Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fear Factor

It's a control issue, really. As much as I might pretend to enjoy being scared, it's not really something I'm truly comfortable with. This dates back to my youth, when I took a very keen interest in just how those gory special effects were achieved. Years later, I made a study of the shower scene in "Psycho," detailing the number of point-of-view shots and the number of cuts used to create the murder of poor Marion Crane. The fact that Bosco chocolate syrup was used in place of blood in this film as well as "Night of the Living Dead" took some of the edge of the fright I might have felt otherwise.
My knowledge base was of little use when it came to my older brother. He knew the power of darkness, and the lonely trip to the outhouse behind our cabin after we had all gone to the drive-in to see "The Devil's Rain." When he came at me from behind that bush, I hurled my flashlight at him. In hindsight, it occurs to me that whether he was some demon lurking in the woods waiting to gnaw on my skull or if he was my big brother coming at me for the expressed purpose of getting me to evacuate my bladder before I made it to the outhouse, a glancing blow from a plastic flashlight would probably only make whatever fate awaited me worse. That's what fear does to a person.
Which is why I prefer to be the frightener whenever possible. Like the time a group of friends and I went up into the mountains above Boulder to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. At some point, I suggested that it all "seemed like the beginning of a bad horror movie." As darkness fell, we chuckled amongst ourselves about the idea, but on the way back down to the car, I decided to escalate. I was carrying the cooler, the one that was now empty except the knife that we had used to cut the watermelon. The rest of the gang opted to stop along the path to relieve themselves in the way that nature allows. They had the flashlight, but I continued on my own into the night.
I rounded a corner, now completely hidden from the others. I put the cooler down in the middle of the path, pulled out the knife and ran into the woods. I watched as the flashlight beam came bouncing down the path, then stopped abruptly as it fell on the lid of the cooler. "Dave?" They waited for an answer. I held my breath. They advanced slowly. The were now standing around the styrofoam box, remembering how we had all laughed at the phrase, "Has anyone seen the knife?" No one was laughing now.
Except for me. I did everything I could to keep from giving myself away. "Okay, Dave," they whined. "You win. We're scared."
It had been my intent to double back at that moment and come roaring out of the woods, waving the knife over my head and howling like a banshee. But I was doubled over. It was all too amusing to take it any further. So much the better, since experience suggests that I probably would have been hit in the face with a flashlight.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Last Roundup

I believe that I was in sixth grade when I made my last mad dash for candy. My friend from down the street and I made a plan to scour the north end of town to clear out as much sugary loot as we could carry. To that end, we enlisted the help of my younger brother, who we needed to pull the wagon. The wagon was going to be where we would occasionally stop to dump the pillowcases that we were using to haul Nestles, Hersheys and Tootsies by the sackful. Our intent was to never appear with a bag that was too full, so as to put the candy-givers on guard. We hoped to take advantage of as much generosity as possible.
We walked for miles along twisting, turning suburban avenues, taking careful note of those houses that looked most inviting. The ones with the jack-o-lanterns still lit. The ones with the cardboard skeleton taped to the front door. The ones that had kids "ooh-ing" and "ahhh-ing" as they came back down the sidewalk toward us. The houses that let the kids paw their own fistful of candy into their buckets.
It was dark. It was cold. The porch lights that had been calling us on and on were starting to wink out. We had no true reckoning of how much candy we had. We knew that we would chuck the Laffy Taffy and Necco wafers. There would be some serious bartering over what remained, with my eyes on Snickers and Almond Joy. It was understood that my little brother would have last pick, but a developed taste for candy corn put him in good stead.
When all was said and done, we had been away from our house for nearly three hours. By traveling in a mostly circuitous route, we were able to make stops on both sides of most streets, including our own. When we were done, there was no mystery left for Trick Or Treating. By the next year, we had moved on to junior high and left my younger brother, in a very literal sense, holding the bag. Halloween was no longer about organized and sanctioned begging. It was about parties and pranks. It was less about costumes and more about appearance.
Now that I'm all grown up, and handing out candy at my door, I still harbor a secret wish that we won't get quite so many kids at our door. That means more "fun size" for me in the days and weeks after the big night. But even that has a hollow ring to it. It isn't the potpourri of those halcyon days of yore. My adult mind chafes at the notion of the two or three Milk Duds wedged into the bottom of that one tiny box. So much packaging. So much waste. If I wanted a box of Milk Duds, I could hop in the car and drive over to Costco where I could get a great big vat of chocolaty goodness all for myself.
But it wouldn't be the same.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Commuted Sentence

If you don't actually live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the news that the Bay Bridge was closed may come as a little slice of "that's kind of interesting." Many may assume that the bridge in question is the iconic Golden Gate. A simple enough mistake to make, given its landmark distinction, but the Bay Bridge is the one that does all the heavy lifting. It's the commuter bridge that takes people from all across the East Bay and funnels them into San Francisco. On a good day, it's not pretty. More than a quarter of a million cars, most of them heading west in the morning, then racing back east when the day is done.
And that's why they're building a new one. Over the Labor Day weekend, as construction raced ahead and the bridge was closed during the holiday, a crack in a structural beam was discovered, and in addition to placing a vast new section of temporary roadbed in anticipation of the new span, crews had to work overtime to get everything back in place for the Tuesday morning commute. It was an epic piece of engineering and manpower. Everyone was so pleasantly amazed to see this major thoroughfare back in working order, even with the additional work. And that masterpiece lasted seven weeks.
At the height of Tuesday's commute, the patch gave way. The crossbeam and a second tie rod tore away and fell to the upper deck of the bridge. Three cars were damaged, and one driver was injured by flying glass. That's the good news. Now the ridiculous news: Contractors are blaming high winds for the mishap. Thirty mile an hour winds. That counts as "severe weather" out here, but is by no means in the category of 7.9 on the Richter scale. A little wind is one thing, but what happens when the earth starts to quake?
All of this made me grateful for the commute I make, two miles on two wheels primarily on side streets, five days a week. And as for my co-workers who make the trip to and from, paying toll each time they enter "The City," I wish for them a speedy return to a safe and relatively sound Bay Bridge. Or maybe a BART pass, since traveling a hundred and thirty-five feet under water in a concrete tube feels so much safer.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nice Going, Einstein

When my son was only weeks old, a friend of ours got right down in his face and said, "Pasta Fazul." Our friend explained that he hoped to be responsible for those particular neurons, fusing them forever. Imagine our surprise when, twelve years later, our son enjoys pasta fine, but isn't a huge fan of the fazul.
This surprise is matched only by that surrounding the mystery of our son's Japanese. We had fully expected that he would be speaking fluently at this point, or at least be able to count to ten. The number of hours he spent in front of Baby Einstein should have created a genius polyglot. Unless it turns out that the whole Baby Einstein thing was a lot of hooey.
The New York Times reported last week that Disney is offering a refund to buyers of its Baby Einstein videos, which did not, as promised, turn babies into wunderkinds. And now, there's a nasty little bit of litigation in the air. A letter threatening Disney with a class-action lawsuit for "deceptive advertising," public health lawyers hired by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood cited a study which found a link between early television exposure and later problems with attention span. Did somebody say "pasta fazul?"
Part of me wants to believe that we were such clever parents that we found this magical means of hyper-stimulating our son's cerebral cortex while we were busy thumbing through catalogs filled with "smart baby toys." The rest of me, the teacher part, is kicking himself for being silly enough to imagine that watching TV, as an infant, would make anyone smarter. The slack-jawed countenance of my little boy on the couch at any point during his youth as he stares into the vast wasteland is evidence enough for me to the contrary.
Still, he is on the honor roll. He has been since he started middle school. And as far as that Japanese thing goes, my wife saw the video enough to remember: Ich, Ni, San, Shi, Go, Roku, Shichi, Hachi, Kyu, Ju. Would you like some fazul with that?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hopelessly Lost, But Making Good Time

My family and I are planning a little trip in the not-too-distant future. We're flying, which is a relative luxury for us these days, and my son is very excited about the upgrade from the back seat of the station wagon. Me? I'm just happy that our airline choice does not include Northwest Airlines.
You know, the guys who recently overshot a scheduled landing in Minneapolis by a hundred and fifty miles. At some level, I suppose I can sympathize. I have missed my share of exits in my day. Wrong turns are a matter of course when you're travelling long hours and the overhead light doesn't quite do the job of effectively illuminating the map and the one you've got is six years old and haven't we passed that same gas station three times now? I am suggesting that travel is not as exact a science as we might like. The simple inclusion of weather in any equation makes the outcome less than certain. But that's not what the crew of Northwest Flight 188 wants us to believe.
First of all, they weren't napping. First officer Richard Cole and captain Timothy Cheney had their laptops out while Cole, who had more experience with scheduling, instructed the Cheney on monthly flight crew scheduling. Thanks to an alert flight attendant contacted them about five minutes before the flight's scheduled landing. At that point, five crew members and a hundred and forty-four passengers were flying high over Wisconsin. Meanwhile, back on the ground, air traffic controllers in Denver and Minneapolis repeatedly tried without success to raise the pilots by radio. Other pilots in the vicinity tried reaching the plane on other radio frequencies. The airline tried contacting them using a radio text message that chimes. Authorities became so alarmed that National Guard jets were readied for takeoff at two locations and the White House Situation Room alerted senior officials, who monitored the airliner.
All the while, Cole and Cheney continued their dissertation on scheduling. On their laptops. The ones that they tell us to put away until after takeoff and before landing. And just how is this more comforting than the suggestion that they were sound asleep? No matter how you slice it, they had lost touch with what they were there to do: land the plane safely in Minneapolis. I may have driven past my scheduled destination on occasion, but it's not my job, and I don't have a hundred passengers in my back seat. Just one or two. One who is furiously trying to fold the map back into its original configuration and the other is reading a Garfield book and listening to his iPod. We'll get there. Once I work out my schedule.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Red Zone

It was a busy Sunday. There were a lot of wide receivers pointing up to the sky, giving thanks. An equally jubilant group of running backs showing gratitude to the powers that be for allowing them to cross the goal line. There were even a few "Hail Marys." That's not even taking into account the genuflecting place kickers and the legions of football fans making special prayers for the success of their favorite teams. And all of this took place before the first pitch of the American League Championship game, setting off another flurry of sports-related worship. Would you guess that the Supreme Being is a Yankees fan, or would he stick with the party line and root for the Angels?
Is it any wonder then, that Sunday also saw violent clashes erupt at Jerusalem's holiest site? ll of Israeli riot police marched toward young men covering their faces with T-shirts and scarves, sending many of them running for cover into the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the Islamic structures in the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. In some quarters, this could be considered a triple play. A group of hardline settlers and rabbis met in Jerusalem on Sunday evening calling on Jews to pray at the site. Most rabbis, however, say the place is so holy that Jews should not even set foot there. Police allow only Muslims to worship in the compound and say that practice will be enforced. Even at the end of a blowout loss in St. Louis, the Rams still let the Colts get together at mid-field for a little post-game prayer. Maybe it was a bye week for the Deities.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Passing Lane

My mother-in-law sent me an e-mail yesterday asking if I knew who Soupy Sales was. She had grown up watching him on TV and still remembers how to do "The Soupy Shuffle." I wrote back that my experience with Soupy was primarily through his guest appearances on various quiz shows and "The Love Boat." He didn't make the dent in my life the way that someone like Don Knotts did. Or Jim Carroll. Or John Belushi. Or Chuck Jones.
The list goes on and on. I make a list in my head, from time to time, of the people that I miss. That list gets longer as I grow older. It can also swell when I add in all those who I have lost touch with simply as a function of time and circumstance. It would not require a crystal ball or a seance to get in touch with them. That's what the Internet is all about. Google them. Look them up on Facebook. Hire a private investigator.
I can no longer make quick recollection of all the teachers who have come and gone since I started at my school twelve years ago. Then there's the list of teachers that taught me and their whereabouts. I still get a Christmas card every year from one of the guys I used to work with on the loading dock at Target. My family has set up a nice orderly camp in California that matches the home base in Colorado. I wonder how they guys I used to install steel furniture with have managed without me all these years. Not enough to seek them out, however.
But the big list begins and ends with the same guy. Darren became, over the years, synonymous with the void. That's too bad, since this was one guy who really did fill up a room. He was a presence, and the primary reason for us to all adopt the Hunter Thompson line, "He really stomped on the Terra." He left big footprints, and sometimes when I look out into a world without him, it makes me sad. Not for me anymore, but for the people who missed out on their chance to laugh until they cried in his spell. And those are the people I miss most. The ones who made me laugh.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Teacher Perks

Yesterday I saw this great movie: Spongebob and Patrick were being chased by a vampire, and the vampire kept pushing Patrick down. Spongebob didn't like seeing his friend abused in such a manner, and so he got mad. While we watched the movie, we helped ourselves to buckets of popcorn, piles of pepperoni pizza and tray after tray of chicken wings. We washed it all down with all the Kool-Aid we could handle. It was an awesome time. It was how I spent my lunch recess.
If this all sounds a little hard to believe, no matter, since it was all make-believe. It was primarily the imagination of one first grade girl who had tired of chasing and being chased by boys around the play structure. It was, to be fair, a continuation of a game that had been started a few days before by a first grade boy who wanted us all to get into his bus so that we could drive to the movie theater. The concession stand and the movie's plot were fabricated primarily by this one little girl who needed some better way to spend the time after she ate her lunch and before she had to return to class.
She didn't need any props. She just grabbed my hand and insisted that I sit with her and stare off into the middle distance at the "screen." When she got hungry, she hopped up and went around behind the other kids who were climbing, jumping, screaming and hollering. She came back with a little Kindergarten friend who helped her carry all the food. Other kids began to take notice of our little pantomime feast, and some of them pulled up a seat while others squinted off across the yard while the snacks were passed out. We all insisted on using our best manners, and even though the food was invisible, it was quite delicious.
I was sad when this reverie was broken by the occasional crisis on the playground. I excused myself and went off to deal with the reality that is lunchtime yard duty. When I came back, three girls were happy to fill me in on all that I had missed, including the second helping of pizza and wings. I don't know what is in store for Monday, but I think I had better bring my imagination and my appetite.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rock The Casbah

R.E.M., Pearl Jam, AC/DC, Britney Spears, Marilyn Manson, Metallica and Bruce Springsteen. How's that for an all-star lineup? If you were fortunate enough to be a detainee at the terror suspect camp at Guantanamo Bay, you would have been treated to a playlist by these artists. At all hours of the day and night. At excessive volume. A November 2008 report by the Senate Armed Services Committee makes several references to the use of loud music as an interrogation tool. To say that the selection of songs was eclectic would be an understatement, given the inclusion of such gems as the Meow Mix cat food jingle, music from "Sesame Street," Don McLean's "American Pie," and the "I Love You" song from the children's show "Barney." We can only assume that they saved "It's A Small World" for those really hard cases.
Whatever happened to "if it's too loud, you're too old?" Back in 1989, the U.S. Army brought out the Marshall stacks during "Operation Just Cause" to drive Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega out of his refuge in the Vatican Embassy compound. Can you really play "Welcome To The Jungle" too loud? It was never made clear whether the opera-loving Noriega surrendered because of the cacophony, or because he was surrounded by hundreds of heavily armed American troops. Like the artists who are now protesting the use of their music as implements of torture, I fear we are coming dangerously close to the Ludovico technique, as witnessed in "A Clockwork Orange."
It also gives me pause to think of my sainted wife who, for the longest time, would instinctively reach for the volume knob on the stereo whenever Rush came on. When questioned about this habit, she claimed not to have any recollection of her actions. It was conditioning, she maintained. Ah, the power of psyops.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Angular Momentum

A very good friend of mine was all for creating a level playing field when it came time for our new president to be sworn in. She maintained that the same yardstick that we used to measure the accomplishments of Pinhead be used to track the efforts of this new administration. How would the media respond? How would the American public react to this new head of state? Well, after nine months, I suppose that we've come full term, and the honeymoon has been over for some time now.
The Hope and Change Express still runs at full-steam, but it has to make a lot of stops along the way. That means that the changes that some of us might have expected are still waiting on the platform, somewhere down the track. Our expectations were, we come to find, irrationally high. Or at least some of them were. American soldiers are still fighting and dying in the Middle East while "the bad guys" continue to elude us. The economy has begun to show signs of renewed vigor, but it remains on life-support for the time being. The promise of repealing "Don't ask, don't tell" has been repeated, but has yet to be acted upon. There is no national health care system.
Too soon? Perhaps for all of these things. We elected a new president. There was an orderly transition of power, and maybe that's the trouble. In so many ways, it's business as usual. It still takes a majority of two-thirds, or a Supreme Court decision, or another mid-term election. This one man didn't change any of that. He probably won't. Barack Obama is still a part of the machine. A very important cog, admittedly, but still reliant on the chains and pulleys around him to move things around. So it's been nine months. There are still a number of irons in the fire. Cash for clunkers was pretty cool. The inauguration was awesome. Heading the UN Security Council and calling for nuclear disarmament was very impressive.
And now we wait. With just a trace less patience than we had a month ago, but more than we had a year ago. Something as big as our country is hard to slow down, and even harder to steer when you want to change directions abruptly. Now we just have to wait and see if the brakes still work.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

That's News To Me

Some days it's hard to fill twenty-four hours with news. I cite the country's fascination with the "balloon boy" last week as a prime example. The fact that the discussion continues a week later about whether or not this was a staged event continues to beg the question: Why should we care? The answer us simple enough: Because there are still twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes of time to fill with "real news."
And just where would we go to find "real news?" Square and unbalanced Fox News? The most trusted acronym in news, CNN? How about a few more letters to make MSNBCMOUSE? I continue to get my "hard news" form Jon Stewart, mostly because it puts me in a very hip demographic. As long as news and entertainment continue to merge, why not err on the entertainment side? If Glenn Beck is more your cup of tea, that's fine too, as long as you keep that *comedian next to his name.
All of that brings me to my point: The Weather Channel has just announced that they are adding movies to their broadcasting day. The will begin, obviously enough, with "The Perfect Storm." Meteorologists and George Clooney fans, set your Tivos. They promise to follow that up with other weather-related hits such as the documentary "March of the Penguins," the thriller "Deep Blue Sea" and "Misery." They reckon that the snow in "Misery" qualifies it to be shown on The Weather Channel. Come to think of it, just about any movie I can think of has weather of some sort in it. Wow. What a great marketing ploy. But is it weather?
Back in the olden days, when cable TV was relatively new, as were VCRs, my friend's dad used to make four hour tapes of the new and meteorological phenomenon called The Weather Channel. And he used to show them at parties. "Wow," he used to enthuse to his inebriated guests, "have you ever seen a high pressure system like that one?" This marks my second favorite arbitrary use of technology, the first being the in-car coffee maker. Coming in third is twenty-four hour cable news.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dangling Conversations

Anyone who has spent any quality time with me, and even if the time has been more quantity instead, you know that I am no great fan of change. I will, as a rule, stick with something until it is unworkable or unrecognizable to the extreme if there is still some level of comfort to be gained. I have no faith that I will ever find a better sweatshirt than this one. From inside, you hardly notice the stains.
And that's pretty much how I approach most of my dealings with the planet. This comes as everlasting torment to my wife, who is always interested in trying something new. Especially if it saves money. Back when we first got married, the business of long-distance telephone service was very different. There were dozens of companies with dozens of plans that were all engineered and created especially to get my knickers in a twist. I knew that there was an alternative to the plan that I had initially chosen, but I couldn't allow myself to listen to the four-minute pitch that I was regularly receiving right around dinner time. When I heard the words, "Could you please connect me with the person who chooses your long-distance carrier," I simply handed the phone to my wife. She would hear them out, and then make careful notes, with the expectation that we would eventually get around to having a full discussion of the matter at some later date.
Those discussions never happened. I put them off, or rolled my eyes, or sighed as a way of signifying my ambivalence. The ambivalence that was covering up my terror of change. What if we pay these clowns and suddenly we are unable to contact the outside world? What if they take our money and give us inferior service? That would mean we might have to change again, and that was far too frightening to consider.
Over the years, my wife has managed my creepy phobias, and managed to find ways to keep her own mania for switching things around in check. Then came the past couple of months. As I watched TV, I became more and more impressed that the potential for saving money on our phone, Internet, and cable service was overwhelming. So much so that I actually got on the phone and made a couple of calls to check out the prices. I was amazed to discover that these calls did not cost anything. In fact, once the process began, I understood that I would actually be saving money by talking to these helpful, cheery folks who wanted to have my business.
My father was a salesman, and after years of watching him work, I put a big premium on being made comfortable by the person who wants me to buy something from them. Comcast did that for me. AT&T did not. The droids at AT&T were somewhat nonplussed with the suggestion that I might leave them. They seemed ambivalent. All that experience with my wife told me what to do. Yesterday, we pulled the plug on our AT&T Internet and phone, and now we have happy new Comcast wires. I am currently trying to convince myself that my Internet connection is not blindingly fast, and that I may have to give up the solitaire games I used to play while I waited for things to download. The phone service gives me the opportunity to create yet another "amusing" outgoing message. And we're saving money. Watch out if you're selling insurance, I just might be calling you next.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh Yes, They Call Him The Streak

Saturday I wore my J.J. Flanagan jersey. It was my dad's. I wore it partly out of sentimentality, but mostly out of a primal need to break my mojo hex. I have expressed numerous times my tongue-in-cheek belief in what Dave Barry has described as "concern rays." I try and laugh it off when asked directly. That's silly superstitious stuff. It's not the kind of thing that grown-ups do. Except for by the hundreds of thousands every weekend.
That would include me, I'm embarrasses to say. When I heard Kevin Costner tell Tim Robbins in "Bull Durham" that you never mess with a streak, he wasn't telling me anything that I hadn't already known, way down deep in the fiber of my soul. I know that from August to January, it is vital to the success of the team that I wear my Denver Broncos wind jacket. Back when they were on their way to their second consecutive Super Bowl win, a friend of mine pointed out that the stitched logo over my heart read "B-P-O-N-C-O-S." Go Bponcos? But I couldn't switch jackets. You don't mess with a streak.
Not unless the streak is of the negative sort. The past couple of weekends have not been nice to the college teams I support. The universities of Colorado and California have been struggling of late. I have been sporting a series of Cal T-shirts in hopes of re-igniting the fire under both squads. They didn't have the effect I was hoping for. Saturday, I switched to the University of Colorado home jersey, circa 1983. The California Golden Bears won in Los Angeles for the first time in years, and the Colorado Buffaloes upset the previously unbeaten Kansas Jayhawks. Ah, the power of a licensed wardrobe.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Up, Up And Away

Do you believe in UFOs? Unidentified Flying Objects are no mystery. They are just objects in the air that can't be identified. There are plenty of USOs in my house. Unidentified Stationary Objects. Sometimes they can be observed in the refrigerator. Others can be found on the floor near the shower. They remain a mystery only as long as they remain unidentified. The same can be said of their airborne counterparts. Weather balloons or swamp gas, it's always a little sad when a plausible explanation comes along. IFOs are no fun, and neither is that gunk around the edge of the bathtub.
Imagine then, the way the Heene family of Fort Collins, Colorado must feel. When they "aren't chasing storms, they devote their time to scientific experiments that include looking for extraterrestrials and building a research-gathering flying saucer to send into the eye of the storm." That research-gathering flying saucer was identified as a problem on Thursday when it came loose from its mooring with their six-year-old son, Falcon, on board. In a 911 call, the boy's mother, Mayumi Heene, told a dispatcher in a panicked voice that her child was in "a flying saucer." She sobbed and said, "We've got to get my son."
If you were one of the millions who anxiously awaited word on the boy's fate as civilian and military aircraft tracked the silver balloon across two counties, you may have had mixed feelings when you found out that the kid was fine. He was hiding in a box in the attic. Especially when you heard Falcon's explanation for why he had stayed hidden for so long: "You guys (his parents) said that, um, we did this for the show."
What show? The Heenes had already been on ABC's "Wife Swap." Twice. Maybe Falcon was referencing his family's pitch to TLC for their own reality show. Maybe there was some connection to the fact that they were taking home video when the balloon got away, or that dad called the local news channels before the 911 call. This is the world they live in. Add to that the two times Falcon had to be excused to toss his cookies during the next day's media onslaught. Sound like a hoax? Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden told a news conference on Friday that he didn't think so. "We have to operate on what we can prove as a fact and not what people want to be done or what people speculate should be done." That would be a UME: Unconfirmed Media Event.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


The hardest part for me to accept is the fact that she was right where she was supposed to be. She got off the bus with plenty of time to get to her first class. She went to the crosswalk to go across the street to school, and that's when the car hit her. Then it backed up over her to escape. An eleven-year-old girl died yesterday morning because she was doing the right thing.
I knew her. Last year she came to our school a little after classes had settled in. She was "the new girl," but she handled it well. I respected the fact that she had to find her way in a group, some of whom had known each other since Kindergarten. Part of that persona was not taking any guff from anybody. Just because she was new, she wasn't going to fade quietly into the background. She was in a class with a number of very large personalities, and she wasn't about to be forgotten.
Now we are assured that she won't be. I won't forget the PowerPoint presentations she made in my class. One was an illustration of Cause and Effect using the tumultuous relationship of Rhianna and Chris Brown. The other was a no-nonsense biography of Abraham Lincoln, in which she pointed out, "He wasn't very handsome, was he?" At the end of the year talent show, when most fifth graders get up and lip-sync their way through the current hits, she wrote her own song and sang it a Capella. In front of the whole school. Her school. No fear.
It would be wrong to remember her as an angel. That would be too simple. She was a little girl who was finding her way. Sometimes she was picked on. Sometimes she picked on others. Like most fifth graders, she was fixated on what was "fair." Her fifth grade teacher made a point of writing, on the first day of class, this message on the board: "Fair is when everyone gets what they need."
This little girl was on her way to school and got killed by a hit and run driver. That's not fair.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Quake Delay

Yesterday, seven million Californians joined in a rehearsal for what we all assume is inevitable: The Big One. People up and down the state crawled under desks and stood in doorways while emergency agencies and hospitals began response drills and mass casualty exercises. Let that last one roll around in your head for a moment: mass casualty exercises. Earthquakes are a fact of life here on the left edge of the country, and it is no coincidence that so many folks decided to check their preparedness level at this moment.
Let's wind the clock back two decades. I was still living in Colorado, and I was on my way to my weekly rendezvous with two slices of pepperoni and a large Coke. As I passed the Curtis Mathes showroom, a there were a few looky-loos watching the pre-game festivities before the the third game of the World Series. I remember saying aloud, perhaps with the thought that some other vaguely interested sports fan might appreciate my humor, that the only way that the San Francisco Giants would win a game in this series would be if there was an earthquake. I said this because of the seemingly unstoppable force that was the Oakland A's in 1989. I continued on down the mall to my pizza. Half an hour later, after I had made the most of my meal, the crowd in front of the TV store was full and overflowing. "Must be a real close game," I thought as I approached the murmuring throng. But there was no game.
It was the Loma Prieta earthquake. Fifteen seconds of six point nine Richter scale fury. I watched Al Michaels, and later Ted Koppel, describe the devastation. Thanks to that baseball game, the casualties were relatively small, with fifty-seven dead and less than four thousand injured, only four hundred of them severe. For five years, this was "the big one," until the Northridge quake in 1994.
And now, twenty years later, my living room is just a few miles from the Hayward fault, but I live in a house that has surfed through the 1906 and the 1989 tremblers, along with all the other "nuisance quakes" that have jostled us here and there in between. We've got our earthquake kit outside under the porch. We have plans for where to go and who to call if we aren't together when the ground starts to shake again. It could happen again. Anytime. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

For Whom The Bell Tolled

Last night when the phone rang, my wife checked the caller ID before she handed it to me. "Something from Minnesota?" She gave me a puzzled look as I made up my own mind about taking the call. It was past eight o'clock at night, and the people I know in Minnesota are the responsible type who would be in bed at that hour, given their time zone. When we do get wrong numbers, they are invariably for the Chinese take-out place that has a number one digit away from ours. I had finished my late-evening commitments and knew that I had some time to kill before it was time to tuck myself and my little family into bed, so I pressed the green button to answer.
"Hello!" I enthused, expecting to hear a recorded announcement on the other end.
Instead, I was met with, "Hello, may I please speak to the person who is over eighteen who has had the most recent barthday?" Her accent was not too thick, but I could tell from the question that it was supposed to randomly generate a response from within my household.
I lied. "Yesterday was my birthday!"
What happened next was a lengthy and laborious survey about my preferences and opinions about major retail chains. I was asked to rate various aspects of my experience at drug stores, appliance outlets, and convenience stores, all with that challenge of a second-language delivery. Guadalupe, as she told me her name was, worked through the intermittent substitutions of "B" for "V" as well as a number of words that do not come trippingly off my English-speaking tongue: procedural, accommodation, for example. Through it all, I listened patiently and marveled at her patience. Not with me, but with the seemingly endless script that she was asked to read from start to finish. I was enthralled by the effort she put into her job, and thought about all those English Language Learners I teach all the vague and incomprehensible rules for pronunciation compared to the much more pleasant and carefully defined sounds of Spanish.
When it was all over, Gudalulpe thanked me for my time, and I told her how much I appreciated hers. I'm sure the next one will be easier. I wondered how she got the job in the first place. Given that the call came from Minnesota, I suppose she was probably Canadian.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

First Person Shooter

This past spring, I spent three days poring over Dave Cullen's account of the Columbine massacre. It became a bit of a guilty pleasure. I wasn't able to coerce many of my family and friends into reading it so that we could compare notes. I am not sure from whence my fascination came, but I know that even before that horrible April day in 1999 I have been interested in the psychology of the schoolyard killer.
This frustrates my wife to no end. She believes that we, as a society, owe it to ourselves to expunge the names and memories of these murderers from our collective conscious. She believes, and I think she may have a point, that any further attention paid to them and their ilk only serves to promote such behavior. The twisted notion of "outdoing Columbine" has become somewhat akin to breaking the school record for push-ups for sociopaths. And yet, each one of these sadly warped individuals was a child. Nobody thinks their baby will grow up to be a mass murderer.
Susan Klebold had "no inkling" her son was suicidal or depressed. She had no clue that her son was conspiring with another teenage case study to destroy their high school and everyone in it. At first, she feared Dylan had been shot at school, not that he was one of the perpetrators. After ten years, she writes in an essay published in this month's "O" magazine, she is still reckoning with what happened on that day. She had no way to reconcile the tortured and violent images in her son's journals. She says that first she had to deal with her son's suicide, and only then could she begin to contemplate how he could consider taking a dozen other lives.
I'm a parent, so maybe that's what keeps drawing me back. Or maybe it's because I was bullied in school, and wonder how these kids could have turned that rage outward to the degree they did. Perhaps I am a human being who can't understand how that switch gets flipped. The one that tells us killing is wrong. It's horrible when you're a grown-up, but exponentially worse when you are a kid. There is no reset button. It's game over.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You Get What You Pay For

The health insurance industry doesn't want all those sick people showing up wanting to buy insurance when they are already sick. Or injured. Or diabetic. Or asthmatic. Or agoraphobic. They would very much prefer it if nice, healthy Americans would buy insurance and keep paying those premiums while they wait for that day that, heaven forbid, they became sick. Or injured. Or diabetic. Or asthmatic. Or agoraphobic.
Insurance companies want you to know that health care legislation will drive up premiums for people who already have coverage. The question that comes to my mind is this: How could it drive them any further or faster than they have without reform for the past ten years? Health care costs continue to rise faster than the Gross Domestic Product. Even if you left your economics degree in your other pair of scrubs, that doesn't sound good, does it? Over the ten years, employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have increased one hundred and thirty-one percent. Insurance companies want us to know that legislation will probably just make that worse. Insurers are now raising possibilities such as higher premiums for people who postpone getting coverage, or waiting periods for those who ignore a proposed government requirement to get insurance and later have a change of heart.
There will be no changing of hearts until someone figures out how insurance companies can continue to make money. Not that these companies live in the rarefied air of your Exxons, at nine percent profit, or Google hovering somewhere near twenty-five percent. Health insurance companies have a profit margin that was a very modest three and a half percent over the past year. As an industry, health insurance sits eighty-seventh out of two hundred and fifteen. Still "profit" means "making money," and just how much money can be made on getting every American health care insurance? Even if they are sick? Something tells me there's a way to make this work for everyone. Even the agoraphobics.

Monday, October 12, 2009


In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. No matter that ancient Egyptians and Native Americans had been using moldy bread to fight infections for centuries. Fleming got dibs on penicillin.
Ben Franklin discovered electricity by flying a kite in a lightning storm. In this case, when we say "discover," what we really mean is "narrowly avoided electrocution." You can try this same experiment on any golf course when you've got your nine iron out and the rain clouds begin to roll in.
There is great debate as to who, exactly, discovered aspirin. Some say that Nazis made sure that the Jewish scientist who developed it first didn't get any credit, giving that honor to a good German who worked for the Bayer company instead. Ancient Greeks and those always-patient Native Americans don't make a fuss about the fact that they have been chewing on the organic equivalent, willow bark, for more than a thousand years before that.
I've made some of my own discoveries as well. I discovered that if I use Listerine both in the morning and before I go to bed, I can significantly reduce the amount of plaque and tartar buildup on my teeth and gums. On my run Sunday morning, I discovered a new housing development going up just over the hill from my house. It looked like they were pretty far along, so I didn't bother to suggest that they put my name on it.
Well now Columbus he discovered America even though he hadn't planned on it
He got lost and woke up one morning when he's about to land on it
- Bruce Springsteen, "Stand On It"

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I stood in a crowd yesterday. It's not my favorite thing to do. I prefer a nice orderly line that will eventually allow me to take a ride on Space Mountain. I am crabby that way. And still, there I was, amidst the milling throng that was Octoberfest. Without a particular desire for a pretzel and no specific need to see the block-long tent that housed the beer garden, I found myself having discussions with friends and neighbors who happened to stroll across my meandering path. And what do you suppose we talked about?
It just so happens, by no crazy accident, that the two people I had extended conversations with were both teachers. Both of them happen to live nearby, but have jobs in surrounding districts. I listened carefully to what they had to say, over the oompahs and the periodic yodeling. The talk was about health care, and class size, and the possibility of a strike. This one guy, who teaches PE told me about having fifty-three kids in one class, and how he had to apologize to a mother who complained that her daughter was marked absent two days when she hadn't missed one. "My mistake," he told her, "I'm still learning every body's name." His district is going to eliminate all health care benefits come this January. He expects to be on strike before Halloween.
The other teacher I spoke with works in a district with better pay, but they don't bother to provide health coverage. That higher salary levels out on a scale that includes buying your own insurance. We wondered aloud about merit pay and test scores while the funnel cakes and the pretzels flowed around us. She said that she hoped to be out of teaching before the full measure of Barack Obama's education plan took effect.
On the way home I watched a couple of guys loading their Italian ice machine in the back of their truck, and I wondered how their dental plan was.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Prize Winner Of Honolulu, Hawaii

On one hand: Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa,Anwar Sadat, Martin Luther King Jr.
On the other hand: Yasser Arafat, Mikhail Gorbachev, F.W. de Klerk, Henry Kissinger.
I am suggesting that the Nobel Peace Prize is, at best, a mixed bag. It doesn't always recognize a lifetime lived in peace, as was the case with Sean MacBride. This one-time chief of staff for the Irish Republican Army was also one of the founding members of Amnesty International. Even Mister Glasnost, Mikhail Gorbachev, stayed in Afghanistan too long to be considered a peacenick, and Ronald "Star Wars" Reagan got all the pub for tearing down "that wall." Ronnie never won a Nobel Peace Prize. Neither did Richard Nixon, but his Secretary of State did. The guy who helped open China and sponsored the secret bombing of Cambodia also negotiated a peace treaty with Vietnam.
Now Barack Obama has one. His promises of diplomacy and nuclear disarmament were just too good to pass up. "Some people say — and I understand it — 'Isn't it premature? Too early?' Well, I'd say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now," Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said to those who gasped when the announcement was made. "It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope," said Desmond Tutu . He should have two.
And what exactly is the prize worth? Obama will donate the $1.4 million cash award that comes with the prize to charity. How about Amnesty International?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Harmony Constant

Wednesday night, I sat in the library of my son's school, awaiting the opportunity to meet and greet our district's new superintendent. Was I there as a teacher? A parent? A concerned citizen? Sometimes I have a hard time making the distinction. I suspect that, in the end, it doesn't really matter much. I was part of the community that was welcoming a new cog to the machine.
At the end of the evening the wife of our school board member, who once served as a substitute principal at our school for a couple of days, asked me if I had my administrative credential. I told her that I had considered, from time to time, the possibility of doing the requisite coursework and the chance to move up on the educational scale. Then we shared a little joke that we teachers sometimes share about "joining the dark side." We always do this with a wink and a smile, keeping in mind that the job of a principal is one that fills us all with dread. Then there's the romantic ideal somehow becoming a principal would be a betrayal of all the things that made me a teacher in the first place.
But that's not really true. I know, because I have had the opportunity to work with a great many principals in my thirteen years as a teacher and parent. In our dreams, we all want to work with Morgan Freeman in "Lean On Me," but the reality is that working for Joe Clark wouldn't be any fun at all. Probably a lot less singing, anyway.
What would it be like working for me? I would probably keep the bullhorn. But the part that keeps me "in the trenches" is the notion that I don't know who is behind me. If I leave, who will fill my slot? I'm not arrogant enough to imagine that there aren't hundreds of qualified, exceptional teachers out there who would take my position and make it dance and sing like I never could. I know that there are a lot of less-qualified types looking for an easy gig, who might show up and give our kids less than they deserve. In this equation, I am the constant, and as long as they periodically let me use the bullhorn, I'll be satisfied.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

What Are Words For?

Forty-seven percent of Americans surveyed in a Marist College poll found that the word "whatever" was the most annoying when used in conversation. That devil-may-care epithet got almost twice as many votes as "you know," and "anyway" with just seven percent. "It is what it is" had a strong showing at eleven percent, neatly eclipsing "at the end of the day" with just two percent. I confess that I am regularly guilty of using the champion phrase to kill conversation on a regular basis. Try answering any question with "whatever," with the emphasis on the "WHAT." An eye roll couldn't hurt.
Nobody asked me, but I would have included "like" on that list. The one that is used as a place holder, not necessarily as means of comparison. Or the now all-too-familiar epitomizing "all" to connote "totally." Combine these with the aforementioned "you know" and you get some powerful California-speak, as in, "He was all like, you know." Sucking the language dry of any meaning whatsoever.
Speaking of surveys, has just released their list of the forty-nine most influential men of 2009. Number forty-nine is Lance Armstrong, with Peyton Manning showing up forty spots ahead of that. Athletes did fine on this list, as did Hollywood types. The memory of Michael Jackson made the cut, and our newly elected president came in the top three. But the most influential man of 2009? That honor would have to go to Mad Men's Don Draper. Not Jon Hamm, the actor who portrays Don, or the writers who create all the influential things that he says and does, but the fictional character. I'm a fan of the show, but...
wait for it...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Martin Scorcese is one of my favorite directors. I would pay to see his version of a Bowflex infomercial. I am also a big fan of Woody Allen's films, especially the "earlier funny ones." I have great admiration for his work ethic and his body of work. For that matter, I have always had a soft spot for Debra Winger, and not just because she was the voice of E.T. And how about that Salman Rushdie? He sure can write, can't he?
These are just some of the big names that have signed a petition demanding "immediate release of Roman Polanski." You remember Mister Polanski. He won an Academy Award for best director in 2002 for his harrowing story of the Holocaust, "The Pianist." Or his epic detective thriller, "Chinatown." Perhaps you remember a little film entitled "Rosemary's Baby?" There are dozens more. Some have more art and cult followings, but this is definitely a very talented man. A man of great vision. A convicted sex offender.
He was accused of plying a thirteen-year-old girl with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill during a modeling shoot in 1977. For his part, Polanski pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence him to prison for a ninety-day psychiatric evaluation. After forty-two days, he was deemed mentally stable, and he was released, whereupon he fled the United States, never to return.
Until now. The gendarmes caught up to him on September 26, and he has been awaiting extradition from Switzerland. Hasn't this man suffered enough? Samantha Geimer, the young girl he raped, reached a half-million dollar settlement in October 1993. Geimer, who identified herself long ago, sued Polanski in December 1988 when she was twenty-five years old, alleging sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seduction. She has since joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal and has forgiven him. Five hundred thousand dollars and thirty years buys a lot of forgiveness. I suppose I can understand why Woody might want to close the book on this one, but I'm still having trouble seeing Roman Polanski as a victim.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Criminal Brain

A friend of mine was marveling this past weekend at the sheer number of television shows centered on the solution of crimes via chemical or biological evidence. Crime scene investigation is hot, hot, hot right now, much to the chagrin of two would-be bank robbers here in the bay area.
Last October 15, Donte Maurice Turner and Sterling Isaac Garner robbed the U.S. Bank on Clayton Road in Concord at gunpoint and fled with six thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine dollars. Witnesses saw two men running through the parking lot of a nearby store. One man was carrying a black bag that was "emitting smoke" from a dye-pack device. Police who were called to the scene found a large amount of dye-stained money, two exploded dye packs, two baseball caps, a black "High School Musical" bag with red dye stains and a pair of gloves.
Here comes the science part: A crime lab processed the baseball caps and matched DNA to Turner and Garner. Apparently, even if you don't break a sweat when you're robbing a bank, you still leave little bits of yourself behind on your clothes, or in this case, your hat. Confronted with the weight of his molecular evidence, Garner confessed to the robbery and told authorities that he was "yelled at" by his partner for dropping the money when the dye packs exploded, because the cash "could have been cleaned with alcohol."
And now, the Punch Line: Garner, who is currently serving time in an Oakland jail, lists his occupation as "crime-scene cleaner."

Monday, October 05, 2009

Ghost Rider

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my treatment of my little brother's bike. We grew up on a dead end street, and the last houses on the end didn't even have pavement in front of them. We lived just one house down, so we enjoyed all the benefits of suburban living, including asphalt. Every kid in our neighborhood owned their own bicycle. On warm spring days, it looked like some sort of pedal-driven roundup as kids of all ages raced up and down a street that was blessedly free of traffic.
And that's why we were able to make sport with my little brother's bike. We never would have done what we did if there were cars going back and forth. One of us would find some obscure excuse to coax him off his seat long enough for somebody to get it up near the end of the street. Whoever grabbed the bike would pedal furiously, then hop off as the bike headed toward the dirt turnaround. Without a rider. All by itself. We all laughed as my little brother fussed and fumed. Then it would invariably hit a rock or a curb and go flying in some awkward direction, sending us all into further gales of derisive laughter. With the lone exception of little brother, who fought back the tears.
We called it "Ghost Rider," and it was a regular event whenever there were more than three of us out riding our bikes. Afterward there were always a few minutes spent squaring the front wheel and handlebars, and a cursory inspection of any additional damage. After a while, he even got so relaxed about it that he was sending his own bike, riderless, careening toward certain destruction. It was the first sign of his lifelong philosophy of "Victory Through Apathy." Eventually we all graduated to ten-speeds. We rode bikes with seats high enough that we couldn't slip off so easily, without fenders. Including my little brother. That poor old Schwinn that tasted gravity so many times was finally retired, but we all remembered the spectacle. And the sacrifice of my little brother.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Rubber And Glue

I suspect that the metaphor about people who live in glass houses not throwing stones should be extended to people who have their own TV shows. That little box they inhabit has at least one glass wall, the one through which we all watch. To this end, it will be interesting to see how David Letterman decides to move forward after the news of his affairs with co-workers came to light this past week. The fact that Dave was a victim of extortion plot should put him in a fairly sympathetic light. He wasn't married at the time of the affairs, so that should help. But what about all that cynical wise-cracking he has done at others' frailties and expense? That faint smell emitting from the Ed Sullivan Theater just might be hypocrisy.
Then there's the strange case of Paul Reubens. Back in 1991, he was on a monumental career roll as Pee Wee Herman, until he got caught with his pants down, literally. This was a guy who was only abusing himself. There was no other woman, and unless you count his left hand as a co-worker, then this was hardly a "work-place relationship." It's been nearly twenty years, and Hollywood is just now thinking about letting him out of movie jail.
So now let the top ten lists be made. Bring on the references to "Stupid Human Tricks." My guess is that Dave can take it. He's a Hoosier, after all. But I have to admit, there was a part of me that just didn't want to know about Dave's private life. Somehow, it just worked better that way.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Here We Come, Walkin' Down Your Street

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Bennie and the Jets. The Sultans of Swing. Josie and the Pussycats. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. If you guessed "made-up bands," then you did just great. Those were the songs I played Friday morning as part of an ongoing tradition of "Friday Music" that I play for my wife and son. Each set contains five songs on a particular theme. Fake bands was the correct response, and my wife guessed correctly. Then she asked me, "Why weren't the Monkees in there somewhere?"
That was the polite conversation ended. The Monkees weren't a real band? Please. I could understand confusion about Josie and the Pussycats, or the Archies, but Peter, Davy, Micky and Mike were not simply artist's renderings strumming guitars and banging tambourines in endless loops of animation. They were the real thing. Did Jimi Hendrix open for the Archies? Nope. That's what happened in the summer of 1967. For a very short while, Jimi played a set before a bunch of very perplexed teenage girls who were waiting to scream at Davy. And Run-DMC covered the Monkees. How's that for "old school?"
Teenage girls weren't the only ones who were fans of the Monkees. They were my band. This was primarily because, as the younger brother I got second pick, and the Beatles were already taken by my older brother. I loved the lads from Liverpool as well, but the Monkees came into our basement every week, live and in color. The fact that Neil Diamond and Carol King wrote their songs didn't make them any less talented in my eyes, and once the boys started composing their own music, it just got better and better.
Until it stopped. Like many stars, they burned fast and hot, and by 1968, my favorite Monkee, Mike, had left the group. The Beatles, by contrast, had a few more good years in them, and so I was left to ponder what might have been in my wool cap with the fuzzy ball on top. They are still the only act to have their first four albums go to number one on the Billboard charts. Over the years, I have managed to dampen my enthusiasm for the "pre-fab four," knowing the general disdain that most people have for my once and future fave raves. I know that it will be some time before the Monkees version of Rock Band comes out, but I can be very patient. Not a real band, indeed.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Reality - What A Concept

Saner minds have now, at last, prevailed. I use the term with some discretion since I understand the situation that I am addressing: TLC network has shut down filming of the children on "Jon & Kate Plus 8" after receiving a cease-and-desist order from their father, Jon Gosselin. Please feel free to take a moment and savor the irony of the full meaning of the network's acronym: The Learning Channel. Apparently it takes a few years for a father's brain to accept the reality of reality TV. Jon sent a cease-and-desist order to the production company, telling them that his home and family would no longer be part of America's fascination.
How pure are his motives? That would be almost impossible to tell, given the way that he has reacted, historically, to the limelight. But what if he really was doing the right thing, at last? Bravo and huzzah, I say to him. Watching the slow-motion train-wreck of your family play out as part of a weekly soap opera is bad enough for grown-ups, but what about these kids? Separation is hard enough without a camera crew following your every misstep. Some people choose not to look at their photo albums or erase their wedding video tapes. The Gosselin kids' formative years are available at your local Best Buy.
Kate said, "I'm saddened and confused by Jon's public media statements. Jon has never expressed any concerns to me about our children being involved in the show and, in fact, is on the record as saying he believes the show benefits our children and was taping on Friday with the kids." Kate, it would seem, is still happy to live out her children's lives on basic cable. Now the show will be called "Kate Plus Eight." No doubt there will be a cage match a brewin' once the Octomom hits the airwaves. The beast that runs the show had this to say: "We are aware of Jon Gosselin's recent statements, and remain deeply disappointed at his continued erratic behavior. He and the family were shooting as recently as last Friday, without incident, and his latest comments are grossly inaccurate, without merit and are clearly opportunistic. Despite Jon Gosselin's repeated self destructive and unprofessional actions, he remains under an exclusive contract with TLC."
I'm am not a network executive, but it seems to me that it is "self destructive and unprofessional" to insist that children be used as ratings bait. Come to think of it, that's probably why I'm not a network executive.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Putting The Care Back In Day Care

It takes a village to raise a child. I am witness to this every single day. We have working mothers who drop their children off at their parent's house up the street so they can get to this school in our "good neighborhood." We have aunts and uncles who walk kids to school because mom is unable for any one of a hundred reasons to do it herself. We have brothers and sisters who pick their siblings up after school to make sure that they get home and start their homework. Most of all, we have a dedicated staff from our classroom teachers to our custodians who are looking out after every single one of the children who come through our doors. Mom, Dad, teachers, relatives, school nurse, principal, assistant principal, neighbors: the list goes on and on.
My own son has benefited since he was two from a round-robin childcare swap that has allowed our little group of parents the occasional night off, or the ability to run a necessary errand. My wife and I have benefited as well, embracing the opportunity to have a conversation that wasn't constantly veering off into tangents about muscle cars or Legos. I don't know what we would do if not for the services of our village. What will the people in Michigan do now that their state's Department of Human Services has issued an edict stating that no one may care for unrelated children in their home for more than four weeks each calendar year unless they are licensed day-care providers. A woman who did a favor for three of her fellow moms, welcoming their children into her home for about an hour before they left for school, is now running afoul of that law.
It all started as a neighbor's complaint. Apparently those three extra kids hanging around waiting for the bus was too much for some Gladys Kravitz to deal with, and so they called the local authorities. When I was a kid, I used to stop at my friend's house every morning and watch TV for ten or fifteen minutes while he finished getting ready for school. I guess to be within the letter of the law, every fourth week I should have waited out in the snow instead of sitting on the couch watching cartoons. I wouldn't want to start any trouble. My mother's favorite refrain for her three sons who tended to bring home dozens of stray youngsters who never seemed to have a home of their own was, "I am not running a summer camp here." But to her chagrin, she really was. Without a license. And that was a good thing.