Saturday, June 30, 2007

Who Put That Cat In The Cradle?

I watched a swim class for a few minutes today. It was for new parents and their babies. I remembered a tiny boy who never wanted to get his face wet, much less go underwater. My son loved to sit in water, but never relaxed enough to be covered by it. It was our job to teach him to respect water, but not to fear it. We must have done an okay job, since it is now much more difficult to get him out of the water than it is to get him in.
What I was feeling was what all parents feel at some point: Where did that baby go? More to the point, what happened to the kid that I could teach everything to? I remember being amazed when I heard my words coming back to me in that halting, helium-induced pitch that was once my son's. His first favorite song came from a DEVO album that almost everyone else had forgotten about, except for me. He asked to hear the title cut, "Shout", on such a regular basis, the CD took up a spot on our five disc changer for a few months.
I remember showing him "Star Wars" (Episode IV - A New Hope - The Good One Before George Lucas Got All Creepy), and the moment that he came running to me with a look of utter glee on his face. "Dad! Luke did it! He blew up the Death Star!" This morning I happened across the first few minutes of "Return of the Jedi" (Episode VI - A Bunch of Muppets - Han Solo Gets Neutered), and I found myself asking my son the name of the monster in the pit into which Jabba is trying to toss Luke. "Sarlacc, dad," he replied with equal measures of confidence and boredom.
I try to kid myself and believe that this is primarily because he doesn't have to remember his Social Security number, or how often he needs to clean his room. But I know the truth. He is ten years old and way ahead of the curve - mine anyway. I've got to do more reading just to keep up with him. In a few years, he'll start dating, and then I'll have a chance to catch up.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Licks Off Of Records

Last night I dreamed that I was strolling about my home, strumming a guitar. I wasn't doing anything too flashy, but it was some nice folksy sort of picking and grinning that made people (myself included) feel like singing. In my dream, it was effortless.
At the same time, even while I was still sleeping, I knew that it wasn't. I know what it takes to play guitar like that, not because I ever achieved anything of the sort, but because I have seen friends and acquaintances over the years acquire the skills of guitar. They have nimble fingers with callouses and a head full of chords that make sense to them. I never managed to get anywhere near that.
For Christmas my parents bought me a guitar: a steel string Martin and a beginner's book of how to play. This was in my senior year of high school, and I had been taking music lessons of one sort or another for ten years, and I never even entertained the idea of having a guitar teacher. I spent a week, over Christmas vacation, staring at pictures and chord diagrams trying to imagine how to keep my fingers on the strings with my left hand, and strum with my right.
I had a notion that I was doomed from the start, since the digits on both my hands are best used for blunt force trauma, or maybe pushing the valves of a sousaphone. Even my piano playing suffered from my stubby appendages, and I started to become disillusioned even before I headed back to school.
I carried that guitar with me when I moved away for college. I didn't work at it very hard. Every so often, I would take out my beginner's book and try to make it through "Beautiful Brown Eyes" (two chords), and after an hour of futility, it was back in the case and into the closet for another few months. I had a roommate who, with his quick spidery fingers managed to teach himself the opening of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" - about four bars of cheery strumming. He used to break that out at parties, and girls would beg for more. "Not right now," he'd say with all the humility in the world. He couldn't play a lick after that, but how would the girls know that?
My father left a banjo as part of his legacy. He always wanted to be able to sit out on the porch of our cabin, playing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown". He never managed to get past the first couple of lessons. I felt his pain. I play air guitar with the best of them, and my younger brother makes it look easy when he picks up his acoustic for a bash. For now, I'll play in my dreams, and keep my fingers callous-free.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


"In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." - Andy Warhol
I used to take great pride in the fact that I "didn't watch any reality TV." I used to skip past "The Real World" and "Survivor" and all the other programs that us believing that we were watching real people doing real things. Fifteen years ago I announced that I would only go see movies that were advertised on the Internet. Times change, and so do my ridiculous pronouncements.
The truth is, like so many people, I don't always make the best choices when it comes to watching television. I was watching "Cops" because I could rationalize that I was getting some insight into the job my brother does. What I was really doing was the same thing everyone else was doing: Staring at the screen, wondering why these morons would ever sign a release to have their ugly lives shown to the world. It's car crash television, you can't help but slow down and gawk.
The older I get, the harder it is to watch MTV. Where can I go to watch promotional film clips supplied by record companies to promote new music? Not Music Television. That's the one-stop reality shop. "My Super-Sweet 16" and "Pimp My Ride" are just the tip of the reality iceberg. And now the truth about reality: Not only is it heavily scripted, but editing could even my life look interesting. The notion that Ozzy Osbourne was the New Ward Cleaver was amusing enough to tune in for a season, then we moved down the street to Hulk Hogan, and now Gene Simmons. The frightening part about this trend is that it thrives on resuscitating the careers of humans who had already had their fifteen minutes or more, but were supplied with more network TV time for us to get to know them, up close and personal.
And what about the "Real World"? I have peeked into seasons that offered me scenery to go along with the teen angst. I credit Puck with breaking what was a very thin fourth wall and making reality TV a star-making machine. But by then,whose reality were we watching? I tried to look at "The Real World - Denver" to catch glimpses of my old stomping grounds, but it was full of next-generation Pucks who played out their mildly-scripted dramas around the omnipresent hot tub. It made me feel sad, old and wishing that I could see a Thomas Dolby video.
There is another writer's strike on the horizon. It was a writer's strike that gave us the initial wave of reality, and now we can brace ourselves for another. My friends have a suggestion for a reality show in which contestants take turns pitching reality TV shows to Mark Burnett. I suggest just jacking all the security cameras in all the Seven-Elevens into a network feed and call it "Convenience".
"The Future Has Arrived" - Danny Elfman

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Godfather

I had my reunion last night. A friend of mine was in town for the evening, and we got together for dinner and discussion of things past and present. I met him back in high school. My first concrete memory of our friendship was the two of us sitting rapt as another member of the band recounted (in explicit detail) his experience watching John Carpenter's "Halloween". This led, somewhat abruptly, to our own viewing. By the time we saw it, we had worked each other into such a state of preemptive terror that there was no way that we could have anything but a horrifying time, in spite of the fact that we had been prepared for virtually every scene, shot by shot - or perhaps that was the reason we were so scared in the first place.
The other distinction that my good friend has in my life is that he dated both of the loves of my life before I did. He acted as a kind of romantic preview system for me. I ended up being engaged to both women, and eventually (as my mind cleared) married the second. As a matter of fact, it was at my friend's wedding that I finally had the "just good friends" talk didn't end that way - we ended up deciding to date, then moved in together, got married, had a kid and lived happily ever after. I owe him my happily ever after.
For this reason, Clark is my son's godfather. He earned it by being a galactic constant in my life. We stayed up way too late swapping music and laughing like we did back in high school. It was over way too soon.
My younger brother pointed out to me that he always skims to see if he shows up in the blog before he reads it. He reminds me that stories of the past are best when they are told to a very specific audience. This one's for you, Clark.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Quality Time

On June 19, a fifty-one-year-old Berkeley man, distraught over his finances, killed his wife and two girls Monday evening, in a murder-suicide that one law-enforcement official said was unlike anything he has seen in nearly three decades of police work. On Saturday, searchers recovered a body that they believe is that of Jessie Marie Davis, a pregnant woman who disappeared June 13, police said. Bobby Cutts Jr., the father of Davis' two-year-old son, was arrested and charged with two counts of murder, including that of Davis' unborn child, said Stark County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Rick Perez. Cutts is also believed to be the father of Davis' unborn child. Cutts is an officer with the Canton Police Department. On Monday, pro wrestler Chris Benoit strangled his wife, suffocated his seven-year-old son and placed a Bible next to their bodies before hanging himself with the pulley of a weightlifting machine. It's been a rough week for the traditional American family.
More to the point, what exactly has gone wrong with the fathers here in America? If things are just so darn awful and black, and biting down on the barrel of your .357 magnum revolver or snapping your neck with a piece of exercise equipment seems like the only option, so be it. But when you feel the need to take people with you - children - then it's time to start hoping for some version of purgatory where souls such as these get eternity plus ten to be raked over the coals. Kudos to Mister Cutts for letting the two-year-old live, but maybe he could have saved the taxpayers and overwhelmed judicial system a few months and hundreds of thousands of dollars by completing the trifecta. Happy Father's Day, fellas.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bong Hits For Tony Montana

No more bong hits for Jesus. Okay, maybe the Son of God will have a toke or two, but we won't be holding up any fourteen foot long banners announcing it. The Supreme Court tightened limits on student speech Monday, ruling against a high school student and his "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner. Maybe it was that whole "4" instead of "for" thing. The Supreme Court can be awfully picky when it comes to homophones - homo anything for that matter.
Joseph Frederick unfurled his homemade sign on a winter morning in 2002, as the Olympic torch made its way through Juneau, Alaska, on the way to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Schools may prohibit student expression that can be interpreted as advocating drug use, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. "The message on Frederick's banner is cryptic," Roberts said. "But Principal Morse thought the banner would be interpreted by those viewing it as promoting illegal drug use, and that interpretation is plainly a reasonable one."
The irony, for me at any rate, is that the Supreme Court got to rule on this one at all. Over the course of a year I hand out a half-dozen brightly colored T-shirts to cover up slogans or pictures that I deem inappropriate for an elementary school. A current favorite in our neighborhood is some mix of Al Pacino as "Scarface" and the slogan: "Say hello to my little friend." I suppose it could be inferred that Tony Montana may have been referring to Jesus Christ at the time, but we're still going to ask the ten-year olds to cover it up for the remainder of the school day. I wonder if Justice Roberts would agree.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Geek Pride

The Gay Pride Parade happened today. It happened without my younger brother or myself in attendance. We apparently discovered our apathy at essentially the same moment. Or maybe apathy is too strong a word. We are both full of pride for the gay, lesbian and transgender community, but we came up a little short trying to figure out how to show it. It would never occur to either of us to promote any sort of hetero pride display, since we are both clever enough to know that it would be in the poorest possible taste and would fall into this category: "Dad, how come there's a Mothers' Day and a Fathers' Day, but no Kids' Day?" We all know the answer don't we? "Because every day is Kids' Day."
I'm not expecting any parades or sales on mattresses, but it did occur to both of us that we had, in our youth, experienced much of the same persecution and shame that is generally associated with growing up gay. Anyone who has ever had to come inside to practice the piano, or took one too many art classes, or sang along with "West Side Story", or wore glasses has endured some of that prejudice. From about fifth grade on, it has little or nothing to do with sexual preference, it has everything to do with being "different."
I know first hand how cruel children can be. Many of them grow up to be cruel adults. Most of that fear and hate never evolves past the age of ten or eleven. I got punched in the arm dozens of times a day during junior high "for flinching" - or probably because I carried a lunch box and played sousaphone in the band. It had nothing to do with liking boys more than girls, or flinching. I just sat there and took it, because I knew that fighting back would make it worse.
Now I'm grown and have a family of my own. Most of the things that made me "different" back then make me "interesting" now. Every so often, I find a scrawled bit of graffiti on the wall at school: "Mister Caven is gay". I get that. It's the worst thing some of these kids can think of to say about me. Okay. At least they didn't call me a band geek.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

You May Find Yourself In Another Part Of The World

"You may ask yourself, 'Well, how did I get here?'" - David Byrne
My wife called from my hometown last night. She left a message. She told me that she was sitting at a table outside of what used to be Swensen's. That meant that she was sitting just across Broadway from the hospital in which I was born. A few blocks away from the apartment building that my great aunt and uncle lived in before the wanderlust took them and their trailer on an odyssey that included such garden spots as Laughlin, Nevada. She was calling from the shopping center where my aunt used to work as a checker in the grocery store. It used to house Plaza Drug and a Ben Franklin's. I once stole a piece of gum from that Plaza Drug, and a day later, consumed my guilt, I went back and slipped a nickel into the big box of Dubble Bubble. Just behind the shopping center is Casey Junior High - now a middle school - where my younger brother went, and my mother, and a whole lot of other people I suppose, but it is also the spot where I won my first wrestling match. Across the street is another small shopping center where the Dairy Queen used to be. I became a Buster Bar aficionado there after a friend made me one fresh.
Sometimes when people hear that I used to live in Boulder, Colorado they ask me what I'm doing here. Fifteen years ago, on the occasion of my wife's tenth high school reunion, I packed up my things and moved west. To be with her. To be here. After a decade and a half, I still have to work hard to give visitors adequate directions to our house, or the closest movie theater. But the geography of Boulder is right there in front of me. The town where I grew up.
My wife just called back. She's having a lovely time and the aspen trees "are shimmering." I know.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Reunited And It Feels So Darn Uncomfortable

Technically, I did not attend my tenth high school reunion. I never registered or got a name tag or any of that formal hoo-ha. I went to the "drinks" portion of the weekend as a favor to my very good friend Heidi, who wasn't sure she would go without someone else to keep an eye out for any potential buzz killers. Even though I was currently living just three miles from the bar at which the party was being held, I never bothered to return any of the invitations or pleas for my appearance. When I showed up the night of the event, the organizer droids searched furiously for my paperwork. I told them that I was Heidi's date, and if anyone wanted to know my name, they could ask me.
The truth is, I'm just not good at that whole reunion thing. I am a very linear person by nature, and I tend to focus almost exclusively on the people and things in my direct field of vision. This works out very well for my family and my boss who appreciate the attention that I give them and the projects that show up on my radar. What happens when you slip out of my narrow scope? Sadly, often you just disappear. My wife, who makes wide galactic sweeps in her life to include everyone she has ever encountered in all situations, can make absolutely no sense of this. She is going to her twenty-fifth high school reunion this weekend, with hopes of seeing people that she knew as far back as elementary school.
Meanwhile, my friends and neighbors who knew me then and know me now remain patient and pleasantly surprised when I look them up, or return their e-mail. For those of you who are still out there, part of my past, thank you for listening, and maybe we can get together sometime. Just don't expect me to check in ahead of time.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


My older brother, that keen observer of the time-space continuum, observed on the occasion of my father's forty-fifth birthday that he was "halfway to ninety." This came from a man who regularly wishes for his own birthday gift to be "another trip around the sun." Obla di, obla da, life goes on bra.
Now I find myself running smack into this milestone myself, giving me pause to reflect on all those relative ages around me. I work with a number of teachers who have yet to celebrate their thirtieth birthday. I am older than my son by a factor of four and one half. Most of my pop culture icons have moved on to the next column on their demographic chart, paving the way for me to start worshipping AARP Members.
And then again, I remind myself that you're only as young or old as you feel - in which case I was in my seventies when I got out of bed this morning, but I feel more like thirty-seven now. If it is better to look good than to feel good, I wonder if it is better to look old than to feel old.
My wife once gave me a wonderful surprise party: A Thirty-Three and a Third Birthday Party. The theme is now somewhat antiquated, as the number of humans on the planet who know what 33 1/3 RPM refers to is growing smaller every day. Today I am celebrating the next level of recording - the single. I won't dally too long on the metaphor here, but I think it's interesting that an Long Playing album runs at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, but a 45 has only two songs on it and is over much faster. Time to start cranking up the Victrola for those 78s.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

All In

Michael Bloomberg is switching affiliations. He will no longer be a Republican. "I think the country is in trouble," Bloomberg said. This stands in stark contrast to his comments just a year ago when he told a group of Manhattan Republicans about his run for mayor: "I couldn't be prouder to run on the Republican ticket and be a Republican."
He's not so proud today. "Our reputation has been hurt very badly in the last few years," he said. "We've had a go-it-alone mentality in a world where, because of communications and transportation, you should be going exactly in the other direction." Oh, and there's the "problem" over there with the guns and bombs and so on.
Bloomberg is not the first fish in the political sea to swim against the current. Ronald Reagan started his life as a Democrat, a supporter of the New Deal, FDR. and Harry Truman. Things change. In 1910 Teddy Roosevelt, broke with his friend and anointed successor William Howard Taft, but lost the Republican nomination to Taft. He then ran in the 1912 election on his own one-time Bull Moose ticket. Roosevelt lost but pulled so many Progressives out of the Republican Party that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won in 1912. The result was that conservatives held sway in the Republican Party for twenty more years.
Many believe that Bloomberg's switch is positioning him for a run at the White House in 2008. If that's the case, he seems a little more coherent than Ross Perot, another third-party interloper who had more money than God. Bloomberg spent more than one hundred and fifty-five million dollars for his two mayoral campaigns, including eighty-five million when he won his second term in 2005. In the big book of Presidential Texas Hold 'Em, that's an awful big blind.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Spare Parts

A voice came calling from the past yesterday. It shouldn't have been a surprise, since we are all preparing for the nostalgia bomb that will no doubt explode this weekend as my wife travels back in time and space to her twenty-fifth high school reunion. The voice was a friend of hers from back in the day - the day of band camp and guilt-free living. This woman who was once a girl called to ask when the festivities were beginning, since she had to make sure that all her kids were in bed or accounted for before she went out to have anything resembling fun.
I was talking to somebody's mom. This was the girl most likely to succeed in a game of turbo quarters. She followed around members of a band before there was such a thing as "stalking." She was, for lack of a better epithet, a "party girl." She was drinking and fooling around with boys just like the boys were drinking and fooling around with girls. She was ahead of her time.
So ahead of her time, as a matter of fact, that she got pregnant and "had to get married" before just about anyone else I knew. At the time, it felt like a tragedy. It felt like an ending, not a beginning. To the surprise of many of us, the marriage has survived and so has she. For all initial appearances, she has thrived. Irregular communications and Christmas cards have given us quick glimpses into the world that she has created.
I'm looking forward to hearing more stories about her life and times. I hope that she is having the time of her life - whatever time that happens to be.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Flame On!

Did anyone else notice the subversive film that creeped into theaters this weekend? The makers of this movie were clever to disguise it as a blockbuster so that no one would notice the liberal wonking going on inside of it. "The Fantastic Four - Rise of the Silver Surfer" not only made fifty-seven million dollars at the box office this weekend, but it also slipped left-wing political commentary into the minds of comic-book loving audiences across the globe.
Tucked neatly inside this action-packed summer popcorn movie is the story of Norrin Radd is it coincidence that he has the exact same number of letters in his first and last name as George Bush?), The Silver Surfer. He is the reluctant ally (a slave, really) of a world-eating entity (one of our "pet names" for Dick Cheney) that has targeted Earth, and his arrival announces our doom. Pretty standard device for your average "Star Trek" episode or film, but in a world that already has a taste of Inconvenient Truth, why not go ahead and swallow the global warming paranoia in a convenient, candy-coated pill? Interestingly enough, near the beginning of the film, a straight-faced anchor-type appears on television (along with the Fox News logo) to reassure all of us in comic book land that the unexplained phenomena are in no way connected to global warming. The report, we deride.
But the real kicker comes near the end, when the Invisible Girl - er - Woman tells Norrin that he doesn't have to be the slave of Galactus, the world-eating entity, but he has a choice. His final words before he implodes and sends all that badness off into the ether: "There is always a choice." I wonder if Sean Hannity has seen this one.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Parenting In The Hood

I winced when I watched the scene in "Knocked Up" in which the expectant father (Seth Rogen) is found out: He did not read all the "What To Expect" books that he promised to. I felt his pain. I expected to be the best father I could possibly be, just short of having to join the Army. I went to the yoga classes, and the birth classes, and the doctor appointments (well, a fraction of the doctor appointments - there are about six thousand of them spread generously across a nine-month period). In the end, I did what all good expectant fathers do: I was overly enthusiastic and periodically overwhelmed at the moment my son was born. Ten years later I have faint echoes of what I was supposed to remember whenever we watch TV shows about children being born. I nod knowingly when I hear someone mentions colic. I know that "breach" is bad. Pitocin is a great help during many deliveries, but I confess I had to look up the spelling.
There is a very long list of things that I do not know about when it comes to raising a child. But did you know that the Generation 1 Megatron transforms into a Walther P38? It wasn't until Generation 2 that he could switch to a battle tank. I know where all the men's rooms are in Disneyland. I know what a 2-4-2 engine is (and why). I know that the funniest word in the world is "pants." I know that boys can watch heavy equipment for hours, but they have about fifteen minutes of patience with a rake in their hands. I know that Warner Brothers cartoons beat Disney shorts, but even an episode of "Jabberjaw" can make you late for dinner. I know the secrets of my own father, my older brother, Bill Cosby, Gil Buckman, Muphasa, and every other father I have watched carefully to divine the essence of fatherhood.
The list goes on, but now it's time for me to go and wallow in the love and affection I have generated over the past year with my best intentions. Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Harvest Time

The anniversary of my open knee surgery is fast approaching. It gives me pause, since during the summer months I find myself doing more running instead of less, but twenty-one years ago that whole thing came to an abrupt halt when I jumped out of a perfectly good swing and flew through the air to land on one leg - my left. I don't recommend this unless you have already received some sort of bionic upgrade to the joints in your leg. The operation and recuperation took me out of circulation for several months.
More to the point, the few weeks were spent in my mother's basement. The main advantage to this setup was twofold: I could stay cool down there, out of the heat of the summer, and I could watch TV whenever the pain would not allow me to sleep. Which was a lot. My mother and I have always been close, but these days proved to be the test of our collective patience. We have plum jelly to thank for saving our relationship.
When I was finally mobile enough on crutches to hop up the stairs one morning for breakfast, I found my mother waiting with several options. One of these was toast. "Would you like jelly on that?" she asked.
"What kind do you have?" Now that I am a parent myself, and my wounds have sufficiently healed, I understand that I was already heading down the wrong road by asking.
"I've got some plum jelly that's very good."
"Don't you have any grape?" I asked, petulant little snot that I was.
"Have you ever had plum jelly?"
A better man than myself would have taken this opportunity to sample whatever this woman had to offer me, after weeks of waiting on my hand and foot. But instead I went ahead and pushed the conversational car right off the cliff. "Mom, I'm twenty-four years old. Even if I haven't ever tasted plum jelly before, I think I should be able to figure out what I would like all on my own."
That, as they say, was pretty much that. I ate my toast with a little bit of butter, and within the next day or so, I was headed back to my own apartment across town. Over the years we tend to trot this story out when we are discussing the challenges of raising children and who use their gift of speech to challenge their parents. I'm eternally grateful for the care I received back in 1986. My recovery would have been more difficult by powers of ten if she hadn't opened up her house to me.
This afternoon I found myself on my hands and (repaired) knees in my front yard, scooping up all the plums that had fallen from the tree. I wondered what I was going to do with all these yellow plums. When God gives you lemons, make lemonade. When God gives you a yard full of plums, thank your mother for putting up with you.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I Just Want To Rock And Roll All Night

This is h0w I know that it's really over: There was karaoke. Had this been just a drill or simulation, there would not have been any karaoke. Nope, this was the real thing. My living room was filled with adults at various stages of sobriety singing (if that is the correct term) along with many of the better known pop chestnuts from the past forty years: "Push It", "Born To Be Wild", "Dance To The Music".
The school year has come to an end, not just for the students, but for the teachers as well. Tonight was the cathartic romp that we choose to enjoy twice a year - once at Christmas before we part ways for a couple weeks, and at the beginning of summer vacation. The irony was not lost on most of us, since we know that we will see each other early Monday morning as Summer School opens.
But that's different. One hundred and eighty instructional days, plus a good many "teacher work days" later, the calendar page drops lazily to the floor, and we can all shed our stress and woe about the kids that didn't quite make it, or the lesson plan that collapsed under its own pretense. We ate. We drank. We sang. We laughed. We put a big loud exclamation point at the end of what was a periodically very challenging but ultimately successful campaign. So much of our time is spent locked in rooms with children that we forget to communicate with each other. We did that tonight. The teachers partied like rock stars. Well, very tired and poorly financed rock stars, but party we did. Aloha 2006-2007.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Re: Unions

A band from the mid-1970's. The lead singer has an ego the size of a planet. They tend to find themselves on political soapboxes and use their celebrity to further the causes that they discover as the world opens up for them. Now: Name that band!
Did you guess the Police? That would be an easy enough guess, since that's where I found myself last night - or rather with whom I found myself last night. Along with several thousand of my closest demographic, I attended the Bay Area's thirtieth anniversary Reunion Tour featuring Andy, Stewart, and Sting. I thought about how time had treated us all and how we learned about rainforests and famine in Africa and the effects of hair dye and tantric sex over prolonged periods.
Or was that U2? Of course, they haven't had a career lapse (if you don't count "Zooropa") of any significant duration. Bono has gone from angry young man to angry guest editor of "Vanity Fair." He's still rocking hard, even if it's on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. And lest we forget, they were the ones who gave the Beatles back "Helter Skelter" after Charles Manson had misappropriated it.
Maybe I meant the Clash. I learned what "Sandanista" was after I owned the album for a month. The lyrics of "Spanish Bombs": "Yo te quiero infinito, yo te quiero oh mi corazón." I can almost forgive Mick Jones for Big Audio Dynamite, but Joe Strummer kept it real right up to the end. Their record company called them "The Only Band That Matters." Sadly, they're the only ones who are no longer touring. Maybe it really is better to burn out than to fade away.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Last Day For Aries 5, Please Report To Carousel

Today was the last day of school. It always amazes me how much time bends on days like this. The morning recess seemed to go on for hours, and no amount of urging could move the clock ahead. At last, when it was time to pass out the report cards, I made a little speech about how I would always be their teacher, to which Robert asked, "You mean you're going to teach fifth grade next year?"
No, Robert. The other fourth graders seem to have either ascertained my subtle meaning, or were clever enough not to say anything. I meant that I will always have an interest in their education because I have been a part of it. Robert's reply: "Huh?" Then I proceeded to pass out the report cards along with a kaleidoscope - a little reminder of one of our more troublesome vocabulary words. Robert complained bitterly that his did not work, and before I had even finished handing out all the prizes, he had broken his open and spilled the colorful contents all over his desk. "See? It doesn't work!"
One hundred and eighty days. Robert spent all but four of those days living on the edge of being tossed out of the room for disruptive, insensitive, obnoxious or rude behavior. Three of those days of exception were absences, and there was one day that he stayed in his seat, focused on his work, avoided conflict with his classmates, and managed himself without nearly constant reminders. I made a call home on that day too - making a point to Robert's mother that he had shown self-control. It was a breakthrough. That was back in January. We have all been waiting for a repeat performance.
Today, the wait is over. Adios, Robert and the class of 2007.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Can I Get An Amen With Sprinkles?

My belief in God may be inexorably linked to donuts. I realized this as I passed by the local donut shop, and breathed in a lungful of fried dough and sugar. Lead me not into temptation, I sayeth unto the baker, as I go forth past the dual sins of grease and chocolate jimmies. How could this path lead to my eventual salvation?
Sunday mornings with my father. He understood very well what it would take to get three boys out of bed and into their church-going clothes: bribery. Back in those days, we were in for a session of Sunday School and then a portion of the regular service sitting next to our parents. The smells I associate with the church itself are not nearly as pleasant as the aforementioned pastry. Sunday School was in the basement, and most of the rooms smelled a little too much like Play-Doh to be actual places of worship. Upstairs in the pews (pun anticipated), I remember the musty odor of the hymnals and the stacks of envelopes that I used for drawing rather than offering.
If we made it through the service, as the congregation made its way out into the middle of their Sunday, we began to make our orders. My older brother favored Long Johns, while the younger was fond of anything that looked fancy (read "sprinkles"). I looked for the maximum chocolate delivery system (chocolate frosting tends to pool in old-fashioneds). We got our box and headed back out to the station wagon, but our treasures never made it all the way back home. Once we were fat and happy again, we were released back into our play-clothes and were free to run off the sugar high that came to us every Sunday.
Do you think it's a coincidence that "The Simpsons" are on Sunday nights? It's the eight o'clock service at the church of fried dough.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lacking Resolve

"It is the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people." - text of the resolution
What does it mean when the Senate can only come up with fifty three votes of no-confidence for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales? Does it mean that we have a little confidence, or are those thirty-eight votes a sign of some mild confidence, but not certainty? Seven more yes votes would have tipped the scales and there would have been a legitimate symbolic gesture of discontent.
How bad is it? Here's what President Pinhead had to say: "They can have their votes of no confidence, but it's not going to make the determination about who serves in my government." Interesting choice of words, since I've always been kind of fond of a government " of the people, by the people, and for the people. " Even before the controversy over fired prosecutors, lawmakers of both parties complained that Gonzales allowed Justice to violate civil liberties on a variety of ways, such as implementing Pinhead's warrantless wiretapping program. Still, the vote was enough to get seven Republicans to scoot across the aisle and vote with the Democrats, including Senator Susan Collins from Maine. For the first time publicly declared she had lost confidence in Gonzales. "I think his continued tenure does not benefit the department or our country," she said.
In the meanwhile, you can still get your bets in to win a year's supply of Ben and Jerry's ice cream by correctly identifying the date and time when Alberto will finally succumb to all the debate and withering criticism. Good luck and Godspeed.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fourth And Long

"I would leave no troops in Iraq whatsoever," presidential candidate Bill Richardson said. "The difference between me and the other candidates is, they would leave troops there indefinitely, and I would not."
Here's what I think: Remember back in 1984 when the Baltimore Colts packed up all their helmets, pads and jockstraps into trucks and sneaked out of town? They moved down I-70 in the middle of the night and set up shop in Indianapolis. The humanitarian crisis that occurred as a result of this surreptitious departure was never fully realized, since the Cleveland Browns made a very similar move ten years later, filling the void felt in Baltimore. Eventually, order was restored when yet another franchise sprang from the seeds left in Cleveland.
I think the U.S. Army should pack up their guns and kevlar and move under cover of night to Darfur. They can become peacekeepers there, assist with humanitarian aid, and then when all wrongs have been righted, head home to begin dismantling the vast military industrial complex that has held us captive for the past hundred years.
Simple minded and ridiculous? Yes. I would agree, though it competes on a level of complexity that the current administration is familiar. And by the way - the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts have won the Super Bowl. How about that?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

'32 Deuce Coupe

There is a moment near the end of "American Graffiti" when, just after Bob Falfa's car explodes and Laurie rushes back to Steve's arms in tears, that Terry "The Toad" starts to enthuse to John about what a great car John has and what a great race that was and how no one could ever beat him. Milner knows that he had a near miss but he is quick to pump up his bravado, "Yeah, right Toad," he says as the sun begins to rise on a new day, "We'll take 'em all on." The new day is also the morning of change. High school is over and Curt goes back east to college, setting in motion all the events listed in the epitaphs that appear in the sky as his plane rises into the sky and XERB fades to static.
This echoes in my head today as I watch another school year come to a close, and I prepare to acknowledge my fifteenth year as a California resident, and the end of my tenth year as a teacher. This year we will only be saying goodbye to a couple of teachers, but it's another pair of names added to a list that I can now just barely recall, let alone recite. I'm always happy for those of my colleagues who move on to greener pastures, or at least lest stressful ones, but I continue to cling to the tiniest bit of resentment. I think I know why John Milner slaps Curt on the cheek just before he gets on the plane. Down the hall, third graders are packing up their desks, getting ready to move into my room with brand new workbooks and sharpened pencils. I'm coming back because I hold on to a belief that I don't know if the person coming in to fill my spot will do any better, and these kids deserve the best. If I'm not the best, at least I'm the best they've got. For now, we'll take 'em all on, Toad.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Up From The Deep

Newt Gingrich is predicting GOP losses in 2008. The architect and spokesperson for the Republican Revolution is ready to throw in the towel a year and a half before the next election. "If the Republicans run a stand-pat presidential candidate who ends up being on defense for all of September and October and who is seen by the country as representing four more years, the fact is that Republicans are not going to win." The former Speaker of the House is rumored to be considering his own run at the presidency, keeping us all in suspense until this fall.
Lately, Newt (the politician, not the salamander) has been describing the White House as dysfunctional and saying the president has driven the party into collapse. This is nothing new for him, since this is essentially the song he sang while Bill Clinton was in office, it's just that the political party in question is no longer the Democrats, but his party of choice (not that there was ever a lot of "choice" in the Republican party).
And what kind of candidacy would this salamander off us? Newt says he would shut down public schools that aren't performing and offer a twenty billion dollar reward for the first private company that successfully completes a Mars mission. "Somebody would be there and back about forty percent of the way into the NASA process." It always gladdens my heart when someone sneers at education and our space program in the same platform.
"Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it." - Willy Wonka

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Personal Recognizance

I really would like to look the other way on this one, but when I heard that Paris Hilton was being released from jail after serving three days of her twenty-three day sentence, I heard the loud and somewhat comical sound of a spring suddenly being released: Boing. Not to worry, we are told, she will be fitted with an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet and released to the comforts of her 2,700-square-foot Hollywood Hills home. That would mean that she was actually incarcerated for thirteen percent of her already diminished sentence. It also means that she traded up in terms of her ability to pace - she's got about fifty times the space to stalk wearily across her new "cell".
Doesn't seem fair, does it? It's not, so stop worrying about it. Money can't buy you love, but it can get you a whole passel of lawyers and a mess of other very keen benefits. I'm relatively certain that Sheriff Lee Baca was just as happy to be sending Ms. Hilton on her merry way rather than be subjected to the media frenzy that occurs during these moments of high-profile celebriosity. As for the mystery medical ailment that allowed the early release, one could only imagine what could have laid her so low that she couldn't finish her stay in stir. Perhaps some sort of radical shift in reality gave her the bends, or maybe she's allergic to common folk, or most likely - she's spoiled to her rotten little core.
All this being said, I must reiterate my thanks to Paris and her defense team. She has given me a twelve minute respite from the news of the world. The death toll in Iraq has risen to more than three thousand five hundred. Our president feels compelled to throw his weight around as the only "superpower" left by dropping new missile defense sites into eastern Europe. Scientists have discovered a new, potentially deadly bacteria named Bartonella rochalimae. At least twenty eight people have died in the wake of Cyclone Gonu. Happily, a judge has asked Paris to return to court tomorrow morning to continue to muddle through what amounts to justice being served. I'll be watching, because ignoring this poor girl's plight just wouldn't be right.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Pretty Persuasion

There was a long-standing tradition of "Billy" drawing some of the Sunday "Family Circus" cartoons. These were every bit as funny as any of the daily strips, but it afforded the maestro Bil Keane a chance to present his world from a more child-like perspective (as if that were possible). This ritual went through my mind as I decided to include some of my students' reflections on their fourth grade experience.
This is an assignment I give every year: "Why I Should Pass Fourth Grade". Many of my students are pragmatic and straightforward with their reasoning: "I do all my work and turn in my homework." Tough to argue that. These are generally the ones who are interested in getting from point A to point B. "I come to school every day. I listen to the teacher." Not terrifically high expectations, but at least they meet them.
Then there's the group that aims a little higher. They tell me things like, "I work hard and pay attention most of the time." I give her points for honesty. The same can be said for this fellow: "I sometimes to all my assignments and sometimes do all my homework. I sometimes do all my writing." If that's true, then he sure picked the right assignment to turn in.
There is yet another set of kids who are invested with their family honor. "I should pass fourth grade because my family wants me to have a strong education," or "I want to make my Mom and Dad happy," and "It would make me and my family proud and encouraged." It's nice to see ten-year-olds thinking outside of their four foot sphere of influence. These are also the same ones who have a vision of the future. "It would also help me reach my life-long dream of becoming a paleontologist." Since she appeared in my room at the beginning of the year spelling paleontologist correctly, I hope she realizes that dream. "My family wants everything to be perfect when I reach the Air Force." Off you go into the wild blue yonder, I say.
And then there's Robert. "I've had a great time in the fourth grade and I have to pass because I have already been in the fourth grade before in Miss R's room." Fair enough, Robert. You won't have to come back to my room either. Vaya con Dios.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

You're Either On The Bus, Or You're Off The Bus

The "Straight Talk Express" is rolling again. John McCain and his busload of faith is heading to a neighborhood near you, so keep out those streets, and watch for stragglers. I used to be a fan of the Senator from Arizona. I found him to be a clear-thinking palate-cleansing sorbet from the rabid neo-cons who have been ruling the Republican roost for so long. The there was the little reconnect to Jerry Falwell about a year ago, and and a special guest shot on the Liberty University Commencement. McCain said speaking at Liberty University does not mean he endorses Falwell's views. He's also speaking at liberal universities despite disagreeing with their policies that bar military recruiters. "I'm not trying to make up to anyone, either liberal or conservative or anyone else," McCain said.
I guess that's good news, considering the mild revelation that came out Tuesday night that he voted to authorize the U.S. military invasion of Iraq without reading the formal National Intelligence Estimate in advance. Both McCain and Sam Brownback (of Kansas) said they had received numerous briefings on the situation in Iraq before they cast their votes in 2002. McCain said the invasion was the correct decision, arguing that international sanctions designed to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction were breaking down. "Presidents don't lose wars. Political parties don't lose wars. Nations lose wars," he added.
Hey John, maybe if we had decent intelligence, or heaven forbid, we read that intelligence, we wouldn't be knee-deep in a war we are "failing to win". Roll on, big fella.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Paris Hilton, We Salute You!

Earlier this year I walked into one of our fifth grade classes and saw this written across the board: "Fair is when everyone gets what they need." This struck me as painfully obvious but immediately committed it to memory so that I could use it back in my own classroom. Fourth graders are inexorably connected to the concept of fairness. They will spout off loudly and at length the moment that anything does not appear to be "fair." For most fourth graders, this means that they are not getting the same amount of attention or ice cream - whether they had done anything to deserve attention or ice cream or not. The idea that we might all get something just a little different and things could still work out for the good of the whole causes the gears in their little heads to grind a little harder.
What about Paris Hilton? Is it fair that Paris Hilton is in jail? She left the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday afternoon, then traded her strapless designer gown for a jail-issue jumpsuit and a solitary cell. She will be serving twenty-three days for violating her probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case. Al Gore's Internet is full of folks who will tell you that she is being treated unfairly, or at the very least she is being treated as a scapegoat for other celebrity offenders.
But is everyone getting what they need? I have to imagine the national catharsis provided by sending Ms. Hilton to the hoosegow is obviously substantial enough to make up for any suffering endured by her royal smartypants. Show business as a whole, from "Us" magazine to Larry King will have something to divert us from the day's death and grief and sorrow and murder. Paris will get three square meals a day, an hour of recreation and TV viewing, and a nice orange jump suit. Sounds fair to me.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Who Can You Trust?

"Don't Suspect A Friend, Turn Them In" - Poster on the Wall in "Brazil"
Thanks to the loose lips of a convicted drug dealer, who posed as a "wannabe terrorist" in a shadowy group now accused of plotting to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport, justice has been served. Justice got a great big hand from a convicted felon. "In most cases, you can't get from A to B without an informant," said Tom Corrigan, a former member of the
FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force. "Most times when an informant tells you what is going on, speculation becomes reality."
That's the part I am expressly fond of: "Speculation becomes Reality." I believe that Disney was planning on using that as part of their new attraction, "Snitch Town". What can you expect to get if you rat out a group of potential terrorists? How about a reduced sentence? How about Eric Bana playing you in Steven Spielberg's epic crime saga? How about a set of commemorative coasters depicting famous stoolies of our time? The FBI is awfully proud of themselves presently, noting their use of inside information to stop two recent terrorist plots. "These have been two significant cases back-to-back where informants were used," Corrigan said. "These terrorists are in our own backyard. They may have to reach out to people they don't necessarily trust, but they need — for guns, explosives, whatever," said Corrigan.
This is an interesting contrast to the views expressed just two years ago in a Washington Post article written by William E. Odom, director of the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988. "Spies and terrorists will almost always defeat police officers. Spies and terrorists are normally backed by large state bureaucracies or non-state organizations with abundant resources and worldwide operational support. Criminals seldom are. Thus FBI techniques of recruiting "stoolies," tapping phones and conducting rough interrogations often work with mobsters but not with spies and terrorists."
An interesting conundrum. This is the same agency (along with the CIA) that was in desperate need of reform in the aftermath of September 11. Did we catch the bad guys before anything bad happened? Yes. How close were they to carrying out their plan? Does it matter? In the meanwhile, until actual reform does take place, take heart in the wit and wisdom of Terry Gilliam (noted film director, animator, and intelligence expert):
• "Be Safe: Be Suspicious"
• "Suspicion Breeds Confidence"
• "Trust in haste, Regret at leisure
• "Who can you trust?"

Saturday, June 02, 2007


I was making long strides up the side of the hill next to Muir Beach, and looking back every few steps to see if the four students who had chosen to come along with me on this last minute hike. Two of the girls know already that they won't be back at our school for fifth grade. They're moving out of state. The other girl and the lone boy who came chugging up the hill with us will most likely return to finish their elementary careers before heading on to middle school. On Monday, they will have eight more days of school together.
On Monday, I will have eight more days as their teacher. It was bound to happen. I was all but a sure thing that I would get a little verklempt at this point. Somewhere in the middle of the country, my niece was being handed her high school diploma, and another group of fourth graders were getting ready to wave goodbye to Mister Caven. One of the girls had her father's camera phone, so I insisted that she take a picture of all of us on the top of that hill. These kids should remember each other the same way I remember Ron Fox, Warren Pearson, and Kent Sickels. Back in fourth grade we were the four Musketeers. We sat at the same table group the whole year, and we were the golden boys. By fifth grade, we had all begun to move into our preadolescent grooves, but for that one year, we were inseparable and unstoppable.
Those kids on the hill reminded me of a past where anything was possible, and fun still came in bunches. I will miss them next year. I hope they come back and visit. I want to see how they turn out.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Nourishing Mother

I graduated from Boulder High School. My wife graduated from Boulder High School. Both of my brothers graduated from Boulder High School. Both of my parents graduated from Boulder High School. Tomorrow my niece will become the third generation to graduate from those hallowed halls. I thought that I was proud, but when I realized that our favorite pundit (from the Latin "idjit") Bill O'Reilly was sticking his big nose into things at the old alma mater.
Here is how Bill's tiny brain (you know what they say, "Big nose, tiny brain") chose to depict my home town high school after officials decided to re-evaluate their policies for allowing panels from the University of Colorado's Conference on World Affairs to be held at Boulder High School: "It is hard to believe that in America today you can have a town as out-of-control as Boulder. It doesn't seem that the residents care if the high school tells their kids to go out and have sex and use narcotics." Bill's comments were directed at the statements of panelist Joel Becker, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist, who told the students"I'm going to encourage you to have sex, and I'm going to encourage you to use drugs appropriately,and why I am going to take that position is because you're going to do it anyway."
This is the kind of liberal brainwashing that the children of Boulder High School have been experiencing for decades now, at least in Bill's world. In Bill's world, this was a "mandatory assembly" and school officials not only stood by and let it happen, but openly encouraged this kind of left-wing rhetoric. Out here on planet Earth, Boulder Valley School District Superintendent George Garcia investigated the complaint made by a student and her mother and concluded that the presentation overall was appropriate, though teachers who required attendance violated district policy. In the future, students will be given the option not to attend CWA talks hosted at the high school, and more balanced opinions will be sought. Not good enough for Bill. He called the Superintendent, the School Board President and the Principal "villains" and "cowards." You've got to check out his map of the creeping evil of Secular Progressives - and wouldn't you know that besides Boulder "and the entire state of Vermont", he includes San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland as part of the scourge.
Well, maybe now that my niece has graduated, she can be free of the shackles of her Secular Progressive oppression. I hear Liberty University has a lovely campus.