Thursday, May 31, 2007
Eventually, this crippling fear diminished, and I was able to look again at the night sky without shuddering. This was accomplished primarily by making a point to no longer read newspaper accounts of UFO sightings. At this point, my paranoia shifted to a more local concern: Bigfoot. Even though Sasquatch is generally considered to be a problem in the Northwest, and I should consider myself fairly safe in the foothills of Boulder, Colorado. But when we went up into the mountains, my mind began to fill with all the possibilities for large, ape-like creatures wandering out of the woods and through the back door of our cabin. I kept an eye out for enormous footprints and my nose open for the expressly pungent odor that would announce the beast's presence.
And now, Nessie is back. A man has captured what Nessie watchers say is possible footage of the supposed mythical creature beneath Scotland's most mysterious lake - Loch Ness. "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this jet black thing, about 45 feet long, moving fairly fast in the water," said Gordon Holmes, the fifty-five-year-old a lab technician who took the video. And now the questions: What could this thing be? How big could it be? What does it eat? The Scottish media is skeptical of Nessie stories but Holmes' footage is of such good quality that even the normally reticent BBC Scotland aired the video on its main news program Tuesday. Now, instead of worrying about humpback whales getting lost on their way up the California coast, I can start feeling the threat of a migrating Nessie.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
It makes a fun evening for me to begin a conversation with a phrase like, "I think the best TV show of all time was 'The Dick Van Dyke Show'." Moments later I can see how the rest of the night will go. If everyone smiles and agrees, then dinner will be a very dull affair. If someone says, "You're out of your mind. Everyone knows the best TV show was 'Full House'," maybe we should skip dessert. Then again, if someone suggests that "The Dick Van Dyke Show" just gave us a glimpse of the thundering talent that Jerry Van Dyke was, it might be worth calling the babysitter and telling her that we'll be home late.
The real challenge is picking a point that you can defend. You don't even have to do it with a straight face. Stephen King set off a thousand blogs when he made his list of the "Twenty-Five Greatest Rock Songs." All those Elvis songs, and not a single track from Black Sabbath? Once again ladies and gentlemen, these are opinions - not facts. This is the joy of pop culture. It is infinitely subjective. Firmly held beliefs are not a necessity, since you could find yourself on the other side of the swinging door of hypocrisy at any minute, but at least introduce your assertion with conviction. Then when the rest of the room caves in around you in disagreement, be prepared to point out that we live in a free and democratic society, and if you believe that "Physical Graffiti" is the best Led Zeppelin album ever recorded, take solace in the fact that the framers of the United States Constitution had you in mind when they put that whole "freedom of speech" thing in - which, by the way, happens to be the best of all the freedoms.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
"It's up to you now." These are the words Cindy Sheehan used to sum up her resignation as the public face of the peace movement. "Good-bye America ... you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it." Ouch. Was she aiming at my pride, or something just a little bit lower?
Like many of us, she was stung by the Democratic cave-in on war funding last week. So much for timetables, so much for accountability. If someone asked you for a thousand dollars, you'd probably want to know how it was going to be used. You might even expect results. If you were going to give someone billions of dollars, wouldn't you expect some way to check in on how your money was being spent?
What if you didn't give them money? What if you gave them your son? Would you want to know that there was some measure of relative success or failure that might justify the loss of your child? Now her twenty-nine year marriage is over, and she has decided to call it a day while she can still spend time with her remaining children. "I'm going home for awhile to try and be normal," she wrote. Fair enough. It's what we're all trying to do these days, right?
Monday, May 28, 2007
And I thought of my father - the man who once wrote "scatter me here" in our cabin's guestbook, so we took him at his word. Consequently, there isn't a convenient graveside to decorate, though there is a plaque mounted to a boulder next to the creek, just behind the high school we all graduated from. That's okay, since proximity is not essential here. I carry these notions with me as I run, and put them together with other thoughts to create what you read here - a kind of "brain smoothie". What came out today was this: A recollection of the bumper sticker on our neighbor's station wagon. It had a peace symbol, and read "Footprint of the American Chicken." This was a family that came to our little cul-de-sac in Boulder, Colorado from the somewhat more conservative enclave of Kansas City, Missouri. During the 1970's, they existed as the right-wing element in an otherwise politely liberal landscape. They were the Fox News Channel in an NPR neighborhood. It was only today that it occurred to me how challenging that must have been for all concerned, but the image that came to me was one of my father, suggesting a "neighborhood salute." My father was always very much a uniter. He loved to bring people together, so until now, this only appeared to me as another way for my dad to bring the street along as an extension of his fun-club. The salute he was suggesting involved hanging his fingers down in a claw - the footprint of the American Chicken. Maybe I've got this wrong. Time does funny things to even the best memories, but I choose to remember my father's quiet bit of neighborhood resistance.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
From the new introduction of "Born on the Fourth of July" by Ron Kovic: "I have watched in horror the mirror image of another Vietnam unfolding. So many similarities, so many things said that remind me of that war thirty years ago which left me paralyzed for the rest of my life. Refusing to learn from our experiences in Vietnam, our government continues to pursue a policy of deception, distortion, manipulation, and denial, doing everything it can to hide from the American people their true intentions and agenda in Iraq. The flag-draped caskets of our dead begin their long and sorrowful journeys home hidden from public view, while the Iraqi casualties are not even considered worth counting--some estimate as many as 100,000 have been killed so far."
How do we honor the memory of those who have served our country, and fought to maintain our freedoms? I would suggest that each of us must continue to exercise those very rights and privileges - including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Instead, I climbed up on the roof. I have an absurd connection to this phrase which is connected to what I believe is the funniest joke in the world, but it is in fact what I did. There was a section of the roof over our back porch that had been rotting for several months now and today was the day that had nothing for me to do - except fix the dry rot on the porch roof.
The best part of the job was that I got to use a number of different power tools. Like so many things in my life, my carpentry skills have always been a little suspect, but I make up for that with a certain swagger and bravado. Of course I can fix it: plywood, nails, shingles, what else?
For one thing, I'm doing most of the work on the roof. Even my devil-may-care attitude couldn't make up for the fifteen or so feet between me and the ground. I know the acceleration of gravity on Earth is generally considered to be a constant, and I know my mass (give or take the weight of the tools on my belt) and I only needed to do a little conversion from feet to mass to figure out what force my body would make on the concrete below. I chose instead to concentrate on the task at hand.
Three hours later, the rotted wood was in the compost bin, and the rusty nails had been thrown away. The new wood needs a coat of paint to match the rest of the porch, but order has been restored in my corner of the universe once again. Now I have the rest of the day to fight the urge to lay on the couch and watch television.
Friday, May 25, 2007
9:30 AM - The show begins with the Twentieth Century Fox logo - just like Lucasfilm, only with a little shorter fanfare. We're in for the one hundred and twelve minute introduction to a land where man is primitive and super-intelligent apes run the show. We realize that we can't recreate the experience of moviegoers back in 1968, since the shock ending has become a punchline in the past four decades.
10:35 AM We hear Taylor croak, "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" This was voted as the #66 movie quote by the American Film Institute.
11:30 AM - Hey, he never left Earth at all. They blew it up, or at the very least they let the New York shoreline get all messed up. Thus endeth chapter one.
11:38 - Lunch orders in, comfort stops made, we plunge "Beneath the Planet of the Apes." Our initial observations regarding Doctor Hasslein's theory of Observed Time suggest that time begins to slow as we continue to watch films about super-intelligent apes. The first one was almost two hours, this one clocks in at just barely an hour and a half.
12:45 PM - We're wondering if we didn't hit our own "defect in time" and start watching "Star Trek" reruns starring orangutans and chimpanzees.
1:05 PM - Is it any wonder that our astronauts have such a hard time dealing with reality when they are trained to deal with such varied threats as a gorilla army, mutant mind control and a doomsday bomb?
1:10 PM - And just like that, they blew up the planet. The whole thing. Just like that. How could there possibly be another film?
1:45 PM - We can't spend too much time trying to comprehend what Doctor Hasslein had in mind. We've got to keep moving if we want to be free of "Escape From..." before sundown.
2:16 PM - It is fun to watch chimpanzees discuss the evolution of their species.
2:33 PM - I have just recalled that I had a great many quotations from the "Apes" movies on Dymotape labels stuck on my bedroom door - including "It wasn't our war - it was the gorilla's war."
3:13 PM - It has just occurred to me that we will shortly be leaving Kim Hunter behind as we move still further down the line of our possible futures. We'll miss you, Zira.
3:29 PM - We are now rounding the clubhouse turn as we pile on into "Conquest of..." There is a giddy sense of euphoria as the dystopian future (1991) that has already passed. Maybe Doctor Hasslein was right after all.
4:17 PM - In 1991 we have phones without cords - well, at least the 1991 that we see in 1972... Wow. And all those turtlenecks. And sideburns. This future is none too friendly, is it?
4:53 PM - Caesar has just decreed that he will lead his "people" out of bondage, to witness the birth of the Planet of jump-suit-clad super-intelligent Apes.
5:07 PM - At last we find ourselves in the year 2670 A.D., with the Lawgiver (who bears a shocking vocal similarity to John Huston) giving us a rundown of the last six centuries. We can smell the barn, or the monkey house.
5:18 PM - Virgil the Orangutan is waxing on about travelling faster than light, and bending time. What does an ape know about such things? And how did he write all those fabulous tunes?
6:01 PM - Can man and ape live in peace? Only time (and Doctor Hasslein) will tell.
6:23 PM - The rag-tag armada of the mutants is presently attacking what looks like a Renaissance Faire attended by a group of super-intelligent apes.
6:46 PM - "Lawgiver, who knows about the future?" "Perhaps," says a foam latex encumbered John Huston, "Only the dead may know." Okay, them and the those of us who spent the daylight hours of May 29, 2007 watching all five "Planet of the Apes" movies. I feel as though I've only aged a day...
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Both programs are most certainly cultural touchstones of their time. In the middle of the 1970's as punk rock pulled in one direction and disco the other, "The Gong Show" was guilt-free junk food for the Me Generation. Just as "American Idol" has given us the iconic trio of Simon, Paula and Randy, "The Gong Show" had Jamie Farr, Rip Taylor and Jaye P. Morgan. "American Idol" is a slick machine that churns out superstars that can be signed to recording agreements that the corporation maintains with a major record company and benefit from the record sales of contestants and winners who are exposed to the worldwide marketplace through the TV shows. Idols get careers. Winners on the Chuck Barris' show were awarded with the princely sum of $516.32. Back in 1976, that was about what you'd expect to get for imitating a number of electronic sounds, on your way to stardom in the "Police Academy" movies (as Michael Winslow did).
And yes, they are as different as night and day, just like the decades that gave birth to them. The seventies gave us "The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo", Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), and RuPaul. Today we have such lasting luminaries as Clay Aiken, Justin Guarini and Frenchie Davis. Mister Seacrest is the foil for Simon and his cruel jests, where Chuck Barris was the addled ringmaster of a videotaped freak show. America chooses their Idol, but a trio of drunken B-list celebrities decided who was gonged - and isn't that the way it really ought to be?
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
We get a corporate-office-type whose company has made arrangements with Junior Achievement to spend the day sharing their wisdom and life lessons with youngsters in their community. As a classroom teacher, it's my job to keep the disruptions to a minimum, and to mete out any discipline that becomes necessary over what is generally a pretty low-key day. That is when the volunteer shows up prepared, and has some notion of what spending hours at a stretch with a roomful of kids will take out of you. Happily, after a few years of watching from the fence, I have become very familiar with the curriculum for fourth grade, and I can generally move things along with a little nudge when my students' eyes begin to glaze over.
Today was a minor challenge since my presenter switched with one of her co-workers at the last minute, and showed up without a clue about the program for our grade. That was easy enough to remedy, since I have found California on the map for years now, and figuring out how to make money selling little rubber race cars comes somewhat naturally to me. An hour into the day, after one activity, my volunteer was ready for "a little break." I told her that we were still an hour away from recess, and my kids would be fine going ahead to the next page.
And so it went. In no way am I ungrateful for the opportunity to sit at the back of my classroom and help out where needed. I was happy to have someone else do most of the talking. When it was over, however, I could see that the enthusiasm that had sparked our first sixty minutes had diminished to a faint glow. The reality of fourth grade in urban Oakland had left its mark on our Junior Achievement representative. I took over for the last fifteen minutes of class, asking review questions from the day, and handing out the J.A. play money as prizes for knowledge, while our volunteer signed her name on the certificates I had filled out for the kids before lunch. I asked her if she wanted to hand them out as a "last tag" on the group she had endured most of a minimum day (dismissal at 1:55). "No thanks," she said from behind tired eyes, "I don't really know their names."
I do, and so I did. My students settled down just long enough to give their obsequious unison "Thank you" and then it was over - Done In A Day.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Of course we care. We're the ones with opposable thumbs and all. We can get baby Jessica out of the well, and we can certainly save two whales (now branded with the somewhat absurd nicknames "Delta" and "Dawn"). They made it as far as Sacramento, perhaps with a hope of gaining an audience with our Governator. The question the caller raised hung in the air, with the threads of time, effort and money dangling from it. If evolution saw fit not to bless these two humpbacks with a serviceable sense of direction, who are we to interfere? We have the legend of Humphrey to spur us on, from 1985. Scientists used recordings of whale songs to lure him back to the Pacific, and eventually made a number of fine children's books.
Finally, it brought me back to an old and very fond memory of my college years, listening late one night to the campus radio station, as the DJ came on to back-announce "We Are The World": "Yeah, right. Feed the world. All I know is somebody's gettin' rich." I know that all those egos were checked at the door, but it was still about selling records. And now, God help me, I can't get that Helen Reddy song out of my head. Stupid whales.
Monday, May 21, 2007
We went out and watched future stars like Connie Carpenter, Davis Phinney, Ron Kiefel, and Alexi Grewal attempt to master the beast of a course that was The Morgul Bismark. In 1980 when the race morphed into the Coors Classic (a change from herbs to hops), we watched a young turk named Greg LeMond hone his skills on those same hills. In 1984, the film "American Flyers" was shot (in part) during many of the stages of that race. My older brother worked security and rode motorcycle escort for many of the races, and the widescreen version of the film includes a nice shot of his thigh.
Then bicycling faded into the background for a couple of decades. Greg LeMond won the Tour de France three times, and the Coors Classic attempted to evolve into an even larger race before it collapsed under its own weight. When Lance Armstrong showed up, cycling was ready for a renaissance. Or maybe I was ready for it, at least. With each successive victory, however, the soap opera that now surrounds most professional sports began to swirl in ever widening circles. By the time Lance had won his seventh Tour de France, retirement seemed like a relief.
Into this void came Floyd Landis. Defying odds and osteonecrosis in his hip, he became just the third American to win the yellow jersey in Paris. Then the doping allegations began. True or false, the story has done nothing but make me long for Tonya Harding to bring some class and decorum back to the sport. Will Geoghegan, Landis' manager, confessed that he had called Greg LeMond last Wednesday night and, posing as LeMond's uncle, threatened to reveal the secret that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child if LeMond showed up to testify. While Landis waits to find out if he will be the first person ever stripped of his title in the 104 year history of the Tour de France, Geoghegan will be entering a rehab facility. All in all, I think the whole thing would have been better if they had just stuck to herbal tea.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Yesterday I was forced into another such experiment because my iPod's battery had been ignored one too many days. I found myself running a capella once more. The difference this time was that I brought my dog along. I noticed that we both tended to breathe through our mouths, and it was still hard to pick up the pace without a soundtrack. It made me remember running in the Bolder Boulder, a very strict and orderly 10k race that forbids headphones. The difference there was that they had plenty of entertainment, both organized and free-form along the course to keep things interesting. I tried running the Bay to Breakers the first year I was out here, but it was too much of a circus - more of a parade than a race - and I was happy to get back to my own little rut, with all the tunes supplied by yours truly.
This morning I checked the battery before I laced up my shoes. I'm very interested in finding my center, but I can do that after I finish listening to some loud rock and roll.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
The cable TV in New York City during the mid-1970s offered a form of entertainment called "public access", which was new to those of us who grew up with rabbit ears antennae on the prairie. On one particular evening, the three boys were left alone in the apartment while mom and dad went out to the theater. At this time, there were dozens of channels to choose from, and so my brothers and I had a difficult time choosing and agreeing on anything to watch, so we looked at everything. Sometime in the late evening hours, we stumbled on a channel which showed naked people. Naked grown up people. Naked grown up people having carnal knowledge of one another. Very limber and flexible naked grown up people having creative carnal knowledge of one another for what seemed like hours. When my parents came home, we tried to explain, perhaps by way of confession, what we had seen.
For the next few nights my parents watched to see what they had missed, but were treated instead to odd bits of performance art and other curiosities, but none of it naked. We wondered if the whole thing might have been just a collective pubescent hallucination. My mother stayed on for a week after while the boys headed back across the country in the family station wagon. When Doctor Jo returned, she assured my mother that it was quite possible, and indeed very likely that we had seen floppy sex on her cable television. There was some relief, then some questions, like "How do you get a schedule for the Public Access Channel?"
Thank you for the window on the world, Doctor Jo.
Friday, May 18, 2007
I was also very fortunate to grow up in a family that was very responsive to my needs. If I wanted a Fonzie T-shirt I could expect, somewhere in the flurry, a Fonzie T-shirt. I didn't get underwear for my birthday, either. This was due primarily to the fact that my father generally received new briefs from his mother for decades and he issued an edict that has stood for years in our family: "If I need underwear, I'll buy underwear. Underwear is not a gift."
So my list has been narrowed by at least two items. No underwear or Fonzie T-shirts. The simple truth of my life is that it is already quite full of stuff, and I rarely have the time it takes to pay attention to the stuff that I have already accumulated, and so gathering still more stuff seems counter-productive. The trouble with being a grown-up is that there's always something else that needs to be done.
I have ruled out a stay in the intensive care ward, which would allow me to catch up on my reading and watching DVDs without the guilt of having to exercise, because hospitals can be so depressing. I think instead I would like just one thing: To be done. Not with anyone or anything big. I'm not looking to make any major life changes, but it would be very satisfying to be able to look at some corner of my existence and feel as though I had it pretty well nailed down. No need to check back in a month, look in after a week, it was complete. I understand that the third law of thermodynamics is working against me here, but it never hurts to ask.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Hey, everybody - it's National Bike To Work Day! Volunteers will cheer you on at twenty-four Energizer Stations around San Francisco! Stop by one of the stations to load up on free coffee, snacks, and convenient tote bags for future commutes. That is, unless you don't live or work in San Francisco. If this is your situation, do as I do, and follow the rules of the road for the urban biker:
- Keep Your Head Down
- Keep Moving
That's about it. Most situations can be avoided or relieved if these two methods are used conscientiously. There are those bicyclists who tend to be more conspicuous, like Floyd Landis, and therefore catch more heat and attention than is necessarily healthy. The same can be said of the group that calls themselves "Critical Mass." They want us to know, "Critical Mass is a monthly bicycle ride to celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists' right to the road." Some of these rides have become more than a little confrontational. It makes me recall the words of advice my younger brother gave me when driving in Los Angeles: "Avoid Impact." I tend to favor a less in-your-face-approach than many bike riders I see on the television news. I am generally pleased with the simple physics of a bike versus car or truck collision and seek to avoid them whenever possible. If that means that I give up my "right to the road," so be it. I will happily sacrifice that in order to exercise some of my other rights, such as breathing, and eating solid food.
Speaking of which, where is that Energizer station, anyway?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Happily (for some) this does not affect the Internet cafes that soldiers in Iraq use that are not connected to the Defense Department's network. The cafe sites are run by a private vendor - get ready for it - FUBI (For US By Iraqis). Two years ago, an article in USA Today hailed the advent of soldiers' blogs, "Milbloggers", as "unprecedented windows into servicemembers' lives." That window is now being closed. To see the war you might be missing, drop by Mudvillegazette.com.
Bottom line, the majority of these voices won't be silenced. There are still plenty of ways for soldiers to tell their stories. They will rightly argue about their boss' decision to cut off their access to experiments with diet Coke and Mentos, and (in the words of miliblogger Blackfive) "most companies here in the US ban MySpace as a productivity issue because you should be working, not seeing how cool you are with your ten new 'friends'."
So, if you find yourself in one of those Internet cafes in the middle of the desert and you have a minute to share with us your own feelings on the matter, or your workaround to get the latest Beyonce video form MTV.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I'm guessing that Pastor Ted Haggard might once have been a good choice, until he turned out to have more in common with that purple Teletubbie than would have been completely appropriate, even though therapy "gave Ted the tools to help to embrace his heterosexual side." What about God's Little Elf, Pat Robertson? Perhaps because compared to Jerry Falwell (after 9/11 blaming feminists, gays and liberals for bringing on the terrorist attacks) Pat Robertson still seems like a pretty solid nutjob (God spoke to him and told him that "mass killings" were to come during 2007, due to a terrorist attack on the United States.)
More likely we'll get to see a little more of Doctor James Dobson, head of "Focus on the Family." He maintains that homosexual behavior can be corrected (hear that, Pastor Ted?). He would rather have us focus our attention on "the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children" than global warming, since evidence supporting global warming was not conclusive.
Heck, why bother taking over the Moral Majority? Sounds like this guy has all the right stuff to be President of the United States!
I want to be the minority
I don't need your authority
Down with the moral majority
'Casue I want to be the minority
- "Minority" by Green Day
Monday, May 14, 2007
That was one wacky year. What a difference a decade makes. Another milestone from 1997, the birth of my son. I didn't know it then, but this was about the best possible way I can imagine to go about making a best friend. Ten years ago we moved into a new house and I started a new career, but the life I am most impressed with is the ten-year-old boy who is busily creating a Lego fortress in our living room. Time certainly does fly when you're having fun.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
For the past week or so, there has been an ugly surge in the vandalism in our neighborhood. A few days ago when I was out running, there was a group of three or four teenagers painting the wall of the underpass up the street from my house. My initial notion was that these kids must be part of some graffiti abatement program, and they were spraying some sort of cleaning solution on the tags that were already there. Surely they wouldn't be brazen enough to stand there in the light of day in front of passing traffic, defacing public property.
I was wrong. They were. Yesterday morning I saw the angry red scrawl on the fence across the street from us. I felt relief that our fence has slats and doesn't offer a smooth surface to leave a mark. Unless they decided to leave their spray cans behind and start breaking things. Later, when we were leaving the neighborhood for the evening, the same group of lumpy numbskulls were making their way down the street, again in broad daylight, spraying sidewalks, trees - anything that would hold still while they left their mark. I had my camera with me, and chose to roll down the window and take a few photos of the delinquents. "What're you taking pictures of?" hollered the one who seemed capable of speech.
Then they yammered something else before they got me in my weak spot. They threw a couple of empty cans at our car. With my wife and kid in the car, the red light went off in my lizard brain. I was halfway out of the door before I told my wife to stop the car. Before I knew it, I was standing face to face with the tiny-brained children who had been messing up my street. I was livid. I let them know it. Then it occurred to me that I was looking over the heads of both of my main antagonists. They puffed up their chests, in a way that I am quite familiar from my days on elementary school yard duty. They wouldn't back down. "We was just writing (some garbledygook) on the sidewalk. What's your problem?"
This morning, upon reflection, I have the answer: My problem is Mother's Day. No mother needs to know that their child is capable of such behavior. All those young toughs have mothers. Whether they are aware of how their kids spend their afternoons and evenings is a mystery. Confronted with the proof of their deeds, would they do anything differently?Would they pat their sons on the head and say "boys will be boys?" Are these same young men getting up early to make breakfast for their mothers, or bringing them a bouquet from the stand on the corner in front of the gas station? Or would they give mom a day off from the macho territorial posing that they show the rest of the world? Perhaps they got a nice big can of red gloss enamel and etched a great big heart on the front door of their apartment.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
That's what I did the summer before my sophomore year in high school. I didn't see it opening night, and I didn't make the pilgrimage to the Cooper theater in Denver to see it in wide-screen for several months, but I made up for it in repeat visits. For three months, if there was a momentary lack of something to do, one of us would say, "Hey, wanna go see 'Star Wars'?" Then we would beg a ride, or get on our bikes and hustle up to the Flatirons theater where we would be assured of one hundred and twenty-one minutes of giddy good time.
The side effects of this experience were a pasty white complexion in the middle of summer, a mild addiction to Junior Mints, and a completely annoying habit of repeating the lines from the movie moments before the characters on the scree would utter them. I wasn't much for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," but this was nerd-vana. During one particular showing, my friend Susie and I were holding forth somewhere near the middle of the theater. I had just acquired my third bit of swag from the machine, a poster depicting X and Y-wing fighters swarming over the surface of the Death Star, and I was feeling my oats. Sometime during the second reel, just after R2-D2 made good his escape after Luke had foolishly removed his restraining bolt, a guy two rows ahead of us turned around and hissed, "I'll give you a dollar to shut up."
I looked at Susie, then back at the offended patron. "Each?"
"Yes!" He fumbled for his wallet and pulled out a pair of singles. Susie took the cash and went straight up the aisle for another round of Junior Mints and a Coke (this was 1977,when two bucks could get you a "King Size" box of cool, refreshing mints and a cup of watery soda). We suffered through the rest of the film in satisfied, bloated silence.
Tonight the galaxy exacts its revenge as I pay for my family to attend Charles Ross' "One Man Star Wars." For an hour, we will be entertained as one man does all the voices, sounds and music from the first (or is that second?) three Star Wars movies. I wonder if I'll be able to afford the Junior Mints.
Friday, May 11, 2007
For our tiny boy, who was already showing a fascination with cars and trucks and things that go, having a place for frontloaders and dump trucks to push around piles of sand was a necessity. We bought the finest imported sand that Toys R Us had to offer, and we watched as he built highways and tunnels and buried and rescued vehicles for hours at a stretch. We learned rather quickly that the design element that we had overlooked was a cover - to keep the neighborhood cats from dropping by late at night to play with the Tonka trucks (and other less pleasant activities).
We bought a big piece of plywood. It kept the cats out, but had the unfortunate side effect of keeping the kid out too. It wasn't something that a two-year-old was going to hoist by himself, and there was always the fear of and errant gust of wind toppling it back on top of him. This was just before we began our Renaissance period. Each time that Home Depot dropped off a load of improvement materials in our driveway, we unloaded them into the garage, and the empty pallet became potential clutter. That is, until we had three of them.
It was at this point that I realized three pallets could be cobbled together to make walls. The offending chunk of plywood could be placed on top as a roof, and suddenly we had an enclosed sandbox. It no longer fit comfortably in the space below the apricot tree, so we moved the entire setup to the back of the yard.
As the months and years went by, more spare lumber and pallets arrived at our house. After the painstaking efforts of making the house more livable and aesthetically pleasing, I was free to pound together the scraps into what has become our "Boogle House." Since that initial box, there have been several additions, and it now stands at a short two stories, with a fire pole and a slide for easy exit. Even as the power tool collection continues to expand in that garage of ours, my home repair acumen continues to grow. The silly construction in the back yard stands as a monument to all the things I have learned, but still looks like a cartoonist designed it. It's not "up to code", unless that code comes from ACME. Tomorrow, a tribe of my son's best friends will be crawling all over it, and all that sideways and cockeyed effort will get the attention it deserves.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
"Mister Caven, how come you don't have a car?"
"I do have a car. With gas at almost four dollars a gallon, and insurance, and everything else, it adds up. I'd rather spend my money on something like the big screen TV I have in my living room."
There was a thoughtful pause. The two boys, ages eleven and twelve, walked alongside me for a moment in silence. Then one of them said, "Yeah, that's pretty cool, but if I had that kind of money, I'd probably buy a nine."
His buddy spoke right up, "Not me, I'd get me a Glock."
I listened in mild disbelief, and then it occurred to me that it really didn't matter if they were only trying to impress one another or if they were actually serious. These were pre-teens bragging about how they would spend their extra cash. They were going to buy guns.
Halfway across the country, police searched a high school room by room Thursday after a cook reported seeing two suspicious men in the building around dawn, both wearing camouflage and one in a ski mask. The high school was in suburban Colorado. To be precise, it was my alma mater, Boulder High. The same school that both my parents graduated from, as well as my brothers, my wife, and soon, my niece. "This could be a spring, end-of-school-year prank. It could be a burglary. It could be kids goofing around, or it could be more serious," Police Chief Mark Beckner said. "Given the times that we live in and recent events, we have to take all precautions."
These are the times we live in.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
All of this reminded me of a time when I was about his age and my mother sent me with a blank check to pay for my little brother and I to get our hair cut. I can remember sitting in the chair and obsessing over the details of what my mother had told me about filling out the check. I had seen her do it a thousand times, and since it was already signed and dated, I just had to remember to enter the correct amount. I tried to relax as I watched my brother sitting up in the chair, and I looked at a number of sports and car magazines as I felt the post-razor cut itch. Then my little brother was finished and it was time for me to pay for services rendered. In my most careful pre-adolescent scrawl I wrote the total, with my mother's suggested tip included on the line and then wrote it again in number form in that tiny little box. I felt so grown up and terrified as I handed it to Bill, our barber. "Can I show you something?" he asked.
I could feel my face burning as I walked with him to the cash register while the Caven boy's hair was being swept into neat piles. "What is it?" I was sure that I had been found out and that the bank police were on their way to straighten things out.
"See here where you wrote 'twenty-one dollars'? You wrote it so far to the right that somebody could just write 'one hundred and' right next to it - and then squeeze a one in before the two over here..."
I sensed doom. I was a failure and I would never be allowed to write another check as long as I lived. This turned out not to be the case, but it makes me nervous to this day to write a check. Thank goodness for my ATM card.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
"You and I are laying the foundation for a world led by Islamists," Farfour (as the Mouse clone is called) squeaked on a recent episode of the children's show, which is called "Tomorrow's Pioneers." "We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness, and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers." I was too young to recall the original Mickey Mouse Club, but I'm not sure if this is the kind of programming that Walt would have approved. It doesn't have quite the same ring as "Special Guest Star Day", though it would certainly be right at home on "Anything Can Happen Day". Maybe this is more along the lines of the 1990's revival - you know, with Britney and Christina and Justin and all those "Pioneers of Tomorrow."
I guess the thing that puzzles me the most is how quiet things are at the House of Mouse. Back in 1989 when Rob Lowe sang and danced through an ill-conceived version of "Proud Mary" along with a faux Snow White to open the Oscar Telecast, Disney threatened to sue over the unauthorized use of their image of the fairest of them all. Maybe they're feeling pretty fat and happy right now, and they just don't need the additional litigation. Is this possible? Or perhaps they know that Wernher von Braun used to be on Walt's payroll. Who knows what kind of exploding toys Donald and Goofy might have up their sleeves.
Monday, May 07, 2007
But I wish they wouldn't. It's hard to imagine that these words would come from me, a dyed-in-my-tights Spidey fan for four decades, but this is what it has come to. When I first saw "Spiderman 2", I sat back in my seat as the final credits finished and was happy to do it all over again. It had action and laughs, and most of all, it had a heart. There was a story in the middle of all those computer generated webs.
It almost made me forget that godawful live-action TV series starring Nicholas Hammond. Even the fanboys say "It wasn't the greatest television program ever made. It wasn't even a particularly good show." The problem was, it was being made on the cheap and fast for a quick buck, hoping to cash in on the success of the other Marvel superhero superstar, The Incredible Hulk. This was a heady time for comic book fans as superheros and superheroines were all over the dial. In spite of all the hoopla, I was more intrigued by Spidey's regular appearances on "The Electric Company" than I was with the CBS series.
Then in 2002, when we both turned forty, Spiderman came to the big screen. It made me very happy. Two years later I was even happier with the sequel. Who could imagine that I would be disappointed by a third?
It's a summer movie. It's big. It's loud. It makes kerjillions of dollars, and it has no heart. It has hundreds of moving parts and not one of them makes me care about any of the people up on the screen. This time when I saw the rating slide at the end, I was relieved. I'm ready to go back and read a few of my old comics, the ones that remind me why I fell in love with Peter Parker and his alter-ego in the first place. To quote Stan Lee: "Nuff said."
Sunday, May 06, 2007
And I said that it would be best not to do the math. It makes me sound peevish, because I feel like the families at my son's school are very supportive and there are a great many that are actively participating in their children's educational experience. I'm not peevish. I'm confounded, because on the other side of this coin is my experience as a teacher. I make a point to give out my home phone number to the kids and families of my class at the beginning of the year. This is used primarily by those students who forget which page in what workbook the homework can be found, and every so often a parent or older sibling will call to ask how to explain the difference between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. I send home a behavior report for every student each week, and call home when those reports don't return signed. Still, the only face-to-face meetings I have had with many of my students' parents have come at report card time, when they are required to attend a fifteen minute conference in order to receive their kids' grades. With all of this input, what amazes me is that no one, parent or kid, has ever called me to ask me how they are doing in class. I've made those calls to them, almost as if they expected that if the news was really bad, Mister Caven would call them.
That is true. I have and will continue to, but it sure makes the gulf between those that have and those who do not even more clear. Participate in your child's education, and see if it doesn't find its way back to you. Go ahead. I dare you.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Seems courteous enough. Hard to know which way to go exactly. That's why it would be nice if someone had a clear vision about how to proceed. Welcome the sage wisdom of Rudy Guliani: "I believe America needs at least ten new combat brigades above the additions that are already proposed by President Bush and are already in the budget." For some quick perspective, Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended in January that the Army increase its active-duty soldiers by 65,000 to 547,000 over the next five years. Giuliani would raise that limit to 582,000. This was during a commencement address to the Citadel, which he concluded by saying, "The reality is that in this world today, there are people — terrorists, Islamic, radical terrorists — who are planning as we sit here at this graduation, who are planning to come here and kill us."
Or maybe both of them need to read "All Quiet On The Western Front" - perhaps for the fist time. Specifically, the words of Paul Bäumer: "You still think it's beautiful to die for your country. The first bombardment taught us better. When it comes to dying for country, it's better not to die at all."
Friday, May 04, 2007
Scatological references aside, I imagine it must be odd to drop by most of the free world with the memories of what had once been a mighty empire. The kids in my fourth grade class have a hard time imagining that a little country like England "was the boss of us." They seem more content with the notion that Spain was in charge of Mexico and California. This makes sense to them. I guess there's just not much left that is too threatening about the British. Maybe that's why it has been fifty years since the Queen last visited her former colonies. This is not to say that the old girl doesn't get around. She's made dozens of state visits over the years, even popping across the pond for a visit with Presidents Eisenhower (1957), Ford (1976), Reagan (1983) and Bush I (1991). It is interesting to note that she tends to show up for the Republicans, not so much for the Democrats.
For some reason, it's taken half a century for her majesty to find her way back to Jamestown. Perhaps the wounds are still a bit fresh, historically speaking. I suspect that once the roller coaster is finished at Roanoke Island, she'll be back all the time.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Then there's this three-year-old girl in Hyde Park, New York. Her uncontrollable laughter came to an end today when doctors removed a tumor from her brain that was causing the problem. She was suffering from hypothalamic hamartoma, a condition leading to "gelastic seizures" that produce uncontrollable laughter, followed by crying, kicking and screaming. Around here we call it "a night of TV with the Cavens." Ironically, her parents said they knew that she was going to be okay when "she smiled for us. So that's when we knew everything was going to be OK."
That brings me to my favorite old saw about how it's easier to smile than it is to frown. Snopes.com insists that this "fact" remains undetermined, citing a great many claims to just how many muscles it takes to do either one. However, it does provide us with at least one funny bit from a December 29 article in the Denver Post: "It takes four muscles to smile, 20 to frown and roughly 317 to appear amused when a Celine Dion imitator, who happens to be a man, sings a song about, er, flatulence." Maybe scientists ought to check out the connection between laughter and flatulence, which incidentally was the original title for that book by Milan Kundera. Translating from Czech can be so difficult.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Veto comes from the Latin, meaning "I forbid". President Pinhead has put his pointy little foot down about the notion of timelines and the war in Iraq. No one is going to tell him when it's time to quit. "I am confident that with goodwill on both sides that we can move beyond political statements and agree on a bill that gives our troops the funds and flexibility to do the job that we asked them to do," said his apex-craniumness.
Flexibility? "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Merriam Webster tells us: characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements - a flexible foreign policy - a flexible schedule. Schedule? That doesn't sound a bit like "timetable", does it? At the risk of allowing the terrorists another victory, let's talk timetables here at home. There are two weeks left until Congress takes their two-week break for Memorial Day. Our troops in the desert won't be heading home during that time while they wait for things to get sorted out. "We're not going to leave our troops in harm's way . . . without the resources they need," said Maryland's Steny Hoyer. He was reluctant to say exactly what the new bill would look like, but said he anticipates a minimum-wage increase will be part of it. He also said the bill should fund combat through September 30 as Pinhead has requested, casting doubt that Democratic leaders would adopt a proposal by Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania (a Republican), to fund the war two or three months at a time. Maybe we should take solace in history - the Hundred Years' War lasted one hundred and sixteen years. Go figure.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Let's take a look at some prime examples: Sam and Diane on "Cheers". As John Cleese suggested when he guested as a marriage counselor Doctor Simon Finch-Royce, "OK. Sam, Diane, you two are perfect together. I'm sorry I made a mistake before but you are the most perfectly matched couple ever. But, why am I telling this to you? Let's share it with the rest of the world. Hear this, world! The rest of you can stop getting married! It's been done to perfection! Envy them, sofa, envy them, chair, for you shall never be as cozy as they for their union shall be an epoch-shattering success and I STAKE MY LIFE ON IT. Wait a moment, let me get this on record! 'I, Dr. Simon Finch-Royce, being of sound mind and body declare that Sam and Diane shall be happy together throughout all eternity and if I am wrong I promise I will take my own life in the most disgusting manner possible.' Here, take the tape, NO, take the whole machine. It's my wedding gift to you. The most perfect couple since the DAWN of TIME." With that withering bit of sarcasm, Sam and Diane's romance lasted five more episodes and by the time the next season rolled around, Diane was gone.
What about Hawkeye and Hot Lips? That was a mistake. Come to think of it, Hot Lips and just about anyone was a mistake. Dave and Maddie on "Moonlighting"? Once they did the wild thing there was no mystery, no allure. They even had to bring Mark Harmon on to make it through their last season. What about those lovebirds on "The Office"? There is a reason why there is a category on Jump The Shark.com called "They Did It". We're not tuning in to watch healthy, fulfilling relationships. We want to see a train wreck. There's no more sure way to bring that on than by "dipping you pen in the company ink."
I know this because I've lived through a few. Not that I wouldn't have gotten involved back in my free-wheeling bachelor days, otherwise known as "the decade of celibacy", but I didn't have much luck enticing anyone into coming along for the ride. No, my experience was primarily in dealing with the fallout of corporate carnal knowledge. "Would you please tell her that I'm not coming in today?" "You can tell him that I will be using all of my sick days this month." Even worse, when I worked at Arby's, there were two couples that served as the management team. This was a place that combined heavy drinking, drug use, and very sharp knives. Add a heapin' helpin' of sexual tension on top of that, and you've got the makings of a real fun weekend.
Again, when I think about it, I believe I would have preferred the anvil.