, I know I farted. I'm old. So what?'" Like many of his breed, Rupert developed some chronic back problems as he aged. It became necessary, periodically to give him muscle relaxants. Given his long and low body construction, he would sometimes have difficulty making a corner, not unlike a jacknifed big rig.
I remember the summer day that my father came down to the bindery floor where I was working from his office upstairs. He told me that he had taken Rupert to be put to sleep that morning. I hadn't been living at home for more than a year, but I still felt like a trap door had opened beneath me. I felt momentary outrage at not being asked to come along - not being consulted in some way. I had held him down while the porcupine quills had been pulled out of his nose, his backside, his neck. I had chased him around the vacant field above our house and taken him for walks with the other neighborhood dachshund, Baron. Now he was gone. I missed him. Rupert was gone. I miss him still.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The War On Radical Islamic Terrorist Weapons of Mass Destruction

Are you ready to do the rhetorical paradigm shift one more time? Today, October 6, 2005, George Bush has once again moved the line in the sand to define his war as one against Islamic radicalism. Terrorists are no longer the concern. Weapons of mass destruction are no longer the concern. Now we are at war against a coordinated front of Islamic radicalism. "First, these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace and stand in the way of their ambitions."
Okay, I can see how we could say that we stand for democracy - but with a straight face behind our Abrams tanks and Apache helicopters (and while we're at it, why hasn't the NCAA come down on the US military's use of Native American imagery in its ranks?) we stand for peace?
"Second, the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments." Righto - like the Boss says, "No retreat baby, no surrender."
"Third, the militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia. With greater economic and military and political power, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people and to blackmail our government into isolation." Ah, now I see the connection - once the Islamic radicals get their terrorist hooks into the masses, then they can get to work on those weapons of mass destruction. You have to understand that this stuff doesn't always come clear on the initial vision.
The part that cracked me up, personally, was the part where he did his Captain Kirk history litany. James T. Kirk would always make some list that would start with two easily recognized characters, then one off-the wall bongwater reference. "We remember Genghis Khan, Adolph Hitler, and of course Greblach of Zeberon." Captain George W. Bush recites his: "And the civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history." Pol Pot having just a bit more name recognition than Greblach of Zeberon.
Finally, at the risk of going on all day, is a bit of the Looking-Glass type logic that continues to imbue George's world view: "Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals.
I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001, and Al Qaida attacked us anyway." Here's what George said on September 18, 2003 "We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the Sept. 11" attacks. Feeling a little fuzzy yet? It was the religious and ideological differences between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda that kept them from getting together in the first place. By removing Saddam Hussien ("our presence in that country") we have created a fertile ground for - wait for it - Islamic radicalism.
"And Islamic radicalism, like the ideology of communism, contains inherent contradictions that doom it to failure." Hey howdy hey campers, remember the commies? Well now we've got something worse. This time it's not about the workers controlling the means of production either. "America is making this stand in practical ways. We're encouraging our friends in the Middle East, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to take the path of reform, to strengthen their own societies in the fight against terror by respecting the rights and choices of their own people." Those "friends in the Middle East" supplied more than half of the hijackers on 9/11. Thank you, and may God bless America.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My But That's Strange

This is what is great about Yahoo news: You can find out about George Bush's new Supreme Court nominee, the pending spawn of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, and this:
"A 13-foot Burmese python recently burst after it apparently tried to swallow a live, six-foot alligator whole, authorities said."
There was a photograph, but the picture just couldn't touch the mental image I made with just that little bit of a story. It put me immediately in mind of any number of titanic struggles from my youth: Superman versus Spiderman, King Kong versus Godzilla, The Beatles versus The Monkees, Hot Wheels versus Johnny Lightning. It must have been an epic battle, leaving both predator and prey, alas in the past tense.
The article was disguised as biologists' concern for the introduction of non-native species into the Everglades, but it was really just a chance to feed our inner twelve-year-old. "Awesome!" I think sums up the reaction pretty nicely.
My mind races again to other juvenile grotesqueries: the exploding whale, the guy who managed to get a nail through his skull with a nail gun and LIVED! It's like getting the Weekly World News in Quicktime. Yahoo has a whole section for such things - called (those creative geniuses) "Odd News." Today there is also a link to a story about a Swedish hunter knocked unconscious by a goose that he had just shot. Another item details a fight between two six-year-olds over a pacifier. Oddly enough, the story wasn't about why any six year old boy would still be using a pacifier, but instead it recounted the police report that was created as a result of the altercation.
Pizzas that cost $138 (Canadian), Irish policemen that are selling their uniforms for theatrical costumes, and a woman who says that she owes her life to skipping her daily viewing of Oprah - right where the gigantic boulder crashed through the wall of her house! Why read the headlines anymore at all? This is where the real action is. See you in the funny papers - oddly enough.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Mystery Solved!

Monday morning when I arrived at school, I attended to my usual business: shifting piles of paper from one side of my desk to the other, turning on the computers, taking the bullhorn out in preparation for leading the morning affirmation (nothing says "affirmation" more than Mr. Megaphone). When I had finished puttering about my room and things felt as settled as I needed them to be for the day to begin, I took a few worksheets along with me to make some copies and went to the main building.
Once I had the copy machine humming on a batch of math tests, I took the opportunity to go across the hall for a brief nature stop. Before I washed my hands, I noticed that there was shaving cream and black beard residue in and around the sink. There was a disposable razor cover sitting on the ledge in front of the mirror. It was five after eight in the morning, and I was struck by this somewhat incongruous sight.
First, let me say that while the men's room at our school is generally well cared for, I must point out that because there are only four male employees on our staff. Even our daytime custodian is a woman. So I stood there and started to have paranoid wonderings about how the remains of somebody's weekend beard ended up in the sink at an elementary school. Could it have been somebody sneaking in before we had all arrived in the morning, under the radar of our custodian? Maybe somebody without a bathroom at home to perform their daily ablutions? Would I have encountered them if I had decided to make my copies earlier rather than later? Would there have been some kind of confrontation?
I pondered all this potential drama as I went back and picked up my copies. Just to make sure, I asked our administrative assistant if he had been trimming his sideburns before school that morning. He looked at me incredulously and laughed. I assured him that I wasn't going to be cleaning up the mess myself anytime soon if he doubted my story, and he reassured me that I wasn't crazy because he had the same experience the week before. We both began wondering aloud who might be coming into a public school rest room for grooming purposes. Then my principal overheard our conversation and started to make a plan to secure the men's room and change the locks if necessary. We hadn't been locking the door, but that would all have to change. We were all prepared to send the work order to the district office when our reading specialist came in - practically the only male I hadn't accosted with this concern. We asked him if he had seen anyone using the bathroom in the mornings, since his office is just across the hall. He said he wasn't sure, but he knew that some parents used the adult facilities when they came to drop off or pick up their children.
Then I asked him, more or less directly, "You didn't shave in the men's room this morning, did you?"
"You know, I was running late and the traffic was murder and..."
I asked him if he would be so kind as to clean up after himself. There was no bank robber shaving off his moustache to escape detection. There was no homeless person getting a quick shave before he went to his life-changing job interview. It was just a little soapy inconsideration.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Eight Days A Week

"Time keeps flowing like a river to the sea."
-Alan Parsons
It certainly makes human beings happy to think about time as a constant. I thought of this today as I dragged through the end of the day and grumbled like somebody who "had a case of the Mondays." It gave me some mild hope to imagine that as days pass that they will somehow become qualitatively better. Tuesday will be better because it's closer to Friday. Wednesday is hump-day (as in "over the hump"). Then the eager anticipation of Thursday comes with the elusive abandon of Friday. Anecdotally, my wife tends to wake up Friday mornings as I am heading toward the door and shout at me "Hey, it's Friday!" Well, I suppose that's true, but it's also Friday morning before work has begun and I guess we all know how quick things can go south on any day of the week, EVEN Friday.
"Workin' for the weekend"
When Saturday arrives, I am constantly amazed that there was once a time that I was able to sleep past eight in the morning. I suppose it helped that staying up past two in the morning while using and abusing various chemicals made it more important for my body to recuperate, but I can remember in my early teens being able to linger in bed until past noon. Not anymore - too much to do, too little time - just like the White Rabbit.
Still, what if we've got it all wrong? What if we're just living out this period of time as a series of connected events and our brains just loves to make connections that establish order. Beginning, middle, end. If we let that go, then Monday is just the name of some time that happens occasionally and we don't need to assign a feeling to it, just because it's first. Even if you don't buy all this relativity nonsense, what about the absurdity of the five-day work week? The weekend is made for Michelob, and yard work, and taking a trip to that little bed and breakfast because if you went during the week it would be wrong and bad and productivity would suffer and the gross national product is depending on you so you'd better by golly be on time Monday morning or else.
I'm going to start my week on Wednesday from now on. That way, when somebody comes dragging in I'll make a point of saying, "Looks like somebody's got a case of the Wednesdays."

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Pedal Power

The US Chamber of Commerce says more bicycles have been sold than cars over the past 12 months. Now there's some good news. People are voting with their feet, pedals and dollars. "Bicycle sales are near an all-time high with 19 million sold last year -- close to the 20 million sold during the oil embargo in the early 1970s," said Blumenthal, whose association is based in Boulder in the western state of Colorado. It gives me a vicarious sense of pride to know that, though it took gas prices topping two then three dollars a gallon, people in America are starting to wake up to something that is known throughout the rest of the world. Bicycles aren't in the research phase - we can have alternative transportation today.
The kids at my school always want to know where my car is. "Why don't you have a car, Mr. Caven?" I tell them that I do have a car, and I use it when I need to carry something bigger than I can strap on the back of my bike. I start to tell them about how I don't have to pay for gas, or insurance, and their eyes start to glaze over. I tell them that I'm not polluting. "Yeah, but don't you want a car?" they ask. I'm getting exercise too - but it's too late, they're off to get in their PS2 time.
In 1979, Neal Israel got together with Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman from Firesign Theater to make a movie about America's near future. The United States government is virtually bankrupt and in danger of being foreclosed on by a group of Native Americans, now owners of the massive Nike Corporation. A desperate President (Chet Roosevelt, played by John Ritter) decides to make a last-ditch effort to save the country by raising money with a telethon. The overly unctuous host of the telethon presides over such performances as Meat Loaf battling a raging car, and Jay Leno boxing his mother. People don't drive their cars anymore, they just live in them. Those who have jobs jog or ride their bikes to work. Elvis Costello even shows up for a song.
That was funny back in 1979. Now it seems like thinly veiled irony as Native American casinos continue to spring up across the country and Jay Leno continues to pander nightly to the lowest common denominator. It's not exactly science fiction anymore. We have become all-too efficient at organizing telethons to raise money for disaster relief.
Still, I will always have a fond memory of the Valentine's Day some years back when my wife presented me with my new bicycle. She said, "We may never own a new car, but we can own a new bike."

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Snooze Alarm

I woke up with a start this morning. I pushed myself up to look at the clock: one-thirty in the morning. I had been asleep for less than an hour, and suddenly I was awake again. As my mind struggled to find its waking balance, I noticed that the radio was still on. I have been listening to the radio as I go to sleep lately, and the timer runs for ninety minutes, so this all made sense. Then I identified the song that was playing - it was Dire Straits' "Romeo and Juliet." A song from my past.
I am a firm believer in the notion of private soundtracks. Laurie Anderson has suggested that our lives are like films with really bad editors. We don't know when to cut the boring parts out. The same can be said for the music that follows us around the planet. I have long held the belief that there are radio elves in charge of inserting just the right song at just the right moments. The advent of mp3 players have allowed us all to program the music that accompanies us on our wandering paths through life. I like that about my Archos Jukebox with its kerjillion song memory - all of which I know and love. Still there's nothing better than the serendipitous appearance of just the right song at just the right moment.
"Romeo and Juliet" is a song that will always take me back to the last breaths of my first big romance. We remained friends, and I carried a torch for her all the way to her wedding. I went primarily to show what a classy guy I could be. I drank a lot. I didn't make a scene (rare for me, actually). When they piled me into the back seat to take me back to the apartment where we were staying, I heard "that song."
"Juliet when we made love you used to cry
you said I love you like the stars above Ill love you till I die
there's a place for us you know the movie song
when you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong?"
I cried that night. Then I started to grow up. Just a little at first, then a lot. When I woke up last night I felt my heart ache for an instant, and then it was gone. I got up and went to the bathroom. When I came back and lay down on the bed next to my wife, the radio had turned itself off. I fell back to sleep.