Monday, July 31, 2006

The Three Best Things About Being A Teacher

Well, I'm back. And I can't say that I've missed it, but the nice thing is that it seems to get easier each time I do it. Oh yeah that something that causes me to sparkle and shine and drag my weary bones out of bed is the ongoing, everloving, death-defying start to creep back to school. Last week when I was back in Colorado, I was in a Safeway with my seventeen year old niece. I paused only briefly to note the stacks of looseleaf binder paper and spiral notebooks behind a hastily arranged "Back To School Savings" display.
It's still July, people. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to help dispel the myth that all teachers race out to their catamaran after the sixth of June and drink themselves into a stupor until August 30th. The party didn't start for me until after I had taught three weeks of summer school, which took me into the second week of July. Then I had to return for training July 31. I am currently enrolled in the Advanced II section of Mastery in the art of teaching reading. I am told that next year I will further my Mastery in the Advanced III section. The following year should put us right about in line with another textbook adoption, so we'll all get to start learning a brand new curriculum then.
For now I'll be spending the week at the Hilton, loading up on the buffet and reveling in the massive amount of air conditioning they make available. Today I got to see one of my fellow teachers draw a ferret (or was it a dog? maybe a cat) to explain the importance of Consonant Digraphs. Or something like that. Now that's what I call a party!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Know Your Audience

One evening I was watching television with our neighbor (back in the day when "coming over" meant that we would leave the back door open when he was ready to stop by). That particular night we were enjoying the narrative subtleties of "GI Blues" - tagline: ELVIS AS THE GAY, SINGING SENSATION...TOAST OF THE WORLD'S GIRLS...ENVY OF EVERY MAN IN THE ARMY!
Okay, maybe that's overstating it a little bit, but you have a sense of the camp value of such an experience. As we watched, we became increasingly perplexed by the number of commercial interruptions. Then we started to notice the number of ads for a specific product. WTBS, Atlanta's "Superstation," was bringing us "GI Blues" thanks primarily to its sponsor, Attends. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Attends would be Pepsi to Depends' Coke. Adult diapers were not a brand new concept for us, but it caused us to question just who the audience for "GI Blues" might be. Was there a nation of weak-bladdered individuals staining their couches as they watched Elvis sing his way across Europe? Had we missed our demographic?
Then we made a connection: Perhaps there was a subtle message being sent. Maybe they were trying to tell us that The King may have been a secret incontinence sufferer. That would have explained all that shaking about, wouldn't it? Perhaps it was brought about by the intense mixtures of chemicals or fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Whatever the case, it became increasingly difficult to watch the movie without a twinge of "ABC Afterschool Special" angst.
By the halfway point, we started paying more attention to the commercials than the movie - especially the toll-free number at the end that encouraged us to inquire about their full line of Attends products. After a few more breaks, we could no longer contain our curiosity, and so we dialed. The very cheerful Attend-ant asked what product we were interested in - our inner fourteen year old had been stirred. At this point, I was grateful not to be on the phone, having given that very important responsibility to my more laconic friend. He very carefully navigated the series of questions that lead us down a path to be sent free samples of pull-on briefs.
I had to remove myself from the room, but was able to stay within earshot and was able to come up with the address of the lucky individual who would receive the package.
Then came the ultimate challenge: The very helpful operator asked what size undergarment we would be needing. As I collapsed in a heap on the cool linoleum floor of the kitchen, I heard my friend gasp, "Large." It was a courageous effort. I am certain that I would not have made it past the selection of pads or briefs. It is a testament to his tenacity that he was able to maintain his composure for the duration of the transaction. Only after he hung up the phone did he allow himself to be swallowed up in the utter sophomoric glee of the moment. It is this effort we salute today. I'm still laughing.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

There's a Time and Place for Spontaneity

This morning I spent a good deal of time contemplating all the photos that have been taken of me this summer during moments of planned spontaneity. I'm speaking of those flash pictures that are snapped at the end of high speed turbulent roller coaster type thrill rides. When you come off the ride, you're supposed to pause and take a moment to look at just how silly you look as your life flashes before your eyes.
Okay - most people look properly thrilled, nauseated, or both, but there is another way to go. After the first ride, you become aware of the waiting camera and you can plan your response to the moment of peak surprise. It starts with a funny face, then evolves into a more elaborate production that can include amusing gestures or even props (if you can free yourself from the harness or restraint system that holds you in your seat).
There is a web site devoted to those daring and devious folks clever and coordinated enough to engineer momentary public nudity on Disneyland's "Splash Mountain." The page can be found under the hysterical title, "Flash Mountain." Having the presence of mind that will allow one to flaunt a little flesh while plummeting five stories (52.5 feet), down a 47-degree waterfall deserves some recognition, I suppose.
This got me to thinking about all the other places outside theme parks that offer such opportunities. The camera taking your photo at each ATM transaction is just one. What about all of those recently installed stop-light cameras? Somebody is looking at these pictures, why not give them a thrill, or at least a moment of heightened awareness? The "observer effect" (often referred to incorrectly as the Heisenberg Effect) refers to changes that the act of observing has on the phenomenon being observed. On a planet that promotes "reality television" and contains a "Real World" that is lit and wired for sound, what shred of our existence has any truth?
I suggest we embrace the surreal, observed world as our own, and manipulate it for our own purposes. If the NSA really is listening to our conversations, periodically conduct your phone calls in "Meow-Meow" language. While shopping, wave at those one-way mirrors. And most of all, smile for the camera.

Friday, July 28, 2006


We have a certain amount of ritual in my family when it comes to air travel. My wife and I have made it our practice to hold hands on takeoff and landing. I'm not sure if this is in hopes of forestalling some vast cosmic irony - like having some major malfunction or calamity while entering or leaving the sky. Maybe we're just taking the opportunity to connect at that moment: the beginning of another great adventure.
This morning as the Airbus 319 roared down the runway, I was very conscious of my wife's right hand in my left. My son was too consumed with what was happening outside his window to share in our reverie. I put my right hand on his back, and listened to the acceleration. I could feel the warmth of my family as the nose of the plane started to lift, then the wheels left the ground, and we were flying.
I continued to stare out the window, watching my son and the earth slip away. I could feel his breath, and my wife's pulse. We were going home.
We rolled up the plains and over the mountains. We climbed over the foothills and above the Continental Divide. I watched until I couldn't recognize specific landmarks or shapes. Soon it was just sky with clouds in sharp relief and grey and purple mountain majesty below. It seemed like a long time, but we were halfway out of Colorado before I let go of my wife and son to return to my copy of "Rolling Stone." Below us, life returned to normal.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hometown Paper

The other day, I sat here and wrote about a ghost town. Last night the sky was full of light and thunder. A founding member of "Bill Flaley and the Vomits" passed on. I met Mark in the sixth grade. He had, as his obituary stated, a crackling dry sense of humor - even at that age. We connected as middle brothers. We both had older brothers in Boulder High School, and we expected to follow in their respective glory: Me in band, he in theater. We had younger brothers following us around at recess on Columbine Elementary's playground. I was clever in sixth grade, but I knew I was onto something if I made Mark laugh.
My dad always used to read the obituaries. Bill Cosby does a bit about his dad announcing from behind his paper, "You know who died yesterday?" Truth is, it's kind of a universal notion - keeping morality at bay by reading the death announcements instead of creating them. Reading the local newspaper in my hometown makes that an even more tenuous experience. These are the people I grew up with. Forty-four still seems like a cheat. So does fourteen. So does ninety-four.
Instead, I'll hold on to the photo of Mark and I up at our cabin the summer after our sixth grade year. After the flurry that was our last year in Columbine, he was headed for Casey Junior High. I was headed for Centennial. He was going to be a Cub. I was going to be a Cyclone. For that weekend in the mountains, we chopped wood, stayed up late reading comic books, and worked hard at being kids before we launched ourselves into the next big thing.
We met up again at Boulder High. I was in band. He wasn't. So we didn't have as much to share as we used to. I was always pretty happy when I did something goofy in Pep Band and made Mark smile. It wouldn't last long, but it told me I was on the right track. I confess that after graduation, I haven't given him a lot of thought. He was a guy I knew in school. I'm guessing this would be his wry little way of letting me know he was headed on to his next big thing.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


"Come out and play, plan to spend the day, come to Elitches just for fun." - advertising slogan
That's what we did yesterday. We actually ended up planning to spend most of the day, not the whole day. Travel time, meals, sleep, hours of operation - all these things conspired to keep our stay at Elitches at less than an entire day. We lasted about seven hours.
Did we have fun? You betcha. It's always interesting to see how many ways we can intentionally mess with our sense of balance. Spinning, swinging, twisting, turning, and all the various combinations at various speeds and accelerations make wobbling to the line for the next attraction a challenge. The churning effect felt in all of our stomachs was only exacerbated by the delicious treats available at the concession stands wedged carefully between each ride. Imagine dropping a salty pretzel with mustard and a big chunk of peanut butter fudge into a blender with thirty-two ounces of Coca-Cola, then setting it for "high." It's all part of the challenge.
And what exactly is the challenge? Don't hurl. Don't cough or sneeze your food. Don't do the big spit. That and don't let the wait in line bore or intimidate you enough to leave the "Mind Eraser" or "Half Pipe" to go heading for the benches in front of the arcade. Getting up your nerve is the reason you need to go to the amusement park with a group of people. It's a lovely dance of peer pressure and friendly cajoling to make each ride seem like it could be the last. Watching the timbers rattle and shift under "Twister II" was enough to make me ponder, however briefly, what sort of state and federal guidelines keep attractions like this big wooden roller coaster from falling into disrepair.
"Not to see Elitches is not to see Denver." - advertising slogan
I saw Elitches, therefore, I saw Denver. A lot of it was upside down and blurred, but I saw Denver.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More Ours In The Day

Vacation time. That means that I try to lay in bed for an extra few minutes, while my son tries to get up a few minutes earlier (or an hour or two earlier). I was trying to remember when it becomes more important to look at the inside of your eyelids than Cartoon Network. My seventeen year old niece has passed that mark. Teenagers have an amazing capacity for sleep. Parents would like to aspire to such a talent. I lay there in bed this morning with the sounds of "Tom and Jerry" wafting up the stairs. I closed my eyes a little bit tighter, and made conscious efforts to relax. "Settle down there, big fella," I tell myself in a comforting way, "He'll be fine for hours. He knows how to use the remote."
Then the truth returns: I want to be up and sharing the experience. Not necessarily the cartoons, unless they were Warner Brothers, but the empty chunks of time that hang around the edges of vacation days. There are plenty of scheduled or suggested activities for the rest of the day, but right now there's only breakfast, television, a morning paper, and a couple of hours before the excitement begins.
My life is hardly the "Cat's in the Cradle" version from the Harry Chapin song. I have lots of time to connect with my son, and we share all kinds of important events and experiences. During the school year, my wife and I sometimes need a crane, or paramedics to haul my son out of bed to get him ready to go to school. It's on the weekends that he shows off his amazing stamina for eighteen hour days, filled with amusements. I know that the day is coming soon when he'll be the one snoring in the other room as I get up to go and mow the lawn, or write my blog. But right now he's sitting on the stairs, reading a "Dennis the Menace" comic book. I want to be part of that.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Fifteen Minute Run

I went for a run this morning. This is no big news. Neither is the fact that my mother's house is just a few blocks from my old junior high school. This is why I decided to do my running on the quarter-mile track at Centennial Middle School today.
As I ran, I remembered gym class: Physical Education. As a seventh grader I showed up in my baggy grey shorts and my white t-shirt with my last name neatly printed in the big green box on my chest. That's where I learned that gym teachers don't like to be called "Mister," they prefer to be called "Coach." In seventh grade we had Coach Clark. He was a pleasant entry into the world of phys ed, without some of the harsh criticism and ridiculous expectations that would later become part of that experience. In elementary school, I had already spent my time being ostracized for my lack of coordination and ability. Back then we had a gym teacher, not a coach, and it wasn't every day.
I showed up for Coach Clark's class every day, "dressed out" unless otherwise requested or excused. We followed the sports calendar, building football and soccer skills in the fall, basketball and wrestling in the winter, with track and softball in the spring. There was a certain amount of fear associated with doing things I had never been very good at, but Coach Clark graded for participation, not specific achievement. All the while during seventh grade, we warned of what awaited us in the eighth: Coach Straight.
Eighth grade PE resembled seventh grade PE primarily in name and uniform. The most horrific difference that awaited us all, the nerds as well as the jocks, was the Fifteen Minute Run. As an educator, I can see the comparative ease by which this plan was derived. Once a week, students will run for fifteen minutes. Add in the time it takes for kids to get dressed on one end, shower, throw up and get dressed on the other, and you've got a full period. Easy enough. At the beginning of eighth grade, boys were expected to run four laps (one mile) in fifteen minutes. Fair enough, but here's where the mildly sadistic part came in: if anyone in the class failed to meet that expectation, the whole class would run the following day, until those slackers who weren't pulling their weight were brought (literally) up to speed.
We were told that "anyone could walk four laps in fifteen minutes." As a kid who had trouble getting to the top of the climbing rope in sixth grade, I had my doubts about being part of "anyone." Sure enough, for the first few weeks of eighth grade, I was part of a small group of troublemakers who "refused" to help the class meet their goal. I'm not sure how Coach Straight figured that we were consciously trying to keep the class out on the track every day for a week, but as he stood there with his clipboard in one hand, stopwatch in the other, and his whistle clenched in his teeth, four of us learned to loathe and despise not only the Fifteen Minute Run, but the genius who created it.
One Wednesday, when we were supposed to do our run, Coach Straight was absent. His substitute took us out to the track and turned us loose. Some of the clever ones, real troublemakers, not just genetic misfits, got the idea to hide behind the bleachers, for a lap or two, then run another lap, staying with the pack as they came around. After a quarter hour, the whistle blew, and everyone reported their number. A bunch of the delinquents lied, saying they had run eight or nine, or even ten laps. This wasn't clever.
The next day, Coach Straight was back, and we were lead back out to the track. Before we ran, we did a flurry of calisthenics, as we listened to just how exactly disappointed in us he had become. Then we got up, brushed the dead grass and burrs off our uniforms and ran. Nobody was going to miss the mark today. I know I didn't. I ran almost four and a half laps that day, a new personal best.
Coach Straight left Centennial after that year. I suppose I would like to think that he was asked to leave, but I'm pretty sure he just moved on to another junior high, where his authority would be respected. Today I ran a mile on that track. I ran it in far less than fifteen minutes. Thanks, Coach.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Naive Medley

Day two here at the foot of the Continental Divide. The air is thin, but it sure smells different than the salty air of the Bay. I continue to wade through vast regions of my youth. Street signs remind me of places I have worked and run and played. I had a hamburger at Tom's Tavern. I had rice and beans at Juanita's. I had spaghetti from the Gondolier. I know that there are other restaurants in this town, but I was fortunate to have all of my favorites in the first thirty-six hours of my stay.
I haven't been eating and ignoring all other sensory inputs. Yesterday morning I went for a run and got my first private view of the Flatirons. As much as Boulder changes, these slabs of granite still loom large over the west side of the town. I once chose to leave this view and pursue a life outside the long shadows of the Rocky Mountains. I ended up in Oakland - with a girl I met at Boulder High School. When I was riding back into Boulder this time, I was struck by just how simple the geography is. Mountains in the west, Kansas in the east, and you'll just have to fill in those blanks for north and south.
The mountains remain, but so much else has grown and changed. Last night I watched a videotape my older brother had made of the move from my mother's old house to her new one. She moved from a house to a townhouse. She changed cars from a Chrysler New Yorker to a Dodge Neon. Her life fits in a much smaller space now. Happily, she still has a guest room. It was in that guest room, late at night after a day of fun and endless conversation with family and friends, she asked me: "So, how many times today did you think about moving back to Boulder?"
I leaned back in the big brass bed that used to live in our family's mountain cabin, so many years ago, and I told her: "Zero." It wasn't because I have no desire to live in a college town near the mountains, or because I have had my fill of Tom's burgers and Gondolier spaghetti. When I think about moving back to Boulder, I do it in my mind. I go to the place where I grew up. This is not that place. Not anymore. And that's okay, because I am enjoying coming to this new place - the one that seems so familiar, and so very comfortable. I don't want to forget this place either.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ghost Town

It started as I stood in line at the rental car company. I overheard the guy in front of me talking to the nice Advantage Rent-a-car lady. He said that he was heading up to Boulder for his fortieth high school reunion. My mind did some quick math: class of 1966. I was class of 1980. Still, I'm sure that we must have something to talk about. What were the chances that this guy would have graduated from the same high school I did, only fourteen years ahead of me?
And that's when it hit me: One Hundred Per Cent. I was standing in a rental car office five minutes away from Denver International Airport in July. Had I been in Minsk, or Bolivia this may have proved to be an odd coincidence. Instead, it was just he beginning of a flurry of recognition.
More simple math tells me that the first two thirds of my life (so far) were spent in this place at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. I was about to encounter a rush of memory that would not stop at the foothills, but compound until I had to go to sleep just to be away for a few moments. I found it easier to navigate around the city streets of Boulder than getting a stranger from my house to the Oakland airport. I had a story for each intersection: Here's where I lived in an apartment by myself. Here's the University from which I graduated. Here's my high school. Here's the street I used to take my friend and his girlfriend when they wanted to make out in my back seat. Here are the Flatirons.
I kept trying to share these flashes of deja vu with my son. He was busy trying to figure out exactly how the windows worked in the rental car.
That's okay. I'll be here for a week. I'll have plenty of chances to wallow in nostalgia.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Fly Boys

Hopping on a plane early in the morning seems like a pretty cool thing. Air travel always seemed like such a great way to travel. I was well into my thirties before I would give up the window seat without a fight. My father died in a plane crash and all of a sudden, that whole mystery of flight thing disappeared.
This is especially true of the early morning United Airlines flight from Oakland to Denver. That's the plane I took to get out to Colorado to have last tag on my dad. I have a very distinct, visceral memory of the gate, the carpet, and the men's room adjacent to where we departed. I have no memory whatsoever of the flight. Again, this is odd, since I can remember at least small details of virtually every other plane trip I've taken since my teens.
I even have an amusing tale of my older brother's first plane ride. The jet pushed away from the gate, and he was strapped firmly in his seat, eyes wide with anticipation. They taxied across the tarmac to get in line for takeoff, and came to a stop to wait their turn. My father looked down at my brother and asked, "So, how'd you like it?" My overstimulated older brother began to unbuckle his seat belt and hop out of his seat before he was encouraged to get back in before the plane really took off. Tee-hee. Kids are so easy to fool.
I remember that, but I can't recall a moment of the flight to Denver now eleven years gone. The good news is that I have rediscovered my love of flight through my son. He's the one who marvels at the speed, and watches as the flaps extend and retract. He watches the earth zoom out, and then zoom back in again. I don't get the window seat anymore, but I don't mind.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What Happens In St. Petersburg Stays In St. Petersburg

Slow news day? I suppose you could say that, since even though half the world sits ready to blow the other half into tiny bits, and we still haven's seen little Suri Cruise...
So why do we clamor for this tiny bit of Russian video? It shows the leader of the free world (our President Pinhead) walking behind the German Chancellor and giving her a surprise neck rub. Without the audio, one can only assume that he accompanied it with some sweet come on like "Hey, Angie, I've got a massage for you. Heh, heh. Get it? Massage?"
Suddenly Pinhead's open-mike remarks aired previously start to pale by comparison. At least he seemed to have notion that he was head of state - angrily denouncing the Syrians, then complimenting his boy-toy Blair on the selection of his gift sweater. That seemed somehow appropriate in the vaguest possible way. Now we have a frat boy for a chief executive. Sure, maybe he detected some sort of distress in Chancellor Merkel from across the room and moved quickly to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Or maybe he was just looking for a way to "break down that Berlin Wall" - Angela's so serious all the time. Maybe he groped Vladimir Putin just for good measure. Maybe somebody dropped a roofie in his Diet Coke. Maybe God spoke to him and told him to fondle the nearest Teuton. Maybe we have a pinhead for a president.
GOP commentator and Fox News political analyst Karen Hanretty said the outraged reaction shows how "President Bush just can't win."
"Aren't these the same women who have been angry about cowboy diplomacy?" she asked. "Do they want a kinder, more sensitive Bush -- or a cowboy? Once again, there's no pleasing women," she said. "Give them the cowboy and they want Alan Alda.''
Actually, right now I'd settle for that guy who's in the movie "An Inconvenient Truth."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Concentric Circles in the Sand

Monday night on "The Daily Show," Samantha Bee expressed her frustration with the "Mad-Lib" nature of reporting in the Middle East. She suggested a template that would include blanks for the number of hostages, concerned foreign dignitaries, and pop culture references. Switch "Doctor Kissinger" with "Secretary Rice," and you've got the updated version. The report was titled "Mid-East Crisis: Day 9,265."
I laughed until I cried. Then again, it may have been hard to determine exactly where one stopped and the other began. I had the same essential response as Ms. Bee when I went out to the mailbox yesterday to retrieve this week's issue of Time magazine. Looking at the cover, I found myself flashing back on dozens of other magazine covers that promised to help me understand why this part of the world has been and continues to be embroiled in conflict for recorded history. Peace initiatives and cease fires are the exceptions that prove the rule of war. If I were going to make dire predictions about the end of the world, why wouldn't I pick the Middle East for the boiling point?
In sixth grade we had a student teacher in our class. His name was Jeff Franklin. He created a unit to help us understand the War In The Middle East. He had us prepare questions for a press conference with Israel's Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan (he wore an eye patch for his role). After that, he made an appearance as Anwar Sadat, giving the Egyptian point of view. This was 1973. At eleven years old, I came away with the feeling of hopelessness, and only the vaguest notion of how deep the lines in the sand had been drawn.
Here we are in 2006. The story continues. After six years of relative peace, the missiles, bombs and bullets are flying again.
"Everybody sees a difficulty in the question of relations between Arabs and Jews. But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution! There is a gulf and nothing can bridge it... We, as a nation, want this country to be ours: the Arabs, as a country want this country to be theirs." - David Ben-Gurion, June 1919
Sadly, maybe it's not that hard to understand at all.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Schedule Conflict

This would make a better story if I could remember exactly the time and circumstances of my return to Boulder, but I do recall that my mother and father had picked me up at the airport (ratty old Stapleton, not the glorious circus tent that is DIA) and were taking me home. I asked them if we could stop by Arby's before they dropped me at my apartment - not because I had a hankering for Beef 'n' Cheddar, but because I was anxious to check the schedule for the upcoming week.
When I got to the back door, I stopped and knocked since even though I was a manager and had my own set of keys, they were laying on my dresser at home. The face that greeted me was unfamiliar, but I was able to put together a guess pretty quick. It had to be "Susan." She was taking over for the departing Waldo, my mentor and inspiration in the fast food business. I had decided to cut her some slack before I even met her, since Waldo was going to be such a hard act to follow. Then I looked around the back room. All the signs, objects and personal touches had been removed. Over the course of my employment at Arby's, I had drawn dozens of cartoons which had once adorned the back wall. They were all gone. But the most disturbing development was that the mini-vac that Waldo had won on his ill-fated "Tic-Tac-Dough" appearance was nowhere to be seen. One of my favorite employees rushed by with a stack of trays for those who wished to "dine in." "Hey Buckwheat," I called, "Where's the Wink Martindale Mini-Vac?"
He gave me a scared, sad look, and pushed through the swinging doors past the slicer. What was more telling than his lack of response was his nametag. It said "Matt." I had trained this kid. I had made his nametag myself with the Dymotape label maker. It said "Buckwheat." Until now.
Finally I moved over to the small desk next to the oven and examined the coming week's schedule. I wasn't on it. The little plastic toys that used to crowd the desk were gone, and apparently so was I.
"Susan" appeared behind me, shocking me out of my haze. "I wasn't sure when you would be back." She moved past me to sit at the uncluttered desk. "You're Dave, right?"
"Dave-O," I said, recalling my Arby's name with some difficulty but a degree of pride.
"Maybe you could pick up a couple of lunches this week and maybe next week we can see about..."
I had stopped listening. I hadn't worked lunches, except as favors to hungover types desperate for my intervention, for years. I was a closing manager, and fiercely proud of it. I had taken the job at Arby's out of desperation. I had bailed out of my initial attempt to go away to school, and I needed something to keep my days full while I reapplied myself to getting into another college. I didn't stay there because of my love for the beef, I stayed at Arby's because of the people and the fun. Now that fun was gone, and from the looks of the schedule, so were many of the people.
On the way out I grabbed my nametag. It was a specially made - embossed. Waldo ordered them whenever he made someone a manager. Mine read, "Dave-O, Assistant Manager." I went out the back and the door closed behind me.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Shooting Off His Mouth

"See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s--- and it's over," Bush told Blair as he chewed on a buttered roll.
This was the choice "open mike" moment from President Pinhead during the closing lunch at the Group of Eight summit. His faithful lapdog Tony reached over after a moment and turned the microphone off, cutting short our window into "The Decider's" plans for world domination. He expressed amazement that it will take some leaders as many as eight hours to fly home — about the same time it will take Air Force One with Bush aboard to return to Washington.
"You eight hours? Me, too. Russia's a big country and you're a big country," Bush said, at one point telling a waiter he wanted Diet Coke. "Takes him eight hours to fly home. Russia's big and so is China. Yeah Blair, what're you doing? Are you leaving."
Pinhead in Chief thanked his lapdog Tony for the gift of a sweater and joked that he knew Blair had picked it out personally. "Absolutely," Blair responded, with a laugh.
I've never cared for Diet Coke myself, but I can't say that I have a fundamental disagreement with his view of Syria's involvement. Here's the difference: I'm a fourth grade teacher with a blog, and (God Help Us) he's leader of the free world. Wasn't this the guy who just a short while ago said that he regretted his "tough talk" about conflicts in the Middle East? I guess that only counts when the microphone is on.
So here's my theory: This president believes he was called by God to lead the nation at this time, says Commerce Secretary Don Evans, a close friend who talks with him every day. I believe a borderline personality that hears voices might just believe that he's bringing on the Rapture. What's more frightening than a Pinhead in charge of the free world? A religious zealot of a Pinhead in charge of the free world.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Sound of Near Silence

What is the sound of one hand clapping? A theater full of amputees, I'm guessing. But it does raise a certain question: What does it take to get me to relax? My house is a monument to days off and weekends. Never a dull moment around here. That would be the joy of home ownership. Still, one might guess that the first full weekend of summer vacation would afford me some time for serious couch riding.
Nope. I warmed up last weekend with the front fence. That was only a weekend, so it might not have counted as a complete lapse of relaxation, but I got up early on Sunday to finish the thing. My wife insisted that I consider our neighbors and not start sawing and pounding before nine A.M. - not an easy request for me to handle. I wouldn't say that I'm hyperactive, but I don't have a very good track record for sitting still.
Many years ago I had a therapist ask me how much time I spent each day sitting quietly. Watching TV or listening to the stereo did not count, so I had to confess that the number was probably difficult if not impossible to measure. She suggested meditation. I took her advice to heart, as I am also very good at following directions. I sat in a chair and closed my eyes. I concentrated on sensing each quadrant of my body individually and made myself aware of the sound of my own breathing, then my own heartbeat. And you know what? I got pretty good at it. It was very relaxing. The problem was that once I got comfortable with it, I began to rush through it. She wanted me to do fifteen minutes a day. Fifteen minutes - a quarter hour of nothing. Geez.
Do I get that she was on to something? You bet I do. Would I get something out of taking a quarter hour each day to hold still? Yes I would. But that wall isn't going to paint itself. So I laid there in bed this morning at four thirty, and I waited until I was sure my wife was starting to stir before I started out to the living room to finish painting. Now it's four thirty in the afternoon, and the paint is dry. Everything is moved back into place, and it's like we moved into a brand new place. I could take a few minutes to sit quietly, but I've got to go get some charcoal. I promise to sense something on the way up to the store.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sleeping Single In A Double Bed

I have disclosed here previously my relative lack of success with the ladies. I was not the cool guy who got laid. I was the guy who took the phone calls from girls who desperately needed to throw themselves at my roommate. "No," I would tell them in a reassuring tone, "He really wants to see you again, he's just," a quick interpretation of my friend's hand signals, "performing emergency cardiac surgery in Idaho this weekend."
And so it went for many years. I was the nice guy who was asked by countless women, "Why can't I meet a nice guy like you?" Then came New Year's Eve, 1987. Right before Christmas that year I had bid adieu to my good friend Lothario, and I was at last on my own - a successful single guy on the hunt for a girl with "a certain morally casual attitude." Ironically enough, on that particular New Year's Eve, I found myself at a party being thrown by one of my roommate's prior conquests. We had remained friendly and commiserated over the departure of Mister Ladykiller.
As the evening wore on, it occurred to me that there was a distinct difference between this party and most of the other gatherings I had attended in the past few years: It was not being held in my living room. Aside from Miss Jilted, I was with a group of relative strangers. That's when I met Laura. I am relatively certain that was her name, because after that night, I never saw her again.
Laura was my only one-night stand. I have always felt it was primarily an attempt to exorcise my Mister Nice Guy persona. It was all the things that a drunken, late-night tryst should be. Most of all, it was one night that didn't include the baggage of guilt and responsibility. 1988 was going to be a New Year after all.
The next morning, however, Mister Nice Guy returned with a hangover. I felt bad that I hadn't even exchanged phone numbers or some other meaningful data with Laura. We had shared so much the night before, hadn't we? I spent the next week trying to catch up to her and make a "real date" for us to go out, have conversation, then it would match up with the night of animal lust that had preceded it. I was consumed by guilt. For about a week. Then I got a phone call from the East Coast. My good friend had spent New Year's Eve alone - well, alone in the sense that he missed having carnal knowledge with anyone on the premises. That's when I let Laura go. I still think about her sometimes - I just don't remember exactly what she looked like.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Feeling Lucky?

Fred Flintstone has a serious gambling problem. The mere mention of the word "bet" causes Fred to stammer "bet" over and over again and causes him to go on gambling binges. Anyone who has encountered Fred during one of these wild-eyed rampages knows just how sad it can be when the gambling bug bites someone you care about.
I lost a dollar on the Denver-Pittsburgh AFC Championship game last year. I was goaded into it. Mostly, however, I find that it's best to keep my bets reserved for things that I can affect in a very personal way. There is nothing sadder than watching a football squeak past a goalpost, good or bad, depending on the way you had hoped the outcome would occur. I have written here numerous times about the importance of "concern rays" and still believe wholeheartedly in their lasting and undeniable impact on spectator sports. However, I think that betting causes a measure of deterioration of the strength of those rays. If you're going to bet more than a dollar on Shaquille O'Neal making a free throw, I would suggest that you get yourself a seat in the arena, preferably courtside or closer if you really want to help will that ball through the hoop.
That being said, I won't say that I never make bets. As I said, I tend to make or take bets solely on the basis of how much control I can exert on the outcome of the event. Having made very few free throws of my own, and even fewer field goals, I tend to wager on things like picayune details or arcane knowledge. Want to bet on the order of the original "Planet of the Apes" movies? How about Jello Biafra's high school alma mater?
And the lottery? Don't get me started. Even the most dedicated and desperate concern rays can not control the outcome of what we lovingly refer to around here as "The Stupidity Tax." I spend about a week each year training fourth graders about the pitfalls of "luck."
"A little government and a little luck are necessary in life; but only a fool trusts either of them." - P.J. O'Rourke

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Movie Trailer Toss-Up

I'm lying on my bed watching these nerdy extroverts trying to answer mildly difficult trivia questions on television. To be more precise, I'm watching "The World Series of Pop Culture" on VH1. First of all, I have to say that I find myself flinching at the notion that I am watching anything on "Video Hits 1" since I am such a young and vibrant soul and everything that is programmed on that channel is aimed at a demographic that knows who Christopher Knight is, but still refers to him as "Peter Brady."
So there I am, flinching, and watching, and answering the questions much in advance of the contestants who make up three member teams when my wife walks into the room. "Whatcha doin'?" she asks politely enough.
At this moment my focus is so intense on the lyrics to the theme song of the host is intoning that I hesitate before I answer - my wife or the television.
"Three's Company," I answer at last, much to the chagrin of my wife.
"You're playing trivia, aren't you?" She thinks this is an endearing quirk of my character. I see it as my avocation. To her credit, she has suggested numerous times that I take my head full of useless knowledge and turn it into some kind of cash reward. This was especially true during the prime time run of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" I know that the game is different from your couch than it is under the lights with Regis leaning in at you, leering and cajoling.
It comes as no surprise to me that the "World Series" and "Millionaire" share a producer. But the "World Series" is strictly a pop culture quiz. What are the chief exports of Brazil? Who cares. Who directed the film "Brazil?" That's straight down my alley. My new favorite time sink is to hang around the "Yahoo Answers" page answering movie and TV questions as they come up. I have no patience for the "survey" type questions. They either have a verifiable answer, or I move on. I can get my trivia thrills vicariously. No one gets hurt - least of all me. And isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Trophy Season

We brought home my son's trophy today. It's almost a foot tall, with a baseball player ready to swing on the top of a gleaming green and gold pedestal. The plaque affixed to the front of it reads: "T-Ball Participant 2006." I couldn't be more proud. I couldn't be more jealous. I thought of all my physical endeavors, and the rewards and acknowledgements I received. In high school I got a red ribbon for coming in second in men's doubles in my tennis class (there were two teams). I had a couple of friends in high school who were a year ahead of me, and they realized their only chance to get a letter jacket was to try out for track. A little skill and a lot of luck got them their jackets - gold with a big purple "B" on the chest. There were no letters for being in marching band, or even for being in Pep Band, or even being Pep Band President.
My glory days were over before they started. But back in junior high, I was on the wrestling team. Wrestling appealed to me because it had all the support of a team, but was still fundamentally a one-man show. I had to work to stay at 119 pounds, but sometimes wrestled a light 125. I wasn't a great wrestler, but I was committed. I learned all the holds and moves from both the left and right sides which gave me some advantage over my slower-witted opponents. If you get used to reacting to something from the right side, since ninety percent of the guys you wrestle come from that side, it can be very confusing for a double-leg takedown to come suddenly from the left. I wasn't the strongest or the fastest, but I was the most cunning. Sadly, this did little for me in terms of dealing with the guys on my team. It just so happens that 119 and 125 are very popular weight classes for wiry little fellows who will grow up to be high school champions. I had one a year ahead of me, and one who was the same age as me, so I spent three years trying to get a spot on the "A" mat squad. I was wrestling against kids who had wrestling mats installed in their basements, who got a new pair of wrestling shoes each season, who had fathers who gave them pointers. I got a lot of encouragement from my dad, but his working knowledge of wrestling was a little sketchy.
I never did get to wrestle on "A" mat. I challenged every week, and got thumped back down to "B" mat. Over and over. In ninth grade, at the end of the season, there was a tournament. Actually, there were two tournaments: one for "A" mat and one for "B." I lost only one match, and that was good enough to place third. On "B" mat. I got a nice white ribbon to remind me of my struggle. I got to keep my wrestling shoes. I participated. When I got to high school, I gave it up to be a full-time bandie, for which I received no trophies. Just a whole lot of memories.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My Left Foot

It's almost always my left side. For many years I have theorized that the relatively large number of injuries that occur on my left side compared to my right must have something to do with my lazy left eye. I don't see things coming like I should, and therefore objects of many sizes have found their way to my left side more often than my clear-visioned dominant side. Consider this: My left knee was the one that got rearranged by a failed attempt to launch myself into low geosynchronous orbit. My left side was the one that merged with a Volvo station wagon when I was trying to cross the street after selling concessions at a University of Colorado football game. Both experiences resulted in brief hospital stays.
I've got a scar on my left eyebrow, my left ring finger, and my left forearm. I see a vast left-wing conspiracy forming here. Saturday morning I started in demolishing our front fence in preparation for the new and improved front fence that would be erected in its place. I heard the little voice in the back of my head that sounded a lot like my father saying, "You really ought to take care of those nails sticking up out all over the place." I heard that voice as I stepped squarely on an exposed and slightly rusty splinter. It easily slipped through the protective covering of my Converse tennis shoe and into the arch of my left foot. It came back out just as quickly as I hobbled into the house for a bandage. I considered a trip to the emergency room, then reconsidered when I saw the size and location of the wound.
I cleaned it, applied antibacterial ointment, wrapped it, and went back to work. It was during this time that I tried to recall the symptoms of tetanus. In case you were curious: Common symptoms are muscle spasms in the jaw (hence the common name lockjaw), followed by difficulty swallowing and general muscle stiffness in other parts of the body. Then I stopped thinking about it and finished the job.
Yesterday, my wife did the right thing and got me an appointment with our physician. He looked at the hole in my foot and deemed it less than serious, but said it was a good thing that I came in to have it checked out. Then he ordered up a DPT, a mixture of three vaccines, to immunize against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus. This keeps me safe from myself for the next ten years, or as long as my common sense holds out. When the nurse returned with the syringe, she swabbed me up and jabbed me - you got it - in my left shoulder.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hero's Welcome

Superman never made any money
from saving the world from Solomon Grundy...
- Crash Test Dummies

There was some question raised in the reviews for "Superman Returns" about why Clark Kent/Superman would choose to leave the Earth for five years to go gallivanting around the galaxy in search of his home world, or pieces thereof.
A better question might be "Why do you suppose he stuck around so long in the first place?" I am reminded of the 1971 animated film "Thank You Mask Man," a Lenny Bruce routine that begins with local folks upset at the Lone Ranger because he won't stay around to be thanked after a good deed. So, he stays and finds he likes hearing "Thank you mask man."
"Say that again, son. I like the sound of it," says the Lone Ranger. When the townspeople's attention starts to shift elsewhere, he shocks and disgusts the townspeople with a final request. Let's just say that it involves Tonto the Indian and maybe even Silver.
These heroes, they've got to be doing it for the love of it, because if they wait around too long, there's going to be another crisis, and another. If Oakland had a superhero, like Metropolis has Superman, and Gotham City has Batman, I think he'd be left scratching his cowled head. A triple shooting early Sunday in the Fruitvale district left one man dead and two in the hospital with serious injuries, police said. Halfway through the year, Oakland's homicide rate is over seventy, with little or no sign of slowing down. Some super-type could spend a full evening stopping bullets right here in the other city by the bay.
This makes me wonder if there shouldn't be some sort of unionization of superheroes. New York City seems to have more than its fair share with just the Fantastic Four and Spiderman. Cleveland has Howard the Duck. That leaves a great many metropolitan areas without super-coverage. One might hope that the most qualified heroes would end up in situations that would suit them best, but you can be certain that there would be plenty of cherry-picking of some of the more glamorous assignments.
Finally, I suppose it makes most sense that the real heroes are the ones who choose to serve and protect the place they find themselves. Maybe that's why so many superheroes are orphans - they need to connect to a community for the validation missing from their absent parents. Maybe they're just waiting around for a simple "thank you."

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"

Sunday, July 09, 2006

World Cup Fever - Catch It!

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I were on our way back into our house after a series of minor malfunctions cut our bike ride short. As I came up on the front porch, I heard a roar from several blocks away. I remembered this sound from a time, now several years ago, when the Oakland Raiders made their last appearance in a Super Bowl. It was the sound of spectator approval - a crowd of millions coming together in one big rush of enthusiasm, connected by television. As I knew that the Raiders were still months away from playing any sort of meaningful game (the Bronco fan in me wonders when the last meaningful game they played was), I was curious what that sound might be connected to.
When I got inside, I turned on the television and watched the replay of Mexico's first goal against Iran. Only moments later, they scored another, and the cries of approval went up around the neighborhood all over again. Over the next few days, I found myself trying to get caught up in the event that is the FIFA World Cup. One commentator suggested it was a little like having a Super Bowl played every other day over the course of three weeks. The United States' team made a rather hasty exit from the tournament, which left me with a few options, but arguably little "fan" concerns. I watched the progress of the Mexican team, which the kids at my school were rooting for, and the teams from Africa. Little by little, the brackets shrank to eight, then four teams. The world welcomed four European teams to the semi-finals: Italy, Germany, Italy, France, and Portugal (I confess I had to check my map twice to verify the exact location of Portugal, since my memory was primarily concerned with Portugal's role in getting Columbus to the New World).
Today Italy and France will battle it out to determine soccer supremacy for another four years. The amazing this is this: When they talk about a World Championship, they mean it. The Super Bowl is seen across the globe, but make no mistake about it being a celebration of all things American. The World Series might include a Canadian team for flavor now and then, and there is certainly an international flavor to the rosters of many big league clubs, but baseball is still our national past time, along with hot dogs and Chevrolet. The World Cup is a showcase for the planet, and since I can rationalize a connection with the Italian team, and France has won this decade, I will be looking forward to a cup coming to Italy. Will I watch all eleventy-seven hours of coverage? Probably not, but I will be listening for the roar of the crowd.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Strong Fences Make Nosy Neighbors

I'm digging in the dirt
Stay with me I need support
I'm digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
To open up the places I got hurt
- Peter Gabriel "Digging in the Dirt"
This was the song that was rolling through my head as I worked at replacing the fence in front of my house today. Considering I was listening to my Ipod, it was interesting that I would pick a song that does not appear on any of my playlists to obsess on.
I was digging in the dirt, that much was true. We had a half dozen fence posts that had become snack food for termites some time ago, and today was the that I ran out of excuses and other things to do. I was replacing the part of the fence that we had assumed would be sturdy for some time. That time has come today.
I went out around one, after lunch. I came back in at six forty-five. I made frequent stops for iced tea and Gatorade. I also kept checking on our dog, who was amazed to see the street from our front window without the interference of a series of redwood slats. I confess that sight was compelling for me as well, but I kept returning to the dirt. Six holes in my yard that eventually got filled up with fence posts and concrete. Six holes I made. As I worked, a number of our neighbors passed by, wanting to know what I was doing. This was significant to me since I sometimes go for weeks without speaking to any of our neighbors. This is not because I'm anti-social - it has more to do with the nature of urban living. We are in our car headed somewhere when we see on another most of the time. I always smile and wave, we just don't stop and chat.
I worked for a long time in the hot sun, in between explaining myself and the job I was doing. I'm very sore now. I took two Advil in anticipation of the storm that will be in my joints tomorrow morning. That's when the carpentry begins. "If I had a hammer..."

Friday, July 07, 2006

How Do You Define Tragedy?

A couple of days ago when Ken Lay went to be doorman in Hell, I offered up my little morality play comparing Ken to Ebenezer Scrooge. The joke being that there would be no redemption for the evil mastermind behind the Enron debacle, just eternity near a lake of fire. Maybe that's why he hightailed it up to Aspen before he croaked, just for illusion of "Snowmass."
Legal experts said this week that the death of Enron Corporation's founder will likely cause his conviction to be erased from the record. Some have suggested that Lay's death was Shakespearean in its tragedy. I'm wracking my brain trying to think of a Shakespearean character who outlived the legacy of his actions. Othello? He was pretty much forgiven for killing his wife, right? Lady Macbeth did suggest "A little water clears us of this deed," but no dry cleaning company in the world could get that spot out. No, this is a special case where the man who was convicted of six counts of fraud and conspiracy - as he left thousands jobless and wiped out billions from investors.
Because an appeal was pending, Lay's convictions are abated. "The law views it as though he had never been indicted, tried and convicted," Theus said. Without that, the government cannot continue its efforts to seize Lay's assets through criminal courts, he said. David Berg, a Houston civil litigator, said all that's left is a bureaucratic process in which Lay's attorneys can file court papers, with Lay's death certificate, asking Lake to vacate the convictions. If Lake complies as expected, Lay would no longer be a felon.
Hmm. Once again I return to the words of Lady Macbeth: "To bed, to bed there's knocking at the gate! Come! Come, come, come, come, give me your hand! What's done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed..."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Death to Videodrome, Long Live The New Flesh

I used to work in a video store in Boulder, Colorado. It was long enough ago that we actually charged customers a membership fee to rent movies from us. Oh sure, you could rent from us if you weren't a member, but that would cost you extra. "If you're going to be renting just one movie a week, you'll pay for that membership in less than a year - and you're probably going to want to reserve a movie on those special evenings or holidays - only members can reserve movies." It was a hard sell, but I made it work time after time.
For the longest time, my store was second place to a truly great video store just down the street, The Video Station. There is a scene in "Clerks" where Randal leaves the video store he works in to go to another to rent a movie. The Video Station is where I would go with my room mate to get movies that we really wanted to see. After a few years, we were able to get the owner to buy just about any film that we wanted to see, based on our assertion that we could "put it out every night for a week." With a certain amount of intimidation and charm we were able to do just that. Still, on our day off when we needed to see something and we didn't have it on the shelves of our store, we headed to Video Station.
Then came the dark times - the Clone Wars for the video business - when chains started opening up and little stores like ours began to feel the pinch. A Blockbuster opened up equidistant between our store and the Video Station. They didn't charge membership fees, and they opened their doors with more tapes than we had. Then our owner sold us out to a guy who was looking for something to do to escape his job as an attorney. We became part of a franchise. We were even asked to wear uniforms. It stopped being a really cool job and became a "name-tag" job. And little by little, Blockbuster began to eat away at our customer base. "I can get it cheaper at Blockbuster." "They don't charge me late fees." "They've got more movies." None of these were true, necessarily. We matched their prices, and they were unrelenting in the collection of late fees, and we actually had more titles than Blockbuster - they just had a kerjillion copies of "Top Gun" or whatever the hot movie of the month was.
So our video store went out of business. We sold our inventory, cleaned our shelves, and I went off to move and repair modular office furniture. I vowed never to set foot in a Blockbuster video store. I moved to California. I got married. I became a teacher. I had a son. I broke my promise only once, when went to the Blockbuster just up the street and I purchased a copy of "It's A Wonderful Life" the day we bought our DVD player. Today when I ran past that store, it was closed. The shelves were empty and there was a great big dumpster out in front, filled with video store detritus. It seems that Blockbuster Incorporated had been losing money to places like Wal-Mart and Netflix, so they closed stores and cut jobs so they could make a profit. Again, don't weep for them, Blockbuster is still making money. The kids in our neighborhood who had jobs there will have to find something else to do with their spare time, and I'm glad to have digital cable hooked up to my TV. And there are now three Blockbuster locations to serve you in Boulder, Colorado. Video Station is alive and well, and on your day off you can pick up a copy of "Teenage Catgirls in Heat " (Malachi recommends it).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

With apologies to Mr. Dickens

When the ghost of Sherron Watkins visits Kenneth Lay on Christmas Eve, he refuses to acknowledge the ghost's existence. "Why do you doubt your senses?" asks Watkins. Lay replies, "Because a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!" He is a man without epistemology. He appears to have no faith in anything, meaning he does not believe in things for which there is no empirical support. The above quotation implies that he has no belief in reason, either: he does not believe the empirical data provided by his senses. He believes whatever is convenient for him at the time. If it does not suit him to believe in the ghost of Sherron Watkins, then he does not believe in it. After a while, though, Lay cannot ignore the reality of Sherron Watkins and so decides that he "must" believe in him.
Watkins tells Lay that, for his failure to engage in "charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence," he will be punished. Watkins herself was punished by being forced to wear "the chain she forged in life" and walk the Earth for eternity. This Christmas, Watkin's ghost feels compelled to come to Lay and warn him of his impending fate.
Ken should have listened to ghost number three.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Let Freedom Ring

Before I moved here to California, I thought it would be a good idea to visit the state capitol, Disneyland. Upon entering, I found an impressive display that described the freedoms protected by the Constitution: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Petition, and Freedom of Enterprise. I'm not so sure about that last one, but as it came shortly after I had cashed my traveler's checks in exchange for some of the local currency. I had come with the explicit intent of stimulating the economy. The experience was a profound one for me. I understood at once that these were my people - I had come home.
But really - It's hard to remain actively cynical in the land of Disney. So much of the chewy goodness of America can be found behind the gates. Innovation, creativity, adaptation, adventure and rock and roll swirl together in a freedom frappe. As you watch the day fade into the rocket's red glare behind the ramparts of Sleeping Beauty's castle, it's hard to imagine that there is any better place on earth.
With these things in mind, here is my humble suggestion: Begin construction on Disneyland Baghdad as soon as possible.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Merry Marvel Marching Society

A few weeks ago I went with my son to the local comic book store. It's another one of those stops that being the father of a nine year old boy allows me to make with little or no guilt. I dropped him off in the "Transformers" section, and began to wander the shelves for my own amusement. I came across many familiar compilations of heroes from my youth: The Avengers, Captain America and The Falcon, even a great big book of Jack Kirby. I loved Jack Kirby. All of the jaws were as square as the mighty fists and fingers. This man knew his super powers.
Then I fell into row after row of Spiderman titles. Some were reprints of comics I read when I was nine. There were at least half a dozen titles featuring various permutations of Peter Parker's private life, including one that takes place in an alternate future where Peter's Uncle Ben had lived and - well, it made my head swim just a little trying to take it all in.
"Can I help you find something?"
The voice from behind me belonged to a pleasant young man sporting a mohawk and an X-Men t-shirt. I assumed he worked there, or at least would have a working knowledge of the mythology that lay before me. "What's up with Spidey's new uniform?" True believers, as Stan Lee refers to us, can call him that.
"You mean the red and gold outfit? Tony Stark designed that for him as part of the 'Civil War' series. Have you checked out issue three?"
I didn't want to tell him that I hadn't checked out issue one, but had happened on the last few panels of issue two as I was leafing through dozens of different magazines. "Peter Parker is working for Stark?" I wanted to sound incredulous, but in the know.
"For now, but he's already starting to feel bad about it. You really ought to pick up number three to get the whole story."
"Thanks," I said, picking up issue three and flipping through it. Then I was alone again. I put the comic back on the shelf. I looked down the aisle to see if my son had been consumed by media or if he had bested the volumes in front of him. We bought two Transformer comics and a pair of Star Wars compilations which played with the classic story lines of "A New Hope" and "Empire Strikes Back." He had read each of them a number of times before bedtime.
I didn't buy any comics. I just needed to check in. Every so often when I am off work on a weekday, I flip past "General Hospital" to see if I know anybody in Port Charles anymore. I watch a few minutes, and feel the distance of years, then head back to ESPN or some cable movie that I've seen too many times. It's good to know it's there, but you can't go home again - especially when "home" costs $2.99 and issue.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

It's Not The Size, It's The Principle

My love affair with "American Graffiti" started the year that it came out. I was eleven in 1973, and when I read the tag line "Where were you in '62?" I knew the answer immediately: I was being born. Maybe that's the association, or maybe it's the bittersweet nostalgia that appealed to me even then, as a pre-teen. Whatever the case, I was lining up for multiple showings of this George Lucas film long ago, in a hometown far away. We had the soundtrack on an eight-track tape - no mean feat since it was a double album - and we all but wore it out. I memorized the banter between the characters, and especially the bizarre segues between songs provided by Wolfman Jack.
It made such an impression, that by the end of sixth grade I was ready to put together a whole talent show based on my intimate understanding of the music, styles and fads of the fifties provided by this one film. My teacher thought I was inspired. I think a better term for it would be obsessed, but I managed to string together a few skits, and a musical act or two, culminating in myself and two friends as "Bill Flaley and the Vomits" bashing about on cardboard guitars and drums as we lip-synched to "Rock Around The Clock." We closed the show, and at the end of our number, all the girls in my class chased after us, like "A Hard Day's Night," screaming and tearing at our white t-shirts.
When it was all over, I thought again about "American Graffiti," and how Curt struggles with his decision about what to do when he's run out of things to do in his hometown. I stayed in Boulder another nineteen years, and the night before I moved to Oakland, we rented that movie and watched it again. For those nineteen years, I had been Steve, choosing to stay behind and try to keep my life in control by sticking with the things I knew for sure. Now it was time to get up and out. Fourteen years ago. Now I listen to Wolfman Jack on mp3s in my office across the bay from the streets where George Lucas filmed his last night of summer. Seems the more things stay the same, the more I change.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Maybe the challenge I have reading self-help books stems from the fact that I wrote one when I was in ninth grade. To be more precise, I didn't know that I was writing anything but "The Great American Novel" (as I so precociously titled my tome). I wrote it as a response to years of humiliation and abuse by my peers, and I expected that only one or two people might read it. As it turns out, I ended up with a readership of a dozen or so - which seemed profound to me since I couldn't imagine anyone else having interest in my insecurities.
I couldn't imagine anybody else poring over forty-two handwritten pages, unless they were mentioned by name. Since I used "Harriet The Spy" as one of my inspirations, there were plenty of names. The trouble was that I had it in my head that I was equipped to judge the characters and motivations of my peers - all of them. To this end, I employed the literary device of a " Voice From The Great Beyond." The Voice said all the things I would never write, much less say, myself. Chief among the Voice's observations was the distinction between "real" and "plastic" people. Once the details of my "novel" got out to my circle of friends, they all clamored after me to be told if they were one or the other. I didn't have the heart to tell them that anyone who bothered with such a distinction was obviously "plastic." In this way I became something of a guru, an oracle to pubescents. I held impromptu "counseling sessions" for those who hoped to find favor in the eyes of the Voice from Beyond. I usually ended up crushing their self-esteem, and they thanked me for it.
Three months later, I attempted a sequel to "The Great American Novel." In it, I threw the curtain back and revealed the sad little man at the controls of the Great and Terrible Voice. What did I know? I was fifteen. Unfortunately, not everyone who read the first one got to see the second, and consequently there may be people out there in their forties, living their lives based on some wild notion I had before I learned how to drive. If this is the case, and you're just finding out not that I am not all I made myself out to be, my apologies. Please return to your life and know that, real or plastic, The Voice From The Great Beyond wants you to know that you're fine, just the way you are.