Monday, January 31, 2011
And so it goes with the rich and famous when they get a snoot full of this or that. There's always a spot in Doctor Drew's Sober House. If you're not making nearly a million dollars per half-hour episode, you might not be as lucky. As a matter of fact, you probably won't even have your 911 calls played on "Entertainment Tonight." You'll probably lose your job, too, though finding a way to latch onto the rehab clause of your company's medical coverage might not be such a bad way to go out if you were predisposed to such behavior.
No, Charlie will probably be allowed to bounce back, much in the same way that Lindsay Lohan has kept us all on the edge of our seats for the latest installment of her tawdry life. It was just this past Christmas Eve that Mister Sheen was celebrating with his wife by engaging in a little second-degree assault, menacing and criminal mischief. Christmas Day was spent in Aspen, but in jail.
Because he's a celebrity, he has his fans and his detractors. There are plenty of people who wish him well and hope that he can get his life squared away. There are an equal number on the other side, eagerly anticipating the next lurid headline. Real life doesn't offer those kind of cheering sections. If you're strung out and poor, you're a bum. If you're strung out and famous, you're on reality TV. We can all learn a few things from the odyssey of Charlie Sheen. Excess, after all, isn't much of a lifestyle. Binges have a nasty way of coming to an end. David Lee Roth liked to tell people that he "used to have a drug problem. Now I've got enough money." When the money runs out, so does the amusing portion of that statement. It is one of the unique challenges of our modern society: Back in the day, Edgar Allan Poe died from his addictions. So did Jimi and Janis and John. Their legends were exacerbated by their excesses. Now, in order to prevent such tragedies, we get our celebrities sober so they can go out and disappoint us again as soon as possible. I suspect that if the consequences that Charlie Sheen were facing were more like life and death instead of missing a few days' taping, his attitude might be a little less cavalier. This next little bit is for Charlie: Hey, Chuck. You're forty-five. You're the father of four. Grow up. Thank you.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
But I had another layer of reaction: smug satisfaction. I never related to Johnny Storm. He and his cosmopolitan Fantastic Four, ensconced in their ivory tower of a headquarters, I could never connect with their troubles. This was never more apparent to me than the Team-Up stories that paired the Amazing Spider-Man with the Human Torch. I remember how crisis always seemed to find Johnny in the middle of repairing his hot rod, surrounded by chicks. Meanwhile, Peter Parker was still living at home with his aunt, living a suburban geek lifestyle that mirrored my own in many ways, but without the Spider-sense.
Johnny Storm was far too cool for school. Peter Parker slogged his way through high school and eventually college where he constantly ran afoul of deadlines and due dated that conflicted with his super-hero-ing. Johnny's chief concern seemed to be his image and, alternately, annoying his fellow teammate, Ben Grimm. For Peter, great power brought great responsibility. Johnny was put off by such talk. He was, first and foremost, a celebrity.
In the end, that's what makes his passing all the more surprising. The fact that years after I flipped the pages of a Fantastic Four comic I can still work up a lather about Johnny Storm's character suggests that it must have been drawn in fairly solid, indelible strokes. Kudos to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for creating him in the first place, and congratulations to the current writers and artists who found a way to reconcile his bad-boy past with grown-up sacrifice. In the meantime we wait, like a trick birthday candle, for the Human Torch to flicker back to life. Until then, rest in peace Johnny Storm. At least we've still got rock and roll.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
This was the frame of mind I was in as I looked out over the rooftops of our neighborhood and noticed, as if it were the first time, all of the satellite dishes staring up into the morning sky. Why, I wondered, am I so opposed to getting my television from outer space? Am I so afraid of a strong wind or a heavy rain that could possibly interfere with my ability to watch reruns of "The Cosby Show?" Shouldn't I have more confidence in the technology of the future? After all, I have been watching cable television for nearly thirty years, since before there was such a thing as Conan O'Brien.
But deep in my heart, I knew the answer. I am far too connected, literally, to cable TV. Knowing that there is a wire, nay a pipeline, pouring an endless stream of information and entertainment in to my living room gives me quiet comfort. I can relax on my couch and check out what is happening on the SyFy channel without having to worry what galactic interruptions might block the signal. There is a cable that connects me.
I am stuck in the past. I live in a house with a computer to human ratio that is approximately two to one, and yet I refuse to let a beam of extraterrestrial infotainment bring me the same viewing satisfaction I have received for years via miles of coaxial cable. I could tell you that it's all about the price, but the truth is the cost is always negotiable. Which leaves me with yet another alternative: going all the way back to a pair of rabbit ears and trying to tune in whatever frequencies I can manage. Now that sounds like science fiction.
Friday, January 28, 2011
That's when the snickers begin. Not the candy bar. The derisive laughter. The fact that I have just ridden over two miles to come and share my knowledge with the youth of my community is sometimes obscured by the fact that I look more like a homeless scuba diver than a teacher. I know that the last thing I should do is be defensive about my appearance. I am, after all, the one who regularly counsels our kids that it doesn't matter how you look, it's what is inside that matters. I know that. But I can't help wondering what their reaction might be if I showed up in my Coolmax performance enhancing bike tights and thermal Gore-Tex outer shell and wraparound cycling goggles. Then again, maybe I can.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Perhaps I should start at the beginning. My son has been trying to figure out how things work since I can remember. Like the time he turned his stroller over so that he could investigate the wheels: What makes it go? For all those years in between, he has dragged home various bits of cars, machines, and electronics with the hope of figuring out how those things work. Maybe if he understood them, he could use the parts to make something better, or at the very least, more interesting.
This fascination has lead to the warehousing of lots of little bits of things that I might mistake for trash. "Don't throw that away, dad." I hear the voice in my head now when I pick up this plastic shard or that light emitting diode. I now tend to make piles and wait for them to become part of something larger. And wait.
This past weekend, I watched him turn a pair of his remote control helicopters into the engine that would run his prototype hover car. He and a friend were working on their school assignment to create a product they would design, market, and sell. I watched them go through a number of failed attempts at getting their dual-rotor system to stay aloft. I knew that all my comments were filtered through the "wah-wah Charlie Brown adult filter," but I tried to get them to recognize that they weren't going to be able to fly their car. They just needed to make it hover. Hence the name: Hover Car.
Working alone on Saturday afternoon, he had his eureka moment. A snapped piece of wooden skewer set at a right angle from the rod that bound the two helicopters was glued into place. Now he had a stabilizer. He was as happy as I had seen him in months. I stopped seeing the pile of scraps and started savoring my son's triumph. Someday he may be designing hover cars for GM or Toyota. Maybe he'll have his own company, supervising a team of engineers. I just hope I will be able to resist the impulse to stop by his office and pick up after him.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I have a very distinct memory of the moment that drug abuse first entered my consciousness: Magic Markers. It would have taken a whole lot of them, but that vaguely medicinal aroma of red or black had a bunch of us second graders leaving the cap off for one more lingering whiff. I remember when the model glue started smelling like Lemon Pledge, though that seemed kind of counterproductive. I had a cousin who used to get high on Liquid Paper. These weren't drugs. They were office products, and yet, they were the ultimate gateway drug. Creepy and sad, but drugs nonetheless.
Over the years, there have been plenty of household items that have found their way into the noses, mouths and brainpans of our youth. I suspect that there may have been some special inhalant in the whitewash that Tom Sawyer offered up to his friends to paint his Aunt Polly's fence. It's an American tradition, and now it includes your mom's bath salts.
Sold under such names as Ivory Wave, Bliss, White Lightning and Hurricane Charlie, the chemicals can cause hallucinations, paranoia, rapid heart rates and suicidal thoughts. With those kind of effects, who wouldn't want to stick their face in a big pile of the stuff? Why bother diluting that "invigorating bath experience" with all that water? You can have a stimulating binge without ever filling up the tub. It certainly makes winning the war on drugs much more difficult. And shopping for Mother's Day just got a little more difficult.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
And there was that other matter: Two members of Colorado's state legislature proposed that anyone with a Colorado driver’s license or ID card is presumed to be an organ donor unless the person initials a statement opting out of the program. Currently, a person must initial their ID card to be considered a donor. It's one of those "opt out" deals where you have to sign something or click here if you don't want an additional twelve issues of "Budget Travel" delivered to your house, or the Google toolbar hanging over your web browser. Wait until the Republicans get wind of this one. People will be longing for those days of enforced insurance and death camps for grandma. Instead they will be sleeping with one eye open, clutching the parts of their bodies that they aren't quite ready to give up. At any moment, poorly trained government employees will crash through the door, demanding you liver. Also, there was some concern that making organ donor the default might actually limit the number of people signing up for the program.
But that's the problem, isn't it? The dance that needs to be done to keep the net out there so that government can catch us when we fall, and becoming ensnared in bureaucracy. We want the states to build us highways but don't tell us how fast we can drive on them. We want the government to bail out our free market system, but please don't ask for that money back. We want our health, but we don't want to pay for it in blood. Or soft tissue.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Okay, they won't actually land on Mars, since they never left Moscow's space center. They communicate with the outside world via e-mails and video messages which are occasionally delayed to give them the feel of being farther than a few yards away. The crew members eat canned food similar to that eaten on the International Space Station and shower only once a week. No wonder mission director and former cosmonaut Boris Morukov described the voyage as being "tough on the boys."
Once they "land," they will have a couple of days to explore the diorama that will stand in for the surface of the Red Planet, then it's back into the bus for the long ride home. Boris suggests that this will be the hardest part: The long ride home. Hey Ivan! You and your crew have just landed on Mars. What are you going to do now? Go to Disneyland?
"Maybe. But first I have to crawl back into this tin can for about eight months with these guys. Maybe I'll finally get that high score on Tetris."
Boldly going where no man has gone before. Unless you count that trip across the country on Greyhound back in the summer of 1973.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
That's not the stuff that made national headlines, though. It was the nasty business of stories of lewd and bizzare conduct in an Oakland second grade classroom. The national media has been quick to report the allegations of children removing their clothes and oral sex. While the police and school officials continue to sort through the truth of the matter, Oakland gets its moment in the headlines. Outlets from across the country are running the story, along with the requisite disclaimers about how the matter is still under investigation. And the fact that the male teacher was put on paid administrative leave. No names were given, but considering the relative scarcity of male second grade teachers in Oakland, at that particular school, it's only a matter of time.
Meanwhile, the rest of the community wonders how such a thing could happen. Much in the same way that we all wondered how a BART police officer could shoot a handcuffed suspect in the back. I doubt this one will go any more quietly. "It kind of scares me to know that the teachers aren't really watching them," said Ane Musuva, who has two children at the school. "I don't want my kids growing up in this type of environment."
I understand her concern. I also understand that teaching second grade is a circus act that requires patience and balance and still more patience. Teaching kids to line up for lunch without touching each other is how you spend most of the first month. Reading, writing, and 'rithmatic are what happens when everyone is in their seat, ready to learn. That's the easy part. I have a head full of conflicting opinions about what may or may not have happened in that classroom. I have a ton of experience that informs those opinions, but the bottom line is that I wasn't there. I don't know.
But I do know that there were a whole bunch of kids who walked out of Oakland schools last week with new ideas and information that will help them become actors, directors, football stars, and even second grade teachers. The camera trucks weren't there to catch that.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Let's start with the message that arrived just this morning, announcing that my e-mail had been awarded the sum of one million GBP. Without opening the attachment, I assumed that meant pounds sterling and would therefore be worth one and a half million dollars. All I had to do was open that attachment, fill in the security form to verify my winnings, and let the cash roll in. What are the chances that I was somehow selected by the powers that be in whatever contest that needed to give me one and a half million dollars? Pretty slim, but isn't that the very nature of playing the lotto? Maybe somebody took it upon themselves to enter me in this mysterious contest on my cynical behalf, just to squeeze some excitement into my world. Or maybe I'm destined to crash with a plane load of strangers on a deserted island, filled with even more intrigue and smoke monsters. Delete.
The next message assured me that I could show off my inner artist by earning a photography degree on-line. Maybe I don't need those pounds sterling after all. I could make my fortune taking pictures. That would be taking an active role in my own life, wouldn't it? If I did that, then I would definitely need this message over here for faster Internet speed. Which would, in turn, allow me more time to check out the Social Security disability benefits that this other message assures me that I am due. That would probably pay my fees for the Internet photography degree, right?
All of which would snowball into a new life choice that would allow me to check out that new Russian wife, who I could woo with Pajamagrams and new kitchen cabinets. And to think it's all been sitting there, callously labeled as a variety of canned spiced meat. Delete.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Which doesn't have a lot to do with Apple computers, except for the fact that there are plenty of folks tapping and listening and clicking away on their Apple electronics from inside the cubicles that I once erected, or sitting on chairs that I unwrapped and rolled into place. It's a symbiotic relationship, I suppose, so I feel compelled to ask: At this point in the company's history, how can Steve Jobs really be that important? As of 2009, there were more than thirty-six thousand employees of this corporate monolith, with layer upon layer of management, and yet, when the tip of this pyramid decides to shift his weight, the rest of the planet trembles. What about that bucket of water? What about the village? Apple's stock dropped by a third at the announcement that Steve might not be in the office on Tuesday.
I hope that Steve Jobs can take the time he needs to restore his health, not for his company, but for his own sake. A person, no matter how clever or important, should be able to take a few days here and there. The rest of the planet should rest assured that there will still be iPods, pads and pots and pans. Just like there will still be someone there to build those cubicles in which those clever engineers sit. I am not sure about the bucket of water, however.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
This is not to say that he does not have a profound and impressive connection with his buddy. On the contrary, the life that they have shared since they were first strapped into car seats next to one another for the long drive up to the little farm where they spent the afternoons together has given them a bond like few I have seen. They consider themselves twin brothers of different mothers. That is why there was a collective parental flinch when this friend got his first girlfriend.
Part of being a teenager is becoming more private, and the selection of your first paramour is surely the most significant of that experience. Parents, as the Fresh Prince tells us, just don't understand. Maybe that's because we have forgotten the magic and fear that comes with those first vague dances of courtship. Holding hands, finding out that cooties aren't so bad after all, and never once admitting that you once thought that girls were evil. I am sure there are thirteen year old boys who regularly sit down and discuss their personal affairs with their parents, but I am not acquainted with them. I am much more familiar with the twisting and cajoling nature of all such inquiries: "How's it going with girl X?" "Have you thought about asking girl X to a movie with your friends?" "Any progress with girl X?" All of which are met with a polite but rather firm, "I'd rather not talk about it right now."
We have watched my son's friend navigate the stormy seas of trying to balance this new relationship with his friends and family. Too many cell phone minutes. Too many hours spent swooning and gushing instead of studying. Too many days away from the life that used to be. My son, for his part, has been nothing but supportive of his buddy. He has rolled his eyes from time to time when his friend was unavailable because he was composing a very important text, but he is obviously taking careful note. It could happen to him at any moment. We're doing the same thing with his parents. We know that when our son falls, it will be hard. There is not much in this life that he does tentatively. Once he makes his choice, it will be full speed ahead. But first I think he'd rather watch from a safe distance for a while, and so will we.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Way back in the autumn of 1977, after I had seen "Star Wars" for the fifteenth or sixteenth time, it occurred to me that an injustice of a galactic proportions had taken place. Chewbacca, the Wookie, did not receive a medal. Han, who was looking for more than something to hang around his neck if you get my drift, got one. Luke, who was on his way into Tosche station to pick up some power converters when the fate of the Republic fell into his lap, got one. Chewbacca, faithful co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon and regularly marginalized minority, got nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Goose Egg. Black Hole. Why not?
C-3PO, human cyborg relations, stayed back at headquarters to fret with Leia. R2-D2 got his head blown off for all his trouble. At least he got repaired. Chewie was on the front lines, just like his shorter human counterparts, and yet the powers that be couldn't be bothered to dig up a chunk of space platinum strung together by two strips of canvas for the big guy. Probably some sort of budget issue back on the fourth moon of Yavin, but honestly, if the Cowardly Lion could get a badge of courage, why couldn't Chewbacca?
I decided that I would print up T-shirts, from a silkscreen of my own design, and sell them. Part of the proceeds would go to the oh-so-clever me, but some of the money would find its way to a fund that would eventually set things right in a galaxy far, far, away. One shirt was made. I wore it out once to gauge the public's reception of my slogan: "Equal Rights For Wookies!" Strangers ignored me. My friends scoffed. My dreams of setting up a table at the local comics shop to hawk my goods died as abruptly as a womp rat who gets bullseyed by a T-16 back home.
I let that go for years, until my son began defending Jar Jar Binks. This numbskull Gungan may have had all kinds of good intentions, but he may also have single-handedly brought on the rise of the Empire. And they made him a senator. All Chewbacca did was line Luke up for his shot at taking out the Death Star. Is there no justice in the universe? Back to the drawing board.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
A stark contrast from years past when we had tortured calls that were full of tears and complaints, fear and misery. On several occasions his mother and I took turns talking him down from the terror of the night. Before that we used to get in the car and go pick him up, too distraught to do much more than simply come home and collapse into his own bed and wait for the new day to try and unravel it all. What was so very different about closing your eyes in another bed and why not take advantage of the opportunity to wake up in your friend's house to keep the fun going for another day?
It all made such perfect sense when the sun was up. It did for me when I was a kid, too. But when the light began to fade, I could feel the draw of my house, my mom, my dad, my family and my home. I know the power. I felt it. It kept me from leaving home for my freshman year in college. The good news is that my son is thirteen years old, and while he has already stated his plans for going to school at Cal so that he can sleep at home, I no longer feel like that would be surrendering. It would be his choice.
It is strange for me to consider living half a continent away from my mother, older brother and the town in which I grew up. It never seemed a possibility. I never really broke the ties that bound me there. I still call my mother on a regular basis. Just to let her know that I am fine. And to tell her good night.
Monday, January 17, 2011
There is a limit on starchy vegetables, like french fries, to one cup a week. The proposal applies to lunches subsidized by the federal government, and the hope is that it will keep our children alive long enough to make those kind of healthy choices when they are adults. Or just long enough to be old enough to get in their friend's car and pop off campus to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet.
If they happen to be fortunate enough to live in San Francisco, the local legislators will make certain that they will steer clear of McDonald's. The fast food giant has been prohibited from offering a free toy with meals that contain more than set levels of calories, sugar and fat. This prohibition on little plastic swag should keep kids away from the shakes and fries. Unless the kids are going there for the shakes and fries in the first place.
Perhaps we are fated to evolve, as in the minds of the Pixar animators, into a race of tottering, round creatures whose bones no longer connect in the midst of all that soft tissue, unable to do much more for themselves than push the button that sends the tidy-up service in. Or maybe this is the time when those tai-chi trained Chinese finally catch up to us and overwhelm us in our sugar-crash-induced slumber.
Maybe we just need to be smarter about what we put into our mouths in general. Last Thursday, seven San Francisco middle school students were taken to area hospitals after apparently mistaking rat poison for candy. Happy Meals aside, it does make you wonder what they've been feeding those kids the rest of the week.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Add to this the fact that most of these shows have about fifteen minutes to make their connection, since most of us are listening to the radio while we drive to a place without radios. Or, in the case of my son, he is waking up to the sounds of modern rock to get his eyes open. Just this past week, he noticed that there wasn't as much modern rock. There was a lot more talking. I told him that he had experienced his first format change. I assured him that it would not be his last.
I remembered when I was a kid, listening to KHOW in the mornings. The show was hosted by Charlie and Barney. Barney was a lady, and that was an amusing enough hook to keep us all amused while we wolfed down our Frosted Flakes. Barney was replaced by Marti, another woman who was much chirpier, and for me a lot more grating. Then the powers that were at KHOW decided to team their biggest celebrity, Hot Dog Harold Moore, with Charlie in the morning. The chemistry was impressive enough to keep the two together as a team for twenty years. Charlie and Barney have since become a part of Denver radio legend, and KHOW is now all talk. No records. Just talk.
That seems to make the job even easier. But maybe just a little harder to listen to. My good friend, the radio expert, had a show once a week on the college radio station. Back when I was a car commuter, with a radio, he made a point of noting when I habitually got in my car and made my drive to the book warehouse I ran. At this point, he began a segment he called "The Quarter Hour of Dave." It was fifteen minutes of music and talk that got me from my home to my job that was all Dave-centric: my favorite songs, my favorite comedy bits, my favorite quarter hour on the radio. It was magical.
Like all things magical, that too went away. Now I ride my bike to and from work, and the music I hear is the sound in my head. Sometimes it sounds like Charlie and Barney. Sometimes it sounds like a commercial-free Rock Block of Bruce Springsteen. But now it's all Dave in the mornings.
Friday, January 14, 2011
"You're here too early. Coach Eric isn't even here yet."
"It's not even seven thirty yet. There's nobody here to watch you."
"It's before seven thirty. Coach Eric isn't here to watch you."
"My mom dropped me off."
"It's not safe to be here all by yourself in the morning."
"It's not safe to be here before seven thirty. There's no one here to watch you."
"My mom dropped me off."
This exchange went back and forth a few more times, and each time I tried to find the words that would sink into the head of a newly-awakened second grader who was standing on the playground as the sun began to make its way through the clouds with no one else to watch it with him. Why should he have any fear? Why was I trying to put it in him? Obviously his mother trusted us, or the building, in some way to protect her child. There was a fence around the place, after all. I'm sure she probably waited at the curb long enough to be sure that her son made it through the gate and onto the yard.
"My mom doesn't want me to be late to school."
"Okay, Tyrone. Be safe."
With an hour to go until the first bell rings, at least we know he won't be late.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
The torture came from listening to grown-ups go on about things that did not concern me, or at least those things that I felt did not concern me.
My parents were very interested in the words our president had to say. I couldn't understand this, since my experience they disagreed with every utterance of Richard Nixon, and then Gerald Ford. Even Jimmy Carter's addresses met with grumbles and misgivings, and they voted for him. It was only after I put together the fact that my mother and father were children of the radio, and they had grown up waiting for their orders from Franklin Roosevelt over the air. That was an event. It was, dare I say, eagerly anticipated. By the time Tricky Dick showed up on our televisions decades later, the special-ness had been worn through. But the habit had not.
I remember how my son, conditioned by his parents' gritting of their collective teeth at the sound of George W. Bush's voice wondered aloud why we wanted to listen to anything this man had to say.
It's important, we used to tell him. Then came Barack Obama, whose style of oration captured everyone in our living room. My son sat still for his speech at the Democratic National Convention, and stayed up late to see him speak to the crowd in Chicago on election night. By the time the State of the Union rolled around, his interest had waned. This was business as usual. This was an update that could be understood best by checking out the details later that evening on Google.
It made me think of the old Steve Martin bit about how much easier things might have gone down for Richard Nixon if he had a banjo: "I'd like to talk to you all about politics, but first a little 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown!'" My suggestion for heads of state current and future: transforming robots.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Everyone dreams. That is what science tells us. I know that I have dreams. They are usually the things that wake me up in the middle of the night. I tend to dwell on the logistical end of things in my waking hours, and so I carry that preoccupation to sleep with me. It could be that part of the reason that I don't sleep as deeply as the rest of the creatures in my house. My brain seems to be wired differently: always on alert, ready to leap from bed and navigate the picayune details of life in the real world. That seems to be the way I want it.
When my son was very small, he awoke from a sound slumber with a troubled look, "Where did the cartoons go?" He seems to have acquired the fun and fantastical world behind his eyelids that his mother has. It may also explain why, even as a toddler, he was able to fill up a queen size bed with his flopping about: so many things to do, so many places to see, all from the comfort of his Spider-Man comforter.
Last week we met in the bathroom as we began our day, telling me about the bad dream he had the night before. A fire had raged through our neighborhood and up the hill toward his friends' house. He seemed a little troubled by it, but I felt a twinge. I would have been concerned with the tactical response of the firefighters, then the subsequent property and insurance settlements. I felt another twinge, this one was remorse. The cartoons were gone, replaced by a Michael Bay movie. I am going to try and not lose any sleep over that though.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
That was a long time ago. These days it's just as hard to get myself up and out on the road, but I don't have my dog's enthusiasm to nudge me into getting my workout. She still comes over to check me out while I am stretching, but when it comes time to go out into the cold morning or the late afternoon, she would much rather return to her cushy bed in the living room. Or the office. Or next to our bed. Who could blame her? Conventional math tells us that she's somewhere in her late nineties in people years, so who could blame her if she wanted to take it easy? I'm about half that age, and I sometimes question the wisdom of trotting along the highways and byways. Is this really going to make me live longer?
But when my dog sees my wife putting her running shoes on, she knows the pace will be a little different. Those expeditions allow for a little slower pace. It's not a forced march with mom. It's more of a cardiovascular stroll. There are moments on these outings that she strains at the end of her leash, just like the good old days. This past Saturday we even stopped by the neighborhood park, where she performed some of her circus dog tricks. After a couple of trips down the corkscrew slide, she was ready to head back home. My dog and I have left knee surgery in common, and I imagine that the damp, chilly air was probably having the same effect on her joints that I was feeling in mine.
Sometimes I miss her when I go out on my runs alone, but she's always there, at the window or the top of the stairs, waiting. She's anxious to know if anything changed since the last time we ran around the block. Are there any new smells? Is that cat still hiding behind the fence around the corner? Is it dinner time yet?
Monday, January 10, 2011
Historic though it may be, the rules that bind our corner of the galaxy together isn't much of a page-turner, and everybody already knows the ending. Even so, the Republicans didn't feel the need to include all that stuff about slaves being three-fifths of a person. That kind of thing just brings the room down. Instead, they chose to focus on the high points: the bill of rights, the seperation of powers, and the location of all the alien autopsy laboratories. Just a little test to see if you had nodded off yet.
The show was an attempt to prove that Congress really is all about "we the people" after all, and now maybe all those tea partiers will settle down and go back to writing crank letters to their local newspapers when the city changes the trash collection days. Or stirring cauldrons. Now the serious work of the one hundred and twelfth Congress can begin: campaigning for 2012. Tune in next month when the Senate begins their reading of the newly expurgated "Huckleberry Finn."
Sunday, January 09, 2011
Of course, not everyone who carries a gun is a lunatic. It just happens that when lunatics avail themselves of firearms, it usually turns out bad. It is also true that these events don't always end in death. Sometimes the targets, accidental or intentional, are only wounded. Emotionally scarred and crippled in ways that only innocent bystanders can be. Or maybe they are simply taken hostage. At gunpoint. Nobody dies. They just spend the rest of their lives flinching every time they drive past a Baja Fresh tacqueria.
I know the right to bear arms is in our Constitution. So is a "well regulated militia." This is a document that was written hundreds of years ago, when muzzle-loaded rifles were the arms that were in question. It takes about fifteen seconds to fire and re-load one of those babies. That means, if you were quick, you might get off three or four shots in a minute. It also meant that if you were set upon by bands of angry natives with more conventional weapons or foreigners with bayonets, you might be in trouble. That's why American ingenuity gave us the rapid-fire repeating rifle. That was helpful when one was beset by herds of angry buffalo or pesky natives with more conventional weapons. That was a hundred and fifty years ago.
Since then, we have only made better and faster ways to get bullets into each other or pesky natives with more conventional weapons. Of course, we don't give guns to people who shouldn't have them. There are background checks for things like that. That keeps nut-jobs from getting their hands on weapons that extinguish life: their own and others. Of course, these background checks aren't necessary if the weapon being sold is classified a "relic or curio." In those cases the you can skip the background check. If you got hold of a musket from the 1800s you might have to limit your intended targets to those you could line up and shoot before they fell on you.
Two hundred and twenty-two years after the Constitution was enacted, there have been plenty of changes. No more prohibition. No more slavery. Women can vote. But everybody still gets to own guns. Even whacked-out nut-jobs. That's what makes America great.
Saturday, January 08, 2011
My wife had decided that it was time to show my son the original "Star Trek" series. It is only now that, upon reflection, I can understand from whence his mild disdain flows. I take for granted that when he is in trouble on some matte-painted planet, Captain Kirk will pop open his communicator and shout, "two to beam up, Scotty." I never questioned how such a thing might be possible because this was the future. That was easy enough to ascertain by the length of the female crew members' skirts. My son remained unaffected because, on my desk, sat his own personal communicator. Not only does it flip open with a pleasing chirp, it is also smaller than the handful issued to the officers of the Enterprise. So Jim can tweet Spock about this rockin' green babe from Talos IV. Apparently sexism will still be rampant in the future.
There are no plans in 2011 to go boldly where no man, or one, has gone before. NASA has done a great job of populating the surface of Mars with robots who will no doubt evolve into some evil cyber-race and return intent on enslaving their former masters. Meanwhile, back here in the past, I will consult my wife's on-line wish list, where I find that I can shop for items using my home computer or handheld computing device. And what will I buy for her? Maybe a robot maid. As long as I don't have to walk the dog on one of those scary space treadmills.
Friday, January 07, 2011
But that wasn't the scariest part. If I gave up a dollar or two to my brother based on my inaccurate recall of the cast of "Escape From The Planet Of The Apes," so be it. I could absorb that kind of loss. What really freaked me out was watching the kid down the street systematically fleece every other child his age or younger in the neighborhood. He worked for days perfecting a basketball shot from his front steps to the hoop over his garage, then ask anyone wandering past if they wanted to bet against him making it again. On the rare occasion that he would miss, he would immediately offer to go "double or nothin'." In any game or contest, if he lost the first one, things escalated immediately to the best two out of three, three out of five, five of seven, until you were worn down by the math.
It did not take any creative math to lose your money at "Little Vegas." This was the casino he set up in his parents' garage when he was twelve, complete with loaded dice and a trick roulette wheel. The neighborhood kids emptied out their piggy banks for a chance to throw down on these games of "chance." Fast forward many years in the future, when I was in Las Vegas working as an office furniture installer. As the rest of my co-workers busied themselves in the hours after we had finished building dozens of cubicles for an Air Force base off the strip visiting the local gambling establishments, I went for a walk. As I strolled down the avenue in the late afternoon sun, I noticed the lights on the marquee were on. In fact, every light on every sign, street and venue were blazing away, had been and would be until the building that they adorned was imploded. This was not a city that lost money. They had money to burn. Literally.
And so I continue to shy away from those opportunities that seem too good to be true, since they most certainly are not. I allowed myself to be goaded into betting on the last playoff game that the Denver Broncos played. They lost. I lost. No joy. No cash. It was a lose/lose proposition. That's why I took such satisfaction in winning the fantasy football championship. It was all in good fun, but there was a ten dollar entrance fee. For seventeen weeks, I managed and manipulated my lineup. I dropped players. I added players. I made decisions that helped me guide my team to first place and, in the end, emerge triumphant. The guy who runs our league scoffed briefly at my success, dismissing me as "lucky." After a moment, he gave me the respect I was due. It may have had something to do with luck, but I had my hands all over that luck. It occurred to me only briefly to ask if he wanted to go double or nothin'.
Thursday, January 06, 2011
Then there's the break-ins. The good news is that my room wasn't ransacked or vandalized. The thieves came in and took what they wanted: the only thing behind a lock. The fact that they didn't touch any of the dozens of computers and monitors speaks only to the limited interest and focus of the criminal mind. Brad Pitt and George Clooney didn't plan this caper. No, instead we lost some equipment and the time that it took to fill out a police report. The alarm system at our school proved to be little hindrance to whoever it was that found their way in. The broken cabinet door didn't leave any clues either, though we were fortunate to have an officer come straight out to take a look at the scene of the crime. He echoed our sentiments about the type of person who would choose a school to rob. At night. Over Christmas vacation. For whatever they could carry out in two hands, probably to sell the next day.
Dreams we might have of some solid citizen stepping forward to return the school property continue to linger as the outrage shifts to tired resignation. They didn't hurt anything except a cabinet and left the computer lab essentially intact. I was teaching later that morning, in a graffiti-free environment.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Then there's the doctors: Phil and Oz. Given a special place in the video firmament, these fellows are happy to dispense advice about how you should live your life. Doctor Phil wants us to "get real," while his colleague Doctor Oz reveals flatulent foods and anti-aging secrets. They just want to save us from ourselves, after all. And who else shows up as one of Oprah's special angels? Why Suze Orman, of course. I could avoid all manner of physical, emotional and financial suffering if I would just submit to the Power of Oprah.
Then again, Ted Turner started his own television network, and I never felt compelled to follow any of his advice. Nor do I find much solace in the wisdom of Rupert Murdoch. Building a media empire is a big job, and if there is a way to do it in a kinder, gentler way, I'm sure that Oprah will do it. Just don't expect me to tune when Suze's on, staring back at me, not blinking.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
I think it's good to give language a rest from time to time. I worked "for all intents and purposes" to death for nearly twenty years. This was after someone took me aside and politely pointed out that the phrase was not "for all intensive purposes," which I had been saying for some time before that. More words to make myself more emphatic. Sadly unnecessary.
None of those words or phrases made Lake Superior State University's list of banished words for 2011. In spite of my fascination with Al Gore's Internet, I don't use the word "viral" to describe anything but a head cold. When I say "epic" I am referring to "Paradise Lost" or that song by Faith No More. And as a teacher, I feel compelled to keep "fail" at a minimum.
In the meantime, I know that this is a young person's planet, and I fully expect to be burdened by the phrases and lingo of those younger than me. I have become sadly accustomed to my son's need to describe all things important and appealing to him as "beast." I have tried pointing out that he is using a noun as an adjective, but this is not a convention that gives him any trouble. Even my regular assertions to his mother that "dinner was beast," or "those flowers are beast" haven't had the sardonic impact that I had intended. It may take a year longer to get the folks up at LSSU to catch up to my boy.
Monday, January 03, 2011
Which had the effect of making me reflect on all the morose and maudlin entertainments that I have perused over the years. I love a good sad song, for example. This is especially tricky, since I am the son of a man who got weepy every time he heard "Amazing Grace," or "Stars and Stripes Forever." I was drawn to films like "Bless The Beasts And The Children," with its misfit kids and tragic ending. I sat in the theater with my father until the lights came up after a showing of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," until our eyes were dry. It was even worse fourteen years later at the end of "Field of Dreams." Three years after that, I moved to California where I started my own little family, and I married a woman who is even more prone to shedding a tear than I. She cried at Ross's wedding on "Friends," all three of them. It's a wonder she had anything left for Monica and Chandler, but she managed.
And so it goes. Vacation's over and I can get back to the serious business of teaching and raising a son, looking forward to those moments we will share, laughing through the tears.
Sunday, January 02, 2011
My mother told me a long time ago not to pick at a scab. It won't heal that way. This was the wisdom that came my way as I read about the investigation of misspent campaign funds by U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. The Tea Party favorite who won the Republican primary in Delaware, then lost in the general election believes that the investigation is politically motivated and spurred on by disgruntled campaign workers. Her own campaign workers.
Now, whether or not Ms. O'Donnell did use money from her campaign for personal expenses really isn't the issue here. Did she use the money to pay her rent? Maybe she did. Did she buy herself a lifestyle she couldn't possibly afford on the intermittent paychecks of an aspiring actor without a college degree.
Which is why she decided to become a witch. Oh. Sorry. She's not a witch. That was the one thing that she established. She's you. That what she said. So, investigating her is just like investigating yourselves. So there. She, and by extension all of you continued: "Given that the king of the Delaware political establishment just so happens to be the vice president of the most liberal presidential administration in U.S. history, it is no surprise that misuse and abuse of the FBI would not be off the table." King of Delaware? Maybe she really is a witch.
Well, even is she is a liar and a witch, it's probably worth the millions of dollars that she may or may not have tossed around over three separate campaigns. We have, or is that she has, already made a similar mistake recently. By shining a spotlight on a poorly qualified media sensation purely for the curiosity quotient, we have created a monster. Not a witch. A monster. One that will not die. With an unquenchable thirst for blood.
This time I suggest we pay the creature, and let her slink back to the shadows of late night talk shows. Then you can forget about her. Or she can forget about herself. I get confused
Saturday, January 01, 2011
First of all, I think Lombardi would say, "Why is the dad from 'Wonder Years' playing me on Broadway?" Or "Why should I care about the Philadelphia Eagles or their fans? I coach the Green Bay Packers!" But most likely, "Hey, get me outta this pine box!" Which brings us back tot he point: Football shouldn't be about life and death. It is, after all, just a game. I know that some of you must consider the source of this wisdom, but it is true. I once sat in a mostly empty stadium on drifts of snow in sub-freezing temperatures to witness a nineteen-all tie between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Colorado Buffaloes. There is little doubt that if the Eagles' game had been played on Sunday night, there would have been plenty of hearty souls, including the requisite number of green and white painted shirtless wonders, that would have found their way to their seats, or the pile of snow where they might have huddled for three hours as stories of "Blizzard Bowl 2010" were hastily prepared for the morning edition.
That didn't happen. No stories for your grandchildren. No lingering numbness in your extremities. No unnecessary amputations of limbs. Cooler heads, but not frozen ones, prevailed. As a result, even more people tuned in, and fans were treated to a very special holiday treat of pro football on Tuesday night. And nobody died.
Yes, Vince Lombardi coached his players to fight and win on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, and the collapse of the Vikings' bubble in Minneapolis might suggest the contrary, but I believe the biggest sacrifice any fan should have to make would be actually talking to his or her family on Sunday evening. Last time I checked, coming in out of the weather makes you smart, not a wuss.
Meanwhile, on the Planet of Fox, another opinion about the game was being shared: Tucker Carlson, filling in for Sean Hanninty, mentioned that while President Obama was calling to commend the Eagles' owner for postponing the game he also said that he appreciated how they had seen fit to give Michael Vick a second chance. Mister Carlson said that, while he is a Christian and has made mistakes and believes in forgiveness, that he believes that Michael Vick should have been executed for killing dogs. Maybe next season Tucker Carlson will be named commissioner of the NFL. Better not mess with that substance abuse policy, wuss.