Monday, December 31, 2007
There's a war going on, you know. Though we are being told to be gratified by the decrease in casualties (read: Americans), people and things continue to blow up at an alarming rate over there in the Middle East. In case you've lost track, we will soon be celebrating our wood anniversary there, and I can't think of anything more appropriate than the blockheads that got us into this mess in the first place.
This year also found me in Las Vegas with a little extra time on my hands, so I decided to get married. Conveniently enough, my wife just happened to there with me, so it made the whole thing go a lot smoother without that whole courting nonsense. I heartily recommend the three-song Elvis ceremony, with the silver rose bouquet. Now that's class.
A lot of folks came and went this year, some just to visit, and others left permanently. Darrent Williams started things off on a pretty sad note, providing ominous foreshadowing of a football season that played more like a soap opera than a sporting event. We ended the year with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Her death was also just a prelude to more anarchy and killing. Those fireworks you hear might be the Middle East erupting.
Or it might be the nutjob down the street on his way to the mall, getting ready to make himself famous via the tried and true American invention of the gun-crazed rampage. Then again, he never seemed like the kind of guy who would do such a thing, since he was always so quiet and kept to himself, what with all that ranting on the Internet and target practice on the dummies he had dressed like his high school principal.
We were also treated to a marathon of a presidential campaign that started more than a full calendar year before the election. If you haven't made up your mind yet, don't worry, because Al Gore has yet to announce his candidacy. For that matter, neither has Pat Paulsen.
On a more personal note, I got to see Bruce Springsteen play live one more time. This brings my personal total to: I've lost count. Any year that gets me to a Springsteen show and has me dancing down the aisle to "Viva Las Vegas" with my wife and kid stacks up as a pretty good one. So here's my prescription for 2008: More dancing in the aisle, and less killing. I know it's a crazy notion, but it just might catch on.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Last night I found myself, along with the most of the rest of the football fanciers of the country, watching the New England Patriots throw off the burden of a twelve point third quarter deficit to go on to win a record-setting sixteenth game in a row. Depending on how you choose to score this particular event, they may not have actually set a record, since there have been three previous teams who have completed their NFL seasons without a loss. The Miami Dolphins were the last to do it in 1972, and the Chicago Bears won all their regular season games in both 1934 and 1942, only to lose the championship game after that.
I sat there, apropos of absolutely nothing, cheering for the New York Giants. I could say that I wanted the Giants to win because of my close ties to their organization through the son of my friend who lives in Manhattan, but that would be a lie. I'm still holding a grudge against the Giants for bursting the Broncos' perfect season bubble back in 1998, and the pasting they gave my beloved Broncos way back in Super Bowl XXI (39 to 20). I was simply hoping for the wheels to come off the fun bus that the Patriots were on.
Does this make me a bad sport? It could be that this year's disappointments were the cause of my bad attitude. Even my fantasy team finished under .500. all of these vicarious tragedies made me wish bad things upon Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and the Great Stoneface of New England, Bill Belichick. Now that there has been one team to win all sixteen of their regular season games, the bar has been raised. Congratulations. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a little more than a month and a half until pitchers and catchers have to report to Spring Training.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
In this way, terrorists are a lot like cockroaches. Left alone, how long will it take for al-Qaida to swarm in multitudes once again? The U.S. military says violence is down sixty percent nationwide, demonstrating success in fighting the terrorist network. Again, what about that other forty percent? How do we rationalize the forty percent of the people killed by twenty-five percent of the terrorists left in a country where forty-eight percent of the people would rather not have all this "help".
Because that's the bottom line, isn't it? Al-Qaida is hanging around Iraq primarily for the opportunity to destabilize things. As long as U.S. troops are there to push against, they have something to gain. They aren't going away. In the meantime, they can just hop over the border and make a mess of things in Pakistan, where they have set a whole country on fire with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. All one needs to do is turn on the lights and watch them scatter. What to do then? When I lived in an apartment that had a roach problem, I worked tirelessly with various sprays and traps until I reached the only logical conclusion: Move out. Let the roaches have the place. Surrender to the vermin by exercising the choice not to fight. I predict that we would end up with thirty-five percent less chaos.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Holiday party season is in full swing. I know this because I have already hosted a few. This is significant because I can:
- Remember hosting them.
- Did not "hoist" anything.
- Made no embarassing post-party phone calls
Yes, gone are the days when there was a bleary two-week stretch of regrettable moments, punctuated with sincere apologies. It was during this period, many years ago, that I was late to work for one of the very few times in my life. When I say "late", I mean more than an hour. I mean more than two hours. I mean the kind of late where your boss calls you and wakes you from a hung over coma to remind you that Christmas Eve is, in fact, the busiest day of the year at a video store.
Alas, my friend and I had been up very late the night before getting in shape for the next night's company Christmas party. The problem was, we had to live through the mother of all days in a whirlwind retail environment feeling like most of our internal organs had been replaced with cast iron replicas. But lo and behold, at ten o'clock when the doors were finally closed and virtually every tape in the place had been rented (even "Rhinestone"), we happily tipped a few more to congratulate our success and survival.
And there were more opportunities as New Year's Eve approached. We toasted and celebrated, rang out the old and rang in the new. We were everybody's favorite party animals. Then, suddenly, we were back to business as usual. That meant that we had to wait all the way until Super Bowl Sunday to have a solid excuse to tie one on.
But I was never late to work again. Sure, there plenty of mornings when I had the look and feel of a well-used latrine, but I shoveled myself out the door and made myself pay the price for the night before. Imagine how pleased I am to find, as I age more gracefully, that you can have plenty of fun essentially for free. Do I miss it? Every so often, when I'm watching a particularly earnest exchange over a pair of hastily emptied glasses of red wine, or when I hear a heartfelt appreciation of some tiny thing brought on by one too many beers. But I still laugh, and I have a good time, and I don't have to rely on somebody else's account of the evening to know that I did. Cheers!
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Halfway around the world, as we drag the recycling to the curb and start to put the decorations away, life continues in its most unpleasant form. We continue to wonder how things could have gotten so crazy, but then we don't tend to acknowledge chaos until it blows up in our collective faces. At least nine people were killed across Pakistan in rioting that broke out in the aftermath of the assassination. In the southern port city of Karachi, where Bhutto was born, her angry supporters shot at police and burned a gas station. Here in America we only see that kind of behavior after someone wins a Super Bowl.
But this is different. When Americans set things on fire, it doesn't usually imply the destabilization of an entire region. Indianapolis does not control its own nuclear stockpile. Pakistan does. Now the upcoming elections in January may have to be postponed, a choice that President Pervez Musharraf will undoubtedly use to fuel his fire against the ever-popular "Islamic extremists". "I want to appeal to the nation to remain peaceful and exercise restraint," he said.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
This announcement was met with the attendant confusion and furor one might expect, as Congress asked for clarification on several key points: Will these sandwiches be made to order, or will they be pre-packaged? If a citizen prefers a nice wrap or an open-faced sandwich, will there be a way to compensate for these variances? Do chips come with that?
Pinhead said, through a mouthful of sourdough roll and smoked turkey, "Hey, we're spending two hundred and seventy million dollars a day on this thing in Iraq, why not spread the wealth?" Wiping him mouth on a napkin hastily provided by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he continued, "Hey, I'm the President, right? Since federal anti-trust regulations prohibit me from buying the world a Coke, I will buy my country a sandwich. There is still more to be done to rein in government spending. In February I will submit my budget proposal for fiscal year 2009, which will once again restrain spending, keep taxes low, and continue us on a path towards a balanced budget. I look forward to working with the Congress in the coming year to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and make sure if they don't want to have mayo, they can get that spicy brown mustard instead."
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
I thought of this as I reflected on Santa's visit last night. It really is the rare exception for a bearded man to gain trust and acceptance from all the children of the world. My father, however, would probably have found reason to keep an eye on Mister Claus. He claimed that anyone who covered his face with hair was hiding something. I heard this diatribe dozens of times throughout my youth. I heard it so many times that, for a time, I too ascribed to it. This was partly out of my unfortunate inability to grow much more than patchy stubble, and partly out of respect for my father.
For several years, I maintained a rather prolific moustache. I have very visceral memories of ice forming on it as I wandered through the sub-zero patches of many Colorado winters. I assume that, because I never heard about it from my father, moustaches don't hide much but your upper lip, and are therefore an acceptable outward symbol of manhood. As my hairline made a fast retreat in my mid-twenties, my "cookie-duster" was a nice stopgap for my eventual surrender to hair loss.
But when I moved to California, I became more convinced that I could maintain a beard, away from the watchful eye of my father. All the other guys at the warehouse where I worked sported all manner of facial hair, the most popular being the goatee, a kind of badge of polite hippiedom. And so for a few more years, I went in and out of phases where parts of my jaw and chin were covered with fur. My wife tolerated it, but always sighed with relief when I cut it all off to start again.
Then my son was born, and I can remember vividly how he recoiled from my scruffy face when I bent down to kiss him goodnight. That was reason enough for me. I've been essentially clean-shaven since, including a shearing of my entire head every three months. It is amazing how quick my showers are these days, but now I have two weeks off, and it's tempting to just let my freak flag fly one more time. Just to see what I'm trying to hide, aside from my aversion to shaving, that is.
Monday, December 24, 2007
I braced for the impact
He hit me square in the chest
and knocked me back
He grabbed my arm and pulled
I twisted and turned
I tried to get away, but not too hard
I tried to escape - barely
I was wrestling with an angel
on my living room floor
I could sense that my shoulders
were close to the rug
In my head I could hear the count
one, two, but not quite three
And then it came to me clearly:
I could let the angel win
All of my surrender will now be open
for vast interpretation
Sunday, December 23, 2007
I was a little kid. My mom sang a song. "Jeepers, creepers, where did you get those eyes?" It was dark. I used to cry and go to the bathroom a lot. Teddy was scared too. I ran into my mom's room. She told me to get out of her room. I say, "I'm sorry Mama." I don't want to be in the dark. My brother asks can he go in there an watch TV. I say, "That's not fair." I always tell my dad I had to be in the dark. He got mad. He told Teddy to go to sleep with me. "Not in my bed," Toby said, "Move. I need some room. Scoot over." I said, "It's my bed, you scoot over." And then we fell asleep.
This was, with a few spelling and punctuation corrections, what one of my fourth graders turned in. This is a kid who gets into a lot of trouble. The fact that he finished the assignment at all was a complete triumph for him. And me.
Now we both have two weeks of vacation. Time to spend away from school. Time to spend with our families. I know I need the break, but going back will be a little easier now. It will be easier because, in spite of the fact that I gave him only three out of four points for not including a moral on his fable, I know that I still have a lot to learn.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
Now several more weeks have passed. There have been heroic stories of stars sacrificing their salaries and paying their writing staff out of their own pockets. There has been amazing shows of solidarity. Until now. Today, leaders of striking television writers plan to meet with David Letterman's production company in an attempt to reach a separate deal that could return the "Late Show" to the air with its writing staff. In a joint statement, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert said: "We would like to return to work with our writers. If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence."
I too am feeling that nuanced ambivalence. Do I continue to steer clear of shows that General Electric and Viacom dangle in front of me, relying on reruns or even (gasp) reading a book? I miss my nightly dose of snickering at the world through the lens of Stewart and Colbert. I have a couple of weeks off, and I could actually stay up late enough to watch David Letterman if I wanted to. The irony being this is precisely the kind of thing I look for these guys to provide me with some perspective.
Ah well, since I can't figure it out tonight, I guess I'll just nip out into the kitchen and have myself a few more of those Oreos.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
It makes sense that the IRS would be the scourge of our robust American ideals, since they're all about asking us to give money that we made back to them. There's fear built right into that one. It makes you wonder just how much withholding someone who works in the auditing department has taken out.
But what is it about the TSA? Screeners are "just rigid, intransigent, inflexible, unpleasant, and they always have the fact that they've got the security of the nation that they're falling back on," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. So there's that Fear Factor again. If we don't take away your hand sanitizer or pat you down just a little more emphatically than you are completely comfortable with, well, then the terrorists win. Everyone knows that it takes more than three ounces of hair gel to blow up a plane, anyway.
Take heart, since TSA responds to every complaint it receives, according to spokeswoman Ellen Howe, adding that each complaint is forwarded to the federal security director at the airport in question. In the cases AP reviewed, the most common response was a form letter, apologizing for inconveniences, often blaming the problem of long lines on the local airport and forwarding complaints about inappropriate patdowns to the airports where they occurred.
Which leaves us with FEMA, the repository of the nation's frustration with government agencies. The fact that their solutions to emergencies seem to become new emergencies (concerns about formaldehyde in travel trailers in the Gulf Coast area), leaves them alone at the top of the heap. These guys don't just operate from fear, they actively create it. This is what we call job security.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of traditions. I'm a regular Tevye when it comes to endless repetition of some activity or ritual. It assures me of a front row seat, for one thing. This holiday season found me humming right along: stuffing the turkey, putting up the Christmas lights, running my ten-K race. Then there were some bumps in the road, and I was tossed out of my rut.
It was deemed appropriate and about time to try something a little different for New Year's Eve. Our traditional fort in the living room will be given a respectful rest as we attempt to brave the last night of the year at a (shudder) party. This was a challenge for me, specifically from the standpoint that I had adopted the tradition of making a fort in the living room precisely because the idea of going to a party on New Year's Eve creeped me out. Not that I don't like parties. I'm just not terrifically fond of New Year's parties. We'll just say that it has not been my favorite occasion in year's past. Erecting a fort in our living room with all the furniture and blankets and strings of lights has helped exorcise those demons.
But now that my son is convinced that everyone rings in the New Year by turning the couch on its side and pinning sheets together to form a tent in front of the television, maybe it's time to take a step outside the box I have created. And then there's the matter of the Winter Assembly at my school. This year's class has been, to put it mildly, a challenge. For the past several years, I have been the "cool teacher" who takes his kids up on stage and brings down the house by rapping along with Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis". We won't be making a return engagement this year. We just couldn't get a rehearsal together. There was always something far more interesting or annoying to attend to in those very few spare moments at the end of the day. Many of my students, as well as their teacher, were very sad to have our shot at stardom taken away.
I made peanut brittle. The teachers are still coming over to my house before we all scatter for two weeks of rest and recuperation. We'll still have our Christmas morning of lolling about on the bed as we pore over the contents of our stockings. There will still be great comfort in the sameness of it all. But there will also be part of me that is secretly anxious about the things that are different. At least now it won't be a secret.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
This is the scene that ran through my head as I read the news item about how U.S. military commanders in Iraq didn't know Turkey was sending warplanes to bomb in northern Iraq until the planes had already crossed the border. Don't they know that Iraq is our pledge, and if any hazing is to be done, it should be done with our spittle, tanks and bombs? These comments follow complaints by Iraqi leaders Monday that Turkey hadn't coordinated with Baghdad before sending bombers to strike targets of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. "They said it was hot pursuit," a US state department official told the Associated Press. "But our message to them was that they need to make sure we're aware of what they're doing and that we find out about it before the guns start firing." I think maybe someone has missed the point of a sneak attack: that would be the "sneak" part. The Turkish army also sent soldiers about one and a half miles into northern Iraq in an overnight operation on Tuesday, Kurdish officials said. Kurdish officials said the Turkish troops left Iraq about fifteen hours later. Yes, you read that right: They left about fifteen hours later. Not days. Not months. Hours.
The United States and Iraq have, however, called on Turkey to avoid a major operation, fearing such an offensive could disrupt one of the most tranquil regions in Iraq. Besides, everyone knows that the United States has everything under control over there, and if there is any trouble, we'll handle it. Or in the words of Dean Wormer, "The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me."
Monday, December 17, 2007
Three weeks ago, when I was preparing to have report card conferences with all the parents of my class, I suggested to my students that this being just a short time before Christmas that it would behoove them to do everything they could to put a smile on the faces of their caregivers, or at least the ones who do all the shopping. I tried to paint a picture for them of a world where bad grades were not connected with a new X-Box 360. I hoped to instill in them some sense of shame. Over the years I have heard a great many loud pronouncements from parents about how "we're just going to have to take all that stuff back to the store if your grades don't improve." Then the next trimester, we're talking about the connection between all the video games that are being played instead of completing homework.
Far be it from me to say that the kids are spoiled. In many ways, they are devoid of the basic necessities. As a parent myself I know the dig: If I can scrape together what it takes to get my kid that particular item, then I will have succeeded. The face of your child as they pull the wrapping paper of that must-have, well, it's a Master Card moment. But what if your kid is failing math? What kind of message can you send then?
I'm enjoying this little bit that has been making the circuit for the past few days: After catching his fifteen-year-old smoking pot, a father sold the hard-to-get "Guitar Hero III" video game he bought his son for ninety dollars for Christmas at an online auction, fetching nine thousand dollars. "I am still considering getting him a game for his Nintendo. Maybe something like Barbie as the Island Princess or Dancing with the Stars ... I know he will just love them," the father (a school teacher) said. And just maybe that extra eight thousand nine hundred and ten dollars can go to some sort of college fund - once the kid sobers up.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I thought about the visits I have made to our friends in southern California who live in a more more secluded enclave. It's not exactly a gated community, but I found that I could take a run for several miles without running into any sort of commercial real estate. I knew where the video store was, but I wasn't going to have to run past two of them if I chose not to. Back home I don't have as many options. I'm certain to pass a few 7-11s a couple of grocery stores, and countless apartment buildings. Down south I saw only single family homes, and my iPod ironically chimed in with Rush's "Subdivisions".
Last week, I had a chat with my friend with whom I grew up on the "mean streets" of Boulder, Colorado. She is now happily ensconced as a mover and shaker in her son's school. She's not the queen of the PTA, but she knows her. She was rolling her eyes at the insistence on brand names, specifically that of Sharpie markers of various colors, each denoting a specific grade level or activity. I told her that at my school, we confiscate Sharpie markers. I told her that the kids at our school use the permanent markers to leave their gang affiliations or thoughts about current faculty members on walls, stairways, desks and chairs. Even the little kids. Pencil is just so much easier to wash off.
It was only after I hung up that I realized that we could be raising money for my school by selling our confiscated Sharpies to the suburban moms who need to keep track of their kids at their annual Jog-A-Thons. It's a win-win situation, especially if they get to jog past My Sexy Life Boutique.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
That's not a wizard, it's just a very dumb man. The Jacobshavn Ice Stream, a glacier on the west side of Greenland that drains about six and a half percent of the continent's massive ice sheet. Between 2000 and 2003, its rate of retreat nearly doubled. The Qori Kalis Glacier in Peru, whose initial retreat rate around 1991 was about six meters per year but now is sixty meters per year. NASA climate scientist, Jay Zwally, remarked this week: "At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions." Because of global warming, Inuit people no longer feel safe travelling on ice where they travelled for centuries, and some Inuit communities are sliding into the sea, forcing their relocation to new sites. The White House does not see this as a uniquely "American" problem.
What's a Scarecrow to do? There are four hundred and one day's left in the Pinhead's Regime. Let's hope for a protracted cold snap while the brains in Washington thaw out.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Nowadays, however, our children do not cry out for fancy new shootin' irons or a Betsy Wetsy. They've got a hankerin' for Wii. We are the happy owners of Wii already. We love to play with our Wii, or at leat we know that our son is content to spend ours playing with his Wii. When we got it, we went Wii, Wii, Wii all the way home. Okay. Enough already. You get the idea. I feel less anxious this year because I know that the must-have item of the year is already safely ensconced in our house, and we can be somewhat blase when the topic of videogame systems is broached. I'm just glad that my son doesn't need a Cabbage Patch kid.
Back in the mid-1980's, I was at ground zero of the Coleco-mass-produced influx of the lumpy mutants. I was part of a crew that unloaded the forty-eight foot trailers that back up to the docks of our local Target store. Beginning in November, we had special orders to grab whatever dolls we saw on the trailer and send them immediately out to the sales floor. We had one kid who was especially wiry and adept at slithering through the other freight to find the random six or eight bright yellow boxes that contained shoppers' gold. We always looked with mild pity at the poor red-vested soul who had the misfortune to carry the merchandise out the swinging doors into the toy aisle. I remember one evening in particular, when we received two dozen dolls, staring blankly through their cellophane windows, awaiting adoption in all their one-of-a-kind glory. These were loaded neatly on a rolling cart, pushed by sales associate Victim out into a pre-Christmas frenzy that was every bit as horrifying as a school of sharks, where even injured sharks are consumed without hesitation. There were always more shoppers than dolls. There was always shouting. There were always tears. I was glad to be on the other side of the wall from all that free enterprise. It still gives me chills.
And so tonight, with ten more shopping days, I feel safe: Safe in the knowledge that those I love will be happily surprised on Christmas morning, and safe from the crazy eyes and clawing fingers of those rabid consumers.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
If the first step is to recognize that you have a problem, then I've been on this particular step for a good long time. My desperate need to be liked goes way back to third grade, when I willingly subjected myself to being Mary Symanski's "robot" for four square. At least that's my first recollection of sacrificing a certain degree of self-respect for acceptance. I'm sure there were others.
No matter how often I find myself wincing at the Stuart Smalley nature of all self-esteem issues, I still end up wondering how I run so close to empty. After all, I'm good enough. I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me. Or I will make every effort to ensure that they do. At least I will do this initially, until I reach a disjoint: Why doesn't this person love me? I've worked so hard to get them to love me. There must be something wrong with them.
As I've said, it's a sickness. I know. Even with this seeming boatload of self-awareness, I still find myself in situations that I just can't fathom. Why, for example, would I choose to be an elementary school teacher if I am so anxious to be loved? There's always a satisfying flurry of good feelings at the beginning of the year, but that wears off pretty quickly once we all realize that fourth grade isn't about "The Name Game" or passing out textbooks. I'm the boss, after all, and you can't be a really great boss if everyone loves you.
Or so I'm told. Which is why the number of management positions in my life continues to puzzle me. At each juncture, I've made an effort to show that I'm still "one of the guys", but once the employee reviews come out, things change. I am, after all, the Man.
And so it goes. It helps to get a hug from one of my kids, or to connect on a meaningful level with a parent. It helps to know that everything gets more difficult around the holidays: from parking to interpersonal relations. This too shall pass, but for now I feel the need for a fistful of chocolate chip cookies and a few more hours before I open that door to start again. As Scarlett O'Hara, another famous acceptance junkie once noted, "Tomorrow is another day."
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
As fluff pieces go, this could just float away, unless it just happened to come to light on the very same day that Pinhead vetoed legislation that would have expanded government-provided health insurance for children. This was his second slap-down of a bipartisan effort in Congress to dramatically increase funding for the popular program. In a voice far removed from reason, he warbled, "Ultimately, our nation's goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage, not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage." Of the forty-three million people nationwide who lack health insurance, more than six million are under eighteen years old. That's more than nine percent of all children.
Meanwhile, if something should happen to Mister Atlason's dialing finger, Iceland's very generous National Health Care System would take care of it. It is a wacky planet, after all.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Nope. These folks are always so bent inside that they feel the need to take a few of us along with them. Robert A. Hawkins' suicide note read, in part: "I've been a piece of (expletive) my entire life it seems this is my only option. I know everyone will remember me as some sort of monster but please understand that I just don't want to be a burden on the ones that I care for my entire life. I just want to take a few pieces of (expletive) with me. I love all of you so much and I don't want anyone to miss me just think about how much better you are off without me to support. I want my friends to remember all the good times we had together. Just think tho I'm gonna be (expletive) famous."
I would love to work up some sympathy for Mister Hawkins, but since they are still burying his victims, it seems he will have to wait. Matthew Murray, the tiny brain in charge of the Colorado church shootings had this to say before he loaded his weapons and went off in search of Christians to kill: "God, I can't wait till I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don't care if I live or die in the shoot-out. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you ... as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world." Murray was initially believed to have been brought down by security guard Jean Assam. "I just prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide me," Assam said at a packed news conference Monday. "I give the credit to God. This has got to be God, because of the firepower he had versus what I have." Nice shootin', God, but alas the coroner has pronounced Murray's cause of death to be the ever popular single gunshot to the head. He wasn't going to be taken alive.
He wasn't. Neither were Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. Or Kip Kinkel. Or Charles Carl Roberts. And the hits just keep comin'.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Upon closer inspection, it became apparent that these master criminals had first tried to gain entry by dumping all the potted flowers that we had recently placed around our campus and stacking the pots up to reach the window. When that proved to be too short, they went for the dumpster. That brought them easy access to the wire mesh that covered the window, which they peeled back before they smashed the glass. And once they got in, what do you suppose they got? They unplugged the computers, but that seemed beyond their meager capacity, so they tossed the personal copier out onto the asphalt.
They didn't take much. They seemed content just to break stuff. They were probably scared off by the arrival of the custodian, who spent the better part of her morning trying to put things back into some sort of order. The kindergarten class got to meet in the library today, and for those kids it probably seemed like a special treat. For the rest of us who dealt with the debris and filed it with the ever-growing list of stories about break-ins and vandalism, we just kept moving and tried not to think about it too much. We tried not to think about it because when we did, we got angry, and anger is what made that mess happen in the first place.
Tonight when I was riding up the hill, I noticed a scattering of plastic debris on the sidewalk next to the side gate of the school. It was the remnants of the CD player, the one thing that we had assumed the vandals had taken for themselves. They hadn't. Instead they had hurled it over the fifteen foot chain link fence to the street below. It won't be used to play music or story tapes again. It won't even be sold to buy drugs. It's going to end up in the dumpster right next to the recycling bin. We'll get the window fixed, and buy a new CD player, and we'll start over again. And even though we ache for some sort of frontier justice, some sort of clue that will send the idiots who did this to jail, we know that we will have to be satisfied with the knowledge that our kids are safe and no one got hurt. But we can dream, can't we?
Sunday, December 09, 2007
That was all well and good for creeping across Martian landscapes, but for my own intense imaginings, sometimes I needed a more somber tone. This was the first soundtrack album that I wore out: "Bless The Beasts And The Children". Before the advent of portable tape players and personal stereos, I used to play one particular cut, "Cotton's Dream" over and over before I went outside to engage in the pre-teen ennui that I had worked hard to cultivate. The brooding, somber piano was the perfect accompaniment to my brooding and somber moods. I wanted to be as misunderstood and righteous as Cotton himself was in the movie. After a few dozen plays, I could hear the melody in my head as I walked out of my room and into the world I was creating.
Imagine my chagrin when, five years later, that same piece reappeared as "Nadia's Theme" after the ABC television network lent the music for Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci's performance during the 1976 Summer Olympics. That's when I discovered that composer Barry De Vorzon had already sold that piece again as the theme to the soap opera, "The Young and The Restless". Didn't they understand that this was the soundtrack to my own personal soap opera?
Over the years I have made peace with this sonic conundrum, and moved on to the Jerry Goldsmith score to "Patton" and eventually themes like "Chariots of Fire" and "Rocky". Still, every so often when the clouds are low and grey, and the house is empty, I hear the sad strains of "Cotton's Dream".
Saturday, December 08, 2007
They're not K-I-S-S-I-N-G
That's because Oprah, her supreme highness of all things media and worthiness, has decided to show favor upon Barack Obama. "The Winfrey Effect" is in full effect in Iowa, where next month delegates will start forming a line behind the candidate they think will give their party the best chance of winning the general election that is still a year away. Thousands of voters, many who've never had contact with the Obama's campaign before, have signed up on his web site or come into campaign offices to pick up tickets for the gala that will feature an appearance by her Oprahness. It is, especially for Iowa, a frenzy.
And what makes Oprah such a bellwether when it comes to politics? Well, she's got her own TV show, and a magazine that arrives monthly packed with fresh insights of Winfrey-Think and a glorious new photo of the queen of all media smiling of the cover. And a ton of money. She hopes that others will bring their tons of money to drop on the campaign of the Senator from Illinois. Fair enough, it's essentially the same thing she's done for books for lo these many years: "What's Oprah reading?" "Who does Oprah want to be President?" First of all, let's remember that she has featured famous nut-job and pretty-boy Tom Cruise on her show, bounding over and onto furniture. Maybe a little Ritalin would have helped. Then again, James Frey didn't show up to bounce on the couch, but had to make a repeat appearance to apologize for being a big fat liar.
Am I suggesting that Barack Obama is a Scientologist or a great big fibber? Not in the least. I respect and admire the man for his courage and convictions, if not his vague sense of responsibility for his vote to go to war in Iraq. For the record, he's been regretting it ever since, but he did vote for it, along with several additional funding bills since.
But so has Hillary, so maybe it's all going to come down to who wins the coveted endorsement prize. Oprah's already got her man, and she wants you to drop a couple thousand dollars to find out why. And if you're lucky, that will be the night that everybody in attendance also gets a BRAND NEW CAR!
Sorry, I just don't get it.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Is December seventh any more infamous than December sixth? Yesterday in history, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, banning slavery. Meredith Hunter was killed by the Hells Angels during a The Rolling Stones's concert at the Altamont Speedway in California, putting a great big period on the sentence that was the Summer of Love. A hundred years and a day ago, a coal mine explosion at Monongah, West Virginia kills three hundred sixty-two workers. That doesn't quite stack up to Pearl Harbor numbers, but it doesn't seem insignificant.
I guess when we're judging infamy, we go by body count. How sadly and quaintly American of us.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Okay, I should come clean here: I had an adjustable rate mortgage. The past tense of said mortgage is what gives me the strength to write these words now. A few years back, our financial advisor noticed this and made a face. It was a face of a financial advisor who wanted to give my wife and I advice but was trying to frame his suggestion in a polite way. "And just why did you decide upon an adjustable rate instead of fixed?" he asked.
My wife and I sat placidly and made vague attempts to sound as if we knew what we were talking about. Adjustable rates mean that they can go down if the rates continue to drop, right?
"What if they go up?"
And thus the conversation ended as we locked in a very pleasant and low rate for ourselves and ever since that day we have looked askance at those with adjustable rate mortgages as if they were compulsive gamblers. Now the Federal Pixies in charge of such things are looking to set a certain group of homeowners up with what amounts to an extension on their credit. It puts me in mind of the ATMs you find in the corner of most casinos. After you lose your shirt, why not buy yourself a new one so we can have that one too?
What's the impact of all of this? Well, it means that foreclosures will taper off for a while - at least until Pinhead can work out the refinance on his ranch down in Crawford.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
There are hundreds of stories about Tom's in my family. That amounts to about one per burger consumed there. When the Pearl Street Mall opened thirty years ago, Tom's had already been in business for eighteen years. Rather than being swallowed up by the new wave of yuppie eateries and shopping opportunities, Tom's remained a sure thing in a world that brought Mork and Mindy to a deli just down the street, and a seemingly endless rotation of restaurants up and down the street where no one drove anymore, but they would walk to Tom's.
My own love affair with Tom's began when my father used to take us there for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. As I got older, I began to appreciate the cozy familiarity of the place. For most of the time that I lived in Boulder, going to Tom's was like entering a cocoon. The only natural light came from the small windows at the south end of the room, just above the pay phone. That's where one would inevitably stand in line and wait for a table, giving the lingering diners the evil eye as your stomach churned in anticipation of the meal that awaited.
And what a meal it was. When I was a more aggressive eater, I ordered two burgers with no fries. The "no fries" was my nod to respect for my digestive system. Somehow that lack of fries would save me, or more likely, allow me more room to pack in burgers.
Years passed, and some things changed: There was outside seating, and even windows installed on the east wall to allow everyone to see the food that they ordered more clearly. The jukebox, the most eclectic and impressive collection of tunes to consume by, was eventually replaced by a CD version, but at least the odd mix of selections was effectively maintained. Through it all, however, the burgers remained consistent. There were plenty of cooks in all those years. I knew one of them through a prior job at a local Mexican restaurant, and I looked forward to hollering at him through the tiny portal through which the food was passed to the waitresses standing just behind the bar.
Tom's was, after all, a Tavern. It's where I first sat fascinated as my father poured salt into his beer. He always ordered "a burger and a draught". I can only guess what was coming out of the tap, but since he felt good about pouring salt into it, it must have needed it. The burgers never did. I'm generally a cheeseburger guy, but this was a place where less truly was more. That hint of mayo and a little bit of ketchup was enough for me. When I was in college, like my brother and father before me, Tom's burgers served as the only solid food that would cure a raging hangover. I am sure there were a few of those that saved my life, at least for a while.
Tom Eldridge died last May, and his family considered its options before deciding to close. As a business, it had been hemmoraging money for years, and the place had finished its natural cycle along with its founder. What happens next on the corner of 11th and Pearl is only speculation, but the words of Warren Zevon, when asked about his own impending death, come back to me as quiet reassurance: "Enjoy every sandwich." I'm sure that goes double for Tom's burgers.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Four years ago. 2003. Do the math. That takes up back before the last election. More to the point, it takes us back to the campaign before the last election. There was great sturm and drang over the need to build up troop levels in the Middle East to combat the threat of an Iraq armed with nuclear weapons. Four years ago is when they stopped their nuclear weapons program. Ooops.
Not to be deterred from stirring the fear pot, Pinhead announced, "Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." What might have been the first good news to come out of that region for several hundred years was met with derision and ever more bristling tension. "So, I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. And the reason why it's a warning signal is that they could restart it." I expect that they will be on that directly after their hydrogen fuel cell technology is up and running. Or maybe once they get the bugs worked out of their ethanol program.
Is it possible that the people of Iran would be happy to be free of the global scrutiny for just a little while and its government might just be willing to follow suit? Is it possible that the leaders of an economically challenged country might anticipate the difficulty to mounting a nuclear weapons program when forty percent of their population lives below the poverty line?
Anybody else remember a country in the Middle East that was reported, via U.S. Intelligence, to have had "weapons of mass destruction". Again: Ooops, and Ouch.
Monday, December 03, 2007
I work hard to keep an open line of communication with my students and their parents. I send home weekly behavior and performance reports. I give them my home phone number with the expectation that if there is a question about homework, or a concern about grades, or maybe they just want to check in on what their kid is up to six hours out of every day. When I had a mother refuse to sign her daughter's report card, I confess I was taken aback. These aren't closely guarded secrets, and since I leave my door propped open on most every day, I wonder why I don't have parents dropping by more often. Was this woman denying the reality that her daughter created? Was there something that I wasn't making clear? Was I missing a page that explained why this girl was not subject to the same limits and curriculum that the rest of my students were?
I asked her if she would take the paper, and call me if she had any questions. She harrumphed through pursed lips and, to her credit, she took the unsigned report card and went on her way. I sat for a while in silence, grateful that there wasn't another parent waiting in line to speak with me. Eight hours later, I'm still shaking my head, trying to figure out what I might have done differently. I know the truth, or at least the version that will make it possible for me to go back to work tomorrow. I know that any parent doesn't want to hear that their child is not measuring up. I know that my job is to make the best possible package out of children's future. It is my job. I am a teacher. A flummoxed, somewhat chagrined teacher, but a teacher, nonetheless.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings
My wife made the correct assertion when she heard that Evel Knievel had died. She said that she hoped that he hadn't succumbed to some boring or pedestrian cause. He should have gone out in a shower of sparks and a roar of thundering engines. He should have gone out with a bang. Sure, he had settled his account with Kanye West, and that got him a nice piece of press. He survived hepatitis with a liver transplant, but hurling himself across vast distances at high speeds into asphalt and hay bales didn't kill him.
The family across the street were big boxing fans. They always had a crowd in to watch Muhammad Ali maintain his heavyweight championship. Back in our basement, we had ABC's Wide World of Sports tuned in to the next big jump that Evel had planned for us.
He was a man who looked a little like Kenny Stabler, dressed like Elvis, and talked like a drunken sailor. George Hamilton did a nice job of softening his image a little in 1971, and six years later, he Evel co-starred himself with none other than Gene Kelly in what would be the beginning and end of his action film career: "Viva Knievel." Just three years ago the legend was reborn, directed by John Badham and starring George Eads. Almost thirty years since his last stunt, and even though it was a TV-movie, there was still something that brought us back to watch.
I never was much of a daredevil myself. I rode a motorcycle, and the one or two times that I tried anything dangerous, I ended up getting hurt. But never hospital hurt. Not broken bones hurt. Never life-threatening hurt. I left that for Evel.
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
-"High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
The zombie went down his List Of Things To Do:
- Shamble about
- Scratch frantically at locked doors
- Eat human flesh
"Nope," replied the zombie, and he went back to scratching frantically at the locked door. And so another day begins in the Caven household.
Sometimes what amounts to human closeness is protracted silliness. The public displays of affection sometimes appear in the most ridiculous ways. I know that I bring this from my childhood, where my mother's three sons would express their love for her by lightly patting her on the head and saying, "Bonka, bonka." These kind of things have shown up for years and have alternated between sincerity and abuse, and I'm more than certain that any clinical psychologist would have a field day with the oddly demonstrative aspects of all of our relationships.
But we are not all emotionally retarded. When we kiss and hug, we mean it, and we laugh until we cry more than we cry at all. It's just an awful good thing to know what to do when the zombies show up.