Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
First, let's get to know our players. Bret you probably know from his years as the bandanna-wearing singer of Poison, or from his seemingly endless search for love and purpose in reality television. The reality of his television experience has left him battered, bruised, and ready to rock, but unable to forgive the Tony Awards for dropping a piece of scenery on him when he showed up on their stage back in 2009. Six months later, he was hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage. I have long been concerned about the detrimental effects of show tunes, and now we have some proof. Bret is suing CBS and the Tony Awards for trying to decapitate him. This still didn't keep him from being named the winner of "Celebrity Apprentice Three," as he was able to hobble into the Donald's office long enough to hear those magical words: "You're Hired." Either he had some sense knocked into him, or Mister Trump was showing off his heretofore unknown sentimental side.
If you don't know Ken Lanci, you probably don't live in Cuyahoga County. Ken is fed up with the way the National Football League is treating him and the rest of the fans. "It's a fight between billionaires and millionaires. There isn't any sympathy for multi-millionaires. It's just not going to happen. And somebody has to stand up and say, 'Enough's enough.'" That guy is multi-millionaire Ken Lanci. He wants his personal seat license money back from the Cleveland Browns. And whatever unspecified damages the court feels would be appropriate after that. I'm not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV, but I think Mister Lanci's grievance would carry a lot more weight if he would have been clocked in the head by an errant dog biscuit from the Dog Pound.
Monday, March 28, 2011
That was my life on the frontier. Now I live and work in a place that has rain. We don't send our kids out in the rain. They won't frolic or shiver. They stay inside and wait for the all clear. After a few days of steady downpours, teachers and students are more than willing to overlook the puddles and a little slipping and sliding. Even if we don't send them out in the deluge, we still have a few who insist, during their trips to the bathroom or delivering the daily attendance, on experiencing the maximum amount of dampness possible. Try as we might to keep them dry, a certain percentage of our students go home moist.
And so we watch the skies, and hope for a few days of sunshine in the coming days. Patience of humans short and tall is on the thin side, and there are just so many games of "Heads Up, Seven Up" that any of us can stand. But every so often, when the skies open up, I see visions of that sweet ride in my dad's 1975 Granada.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
The reason I can take some mild comfort in this is the assertion made by many who favor the "heaven or hell" split is this: There are countless children who have not been properly bathed, stamped or otherwise indoctrinated into the "good" side who automatically get sent "down there." Sorry, kid. We'd love to help you out, but because you were born just a little early, late, or without the ability to speak, you weren't able to speak the magic spell that would allow your soul to be saved.
Well, thank heaven for Rob Bell, the pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, who wrote a book called "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived." He suggests that maybe we're all taking this hell thing a little too seriously, and it may be the reason why some have shied away from getting mixed up with Christianity in the first place. It tends to take the sting out of the notion that on his death bed, the worst scum in the world could make a deal that would send him up to the clouds for an eternity of bliss and harp lessons. At least it feels better to me.
These aren't new ideas, but the fact that a pastor who suggests that Gandhi doesn't have to burn forever in torment has my attention. It still doesn't relieve me from all those other questions and contradictions, but it's nice to know that there are others who are wondering about this thing too. At the very least, I can look forward to my own infinite end, looking for a place to sit down and have a chat with Rob Bell.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Or maybe aliens are to blame. Sammy Hagar, noted entrepreneur and rock star and now author, has decided to come clean about all his wild ways: Beings from another planet hijacked his brain. "They were plugged into me. It was a download situation. Or, they uploaded something from my brain, like an experiment." This would explain the penchant for red clothes and self-professed inability to obey traffic ordinances. It might also explain his tortured meandering through the pages of the history of rock and roll. The poor guy just can't seem to hold a job.
So, if this is the case with the legendary "Red Rocker," imagine how much fun sentient beings could have messing with the cerebral cortex of, say, Donald Rumsfeld. Imagine that extraterrestrials are using ours as some sort of Sim-Planet. It would explain so very much of what seems like random happenstance. Starting a war? Aliens hijacked your brain. Lose billions on the housing market? Long-distance alien probes are probably the cause. Forget to take the trash out? Alien interference. It's all so clear, suddenly. Of course, if you just ---disregard the previous entry as nonsense written by someone who has obviously been under a great deal of stress lately and probably shouldn't be trusted.
Wow. The headaches just came back.
Friday, March 25, 2011
And now that favorite son is launching his cruise missiles at Libya, and flying his war planes overhead. This is in addition to the wars in two other Muslim nations that his administration continues to pursue. I confess that much of my education about Islam has come from the evening news, but that doesn't sound like Barak(eh) is being a very good Muslim. In stark contrast, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday that a United Nations resolution authorizing military action in Libya resembled "medieval calls for crusades" after Western forces launched a second wave of air strikes. You remember the crusades, don't you? The ones that pitted Catholics against all comers, but primarily those of the Muslim faith. That was back in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Two hundred years of military campaigns waged in attempt to recapture the Holy Lands. The Catholics left disappointed. By contrast, the eighth anniversary of our troops in Iraq seems positively brief, and the "few days" that we have been assured by Robert Gates that we would have to take the lead in Libya is just a hiccup on the timeline of that particular region. Unless it's just a continuation of a program that dates back to 1091. Stay tuned.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
It wasn't until I was older, as a film student that I began watching all those films that I had seen parodied in "Mad Magazine." It turns out that she was an amazing screen presence. There was no doubt that at the time that in 1963 there was no other woman who could have portrayed Cleopatra in CinemaScope. Then her personal life became the story, as she and Richard Burton became exponentially more interesting off screen.
Maybe that's why I will always remember "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" when I think of Elizabeth Taylor the thespian. She and Richard seem to be having the time of their lives gnawing on the scenery as George Segal and Sandy Dennis look on, stupefied. I can hear her voice in my head even now and it makes me cringe. Powerful stuff. And to me, that's why she was a movie star. Aloha, Liz.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The complaint process took nearly as long as the initial flurry of installation and positioning and finding lost pieces and finally getting the major appliance properly seated and part of the kitchen. Meaning: it took months. This past week, we received the response from Chicago, home base for the Sears company from whence the offending machine originated. They wanted to point out that every machine they ship out comes with the pieces that are needed to make the installation possible. This wasn't the case for us. They wanted to point out that the manual was included to make the installation a breeze. This wasn't the case for us. They wanted to point out that they even sent an installer over to my mother-in-law's home to correct the faulty installation that had been so lovingly done by her son-in-law on the fourth of January 2011. I added in that part about the lovingly, not that I didn't do it with love, but Sears didn't mention it. The fact that it took Sears more than a month to send someone over to look at the mess they helped create seems ridiculous unless they were sent from the home office in Illinois and they made the trip on horseback. Or they could have sent someone over from their local outlet, which happens to be less than a mile from my mother-in-law's town home.
It should be pointed out that the helpful Sears employee corrected an installation that worked just fine with the parts I was able to find and purchase through numerous trips to a hardware store and another Sears location some fifteen miles away. Subsequent calls to the customer service center, located somewhere in the ether of customer service, generated little effective response, hence the complaint to the Better Business Bureau.
And that's where the story comes to an end. There was no triumphant appearance of blue-clad avengers at the offices of Sears. No costumed crusaders holding a Sears executive by the scruff of the neck as he signed an official letter of apology right after the generous check to compensate my mother-in-law and her dishwasher installing super-chimp for their pain and suffering. The Better Business Bureau sent her an e-mail with Sears' lame response and asked if she wanted to pursue the matter. Her dishwasher works. She has spend months working to resolve this lack of customer service, and now she would like it to be done. I'm sure that's what Sears wants as well. I know that I am done with Sears.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Was it extra hard to sleep Saturday night? Were your pets agitated and your spouse nervous? Did all the liquids in your refrigerator drift to one side? You may have been feeling the effects of Supermoon, an astronomical oddity eighteen years in the making. Every couple of decades or so, orbital mechanics bring the moon closer to us than usual, making it appear larger. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration would like us to know that this quirk in celestial scheduling was not the cause of any natural disasters. Just like back in December 1993 when it happened the last time.
However, it was in December of 1993 that NASA launched the space shuttle Endeavour, supposedly to correct a flaw in the Hubble Telescope. President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Israel and the Vatican set up diplomatic relations for the very first time. Could all these events be coincidental? I say we blame the moon. Future generations will be able to look back at the past month and be able to link the unrest in the Middle East and the earthquake in Japan to our big green cheesy satellite.
It makes much more practical sense to blame a big hunk of rock that has been there for billions of years than to try and establish causal connections. I suggest that we return to the relative safety and calm of an era when heavenly happenings sufficed as explanation for all manner of things, from wars to warts. The next total eclipse will occur exactly one week after the 2012 election. Knowing the date that the gods will consume the ball of fire in the sky is at once terrifying and yet comforting. I had better get busy collecting crystals for the event.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Some of them have gone to charter schools. Others have opted to pay tuition for a private school. A few have chosen to take the wiggly path of home schooling. Whatever the reason, BHOES will join a list of other schools that couldn't hold their market share. It is doubly ironic since it is Barack H. Obama who sends his own children to Sidwell Friends School in Washington, a private Quaker school that appears a little more refined than your average District of Columbia public school. There are those who suggest that having choices when it comes to your child's education is vital. I would agree with that. Having the money to make those choices is another matter. And when a government program offers vouchers, or incentives, to choose something outside the public school system, it will only speed the evacuation process.
And so the staff of Barack H. Obama Elementary School will join the ranks of those who must now go out and find gainful employment elsewhere. If they would like to stick with education, and they don't mind a bit of a commute, I hear that Sidwell is hiring.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
First, there's Starbucks: As my closest associates, and now you causal readers as well, know I have never had a cup of coffee. As I have watched the price and requisite fuss over a steaming hot cup of joe rise over the past couple of decades, that life decision has been affirmed over and over again. The fact that the United States can support an entire industry based on a crop that doesn't grow in forty-nine out of fifty of them gives rise to a whirl of conspiracy theories in my mind. Is it a subtle way for South American countries to hook us on their legal cash crop in hopes of creating a dependence that will eventually cripple us in ways that make oil producing countries look like pranksters?
For that matter, why would Olive Garden be so desperate for customers? Contrastingly to my experience with coffee, I have on occasion been known to imbibe in a plate of pasta. Most of the time I boil a pot of water and drop my store-bought noodles in and wait. I know that it's dinner time when my son and I can throw a piece of spaghetti at the wall and it sticks. They won't let us do that at Olive Garden. That being said, it's still a perfectly pleasant place to spend an evening, especially if your taste in pasta runs parallel to those permutations for your morning cup of coffee: a shot of espresso, parmesan, marinara, nutmeg, scallops, steamed milk or cilantro. Have the whole mess in a blender and take it on the road.
Instead, I think I'll stick to my iced tea and homemade spaghetti. The stuff that I don't need a coupon to afford.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
That was when I heard my father's voice: "Your mother is not a short-order cook." When I first heard these words, I didn't know what a short-order cook was, but I was quick to make the inference: no substitutions, no complaints. Since I became a parent myself, I have discovered that we are all short-order cooks. Our job is to get healthy, filling meals into our children without resorting to injections or forced-feeding. Parents need to find recipes and methods of fueling our children so they can get to the next food station. Sometimes it's a trick, like telling them that stalks of broccoli are really trees and you can be a dinosaur eating them. That one has created a taste for the cousin of cabbage in my son that continues to this day. Or you can get two-thirds of a healthy meal and find ways to sneak the rest of the nutrients in some other way. Like that salad. There were no peppers in my son's bowl, but the broccoli and carrot slaw that he ate with gusto got his greens into him.
There will be more negotiations. I remember eating around whole quadrants of my plate when I was a kid, hoping that I had eaten enough of everything else to qualify for the clean-plate club. Have I eaten enough that I can still work my way into line for dessert? When my son asks, he knows that the answer just might be yes, and that dessert is going to be some of nature's candy: a big bowl of grapes. Short-order cook and three card monte dealer.
Friday, March 18, 2011
It's a pretty messed up planet. I suspect that outer space visitors might reconsider their invasion and wait for a sunnier time to descend on us. Maybe even wait another millimeter or two on that roll of toilet paper to see if they can avoid running into us at all.
It makes sense that back in the nineteen-fifties that we were a regular stop for cosmic visitors. We had that whole quaint, suburban feel to us. The threat of nuclear immolation was a threat, but the fear it generated kept us all on our collective toes. There were still vast regions of the globe that hadn't been mined, forested, paved, consumed. Area Fifty-One was probably a space truck stop for the weary intergalactic traveler. These days, it seems much more likely that the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" scenario would play out: We're in the way of an pan-galactic highway system. Our planet is just a piece of a much bigger puzzle or machine that is waiting for replacement parts.
But if you return to that scrap of toilet tissue and consider what we have managed to create and experience in the tiniest sliver of time, it gives on hope for making it to the next perforation. Or at least it does for me. In a universe that is mostly empty space, I take solace in the fact that I live someplace that is mostly solid.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Our dog has had plenty of reinforcement in that realm. The three of us regularly let her know just how good we think she is, since her reaction helps us feel good about ourselves. On the occasions when she has helped herself to a loaf of bread or a chocolate layer cake that we were foolish enough to leave anywhere near her sphere of influence, we have given her the opposite message, and received mostly the same response, though the "bad dog" creep across the room is generally with tail down. Her ears are back, and she wants to cuddle up and let us know how much she wants to please, in spite of the kitchen full of crumbs.
She's older now, and the excitement of fleeing her front yard has diminished to a fair degree. Her interest in roaming the streets of Oakland has been tempered by her age and relative wisdom, though if the gate is left open long enough, she might take a stroll in the neighborhood. These days it doesn't take much to encourage her back. She seems to be quite happy to be inside her fence where she controls the comings and goings of the bipeds, and still keeps a wary eye for the blue-clad bringer of mail.
Imagine our surprise when my wife was presented with a "nuisance dog" ticket from an animal control officer. The dog had found her way out of an open gate, and had made it thirty yards down the sidewalk to the stop sign where she was apprehended. I understand that as a pet owner it is in all of our best interests to keep my dog on a leash or behind a fence. Safety is the primary concern, which is probably why she came to a stop at the stop sign. But a "nuisance?" Our neighborhood is full of dogs that have had their run of the place. At times we have brought them in and kept them until their owners were able to come and retrieve them. We know that if there is blame to be placed, it falls squarely on the humans who left the cake at nose-level or the gate unlatched. That's why the ticket won't be coming out of her doggie allowance. She's a good dog.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
My son is in the midst of studying American History. Like a lot of us, he will probably spend the rest of his life doing just that , in bits and pieces, but his eighth grade year is the one that gave him clear focus. It also raised a few dozen questions for him over the year, not the least of which was the genocide of Native Americans. The Middle Passage. It hit him squarely in the spot that cries for justice in a world full of injustice. He's been raised in a world at war. When he reads the accounts of this conflict or that battle, he wonders if any of it was worth the fight.
Then he read the Monroe Doctrine. It took him a while to wrap his head around the idea of a hands-off policy. We won't bug you if you don't bug us. What a nice idea. We'll tend to our business over here while you do whatever you need to do over there. Sounds fair. Unless somebody needs help. Then that notion starts to fall apart around the edges. After two hundred years, it turns out that it's almost impossible to live in the world alone. New Orleans, Japan. Afghanistan, Iraq. We see it there, it happens here. A butterfly flaps its wings on the Mexican border and suddenly gas prices jump a dollar a gallon. Nuclear reactors melt down across the ocean and radiation finds its way to our shores.
It's the problem with an us versus them view of the planet. Before you know it, we are them and they are us. In a historical perspective, it's hard to stay mad at someone who will most likely become your ally in the next war. Or the next disaster. Or the next economic collapse. My son is a citizen of the world, whether he likes it or not. He knows his history book is just one volume in a much bigger story, and he's just starting to learn.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Late last week, Roger Goodell wrote me an e-mail to express his dismay at the way that negotiations broke down with the NFL player's union. I wrote him back:
As a public school teacher in Oakland, California, I see first-hand the effect that the NFL has on the youth of our city. Even though the parents of the kids at my school cannot afford the price of a ticket to the Raiders' games, they still make a point to dress their offspring in silver and black all year 'round. Even the past decade's awful record hasn't shaken the faithful. That's because it's the home team. They don't stop to think about how much every one of those athletes is being paid compared to the check they may or may not be bringing home. And they sure don't imagine what sort of bank roll Al Davis is carrying around in that track suit. It would be too depressing.
Meanwhile, across the country there are calls to end collective bargaining for certain unions. Like school teachers. Consequently, as state and federal budgets continue to shrink, we end up scrambling for an ever diminishing slice of the pie. Five hundred teachers in my district are about to receive pink slips. There's just not enough money to keep us all. The teachers who educate the linebackers and astrophysicists of tomorrow are being shown the door.
So the NFL and its players can't agree on how to divide up their billions? That feels like sad irony to me down here, just a few miles away from "The Black Hole." In the meantime, I've already seen this movie. It's the one where Keanu Reeves leads a rag-tag group of misfits through a few replacement games until the powers that be get tired of sitting on the sidelines, trying to refinance their second homes while the scabs get all the glory. Then suddenly it's back to business as usual. Ticket prices go up. So does ad revenue and players' salaries.
Thanks for writing, but I guess that my reality isn't threatened by a work stoppage by professional football players, or a lockout by the owners. Don't get me wrong, I'll be sad to see my Sunday distraction diminished or eliminated. I won my fantasy football league with the help of the Green Bay defense last year. But I will go on, and the silver and black parade of kids in my classroom will be a little larger next year, since fewer teachers means more students. I wish you and the NFLPA well in your continued negotiations. Write me when you've got some good news.
David Caven, Teacher. football fan, union member
Monday, March 14, 2011
There is a lengthy discussion and a debate that will consume the next decade about how we pay for the services that we expect, but discussing where we get the water to put out the fire that is burning our barn down seems like wasted effort. We have five years of tax extensions, not increases, on the table. This won't save everyone's job. On the contrary. It will only forestall the inevitable. The difference is having two or three teachers laid off at a school or five. It is the difference between filling every single seat in a classroom and bringing in a few more desks to just filling up the seats. It means more papers to grade, more noses to wipe, more report cards to fill out. That's for those of us lucky enough to have jobs. For those who came to the teaching game in the past few years, the message is pretty clear: Sorry, we just can't afford you. It doesn't matter how qualified or committed you are. It doesn't matter that you were part of a staff that moved a school out of program improvement and educated young minds. You'll have to look elsewhere.
My union wants us all to flock to Sacramento for a Day of Action. It would be a show of strength, we are told. Raise our voices. Vent our spleens. Then come home and check the mailbox for a pink slip. I'm prepared to carry on the fight, but if we don't all agree on what the solution is, then it's a wasted effort. I went on strike a year ago to protest the contract that was imposed on my by the school board. That seems like a hundred years ago. Before teachers were money-grubbing thieves. Before education became optional.
The school at which I work, for now, is named for the father of public education, Horace Mann. He said, "Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery." On March 14, I will be manning my station on that balance wheel, in my classroom.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
We are assured by National Intelligence Director James Clapper 2010 saw more plots involving homegrown Sunni extremists, those ideologically aligned with al-Qaida, than in the previous year. Just exactly what "more" means is a closely guarded secret. On the other hand, a two-year study of this phenomenon showed that terrorist threats from inside our borders is a concern, it is not the epidemic that many envision. The researchers, from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, concluded that anti-terrorism policies that alienate American Muslim communities may make the problem worse.
Meanwhile, Ted Kaczynski and Scott Roeder sit in jail cells as part of an unrelated issue. A lot of people are angry out there. Some of them happen to be Muslim. Some of them are Christian. Some of them are armed. Keep your heads down, folks.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Maybe that has something to do with why Ginnie gave me the apple while she was standing in line, waiting for the morning bell to ring. Ginnie has been very free with her enthusiasm for my computer class. She has told me numerous times that computers are her favorite class and has told me, not too discretely, that I am her favorite teacher. I try not to let on that I know that I am the second teacher she's ever had, right after the lady who teaches her all the rest of the hours of the week, her kindergarten teacher.
As the computer teacher and part-time PE coach, I have a very nice gig. It's not unlike being the uncle who takes the kids out and gets them all sugared up and then deposits them back on the front porch of the parents who will have to deal with all the "fun" that I have been able to have with them. I try to keep things real by showing up wherever possible as additional authority: "Hey, don't run in the halls," or "Don't lean on the bulletin boards." By the time kids make it to fourth and fifth grade, they tend to roll their eyes a lot, and mutter "Oh my god!" under their breath. It's part of the package.
But for now, Ginnie thinks I'm great. She handed me the apple and told me with quiet assurance, "I brought this for you." I try not to think about the fact that she has just found out that she has a substitute for the day. That apple is still very sweet.
Friday, March 11, 2011
It could have been so different. Just up the road a little bit, preparations continue for the wedding of the century. In Britain the monarchy is about to throw a great big party, and everyone's invited. Sort of. The price tag is estimated to be somewhere between twenty and seventy-five billion dollars, and even if it were only ten million, it still shows how powerful a monarchy can be. In the middle of a worldwide economic death-spiral, William and Kate are going to celebrate their nuptials in grand style. If only Muammar could have taken his cue from the Royal Family and given up his power to keep his epaulets and medals. And his money.
He could have been the guy up on the balcony on days of celebration and misery, waving to the throngs, issuing statements of support or condemnation, while a constitutional parliament worked out all the details. I know, the colonel is not nearly as photogenic as young Willy and his comely bride. There is bound to be some backlash, right? For that, I have only two words: Prince Charles. Ah, what might have been.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Current Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman headed in the opposite direction, repeating an idea he has floated more than once in his nearly twelve years in office: make prostitution legal in the city and create a Wild West version of Amsterdam. Since Goodman cannot run again in the next election because of term limits, it has become an issue in the city's mayoral race. Having a position on legalizing prostitution has become a talking point. The candidates don't want to step on any toes, or any other body parts for that matter.
Nevada state senator Ruben Kihuen said, "I've heard people say, 'If we didn't have the image of sex, more companies would want to come to Nevada.' But others say that it's why people come here." If they outlaw the all-you-can-eat buffet, all bets are off. If you know what I mean.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
John Kennedy was a womanizer. Ronald Reagan raised taxes. It turns out Richard Nixon was quite the liberal. Given enough time and perspective, up could be down and left will probably be right. That's probably why the ancient Egyptian pharaohs buried all their important papers and most of their staff in their tombs with them. Legacies are what people should remember, not what they can dig up.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Sure, there's an occasional story here and there about some upstanding citizen who made good choices and fought the good fight. Those are the exception. What we really want to know about, or perhaps what the media powers that be want to tell us about are the borderline cases and the aberrant behavior. Come to think of it, I didn't really need to see pictures of Oregon congressman David Wu in a tiger suit. I am also still scouring my retinas of the image of a shirtless Representative from New York who happens to have the same name as one of my favorite Draculas. I knew it couldn't be the same Christopher Lee, since I'm pretty sure he has an extra nipple.
It's all so very tawdry, really. Lindsay Lohan spends more time in jail and rehab than movie sets and we seem to like it that way. Brett Favre's legacy will not end with an interception, but with an incomplete pass. And then there's Brandon Davies, star of Brigham Young's basketball program who was bounced from the team for having consensual sex with his girlfriend. Apparently this is a violation of BYU's honor code. Congratulations, Brandon. You made the news because you told the truth. But that won't get you your own line of shoes or reality TV show. Alas.
Monday, March 07, 2011
I was filling in the section called "work history," and it became apparent that mine was more of a post-mortem. My last three employers no longer exist. The video store I worked at during college was boxed up and closed down back when there was still such a thing. Last I checked, the Italian restaurant next door had blown through a wall and set up tables where our "new releases" section used to be.
I left that corpse to go and work installing modular office furniture. What was going to be a few months' gig turned out to be a few years, and I ended up leaving when I fell in love and moved to California. A few years later the office furniture disappeared and the motorcycle escort business that had been my boss's hobby filled the warehouse.
When I arrived in California, my first impulse was to work in a video store. When that application got no response, I followed my girlfriend's advice and applied at the book warehouse where her mother's book was being distributed. I took that job with the idea that I would be there until something better came along. That lasted five years, and I moved up the ladder quickly enough to management and even the Board of Directors that my father said this: "It either says a lot about you, or a lot about them." He turned out to be right. That employee owned Berkeley experiment is now defunct. I suspect the warehouse space may be used for a motorcycle escort business, or maybe it houses the leftover tapes of a now shuttered video store.
It was my girlfriend, now my wife, who suggested that I might try out this intern-teaching program. I could get my credential while I got paid to be a teacher, eliminating my biggest excuse about having to go back to school and stop working. Work and go to school while you're teaching school. That was fourteen years ago. I have now been a teacher longer than I worked at a video store, installed office furniture, and managed a book warehouse combined. Have I at last arrived at my career?
Be careful what you wish for, since that sucking sound you hear is the education budget, and the swirling vortex of layoffs is coming for those of us who might be shaken loose. The young ones. The old ones. The ones who were on their way out anyway. The ones who are now considered superfluous. So I'm working on my resume, in case I fall into any of those categories.
And my mind goes back to four jobs ago, when I worked for Target. I unloaded trucks. It was a very zen experience. We sorted items by department and put them on pallets until we reached the back of the trailer. Then we were done. Target just opened a store in Oakland. Maybe I'll drop by and put in an application. But I don't want to be the reason they go out of business.
Sunday, March 06, 2011
Meanwhile, back in the real world, I remember Mister Gauthier, God rest his soul. He was my ninth grade math teacher. He had a habit, not just once, but several times throughout the year, of waiting until we were all heads down engrossed in our weekly quiz, and he would stand up on a chair with an empty trash can. When all was silent and focus was extreme, he would let the can drop to the floor, shattering the silence and our nerves. I'm sure that he received a number of test papers each week with a large pencil mark streaking up the page in response to the clatter he had engineered. It was always a good laugh. For him. We didn't have cell phones. Nobody complained to the principal. Everyone chuckled nervously, and went back to work. It was just Mister Gauthier being Mister Gauthier.
In the future, we can expect that moving furniture will be forbidden in California classrooms and training will be required over the summer for teachers to be more sensitive to the needs of their students and their tables. Or suffer the consequences.
Saturday, March 05, 2011
Then, after lunch, I was set adrift. Once more my experience with the justice system was profound and brief, the judge decided that I wasn't ready to decide for him. I wandered out into the midday hustle and bustle of downtown Oakland. I walked a few blocks to the spot where my wife had agreed to pick me up and found a spot to sit down and wait. I sat down and did nothing. Nothing. Just sat and stared. At one thirty in the afternoon. No none around to distract me beyond the random strangers passing by. No Internet connection. I watched the birds. I watched them fly. I watched them swim. I looked out on Lake Merritt and tracked the ripples as they moved to the shore in front of me. The breeze shifted and stalled, then picked up again.
It's so hard to sit still. The runners going by remind me of the movement to which I am accustomed. How many laps have I made around this lake? Now I'm that guy, sitting on a bench. What am I learning? What am I accomplishing? What am I achieving?
Stillness. Allowing the world to pass me by for a change. I'll be back up and moving soon enough, straight through until dinner time, then off to bed where I will toss and turn in anticipation of another day's restless energy.
Friday, March 04, 2011
The fact that the "Where's The Beef" lady resides in my memories while other people who have given me more than a catch phrase have faded troubles me. The fact that I can't hear the song "Big Country " without saying, at least under my breath, "it builds" is a sad commentary on my misspent youth. All it took was Tim Lester, whose name has survived the tides of age, making that observation to me once as we were listening to the Scottish group pound out their one eponymous hit. And so there it sits. Locked into my nervous system like any other automatic reaction.
There are hundreds of other such examples. There are so many that my wife regularly asks if what I have just said to her is a line from a movie or if it was an original thought. "Caddyshack," "Animal House," and "Stripes" live on in the minds of millions of other men my age. But the fact that "Making The Grade," starring Judd Nelson and featuring the film debut of Andrew "Dice" Clay is stuck in my head along with the rest of that mess borders on the ridiculous. And sad. If only I could have harnessed some of those synapses for good, instead of mindless repetition.
Perhaps some good can come from this still, when I have finally lapsed into syndication in that big network in the sky. Scientists can probe my brain, looking for clues to the riddle of pop culture supersaturation. Or maybe they could plug some electrodes into the thing and watch reruns of "WKRP in Cincinnati."
Thursday, March 03, 2011
First, we had to navigate a full day's worth of winter weather between Colorado and Florida. At one point, we came down through clouds for what seemed like hours until we dropped abruptly onto the runway at Little Rock, Arkansas for fuel and a little warmth. Riding in what was essentially the luggage compartment of a single engine Beechcraft was like taking a trip in a meat locker. A meat locker attached to an dozen lawnmowers that made conversation impossible. We made a quick stop at Orlando to see the World of Disney, primarily because it seemed like a bonus to tack on to the voyage. Then we shoved off for one last hop to the bottom of Florida which was suffering through a cold snap itself, with temperatures in the sixties.
I was up early the morning of the game. I went for a run and returned to the house where we were staying, thanks to another clever coincidence that my father had arranged, that had a pool. I dove in and swam a couple laps before toweling off and meeting my father and his pal to prepare for the big night.
The bus ride to the stadium was quiet, but filled with anticipation: Big Time College Football. We found our seats in the throng of humanity, looking out from beneath the overhang of the upper deck. Not the greatest seats, but we were in the stadium. The first half was a flurry of missed opportunities, as neither team managed to score a point, even though the Buffaloes had their chances. Then came the spectacle that is the Orange Bowl halftime show. I don't know what was going on, since the show isn't geared to the people in the stands, I just remember seeing an elephant relieve itself with great gusto on Notre Dame's sideline. I felt this was a sign of things to come.
Apparently it was, since Notre Dame went on to score three touchdowns to the Buffaloes' one in the second half. Final score: Twenty-one to six. The bus ride back was quieter than the one there, and my father and I shared some wild talk about what might have been and what could be the next year. Through the crowds, I held on to my souvenir program and Fed Ex plastic tumbler. These were stowed away along with me in the back of the Beechcraft as we were up at first light for our flight back to the land of the once and future number one ranked college football team.
A few years later I moved to California. Somewhere in there CU did manage to win a national championship, but my father and I watched on TV that time. I kept the plastic tumbler and dealt with the grumblings of my future wife as I brought it into her cabinets of more mature glassware. As time went by, more plastic tumblers came to keep it company. Souvenirs from other sporting events and concerts, but as the years wore on the paint faded and I was left with a dim reminder of that trip down south.
When that single engine Beechcraft crashed with my father inside, that cup came back into heavy rotation for my morning orange juice. It was a link to our past. It has grown brittle with regular washings. I started giving it a rest, using it only on special occasions, but this Saturday morning, it gave up the ghost. It is no longer a serviceable drinking vessel. It is now more of an artifact in that shards-of-pottery kind of way. I will hold onto the pieces in the same way a museum would hold on to Anasazi crockery. Bits of a bygone era. The past.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
But let's go back to that mansion thing. This is a state, like so many others in our great union these days, in financial chaos. What can one man do to keep the wheels on the bus from falling off and leaving one hundred percent of the registered voters without a pot in which to put their collective chickens? Sorry, for the question there, but it was rhetorical, since you could do what California's Jerry Brown is doing by living in a loft in downtown Sacramento, avoiding the need for massive renovations and upkeep required to make the Governor's Mansion livable. Even our previous Governator did his part. Arnold Scharzenegger chose not to take the one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollar a year salary for doing the job. I call that fiscally responsible. Which brings us back to Mister Walker. The one hundred and thirty-thousand dollar a year salary for being governor of Wisconsin ranks nineteenth out of fifty states. While he's proposing budget cuts of all sorts, and an end to collective bargaining by government workers' unions, he's still cashing his checks and living in a mansion. It is from there that he gives his fireside chat updates beneath a portrait of another California governor, Ronald Reagan. It is also the place he took a call from a prankster who called posing as gazillionaire David Koch. And for the record, that call lasted just under ten minutes without Governor Walker figuring out that he had been duped. Just another number. Questions. I've got a lot of them, but they can wait for another time.
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
And who needs doctors, anyway? If you have some sort of "illness," as those uptight pinheads like to call it, heal yourself in the most time-honored "rock star from Mars" tradition. Mind over matter, even if that mind is riddled by years of drug use and living in an over-protected and privileged universe of Hollywoodland. Then ask for a raise. Charlie figures all of this duress, which is in no way his fault or responsibility, is worth about another one million dollars a year. I am sure that there are teachers and firefighters waking up on the floor of Wisconsin's capitol who are ready to take their fight west. Forget about our collective bargaining agreements, let's go camp out in the front office Columbia Broadcasting System until Charlie gets his three million dollars a year.
For the rest of us, why not get on board with this new breed? "What's not to love?" asks the enlightened one. "Especially when you see how I party. It was epic. The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards just look like droopy-eyed armless children." And Belushi. And Joplin. And Cobain. And all those other rock stars from Mars. Godspeed, Mister Sheen.