Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Child's Play

Tuesdays are my day to be Coach. The rest of the week, I'm "Mister Caven." Yesterday I spent the day acquainting various groups of children how to do the "Ro Sham Bo Relay." For most of our kids, this is a simple enough transition, since we tend to use Ro Sham Bo to solve most, if not all, of the conflicts on our yard. Then we add in the relay race element, and we've got a fast-paced game for kids from five to fifty. I know they liked it because at least three different kids asked me, when the P.E. period was over, "Can we play this at recess?"
That's pretty high praise. Instead of simply chasing one another around the playground, or waiting for their turn to shove or be shoved, our kids seek out games to play. We have soccer, Wiffle Ball, four square, hula hoops, jump ropes and over-sized racquetball. Add all these to the playstructure and the occasional kickball game, and you end up with a group of elementary students who rarely complain that "there's nothing to do."
This wasn't always the case when I was their age. Columbine Elementary had a very large playground that wrapped around the school, with the primary grades confined to a smaller section with slides, swings, and climbing structure just their size. With the addition of a set of teeter-totters and a pretty wicked merry-go-round, you might think that there would be no time spent simply standing around. Not true. Without any specific instruction, the youngest of us were left to wonder what we could do after we had gone back and forth, up and down, then round and round.
Consequently, by second grade, I my interest in the various amusement apparatus had waned. That's when imaginations took over. The girls played horses. The boys played army. The jungle gym was either a great place to hitch up your ponies or good cover from the Nazis machine guns. But the time I remember best was when the boys and girls came together and, via my morbid inspiration, we decided to recreate Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." At least this was how I imagined it. I was part of an ill-tempered and vengeful flock of seagulls, bent on pecking the eyes out of any and everyone who came close. To accomplish this, I zipped up my jacket and pulled my arms inside, leaving my sleeves to flap mercilessly as I tossed my shoulders to and fro. This was all very impressive and terrifying until I stumbled and fell flat on my face. With my arms compressed inside my jacket, there was to way to break my fall, and I landed with all my weight with my elbows in my stomach. Every ounce of breath rushed out of me and I lay there for what seemed like minutes before any of my hapless victims noticed that I had crashed.
I remember being rolled over on my back by a friendly face, and Miss Hoff rushing out to see how I was: battered, bruised, but mostly embarrassed. I was no vengeful seagull. I was a seven-year-old boy with the wind knocked out of him. How I wish that someone had been there to teach me the Ro Sham Bo Relay.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Going Ballistic

Remember a few months ago when we were all tensed and waiting for North Korea to do something crazy? They were lobbing missiles off into the Pacific Ocean, in the direction of Hawaii. They were arresting Al Gore's reporters and sentencing them to hard labor for crossing their border. Kim Jong-il was committed to keeping his number one spot on the "Dictators With One Oar In The Water" list.
And then, just when you thought the Axis of Evil was just a fuzzy point of light in Pyongyang, along comes everybody's favorite Members Only model, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. You may recall his reassertion of his denial of the Holocaust just a few days ago in interviews with Newsweek and the Washington Post. This was just his opener before jumping up in our president's face in response to the suggestion that Iran hadn't been completely honest about their nuclear program. As if it were any of our business anyway. That was just before they started launching their missiles.
Iran is launching missiles while maintaining that all of their nuclear research and development is for civilian energy use alone. Maybe the missiles are the way they plan to get all that new energy into all those civilian homes. No matter, but it's obvious that Ahmadinejad's public relations team isn't working overtime. It's a little like when Charles Manson makes a point of re-etching that swastika on the bridge of his nose just before his parole hearing. Nothing says you're turning your life around like a big neon sign that screams "Crazy."
Or a Members Only jacket.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sounds Like Detention To Me

I was listening during the campaign, but I didn't give it my full attention because I really wanted Obama to win for a whole lot of other reasons. His views on education and its reform were fairly low on my list of national priorities, which is odd since that's where I make my living. Since he won, I have to pay attention: "Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," the president said earlier this year. "Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom." Sheesh.
"Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. I know that Arne. I wrote a very eloquent paper about just this very subject back when I was in school getting my teaching credential. At the same time, I was working as a teacher-intern at a year-round school. We were year-round because of the massive overcrowding we experienced because of the number of children in our neighborhood. Those kids didn't go to school the whole year, they just had one month vacations sprinkled throughout the year, and everybody got a couple of weeks at Christmas. Taking a month off didn't do much for our test scores, especially for those who came back to school just in time to sit down at their high-stakes state-mandated multiple-choice assessment of their learning for the year. Most of what they had learned wouldn't reappear to them for weeks after, and by then it was too late. Would more time in classrooms help? Of course it would, but who is going to pay for it? Some of the proposed programs suggest that they could cost between ten to fifteen hundred dollars per student. Our school has three hundred and fifty students. That's another three hundred and fifty thousand dollars in a budget that is already bleeding red ink.
Then again, if there was adequate health care for every American, then children would not miss as much school, and teachers would be paid more because their paychecks wouldn't be siphoned off for the "benefit" of health insurance. Healthy kids and well-paid teachers might put a few more points on the bottom line of those test scores. How about fixing health care first, then taking a look at the state of education. I'm not ready to give up my summer vacation just yet.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kingdom Of Days

I spent the holiday this year, as has become my custom, at home with my family. This wasn't always my way. In my younger days, it was an excuse for much ballyhoo and merrymaking. There was much libation and carrying-on into the wee hours of the morning. Our downstairs neighbor was terrified by the pounding on our floor/her ceiling to the beat of our national anthem, "Born To Run." This year, Bruce Springsteen's birthday passed with a fond memory and a song or two.
The Boss turned sixty on Wednesday, and U2 had the good taste to take a moment from their stage at the Meadowlands to sing "Happy Birthday" along with their crowd loud enough for him to hear it somewhere in the swamps of Jersey. This weekend, scholars from around the world got together to study a man who "learned more from a three-minute record than he ever learned from school." University types with real-life credentials and power point presentations. There were field trips to the Stone Pony. There was plenty of high-minded discussion of the poetry of Bruce Springsteen, and the charitable work he has done over the past four decades. There is a reason they call him The Boss, after all.
Me? I couldn't make it. The event took place across the country and I had to work that day and I don't know if I could compete with some of the fanatics who showed up to the symposium. I've got a ton of stories. How Bruce Springsteen saved my life. A couple of times. The way his music has accompanied me through my youth and into a middle age that still allows me to turn the radio up loud, when my wife lets me. And I remember that night in Mile High Stadium, the day he turned thirty-six. That was the big blast of "Born in the USA," and all my best pals were there to soak it up. Two nights later, in a freezing rain that kept him from playing the night before, it was just me and my best Bruce Bud. We shared a lot of schnapps with a little hot chocolate, and Bruce rocked just a little harder, perhaps to keep us all warm. We stopped at the Denny's on the turnpike on the way home to break down the show, song by song. We weren't talking about the literary allusions or the psychology of the night. We talked about the way the hair on the back of our necks stood up when we heard a certain chord, or the boundless energy that man seemed to pour out into that great big football stadium. How did he do that, night after night?
Now, twenty-four years burnin' down the road, he's still rocking the house. Sure, the three hour shows top out around two and a half, and Clarence needs a little help getting from here to there, but the magic is still there. It's still here, in my heart and in my mind whenever I hear that sound, the one that rips the bones from my back, the one that makes me feel the boardwalk beneath my feet. It's a happy birthday.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Career Opportunities

It was a tough week at school. Nothing too awful, but I found myself on Thursday morning sitting in another teacher's classroom before the morning bell, talking about the way things were. And the way we wished things were. Then he asked me, "Were you thinking you were going to retire from here?" Not in any kind of sarcastic way, but out of real interest.
I told him I wasn't sure. Certainly each passing year puts me one step closer to that gold watch moment, or in my case, gold bullhorn. I'm the guy who doesn't mind standing in front of the whole school and leading the morning affirmation, or the Halloween March Around The Block. That's the guy I have been for twelve years. By some reckoning, that puts me somewhere around the half-way mark, retirement-wise. Would I really stay at one school for another decade and a half? Will I still roll out of bed to greet the newest crop of elementary students when I'm sixty four?
Then came the next obvious question: "What else would you do?"
Well, I could get my administrative credential and "join the dark side." I could become a consultant. I've heard they make a lot more money than teachers, and after they tell you how to run your classroom or school, they don't get tested. I could turn my vast experience with elementary school computer labs into a job with educational software. Or maybe I could chuck it all and go back to writing screenplays. I have two that are sitting around in my cyber-desk drawer, in addition to an episode of "Northern Exposure" and a friend and I wrote one for "Friends." Since neither one of those shows is currently on the air, and the screenplays still need a lot of work, it's probably easier to stick with the job I've got. For now.
Next week I'll be five days closer to retirement.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Bottom Line

There have been plenty of times that I have asked kids at school, "What would your mother do if she saw you do that?" It's a chop, I confess, but it also gets straight to the point of the matter. They have rightly figured out that I am happy with my teaching credential and would never lay a hand on them, but their mothers would. Their reply is invariably accompanied with a down-turned gaze, "I'd get a whuppin'." The length and severity of said whuppin' is open to much debate, but for most of the parents at my school if a whuppin' is promised a whuppin' is delivered.
That's why it is so hard, at times, to follow through on some of those phone calls home. Then again, I have seen parents walking their kids up the front steps of the school finishing off a paddling that probably began just after or during breakfast. Then they become our responsibility. And somewhere in there, I ask the occasional miscreant, "How many times do you suppose I have ever spanked my child?" The ones who do venture an answer usually guess right: zero.
We have a rule at our house: You only get spanked when you ask for it. It sounds a little risque, but it serves a purpose. The very idea of spanking seems as silly as our rule. How does one expect to improve a small person's behavior by beating them? Maybe you could beat some sense into them. Sorry. A study from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Maryland, involving hundreds of U.S. children, showed the more a child was spanked the lower his or her IQ compared with others. "Contrary to what everyone believes, being hit by parents is a traumatic experience," study researcher Murray Straus said. "We know from lots of research that traumatic stresses affect the brain adversely."
That doesn't sound too contrary to me. Being hit by anyone counts as a traumatic experience. Especially parents. Like that other rule we all have in our classrooms: Keep your hands to yourselves.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

TV Nation

There was a moment in Barack Obama's sit-down with David Letterman on Monday night that gave me pause. After an initial segment that focused on some of the Kodak moments of the first nine months, the discussion turned to more serious topics: war, the economy, health care. Though both men did their best to try and keep it light, given that they were on the "Late Show" not "Sixty Minutes," the conversation progressed with great care. When asked about a particular problem, the President said that he's begun to realize that if a problem was easy to solve, it probably wouldn't be on his desk. As his predecessor once suggested, you have to be a "decider." Don't just talk about it, but really do it. Don't let the buck get past you. Being a man of the people means, at the end of the day, you're still just one man.
That's why I was pleased to see that when he got up in front of the United Nations yesterday, Barack Obama challenged world leaders to shoulder more of the globe's critical burdens. "Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone. Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."
It was a stark contrast from the easy-going chat that took place at the Ed Sullivan Theater. At one point, my wife wondered aloud if maybe when he was done with being the leader of the free world if he might like to have his own talk show. I still won't expect to see Kanye West on the Barack Obama show.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Discovery Zone

If you're like me and you live in Oakland, then you probably wonder what was going through the tiny brains of the folks over on The Discovery Channel. You remember them. The ones who make all those pretty shows that show off how great your new high definition TV works. The ones with the pretty nature shows and that guy who eats anything? The ones who used to sponsor Lance Armstrong? Those guys. They just aired a new documentary called "Gang Wars: Oakland," and it has no cute little animals, no scenic vistas, and no Lance Armstrong. All this one had was murder and grief.
I live in Oakland, and I can accept that we have more than our share of murder and grief. I didn't need a hard-hitting expose to land in my living room to know which way the wind blows here. But check this little bit of math out: This documentary states that, in a city of approximately four hundred thousand souls, there are ten thousand gang members. To put that in rational terms, one of every forty citizens in Oakland is a member of a gang. That is irrational. And here's what the Discovery's program guide has to say about their show: "In Oakland, neighborhoods are being torn apart by gangs whose battle over turf and colors makes this city one of the nation's fiercest killing zones. It's a war with big guns and young soldiers who are willing to kill or be killed for their streets."
Okay, I confess that there are days when I yearn for a graffiti-free wall or relaxing walk through some neighborhoods after dark. I have a front-row seat for the pain and fear that gang-related violence can compound. There is nothing romantic about it. Aside from the rather sketchy math that the show exhorts, it also fails to offer a point of view. With one set of cameras following the police task force members referred to on the show as "The Elite Eight," and another hanging with the kids in the gangs, it is never clear whose side the producers are on. The gang task force depicted in the show no longer exists because of budget cuts, and the actual number of gangs and gang members is open to wide discussion and speculation. If we do surrender to that ten thousand figure, that makes it all the more important to show the root cause of the problem, not to glorify it.
Personally, I think The Discovery folks sent the wrong guys. I think they should have sent over Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Making Ends Meet

I have said it a hundred times and I will repeat it for anyone who cares to listen: Single parents are doing God's work. Whether you believe in an omnipresent Santa-kind-of-guy or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I am here to remind you that there is a reason that this whole parent gig was designed as a duo and not a solo.
Let's start with the comparatively simple chore of getting a child out of bed. Simple enough, from the outside, but let's take a closer look: After that initial thump at the end of the bed, there needs to be a series of calls to join the day. The hope that one simple reminder would be enough disappears quickly enough when the weight of Monday morning pushes young heads back to their pillows. The momentum of any closed system, one not affected by external forces, cannot change. Parents are that outside force. Like most parental tasks, it helps to keep a steady flurry of reminders going, and this is best delivered in tag-team fashion.
Whoever originated the "good cop/bad cop" schtick was cribbing from his or her mother and father. Not that one is particularly suited to either role, or that it couldn't be two dads or two moms, but having someone to offer to take the cuffs off before the beating gives a kid the feeling that somehow, there is hope. When it's just you and your son or daughter looks at you for what has to be the one right answer, there can be no equivocation. Why can't I get my nose pierced? Everyone else is!
That's why it's great to have a team. It's good to have someone in the huddle with you when you're looking at third and long. Parental negotiations are tedious because when they are done well, everyone comes away feeling like the conclusion was arrived at in a holistic way, not simply "because I said so." Even when that really is the bottom line. Having another voice in the mix helps hold off that eventual conclusion. The appearance of negotiation.
No advanced degree is required to understand the math that states that an extra pair of hands to pick up shoes and Legos and socks and whatever else may have hit the floor that needs to be retrieved. Cooking and cleaning are done by percentages, and having two parents allows attention to be paid to the small people who make the messes and eat the food and go to school. Not just he messes and the food and the school. The little human who counts on your good advice to get him or her to that place on time in one piece to start the cycle all over again.
I'm glad my wife is home.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Palmer Method

Somewhere in my travels, many moons ago, I read that Mike Nesmith had once suggested that maybe our children becoming less literate wasn't a bad thing. The recovering Monkee was saying that a generation of children who never learned how to read might not be the worst thing. Instead, he proposed, a new literacy could grow out of the needs and conditions of the modern world. The ability to respond to a barrage of images might just trump that of being able to decode an arcane system of graphemes and phonemes.
Okay. Years passed and I became an elementary school teacher and that notion seemed to slip away like so many "cool ideas" of my youth. I taught kids how to read and write in a systematic fashion that enabled them to communicate their thoughts and comprehend those we transmitted to them. There was no magic to it. It was good honest work. Except for that penmanship thing.
When I was a kid, I had lousy handwriting. Over time, I have managed to create an orthography that allows me to be understood by the children who are forced to read what I have scrawled on the board. I have made an effort to make y's that don't look like g's. That's forty-some years of practice, why should I expect more from a second grader?
"Your best penmanship" may soon be "your best font." In 2011, the writing test of the National Assessment of Educational Progress will require eighth and eleventh graders to compose on computers, with fourth graders following in 2019. Loops and curls will no longer hold sway in America's classrooms. Now that I am back in the computer lab full-time, I have started to teach Kindergartners how to type. With all ten fingers. I wonder how long it will be before the standard becomes the ability to type with just your thumbs.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Do Androids Read Electronic Mail?

The nice thing about the weekend is that you have a chance to get caught up on all that reading you have put off the rest of the week. For example, Monday through Friday, I would probably just scroll on past a story with this headline: "Can Robots Make Ethical Decisions?" Not today. My weekends may at one time have been made for Michelob, but now they are much better suited for this kind of high-minded speculation.
It only took the author of this article a paragraph and a half to bring up both Isaac Asimov's Rules of Robotics and Blade Runner. Interesting, since the actual focus was a recent paper published in the International Journal of Reasoning-based Intelligent Systems describing a method for computers to prospectively look ahead at the consequences of hypothetical moral judgments. The authors of the paper, Luís Moniz Pereira of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, in Portugal and Ari Saptawijaya of the Universitas Indonesia, claim that philosophy is no longer exclusively for human beings. These two science-types used a series of events called "the trolley problem" to explore a pretty standard moral dilemma: is it permissible to harm one or more individuals in order to save others?
Mister Spock, perhaps the most seamless interface between man and machine, has stated in many different realities that " the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." If this is true, then we should expect any good and moral machine to come up with the same response. Roy Batty got it too. HAL didn't. Of course, these aren't Predator drones or the new, fully automatic H-II transfer vehicle. As much as they owe to science fiction, they are here now. I can't help thinking that we would have been better off starting out with questions just a little lower on the moral ladder, like a TV tuner that could be quizzed about the choice of recording reruns of "Hawaii Five-O" versus old episodes of "Mannix." Come to think of it, that's exactly the kind of moral dilemma that I would like a machine to help me with.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Solitary Man

Living alone can bring about some embarrassing epiphanies. I was reminded of this as I puttered around the house yesterday afternoon. I was looking for music to promote my interest in cleaning the house. With my wife away on a family roots mission and my son up the hill at his best friend's house, I was alone with my thoughts. What better environment then to play a little Pink Floyd?
Music for misanthropes. When I was a bachelor, I subsisted on a diet of Tombstone pizza and Pink Floyd. It was my lonely guy soundtrack. I have a very vivid memory of rushing home with my brand new copy of "The Final Cut," the last album on which Roger Waters appeared with the rest of the band. As was my custom, I plugged in my headphones and listened to both sides in a sitting. Enamored as all teen and twenties were at the time with "The Wall," I was ready to continue down the dark hallway that Mister Waters had been mining for some years. When the needle picked up at the end of side two, I was sure that I had heard what would become an instant classic.
Or not. As much as I may have enjoyed the "requiem for the post war dream," it has never been considered in the same company as he rest of the Floyd catalog. Some have even called it "overly self-indulgent." Maybe that was the appeal for me, I'm not sure, but when I listen to it now, I still enjoy it. Just not as much as I did when I was twenty-one.
The same could be said of "Urban Cowboy." I missed its theatrical release, caught up in the notion that, in 1980, John Travolta was personally responsible for the rise of disco. I didn't want to put any more money in his pocket. But a couple of years later, when I could see it for free on cable, that seemed like a good deal. Especially because I was sitting around my living room by myself, drunk. As I watched the tale of Bud and Sissy unspool before me, I was enthralled. This was honest, straightforward storytelling. It was a romance for the ages.
I'm sober now, and I know that John Travolta may not have reached his cinematic peak in 1980. "The Final Cut" is a good peek into the future of Roger Waters' solo albums. These were the observations and opinions of a younger man. A younger, lonely man. This is why friends don't let friends listen to Pink Floyd alone.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Burn Out

"I love it when guys peel out." - Debbie Dunham in "American Graffiti"
Most guys love it too, at some point in their lives. Making your tires squeal and leaving great big skid marks behind your car is a virility rite that is uniquely American. The sound and the smell lingers for a time after the burst of acceleration. There is more than a trace of dogs markig their territory implicit in this act. I know because I was once one of them.
In my youth, I tore around Boulder, Colorado in my 1972 Vega hatchback as if I were Mario Andretti. Most, if not all, of the trips that I took were five miles or less. It never occurred to me that I could be saving money, fuel and rubber by driving in a less vigorous manner. I was a victim of too much Van Halen, Boston, and Led Zeppelin. I could not simply pull away from the curb while "Black Dog" was pouring out of my Jensen tiraxials. I suppose all that squealing of tires was an attempt to hear my driving over the music.
My poor neighbors suffered the most. My brothers and parents could anticipate my comings and goings. The people who lived at the end of our cul de sac were subject to my entrances and exits and their attendant pollution whenever I saw fit to blow in or out. I am certain, because as I grew past my need to make such a show many of them took the time to tell me so, that I ruined many good nights' sleep and frightened small children who were playing in the street. It was that peculiar form of arrogance that teenage boys seem to cultivate, and now that I live near a brand new crop of young men who perform displays of their own, I wince in the memory of the patches I once laid.
Forgive me father, for I have skid.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Electionmania 2010!

Maybe you missed Friday Night Smackdown last week. Perhaps your subscription to WWE Monthly has lapsed. Do you know who Chris Jericho is? Maybe you just don't care. If that's the case, then you probably also missed the news that Linda McMahon is preparing to run for Senate in Connecticut. Chris Dodd is preparing for what could be a steel cage deathmatch.
Ms. McMahon is no relation to the late, great TV spokesperson and all-time best second banana Ed. She is the wife of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon. She is also the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. They used to be the World Wrestling Federation, but a dustup with some animal-rights types made them change their name to avoid sharing an acronym with a panda.
That loss was a rare one for the global presence that has its roots in boxing promotion in the 1920s and emerged as big business in the early 1960s.
In what is already a crowded race, with GOP favorite former Representative Rob Simmons, former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, and state Senator Sam Caligiuiri as well as investment banker Peter Schiff, the Chairman's wife could mix things up still further. With Republican leanings but no clear party affiliation, Ms. McMahon has millions of her own dollars to pump into a campaign war chest. Aside from getting grown men to prance about in Speedos and hit each other with chairs, just exactly what are her qualifications?
If you answered: Those seem like very good credentials for serving in the United States Congress, then you're catching on. In an interview with the Kansas City Star, McMahon said that she will approach her job as a businesswoman, citing her success as CEO in creating new jobs. It was her and her husband that brought the synergy between MTV and the WWF(E). Imagine a world where Captain Lou Albano didn't appear in Cyndi Lauper's videos. It's that kind of forward thinking that can move mountains, or Andre the Giant. Remember, however, this is also the brain trust that created Jesse "The Body/Governor" Ventura who once remarked,"If you were to come to Minnesota, I could have you locked up like that. That's power." And that's showbiz.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pain Don't Hurt, But This One Did

We've all got our favorite Patrick Swayze movie. Don't deny it. Maybe you're a fan of that poofy shirt that he wears all through the afterlife in "Ghost." Or maybe you're old school, and you remember him best as a Greaser in "The Outsiders." And then there's always Johnny Castle in "Dirty Dancing": Nobody puts baby in a corner.
Not me. I am now and will always be a devotee of the zen Koan "Roadhouse." This is the one where Patrick played Dalton. He has a philosophy degree from NYU. His entire life would fit inside the trunk of the new Mercedes that he drives. He carries his medical records and X-rays with him wherever he goes. He is the cooler. He has just three rules: One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary. And three, be nice. You don't want to be around when it's time to stop being nice.
I've been watching "Roadhouse" for the past twenty years. Usually it's the chopped-up for commercial TV version, but that doesn't keep me from watching from start to finish, or alerting all the other Double Deuce aficionados along the line. Pitch that remote onto the coffee table, we'll be staying put for the next couple hours. Ben Gazzara as the town's master of all things evil, Sam Elliott as grizzled Jedi Master Wade Garrett, and Kelly Lynch as a Doc who might just have too many brains. It's Rowdy Herrington's best work, and it might have been even without the Swayze presence. Patrick is the glue that binds this story together and makes it one for the ages.
My wife was slow on the uptake when it came to the cult of "Roadhouse" and all things Swayze, but when she heard that he had lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, the tears she shed were irony-free. I know how she feels.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Catholic Boy

If you knew Jim Carroll, and you heard that he had died of a heart attack at age sixty, you might have responded the same way I did: "What took him so long?"
He was a poet, a punk, and a prophet, of sorts. He hung on the edge of all three of those descriptions even when they weren't cool. But he was. He was my Alan Ginsberg. Jim saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by sex, drugs and rock and roll. He lived life in the fast lane, for a time, hanging with contemporaries like Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, Larry Rivers and Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti Smith was the one who told him to put music to the words he wrote.
Those songs never fully captured the tortured child at the heart of "The Basketball Diaries," the story of his life as a sports star at an elite private high school in Manhattan. It was a tale of wasted youth both literally and figuratively. At age thirteen, he's working harder at getting high than on his jump shot. He's pounding cough syrup and sniffing cleaning fluid as he learns the pick and roll and how to snatch a purse.
When I read it, it made me feel a whole lot more safe about the way I had been living my life. It also gave me someone to compare with Hunter S. Thompson. The stories of drugs and danger were similar, but the good doctor was a highly trained professional. Jim Carroll was just a kid. There was some sick fascination in his story, and I could always take solace in the fact that my life never got as twisted as all that.
Now they're both gone. Just like the song.
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died

Monday, September 14, 2009

Perfect Storm

It's calm again at my house. That wasn't true for the past few days. The sound and the fury that had held sway over the weekend has subsided. Now I am left with a collection of images and experiences that can only begin to tell the story of what happened here: The Gatsby Picnic.
Please understand that I love and respect all the excitement and enthusiasm that my wife and her friends bring to this enterprise. Recreating a Roaring Twenties lawn party for a gaggle of like-minded individuals takes a dedication that I can only begin to understand. I went once. My wife helped me pull together an ensemble that approximated the uniform of a member of the 1929 Chicago Cubs. I didn't feel like a member of the 1929 Chicago Cubs. I felt hot and uncomfortable, and I squinted under the short brim of my authentic period cap.
I would have felt uncomfortable in a T-shirt and jeans. It's just not my scene. But it is very much the scene of my wife and her friends, and the flurry of activity that blew through here all weekend long, culminating in a blur of food preparation, hair, makeup and wardrobe that eventually put them out the front door just after noon. Suddenly I was left alone with my dog and my thoughts. It was quiet. The living room and the TV was all mine. The NFL season was underway and I had nothing but time to ride the couch and watch it unfold.
Somewhere in the hills of Oakland, the hurricane that had blown through my life for the past seventy-two hours was eating finger sandwiches and doing the Charleston. I tried to picture myself, sitting on the edge of a blanket, sipping cranberry juice cocktail. I missed the company, but I couldn't imagine being a part of the soiree. I had a bowl of leftover chili and some potato chips, put my feet up and checked the score: Gatsby 8, Me 1. I can live with that.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Set Up Adventure Team Headquarters Here

My son has a lot of action figures. They're not dolls. Dolls are cute. Action figures are all about, well, action. What intrigues me the most about my son's collection is the amount of time he takes assembling and transforming them from one shape or form to another. It is a rare occasion that he takes them all out and plays with them as a group. I find this odd, since it doesn't reflect my own experience in the Land Of Make-Believe.
My brothers and I owned a regiment of GI Joes. Not the little guys from the eighties, but the real and true guys who were three times taller. Some of them had life-like hair and beards. Some of them had Kung Fu grip. Some of them even talked, but none of them needed to advertised as a "Real American Hero." It was obvious from the vacant stare and the tell-tale scar on their right cheeks. Together we assembled some of the most stressful and challenging missions three boys in suburban Boulder, Colorado could imagine.
Still, these were nothing compared to what awaited them just down the street. Heidi had as many Barbies as I had Joes, and for a few shining moments in my youth, GI Joe got to see more than his share of action. It wasn't anything nasty, but if the other guys in the neighborhood found out, I would never hear the end of it.
Most of the time, my Joes were rescuing Heidi's Barbies from some desperate situation or other. There were perilous situations that arose on top of a stack of couch cushions. Sometimes a jealous Ken would kidnap Barbie and hold her hostage in her fold-out vinyl penthouse. Ken was no match for the charisma of any Joe, clean-shaven or not. All of these adventures ended up the same way: A full-dress military wedding with Skipper and Francie as bridesmaids.
Then it was time to pack up the footlocker and head on home. I can't imagine that any of my son's Transformers or Bionicles would have anything to do with Barbie, even if there was a neighborhood girl who would admit to owning a Barbie. In the meantime, he'll keep building and rearranging them, waiting for that call to action.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Innocent Bystander

A gunshot rings out at the station
Another urchin snaps and left dead on his own
It makes me wonder why I'm still here
For some strange reason it's now
Feeling like my home
And I'm never gonna go
- Green Day "Welcome To Paradise"
It's the same corner where I have stopped to talk to a friend about our sons getting together after school. It's the same corner where my front tire popped and I had to push my bike the rest of the way home. It's the same corner that I ride past twice a day, five days a week, forty weeks a year, for the past twelve years. It's the one with the funeral home.
Thursday afternoon was not the first time that I have seen a crowd outside. This one was mostly baggy jeans and oversize white shirts. That caught my attention. So did the red car that zipped into the parking lot. I was waiting for the light to change, because it looked like things were starting to get tense. Then I noticed a pickup had made a quick trip around the block slowing down and turning left. That's when the kid with the ponytail jumped out of the crowd, running first to the corner, then staring down the street after the pickup.
He was only a few feet away when he pulled out his gun. The revolver came easily out of his pocket and I watched him fire six shots. Down the street. In the direction of the pickup. Or not in any particular direction at all. I've been around guns before. I have fired guns before. The explosions that were going off next to me seemed much louder, and the smell of gunpowder was somehow incongruous with the late summer day.
The first police car chased the kid, the gunman, back up the street toward me. Then he cut back into the crowd in the parking lot. Another police car appeared from the other side. Then another. The light had changed, but the intersection was now full of cop cars. And cops. They had the crowd on the ground before the light turned red again.
Traffic began to move around the empty cop cars. What had been a life or death experience a second ago was now an annoyance. I got my feet back on the pedals and made it across the street. A block away, I stopped and asked an officer if he wanted to know what I had seen. "We got 'em all," he reassured me. I held on to my description and hoped that he was right. Wouldn't that be great if he really had captured all the bad guys?
The rest of the ride home felt like it took three days. My hands were shaking and I felt like I was going to throw up. I was glad to be home.
But not hopeless
I feel so useless
In the murder city
- Green Day "Murder City"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pants On Fire

If you’re surprised by the news that Hugh Hefner is divorcing his wife, and former Playmate Kimberley Conrad, then you may have been the one who was surprised by the behavior of Representative Joe Wilson. In the middle of the President’s speech about health care, the congressman shouted "You lie!" after Obama denied that his health care proposal would cover illegal immigrants. While other Republicans sat in the audience with props like BlackBerrys and copies of the Republican health care bill to wave as if they were attending a midnight showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Joe wasn’t content to simply pantomime his agitation. Wilson is a Representative from South Carolina .
That’s no surprise. Republicans from South Carolina have not exactly been leading the way, decorum-wise, over the past few months. You may remember a certain governor who “went for a hike on the Appalachian Trail,” and ended up canoodling with a woman in Argentina who was not his wife. He has made tearful apologies, but has yet to resign even though a majority of the Republicans in the South Carolina House of Representatives wrote to Sanford demanding his resignation. The Chairwoman of the state’s Republican Party as well as the Republican Lieutenant Governor is ready to ring down the curtain on Sanford’s Reign of Lusty E-Mails and Misappropriation of State Funds.
For the record, in addition to his public apology, Mister Wilson called the White House to apologize. There was no word about an apology to the people of South Carolina , whom he represents. There was also no mention of a “thank-you” from the Democratic Party for bringing thousands of dollars to their 2010 campaign funds, and helping breathe new life into their version of a Health Care Plan. Some things just have to be inferred. Others do not. H.R. 3200, the health-care bill under debate in the House, explicitly prohibits coverage for illegal immigrants. Liar.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tune In

Sometimes when I am stuck waiting for my wife to come back to the car from some errand or other, I sit in the passenger seat and slowly go up and down the dial of the radio: first on FM, then on AM. This is a fairly mindless task primarily because the car radio has a digital tuner. It is a simple matter to push the "seek" button and let the frequency elves do their magic. Back in the olden days, it was a much more exacting exercise. When you had to turn the dial just so, and the antenna really had to work.
In my youth, I can remember listening to a station primarily because it had a signal strong enough to reach me in the mountains of Colorado. KOA in Denver could blow out the screen doors on mobile homes from Grand Junction to Scottsbluff with fifty thousand watts of power. The fact that it was primarily news and sports didn't keep me from listening. They were the voice of the Denver Bears, Broncos and Nuggets. It was the sound of my summers.
There were some alternatives. We listened to KHOW, especially on Friday afternoons when "Hot Dog" Harold Moore would kick of the "Wonderful Weekend In The West" by playing "If I Had a Wagon I Would Go to Colorado." If we were very lucky, he'd even throw in "Rocky Mountain High" for good measure. There were some late nights when we twisted the knob just right and got KIMN, but listening to pop music was a luxury for the flat-landers. Up high in the Rockies the signals were battered, scattered, and ruined before they ever made it out of our speakers. We satisfied ourselves with the news, weather, traffic and sports that we could get, and savored those moments when a song might seep through the static from an era that we might all recognize.
Nowadays, when I'm tuning around, trying to find nothing in particular, I am amazed at the lack of open space on the dial. There isn't much I want to listen to. Not all of it is in English. Clear Channel owns both KHOW and KOA now. Local radio personalities have given way to feeding stations for the pointy-headed twits and their rants. Talk radio. I'm still out there, looking for a song.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Governor Has Left The Building

I thought of Rod Blagojevich on Monday. Not because of his tireless efforts to bring about labor reform. Not because I was wondering if he had made any recent appearances as an Elvis impersonator. No, the former Illinois governor was on my mind because I was watching the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, and Rod's last name sounds exactly like some of the nonsensical lunatic ravings of its host Jerry Lewis.
Imagine my surprise when I open the paper yesterday to see Mister Blagojevich and his hair back in the news. Even though his trial for racketeering and fraud is still nine months away, the governor past-tense is still busy preparing his defense. He told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he might even try to subpoena President Barack Obama as a witness at his trial. This may serve him better than the Fabio impersonator he has been hanging around with, but it is doubtful that the court would compel the president to testify. He just wants to set the record straight, and let justice prevail.
According to prosecutors, the FBI secretly recorded Blagojevich last November saying he wanted something in exchange for the Senate seat that was being vacated after Obama's election. "I've got this thing and it's (deleted) golden, and uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for (deleted) nothing," he is quoted as saying. He was later recorded saying "I want to make money" off the seat, prosecutors said.
Blagojevich claims that he was taken out of context. Perhaps when he said that he wanted to "make money" off the Senate seat, he was actually trying to create a fund for nuns and orphans. Or public health care. Or a job-stimulus package for Illinois. Or maybe he just needed a new jumpsuit. Those things are expensive!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cold Storage

My Labor Day was spent in a fairly contemplative manner. I rose early, about the same time that I would normally on a school day. I let the dog out and just as quickly back in to her wagging insistence that I feed her breakfast before anyone else. I moved a couple of loads of laundry through the process of becoming clean, and then went for a run around the neighborhood with my family.
My wife left for the grocery store and I supervised my son as he attempted to sort through the piles of paper, plastic and Legos in his room. The looming spectre of two months without another holiday gave me pause. Did I have everything done that needed to get done before the onslaught of Fall?
When the supply train pulled up, my wife and son carried in three bulging sacks of groceries. I immediately began classifying, categorizing and storing this week's food. Until I got to the refrigerator. It was a jungle in there: lots of menacing things colored green, smells and sounds that were menacing and unfamiliar. When was the last time I saw the back of this major appliance? Would I need a machete to do it?
I set about taking all the truly unrecognizable objects off their shelves and out of the door for closer inspection. A jar of dill pickle juice was the first to go, and the consolidation of three different bottles of barbecue sauce gave me still more recycling. There were a number of plastic tubs that held suspicious samples of what might have been dairy products at one time. The potential benefit of growing our own penicillin crossed my mind, but I chose instead to let them all go. I took some small pride at how little sour cream we had to turn loose, since we often by a small container for burrito bar, but still have to shave the fur off most of it after a few weeks and then toss it. This time the yogurt and cottage cheese casualties were relatively low.
When I was done, there was room on the shelves for the groceries we had just brought home, and I could remember the dates and reasons for the purchase of what was laid out in front of me. I felt a twinge of remorse for the food that we had neglected, but summoned up the strength to turn what was left of my attention to the freezer. Things that we froze had a much more purposeful feel. Virtually everything that I moved and arranged was immediately known to me and had a purpose for our consumption at some later date. Even my wife's coffee popsicles. Even my son's glow-sticks. Peace and order had been restored to that corner of the kitchen. Let the cold cuts and corn chips fall where they may, I'm ready. Catharsis achieved.

Monday, September 07, 2009

We All Need A Fix

"That is a good idea, but it is a new one, and we fear it, so we must reject it." - Lothar of the Hill People
There are few things on heaven and earth that I am an expert on, and I will not suppose that health care is one of them. However, since the rest of the country seems to be weighing in on the subject with much the same credentials, I figured the time is right.
Perhaps this is no true coincidence, falling squarely on the day we all take a break from our work to go buy mattresses: Labor Day. National health spending is expected to reach two and a half trillion dollars in 2009, accounting for seventeen point six percent of the gross domestic product. Here are some more fun figures: Sixty-two percent of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were linked to medical expenses. About one and a half million families lose their homes to foreclosure every year due to unaffordable medical costs.
Anecdotally, the company that I used to work for, an employee-owned corporation, had one of the most incredible health care and benefits package you can imagine. They would pay for your gym membership. They paid for acupuncture. They paid for substance abuse and rehab programs for a number of our employees. They picked up the tab for my son when he was born. We even got cookies every Friday. It was awesome. Now they're gone.
It would be simplistic to say that the cost of those Friday brownies and gym memberships were the only thing that did us in. But I know that, as my teachers' union continues to negotiate a new contract, the cost of health insurance is right at the top of the pile. Just as it is with just about every labor negotiation for the past twenty years.
Back when I owned a corporation, or a part of it, there seemed to be an obvious connection between the relative health and happiness of the employees and the bottom line of the company. Sick and injured employees aren't as productive as the healthy ones. Keeping them healthy is just getting too darn expensive.
Like many of our legislators, I have not read the entire health care bill, and even if I did I suspect that I would still need a certain amount of clarification and tutelage before I felt comfortable saying that this is the solution to all of our problems. But I don't think that I would feel comfortable crossing my arms and holding my breath and hoping that the whole mess would go away. I understand the reticence of some who would rather not pay for other's tumors. I can remember grumbling about the second time we all had to pony up and pay for one guy's second trip through rehab. I can also remember the relief I felt when I got food poisoning and had to go to the emergency room for rehydration after consuming "the last piece of lasagna." It's good to know that when you fall, there's somebody there to help you back up. America's Health Care System is broken. We need to fix it before the "death panel" shows up and pulls the plug on all of us.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Now We'd Like To Do "Hark The Angels Come"

I know that the Beatles Renaissance is nigh. I know that Entertainment Weekly can't continue to put vampires on their cover forever. But why, oh why would they choose instead to canonize the Fab Four in this way: "We Rank Their 50 Best Songs (and 5 worst)?" My own reaction was simple enough explanation. I immediately turned to page thirty-seven to get to the heart of the matter. What heresy could they possibly print on this "worst" list?
If you're not going to buy the magazine or swing past my house and see if it's still on the coffee table, I will spill those beans for you. Under the disclaimer "Oh, come on. Nobody's perfect - not even the Beatles" is the list. "All You Need Is Love," followed by "Wild Honey Pie," "Dig It," "Don't Pass Me By," and "Flying." The immediate problem I have is that the fiftieth best song is also the first song on their worst list. "All You Need Is Love" is a "catchy but thoroughly maddening novelty song." Not unlike Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
I know that the editors of Entertainment Weekly would love to stir up a little mail for their letters page, but this seems more than a little contrived. I say this primarily from the standpoint of a person who grew up watching and experiencing the way that the Beatles revolutionized pop music and the culture around it. My parents liked the Beatles. My mother was very open-minded when it came to the music that her kids listened to, but she liked the Beatles. She wasn't just putting up with the Beatles. Even "Dig It" or "Wild Honey Pie." These songs were connective tissue on albums that were designed to be listened to as a collection of songs, an album if you will. The sequence of songs was a primary concern of the lads as their career expanded beyond the shrieking din of Candlestick Park.
I am sure that somewhere another list is being generated. This one will be more focused on Ringo, the easy target. Or maybe George's sitar technique. Why not point out Paul's silly love songs or John's misanthropic rants? Here's why: When I read the list of "Best" and "Worst" I had immediate access to the sounds they made in my head. Would it be fair to say that every song that any person or group recorded was a golden moment, worthy of being preserved forever? I have only recently forgiven Mister Springsteen for "Human Touch," and this is from a guy whose career has spanned nearly three times that of the boys from Liverpool. The magic of the Beatles is the way they delivered world-changing music consistently for less than a decade. I acknowledge that there is a spectrum upon which listeners can feel free to rate the relative greatness of any piece of music. I'll take the worst of the best any day.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Game On

Autumn is in the air. I know this because my wife and I are preparing for that fond farewell that occurs just before our relationship goes into cryostasis. I am talking about football season. To be completely fair, she has become very patient and even participatory in most respects. Yet, she and I both understand that while she has made a concerted effort to care about one game a week, and even manage her own Fantasy Football team called "The Tutu Ponies," I still care way too much about all the games, college and pro. And from whence does this fanaticism spring? To be honest, I wish I knew.
To say that I grew up watching football would paint too simple a picture. I watched football as much as I watched PBS. I knew who Alistair Cooke was long before I could recognize John Madden in a lineup. That didn't mean I lived in a vacuum, either. My parents had season tickets to the Colorado University Golden Buffaloes home games, and my brothers and I were in regular attendance, either sitting next to my parents, or in the "Knothole Section" behind the north goalposts. When my brother was in the Boy Scouts, he volunteered to be an usher: Wear your uniform, stand around for a couple hours before the game and then you're in. From there, it was a short hop to working concessions, and all three of us took our turns at learning just how unforgiving a job trying to sell cold hot dogs to drunken college students can be. Still, it was another way into the stadium.
Then there was the year that I played "organized" football. In fourth grade my parents bought me cleats and a pair of padded pants, and even though I didn't wear it as often as I should have, my first athletic supporter. These pieces of equipment were no match for the item that held the most fascination for me: the mouth guard. I remember standing in the kitchen and watching the water boil, waiting for the right moment to drop the hard rubber U briefly into the intense heat. Then just as quick, you popped it into your mouth to get just the right fit on your upper plate. Mine had a special minty-flavor. Clamping my mouth shut around it with the tab hanging out became a mild fixation. I hoped that it would protect my teeth as well as keeping my breath kissing fresh.
I assume that Young American Football was a lot like Little League. I never played Little League, so I can only extrapolate. Being one of the slow, thicker kids, I was ready to play the football equivalent of right field: Right Guard. I thought it was pretty cool that there was an anti-perspirant named after my position. I understood that my job was essentially to push the kid across from me around as best I could until the more coordinated and speedy kids behind me could run, pass, or punt around me. I kept shoving until I heard the whistle. That was my job. I don't remember how many games we played that year. I don't know how many we won. I do remember that my parents came and watched, much in the same way that they watched the Buffs. The games were on Saturday mornings, so I'm sure they had to rush around when CU had a home game.
I only played one year of Young American Football. It was another four years before I got up the nerve to play again. Bought a new pair of cleats. New pants. This time, the coach would check to be sure we were wearing our supporting undergarments. And I got another mouth guard. The games were on Friday afternoons, so my parents didn't have to schedule around them quite so much. I don't remember how many games we won back then, either. I do remember I had the same job, having managed to grow enough to be considered a "middleweight," but without gaining any particular speed or talent, I was back shoving the kid across me until the whistle blew.
In high school I saw every game, mostly because I was in the band. The Pep Band even went to the away games. Don't ask me how many games they won. Not many is my memory of it. But the cool air of approaching Fall, the bursts of action followed by the seemingly endless strategizing, the smell of popcorn and hot dogs. Friday night high school, Saturday afternoon college, and Sunday the professionals. That was the rhythm of my youth, and today it begins anew. Game on.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Kids Are Alright

When I was ten years old, I know how I would have responded when asked about being addressed by the President of the United States: "No way." I had no interest in hearing anything that Richard Nixon had to say. That went double for Ronald Reagan when I was in high school. I suppose if Jimmy Carter had a speech prepared for my junior high school ears, I might have lent a sympathetic ear. It has everything to do with the fact that I made my party affiliation at a very early age. And it stuck.
That is why I can understand the reaction of some parents and students to Barack Obama's planned address to students across the country via the White House web site. Next Tuesday, our current president will be talking to kids "about the importance of staying in school; how we want to improve our education system and why it’s so important for the country." Those were his words in an interview last month with journalist Damon Weaver. Damon is eleven years old. Damon was very enthusiastic about the upcoming speech.
Jim Greer, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida who is not eleven, had this to say: "The address scheduled for September 8, 2009, does not allow for healthy debate on the President's agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our President's initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates."
As I said, I understand how kids might have trouble making up their minds about their personal politics. No one is forcing kids to watch. Schools are encouraged, not required to air the speech. Still, there are those who consider this brainwashing, especially when you add in the curriculum that is being sent along with the words the president will speak. The Department of Education has a guide, with questions for students to consider as they listen. Questions like: "What is the President trying to tell me? What is the President asking me to do?"
We teach third and fourth graders about persuasive writing. We teach them the difference between fact and opinion. We teach them right from wrong. I sat with a library full of elementary school kids last January watching the inauguration of our country's first African-American president. We teach them history. Now maybe we can see what they've learned.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Since You've Been Gone

I had to break up yesterday. It was odd, since I've never really been on the breaking part. I've always been more of the broken. I wasn't fully prepared to deal with the hurt feelings and disappointment that I generated with my personal choice. But that's the way it goes in relationships sometimes. People grow apart. They want different things. It just wasn't working out, and we could either continue to cling to one another needlessly and hope that things would somehow work out, or maybe we would both get used to the dysfunctional way we had of dealing with each other. I had to tell the lady who was handling my retirement account that I was switching my account to someone else.
The truth is, I should have pulled the trigger a few years back. That was when my wife started taking an active interest in our collective finances with an eye toward actually retiring one day. That sort of thing requires long range planning, something for which I am ill-equipped. Part of me has always bristled at the notion of "socking away" money when we never seem to have enough to do all the things we really want to do anyway. As a numeric grown-up, I understand that 401Ks and portfolios and investments are a good idea, but after that first pie chart, my eyes start to glaze over.
That's why I was happy to let my money sit where it was for all those years. Every few months, my financial advisor would drop by my classroom for our appointment, and I would smile and nod until she closed up her folders and notebooks and asked if I had any questions. "Nope," I would smile and say through my haze, and then it would be another quarter before I had to go through that again.
The problem was me. I can admit it now. I should have cared more. I should have been more attentive. If I could have been a little more aggressive, or willing to take some risks. But that's not who I am. I'm the kind of guy who likes to be told by his wife that we should be making money instead of losing it. I'm the kind of guy who wants somebody else to take over the reins of my empire. Such as it is.
When she left, she asked that I remember her fondly, or at least would recommend her services to some of the other members of our staff. There wasn't a lot more for us to say, except "goodbye."

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Lucky Thirteen

The new year started without any fireworks. There was no parade. There might have been a party or two, but I wasn't invited. That's good news. That's the way a school year should start. Compared to last year when I was flailing around trying to get my bearings back in a computer lab that was familiar but still brand new to me this seemed, in the words of George Tenet, a "slam dunk."
And while I was standing there on the yard watching students trickle in the front gate for the second day of class, I was caught up in a reflection on my thirteenth year of public education. I have now been employed by that system for the same number of years that I once attended. Last year's Kindergartners are today's first graders. The first graders have moved on to second. And so it goes. Sometimes it feels a little like an escalator.
That's when I looked up and saw a lanky figure striding toward me. I've had this feeling many times before: Who is this approaching me and wasn't he or she much smaller the last time I saw him or her? The answer to my quandary was Gary, and he was once very small. Now he stood in front of me at just about six feet tall, with a trace of a beard poking out beneath his chin. It helped to have his brother Mark moving in his wake. Mark was now a fourth grader. I tried to remember when Gary had roamed the halls of our little school.
"How's it going?" I asked him, offering up my hand.
I got a firm handshake back, "Okay. A little tired."
"How's school?" Considering that some of our students are on their way to finishing their education shortly after middle school, this was a bit of a conversational gambit.
"All right I guess. I'm changing my major." Turns out to have been a good bet.
"Really? What are you thinking of changing to?"
"Social work, something like that. I liked business okay, it just didn't suit me I guess."
Gary and Mark's dad is a minister. This made sense. I told him how proud I was to hear this. "The world has plenty of businessmen. Your neighborhood could use a good social worker."
He smiled. "What about you, Mark? Still want to be a rocket scientist?"
Mark rolled his eyes and sighed. "No. I wanna be a soccer player."
"How about a soccer playing rocket scientist?" I suggested.
Another eye roll. Gary looked around the yard that used to be his playground, shrugged his shoulders and told me that he figured he should be getting home. "I had to get up at three this morning to take my dad to the airport."
The bell was going to ring any minute to start the second day of school. The second of many.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


"Did U C that?"
"U R so crispy."
"U will B so 2 next time."
"What was the snap count?"
The NFL said Monday it will allow players to use social media networks this season, but not during games. What sort of advantage or disadvantage would one achieve by tweeting, blogging, or texting from the field? While the pigskin is in play, no updates will be permitted by the individual himself or anyone representing him on his personal Twitter, Facebook or any other social media account, the league said.
I suppose this makes sense, since players are kind of busy doing thoe things that football players do: punting, passing, kicking, drinking Gatorade. But that's just eleven guys at a time. What does Roger Goodell expect the rest of the team to do while all that football is going on without them? Has he ever pondered the eternity of a TV timeout? The commissioner himself was tweeting from the draft. That's precisely the kind of thing you need to fill those great big empty pauses that are such a part of the professional game. "This Bud's 4 U."
Certainly, all of this raises the question: Where are these guys sticking those electronic devices when the actually do get around to playing? I M 2 gross.