Saturday, May 31, 2008

Marquee Matchup

I took a little heart out of the Boston Celtics' win over the Detroit Pistons last night. For years I have been a latent Celtics fan, having come to them out of the mild frustration with growing up with an ABA franchise down the road. The Denver Nuggets nee Rockets were never much to speak of when I was a kid, and by the time David Thompson showed up to become the first basketball star in the mile-high city, I had already moved on. To Boston.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the team that I had picked out of mild desperation already had a winning tradition by the time I started to take mild interest in them. I was even more impressed when Larry Bird showed up. The Hick from French Lick gave me a work ethic to emulate and endless enthusiasm for the game. And a lot of highlights.
Speaking of highlights, it was about this same time that my buddy and future roommate began his own infatuation with the Philadelphia 76ers and their star, Doctor J. When he did move in with me, we got along fine with the few weeks out of the year when the Sixers played the Celtics. It was never quite the rivalry that the Celtics had with the Lakers, but it was an intense little bit of Atlantic Conference competition. Sitting in our living room in Colorado, we longed for the chance to one day take in a game in the Garden, or the Spectrum.
The closest we ever came was when the Nuggets finally joined the NBA and every so often we would be visited by our teams from the east. We would buy tickets and promise the other that we would not actively root against the other's team, but it was fair to cheer for the Nuggets. I spent a lot more time during these years with the sports pages. I learned to flinch when I saw that Bird's back was acting up, or smile patronizingly when I heard that Dr. J. was retiring.
Then, like all relationships, things changed. My buddy moved back east. Another friend and I drove him and his footlocker down to the airport in Denver. We made our farewells, and he went off into the night sky. And then I was alone.
Well, not really alone. My other friend could sense my mood, and so he suggested we drive over to McNichols Sports arena. "Maybe we could grab a couple of cheap seats." I mumbled something that sounded like assent, and off we went. Sure enough, when we got there, the game had just begun, and we bought a pair of ten dollar tickets and made our way up to the rafters. The Nuggets were playing the Cleveland Cavaliers, and I tried to maintain interest while I shook off the list of things I wished I would have told my eastbound buddy before he left.
This was back in the days before LeBron James, and a matchup between the Nuggets and Cavaliers didn't pack the house like the Sixers or Celtics. There were a lot of empty seats, and the lasting sense memory I have of that night was the sound of Dan Issel was making his way up and down the court for one of his last seasons. This was a guy who had the not-so-clever-but-very-appropriate-nickname of "The Horse". From way up high, we could hear his heavy breathing as he chugged up and down the hardwood. And in these echos, I felt an era coming to a close.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Someone To Watch Over Me

I think science is important. I believe that we should continue to discover all new forms of life wherever they might be, including other planets. That is why I find it difficult to reconcile my feelings about the discovery of Amazon Indians from one of the world's last uncontacted tribes. They have been photographed from the air. Pictures released on Thursday showed them painted bright red and brandishing bows and arrows.
Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International, which supports tribal people around the world said, "The world needs to wake up to this, and ensure that their territory is protected in accordance with international law. Otherwise, they will soon be made extinct." The thing that the world needs to wake up to, according to Corry, is the way that illegal logging in Brazil and Peru is encroaching on the territory of these primitive tribes.
While it is a certainty that the destruction of the rain forests of the Amazon is a crime, I find myself wondering about the need to keep seeking out "undiscovered tribes" to confirm that they are, in fact, undiscovered. The fact that most of the photos show men poised to fire arrows at the airplane passing overhead suggests that they do indeed want to be left alone. One can imagine the excitement in the cockpit: "Did you see that? Bring it around again so I can get another shot of the angry villagers!"
This begs the question of just how primitive the will continue to be, after their brush with the noisy metal bird. Part of the Prime Directive in "Star Trek" was a very strict non-interference policy. I imagine that Captain Kirk would have found some way to beam down to the surface near the village, painted himself up red, and wandered in to observe the natives close-up and personal. He might have even found a way to nab a few moments with some red-painted babe. But would he have posted the pictures on Al Gore's Internet?
I suspect it's just a matter of time before this becomes the next great vacation hot spot. I blame the voice-over: "...To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before, and build theme parks there."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Into The Woods

If I hadn't already been a supporter of Barack Obama, the sound bite I caught on this morning's news probably would have swayed me. Speaking at a Colorado high school, he reminded us, "Education starts at home." When I heard these words, I was getting ready to head off to work at a public school in Oakland where this might have come as some sort of debatable notion.
Today's experience was unique, in that my wife came along with me for the day to act as one of the chaperones for our fourth grade field trip. She went in prepared as a veteran of countless field trips with our son's class, as well as a great many over the years with my students. She had been listening to the stories and watching the stress drip off of me for the past several months, but I don't believe she was ready in the way she might have liked.
She found a way to challenge one girl by asking her, sincerely, if she could go five minutes without insulting someone. After a couple of false starts, she got a streak going, and was able to finish off the day remembering the admonition, "if you can't say something good about someone, don't say anything at all." It was a very quiet afternoon for that girl. My wife wasn't as successful with all the kids in her group, but she was buoyed by the support she got from another parent who kept it much more direct: "Knock it off."
Meanwhile, up the hill, I was managing a conflict between a parent and one of the volunteer naturalists who was leading another group. Apparently there was a wide gulf between what each of them felt was "respectful", and each one insisted that the other was being "disrespectful." The kids needed some direction, so I got them settled and sent the grownups to opposite sides of the forest to cool off.
The punch line to all of this action is this: I only ended up taking fourteen of my twenty-four students on the trip, with the expectation that these were the best-behaved. Compared to other field trips, this one went fairly well, with an equal amount of fun and education and only trace amounts of overt discipline. Still, there were plenty of grown-ups at the end of the day shaking their heads, wondering aloud, "How do you do it?"
I suppose when it comes to field trips, if you'll pardon the expression, some children need to be left behind.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fractured Fables

A famished fox who was a press secretary to the President of the United States saw some clusters of ripe black grapes hanging from a trellised vine. The Fox who was a press secretary to the President of the United States resorted to all His tricks to get at them, but wearied himself in vain, for he could not reach them. At last the fox who was a press secretary to the President of the United States turned away, hiding his disappointment and saying:"The Grapes are sour, and not ripe as I thought."
This is the fable that the White House would like us to read as their comment on Scott McClellan's new book. "Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House," said current White House press secretary Dana Perino, a former deputy to McClellan. "We are puzzled. It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew." Neither Ms. Perino nor Mr. McClellan are particularly vulpine, but the moral of the fable would seem to work for either one, if we continue to stretch this metaphor with the McClellan memoir represented by the grapes.
Here's some of the sour ones: In Pinhead's second term, as news from Iraq grew worse, McClellan says the president was "insulated from the reality of events on the ground and consequently began falling into the trap of believing his own spin." All of this was a "serious strategic blunder" that sent Bush's presidency "terribly off course."
"The Iraq war was not necessary," McClellan concludes.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, for instance, the administration went on autopilot "rather than seizing the initiative and getting in front of what was happening on the ground."
It's that "on the ground" thing that Pinhead and his cronies seem to have the hardest time with. As long as they remain in the air, all is well. Just like those grapes, way up high.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dream Job

I always know that I'm going to wake up tired when I spend a night working in the book warehouse. Last night I had to do inventory, and it wasn't any fun at all. Back when I worked in a real book warehouse, I kind of enjoyed inventory. It was kind of like a holiday. Everyone, including the office staff, came out and counted all the books we had on all our shelves. Twice. As part of the warehouse management, it was my job to watch over this process, and double check any vast discrepancies between the first and second count. But the thing that made it really interesting was the night before, when there were only three of us hanging around until the wee hours printing the counting sheets, sharpening pencils by the gross, and eating McDonald's cheeseburgers by the bagful.
In my dreams, it's never quite as much fun. Like last night, it was much too dark, and the shelves were too close together. Even though I eventually found the title I was looking for with a flashlight and three different sets of directions, I still ended up confused as to exactly how many were actually on the shelf because they were stacked so precariously. Of course it didn't help that I had a number of different employees coming up to me during my search and asking me questions for which I had no answer. In this way, the dream was very much like real life, and in this way I took some mild comfort from it.
Then came the denouement: My father appeared, and stood quietly by as I finished a third and fourth count of the stack that kept shifting. He was very patient, but I knew that if I stopped and talked to him, the magic would end. Sure enough, when I stood up to speak, he just nodded, and I woke up.
I never would have guessed that a book warehouse would be a place to go for solace, but something about this dream made me feel safe. Seeing my father again was nice, but disconcerting at the same time. Over the long weekend I had reminisced with my mother and younger brother about Memorial Days past. At the end, we came to the same essential conclusion: The past is just that, and you can keep it safe in a box to take out on those special occasions. Look, touch, reflect, replace, return to present. But only after a second count.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mars Bar

I spent a couple of hours yesterday watching a bunch of guys in blue shirts sit and stare at their respective monitors. They did this with great intensity, but I can't say that it made for high drama. But I knew that somewhere, there was drama and excitement, and tension. The men and women at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena had been working for years for this moment, and you could see it in their faces.
You could see it when you looked very closely. We weren't in Pasadena. We were watching a projected image in Oakland, and listening to the crackly audio of Mission Control. We stood in that warehouse, surrounded by art and images of Mars, waiting for some real pictures of the Red Planet. We had come to celebrate the success of the Phoenix Mars Lander, at least vicariously. We filled the empty minutes wondering what might happen. Would a hole open up in the sky above us just as the lander touched down, with a booming voice emanating across vast regions of space shouting, "Hey! Leave us alone already!"
They sent a media package along. There's a DVD that contains, in addition to other cultural relics, Orson Welles' broadcast of "War of the Worlds". At this point, no one expects little green men to come creeping toward the lander to inspect and discover the disc. Instead it is included as a time capsule of sorts for the humans who eventually catch up to the various and sundry probes, robots and satellites that we've been lobbing in Mars' direction for the past thirty years or so. What a hoot that will be for our astronauts to drag the DVD back to their capsule to listen to the way we earthlings managed to defeat the Martians with our rhinovirus. Their ray guns turned out to be no match for our cough and cold season.
When Phoenix was finally on the surface of Mars, our crowd cheered right along with the scientists in Pasadena. Maybe we were relieved to be watching exploration instead of incursion. Later that night, I looked at pictures of Mars' north pole with my son. "Aren't they in color?" he asked. After all, the video we had been watching of Pasadena had been in color. And we had been able to watch them move. This just looked like a parking lot. A parking lot that is four hundred and twenty-two million miles away. That's a pretty neat trick.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Sweet Bippy

I understand that by admitting that I not only watched "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" but I remember watching it. I remember Henry Gibson's poems and Arte Johnson's "velly interesting" Nazi. I remember the guy in the raincoat riding his tricycle and falling over when he ran into all manner of obstacles. I remember Gary Owens gorgeous baritone announcing the show from "beautiful downtown Burbank." I remember being intimidated by Jo Anne Worley and quietly aroused by Goldie Hawn. I remember being fascinated by the amazing chameleon qualities of Lily Tomlin. But most of all, I remember the ringmasters: Dan and Dick.
Dan was a playboy, obviously. He wore a moustache and smoked a pipe. He's the one who said every week, "Say goodnight, Dick." Dick was the one who seemed to be having all the fun. Regularly cracking up in skits, before during and after introducing segments, he always appeared to be having a good time. Most of what came out of his mouth sounded like double entendre, intentional or not. I imagined he probably woke up in that tuxedo most mornings. He gave me my first catch-phrase. Others, including Richard Nixon, took the standard, "Sock it to me!" I preferred Dick's "You bet your sweet bippy!"
As a matter of fact, I may have been one of the few people who was actually enthusiastic about the appearance of Rowan and Martin's film, "The Maltese Bippy." A werewolf movie starring the guys from "Laugh-In"? How could it miss? Most of what I knew about the film I learned from the pages of "Famous Monsters of Filmland", specifically the photos of Dick Martin undergoing the "painstaking process" of having the lycanthrope makeup applied to him for hours each day. In fact, it took me many years to get a chance to see it in its entirety, since my parents probably felt that even a "G" rated film that told the story of soft-core porn directors who get mixed up in a murder mystery might be beyond their precocious seven-year-old son.
When I finally saw "The Maltese Bippy: years later, it was a terrible letdown. It wasn't a werewolf movie at all. It was a spoof with very little "oof". To his credit, Dick seemed to be having a whale of a good time still, but the 1969 zeitgeist had passed, and the jokes worked better in Mel Brooks and Monty Python films. I had grown up, but they never had.
Now Dick has gone to join his partner in that big lounge act in the sky. Since Dan went on ahead, I'll just have to do it for him: "Say goodnight, Dick."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Truth Is Out There - Way Out There

For many years, it was unclear whether or not Abe Vigoda was alive. Thanks to technology, we have the ability monitor Abe's status on a regular basis. I confess that if someone had asked me if Lyndon Larouche was dead, I might have guessed that he had passed on as well. It wasn't Al Gore's Internet that clued me into my faux pas, but the carefully placed flyer I found next to my mailbox this morning. Perhaps "flyer" is the wrong term, since it weighs in at a hefty forty pages, and contains lots of dense print and helpful pictures and graphs. Wedged inside this magazine was another publication, only twenty-four pages, calling itself "An Interim LPAC Report: The U.S.A. 2008 Election."
Both of these periodicals were left by faceless strangers in hopes that I might consider the "$5 suggested contribution" printed on the covers. By my reckoning, I'm ten bucks ahead on this deal. Lyndon would like us to know that, not only is he still alive and kicking, but he is a force on the web as well, where one can feel free to contribute online. And just what are we contributing to? "...the leadership of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party: neither is morally fit to survive! They're as unmorally fit to survive as the people who backed Mussolini and backed Hitler back in the 1920s and the 1930s."
Now don't you just want to keep reading to find out what else is on Lyndon's mind? He blames Harry Truman for the British Empire's recolonization of the world. Not the British, really, but the Anglo-Dutch Liberal financier empire. He also maintains that Richard Nixon was "a stooge for London." The more I read, the more fascinating it became. It also gave me the creeps. It reminded me of the black helicopter conspiracies of twenty years ago. There is a crazy, serpentine logic to it all, but you feel creepy reading it just the same.
I got to the part where he compares Barack Obama to Elmer Gantry, and had to stop. I may eventually go back and finish wading through this thing, because I would like to know what's going on out there, even the creepy parts. And speaking of creepy, I don't have any way to know how all this literature came to me. In my mind, I see a lonely old man shambling down the street in the wee hours of the morning, with his satchel of brochures and pamphlets, jamming them in doorways and mail slots. Is it Abe Vigoda or Lyndon Larouche?

Friday, May 23, 2008

First Bass

I'm sure there are those who took up playing the tuba because it was easy. I knew one of them. He was my father. It was important to have at least seven sousaphones, the portable equivalent of a tuba, to spell out "BOULDER" across the bells of the high school marching band. If you didn't play, at least you could carry it. My father learned one valve combination: one and three would make a "C". He spent a good deal of time holding an instrument and earning an easy credit or two.
I would like to say that I was following in my father's footsteps, but he wasn't my inspiration for picking up the low end of the brass family. I made my decision when I was in sixth grade and I went to a Boulder High football game. It was an away game, so the Pep Band was there instead of the full-on marching band. I noticed that the tuba players seemed to be having the best time. They seemed to be the most colorful personalities in the group, and so I decided that I would begin my tuba career the following year in junior high. This caused a minor uproar in the halls of my elementary school since I had bypassed Miss Colson's instrumental music program entirely, and even though I had been taking piano lessons for several years already at home. What made me think that I could just show up in seventh grade and start playing tuba?
As it turned out, they didn't even have a tuba when I first got to Centennial Junior High. After a summer of learning to play on a sousaphone I borrowed from the high school, they wanted me to switch to a baritone, higher in pitch and smaller in stature. I found it frustrating and confounding and felt a great relief when they were at last able to get me my own sousaphone. I was the only tuba player in our junior high, and when I got to high school, I found out that I was generally the exception to the rule, which was this: no one plays tuba full-time. Most often, a clever or talented musician from some other section of the band was asked to switch and play tuba to have the low end covered. I started to understand the bias against bass players early on. During concert band season, many of the pieces and arrangements we played included not just brief periods of rest for our section, but sometimes entire pages would go by without a note to play. I sat in the back with two other guys who were getting their credit much the same way my father had, and counted the rests. But marching band gave me a chance to shine, and pep band gave me a place to be a star.
My tuba career ended after high school. There was some brief notions of studying music in college, but I had already taken it as seriously as I was able. The notion of counting another three or four years of rests at the back of somebody else's concert band was numbing to me. Still, every now and then, like when I see the senior tuba player dot the "I" in "Ohio", I get a little wistful for what might have been.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Death Of One Is A Tragedy

I was struck by a headline I read this afternoon: "Tornadoes rip through Colorado, Wyoming; 1 killed" it read. First of all, my curiosity was piqued because I have family and friends in Colorado, and my thoughts immediately went to them. Abruptly after that, I was drawn to that death toll. The story went on to say that there was "at least one person killed" in the series of storms that bounced around northern Colorado. There was even a funnel cloud spotted in Longmont, just a short drive up the highway from my hometown, but there were no immediate reports of damage.
There will be plenty of debris to clean up, and it is likely that there will be more fatalities associated with this latest natural disaster. While on the other side of the planet, China has decided not to rebuild the largest town leveled by the earthquake that struck last week. Of Beichuan's former inhabitants, about eight thousand six hundred are known to have died and another five thousand eight hundred and ninety-four are considered missing. The rest appear to have survived. Across the region, more than fifty thousand people lost their lives, with another twenty to thirty thousand still missing.
In related news, scientists predicted the potential outcomes of "The Big One", a 7.8 quake on the San Andreas Fault: Hospitals are swamped with fifty thousand injured as all of Southern California reels from a blow on par with the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. Two hundred billion dollars in damage to the economy, and one thousand eight hundred dead. That would be horrifying and monumental, but the perspective is almost as impressive. It was a 7.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Sichuan Province.
It makes me proud, and a little bit humble, to be an American.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hearts and Minds

Great news, America! The al-Qaida terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago. This comes to us from long-time General, first-time caller Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28. "Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted al-Qaida, probably to a level that we haven't seen at any time in my experience," said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces. "They can regenerate, and do from time to time," he added.
Of course they can regenerate, you silly General. That's what they do. And little dust-ups like the U.S. soldier who was accused of using a copy of the Quran for target practice tend to help that process along. Just about anything about our continued presence in Iraq is fodder for the al-Qaida recruitment process. That's why President Pinhead has apologized to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and promised to prosecute the GI.
The sniper, whose job it is to kill the enemy, has been sent home, and the Iraqi government would also like to see him tried for his grievous crime. The sniper, who probably has at least one friend or acquaintance who has been shot, maimed, or blown up by soldiers who happen to be Muslim. I understand that we're supposed to be the good guys over there, but when the bombs and bullets start flying, just how sensitive can we expect the average eighteen to twenty-four-year-old sniper to be? In one of his rambling monologues in "Apocalypse Now", Colonel Kurtz opines, "We train young men to drop fire on people, but we won't allow them to write 'F*CK' on their airplanes because it's obscene."
Yes, this guy needed to be sent home. Yes, his conduct was unacceptable. Unacceptable from where we're sitting, anyway. I suggest we bring them all home to avoid any further embarrassment.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Looking For Mister Goodbaryonic Matter

I think everyone's mother has, at one time or another, uttered these words: "Well, it didn't just sprout legs and walk out of here, did it?" This would be the admonition one might hear when something has gone missing and you have looked, cross your heart, everywhere for it. At our house, we are fond of the more sarcastic reply: "Oh, I didn't know that it was my week to watch" whatever it is that the other person can find hide nor hair.
It's terrible to lose things. I have ruined entire days looking for this or that when I was sure that I left it right over there. I pride myself on keeping very close tabs on all of my accouterments, and when one or more of them go missing, I take it as a personal failure of galactic proportions. So imagine my glee when I heard that astronomers have found some matter that had been missing in deep space. It had been missing, for our purposes, since time began.
Scientists have long known there is far more matter in the universe than can be accounted for by visible galaxies and stars. If you have trouble keeping your socks in pairs from one load of laundry to the next, you can relate. Not only is there invisible baryonic matter, the protons and neutrons that make up atoms, but there also is an even larger amount of invisible "dark" matter.
Now about half of the missing baryonic matter has turned up, seen by the orbiting Hubble space telescope and NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, or FUSE. I'm guessing that it would be much easier to find my wife's glasses if we were allowed to use some of NASA's resources.
What does this mean? Will Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earheart suddenly show up? What about those guys on Oceanic Flight 815? And while we're looking for lost things, how about Marshall, Will and Holly? And my self respect?
Oh well, at least now we know where the backbone of the universe is. Now maybe I'll be able to find my car keys.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chaos Theory

It started about 2:15 a.m. Sunday when officers responded to a report of an injured bicyclist at Foothill Boulevard and 55th Avenue. When they arrived, they found a twenty-year-old Oakland man lying unconscious on the street. A witness told police that a Pontiac Grand Am had hit the bicyclist and had taken off northbound on 55th Avenue. Paramedics took the victim to Highland Hospital in Oakland, where he was reported to be in critical condition. A short time later, Alameda County sheriff's deputies told police that a Grand Am had arrived at the hospital and that the driver, a twenty-one-year-old Tracy man, had been shot. Police learned that at 2:15 a.m., the Grand Am had been sideswiped by another car on Foothill and that someone in the car had opened fire, hitting the Grand Am driver. The Grand Am continued on Foothill, hit the bicyclist and kept going.
How about that for some tidy coincidence? How about a little more "co-inky-dink": Most of this fun took place within blocks of where I teach. Today my class was as unruly as it has been in recent memory, along with a few others throughout the school. Had it been last week, I would have blamed the hot weather, but the past few days have been very pleasant. Maybe the sudden shift in barometric pressure caused a surge in unpleasant behavior. Maybe the boy who threw a rock at a girl this afternoon has no causal connection whatsoever between what happened early Sunday morning. But riding my bike home I kept an eye out for a Pontiac Grand Am.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


"Only the good die young," sang Billy Joel. That was back in 1977. At the time, Billy was twenty-eight years old. I have no idea if, as he rounds the sun on his sixtieth trip, he still preforms this song. I wonder if he has any any qualms about being referred to as "Billy". His good friend Johnny Cougar has been John Mellencamp for the past twenty-five years.
But it got me to thinking: Is he right? If only the good die young, then the older I get, the less good I become. If this is true for all of us, then our choice for president is clear, since the youngest of the bunch has to be the best. Age may bring wisdom, but it would seem that it doesn't include a certificate of goodness.
Then I thought of Mother Theresa, humanitarian and advocate for the poor and helpless, who lived to be eighty-seven. Surely even Billy Joel would have to include her on the "good list", wouldn't he? Maybe it's not a world-view at all. Maybe it's more of a rock 'n' roll thing. Neil Young, who has spent most of his life looking like a crazy old man before actually becoming one, wrote that it was "better to burn out than to fade away." And Roger Daltrey used to sing, "Hope I die before I get old." I'm guessing now that there are only two member of The Who, that sentiment has fallen by the wayside in favor of vitamins and herbal tea.
Or maybe it's hyperbole. It's a reckoning with the inevitability of your own demise, and making peace with the curious imperfections of life. Maybe we should remember Mister Joel still likes to think of himself as "An Angry Young Man", but he also wrote these words:

"So before we end and then begin
We'll drink a toast to how it's been
A few more hours to be complete
A few more nights on satin sheets
A few more times that I can say
I've loved these days"

Me too, Billy.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Work 'n' Stuff

Last night my wife and I were having a discussion about real and made-up jobs. She has a client or two that charge in excess 0f one hundred dollars an hour for their services. I suggested if that was the case, they must have made-up jobs. One was an "Energy Consultant", and you can use your imagination to determine just what that job description looks like. If you're thinking it has something to do with switching to fluorescent light bulbs, think again. One hundred and twenty-five dollars an hour. Go figure.
My attitude may be shaped by the old saw about "Those who can't do teach." I feel this every so often when I come home exhausted from a day in the classroom, and then I remember a day when I used to carry boxes of books around a warehouse for ten hours a day, or when I used to move and repair modular office furniture. Those were jobs. I came home and took a shower. I didn't just sink down into the couch with a low moan. That's why I'm the guy who raises his hand when my assistant principal asks if anybody wants to help putting together bookcases. Molding young minds is important, but it rarely involves a Phillips head screwdriver.
When all was said and done, I decided to return to my high school career goal: I want to be the person who decides when and where the apostrophe-n-apostrophe contraction can and should be used. "Rock 'n' Roll" is pretty much the template, but there are hundreds of other uses, and it is my intent to become the sole arbiter of this little chunk of pop culture. For this service I will not charge by the hour. Instead I will work only on commission. If you have any notions about where you might like to include this appealing and folksy conjunction, have your service call my service. We'll do lunch.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Piano Man

We have a new piece of furniture at our house. It came to live with us a week ago. It makes noise. It's a piano.
For many moons I resisted my wife's insistence that we needed a piano. It seemed a little like "needing" a video game system. I could understand all the intrinsic value of such an acquisition, but I never understood it as a basic need. I suppose if things got very desperate we could prop it on its side and live in the shadow of the soundboard, but it's not much of a shelter and we're not going to eat it or wear it, so why do we need it?
Now that it's here, I understand. My son has been taking piano lessons for the past couple of years and he's been practicing on a Yamaha keyboard. You know the kind, with all the spiffy noises and rhythms. On any given day when he had finished practicing, he would spend a few minutes noodling about with the drum sounds and the other effects. It was a value-added experience for him, but not always for those of us stuck listening to it.
Now he practices on a real piano: eighty-eight keys, no waiting. It's an upright that began its life as a player piano. I grew up with a player piano in our basement, and I was also part of the crew of burly men, though certainly not the burliest, who carried that beast out of my mother's house oh so many years ago. Part of my fear of owning a piano is the certainty of it eventually having to move to another place, and I know just how much gravity has to be overcome in order for this to happen. I can remember when I was in high school I figured out how I could crouch under my mother's baby grand, the upstairs piano, and move it in short slides by arching my back underneath it. A very useful trick, but not one that I would recommend for those who are fans of walking upright.
And so there it sits, behind me on the right, mocking me and my nearly ten years of lessons. "Come on and play me," it taunts, "I'll bet you can't." Well, the truth is, I still can. Not very well, but I can still pound out "Little Drummer Boy" and a few bits of a Beethoven Sonatina that I memorized in my teens. I found some free Scott Joplin sheet music to download on Al Gore's Internet, and I printed out "The Entertainer" just to see how long it would take me to give up in frustration. If this were "Piano Hero", I would be stuck on the first level, clanging away in fits and starts.
In the meantime, my son is preparing for his first recital this Saturday. In previous years he has shied away from that kind of attention, preferring instead to keep his music to himself, but now he feels the time is right. He's been practicing all week long, and I think he'll be ready. I expect he'll be available for a few more impromptu performances right here in the parlor, now that we've got our own analog music machine.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bucket Brigade

This afternoon I found myself fondly remembering a scene from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Butch is arguing with his rival Harvey Logan about the rules of their pending knife fight. "Rules? In a knife fight? No rules!" bellows Logan, just before Butch finishes the fight in his own inimitable fashion.
What set me to thinking of this interchange was hearing the neighborhood children chasing one another up and down the street in front of my house with a variety of containers full of water. More to the point, they were briefly full, then suddenly empty on this hottest day of the year so far. One little girl, with Gatorade bottle at the ready was loudly insisting, "Don't wet me! I can't get wet!"
Well, if ever there was an innate challenge to the logic and senses of anyone under five feet tall, this is it. You say you "can't get wet"? I believe there is a very abrupt and gratifying way to test this assertion. Of course you can get wet, you probably shouldn't, and something tells me that standing outside with your bottle of water in attack position isn't the best defense against dampness.
We had a family like that on the street where I grew up. Right about the time the first squirt guns showed up for the season, they were the ones to escalate things. They liked buckets and hoses. Don't get me wrong, when it comes to water fights, I believe firepower is extremely important. But here's the rub: These guys would inevitably show up early, douse some unsuspecting victim, only to run screaming for the relative safety of their own front yard, screaming, "I can't get wet!" This usually had something to do with the fact that they went to Catholic school and were often still wearing their uniforms into the early evening. Not that there was much discussion about whether or not their targets were "allowed" to be soaked. I had my share of Garanimals drenched by these miscreants, and I always imagined a day when I would have my revenge.
Sadly, that day never came. Something about the way justice was meted out in our neighborhood never allowed it. Maybe later in life they ended up on "America's Funniest Home Videos" as the buffoon on the receiving end of an above-the-ground-pool mishap, but I never got to see it. On reflection, I can only say that I am glad that I was always one of those kids who could get wet. It's a real character-builder.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Putting It Together

I remember how it was ten years ago. I rushed home from work to celebrate that date of my son's birth. It was his first, after all. Everything was new then. It was his first trip around the sun. Back then, it was even more frustrating for my wife and son to have to wait, since there was no school day for him to interfere with the festivities.
So in I trudge, worn down from the first wave of pre-summer heat and all the attendant chaos that swirls around a regular school day. The expectant faces of the kids from across the street who had shown up to facilitate the birthday process greeted me from the couch. My son wobbled back and forth between them, eager to begin whatever it was that happened next. We all knew what was coming, but aside from a flurry of gifts that we waved in front of him during his first Christmas five months earlier, there was no way he could have understood the torrent that was about to ensue.
My son has many fans. He is the fortunate focal point for the adoration of many kind and generous souls. There were packages from across the country and from across the street. The wrapping paper piled up, and I watched my son try and take it all in. As for me, I had my first taste of what this would mean for years to come when the great big box was opened and the parts of the Lil' Tikes Classic Toddler Tractor and Cart spilled out onto the floor. This was my moment to spring into action. As the whirling deliciousness of his lazy Susan cake entered from the kitchen, I sang the most redundant song in the world as I set about assembling the first in a long list of riding toys.
That night, it took longer than usual to get him to drop off to sleep. There was so much new stuff to think about and do. A decade later, that flurry is a bit more succinct. He builds his own toys, for the most part, with the occasional tighten or twist from mom and dad. He's in the living room now, reading instructions that would certainly tax my progressive lenses. The neighbor kids have moved away, but he's going to have a crowd over on Saturday to work on that cake consumption task. It's a happy day.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Wind Between His Ears

President Pinhead gave up golf out of respect for U.S. soldiers killed in the war. Said he of the pointy noggin: "I didn't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf," he said. "I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."
Now let us all pause for a moment and imagine just what the right signal might be.
Did you think that maybe bringing some of those troops home would be the right signal? Me too.
I'm thinking of giving up Tetris in solidarity with the earthquake victims in China. I think it might send the wrong message to be playing a falling-blocks puzzle video game, no matter how vexing it may be, during this time of tragedy and suffering.
I'm also considering giving up Ritz Crackers until that whole Texas polygamous sect mess gets cleared up. I just don't think that Ritz sends the right message. I'm thinking something more along the Townhouse line.
I could give up watching the news altogether, and in this way avoid any possible message that Steeple-Cranium might send. I might give up shrubbery until we have a new president. I might give up the letter "B", except my mother -ar-ara would feel just a little silly.
In the same interview, Pinhead said that he had also given up sending e-mail. He said he gave it up to avoid leaks. He looks forward to "e-mailing to my buddies. I can remember as governor I stayed in touch with all kinds of people around the country, firing off e-mails at all times of the day to stay in touch with my pals." I just hope he sends the right message.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Shoot High, Aim Low

On a day like today, it's best to keep your expectations low. We finished our standardized testing, except for makeups, on Friday. That means that today was officially the "rest of the year." I know that there are still plenty of workbook pages to fill, and at least four more stories to read in our anthology, but the kids in my class have determined that the end is nigh.
What does that mean? We work hard to cram all the possible grade level appropriate content into the kids' heads before testing begins. That generally means that by late April or early May, we have filled their heads with all the knowledge that the state requires. This still leaves us with another four to five weeks of tap dancing and review as we prepare them for launch into the next grade.
That is why we find ourselves with the freedom to do something as frivolous as have a multi-cultural assembly, or a Science Fair. In the parlance of the classroom, these are known as "may-do's". We have finished the "must-do's", and so now we get to enjoy ourselves, scholastically speaking. The tendency toward anarchy is even more prevalent in my class, and consequently the fun has yet to start. Instead we find ourselves reviewing classroom procedures and rules that were in place back in September. I know that for many of my students I am the embodiment of that thing that keeps them from running into the hallway and spilling out on the street. Their vague antipathy has begun to grow points. There was a time when I would have taken this all in stride and put on a happy face. But now I'm feeling sad and tired. "Burnout," my colleagues tell me.
I won't argue that point. I'm going to teach them about Sly and the Family Stone and how magnets work before they leave. No matter what, I still want them to walk out of my room the last time remembering something that no one else will teach them. That's how I keep my expectations high.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mama Mia

It's Mother's Day. Some are closer to their children than others. Some of them by choice, others by circumstance. This past week has given me more insight into that most amazing bond: mother and child. Where I work, I see mothers with their children every day. Some of them are loving and intimate. Others are more distant and business-like. My wife and my son are the former. It reminds me a lot of the relationship I have with my mother.
Being close to anyone creates a certain degree of friction. I have a hard-won and deserved reputation as a mama's boy. Sooner or later, someone will have to stretch their wings. For me, that moment didn't come until my thirtieth birthday when I moved to California. I still talk to my mother a couple of times a week, and very little occurs in my life without at least a check-in with mom. The bond that we have has been bent and stretched over the years, but every bump in the road is something she would refer to as "a learning experience".
My son and his mother had their own learning experience this past week. Going away to Science Camp may have been one of the best things for their relationship. They both learned to miss one another without desperation. The difference between holding on and clinging to each other has new practical implications. All that talk about "giving them roots and wings" finally has a real-life test.
What about fathers and sons? We'll have to wait a month or so for that one. For now, we celebrate the women who brought us into the world, and the ones that we share our lives with.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Forced Perspective

Time to sweep away the confetti and move the extra chairs back to the kitchen. Pick up all those plastic cups and take out the recycling. The party is definitely over. The blog has turned three, and change is on the horizon. Not the kind of change that makes people's lives qualitatively different, but the kind of change that makes you remember when things were different.
The gas station up the street has finally caved in to the four dollar a gallon mark, while a few others in the neighborhood are clinging to the illusory "$3.99". I suppose you might want to believe that this is a change in the quality of life, but I can't see how paying more for something that we're not supposed to be using anyway changes anything but the quantity. Watching my son mull over which toy to buy last week, I had the same feeling. We had spent the weekend before clearing off shelf space for new things when the old things had only recently stopped being new. Should he get a Transformer, or a Bionicle? I confess that I have become numb to the differences between robot-type-action-figures-for-which-some-assembly-is-required. But I knew that for him, this was a great dilemma.
Please understand that I continue to live very close to the edge in my own private economy. I buy a tremendous amount of stuff I don't need: that jar of "Goober and Grape" for starters. I am presently fighting the suburban urge to re-sod my lawn. Looking out of the office window, it looks fine, but when you get out and roll around on it, you notice the bare patches and the weeds.
And that's what this feels like: Looking out the window at the last three years and seeing how things have changed, and how much they're still the same. I'm still here.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Oblio's Return

He's sitting out there in the living room right now, staring at his video game, pausing every so often for a quick word of encouragement or direction to his buddy who is equally engrossed. I haven't seen my son for a week, and now I am still not seeing him. There was a temptation to stomp in there and turn off the TV, forcing him to deal with me and the five days that he has been away.
But that's not really the issue. He gave me a hug when I came in the door, and for a moment I wasn't sure if he would let go. He told me that he had missed me while he had his face buried in my side. It was sincere. I don't doubt his love. I could hear it in his voice every night that he called from camp. I could see it in his eyes when I opened the door this afternoon.
I also heard him grow as the week went by. On the first night, he sounded lonely and desperate. The second night sounded a little more resigned. By the third night he was starting to settle in, and the last night his voice was calm and assured. He was still a little sad, but he was more focused on the things that he had learned and seen and done. When that phone call was over, my wife and I gave each other a high-five and did the happy dance, celebrating our mad parenting skills.
We didn't always feel that way. We spent the early part of the week feeling as lost and lonely as our ten-year-old son. As it turns out, time and space was all we really needed. Will he be packing his bags and going on the road again anytime soon? Probably not, but it's nice to know that he could, if he really wanted to. Somewhere they let you play video games.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mister Caven

There I was, as I often am, in the middle of one of my biking-home-from-work reveries, when I heard someone call my name: "Mister Caven!" I know that when I hear that particular epithet, I am being addressed as a teacher. I expect to see a student of mine, past, present or future. And now I will digress still further: My first principal was emphatic about two things. She insisted that our bulletin boards be bright and constantly updated, and that all adults refer to one another in a professional manner. That meant that I was "Mister Caven" to all my co-workers, and I knew them only by their surnames. During the course of any particular school day this was not a problem, since it did nothing but engender respect for all of us who stood at the front of the room asking short people for attention. About once a year, a student will find a piece of correspondence or a form with my first and last name on it. Then there would be a lot of hew and cry as the kids would coyly ask, "Mister Caven, what's your real name?"
For the purposes of that building, my "real name" is "Mister". Ironically, I have hosted many teacher parties at my home, where inevitably there will be one of the old-timers in the kitchen with me who will ask, "Mister Caven, where do you keep the corkscrew?" The disjoint is always a pleasure.
Returning to my afternoon reverie: Two girls called me from the corner, and I pulled my bike over to the curb. One of them is my student, the other is a fourth grader in another class. It's always nice to see kids outside of school, since they seem so much more like kids, not just a series of anecdotal records. As I was chatting them up about what snack food they were busily consuming, a woman walked past with a small boy hanging on to her hand. "Get away from those girls," she admonished me.
At first, I was taken aback. I tried to imagine that she was kidding, but it was apparent from her glare that she wasn't. I quickly acquiesced her concern. I was a forty-something man on a bike talking to two young girls on the street corner. "I'm their teacher," I stammered, "They're my students."
"Whatchoo want with those girls?" she sneered.
"I'm a fourth grade teacher. These girls are my students. I was just talking..."
"How could I know that?" Her tone was still accusing.
How could she know indeed? I tried once more to assure her that I meant no harm. The look on her face never softened. She kept herself between me and the boy. "I'm a teacher at the school right over there. I just left work and I saw a couple of my students," I was getting nowhere, so I turned to the two girls and told them I would see them tomorrow.
At school. I'm the teacher. Mister Caven.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

It's Fun To Stay At The YMCA

All this talk about science camp got me to thinking: Where did I ever go off to camp? To be perfectly candid, I was more of a homebody than my son. I spent the summers in the mountains, but in the home away from home that was our cabin. When my older brother got a job as a counselor at the local Y Day Camp, I was initially very intrigued. A camp that allowed its patrons to sleep in the safety and comfort of their own beds. But then I found out that the week culminated with a sleepover on Thursday night. On second thought, maybe I'll just stay here in my own cabin and read comics, thank you.
The Y continued to play a big part in my trepidation about spending the night away from home. The idea of having a "lock-in" at the YMCA sounded very interesting to me too. We would have the run of the place: swimming, ping-pong, handball, pool, and even the weight-lifting machines. This was all very enticing, until I found out that we would be locked in until the following morning. I'll be home reading comics, thanks.
Then there were the times that staying home reading comics wasn't an option. When I got to high school, band camp was required, if you were in band anyway. That meant a three-day excursion to the YMCA of the Rockies for a little hard-core indoctrination and rehearsal before the beginning of each school year. I slept in the bunk beds and waited for the last day to come, but enjoyed the time I spent with my buddies. Then I went back to my room and read comics.
Somewhere along the line, the comics turned into Rolling Stone magazine, and now anytime I'm getting on a plane to go somewhere, I stop and pick up a Rolling Stone. It's my coping mechanism. If I'm going to be away longer than it takes to read the entire magazine, all the way through the album reviews and the classified ads, then it's time to be heading home. If only I would have had a Rolling Stone when I was ten.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Everything's Got 'Em

I almost expect to see Ted Koppel sitting at a desk in my living room, announcing solemnly what day of our crisis we are currently experiencing. Our son has been away from us for two days now, and we are all feeling it. It comes in simple ways, like choosing to eat dinner in the living room so we don't notice the empty chair at the kitchen table. It has a larger sense to it as well, like the house has suddenly become much larger, yet I can't help from running into things when I go from room to empty room.
I know that as soon as he gets comfortable with being away from home, we'll see less of him. All of those offers to spend the night will become reality, and my wife and I will try to find ways to fill that void. But really, it's only been two days. He called us last night for a little reassurance, and I gave him the A's score. I felt like I was being folded in half, but I kept it light, for his sake. He's growing up, and I don't want to be the thing that keeps him from going where he needs to go and seeing the things he needs to see.
It made me think of "The Point" by Harry Nilsson. It tells the story of a round-headed kid who gets banished from the Land Of Point to wander in the Pointless Forest, where he learns a lot of important lessons: "A point in every direction is the same as no point at all," and "You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear." When he finally emerges on the other side of the forest, he returns home to tell the King, his family, and the evil Count who sent him away in the first place, that "If everything has a point, then I must have one too."
And that's what I think we're finding out this week.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Clothes Horse

When I was a kid, a cousin of mine gave me a sweatshirt. It came from Renssalear College. It was baby blue, and when I was nine years old, it fit me just fine. I know that it came to me second hand, so it had to be many years old before I got my hands on it. That sweatshirt became a favorite. It was my extra layer of choice for several summers. I wore it until the sleeves began to ride upon my forearms, and my back would be left exposed when I bent over. I loved it enough not to let it go. Can I explain my attachment? The fact that I cannot remember for certain which cousin gave me the shirt in the first place tells me that it wasn't necessarily a sentimental concern, but it became one.
That's why I had to smile when I read that David Witthoft finally shunned his Brett Favre jersey for a red shirt for the first time in one thousand five hundred and eighty one days. The twelve-year-old Ridgefield, Connecticut boy wore the number 4 jersey every day since receiving it as a gift for Christmas in 2003. David's father conceded his son was starting to become more concerned about his appearance after the jersey barely came down to his belt line. I can relate. While I didn't make a daily habit of wearing the Rennsalear sweatshirt, I'm sure that my parents often shook their heads in wonder.
My son has a pair of pajamas that he started wearing at age four. He has to be reminded that they aren't exactly "sleepover" PJs anymore. They have a pretty substantial tear in one knee, and they make him appear even more gigantic than his nearly eleven years have allowed. I don't have it in me to suggest that we be rid of them. They were hand-me-downs from his cousin. Someday I believe they might just evaporate off his body, but for now, they're just that part of his wardrobe that gets to stick around not because of how they look, but how they feel on the inside.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Fifth grade promotion is still a little over a month away for my son, but I had mine today. I got up early and made breakfast for a couple hundred of my closest friends, just like I have for the past five years. On the walk up to the school, I tried to remember each Pancake Breakfast as a separate event. Six years is a long time. When I first started, I was the parent of a kindergartner, and I stood where I was told to stand and did what I was told to do. There was no room for improvisation. I had been to my share of pancake breakfasts. I had watched my father work the grill for the Y Indian Guides for many years back in my youth. I had some idea of what I was getting myself into.
Now I was one of the old guys. I listened patiently to a few of the new dads insisting that it would be easy to do a batch of blueberry pancakes right alongside the regular ones. I tried to be supportive. After all, I knew after today it was all their show, and my opinion was primarily useful as advice. My experience told me that keeping up with our steady and somewhat ravenous customer base would be difficult if we were trying to be too clever. I tried this out on the fresh faces of the dads at the grill. "Oh come on," they opined, "Let's give it a shot."
The blueberry pancakes were a hit. They also caused a monumental griddle-jam, causing many of our patrons to wait, plates in hand, while we caught up with the demand.
In the end, I know that it is a fundraiser for a school, and not a restaurant. I wasn't hoping to increase my tips, I was hoping to keep everyone fat and happy. I found myself at the counter, serving and smiling, keeping things moving. It made sense to me that the MC of the variety show would end up doing customer service, and for just short of three hours, I kept my third grade volunteers busy dishing up eggs, sausage, and the ubiquitous pancakes.
Over the past six years I have hauled pumpkins, pulled weeds, built planter boxes, pulled more weeds, painted, fixed, changed, and maintained the parts of my son's school that needed it whenever I could spare the time from the school where I work every day. I did it with the help of a like-minded group of dads who found ways to be a part of their kids' life. I did it for the chance to give back, since the thing I always wish I had in my own classroom is parental involvement.
I had at least four different people ask me today if I was going to miss "it". The simple answer is "yes". The more complex version would include a list of the things that I chose to gripe about while I worked alongside other dads with similar gripes. I will miss that too. And I know that middle school isn't a magical place that gets by without any connection to mom and dad. I am sure I will find myself knee-deep in that hoopla before too long. For now, however, I will take a moment to reflect on all those pancakes and all those pumpkins and all those weeds. Au revoir.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Keep The Sabbath Holy

Yesterday I was swept up in a love affair that has spanned more than three decades. Over the end credits of "Iron Man", I heard Black Sabbath's ode to the scariest possible super hero. I confess that it came as no real surprise, since a good portion of the movies appeal for me came from that song's inclusion in the trailer I saw six months ago.
This was my first serious dip into the world of heavy metal. It began shortly after I made what was a most fortuitous trade back in high school: A friend of mine had been slavering for my copy of Van Halen's first album, and while I was fond of it, I knew that he owned Led Zeppelin's second record. This was back in 1979, and I got a lot of sideways looks when we made the exchange. Weren't those guys in Zeppelin into Satan worship and (insert worried look here) drugs? It was only a short time after that when I purchased "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath, an album that already almost ten years old. Now my friends were very concerned. "Are you going to get into that acid rock now?" A few months later, everyone I knew bought their own copy of AC/DC's "Back In Black", but I didn't bother to wag a finger under their hypocritical noses.
Back then I didn't have a lot of good modifiers for the kind of music that I liked. I knew that disco was evil, and I suppose my shift to something heavier was a reaction to growing up in a world that allowed the Bee Gees to star in a Beatles musical. "Iron Man" was my proto-metal experience. It told the tale of a misunderstood hero who is rejected by the people he tries to save. The song fed neatly into my teenage sense of alienation. It also packed as solid a sonic punch as anything I had heard before. Eventually I would find faster, louder bands. I discovered punk rock and speed metal, but they all stemmed from the DNA of that six minute slice of heaven (or was it hell).
Visitors to my house find that my music collection is very eclectic. Show tunes, folk singers, symphonies and new wave will tumble out of my iTunes in a random shuffle that defies easy categorization. But there are a few songs that cause me to stop and turn up the volume. Yesterday my son insisted on playing "Iron Man" before we went out the door to the movie, and then a couple more times when we got home, for good measure. You can only imagine how proud I was.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Heads Up, True Believers

Hillary Rodham Clinton was jolted Thursday by the defection of one of her longtime superdelegate supporters, a former national party chairman who urged fellow Democrats to "reject the old negative politics" and unify behind Barack Obama. In a campaign that has become ever more dicey and divisive, every vote could turn the tide. The next President of the United States could be delivered via the hands of these strange and unpredictable creatures.
Can we blame Joe Andrew? His work as party chairman is only part of the story. Raised by his Aunt and Uncle after the death of his parents, Joe was bitten by a radioactive spider while on a field trip in high school. He soon discovered that with great power comes great responsibility, and a really zingy set of Underoos.
Then there's Barney Frank, who is still squarely in Hillary's corner. Barney, the first openly gay member of Congress, was also tragically orphaned as a child when his home planet exploded and he was sent to earth to escape as his parents perished. He apparently acquired his superdelegate powers when he was exposed to the rays of the earth's yellow sun.
Tammy Baldwin, openly gay Representative from Wisconsin, has always been a forceful advocate for family farmers, and is using her superdelegate powers in support of Senator Clinton as well. This may have something to do with the sapphic bond she feels to her fellow Amazons, and will be using her golden lasso to round up as many votes as she can before returning to her home island in her invisible plane.
And we certainly don't want to upset Doctor Bruce Banner, since the effects of gamma radiation on the political process have not been fully explored.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Pop Up Culture

It started yesterday when I asked our vice principal to check to see if her Internet connection was live. This is what she told me: "Tom Cruise and Cher used to date." I was briefly befuddled by this non-sequitur, until she added, "That's what the front page of the SF Gate is telling me." And suddenly it was all clear to me: Even though this tryst took place twenty-two years ago, it is precisely the kind of news that fills Al Gore's Internet.
I understand, since most of my news comes from Google or Yahoo or whatever home page someone has carefully selected to filter their world view. I confess that I will generally look at the headlines, pop down for some sports, and then finish off my reality check with a little entertainment. If I only have a few minutes, I will only get to the "most popular" section. This gives me a shot at appearing conversational when adults are talking. Just a few megabytes of information, please, I'm not hoping to become an expert.
Most of these items detail celebrity couplings or uncouplings. "Country singer Mindy McCready confirms that she had a long-term affair with pitcher Roger Clemens." The "yuck" factor? She was fifteen at the time. He was a married father of two. Yuck. Then there's Barbara Walters, who now says she had a past affair with married U.S. Senator Edward Brooke, whom she remembers as "exciting" and "brilliant." Married guy and Barbara Walters. Double yuck.
And so it goes with the borderline thrilling world of infotainment. There are still plenty of substantive discussions to have about peace in the Middle East and the crisis in Darfur, but right now I've got to find out more about why Miley Cyrus skipped a scheduled red carpet event at Disney World.