Saturday, March 31, 2012

Looking For A Change

Sometimes when I pass by a sign that says, "For Rent," I think about that real estate slogan that encourages me to think: "If I lived here, I would be home by now." The world is full of opportunities. Owning my own home in northern California isn't the reason I have this wandering eye. I look at other homes that have a "For Sale" sign in the front yard and try to imagine my life living one notch closer to the grocery store, or at the top of the hill. As Captain Hammer once so eloquently put it, "Your home is where your heart is, so your real home's in your chest."
Still, that doesn't keep me from looking. As much as I hate change, I like to imagine that moving would somehow better my lot, or at least invigorate it. That's why when I heard an ad on the radio the other day for a career opportunity, I listened closely. It wasn't a career in my currently chosen profession of teaching, but in retail sales: Tom Shane was hiring. I was assured that no previous experience with jewelery would be necessary, and that this was a terrific chance to better my lot. High pay? Exciting growth opportunities? A fun environment? Why wasn't I submitting my online application a that moment?
If you are currently shaking your head and wondering why a tenured teacher would simply drop everything and go rushing off to be a clerk for a chain of jewelery stores, maybe you're not familiar with Tom Shane. He's your friend in the diamond business. He spends a lot of time in Antwerp and Bangkok, two very funny sounding cities. And get this: he's a graduate from the University of Colorado. He's not just my friend in the diamond business, he's my alumni buddy. He'd have to give my resume a look. I ran a video store, after all.
Or maybe it's a week until Spring Break. I don't need a new home or career. I need a vacation.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bits Of Boulder

A friend of mine sent me a link that pointed me to a Facebook page that contained reminiscences about Boulder, Colorado in the seventies. It was sent to me somewhat ironically, since I continue to be one of the seventeen Americans without a Facebook page. I certainly remember Boulder in the seventies. And the sixties. And the eighties. And even a couple of years in the nineties. The memories I have are all stamped with the 80302 zip code. Could I resist a peek?
As it turns out, my wife and son are not among the small minority of humans on the planet who have avoided Facebook, so I looked at the link through their portal. What I saw brought back a flood of memories. Right up near the top was a picture of cars driving north on Broadway. It could have been taken last week, since Broadway continues to be the major north-south artery on the west side of town. The big hint that I was looking at a vintage photo was the car in the foreground: a Ford Pinto. Beneath that was a recollection about driving a Vega. Hey. I drove a Vega in Boulder in the seventies. I drove a Vega on Broadway heading north in Boulder in the seventies. What an eerie coincidence.
Below that someone had posted a picture from Firefall's biggest gig ever: Colorado Sunday Number One, opening for Fleetwood Mac. This was the show that included John Sebastian coming out early and asking the Boulder crowd, "How are ya, Denver?" Oh yes, I remembered that. It was Boulder in the seventies. So were the tasty reflections on Roman Village Pizza, King's Food Host, and Round The Corner. The five minutes I spent scrolling through the page were a flurry of nostalgia. It was a mile wide, but only an inch deep. Each of the entries was only about a sentence or two, just enough to excite the neurons in that sleepy part of my brain that is more than forty years old. It wasn't enough to push me into signing up for Mark Zuckerberg's enterprise. I like my memories a little thicker than that.
So you can look forward to finding an entry here at some point about the curiosity of ordering food by phone in Boulder, or still more hazy thoughts on going to a football stadium to listen to rock bands from a distance. That was probably going to happen anyway, but thanks for the tip.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Missed It By That Much

Suppose they gave a party and nobody came? Well, it seems a lot of people came, but I didn't. Oakland had it's third annual Running Festival, and nobody invited me. It should be noted that none of the thousands of participants who did get up on Sunday morning and braved the gray skies and sketchy pavement of our city streets were invited. They registered ahead of time. They got up and made the commitment. They paid their money, ran their race, and got their t-shirt.
By contrast, I got up slowly that day. I wasn't feeling my freshest, and I was sponsoring my family's trip to the local cinema to see the film about teenage pain and suffering. I chose to take it easy that day. Normally I am up and running well before noon: never a full marathon or even a ten-kilometer, just a few miles to get my blood pumping and keep my streak alive.
It was so much easier to feel the spirit of the Running Festival when it actually ran past our house. Starting sometime after eight o'clock for the past two years, a steady stream of sweating citizen-athletes poured past our front door. This year, that path changed, and we were bypassed, perhaps because the streets a few blocks over are a little more free of ankle-snapping potholes.
And it would be easy to blame the organizers for my lack of enthusiasm. I looked at some of the swag and felt a twinge. How could I, who calls myself a runner in that profile just to the right of this blog, miss such an opportunity?
Then came acceptance: I will run again. I might not get a souvenir t-shirt, but I will run again. It is, after all, what I do. I don't need a festival. It's what I do.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Color Scheme

I suppose it was horribly naive of me to believe that somehow, in 2008, when the United States elected its first African-American President, our country could begin to put away all the hate and fear. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream that we would all be judged by the content of our character is still a dream deferred. I remember the moment during that campaign John McCain finally had to stop his own supporters and remind them that he was running against a good man with whom he had a fundamental disagreement with on the way we were going to run the government. All of a sudden, voices that we hadn't heard for decades were on the news every night. And then Barack Obama won the election. Problem solved.
Except those voices didn't go away. They found keyboards and web sites and blogs. They learned to equate race with religion and stir them in a pot as the situation fit to stoke the fire of fear. Irrational fear that responds best to irrational claims. It is simple enough to put your confused notions of reality up on Al Gore's Internet. It doesn't even have to be spell-checked. Access is granted to anyone who can press the Enter key. You don't have to use your real name, or your picture. Spew your hate and post.
To be completely fair, I spent a good portion of George W. Bush's tenure in office referring to him as a "Pinhead." In hindsight, I suppose I should apologize for anyone identifying themselves with that group for defaming or degrading their culture or traditions. Mostly I was interested in drawing a line between the way I wish things were and the way they had become. I was fearful, but not because of someone's race. I was scared of the policies and direction that our country was headed. Poor decisions are made by human beings, regardless of the color of their skin or the god they choose to worship.
As the presidential election season continues to heat up, so does the rhetoric. Maybe they should take heed the words of the painfully white Denis Leary: "Why hate someone for the color of their skin when there are much better reasons to hate them." Of course, I don't know if I can personally vouch for Mister Leary's character, but he also said this: “Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.” Now it's time for everybody to take a nap.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nerf Herders

I remember when Nerf meant bath toys. You could get a Nerf ball soaking wet and then smack the wall with it a few times, creating a satisfying splat before re-immersing it once again for a new soaking. That was only a short evolutionary leap to the use of Nerf balls in our brotherly water wars, in and out of the house. Even a dry Nerf ball gave a satisfying flinch when tossed with enough velocity, the impact was slight, but the wince was always worth it.
What I'm suggesting here is that I understand how Nerf has grown, in a generation, into a full-scale weapons manufacturer. My son's room, like many of his friends, is an ammo dump of rubber-tipped foam darts, most of which resist being collected and reused because they have become lodged in or stuck behind light fixtures, furniture or dark corners where they will stay until they are truly needed. In the meantime, the storage necessary for the continually increasing number of makes and models of guns that hurl these projectiles expands exponentially. As a parent, that's what makes me wince.
When my wife and I first got together, we were given a pair of his and hers Nerf dart guns. It was suggested at the time that this would be a kinder, gentler way to release marital frustrations than hurling crockery about. We then proceeded to make this our standard wedding gift to other young couples just starting out. When our son was born, however, we put them away in hopes of creating a world free of weapons for our offspring.
That didn't last. The slippery slope of giving in to what your child "really really wants" created the arsenal that we all live with fifteen years later. We house a dozen or more weapons, some of them single shot, others fully automatic, all molded out of cheery yellow and orange plastic. It is a long way from the playful pelting once showcased by none other than TV's favorite band, The Monkees. It makes me wonder if the full inquiry into the cause of Davy Jones' death might have shown that it was, in fact, Nerf-related.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Comfort Station

I used to eat lunch in my room. My classroom. It seemed a whole lot easier, since I was going to have to return there soon enough, whether it was to open the door for a kid who had forgotten their jacket or to stick my head out into the hall to see who would be traipsing about inside during recess. I could check my e-mail and peruse the headlines. And I would eventually have to be there to start teaching again, so I could be there to prepare.
It took a year of being worn down by my fellow fourth grade teacher, I took a chance and stepped outside my comfort zone: I carried my bag filled with sandwich, apple and water to the Teacher's Lounge. I didn't imagine that it would be a dimly lit room full of velvet couches and a hint of incense in the air. It was a fluorescent-lit room with four tables and a bunch of grown-up sized chairs that we shared with two copy machines and a couple dozen cases of paper. Occasionally we needed to scoop up the remnants of somebody else's frustration with the copier or move the die-cut pumpkins to the side to make room for our midday repast.
As it turns out, the actual lunch experience was completely enhanced by having adult conversation. All those little problems and challenges drifted away in a blur of thirty-five minutes. Sure, we spent some of that time comparing notes on the progress of the day. Who did well on the math test. Who was stomping hard on our last nerve. I felt like the day had a center. It was no longer just one long blur of children's faces and questions about why they couldn't be first in line. For that portion of an hour, I was free of the grind. I knew where the grind was, and I would be back to it soon enough, but I learned to savor my time in the oasis, until the bell rang and the next act began.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Boys In A Hood

If Geraldo Rivera is right, and I'm asking for a lot from the guy who busted open Al Capone's vault to find "an old stop sign and a couple of empty gin bottles," then I could be in big trouble. Geraldo believes that "the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was."is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was." George Zimmerman shot seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in what was initially ruled self-defense. Questions about just what a seventeen-year-old who was packing a recently purchased package of Skittles in that hoodie would have done to deserve being killed continue to swirl about Sanford, Florida, a month after the shooting. To that end, Mister Rivera adds that George Zimmerman should be "investigated to the fullest extent of the law" and "prosecuted" if criminally liable, but blamed Martin's parents for letting him go outside wearing a hoodie.
Uh, Geraldo? I go outside every morning with my hoodie on. It keeps my head warm, as I am follically challenged. Am I inviting trouble by going out into the mean streets of Oakland dressed this way? As I sit at my keyboard, I feel compelled to put up the hood on my sweatshirt as a reaction to the cold. And the callous.
I teach school in Oakland, and part of my daily regimen is reminding young men and women to take their hoods off inside. I also have to remind many of these same kids to pull up their pants from time to time. I made this request to a fifth grader with whom I was running laps during PE. "You know, if you pulled up those jeans, you might be able to run a little bit."
To which he replied, "Gangstas don't run."
As impressed as I might have been with his eleven-year-old bravado, I couldn't help but see his fashion choice as a costume, copied from magazines and videos that he had seen, or the big kids in his neighborhood. He had a black hoodie and he preferred to keep the hood up. It made me think of the red windbreaker that James Dean wore in "Rebel Without A Cause." Not a leather jacket. No gang affiliations painted on the back. Just a red windbreaker. It made me think of Nick Cage in "Wild At Heart," going on about his snakeskin jacket: "This snakeskin jacket symbolizes my individuality and belief in personal freedom."
And what kind of parent lets their kid out of the house wearing a hoodie? Most days, me. Sure, my son won't be immediately confused with " a dark skinned kid like my son Cruz," as Geraldo opined, but is that really the point? Since this particular garment has its origins in Medieval Europe, I don't expect they'll be disappearing anytime soon. More likely it will be another bit of clothing that will be connected to potential ne'er do wells: argyle socks, perhaps? In the meantime, I think we can all agree that if we see come guy coming at us wearing one of those great big street sweeper mustaches, especially if he's being trailed by a Faux News camera crew, run away.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

That's Show Biz

It is the stuff of legend: A spunky young kid brings new life to a show that had grown tired, and suddenly the world discovers this new thing, thanks in part to the efforts of this one rising star. Then, in the wisdom that is best understood by those who inhabit dark offices and back rooms, that kid is replaced by a big name star in order to bring even more cachet to the show that they hope will make them all rich.
Or: A fading star has been pushed to the side by a changing scene, and hopes to make one last glorious return to the limelight. Spoiler alert: This isn't just the rehashed plot of "The Artist," it's also the story of Peyton Manning. The kid, and I do feel comfortable calling anyone who is half my age "kid," is Tim Tebow. A story this old gets replayed hundreds of times over history. This time around, I told myself I would try not to care, but I do.
I understand that professional football is a business. Winning is good for business. That's why the powers that be grumbled but were outwardly patient with Tim Tebow's brand of late-game heroics. He won football games. The trouble was he was doing it in ways that made those dark-office folks unhappy. His was not a product that they could rely on. At least that was the conventional wisdom of nearly all the football minds who bothered to speak their minds. And there were a lot of them.
Suddenly, "one of the greatest quarterbacks ever" becomes available. Peyton Manning brought his talents to the league after thirteen years in Indianapolis. The Denver Broncos became the lucky suitors of Peyton's abilities and will pay him ninety-six million dollars over the course of the next five years for them. Of course, if he goes down in a heap due to the neck injury that sidelined him all of last year, that contract is mostly moot, but it doesn't take into account hurt feelings or bruised egos. There weren't very many NFL quarterbacks who didn't feel some wave of fear or resentment as Mister Manning made his tour about the country, in search of a new home. It just happened that when the media circus came to rest, it landed squarely on Tim Tebow.
And so it ends as it began, in a flurry of TV and Internet reports, speculating on the potential of this player and that franchise, and the dark-office guys count their money as the number fifteen jerseys come off the shelves, replaced by the ones with the number eighteen. "Sorry kid, it's business, you know?" The wheels keep turning.
"Are you not entertained?" Russell Crowe, owner of a football team, as Maximus in "Gladiator."

Friday, March 23, 2012


"Was that you I saw running the other day?" asked the old guy with his dogs, "Don't you get enough exercise on that?" He gestured at the bicycle that I was straddling.
"I guess not," came my sheepish reply.
Sheepish because I could remember being a young guy, talking with my father about his physical fitness regimen. He was a racquetball player. He took his sons out to play on a couple of occasions, but since it was my father's obsession, I felt the need to question it. I felt the need to ridicule it. I never made it part of my program. Too much equipment, I asserted.
I do have my father to thank me for signing me up for my first ten kilometer run. At the time, I never considered that I would be running for thirty years. Especially since, at one point, I felt the need to question my father about his devotion to the sport. "What are you running from?" I asked in my most clever and incisive twenty-something way. I had this idea that running had become some sort of external sign of my father's pain and his search for self. I had a lot of clever ideas back in my twenties. I truly believed that I had a window into my father's wayward ways. I thought that there would be a moment of reckoning where he would turn to me and say, "You know, you're right. I've got to stop running from my fears and confront them."
Turns out I wasn't that clever after all. The last time I saw my father, just a few days after his sixty-first birthday, we went on a run together. The last time I was with him outside of a burn ward. Or in my dreams. Since then, I've been running. Including the time when that same neighbor yelled after me, "If you had left earlier, you wouldn't have to run!" Even if I left thirty years ago?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Radio To Go

I thought about all the reasons I don't like my morning radio station anymore. The on-air personalities have been replaced with new voice-droids. The music selection seems to have skewed away from that which I became familiar, and the format seems to be directed at a whole new listener. Now that "oldies" refer to songs by DEVO and Journey, I suspect that my AOR days may have passed me by. Then I remembered the orange benches at Arby's.
Before I ever had a job slinging America's Roast Beef (Yes Sir!), I was introduced to the idea that in a fast food restaurant you never want anyone getting too comfortable. Hence the "fast" in the title. You want people to sit down and savor their Beef 'n' Cheddar and potato cakes, but you don't want them to linger over their cherry turnover. You want somebody else to plop down for those four to eight minutes to experience what feels like hospitality when it's really a scientifically calculated fraction of an hour designed to feel like hospitality. It's not really hospitality. And if the seating didn't get you, the muzak would.
It sounds pleasant enough in the background, but the instant that it gets into your head, that feeling is replaced with the "what-am-I-listening-to-not-so-fresh-feeling." When I worked behind the counter, I became excruciatingly familiar with the muzak versions of a number of pop standards, most notably "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." It was during those quiet moments when the lobby was empty and the sound from the speakers had no customers to absorb the easy listening pablum. The first few times I caught myself playing name that tune, I shuddered and shook it off. As the year passed, I chose another tack: I sang along. Loudly.
Which brings me all the way back to the morning radio show. I'm not supposed to listen to it like music. It's muzak. I can feel the invisible hand moving me toward the door. Because that's what it's supposed to do.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Discrete Charms

I don't know a lot about art, but I know what I like. This defense has been the backbone of the bourgeoisie appreciation for the arts. They should please the viewer in some way and hopefully not challenge them. It shouldn't hurt your brain to look at a painting or film. It should be a pleasant experience. I thought about this as I watched Jim Carrey cavort about as Andy Kaufman in Milos Forman's film "Man On The Moon." It was difficult to watch, but knowing the ending, as sad as it was, kept me watching. I wanted to see Jim as Andy push all those buttons on all those stuffed shirts in the entertainment business. I wanted to see him/them push the envelope of performance art to extremes that rarely make the commercial airwaves.
Did I like watching Andy Kaufman? Way back in the eighties I was one of those who couldn't wait for that little foreign guy, Latka, to show up on "Taxi." I thought it was hysterical that he was able to hold live audiences hostage to readings of "The Great Gatsby." Would I have been as amused if I had part of that audience? I'm part of the audience that whooped and hollered when Steve Martin went into his "Wild And Crazy Guy" bit. And "King Tut." And "Excuuuse Me!" I paid to see the greatest hits. I went to have the comedy version of a sing-along. I am part of the audience that caused him to retire from standup comedy in 1981.
The boys from Monty Python surrendered to this notion decades ago, but they may have made the leap that Andy Kaufman was never able to make: cashing in. Now that's what I call "art."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wooden Ships On The Water

If I had brought my own bike, I might still be a god-fearing church-goer. Backing up: When I was about ten years old, a group of kids from our neighborhood spent a couple hours one afternoon constructing wooden boats from scrap lumber in my friend's garage. Most of the activity on our street involved gangs of kids moving in lightly organized throngs looking for something to wile away the hours before the invention of video games.
It was decided that we would should pair up and ride doubles up to the irrigation ditch to launch our crafts. That way, the kid on the back could hold a couple boats while the kid up front concentrated on pedaling and steering. Six of us rode up to the bridge that spanned the muddy water. Six of us dropped our vessels into the water and watched them go. Then we did the next most obvious thing: we jumped back on the bikes, riding down the dirt path that ran alongside the ditch, chasing our boats as they bobbed along with the steady current. I held on tightly as we sped along until we reached the end of the path. That's where the ditch went into an underground culvert.
I was riding with my best friend, Ryan, who was the nominal leader of our gang. I was friends with him primarily because he demanded it. When he said "jump" I asked how high on the way up. When he yelled to us all that we were crossing over to the street to find the spot where the water came rushing back out to see if we could catch our boats coming out on the other side, no one said a word. We rode on. Furiously.
As we made our way back onto the suburban sidewalks and streets, I found myself leaning forward, eyes closed and still holding on tight. When we came to a stop, Ryan looked back at me and asked, "What are you doing?"
I opened my eyes and realized that I had been mumbling something. Something like a prayer. "Praying," I answered before I had a chance to construct a better answer.
"Praying? For what?" By now, the other four kids had stopped their bikes and were staring at Ryan and me.
I fumbled for my rationale and came up with the truth: "I was praying that we would be able to catch up to our boats."
It was a perfect storm of pre-adolescent laughter. There I stood, a mile away from home with a choice. Should I ride back behind Ryan, or walk off in the direction of home, alone? When the derision subsided, and the boats forgotten, we all got back in our tandem groups and rode home. I remained silent. And full of doubt.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Scrubbing Clean The Fabric Of American Culture

"America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography. Pornography is toxic to marriages and relationships. It contributes to misogyny and violence against women. It is a contributing factor to prostitution and sex trafficking." At first blush, it's hard to argue with this thought, even if "pandemic" may be a little over the top. These are words from Rick Santorum's web site. Then there's this: "The Obama Administration has turned a blind eye to those who wish to preserve our culture from the scourge of pornography and has refused to enforce obscenity laws. While the Obama Department of Justice seems to favor pornographers over children and families, that will change under a Santorum Administration."
Okay then. Now we're finding ways to link violence against women and misogyny to the Obama administration. According to Rick, Barack Obama favors pornographers over children and families. How will this change under a Santorum Administration? He will declare war on pornography. The War on Terror grinds on and the War on Drugs spins its wheels while both continue chalking up huge chunks of the federal budget. Now we will be going into battle against Larry Flynt and Hugh Hefner. Rick urges us all to join the War on Illegal Pornography Coalition, which is ironically blocked by the Internet servers that that govern our school district's computers because it is associated with porn. Kids can go and visit, however, to discover how all this smut has undermined the very stable institutions that America holds dear: the family and the Internet.
I don't want to have to defend either one of those institutions. Both have suffered their growing pains and the new century has been less than kind to them both, but I don't know if the blame falls squarely on pornography. Like the First Amendment, I don't think I am qualified as a constitutional scholar to comment on exactly what line should be drawn. What passes for a commercial for a burger joint in some households is the worst kind of filth in others. I don't know if I want to fight in that war.
In the meantime, you can find me in line to volunteer to fight in the war against hyperbole.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

If I Had A Million Dollars

"I'd buy you some art - like a Picasso or a Garfunkel." - Barenaked Ladies
The truth is, if I suddenly became a millionaire, I really don't know how I would go about spending it. In today's economy, I don't really know how far that chunk of change would go. Pay off my mortgage. Ensure my son's college education. I would probably play it safe, investing in something certain, like stock in Coca-Cola.
These days, as I read stories of bankers who are struggling to get by on three hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year, and don't get me started about my football heroes. Okay, just a little. Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints and one of the "good guys" in the NFL, is reportedly incensed by the eighteen million dollar a year contract offered to him by his bosses. Terrell Owens has gone through the eighty million dollars he made during his fifteen years in professional football. Now he's making do with the salary and the hazards of the Indoor Football League. And then there's the issue of the homeless: Who will take poor Peyton Manning in?
I don't know. Maybe it is all relative and money won't buy happiness and I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I quit my job to lead a life of luxury. So, it's back to work, because a million dollars just doesn't buy what it used to. Not even a Garfunkel.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green

Being Irish used to fascinate me. It was impressive enough for me to band together with a couple of my classmates in fifth grade to present our heritage at our class's cultural fair. We had a corner of our room all decked out in shamrocks and leprechauns, and between the three of us we managed to create the tricolor flag from orange, white and green construction paper. With a little help from our parents, we baked a couple of sheets of Irish shortbread: shortening, flour and sugar in what I recall were equal amounts. We had a few visitors that day, but since there was nothing particularly foreign or dangerous about our exhibit. We ate a lot of our own shortbread that day.
The joke was on me, it seems, since years later after a painstaking study of our family's genealogy for my older brother's fiftieth birthday, it was discovered that our bloodlines did in fact go all the way back to the old country: Scotland. All those years of touting my right to pound an extra few pints because of my connections in the Emerald Isle were out the window. All the stories that I had accumulated over the years, most of at the foot of my father, turned out to be sadly mistaken. There is a county Cavan in Ireland, and while it is easy enough to twist a vowel as so many immigrants did on Ellis Island back in the day, or dropped the "augh" from the Cavan to describe our locality, that really wasn't the story of my family.
But it was a good story, and it held sway for forty-some years in my world. It was how I introduced myself. It was how I was identified. While I was suddenly left without an explanation for my affinity for U2, I inherited the Scottish associations of Rob Roy and and the brave heart of Mel Gibson. I am also anxious to sample the recipe for Scottish shortbread.

Friday, March 16, 2012


When I was a kid, if I wanted privacy on the phone, I had a couple of choices: First, I could go to one of the three spots in the house that had a phone jack and hope that no one else was around. My parents' room was a pretty save bet, but the level of intimacy engendered by sitting on your mom and dad's bed was not always the right choice. I could hike downstairs and lounge about in the overstuffed chair that sat just below the phone down there. That one had the added benefit of having a cord that would allow a certain amount of pacing about if the situation warranted it. Finally, there was the kitchen phone. It was in the middle of the busiest thoroughfare of the the entire house, and so the chances of having a moment alone on this line were extremely limited. Unless you availed yourself of the extra long cord, the one that allowed my mother to prepare dinner and bake cookies and maintain the cooking facilities while carrying on a lengthy conversation. If you opened the door to the garage, you could stretch that cord out into the chill and sit on the concrete steps that separated the motor works from the scullery with the door closed, save for the crack that allowed the cord to snake through.
Now, if my son wants some privacy, he walks away with the phone. The one without the cord. He doesn't fret about anything but the strength of the signal. As long as he keeps moving, there's really no way to keep up with what he's going on about. And that's just the home phone. With a cell phone and texting, he could be conducting all sorts of illicit behavior on his way to and from school. Since he's pretty relaxed about sharing the contents of his interpersonal conversations, I'm not worried. Not until he starts hanging out in the garage.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Another Saturday Night

State police are attempting to determine who pulled the trigger in a shooting that left one man dead and three others wounded in a small coastal town in Maine last weekend. Gunfire erupted early Sunday morning, as gunfire will. Oddly enough, residents reportedly were not shaken. Maybe that's because these kind of incidents are becoming commonplace in the upper right hand corner of our nation. Especially since Maine records about twenty-four homicides per year.
Twenty-four. For the whole state. Why aren't the residents shaken? Here in Oakland we have had months with twenty-four homicides. One city. Not the biggest city in the state. The shooting that took place in Lamoine, Maine was news that made the papers and was splashed all over Al Gore's Internet. Murder in Maine. That same story would be met with utter disregard here in the Bay Area. Comments like, "New day, same story," and "Do they just copy the story and put in different names?" meet these kinds of events in Oakland. We are resigned to it.
"The death of one is a tragedy," wrote the poet, "The death of a million is just a statistic." The blur that becomes urban living is precisely the distinction between feeling the suffering of others and tuning it out. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember that every life has value. Many moons ago, a friend of mine suggested that it would be entirely appropriate for video games to include video game funerals for all the video game victims of video game violence. If we were all asked to reflect on the loss of life in Maine, in Oakland, in Afghanistan. Not statistics. Tragedies.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

His Father's Eyes

It was the summer that my son matriculated from preschool to kindergarten. That's when we found out that his little eye problem was going to cause him to have to wear glasses. Outwardly, I took the news with aplomb. Why shouldn't my son wear glasses? His father has been wearing glasses since he was five, why shouldn't he? That was the public response. It was fine. All part of the plan. No worries.
It was also the summer that the family was going off to Disney World. We left before he was fitted with his new spectacles, and inside I felt worried about all those wonderful sights that he might not be able to see because of my poor genetics. The smile that met each ride on the Monorail seemed unfazed by the blur that must have appeared on the edges of objects more than a few yards away. All the magic in the kingdom wouldn't make the happiest place in the world come into focus for him. Not that he minded. Not that he suffered. He was able to use his other senses, such as his heightened sensitivity to locomotives to find the train that wound its way through the Animal Kingdom. The one which his parents had remained blissfully unaware. And he saw things that his mother and father never would have seen with their grown-up eyes, with or without prescription lenses. We took a lot of photos, but I still had that nagging feeling that somehow he was being cheated. I had let him down.
He's in high school now. He's struggling to keep his mind on his work. The imagination that both of his parents imbued him with was wreaking havoc with his former honor roll grades. His interests outside the classroom were getting the best of him. This past week he got a letter of rejection from the engineering academy at his high school. I remembered the look on his face when he first visited the campus and sat at one of the drafting tables. It was that same monorail smile. And now that grade point average has come back to bite him. I felt the secret shame of the math class I was kicked out of in high school. The academic probation I endured in college for my lackluster attention and attendance. Like all those other parents, I just wanted my child to do better than me. But how could he with the equipment I had given him?
Then I saw the light: memories. His memories of Disney World are vivid and bright. My recollections of struggles at school continue to be embarrassing enough on the retelling to help gauge the challenge in front of my son's pursuit of his own brass ring. Or sheepskin. Or whatever they are currently handing out. There is a waiting list for the engineering academy. There are still plenty of worlds for him to discover. With his father's eyes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Point A

It started as a little project. I was going to start with Saint Patrick's Day, and see if I felt better after getting a few days between me and the binge I went on during a trip to Phoenix. It wasn't anything heroic or monumental. It was more about coming to grips with the fear that I had that night in the hotel parking lot. I don't know how I made it from point A to point B, and that scary reckoning coupled with one of the most ferocious hangovers I ever endured suggested that taking a break from drinking and drugs might be a good idea.
An idea that has taken me from point B to where I am now. Sober. I went through my own private rehab without Doctor Drew or Betty Ford. There were no delirium tremens. No late nights huddled under a blanket. No voices in my head. Just days of making the awkward adjustment from professional sportsdrinker to mild-mannered abstinaut. Emphasis on the "not." Those days turned into weeks, then months, and eventually a year passed. I celebrated this anniversary in the most ironic way possible: by heading down to Key West over Spring Break to soak up some sun and hang around with some of my old college chums. Not drinking. We drove around in a rented convertible. Not drinking. We hung out in a number of bars, including Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. Not drinking.
And I got from point B to point C, D, E and F, remembering every step of the way. I look back now and remember all those beers that I avoided a little like land mines in the desert. Temptation and frustrations come and go, but the relief I feel when I put another day between myself and that parking lot makes it all worthwhile. With one exception: The day of my father's memorial service, my brothers and I went out to have a burger together at Tom's Tavern. My brothers ordered each ordered a beer, in tribute to my father who had a burger and a brew in a booth for years before the three of us were born. I toasted with my Coca-Cola. That toast felt like it came with an asterisk.
Since then, I've enjoyed my retirement. The benefits of clear head and bright mornings have far outweighed the hazy nights and embarrassed recollections of less-than-stellar behavior. And the journey continues on from point A.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Coming Attractions

My son asked my wife and I what we would think about him going to see a movie with someone "like a date." Without lapsing into a discussion of the difference between a metaphor and a simile, we took this new development in stride. If he was ever going to get married and settle down, he would have to start with something "like a date." Of course I understand that I have broken the unspoken agreement I have with my wife by discussing these matters, since even talking about the day in the future when he needs to start shaving is currently taboo, but that's a debate that can wait for evolution to take us there.
This "like a date" thing has occurred before. He has gone to movies with friends, some of them girls, and had what could be described as a fine time. He was experiencing proximity without commitment. "A bunch of us are going to the movies, would you like to go" is light years away from "Would you like to go to the movies with me." The singular pronouns. You. Me. Just a conjunction away from "you and me." Terrifying to watch from the safety of the grandstand, but completely exhilarating from behind the wheel of that car zooming toward the finish line.
Wait a second. Let me back up. There will be no car, since the driver's license is still a year away, and any metaphor that implies speed and finish could be construed as a goal beyond the casual connection that will be generated by going to the theater together. Would I feel more comfortable if my son continued his monastic existence, surrounded by his video games and Legos, content to only go outside when he is on his way to another friend's house to play more video games and Legos? Not really. I'm ready to spice things up. A little paprika, perhaps? Or maybe something "like a date."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Easy Money

There's nothing new about bashing the Boss. Way back in the 1980's, when he was at the height of his popularity, Bruce Springsteen was the object of ridicule and scorn. He had sold out, and not in the "no-more-tickets-for-the-show" way. How could this hero of the common man be anything but a hypocrite as he was jetting across the globe singing songs about the downtrodden with his fabulous model wife and his body by Jake? I remember that even back then I flinched when I was asked to fork over twenty-five dollars to see the Born In The U.S.A. tour. These were not great seats, mind you, but to quote the man himself, it was "The Price You Pay."
I defended him when his marriage broke up. I bought both "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town." I watched him on Saturday Night Live with a band I did not recognize. I kept buying tickets to shows even though the price crept past my comfort range, right up to this tour where I am paying a little over a hundred dollars apiece for the privilege of taking my family to see the man who sings "We Take Care Of Our Own." I am not immune to the irony of this situation. Nor am I able to simply sever the ties that bind.
Bruce would not deny that he is part of the dreaded one percent, but he wouldn't publicize it. Not like Mitt Romney and his wife, who doesn't consider herself wealthy. Many of the songs on the new Springsteen album, "Wrecking Ball," ring through with echoes of the Occupy Movement. It's probably not a surprise that the CDs and mP3 downloads are not free. Considerable amounts of money are being made here. So why would anyone in the ninety-nine percent want to support this kind of behavior?
Maybe because of what Bruce stands for. It's not about what he is anymore. He hasn't been struggling to make ends meet for decades. He's just been singing about it, and this weird culture in which we live that elevates those with particular skills and abilities above others continues its wild obsession. A victim of his own fame? Maybe, but I'll still take the guy who doesn't brag about his wife's two Cadillacs or make ten thousand dollar bets in front of a national television audience. Or maybe I'm just too old to go out and find a new hero of the working man.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Everybody Wins!

It's what my mother-in-law likes to call a "win-win" situation. Nobody gets embarrassed. Everyone comes away feeling good with their collective self-esteem intact. We like to have these experiences on our playground, where we shut down the heavy-handed competition and focus on the participation: If you had fun, you won.
But this is a presidential election year. Wouldn't it be best, self-esteem aside, if there was a clear cut victor? Super Tuesday was an advance in the non-decision of the Republican nominee, with exit polls showing that nobody's all that fired up about any of the candidates. Rick won a few. Mitt won a few. Even Newt scraped together a win in Georgia. Ron Paul continues his campaign against reason. This leaves the door open for all kinds of things to creep in over the next few months. Something creepy.
Here's what one voter in the Alaska primary had to say: "I will tell you who I voted for tonight... the cheerful one, it's Newt Gingrich," she told Fox News, referring to the one-word description the former House Speaker gave of himself at a debate last week. Newt didn't win in Alaska. Mitt Romney did, tightening his wobbly grip on the pending nomination of his party. Did this bother this Alaskan Republican? "But to be brutally honest, and I say this with all due respect to governor Romney, who is obviously the front runner, he's not garnering a lot of that enthusiasm right now." So much so that this enthusiastic GOP member announced, "Anything is possible. I don't close any doors that perhaps would be open out there, so no, I wouldn't close that door. My plan is to be at that convention." Apparently the reality-TV market has chilled a little up in Wasilla. But closing the door would imply completion, and since this is not Sarah Palin's strong suit, we can only cringe in anticipation of her return.
No word on whether she finished filling out her entire ballot.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Idle Thoughts

My wife has stopped having emotional outbursts each time our Prius comes to a stop and the engine shuts off. It still makes us both very smug as we drive across town to Target to buy some new jeans. We are also a family that stops to gawk, for the benefit of my gearhead son, at every muscle car and street machine that roars by. My wife will do the same for her dream of a Nissan Leaf. It's not the number of cylinders for her. It's the lack of a tailpipe. None of us are looking for a Chevy Volt.
Maybe that's because the most recent flurry of advertising from GM is telling us that the best feature of the Volt is the nine gallon gas tank. Chevy would like you to know that they have not given up on the gas burning engine. They still have one foot squarely in the fossil fuel epoch. They are using this as a selling point. They are marketing their electric car with the added bonus of the fact that it's not really an electric car at all. It's a hybrid.
I understand that owning an electric car all by itself will not save the planet. In a way, it simply pushes the problem down the road to the coal-burning electricity generating plants. Even if you were savvy enough to mount solar panels on the roof of your garage, there is still waste and pollution generated in the manufacture and installation of solar panels. That's why we buy carbon offsets. If we spend enough money, everything will be green, right? Filling up that nine gallon gas tank on your electric car is a nice way to start, I suppose.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Where Does The Time Go?

The words my son used to describe his disappointment were these: "I just wanted some 'me' time." I listened to that, and tried to take it in. He was feeling the crush of a weekend that had moved on without him. Well, to be fair, he had been there. He had been asleep. His Saturday morning went without notice. I heard his feet hit the floor for the first time just after noon. That meant that he had just a few hours before his grandmother would be there to pick him up to spend the rest of the day together. He wasn't, as the kids say, feeling it.
What he was feeling was the way that two days can suddenly become parts of one day, which are merely the hours and minutes that are left to all of us to do those things that don't qualify as "structured time." Video games, Facebook, and assorted screens that are not burdened with information that will appear on this week's quiz are the goal. Grandma's house wasn't going to offer much of that, even if he managed to complete his homework. The burden of "must do" fell squarely on his shoulders and he showed me a face that I recognized from my own teen age.
I wanted to tell him that "me time" was something he had to guard, and that sleeping until noon was exactly that kind of time, but in the most passive way possible. I wanted to tell him that I envied his ability to remain in bed for half a day. I wanted to commiserate with him more, but I could feel the clock ticking just over our collective shoulder. His grandmother was going to be there soon to take him on a bike ride. And make him dinner. And play Rummy-Cube. That would be Grandma Time. I was having Parent Time with him. Talking with him wasn't going to make him feel better.
He left the house under a gray cloud, and my wife and I worried that he might be stuck there. Happily, we got a call later that evening telling us that the fresh air and exercise had lightened his load, and he was sharing one of his favorite on-line games with his grandmother. Bed time was coming a little earlier than it had the night before, and he was okay with that. His vision of Sunday was full of "me."

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Is It Safe?

There have been stories for many years about people whose dental fillings have become tiny radio transmitters in their mouths. The effect reported ranges from a low buzz or high pitched squeal to a full-on broadcast from deep inside one's head. This cold prove most maddening, but since the signals that set off such wacky occurrences were caused by proximity to high-powered antennae, the folks who were affected were primarily limited to those on the outskirts of town. You know. In trailer parks. The ones with foil on the windows. How were they to discern the voices in their head form the radio waves?
Nonetheless, any sort of dental oddity is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore. This may be why I have made it my mission to keep my own teeth and gums as free and clear of debris and communications satellites as possible. Which is precisely how I found myself on the horns of a mighty flossing dilemma. Before bed, I was breaking up the plaque matrix in my usual methodical way when suddenly the slender strand of unwaxed floss frayed and broke off, stranding a tiny piece wedged between my lower right molars. I sighed, pulled another piece of floss form the spool and set about retrieving the knot of thread wedged in that tiny crack. Numerous attempts to go back between those two teeth merely sawed the floss neatly in two, much in the way those grinding plates were intended.
All the while, the bit of thread lodged in the corner of my mouth seemed to expand. Each method of removal became more frantic and distressed as I enlisted my wife's help to dig around in there. Maybe she could see that chunk of debris and bring my suffering to an end. Finally, after numerous assaults, we gave up. I went to a fitful night's sleep with the persistent pressure of something stuck between my teeth.
When I awoke the next morning, I felt some relief, but it only took a few minutes for my tongue to find the tattered ends, reminding me that there was still work to do. Before I could set about the rest of my day, I needed some relief. This time, we went in with the superior technology of waxed dental tape. Sparing you all the details of home dental surgery, I was able with the help of my loving wife to remove what had begun to feel like a fist-sized knot of rope from the corner of my jaw. I breathed a sigh of relief, and from somewhere far away I heard the voices in my head more clearly: "Buy more unwaxed floss."

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

We Can Be Heroes

Dave Sanders. That's the name that has been rolling about my head over the past week as the story of yet another school shooting has been splashed across the twenty-four hour news cycle. Dave was a teacher at Columbine High School who was shot and killed on that day back in another century. He was trying to save students at his school from bad guys who were shooting up his school.
Frank Hall chased a kid out of his school who was shooting "indiscriminately" in the cafeteria. He doesn't feel that he was a hero, perhaps because he couldn't do anything about the four kids who were shot. Three of them died. If he hadn't confronted this kid with a gun, it is unclear how many more might have been wounded or killed. He's a hero.
Mark Foster "wanted to reveal that internal dialogue of a kid who doesn't have anywhere to turn." The result was "Pumped Up Kicks," a song that may be the tipping point of youth gone wild. It's hard to imagine such a ditty would reflect the despair that existed in Eric Harris or T.J. Lane. It's hard to imagine that any of the songs that attempt to reflect the mindset of a killer could make the top of the charts. Is Mark Foster a hero?
On my playground, when I see little boys chasing after each other with their fingers pointed, making sounds informed by plenty of movies and video games, I call them over to me. "Hand over the guns," I tell them. One by one, they step forward and pantomime disarming. "Now we're going to toss the guns into the ocean." A few of them holler their disapproval. Most of them are resigned to their fate. I make a big show of hurling the arsenal over my shoulder and watching it land with a splash, far out to sea somewhere across the blacktop. Some of them will re-arm themselves after I walk away. I'm not a hero. But there are a few who get the message: They admonish their friends, "Mister Caven said 'No guns!'" They're the heroes.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Rush To Judgement

The definition of "news" is that the item in question should be deemed noteworthy, in some way a departure from the status quo. By this reckoning, Rush Limbaugh's most recent outburst aimed at Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke hardly meets this criteria. His rambling associations about the relative costs of birth control and taxpayer's responsibility to fund such services are nothing out of the ordinary. He leaped abruptly from the health care concern to the character of the woman who chose to testify before congress in support of their national health care policy that would compel her college to offer health plans that cover her birth control. It should surprise no one that he called Ms. Fluke a "prostitute" and a "slut." By his reasoning: "What does it say about the college coed ... who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex." A day later he expanded on this theme: "If we're going to have to pay for this, then we want something in return, Ms. Fluke. And that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we're getting for our money." That was Wednesday and Thursday. By Saturday, six advertisers had pulled sponsorship of Limbaugh's show and Republicans distanced themselves from the comments. That's when the news happened.
"For over twenty years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week," Limbaugh said in his statement. "In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke." Rush apologized. If there were presses anymore, they would be stopped. Of course, the apology stopped immediately after the poor word choice. His opinion on the matter of government subsidized contraception remains unswayed. "I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities," he said. "What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?" Of course, not everyone can afford addiction to prescription pain killers and subsequent rehab. Personal responsibility and accountability on Rush's part? That would be news indeed.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

This Monkee's Gone To Heaven

If you have listened to me opine for more than fifteen minutes about my torturous youth, you've probably heard me moaning about how my older brother got first pick of everything: He got Hot Wheels. I got Johnny Lightning. He got Quisp. I got Quake. He got the Beatles. I got the Monkees. You can't get Quake anymore. You can order Quisp online. You can pick up a new Hot Wheels car at Target. Good luck finding a Johnny Lighting car, even at suggested retailers.
But I got lucky with the Monkees. They kept recording after the Fab Four went their separate ways. They also did something the Beatles never even threatened to do: reunited. Sure, Mike didn't show up for most of these get-togethers, but there was still Monkee music to be had. In various permutations, Peter, Micky, Mike and Davy could be found somewhere on a stage off and on over the past forty-plus years.
Now, the "pre-fab four" are down to a trio. Davy Jones took his final bow this week at the age of sixty-six. His passing came as a surprise, and was met with a flurry of kind words and reminiscences. As a guy, I can confess that Davy was never my favorite primarily because he was the cute one, and I found this threatening. You wouldn't catch Mike holding still for a Tiger Beat cover shoot. That was Mickey and Davy's territory. Being cute can take its toll on a person, but Davy always wore it well, from his appearance on the Brady Bunch TV show to his return to glory in the Brady Bunch movie, decades later. The years weren't quite as nice to Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork has been even a little harder to find between reunion gigs.
And now, there will be no more Monkees shows. Davy shuffled off to Buffalo and left me with pleasant memories of Saturday morning reruns in the sixties, and MTV marathons in the eighties. I guess second pick wasn't so bad after all. Aloha, Davy.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Everything's Fine

The Dow finished the day above thirteen thousand for the first time since 2008. Back in the dark times, before the Clone Wars. At last, we as a nation can finally breathe easy, knowing that the troubles are over. The Conference Board, a private research group, said its consumer confidence jumped to 70.8 in February, up from 61.5 in January. Who could doubt that our country is on its way back to the top.
Yes? You in the back with your hand up?
"What about the rest of us who are watching gas prices creep toward five dollars a gallon..."
Nothing to worry about. Just unrest in the Middle East. If it gets any worse, we'll send in some Navy Seals to take care of it.
"But what about the millions of dollars that people lost in the crash of the banks? People whose entire retirement portfolios were reduced to just pennies on the dollar?"
Well, now is the time to get back in the game! Look at all the confidence you have! It's more than seventy!
"What does that mean, though? I want to be able to send my kids to college -"
College? That's for snobs.
"I want to be able to buy a home."
Yeah, well, there are some very nice foreclosures coming on the market right about now.
"I don't have time to play the market. I've got to go to work. All my investments have to survive the long haul, not these periodic leaps and bounds."
That's okay. Didn't you see the latest Transformers movie, "Money Never Sleeps?" You could be doing after hours trading on foreign markets.
"You mean like Greece? Have they got all the fires out yet?"
Did I mention that the Dow topped thirteen thousand this week?

Friday, March 02, 2012

What's So Funny?

Along with a good portion of the rest of the planet, I watched the Academy Awards this past weekend. For me, it rounds out the winter must-see spectacle season, kind of a shadow of the Super Bowl just a few weeks before. I can remember when Johnny Carson hosted the Oscars. He was funny. I can remember when Jon Stewart hosted. He was funnier than David Letterman, but I knew that they were both out of their comfort zone, and I have remained fans of their appearances when the rest of the world has been happy to let these one-timers slide into history. I also remember Billy Crystal. He was funny.
Was. There was a time back in the nineties when he was funny everywhere.
Okay, maybe there's a problem here. Maybe we don't all agree on what "funny" is. "Causing laughter or amusement." This is a dictionary definition, but it does provide a little insight. E.B. White once said, "Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind." In the case of Billy's 2012 Oscar gig, with apologies to Woody Allen, what we have here is a dead frog.
One of the things that causes something to be found humorous is a sudden change in abstraction levels. Simply put, if you're expecting it, it's not funny. There is still comedy to be mined out of repetition, just ask David Letterman, but appearing in black face doing a passable Sammy Davis Jr. after twenty-plus years goes beyond beating a dead horse. In my mind, I could hear the grand old man, Bob Hope, warming up in the bullpen: "Hey, I gotta tellya..."
Bill Murray turned down a big paycheck to do "Ghostbusters 3." He didn't figure anyone wanted to watch a bunch of old guys chasing computer generated ghosts around. That's a young man's game. And so, it would appear, is hosting the Oscars.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

It's What's Inside

I saw a broken toy out in the street this morning. My first reaction was that of a parent: "How sad that a child's toy was left in the street to be crushed underneath the wheels of passing cars." That sadness was quickly mitigated by the memory of being a child. I remembered the fate of a number of toys that lived past their love and fascination stage. Many of these simply found a spot in the bottom of a box or drawer where they became the stuff of "Toy Story" legend. I wondered if the blue box that had been splintered in a dozen small pieces wasn't part of a larger experiment. "What would happen if..."
I remember how well Major Matt Mason stood up to being placed inside a coffee can full of water, then left in our freezer for a couple of days. I remember road testing our GI Joes by dragging them behind my friend's parents' pickup truck. How high could you throw something made of "high impact plastic" before it surrendered to less space age physics? And I remembered being very intrigued by the inner workings of the voice mechanism of my older brother's Chester O'Chimp doll. When my younger brother got a smaller, orange puppet version of the same toy, I saw my opening.
"When you pull the string," I queried my naive sibling, "what do you think happens?"
Eager to be a part of the experiment, or less eager to be bullied into it, he gave up his lightly used toy. Using rudimentary tools (a pair of scissors) he watched as I hacked and cut the voice box out of the back of the ape's head. The grey plastic case still held a mystery. Jamming the scissors into a seam, I began to pry. I paid no attention to my brother's reaction. Was he as intrigued as I was, or was he squirming in tormented empathy for his puppet pal? I paid him no heed.
When at last there was a snap and then a crack, I was able to see what was happening inside the speech center: It looked like a tiny record player wired to a speaker about the size of a silver dollar. I held this mess up to my brother, who gave me the happy gift of curiosity. "Cool," he said as he stared at the remains of his talking chimp puppet.
Then there was the mess. We stuffed the brainless puppet back into his toy box, and the shards of our lobotomy into the back of his closet. I'm sure that at some point I intended to try and find some use for the pieces, but there was to be no restoration. I'm guessing that might have been the story behind the bright blue box I found in the street. Perhaps my sinister motives are merely a projection. I left them behind as well.