Friday, March 31, 2006

Super Powers

Superman sits in front of a bank of video screens in his Fortress of Solitude. On one monitor, he sees a talking head telling the world "Iran successfully test-fired a missile that can avoid radar and hit several targets simultaneously using multiple warheads. A weapons expert at Jane's Information Group, said the missile test was 'a step on the road to have the capability of having a nuclear arsenal.'"
On the screen just to the left Supes sees footage of three strong earthquakes and several aftershocks that reduced villages to rubble in western Iran early Friday, killing at least 66 people and injuring about 1,200 others. His impulse is to leap from his naugahyde command center seat and relieve the suffering of the victims of this disaster.
Why does he hesitate? Could it be the conscience of the super-hero has experienced a momentary vapor lock? Another hero of the atomic age, Albert Einstein once suggested," You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." Would The Man In Red and Blue make a deal with Tehran to aid the multitudes if he could return to hurl their weapons stockpile off into the sun? Hasn't he earned self-righteousness?

"Sometimes when Supe was stopping crimes
I'll bet that he was tempted to just quit and turn his back
On man, join Tarzan in the forest
But he stayed in the city, and kept on changing clothes
In dirty old phonebooths till his work was through
And nothing to do but go on home"
- Crash Test Dummies, "Superman's Song"

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Social Committee

I'm having some cold pizza, and it's just past nine o'clock in the evening. Tomorrow is not a school day around here, so the staff at my school determined this the perfect evening to head out for a little Happy Hour. I spent the first part of the year feeling squeamish about heading out to a bar with my co-workers and having to go through all the "What can I get you, Dave? What do you mean you don't drink?" jazz. In the intervening months I have softened my opinions and made it to a few of the gatherings. As it turns out, we all get along famously, and the chance to decompress after a week of working in an urban elementary school is a welcome relief.
But you knew that already. The thing that occurred fast on the heels of the sighs of letting another week go was the memory of work gatherings from my past. I remember exactly how fierce the partying was with the Arby's crowd. It wasn't a strictly keg crowd. There was a lot of shots and a lot of pot being passed around. That's where I saw some of my first cocaine. I was still a few years away from trying any, but I started to understand its allure. It was also during this time that I became convinced of just how terrifying workplace romances could be. Like my observation of cocaine, I witnessed the devastating effects of this highly volatile substance. Babs and Rat were an item, but I don't think that Rat really loved Babs the way that she loved him. I know that the idea of spending "quality time" with your significant other can hardly be done in the confines of a fast-food restaurant, but these two seemed willing to try and make it work. And on the weekends, they would let it all hang out in late-night festivals of intoxication, and we were all invited along to watch. It was very seldom that it ended pretty.
When I worked at Target, I would periodically have the night crew from the dock over to the house after we had finished unloading and sorting the contents of a forty-eight foot trailer. I was never that close with any of them except for my roommate, but it always felt good to have someplace to go and have a few cold ones after work. It seemed quintessentially American.
When I worked at the video store, I often closed the place myself, so it never had the same quality. The communal feeling of getting hammered with one's co-workers paled next to the feeling of getting hammered with - well - just about anybody. By the time I had retired from substance and moved to California, I found it difficult to be in room full of people I had to see every day in various states of inebriation. The real test were the parties held in Berkeley by the employee-owners of the book warehouse I used to manage. A lot of these folks had been partying since the Grateful Dead started playing "Dark Star." They put a solid fear in me and I didn't look back.
Until tonight. What was I afraid of? Watching other people have a good time? Having a good time myself? Being tempted to drop off the wagon? Most of these don't seem to hold much water (or beer or tequila) these days. I'm pretty settled in my ways, and very comfortable with the way things have worked out. I do want to belong. I want to have that Friday afternoon feeling once again. Now I can do it without the Saturday morning reminder or the prayer to the porcelain god. Welcome to the weekend.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fear Cycle

I sat in the back row of the school board room with my principal as we listened to the presenter reiterate all the salient power points of her presentation. We were there to be trained for disaster. What would you do if there was an eight point five earthquake while you were at school? Did you know that, according to California Government Code Section 3100, "all public employees are hereby declared to be disaster service workers subject to such disaster service
activities as may be assigned to them by their superiors or by law." Oh joy. We thought about how fun it would be to spend up to seventy-two hours with the kids as our school collapses around us.
There was one slide in the presentation that evoked a very visceral reaction in me: "What are our vulnerabilities?" There were pictures of fires, winter storms, and a map of all the fault lines that criss-cross the bay area. Those didn't make me nervous. I have a pretty solid acceptance of the random acts of nature. The photo that set me on edge was a still frame from the video camera in the cafeteria of Columbine High School that bore the heading "Domestic Terrorism." I felt my stomach turn as I remembered that day, seven years ago.
I've been a teacher for nine years, and I have always joked that I feel safe from being shot working in an elementary school. "If they miss with the first few shots, they don't have the manual dexterity at that age to reload, so I think I'll be okay," goes my standard line. Truth is, I was told a month or so ago that a kid in my class had brought a gun to school. Knowing the kid, it made some angry sense, given his general disposition. I didn't panic, but I could feel every pore working and every muscle twitching as I hurried to get the rest of the students out of the room so I could find out what was really going on. It turned out to be a toy gun, made of plastic, not even very realistic. But for a moment, I had all the sensations of a disaster service worker. "What if?"
I can plan for a power outage. I can organize search and rescue. I can manage crowds of people. I'm not sure I'm ready for confronting disturbed youth with loaded weapons. I guess I'll have to study up on that.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

For What It's Worth

"There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware" - Stephen Stills, "For What It's Worth"

There was a strike in France today. Well, actually there was a whole lot of strikes in France today to protest a youth labor law. That law would allow employers to fire workers aged under 26 in their first two years of employment. Riot police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse several thousand youths who pelted them with stones and bottles after an otherwise peaceful march. More than 240 people were arrested.
Back here in the United States, tens of thousands of students walked out of school in California and other states Monday, waving flags and chanting slogans in a second week of protests against legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants. A few schools chose to bar their doors to prevent walkouts. Officials at Huntington Park High School locked the gates after classes started, but the students climbed over a chain-link fence and joined marchers in their heavily immigrant community. Students threw bottles and rocks in Riverside, and more than a dozen arrests were made in Escondito in San Diego County.
I have a dim memory of the pictures coming out of Chicago in 1968, and the chant those protesters shouted to the television cameras: "The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!" In May, 1972 anti-Vietnam War protesters closed the University Hill area with a sit-in. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg calmed down the demonstration. I remember sitting on the roof of my house in Boulder and looking up the hill at the University of Colorado as it burned. On the campus there stands Norlin library, and above the west entrance of the building there is an inscription that reads, "Who Knows Only His Own Generation Remains Always a Child." "Youth is wasted on the young," wrote George Bernard Shaw. Somewhere in this mix is the wisdom that would make all this tumult into reason. I don't know what Allen Ginsberg would say, but I've seen the best minds of my generation distracted and confused by a world that has become more dangerous and more distant.

"There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down" - Stephen Stills, "For What It's Worth"

Monday, March 27, 2006

Uneasy Rider

It's an image that comes to mind with some regularity: I'm sitting at the light at Folsom and Iris, when I look across and see an old guy pedaling in my direction. His bike has a basket on the front and side-view mirrors that he is ignoring as he blows on through the red light. This is my Uncle Duane. Or was, at any rate.
In the later years of his life, he was prone to paranoid fits of delusion that featured young girls hopping out in front of him while he was taking one of his lengthy bike rides. I give him credit, even though he was delusional, he sure got around on that old one-speed cruiser. The young girls were a figment of his imagination, dreamed up to explain his periodic lapse of concentration on the road and subsequent tumbles into various ditches and shrubbery around suburban Boulder.
Uncle Duane, or "Way-Wee" as we used to call him, was not always a basket case. He was always bitter and disillusioned, but not always completely nuts. He was the first person I was aware of speaking to me as a child - specifically he called cheese "cheeb," and was happy to have us refer to him as "Way-Wee" when we were well into junior high. By the time I was in college, the only contact I had with Way-Wee was the occasional sightings on the streets of Boulder.
I have other memories of the man. Like the time he got real drunk at a family reunion and proceeded to pick a fight with my dad (his brother-in-law). He was jealous of all the things my father was and had, and thought he deserved the same. My dad listened to him for a good long while, and then he went inside while Way-Wee went on ranting. I also remember the amazing tatoos Duane had on both of his forearms, the product of a youth spent in the navy. I watched them wiggle and flex as he pulled a knife through a slab of cheddar and asked me if I wanted some cheeb.
I'm trying to get all my bike riding out of my system before my son is old enough to spot me from across the intersection. I just hope I can avoid those flirtatious young women who are seeking to distract me from my appointed rounds.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Free Agent Condi Rice

Paul Tagliabue is retiring as commissioner of the National Football League. He first became associated with the NFL when he was hired by Covington & Burling, a Washington D. C. law firm, the NFL's principal outside counsel at the time. He represented the NFL in the anti-trust lawsuit brought by the USFL (you remember them - Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie, Mike Rozier, Reggie White, Jim Kelly, Steve Young and upstart billionaire owner of the New Jersey Generals, Donald Trump). The NFL lost the case, but instead of getting $1.6 billion dollars, they were only awarded three (dollars). Pretty fancy lawyerin' there, Paul. This apparently greased the slide for him when Pete Rozelle stepped down in 1989.
I mention all this in anticipation of the discussion of Condoleezza Rice's suggestion that she might be interested in the job. First and foremost let me say that I have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about having a woman in charge of the National Football League. She's got a family history with the Denver area, which I can only assume translates abruptly to some happy affiliations with the Broncos, and she has certainly shown herself to be a most capable in academic areas as well as being an accomplished pianist.
It should also be noted that Ms. Rice is an accomplished tap dancer: "I think it's entirely probable that we will see a significant drawdown of American forces over the next year. ... It's all dependent on events on the ground." These were her words this weekend when asked about troop reductions in Iraq. Rice said people should look at the positive direction of events in the Middle East rather than whether the region was more or less stable than when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.
"More stable?" Meaning is the United States more universally reviled presently than we were three years ago? Meaning has the number of car bombs increased from a weekly total to one that needs to be counted on a daily basis. Those are numbers, and we all know how slippery they can be. Here's my point: If this administration's future lies in the business of spectator sports, more power to them. Instituting a four-point play for drop kicks seems like a safe policy decision for these folks to make. That sounds a whole lot safer bet than creating a democracy out of a civil war in the Middle East. Still, considering her boss' history with organized sports, she could do a lot worse.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Act Naturally

I remember when my grandmother, Esther (the Great Stoneface from Kansas) came over to baby-sit, my little brother and I would cringe. It wasn't that she had a singular lack of any sense of humor. It wasn't that we were certain to be fed TV dinners - that actually turned out to be a plus for us. It was because we were almost certain to get a full dose of Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers. Even the brownie from a Swanson's Meat Loaf dinner didn't go down right with that on.
What could we do? For a few years we endured. Then we realized that there was a certain amount of wiggle room in grandma. It wasn't much, but we realized that we could get her to watch "Hee-Haw" as a substitute for the King of the Accordion. It was like a country-fried "Laugh-In." Would we have chosen "Hee-Haw" out of a string of six hundred digital cable alternatives, but this was the 1970's in Colorado. We had five choices: 2, 4, 6, 7, and 9. At that hour, our best bet was rural humor and country sounds of hosts Roy Clark and Buck Owens.
We had a favorite bit, my brother and I: "Where Oh Where Are You Tonight?", the nonsense duet with the chorus, "Where, oh where, are you tonight?/Why did you leave me here all alone?/I searched the world over, and thought I'd found true love;/You met another, and--pffft! you were gone!" The "pffft" would be done as a spitting "Bronx cheer."
I was never really fond of Roy Clark. It might have been that he had the look of Ron Howard's mutant brother Clint, or more likely it was the 70's and anybody playing banjo might end up killing you and your buddies on a canoe trip. Buck Owens was a much more sensible alternative. He wasn't nearly as goofy, and man could he play.
Buck left "Hee-Haw" in 1986, while Roy kept the good times rolling for another six years. Buck settled into his home base of Bakersfield, where he maintained a media empire that included his own TV station, a pair of radio stations, and Buck Owens' Crystal Palace ("We played rhumbas and tangos and sambas, and we played Bob Wills music, lots of Bob Wills music," he said, referring to the bandleader who was the king of Western swing. "And lots of rock 'n' roll.")
Buck has gone to the Crystal Palace in the sky, but I'll always be indebted to him for those Saturday nights with grandma. "Where, oh where, are you tonight?/Why did you leave me here all alone?/I searched the world over, and thought I'd found true love;/You met another, and--pffft! you were gone!"

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Rash of Good Luck

That's what you get when you cross poison ivy with a four-leaf clover: a rash of good luck.
Over the past year I have watched my son struggle with the vagaries of winning prizes. Sometimes it's about how many times you can enter to win. Other times it's about how many tubs of frozen cookie dough that have to be sold to get past the "battery-operated fan level. The most confounding element is still that of chance - the idea that dozens or hundreds or thousands of other kids have the same hope of taking home the big prize. It's hard to watch when he looks at the numbers on his ticket and realizes that they don't match the ones that were just announced.
It's not that he doesn't understand the math. He gets the numbers part just fine, but when it's time to pick that winning ticket, he just can't imagine why the fickle finger of fate doesn't end up pointing at him. Maybe I'm to blame. I don't play the lottery, since the dollar for a ticket seems like an expensive way to find out that behind all those little wax numbers that you scratch off with a quarter (now we're up to a dollar and a quarter, since who wants to use a soiled quarter ever again?). I know that there are plenty of people who win buckets of money for the rest of their lives by purchasing just one ticket. I know that there are people who buy a ticket once a week "just for fun." I wonder what sort of lives these people lead, if this constitutes "fun."
Last week was a good one for our family. My son won coupons for three free ice cream bars at his school's talent show, and I won a Barnes and Noble gift certificate at my school's family reading night. I wonder if the Lotto machine is still broken at the Safeway up the street...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Schrödinger's Cat

It was probably the part where I was asked to sit in the "hot seat." That's what they called it. I'm not making it up. She asked me to sit "in the hot seat."
Perhaps I should back up. This morning I had an additional twelve adults in my classroom. This was a boon to me as a teacher because it was as quiet and attentive as I have ever seen my students. They were stunned into reasonable behavior by the simple shift in power. Suddenly, they didn't outnumber me twenty-three to one. The odds had shifted in my favor - one of the grown-ups even had a PhD. But they weren't there to see me, really. They were there to watch our reading program unfold in all its natural glory. My kids raised their hands. They read aloud when they were called on. They did their best.
A momentary aside: The Observer Effect. The most famous example is the thought experiment Schrödinger's cat, in which the cat is neither alive nor dead until observed until that time, the cat is both alive and dead. In our experiment, my students are well-behaved and attentive as long as long as the dozen pairs of eyes continue to peer steadily at them from the back of the room.
After my observation (or "inspection" as the kids referred to it), I was granted an audience with the author of the program - the aforementioned PhD. That's where we began. When I came in to the room the tables made a ring around the room, and the administrative types had recently finished their lunch. The chair I was offered was set aside from the others, between the tables at the front of the room: The Hot Seat. I tried humor. Not much room for laughs in this crowd. I was presented with a box of chocolates as a token of appreciation for having visitors in my room. Then I was asked if I had any burning questions for the author of the program. I thought about asking why we needed to stage events such as these to prove the effectiveness of the program when, in spite of our staff's best efforts, so many of our kids were failing. I thought about asking why there wasn't more opportunity for whole language in our classrooms. I thought about a lot of things that I could have asked, but I decided to play it down the middle and listen politely as the virtues of the phonics-based curriculum were extolled - by the author of the program.
Then my time in the hot seat was over. I went back to my classroom and went back to teaching. Without anyone watching.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


What exactly is an "insurgent" anyway? Our good friends over at will tell you that it is "Rising in revolt against established authority, especially a government." The entry goes on: "a person who takes part in an armed rebellion against the constituted authority (especially in the hope of improving conditions) [syn: insurrectionist, freedom fighter, rebel]."
Hold on there. Did they say"rebel?" Did they say "freedom fighter?" Wasn't that Paul Revere? Wasn't that George Washington? Wasn't that Luke Skywalker? I'm afraid that the war of words continues to be lost on the vaguely literate. At least we've stopped referring to people fighting in their own country as "terrorists."
Near the end of the page, the wordsmiths at Dictionary. com add this to the mix: "a member of an irregular armed force that fights a stronger force by sabotage and harassment [syn: guerrilla, guerilla, irregular]." This reminds me of a particularly amusing bit by Bill Cosby did (on his album "Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow - Right!") about having a coin toss before a war begins. Since we won the coin toss in the Revolutionary War, we got to pick the rules: “We say that our team gets to wear buckskin jackets and coonskin caps, and shoot from behind the rocks and trees and fences. We say that your team must wear bright red, and march in a straight line.” Sounds like insurgents to me. And who are the guys marching in a straight line?
Once again, sleep tight, America.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wrestling with Smoking

Bear wrestling is banned in 20 states, but not in Ohio.
The city of Calabasas, California, voted unanimously night to ban smoking in all outdoor places, including sidewalks and streets, except for small outdoor "smoker outposts."
How are these two items related? They seem to be health related, but perhaps the similarities go deeper than that. Just what sort of legislative body gives up its time to consider such weighty notions?
To view Missouri's Bear Wrestling Proposition is to witness the arcane in action. It is illegal, in the "Show Me State," to "surgically alter a bear for bear wrestling." We pause briefly for the horrible mental images that erupt at that phrase to subside.
We resume: The "smoker outposts" in Calabasas would be established by businesses in areas like parking lots. Smokers can also smoke when no one else is around or expected. "What? You're smoking? Didn't you expect me?" One suspects that there will be absolutely no smoking allowed anywhere near the annual Method Film Festival that will be held there over the next week. Opportunities to smoke will probably come the following week when the Impromptu Film Festival rolls into town.
So, the obvious question would seem to be "Can I smoke after wrestling a bear in Ohio?" Not in Columbus, where at least one bar owner in Columbus added heat lamps to the area behind his business so smokers can stay warm. Churches are adding smoke breaks between bingo games.
Lance Palmer, a 140-pound high school wrestler and four-time state champ, wrestles Caesar, a six hundred and fifty pound black bear. Neither of these creatures smoke, nor does either one of them wear a muzzle while wrestling. "It helps the bear out to not have to keep his mouth closed the whole time," Palmer said. "It's kind of unfair to the bear to keep him muzzled. We want it to be fun. We don't want it to be a sport. That's why the animal activists don't know what they are taking about when they come out here and try and go against what we do."
Will there be Bear Wrestling at the Method Film Festival? Show up on opening night, March 31 to find out!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Looking Past The Bloodshed

I'm here to tell you folks, the emperor has no clothes, and what's more - he seems to have precious little connection to the real world anymore. He said he could "understand people being disheartened" but appealed to Americans to look beyond the bloodshed and see signs of progress.
Progress: noun -
1. Movement, as toward a goal; advance.
2. Development or growth: students who show progress.
3. Steady improvement, as of a society or civilization: a believer in human progress.
4. A ceremonial journey made by a sovereign through his or her realm.
The movement toward a goal: Not so much. If the goal was to incite and inflict civil war in a region that is noted for its instability, then maybe I've got this one wrong.
Development or growth? A burgeoning hatred of all things American across the globe? Well then maybe I've been too quick to judge here.
Steady improvement would imply improvement in the first place. If returning electricity and water to areas that had water and electricity prior to our disruption of same is improvement, then yes, we're making some in-roads.
Now, this last one - about a ceremonial journey made by a sovereign - that seems to be the most likely parallel here. My mind culls all the sundry photo-ops for His Royal Pinheadedness and his minions, and I can't help but think that for this sovereign, "Mission Accomplished."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Three Years

Protesters around the globe marked the third anniversary of our war against Iraq. In San Francisco, an estimated ten thousand people showed up to express their outrage at our continued involvement in a conflict begun (by the administration's own admission) based on faulty intelligence. In London fifteen thousand protestors showed up, down from last year's anniversary demonstration total of forty-five thousand to Trafalgar Square.
As long as we're counting, there have been 2,519 coalition deaths, 2,314 Americans, one Australian, 103 Britons, 13 Bulgarians, two Danes, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Hungarian, 26 Italians, one Kazakh, one Latvian, 17 Poles, two Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 18 Ukrainians in the war in Iraq as of March 17, 2006, according to a CNN count. I suppose it is telling that the number of protestors still outnumber the casualties, but as the number of protestors dwindle, the number of casualties continues to rise. Meanwhile the Iraqi civilian body count (“We don’t do body counts”General Tommy Franks, US Central Command) stands somewhere betwethirtyity-three and thirty-seven thousand - these would be men, women and children.
By contrast, in Operation Enduring Freedom there have been 346 coalition deaths - 278 Americans, one Australian, five Britons, 10 Canadians, three Danes, four French, 18 Germans, three Italians, one Norwegian, one Portuguese, three Romanians, 17 Spaniards and two Swedes - in the war on terror as of March 17, 2006, according to CNN. This would be our conflict of righteous indignation. The United States is in Afghanistan to catch the bad guys who are responsible for the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. At last count, we had rounded up a number of the henchmen, but the biggest names continue to elude us.
Pinhead in Chief G.W.B. (feel free to make up your own acronym) marked the anniversary by declaring that "We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq." He referred to the day as "the third anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Iraq," without once using the word "war." Secretary of Defense (not War) Donald Rumsfeld wrote in a guest column in Sunday's editions of The Washington Post that turning away from Iraq would be "the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."
Happy Anniversary, boys. I hope you can sleep at night.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


It was suggested that my son might be my "shadow MC" last night at the annual Dads' Club Variety show. My wife has since revised that sentiment to say that I was "overshadowed" by my son as MC last night. An intimidating thought, and one not completely without merit.
A week or so ago when he came to me and said that he might like to "go onstage and tell some jokes with you," I imagined that he might come along to the dress rehearsal hand hang around with dad while I warmed up the acts and started working out my opening remarks. I thought he would probably realize just how much time the Master of Ceremonies spends in the spotlight, and start to reconsider his plan. My son is a very clever kid, but has not always been prone to fits of exhibitionism. For the past three years when it was suggested that he get an act together with his friends, he has played the "shy" card. This year at the auditions, he seemed on the verge of working up an act with an older kid (a sixth grader) who might accompany him on guitar while he played Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" on the piano. He got "a little nervous" and bailed on the audition. No big deal, he's not quite nine. There will be more chances for showing off his considerable talents.
Who would have thought that time would be last night? He was there, with a list of jokes he created and consulted on with his mother. He wore a great big jacket, and made every cue. He didn't chew gum on stage. He got big laughs. He won three free ice cream bars in the raffle. He made me look good. He made me extraordinarily proud.
Next year I hope he does play "Smoke on the Water" with his buddy. If he tries out for the MC, I might be out of a gig.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Final Four

The discussion was this: "Do we leave at six thirty, or do we need to be here at six thirty?"
"Be here at six thirty."
Twenty-six years ago, that was the conversation I had, or tried to have, with my high school band director. We had just returned from a morning of marching in Denver's Saint Patrick's Day parade, and I was trying to establish when we needed to return to the band room to make our return trip to Denver to play for the state championship basketball game. Looking back, maybe the right thing would have been to spend the five or six hours between gigs hanging out at the nearby Red Barn so I wouldn't possibly be late.
A little more background: In my senior year of high school I had ascended to the peak of geekdom. I was the president of Boulder High's Pep Band. This was an offshoot of the paramilitary group that was the marching band. Being in Pep Band was voluntary, and was not nearly so reviled by the rest of the student body. It may be that we didn't play hokey show tunes - we did "Smoke on the Water" and "Shaft." It may be that we didn't have a set uniform and showed up dressed as anything from superheros to a funeral party. But the most likely reason for our popularity was that whenever we played at a basketball game, the team won.
Okay - the team had won the state championship the year before as well, but the Pep Band was there too.
Of the two gigs that Saturday, the one that was most important to me was not the parade. Walking in a straight line for three miles playing the same song countless times was nothing compared with the excitement of being part of the crowd - leading the crowd to cheer on our defending state championship team. On more salient point: I was not then, nor am I now, ever late for anything.
I drove up to the high school that night at six twenty-five. I had three of my bandmates with me and we all watched the bus carrying the rest of the band and the cheerleaders pulling away from the school. We did what any outraged group of teenagers would do: we stared at the bus, slack-jawed, then ran across the street and pounded on the school doors to absolutely no avail. Even though we were wearing our costumes, our music and instruments were locked up inside.
We decided to drive down anyway, fuming all the way. How could they have left us behind? Conspiracy theories abound, but when we finally arrived at the arena, we talked our way in by explaining that we were, in fact, "with the band."
The game went on. The band played. We sat two sections away. Boulder High lost the game in dramatic, heartbreaking fashion. We drove home and tried to console ourselves with the notion that the loss had not come on our watch. The next Monday it was decided that a leadership change was needed for the Pep Band. This was not my idea. There was no process. There was no discussion. I was done.
I don't spend a lot of time on this moment in my life, but it was definitely a corker. And every year when basketball winds up around the country, I feel a little sting, and I check my watch.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

I Am...I Said

Googling yourself seems a little self-centered, but it is a way to keep an eye out for impostors, evil twins and doppelgängers. I find my own life mirrored in interesting ways. I could be taking graduate courses in physics at Penn State. I could be taking part in a state economics challenge in Minnesota. I show up as a minor characer in somebody else's blog (apparently still with this renowned background in physics).
There are even some links to things I have actually done, but have forgotten. The thing is, it seems that I've had qutie a satisfacotry virtual life. There is one that continues to plague me, and it's been out there tainting the cyber-existence of all David Cavens everywhere for three years now. Apparently some David Caven killed a peacock down in Florida. From The New Times article: "It was June 2, and Barcia had just learned from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department that a neighbor in the complex had turned himself in for the murder of (Robert) Barcia's beloved peacock, Big Bird." The fallout? "I'm very glad the son of a bitch was arrested," Barcia says. "That bird was one big pain in the ass to everybody, but that bird was pretty, that bird was gorgeous, and if you love animals or you love nature, I don't see how you could do something like that."
I don't see how David Caven could do such a thing - especially with all the good work I've done with the Musselburgh Congregational Church.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The More You Drive, The Less Intelligent You Are

Do you like to drive? I don't. That wasn't always the case. Back when I first got my driver's license I was happy to drive just about anywhere. One notable exception to this preference was the week that I had earned my learner's permit. My family was taking off on a station wagon road trip to Las Vegas, and my father thought it would be a good time to give his kid a shot behind the wheel. On Wolf Creek Pass. Just before the first thaw. Thanks for the confidence builder, dad! It was a white-knuckle experience for all who rode in the family car, with my older brother's supportive cry from the back seat: "They let you drive a little closer to yellow line, ya know." It was true that I was hugging the shoulder as fearless semi-tractor trailers surged past me on the left, but I hoped to be closer to the side of the road for the moment that I was told to pull over and let somebody drive who knew what they were doing. That wasn't me. Not that day, anyway.
As I grew into my driving skills and a series of affordable used cars, I felt the periodic thrills of speed and the roar of internal combustion engines. I changed spark plugs and oil, but was routinely mystified with most of the rest of the inner workings of my motor car (as Mister Toad might say). More than anything else, driving in my car meant complete control of the stereo system. I needed something that could carry around my graphic equalizer (all the switches went up to eleven) and my Jensen triaxials - all the better to crank "Renegade" by Styx.
The loud music these days comes from the home stereo, and now that I've moved to California, though I've been here for more than a decade, the geography continues to puzzle me. I get around all right, but I don't have the same confidence I had back in my hometown. I ride my bike to school, and the kids always want to know if Mister Caven has a car. We have a family car. My wife drives it more than I do. A lot more. Still, every so often we'll head out on a road trip, and I'll settle in behind the wheel, now that I know what I'm doing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What Would Eric Cartman Do?

Don't look now, but the new test for your religious tolerance is Scientology-bashing. From their web-site: The word Scientology literally means "the study of truth." It comes from the Latin word "scio" meaning "knowing in the fullest sense of the word" and the Greek word "logos" meaning "study of." What could possibly be wrong with that?
Maybe you've heard about how folks in Hollywood like to get together and do Scientology together and jump around on couches while berating Matt Lauer. That would be the Tom Cruise arm of the church. Maybe you've heard about how it uncovers what a truly bad mother Brooke Shields is and how she's hooked on drugs. That turns out to be Tom's parish as well. Maybe Tom is really the all-being, master of time space and dimension. How could that be when we already know that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is really the master of the Universe?
Some central beliefs of Scientology:
A person is an immortal spiritual being (termed a thetan) who possesses a mind and a body.
The thetan has lived through many past lives and will continue to live beyond the death of the body.
A person is basically good, but becomes "aberrated" by moments of pain and unconsciousness in his life.
What is true for you is what you have observed yourself. No beliefs should be forced as "true" on anyone. Thus, the tenets of Scientology are expected to be tested and seen to either be true, or not, by Scientology practitioners.
Does it sound any nuttier than a guy who could turn water into wine, or a light in the sky, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster? Okay, how about the story of Xenu, the galactic tyrant who first kidnapped certain individuals who were deemed "excess population" and loaded these individuals into space planes for transport to the site of extermination, the planet of Teegeeack (Earth). These space planes were said to have been copies of Douglas DC-8s, except with rocket engines. He then stacked hundreds of billions of these frozen victims around Earth's volcanoes 75 million years ago before blowing them up with hydrogen bombs and brainwashing them with a "three-D, super colossal motion picture" for 36 days, telling them lies of what they are and what the universe should be like and telling them that they are 3 different things: 'Jesus, God, and The Devil.' The traumatized thetans subsequently clustered around human bodies because they watched the motion picture together, making them think they are all the same thing, in effect acting as invisible spiritual parasites known as "body thetans" that can only be removed using advanced Scientology techniques. Xenu is allegedly imprisoned in a mountain by a force field powered by an eternal battery. He is said to be still alive today. Now we're verging on just a little silly, right?
Okay - I'm still trying to be more tolerant than the neighbors over in North Beach who are trying to ban the purchase of a building in San Francisco because merchants were concerned the church would aggressively peddle religious materials and disrupt the neighborhood's easy going ways. Apparently there is a limit to the free spirit of the city by the bay, and it ends with thetans.
Meanwhile, Isaac Hayes has left his job as the voice of Chef on "South Park" because he got tired of the way that show disrespected religion. A show that has featured a battle between Jesus and Santa Claus (almost a decade ago) would be considered blasphemous? Phone the kids and wake the neighbors (unless they live in North Beach). It should be noted that he reached number one in the UK in 1999 with an innuendo-laden South Park song entitled "Chocolate Salty Balls." How does he expect to get into heaven now? Or thrown into a volcano, or carried off in a Douglas DC-8?

Monday, March 13, 2006

God's Own Drunk

Back in the day, we used to refer to Saint Patrick's Day as "amateur's night." This was our way of suggesting that if you really needed an excuse to get "faced," then you weren't living right. I have generally subscribed to the ten stages of drunkenness posited by the poet James Buffett:
stage 1
Witty and charming:
Hey how you doin' there. Hey Hey.

stage 2:
Warm Family Man:
Of course I love my wife but she's in Phoenix.

stage 3:
God Damned Patriotic American:
I mean we don't need any nuclear weapons they're drinkin' themselves to death on vodka

stage 4:
Don't tell me anything I know what you're gonna say:

stage 5:
The turning point of most people of the evening: To Hell with dinner
There's nutrition in beer.

stage 6:
Witty and Charming Part 2:
Not a pretty sight.

number 7:
Break out the k-y jelly baby! Oh Baby!

number 8:
You can't see me 'cause I'm not even here.

number 9:

number 10:
God's own drunk and a fearless man:

My challenge was that I rarely saw stages one through five. I tended to start the evening at "Witty and Charming Part 2." A lot of folks ask me why I don't drink anymore, and I would say this is the main reason: It wasn't that I was no good at drinking - quite the contrary, I was exceptionally good at the drinking part. It was the "dealing with other human beings" part that tended to cheese things up a bit. As a result, I've got lots and lots of stories that start "We got really drunk one night and..." They all have various levels of danger and intrigue associated with them, but I am here to tell you that the fact that I was embarrassingly lucky on a number of occasions not to have ended up in jail or dead. This is the part where the bull narrowly misses the matador and the crowd howls its approval. That's the problem with messing with bulls - sooner or later you're going to get the horns. Ole!
Tonight I have been sober for seventeen years, and my wife and son are baking me a cake. If I needed another reason to stay clean, here it is: it's a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Death of a Grinch

"It could have been that his shoes were too tight,
It could be that his head wasn't screwed on just right,
But I think the most likely reason of all
Was that his heart was three sizes too small." - Dr. Seuss "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"
They're performing an autopsy on Slobodan Milosevic's remains Sunday amid claims by the former Yugoslav leader's supporters that he was poisoned and a statement by the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor raising the possibility he committed suicide. My own theory is that, unlike the Grinch whose heart was too small, Milosevic may not have had a heart at all. He was on trial for orchestrating a decade of conflict that killed 250,000 people.
In Serbia, hundreds of Milosevic followers lit candles in his memory of their fallen hero at Socialist Party branches. Flags flew at half-staff outside party headquarters in Belgrade. Contrastingly, chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said the trials of eight other suspects indicted for the massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 will help establish the record on Milosevic's involvement in the worst slaughter in Europe since World War II.
Was justice served if he was poisoned? If he committed suicide? He is dead, and the world is free of one more Yertle the Turtle.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Permanent Record

Today is a new day. I received a few nice comments on yesterday's blog, in which I mused on the toil of working with a captive audience. The sun is out and I feel better. Part of the reconciliation came from sitting down at the kitchen table and writing twenty-two report cards. I have no illusions about the comments I wrote and the checks, pluses and minuses in boxes affecting any child or parent in a profound way. I hope that I will connect with at least one. This student has made a conscious effort to change an attitude that was making learning difficult. The kid still has room to grow, but I am watching this person start to forming a world view. Pretty heady stuff for ten years old.
With this in mind, I sat down this morning to talk to my son. I said that this would be the first of a seemingly endless string of conversations that we would be having as long as I was around to bug him about things like this. He will be getting his own third grade report card this week. He's pretty certain that it will be all good news, and I don't have any reason to doubt it. He told me that one of the girls in his class had "two red cards, and it's going on her permanent record." I flinched a little and thought about the permanence of elementary school. I told him that if he kept getting good report cards, when he got older he cold have his choice of where he went to school, and later he could have his choice of jobs. "I think I might like to be a fourth grade teacher." I said I thought he could be a very good fourth grade teacher - and smiled a proud father's smile - then he finished, "Or maybe a fry cook."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Paranoiac Demands

This news item caught my eye the other day: "Former Teacher Surrenders at French School."
It struck me for the simple reason that we are inundated, sadly, with stories of students turning on their peers and bringing a gun to school to settle things. In the dark places where my mind wanders after a day like today, I have wondered why more teachers don't seek some kind of revenge or retribution. That kind of thing is relegated to "disgruntled postal employees." Maybe teachers, like George Lucas' Jedi, aren't the "revenge type."
Nicolas Vilpail apparently was. He took twenty-three hostages, mostly students, and held them for four hours. I usually hold my students against their will for five to ten minutes before I can no longer stand their mewling and panting. I suppose it could be argued that I hold them hostage for six and a half hours every day (minus recess and lunch - with the occasional trip to the bathroom or assembly). To hear some of them tell it, I might as well have them at gunpoint. One of two teacher's aides taken captive said Vilpail appeared "calm and terribly depressed." Listening to me through the door to my classroom might provide the same assessment of my demeanor on any given day.
The solution occurred to me obliquely today as I filled out a fourth health care referral (headache, stomach ache, twisted right ankle - or was it left?, bruised ego): Mister Caven needs to go to the nurse's office. He is "Emotionally Exhausted and Morally Bankrupt," a la Major Frank Burns. I promise to come back after I call home, an ice pack, and my spirit renewed.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What Happens In Baseball Stays In Baseball

I knew there was trouble when my son started walking around the house muttering, “I can’t believe Barry Bonds took steroids.” This is coming from a kid who has, to my knowledge, never seen Barry Bonds play an entire game of baseball. Like many of us, he is reacting to the firestorm of media that is present at the beginning of the season. It’s a pleasant enough diversion from the Dubai port deals and the flowering of democracy across the Middle East.
How can this possibly matter? If a consenting adult male chooses to inject himself with bovine growth supplement, why should I care? He’s breaking the rules, right? We should care about that. The rules say no steroids, so if he says he didn’t take steroids and he did, then he’s a liar and a cheat. If he didn’t, well a lot of very hard working journalists (who just happened to pick the opening of spring training to release their torrid account of Barry’s evolution from the spindly rookie who broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates to the two hundred thirty pound ball-crusher that stalks the National League today) are going to look awfully silly.
Still – we’re at war, right? Aren’t we supposed to be concerned with weightier matters just now? State governments across the country are limiting access to abortion and outlawing gay marriage. Barry Bonds chose to inject himself with a banned substance. Lance Armstrong dined on human stem cells before each and every stage of the Tour de France. George Clooney uses a special cream made from the fat of baby yaks to give his eyes that special crinkly look. Or not. Barry Bonds may have the world’s best training regimen, and he may just be the genetic mutant that has been created after years of pain-staking research but without ingesting a single anabolic steroid.
Or not. In the meantime, let’s get back to the lies that matter, shall we?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Let's Go Fly A Kite!

Don't get any crazy notions in your head about carrying a concealed weapon or making napalm in your basement if you live in Pakistan. That kind of stuff can get you into real hot water. This would also be the case for flying a kite. A provincial minister warned kite-flyers this week that any who cause injury or death with string made from metal or coated with glass could be tried under anti-terrorism laws.
Ouch. I suppose I can understand why anybody who caused injury or death with any toy or household implement would get into serious trouble, but anti-terrorism? I've got two words for these folks: Lawn Darts. And they better not catch you running with scissors, either.
So, what is all the fuss about? Every year, Pakistani media report dozens of deaths and injuries caused by kite flying, mainly of children and motorcyclists whose throats are sometimes cut by metal or glass-coated string. "It is a matter of concern that a healthy sport is being turned into a game of death," the official APP news agency quoted Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Elahi as saying Tuesday.
Game of death? That sounds like what my eighth grade gym teacher used to have us play on rainy days. It involved flattened soccer balls, pubescent boys and an enclosed space. Feel free to make up your own rules, since I don't recall that there were any.
Still, the Pakistani government isn't all about being a buzz-kill. They have allowed a fifteen day window during which kite-flying is permitted to coincide with this month's traditional kite-flying festival of Basant. Some Islamist groups have staged protests in the past week after newspapers reported several deaths caused by kite-flying, denouncing the activity as un-Islamic.
Now, if we can just get a cartoon of Charlie Brown flying his kite in a Danish newspaper, we have the makings of a real international incident.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Love American Style

"Nothing gold can stay." At least that's what Robert Frost (and C. Thomas Howell) would have us believe. These words rang in my head as I read that Travis Stork and Sarah Stone have decided to end their courtship.
Unfamiliar with this couple? Then you're probably unfamiliar with ABC's reality show, "The Bachelor." Dr. Stork (what's in a name, after all?) chose Sarah, an elementary school teacher, from a pool of twenty-five women who were all vying for his attentions. This season of the show was set in Paris, so there was romance in the air - as well as the Bouillabaisse.
Then, the cameras were turned off, and everybody went home. And they couldn't see each other or be together until after the finale of the show had aired. "You're in Paris and you're part of this incredible experience, this fantasy world, and then suddenly you come back to Nashville, and living in the same city I think we thought was going to be a great thing," Stork said. "But instead, you're forced to pretend you don't know someone, for essentially the last four months.
The reality is that we were in this fantasy world. And now that we're back in Nashville, over time when you're not allowed to see someone, you grow apart."
This set me to thinking: Is this any different from the way we date out here in the real world? That initial flurry of dating when everything the other person says or does matches up to some barely recognized ideal that you hadn't even realized was exactly what you had been looking for all your life. The hyper-reality of imagining the response to your casual inquiries and intimate suggestions that culminates with the moment that you discover that you were always meant to be together by some divine stroke of wisdom, luck or some combination of the two.
And then there comes the rest of your lives together. When the roses turn to carnations and then disappear altogether. When the lingerie gives way to long underwear. When taking a walk together requires a destination. When romance hasn't died so much as it has taken an extended sabbatical. We're not in Paris anymore - we're not even in Kansas.
Dr. Stork and Sarah were a lovely television moment, but now our attention span has moved on to more pressing matters. The rest of their lives will be spent wondering what might have been. I want to believe that they have secretly married and are waiting for the media to give them enough room to go out on a real date together. I suggest the Food Court.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Intersection Sanctum

There is a new shrine on my way to school - heart shaped mylar balloons, flowers, a candle or two. The rain has washed some of it away, but the memorial is still obvious to anyone who happens by the corner of 50th and Vicksburg. It went up yesterday morning, after Gary Ruiz, a 20-year-old Oakland carpenter, and his friend Elizabeth Lopez-Bojorquez, 18, were shot dead not far from their homes. It was the second homicide for the Ruiz family. Gary's older brother was killed in June 1993.
This one is only half a block away from a very similar spot marked for "Thomas" whose life ended on that same street two years ago. Chances are there will be people returning to that intersection from time to time for a while, in attempts to connect some meaning to the young lives lost. It doesn't make sense. If you link it to gang violence or drugs, it still doesn't make sense.
The killings brought the Oakland's homicide count this year to 24. Last year at this time there were eight homicides. Sometimes when I'm out running with my dog or riding my bike with my son it's easy to forget where I live. It's a neighborhood, not a war zone. The kids in my school didn't talk about it, even though it happened across the street from one of the boys in the other fourth grade class. Maybe they didn't hear anything. Maybe that's best.
Outside it's beginning to rain again.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


I'll be sitting there on the couch, as I always am, at five PM Pacific time to watch it all unfold LIVE! The spell of the Academy Awards has not been broken, even though I have had some healthy doses of "the business" in tangential and vicarious ways. I still feel lurid fascination for all things Hollywood. It's a little like Disneyland to me. I am no longer overwhelmed by the size of the thing - I have run around it in a brutal Orange County haze. The geography fits neatly into my head, and I now think of my experience there in terms of load capacity for rides and eight year old bladders. Still, when I am inside the Magic Kingdom, I am captivated and swept away by the essence of Disney.
Hollywood is no different. I get a very primal charge from walking down the street, naming the stars as I step on them, and even though the Chinese theater has changed names almost as many times as the stadium where the San Francisco Giants play baseball (this year AT&T Park, if you're scoring at home), the hand and footprints still captivate me. I know that they don't make movies there. There will probably be as many movies made in Toronto this year as there will be in Hollywood, but it's ground zero for the business of making movies. You can smell the desperation of people trying not to appear desperate. Truth is, if you head south for a mile or so, you'd never know that you were in the hot zone. People live there. They mow their lawns and wash their cars (0r have someone do it for them, it's still Hollywood after all).
But tonight, it will be different. Just a few doors down from Mann's Chinese Theater, the limos will be lined up and all those momentarily important people will pile out, waiting for their fifteen minutes of fame to start, or end. I'll be there on my couch, eating popcorn and staring at the wonder of it all.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Fun Family Truckster

I know what it's like to ride in a guided missile. I once woke up in the back seat of our family's Dodge Polara station wagon as my father drove our family through the desert southwest. With the rest of the family sound asleep in a time-addled road-trip haze, my father had buried the needle on the speedometer at somewhere past one hundred and ten miles an hour. The tires made a thin hum as they struggled to maintain contact with the earth's surface, and a look of serene bliss was on dad's face. He had half a tank of gas, and an endless strip of straight, black asphalt ahead of him.
The Polara was one of the last great beasts from a car company that specialized in making steel machines for carrying freight and families. Three in the front seat, three in the back seat, and two more in the "way-way back" facing out the rear window - who needs a mini-van?
We used to fight, my brothers and I, over who would end up in those rear-facing seats. We would then spend the rest of the trip negotiating the three cubic feet of dead space between those seats and the back seats, crawling over whatever or whomever happened to be sitting in the way. This was a world without car seats. As California continues to change the laws regarding child safety, I am certain that I will be driving my son to the DMV strapped into his car seat so he can take his test and finally be free of constraint - or at least the little plastic cushion he has to sit on now. Of course, back in the days when the interiors of a station wagon were approximately the size of the Brady's living room, you had time to consider how to brace yourself before the impact with any other vehicle or object foolish enough to get in the way. It is my theory that mall lots with "nose-in" parking were created specifically for the mooring of these majestic land yachts.
The danger of all of this unrestrained play inside a vehicle is not lost on me. When I was quite small. My family was returning from a fun afternoon of froclicking in the park. As usual, I was in the dark recesses of the Plymouth Valiant station wagon's cargo compartment. At the top of a hill, my mother had to brake hard when another driver ran the stop sign in front of her. My floppy four year old body was tossed forward and my left eyebrow caught one of the very sharp metal edges left from an age when child safety was still essentially "Don't run with scissors." Blood poured down my face, and I'm sure that my mother thought I had lost an eye. In retrospect, I'm reasonably certain that if I had there would have been a whopper of a lawsuit. Instead there was a frantic race to the emergency room where I received a stitch or two before we took our collective jangled nerves home. I carry a scar to remind me of those days - the days when dinosaurs ruled the road.

The Island of Discount Toys

We stood there again, on the brink of the gaping maw of consumerism, paralyzed with fear. Once again, the prize of a television so great that only God could watch it eluded us. On the ride home, we made light of it, but inside we both died - just a little.
But that wasn't the worst of it. Before we went to the electronics store, we stopped at our local Toys R Us. It would be our last trip to this location. What had once been a bright spot on the edge of most-urban-Oakland has surrendered to the creeping sickness that is Wal Mart. Unable to compete with the everyday low prices (and slave wages) of Sam, Toys R Us stores are folding up across the globe rather than try to exist on the level of below discount sales. It was a tragic sight. The once proud, stocked to the ceiling rows of shelves had been mostly disassembled and made into a barrier to keep customers from wandering past the front third of the store. The merchandise left on display was marked to ridiculous lows of seventy to eighty percent off the original price. Most of this was due to the fact that the toys that were left would have found a home only with Rudolph's misfit friends. My wife found "Unwed Midge - Barbie's Little Tramp Friend" and my son found at least a half dozen items that he never knew that he couldn't live without - all at well below the cost of throwing them in a dumpster.
The whole experience drained me. I could only remember an evening, just a little more than ten years ago when we went out to experience the new toy store in town. I have always been a fan of toys stores, and even though we had yet to become parents, we strolled the aisles and felt the giddiness of youth - but with a grown up's credit card. The games were kept in alphabetical order, with "Don't Break The Ice" just above "Don't Wake Daddy" (some kind of lifeskills game for children of alchoholic parents?). There were action figures from every bad movie we could name, and some of them we couldn't. We saw what would become a staple in our house for years to come when we rounded the corner where they had a table set up with dozens of Brio trains and a throng of junior engineers moving the wooden rolling stock over bridges and tunnels and curves. Toys R Us became a cheap date destination for us, and a way to determine (in part) what sort of people could hang with us on a regular basis. If you could hang at Toys R Us, you could hang with the Cavens.
After our on was born, we had a regular visit mapped into our weeks and months, buying diapers and diaper genie refills as well as a number of chess sets for my new classroom. One of the first sentences our son spoke was "I need a new Rescue Hero." We were so proud. He wandered the aisles with wide eyes. We watched as his favorite sections shifted from Brio to Hot Wheels to Legos. Whenever Lego announced a new product line, we knew there was a trip to Toys R Us in our future.
Are there better toy stores? More intimate, locally owned, less cavernous? Certainly. Will I miss it nonetheless? You bet. Do I know that there is another Toys R Us just a short twenty minute hop up the freeway? Sure. But it won't be the same.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Thirty Minutes Or It's Free

On one memorable Halloween, my friend Darren made his entrance from our fourth floor balcony wearing sunglasses and carrying a pizza box, "Hungry Drunk Boy Pizza," he slurred, "It's no good, but it's fast." How he made that climb is still the stuff of legend in some parts of the world. We lived across the street - admittedly a busy street (there was a light and a crosswalk just half a block away) from a Domino's Pizza store. We referred to it lovingly as "hungry drunk boy pizza." They had a promotion that insisted that if they couldn't get the pizza to you in less than thirty minutes, the pizza was free. It was created solely for the purpose of making pizza fast and cheap. My room mate and I took them at their word, and when we hung up the phone (we politely chose not to include those minutes used up taking our order) we started our clock. Again, we did live on the fourth floor, but we were less than fifty yards away and they still couldn't meet their guarantee. I'm pretty sure that we cut short at least one "driver's" career at Domino's (if they clown got in his car to come across the street, he deserved to lose his job). After we had already rung up two free large pizzas in one weekend, this clown showed up in his yellow windbreaker with a great big alarm clock bulging out of the pocket with our double cheese and pepperoni. When we showed him our timer and checked the time stamp on the receipt, he whined profusely about how his clock let him down and did we know that he was the one that was going to have to pay for that pizza? Sorry, thirty five minutes is more than thirty and therefore our pizza is free. He asked to call his manager. This was far in advance of the age of cell phones, so we asked him in and listened to him repeat his sob story for his boss. The brevity of the conversation told us all we needed to know. It should be noted that we did tip the drivers whether we got a free pizza or not, but we remained fascinated by the free pizza. Then, suddenly, not unlike Super-Sizing, the gravy train ended.
I haven't ordered Domino's pizza for some time now, because of the corporation's politics, but they're in the news again for something besides free crazy bread. Thomas S. Monaghan, founder of the original "Hungry Drunk Boy" Pizza (Domino's) wants to create a city in Florida that will be governed according to strict Roman Catholic principles, with no place to get an abortion, pornography or birth control. The town of Ave Maria is being constructed around Ave Maria University, the first Catholic university to be built in the United States in about 40 years. Said Monaghan, "I believe all of history is just one big battle between good and evil. I don't want to be on the sidelines." He sold his doughy empire eight years ago to devote himself to doing "good works." Now I ask you, is there any greater good than feeding the hungry drunk boys of the world? How long will this development take to complete? Nobody was willing to give an estimated completion date - go figure.

Calm Before The Storm

Remember when we went to war with Iraq because of faulty intelligence? We were told that there were links to al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction and we were all going to be home for Christmas with a nice new Democracy and ensconced in Mesopotamia. Turns out that wasn't exactly the case.
Six months ago we were told what a good job "Brownie" was doing with the post-Katrina relief effort. Interesting point here: Apparently in the days leading up to the hurricane making landfall on the Gulf Coast, Michael Brown gave George P.W. Bush a full briefing detailing the potential for massive damage and casualties. This briefing included speculation on the possibility of the failing of the levees in New Orleans as well as the "shelter of last resort," the Superdome. "The Superdome is about 12 feet below sea level.... I don't know whether the roof is designed to stand, withstand a Category Five hurricane," Brown said.
Does any of this excuse Brownie from his own mismanagement of the situation? Not really. What it does do is open yet another can of worms for this now sadly unpopular president (a recent CBS poll had his approval rating at just 34%) to have to sort through - Fear Factor style. Bush declared four days after the storm, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. He later clarified, saying officials believed, wrongly, after the storm passed that the levees had survived. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility even before the storm — and Bush was worried too. Not worried enough to move more proactively to have the resources available when disaster struck. That was Brownie's job, after all. In this case the intelligence was all there before the actual event, it just went missing afterward.