Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sanrio's Cat

Cough. Dough. Coffin. You could probably take a few hours looking up rules and rationales for the pronunciations and spellings for these words. Or you could surrender to the notion that I am currently pleased with: These words exist in their peculiar configurations to confuse kids. Sure, you might be able to research the etymology of a these syllables from ancient civilizations, but just try and tell an eight year old that the English language is made up of the castoffs from hundreds of different tongues and translations that have been massaged and forgotten and remembered until they are all but unrecognizable. If you were ever a kid, you know that language isn't he only thing out there set up to confound you.
Take this for example: "Hello Kitty is not a cat. She's a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She's never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it's called Charmmy Kitty." These were the words offered up to   University of Hawaii Anthropologist Christine R. Yano as she was preparing a Hello Kitty retrospective for the Japanese American National Museum Hello Kitty owners Sanrio. Schr√∂dinger would be so impressed. Hello Kitty is and is not a cat. Tell this to a second grade girl and watch her head explode. Or not. It could be that the only humans ready to accept such a swirling conflict of reality is a child. When I was ten, it never bothered me that Mickey, who was a mouse, had a pet dog. On top of that mild twist, add the additional two or three turns that come with the acceptance of that same mouse having a best friend named Goofy, who walks around on two legs and wears clothes and speaks in a language understood by Mickey and the rest of us as English, who also happens to be a dog. This hole in the fabric of the universe could only exist in a world where that sort of thing was commonplace. The kind of world where Teenage Turtles can be both mutated and highly trained martial arts experts. As an adult, I would expect that the "mutant" part would be sufficient to explain any special talents or variations in size, shape or color. 
This is why we try to teach this stuff to kids. Applying an order to the world is our job as grownups. If we tell them that "shun" means to "push away," we don't have to explain the word "confusion." It simply is what it is. It doesn't mean to push away confusion. That would be ridiculous. That sort of thing makes sense to us. If you happen to be over twelve years of age. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Special Orders

Having it your way. It's an American ideal. This was one of the reasons I was, for a time, shamed into considering a switch in my burger allegiance from McDonald's to Burger King. After all, for a time in my youth my family referred to me as "The Burger King." This had more to do with the fact that I would cry if I was subjected to anything but a hamburger and fries when my parents went out for dinner and bought us boys fast food than it mattered where that hamburger came from. It might also have had something to do with the incident that occurred in Disneyland, the one in which I fell asleep with my head on that nice warm bun after a long day in the Magic Kingdom. I grew up with the expectation that burgers came from the Golden Arches, but I was tolerant of other chains that might try to force my hand as long as that hand ended up with a cheeseburger in it.
Years pass. My palate changes. Well, not discernibly for those outside, but it changes. I no longer require a Quarter Pounder with Cheese for my routine. I was introduced to the wonders of the "flame broiled" technique favored by the Burger King franchises. I understood that in the Kingdom of Burgers, there can still be many heads of state. That's why I wasn't shaken to the core when my wife announced that, now we were done collecting Happy Meal toys, we could be done with McDonald's. It was a political decision that stretched beyond the whole ketchup and mustard versus special sauce issues that tended to cloud my own judgement. That's why when Burger King announced that they were going to be selling a "Proud Whopper" to commemorate San Francisco's annual Gay Pride celebration, it came as a revelation, not necessarily a revolution.
Shortly after that, however, came the news that the corporate offices of the King had made another decree: They would swallow up the Canadian doughnut chain, Tim Horton's, in order to become a non-U.S. corporation. This will allow them to dodge the "unfair" tax burden they experienced when they were based in the lower forty-eight. Now there are talks of boycotting the King. What could be more American? If you answered, "The God-fearing folks at In'n'Out," feel free to pull forward to the next window. Who would have thought that eating hamburgers required a conscience?

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Golden Ticket

I should be so lucky. Of course, it would help if we defined "luck" first. I think that winning almost always has a certain element of luck. This is why I stop to pick pennies up off the sidewalk even though at some point this particular habit will probably be the thing that snaps my spine or hit by a car. I have also learned not to mess with a streak. If something is successful, leave it alone. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Sometimes I will even go so far as to wish for something by being so indiscreet as to close my eyes and say it out loud. This is often in conjunction with field goal attempts made by professional football kickers, but I do take it very seriously.
Then there's the matter of winning a prize. Last week, my son was convinced that he had won thirty-five thousand dollars. All he had to do was to head down to a nearby car dealership and pick up his prize. The fact that the certification for this award showed up with my name on it. Not his. That did not mean that he wasn't feeling lucky. A very brief and extremely casual perusal of the fine print had him convinced that he had won "at least" a three hundred and fifty dollar Wal-Mart gift card. Dreams really do come true. Even if that dream does include using your old man's name and login to access your prize package.
After several minutes of rational discussion, however, he was dissuaded from this bonanza, and he let it go with the tiniest whimper. It seemed like such a great deal. That's why I will be happy to let him know about Taco Bell's latest promotion: Food for Life. Sorry, since we're talking about Taco Bell here, I think it's important to refer to it as "Food" for Life, or what's left of it after clogged arteries and multiple heart procedures. All one has to do is find one of eleven dollar bills floating about the United States, the ones with special serial numbers that identify them as winners. And you could win quesaritos, gorditas, chalupas and any other permutation of ground beef, melted cheese and tortillas you might care to imagine for the rest of your life. Oh, to be so lucky.
Or perhaps it's best to keep this to myself. I'm only speculating here, but I would put the cash value of such a prize at about half a million dollars. Three meals a day for seventy-five years at about five bucks a meal? That's a lot of nachos. Of course, maybe if they scaled it back a bit and made it special pennies, I might have a chance. Just one really long week. With sour cream. Lucky me.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Miss The Myths

I have learned all kinds of things from watching "Mythbusters." You can't really shoot bad guys underwater, since the water will stop a bullet. Cell phones arranged in a circle won't pop popcorn. And perhaps most important of all: "When in doubt, C4." For those of you uninitiated, this is a reference to the plastic explosive, which has been used on countless episodes to explode any trace of myth that might linger.
Which makes me wonder why the guys didn't accidentally subject the "away team" to some sort of cataclysmic detonation, one from which no shards or tissue samples could be recovered. Instead of plastic explosive, the producers resorted to Twitter. "It's not only the end of this episode, it's not only the end of this season — it is also the end of an era," host Adam Savage announced. Co-host Jamie Hyneman added, "This season we're going back to our origins with just Adam and me." For their part, the "build team" was very gracious about their departure. Kari Byron tweeted, "The show is taking a new direction. It was an amazing run. I learned so much about myself and the world. I love you all." Grant and Tori were just as effusive in their sentiments for their decade of service on the show.
But the myth remains: Why did the folks at the Discovery Channel decide to let them go? Nobody was tuning in to see the youngsters anymore? Production costs had forced the hand of management to cut the cast to save money for liquid nitrogen? Or perhaps it was simple jealousy, where the spotlight for A-Type Nerds wasn't quite big enough for all five to peacefully coexist. Whatever the reason, I suspect that we will see Tori, Grant and Kari back on TV soon enough. Maybe even on the Discovery Channel. But it really won't be the same. How do I know? Well, I don't. That's why it will take a team of specially trained professionals to look into this new urban myth and eventually I will get my answers from the TV. The way God intended.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shake, Rattle and Roll

At just past three in the morning, all those things that you have learned and know by heart about earthquakes don't mean a lot. Being shaken awake by your parents is one thing, but being shaken awake by your house is quite another. My son, who has been putting together a career year in sleep this past year, was sitting straight up in bed when my wife and I made it to the back room to check on him.
But first we endured an endless twenty seconds of tectonic shifting. The walls and floors of our one hundred twenty year old house moved, along with the rest of the neighborhood, on the wave that was sent down the coast to us from Napa. Thanks for sharing, Napa. When my brain cells had aligned effectively enough to reckon with what was happening around me, I considered my options: holding very still and waiting for the unpleasantness to simply pass, leap from the bed and stand in a doorway, or cling to my wife and hope that the ceiling would hold. I would like to tell you that I made some sort of rational decision about what I ended up doing, which was essentially a combination of those three alternatives, but I was in full-on react mode. Objects that I considered solid turned out to be negotiable on that fact.
We have a smoke detector. We have a CO2 sensor. We have lights on the side and back of our house that detect motion. None of these devices enhanced our safety a whit. On the way to the back room to check on my son, whom I expected to wake and explain this natural phenomenon to, I thought about all we had done to prepare for this eventuality. We have supplies and first aid kits and extra clothes and even a tent to camp out in the back yard if the homestead collapsed completely. And yet this caught us unawares. I was gratified not just by the sight of my son and his eyes bleary but open, but also with the news that he had actually made it off his bed and to the doorway to ride out the earth's wobbly moment.
We were joined a few moments later by his mother, and the three of us took stock, describing the event that took less than thirty seconds but would keep all of us awake for another half hour. We had the luxury of going back to sleep. Even as emergency crews scrambled to aid those in need north of us, we were able to put another geological event in our past. We could go back to sleep. We didn't have to put out any fires. We didn't have to rebuild. We could only wait for the next one.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Victory Lap

I am currently in the process of raising a high school senior. I understand that I share this distinction with millions of other parents, but has only dawned on me over the past week or so just how significant this experience is for me. My wife, by contrast, has been working feverishly on all matters related to this new phase for several months. She has been looking at college brochures and financial aid packages. She has attended meetings and engaged help and assistance in all manner of things that will help prepare our son for the future. His future.
It's not as if I was ignoring this particular growth spurt. Every day I struggle in from the mailbox with another dozen flyers from educational institutions that are clamoring to get their hands on the next four years of my son's life. And the next four years of our paid tuition for that privilege. Then there's the conversations I have with my son about girls and courses of study and insurance. These are not the conversations I had with him when he was in middle school. Or elementary school. They are even distinct from those we shared in his freshman year of high school. The future was something we acknowledged, but spoke of in the same manner that we might have chatted about unicorns or Big Foot. This is no longer a mythical or legendary beast. The future is now.
I suppose this lack of focus on the impending transition shouldn't surprise me. Before our son was born, I attended a great many birth classes and was instructed in great detail about what to fear when we were expecting. I have already apologized for not paying better attention at the time. That glazed-oversight was my way of dealing with the incipient life change that was headed my way like the freight train that I would spend the next six years staring at while my fresh-faced progeny looked on in awe. Inside I was the same person I was before, but the reality that surrounded me shifted dramatically. We went from a pair to a trio. I had to tie shoes other than my own. Food was spooned and just as often picked up off the floor.
These days I don't have to spend as much time looking for deals on tickets for Disney on Ice. I can delete episodes of "Transformers Prime" from our Tivo with impunity. I don't have to cut anyone's meat for them, but I do have to shame the enormous forkfuls that get shoveled in that ever-expanding mouth. He's a growing boy, and will be for some time to come, but I won't be watching it happen on a daily basis for very much longer. I'll still spend time in the aisles of Toys R Us, but the purpose has shifted once again.
When my son came out to my school last week to help me set up teachers' classroom computers, the first thing that I noticed was that he drove there. Then it was apparent that he had been paying attention all those years before, when he was able to go from room to room connecting this and that, without my constant supervision. When it was time for him to leave, he did just that. He drove away. It brought back the image of my year and a half old son who came to my second back to school night and tottered into the doorway of my computer lab and proceeded to do a face plant there on the unforgiving tile floor.
I know that eventually my son will be cutting up my meat for me and watching out for my periodic lapses of balance, but right now I'm focused on the moment: My son is a senior in high school.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Heard The News Today, Oh Boy

America is certainly an entertaining and diverse place to live and learn. I was listening to the news on the radio, and heard a news report that began with a description of the calm that had finally begun to take hold in Ferguson, Missouri. This came as Governor Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard out of the little town that was once just a corner of the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. Now it is part of the continuing and troubled history of civil rights in the United States. Having experienced some of the same upheaval in my own town over the past few years, it was easy enough for me to connect with the tensions and fears that played out over the weeks after the shooting of Michael Brown. Rioting, arrests, looting, curfews, more rioting, and still no understanding of exactly what happened. So pervasive was this connection that Oakland was one of the many cities that staged protests in sympathy with their comrades halfway across the country. For many, these are dangerous times.
What was the second story? California's governor, Jerry Brown was signing a bill that would allow dogs at restaurants. With one swift stroke of a pen, Governor Brown made it possible for your favorite Poodle or Pomeranian to sit down next to you as you enjoy the sidewalk cafe of your choice. All of a sudden, the difference between California and the rest of the planet was drawn in stark relief. Missouri's governor was telling the armed force that had all but occupied one of his state's cities to stand down, while out in Sacramento, Governor Moonbeam was protecting the civil rights of man's best friend.
Okay, so maybe it's not that simple. It is a certainty that Governor Brown has had to deal with his share of civil unrest, and some news editor will probably feel a little sheepish when the story selection for the day gets played back in real time. "Did we really just air those two stories back to back?"
Of course we did. That's what makes America so darn amusing. There's always room for the lighter side. We demand it. Don't bring us down with all that beheading nonsense. Tell us about the Kardashians one more time so we don't have to go to sleep at night with the notion that a great chunk of the world's population would say the infidels of the USA deserve everything that comes their way. Even sloppy news editors.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How It All Went Down

I rushed home with every intent to be sitting in front of my computer with plenty of time to catch my breath and finalize my plans before the Fantasy Football draft began. "Plenty of time" turned out to be eight minutes. Just enough time to make sure that the first three picks were players whose names I recognized, and then I opened up this window to start blogging about the experience. With five minutes to go, I waited anxiously for the bell to ring. Well, it's not exactly a bell, it's the Monday Night Football sound bite, and it pops up every time somebody joins or leaves the page. It can be quite distracting, especially since I was listening to The Doors in the background.
By the eighth round, I had finished the plate of potato chips and Sloppy Joes that my wife had so lovingly and carefully placed in front of me. I enjoyed it, but there was still a bitter taste in my mouth from having Peyton Manning whisked out from under me just two picks before I could snap him up. I found myself wondering, ever so briefly, if I really wanted to continue with this charade. I understand that this is all pretend and I won't be asked to suit up and play a down this season, even though I have drawers stuffed and overflowing with football jerseys, most of them orange and or blue to show off my affiliation and enthusiasm for all things Bronco. And the head Bronco, for now, is Peyton Manning.
That funk lasted a good three minutes as I scrambled for an alternative. "How about that nice Drew Brees?" I consoled myself with the quarterback of many fans' dreams. Just not mine. I forced more potato chips in my mouth and soldiered on. This year our league expanded by two teams, making the wait between picks as well as the relative slimness of the pickings. It was much more difficult to field a team of straight up superstars. I personally ended up drafting at least a couple of gentlemen whom I will spend the next few months getting to know.
Of course, every year there is a player or two who leaps onto the sports pages from seemingly nowhere, and surprises us all with their breakout performance. These are, quite often, the one-hit wonders who tend to recede into the background after that initial shock wears off. Not like the franchise-type player who we tend to build out teams around. Like Peyton Manning. I looked in vain on my screen for a "reset" button. No such luck. In the end, once the virtual smoke cleared, I had two Denver Broncos on my team, and a group of very capable position players who anyone would be happy to be taking the field. Or the virtual gridiron.
Oh well, if it's all a fantasy anyway, I can pretend that Peyton is my quarterback. Omaha!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Take Me To The River

There is this ancient Greek dude who wants us to believe that you can't step in the same river twice. Heraclitus was a philosopher whose central tenant was that change is essential to life. All is in flux, nothing abides. Unless you happen to be the Dude. Not the Greek Dude, but the Dude who, you know. abides, man.
I may have strayed from my original point: There is wisdom out there that suggests that you can't step in the same river twice. I find this a little confounding, since I am about to step into that same river for the eighteenth time. I recently finished my seventeenth year of teaching at the same school here in Oakland. I don't tend to phrase it that way, however, since I find it more impressive to announce that I am "starting my eighteenth year." I don't believe this gets me any extra credit or puts me any closer to retirement, since that measure comes at the close of the school year. That wacky way that my calendar straddles a pair of years, and when I head back, it's still really the same year. Or it will be until December when everything starts to feel like it's sliding downhill.
At least that's the way it's been for the previous seventeen years. Standing in this same old river, I get the gist of what Heraclitus was saying, but it doesn't make my feet any less wet. The water around me is personified by the kids who fill the classrooms and playground. In the halls they have a distinctly river-like movement. Still, those third graders used to be second graders, and the fifth graders from way back in June have moved off down around the bend to middle school.
So maybe I'm not really standing there in the river so much as a metaphorical rock in the stream, altering the current as much as being washed over. Yes, there has been some erosion, and the banks feel just a little wider than they used to be, but it sure feels like the same old river. Change is everywhere, so change is a constant, and if I provide a long enough time line, I can see that my feet in this river don't amount to that much after all, only in comparison to those who have been there less than eighteen years. And since it just so happens that we house six years of elementary education under our roof, that means that I am finishing up my third full cycle of Kindergarten through fifth grade. The river of children that has flowed around me has moved downstream to a point where I probably wouldn't recognize most of them. In their place are a new crop, bubbling and frothing about, anxious to find their own way. Hold on while I commence to wade into that new river.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Men

Ex-gay activist Stephen Bennett said this last week: "They're basically marching in with their fist shaking. saying, 'We demand equality, homosexuality is equivalent to heterosexuality.' Folks, it is not. Anyone with a brain realizes it is not equal." Anyone with a brain. This is Stephen Bennett, who runs Stephen Bennett Ministries or SBM. It has been a while since I had a full medical checkup, but I believe I am currently in possession of a brain, and that is why I am wondering why anyone would be foolish enough to call their Christian organization "SBM." 
Stephen went on, as you might expect: He didn't mince words when it came to his stance on same-sex couples who are also parents, noting, "Can homosexuals raise children? Absolutely. Is that what God's perfect plan is? Absolutely not." And now I'm struck by another impulse from that thing between my ears which may or not be a brain since I do believe in equality. I'm wondering about this perfect plan God has. This is the perfect plan that made eighteen-year-old Stephen go gay in the first place.  This was back in the 1980's, when it was really scary being gay. Apparently that lifestyle had a lot of drinking and drugs associated with it. Or maybe that was just life in the 1980's. Maybe that was all part of God's perfect plan as well. 
The good news is that Stephen got better, and he would like us all to know that it's possible for them to get better too. That's part of God's perfect plan. Or maybe it's just the intolerance part that really works for him just now. Stephen does not believe that one can reconcile the homosexual lifestyle with being a Christian. A very tiny brain might come up with some silliness about "brotherly love" and that whole forgiveness thing, but God's perfect plan has more to do with setting the record straight. There is nothing equal about homo and hetero. Hetero has more letters, for one thing. That was a distinction I was able to draw with what amounts for my brain. 
And I still don't agree with Stephen Bennett. Treating one another with love and respect is all part of God's perfect plan. Everyone. It's not just my brain talking either. That's my heart speaking too. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Great Puzzle Of Life

We bought a new dresser last weekend. So what, you say? If you're one of those who just said that, well maybe you hadn't considered the ramifications of such a purchase. The very fabric of my universe has been torn asunder. Well, not exactly torn, and I had to look up exactly what asunder means, and it turns out that it sounds much worse than it really is which is "apart." Suffice it to say that things were more asunder than usual in our house after we bought that dresser.
First, and perhaps most importantly, it was a replacement dresser for the one that had been in our bedroom for several years which meant that the new one had to take its place just below the television and right next to the door to the bathroom. Again, this might seem insignificant to you, but once you realize that this space was formerly occupied and could no longer be occupied by a dresser of roughly the same size, perhaps you start to realize the tension that we had unwittingly created. The old dresser had to go somewhere else, and most of the dresser-sized places we had in our house were already chock full of dressers. Since we are not the type of family who simply put their old furniture out on the curb with a "free" sign on it, rather we are the type of family that tends to find other people's old furniture out on the curb with a "free" sign on it and we drag it home with every intent of giving it a good home. Which might explain the appalling lack of dresser-sized spaces in our household. It became our mission to shuffle all of these furniture elements into a mix that would remain functional and allow us not to drag anything off the premises.
That meant the dinosaur of an entertainment center that had been with us since we first put it together from a kit consisting of slabs of black particle board, dowels and a few strategically placed screws had to be moved to the basement. My wife and I achieved this without taking it apart, unless you count removing the glass doors from the upper shelf that never fully worked in the first place. Into the back room moved my old dresser, where it was reunited with the beast of a TV that it used to hold up back in the days when the cathode ray tube ruled the roost. The drawer that had once had the challenge of holding the vast array of sports-related T-shirts was now relieved of that duty. The rest of the drawers, from socks to concert shirts were emptied as well. They would become filled with back room bric-a-brac, again the kind of stuff that might make it to someone else's "free" box. But not ours.
That's because that's not the way we do things. That new dresser was a virtual hand in the face of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier. Talk to the hand, Antoine. There will be no wasted space here. Even if that means we have to buy another dresser, just to prove our point. Don't tempt us. We're just crazy enough to try it. Crazy like a fox. Or a whole group of foxes, which I believe is a skulk. Feel free to look it up

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Objectify

Barack Obama: One of the worst presidents of all time, or the worst president of all time? Discuss. Don't worry if you can't make up your mind right away, there are plenty of folks around willing to help you out with that distinction. Karl Rove would be one of them. You remember Karl. He was the Deputy Chief of Staff during the George W. Bush administration and has been a Republican political consultant and policy adviser since the earth was cooling and he crawled from the slime on flippers that would eventually evolve into opposable thumbs. If anyone would be a good judge of history, it would be this guy, right? Right. Very right.
Karl Rove says we are now seeing "the real Obama." Apparently it has taken most of two terms, but finally our collective eyes are open. “I think today the president is governed more by what is his true vision and view of the world, in part,” said Rove.“He views America as not a power for and an influence for good. He does believe the world is a better place if we withdraw and allow people to settle their own matters in whatever way they intend to settle them." Karl wants to know: “Name me one foreign leader that jumps to mind that you think the President of the United States has a good relationship with?” He then went on to name David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Okay, but who else? Certainly not that guy in Russia. Or the guys who are running ISIS. And whoever is in charge in Iraq. Unless we're currently bombing them. That's the real Obama.
Then there's the matter of the press. According to James Risen, Barack Obama is " the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.” That's because the Obama administration renewed a subpoena, that was initially issued in 2008, that asked Risen to reveal his sources for his book “State of War,” which included classified information about a failed CIA plot against Iran’s nuclear program. That CIA plot took place during the Bush administration. Before the worst president of all time came into office. The Bush administration that had a guy named Karl Rove working for them. I'm not sure about this, but I don't think it's been a generation since that subpoena was first issued.

Well, okay Karl. We'll settle for "one of the worst."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Once Upon A Time

This summer I learned how to make a time machine. It makes sense that I discovered the secret in my mother's garage, back in Boulder, Colorado. It also makes sense that it had been there all along, I just forgot to look for it: that big box of home movies. By quick estimate, there were one hundred sixty reels of regular and super eight film in the box that had been moved from one location to another over the decades, and they were all transferred to digital video in a process that took over three weeks.
There was a time when I fooled myself into believing that I would someday acquire a projector and take the time to view all of those hours, or that I would suddenly find myself burdened by an excess of time during which I could put all of that which Kodak had so lovingly preserved onto discs that would last another fifty years. Moving pictures of the first Christmas at our new house. My first visit to Disneyland. The forty-seventh family reunion.
It was an odd experience, sitting there in my grownup living room, watching events take place again in another place in another time. That's what I usually do in my living room, but this was different because it was me cavorting back and forth across the screen, wearing clothes that I can only vaguely recall, but doing things that I have spent years recalling from photographs. Suddenly, the motion of these pictures allowed me to fully connect to that past. I remember the warmth of the sidewalk out front of my parents' house. I remember the smell of the grass near the end of the yard where my mother had her rose garden. I remember the sky. Blue, gray, orange, pink, incandescent. All of those trips to the desert southwest. All those sunsets. I tried not to pay attention then, since my father cooing about the colors in the west were my first memories of rolling my eyes. Now those eyes can see what he was talking about. And taking shaky Super Eight movies. When he was pointing his camera at us, and begging us to show up for posterity, there was no way I could possibly have known how thankful I am today that he did that.
It's my childhood. It's my neighborhood. It's my brothers and I and the kids on our street going about our lives. It's aunts and uncles showing up for one more Christmas. Cousins taking us on another trip to the zoo. It all really happened. It wasn't a dream at all. As it turns out, it was the stuff that dreams are made of. Amazing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Endorsements

Writing a blog every day doesn't give me much of a leg to stand on when it comes to my aversion to social media. Here I am, after all, being social with my media. And yet I continue to rail against Facebook and Instagram and all those other outlets for whatever happens to be on the minds of those who choose those outlets for whatever it is that happens to be on the minds of those. Which is also why the revelation of my involvement with LinkedIn should be cause for those of you who are prone to such actions to climb to the highest height and shout "hypocrite!" Or you could just pull out your smart phone and tweet it.
All of this is to say that I am seemingly powerless to avoid the somewhat narcissistic tendency of our current culture. What I have to say is important and I need as many outlets as I can manage to share it. Okay, I may be overstating this for dramatic effect, but that's what gets clicked upon, right? I ask this rhetorical question in the sly anticipation that it will cause some sort of response from anyone or everyone who reads it, which I suppose limits its rhetoricality.
LinkedIn: that's why I'm writing this. A confession of sorts. I got involved a few years back because it seemed like a great way to stay connected to those who shared common goals and interests, and I could eventually parlay all this connection into career advancement. I wanted to believe that I was being a clever professional who could network with other clever professional types in order to further my plans for world domination. Oops. I probably shouldn't have stated my goals so plainly for all to see. Or maybe I really don't know how joining LinkedIn helped me get a better job that would allow me to eventually dominate the world. Or my corner of it. Sure, sometimes I would get nice messages from people with whom I had worked at other times in other places. I was on Facebook without all that Facebook stigma. This was professional, after all. And every so often I would get job listings in places like Iowa and Massachusetts, encouraging me to spread my wings and take a chance on moving my family and my base of operations to some foreign land where there were opportunities for people just like me. I have clicked on a few of these, and I have been flattered just to think that someone might consider me worthy of such a leap. I am flattered in the same way I am flattered by the "endorsements" from other LinkedIn users of my various skills and abilities. I have yet to be endorsed for writing pithy blogs, but that may just be an oversight on the part of those who find themselves drawn to my circle.
What i did get from LinkedIn was an e-mail. It came with the header, "This company hires the most creative writing majors." Curious, I clicked through. I wanted to know what I had been missing out on for all these years. I thought creative writing majors were school teachers. You mean there is another avenue? Tell me, LinkedIn, what is it? According to them, the third place employer of creative writing majors is New York University, which didn't seem like that big a leap for me. The second went to Examiner.com, which made me wonder if I was missing an opportunity to share my writing with a wider audience in some dot com way. Anxious for the big reveal, I placed my mouse arrow over the box that encouraged me to "see the top employer." I clicked. Since you don't know what I saw, I will tell you: The number one employer of creative writing majors, according to LinkedIn, is Starbucks. Thanks for that endorsement, LinkedIn.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Totally Worth It

Last week was a pretty tough one. The deaths of Lauren Bacall and the already much discussed Robin Williams would be significant enough, but that was just the pop culture icing on the cake that included the continued strife in the Middle East and North Korea lobbing missiles around while the Pope was visiting South Korea. It wasn't a fun one. Thank heaven that it included some good news.
I received an e-mail from Ms. Elizabeth Johnson, on behalf of the Financial Intelligence Centre, letting me know that they "have been working towards the eradication of fraudsters and scam Artists in Africa with the help of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and FBI." I have no reason to doubt Ms. Johnson, since she's obviously on the up and up, since she spells "Center" with the "e" at the end. That along with the fact that she's working with all those acronyms, it looks like there's finally going to be some action here. Their goal is to share all the money that has been recovered from all these scam artists to the victims around the world. There is a problem however, as Ms. Johnson explains: "...identifying each victim is a huge task, based on these, the committee decided to carry out a computer random draws." My e-mail just happened to come up on one of the had disks of the scammers, so it turns out it's my lucky day! 
How lucky? "(M)aybe you have been scammed or not, you are therefore being compensated with the sum of $320,000.00 USD(Three hundred and twenty thousand united states dollars)." Again, who could doubt the sincerity of someone who takes the time to spell out the number of dollars that I am eligible to receive except the most sincere and committed government employee? Not only that, "We have also arrested some of those who claim that they are barristers, bank officials, Lottery Agents who has been sending you SMS on your phone that you have won a lottery which does not exist." Wow! Good work, FBI-IMF-UN-EU-MOUSE! Now all I have to do is wait for that payment to make its way to me on a pre-loaded ATM, Visa card. Well, first of all I need to contact a Mr. Rain Ado, Transaction Manager, who needs just my full name, postal address, age, occupation, and cell phone number in order to send that great big chunk of money on its way to me, where it belongs. 
Wait a second. I was all comfortable dealing with Ms. Johnson. Now they want me to start connecting with "Rain?" Isn't this what got me into trouble in the first place, back when I sent that money order to Nigeria to some guy named "Mister Ado?" Wait. That wasn't me. I never sent anyone anything, so I would really be getting something for nothing. If I didn't know better, I would think this is some sort of scam. I'm glad that I've got Elizabeth Johnson looking out for me. That hundred and fifty dollars to pay for the shipping on my ATM Visa card will be totally worth it. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

TS

Forgive me the opportunity to return to the subject of Robin Williams' untimely death once again. "Untimely" because it is one of those things that I didn't imagine having to deal with. I am guilty of imagining how I might cope with the passing of those closest to me, but I never met Mister Williams. He was a stranger in both noun and adjective. He thought and moved faster than most rooms full of six-year-olds.
It never occurred to me what all that frenetic energy and chaos was about until I had to reckon with the "off switch." That's because I had become comfortable with the idea that Robin Williams was a survivor. John Belushi wasn't. Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, Phil Hartman: For various reasons, neither were those guys. The fact that part of me wants to launch into a bit about how it's probably best that they didn't stick around longer so they could fade into obscurity doesn't feel right. Being funny is hard work. I know, because when faced with the choice, many years ago to have that job, I chose a different path.
But I am pretty sure that all those guys and a dozen more men and women who made me laugh in profound ways pushed me to become a teacher. This is especially true of Robin Williams. For better or worse, the kids who have spent time in Mister Caven's classroom have endured my own personal brand of standup comedy five days a week for the past seventeen years. I'm lucky. I've got this captive audience. When I bomb, I know I need to go back and rework my act for the next class, but it's all still improvisation at its heart. That's what I became aware of as I watched the flurry of images and video bits from more than thirty years of Robin Williams' career. In so many ways, he was still working out those favorite bits: Shakespeare, childhood, substance use. Like a musician, you could hear themes that never got fully played out. He was still working for that punch line.
Well, he got there. It took a little longer than some of his contemporaries, but it came. My wife and I mused over whether there would be some cosmic rim shot and we both would suddenly get it. Only it's not funny "ha ha." It's funny "sad." This one left a mark.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Back To The Egg

Side-splitting, gut-busting, knee-slapping. I endured all that pain while listening to and watching Robin Williams. I came of age in a world of Mork. I lived in the city where he and Mindy set up housekeeping. While it was always a bone of contention for the citizens of Boulder that tourists would flock to Pine Street and the pedestrian mall, searching for the alien from Ork, there was a quiet understanding of just how happy we all were to have captured this lightning in a bottle.
But that metaphor is really just that: you can't hold lightning in a bottle. There was far too much Robin Williams to be contained in the attic of that house on Pine. Or on the half-hour sitcom that he grew to resent, even though it made him a household name. If you lived in Boulder during those years, you had a story about how the frenzy that was Mork and Mindy swept through your life. Like the time I was working at a smoke shop around the corner from that pedestrian mall, and the crowds that gathered in the alley behind it, hoping for a glimpse of some of the zany antics that would ensue when he was in town to do some quick exterior shots. Yes, I know that I have destroyed the carefully hewn facade that was actually created in a sound stage in Hollywood, but for those brief moments, the reality was that this being from another world had landed in my hometown to delight and entertain all who came in contact with him. What a concept.
So pervasive was this feeling that aspiring young comedians like myself adopted the uniform. I had a pair of rainbow suspenders that I wore as both homage and emulation. I memorized every syllable of that rapid-fire delivery, and imagined that this would eventually launch me on the very same career path set by this mercurial jester. The hardest I ever laughed in my life was the nearly two hour long set I took in of his at the Rainbow Music Hall in Denver, right at the height of Morkmania. It never occurred to me at the time just how dark the dark side of all that light might be. It became apparent soon enough. No one was more candid and open about his failures as his star rose ever higher. He wasn't shy about biting the hand that fed him, even when that hand turned out to be connected to Walt Disney. It meant doing time in movie jail, which meant that he ended up with more grist for his comedy mill.
And through it all, he struggled with the part that wasn't laughter. When his friend and fellow clown John Belushi died of a cocaine overdose, Robin Williams quit "Peruvian Marching Powder" cold turkey, or so the story goes. When the steam ran out of this ball of exuberance, sometimes depression set in and the demons would arrive. The way he chose to deal with them was partly through humor and partly through drinking, both of them to excess.
That's because Robin Williams went through life that way: Excess. I have recovered somewhat from the split sides, butsted guts and slapped knees, but my heart is still broken because that feeling that there will never be enough Robin Williams in the world must have been shared with the man himself. Never enough. That's why he left some giant-sized footprints from where he stomped on the Terra. I will miss him in all his guises, and in ever wheezing paroxysm of laughter. Genie, Garp, Mork, friend, father, and member of the fraternity, he will be missed. Here. In Boulder. On Ork. Aloha, Robin.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Never Knew

I did not expect that over this summer I would find time to watch more than three hours of a documentary about the Eagles. Not the flying raptors, the symbol of this great land, but the rock group from the late seventies. It actually took me longer than that, since I was suffering from a persistent case of telerepetitis which kept me dropping in to the second half of the story, during which the boys in the band lost patience with one another and went their separate ways, only to be brought back together in a wave of feelgood happiness that made the rest of the escapades seem more like the terrific setup rather than petty squabbles between millionaires.
Did I say "petty?" Listening to these guys talk about each other, it certainly doesn't sound "petty," unless your definition includes Tom Petty, who once broke his own hand by punching a wall. And maybe this definition won't quite fit for any of the Eagles, who seemed more intent on punching one another rather than recording studio walls. Except Joe Walsh. He didn't just punch walls. He used chainsaws and other machinery to rearrange the accommodations in his hotel suite. As for the rest of the guys, well, they seemed happy to rearrange one another's faces.
And here's the irony, for me: "Peaceful Easy Feeling." "Take It Easy." Two of the greatest hits of the greatest hits band of all time. All that peace and easy taking feelings didn't seem to extend much past the actual songwriting, with by all accounts wasn't the smoothest sea to sail, either. The Eagle's Lennon and McCartney got along a lot like, well, Lennon and McCartney. But since they also got to decide who got paid, it ended up not mattering as much. Like The Beach Boys before them, the sounds coming out of the studio were always a lot sweeter than the sounds going on inside.
And when it was all over, and somebody had to take a stand, it was the one that brought them closer to the cash. Will they get back together? Sure, "When Hell Freezes Over." I suppose it makes sense that people would pay to see that, just like people would have paid to see the Beatles get back together. Three thousand dollars worth? Of course, this is 2014, and that offer from Lorne Michaels would have to be more like six thousand, especially if they wanted to get Don Felder back in the band. Or maybe Glenn and Don could offer up an additional six thousand just to keep him away. That's the kind of sweet harmony I've come to expect from these guys.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Supplies Party

For me, the takeaway was the moment when my son, appointed to be the one to carry the helium canister to the car, announced, "Hey. Helium's light." That, along with the goofy smile on my wife's face after spending an hour and a half in the party supply store, was all the specialness I needed.
There was also the matter of the store itself. As we cruised up and down the aisles of the store with our shopping cart, picking this up and setting that back down. For every item we kept for purchase, we inspected at least a half dozen more. We had come, ostensibly, for balloons and streamers. We found those and so much more.
Our mission was to find things to dress up our house for my wife's fiftieth birthday party. We all had ideas, and when we couldn't find exactly what we wanted, we went in another direction because that was the way the place was laid out. It got me to thinking about the occasions of my life. Back when I was in college, I threw a lot of parties, and the one bit of decorating we ever did was the Bon Voyage banner that hung unceremoniously at one end of the living room of each of the apartments I lived in as an undergrad. It was my feeling that the sentiment conveyed by that one decoration would encompass just about any event or sentiment that we might need to express. "Bon Voyage, Old Year!" Farewell to your senses, "Bon Voyage, Brain Cells!" And so on. It never occurred to me that there could be so much specialty.
At the party store, there was an entire aisle devoted to baby showers. A third of it was there for incipient parents of boys, another third for those expecting a girl, and the last bit for those who felt that birth was a little too early to start impressing sex roles on their brand new person. There was another full aisle from which one could select all manner of wedding swag, including those who might be planning a bachelor or bachelorette parties. Around the next corner were decorations for birthday parties from one to one hundred, with the decades thirty, forty, fifty and sixty holding their own quiet significance and spot with racks full of plates, napkins and banners for that milestone. There were sections for retirement parties, fist communions, luaus, fiestas and occasions for which I could only speculate the significance.
When all was said and done, we spent far more than we had expected, but left with bags full of crepe paper and plastic that would transform our house into the party palace we had all envisioned. I made a mental note to return to this store when I felt my next life passage coming on, just in case there was a cake topper for it. Maybe they even had something with a Bon Voyage theme.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Break's Over, Back To Work

"God, I hate Ann Coulter."
"Who's Ann Coulter?"
I couldn't believe that one of my contemporaries, a fellow educator, was not familiar with conservative provocateur and big mouth extraordinaire. We were supposed to be on a break from the training we were receiving on team building, but the article on which I had just clicked sent my head into a whirl. Ann Coulter was asserting that the two medical missionaries should not be brought back to the United States for treatment. Her opening snark? "I wonder how the Ebola doctor feels now that his humanitarian trip has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered." This was the quote I shared with my colleague. 
She sat in stunned silence. Then she continued to read: "There's little danger of an Ebola plague breaking loose from the treatment of these two Americans at the Emory University Hospital. But why do we have to deal with this at all?" Unclear on the entire concept of Christian charity, or at least that was the impression my friend was left with after her initial contact with the crazy talk of Ms. Coulter, who wondered, "Can't anyone serve Christ in America anymore?"
Oh, alright. I know that Ann Coulter is kicking up all this fuss because she sees a connection and a raw nerve and wants to make a point. A very sharp point with a rusty nail. She wants leave not just a mark, but a nasty infection as well. "If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world."
It was at this point that my friend stopped reading. Continued exposure to this vitriol might have kept us from being any kind of productive when our break was over. This meant that she never had a chance to experience Donald Trump's equally ridiculous comments on the situation. A sample Tweet from the Donald: "The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!" The up side? Most teachers already know what a twit Trump is. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fair Game

How hard should it be to find something good to eat at the county fair? Then again, if you're looking for something "good" it might be useful to define your terms more closely. Did you mean something yummy and delicious? There are lots of ways to get those. The number of deep-fried items alone could keep a family of five busy for days. Presented with this conundrum at the Alameda County Fair, my family took this challenge seriously. Of course any food can be improved by dropping it into a vat of hot fat, but would it be best to pick something from the "pretty tasty" category before boiling, with the notion that once the item has been deep-fried it could become almost unfathomably flavorful. Or, would you do what we did: We picked America's favorite cookie, the Oreo, to be the base upon which we would build our treat. Battered and boiled, we were given a paper tub of these golden orbs, lovingly sprinkled with powdered sugar, and as we were finishing up our transaction we were asked, "Do y'all want chocolate on that?" Of course we do. Of course we want to push the needle of danger of heart attack and stroke even further into the red by adding as much sweet and fat into this recipe as possible.
Then came the moment of truth. In the ninety-degree heat, which must have been a contributing factor to our decision, we each took a turn at we hath wrought. It was my wife's higher brain functions that kicked in first. She only needed the tiniest bite to let her know that some horrible mistake had been made. My son, ever the adventurer, finished a whole greasy blob, wiping the sugar and syrup from his chin and exclaiming, "That's disgusting." It should be noted that this exclamation came with a smile, and he did swallow what he chewed, instead of spitting it out on the midway. Now I was stuck with the rest of our order, another three fried Oreos and the vision of my family's reaction to them.
The sensible thing to do would have been to drop the remaining nodules in the nearest overstuffed trash can, and go off in search of the frozen lemonade that would have made everything alright. I didn't take this course. I ate one. I ate two. I could feel my arteries constrict and the valves of my heart scream out like the steam drill battling John Henry's hammer. I looked around for the nearest Automated External Defibrillator. I wondered why, instead of offering me drizzled Hershey's chocolate sauce and powdered sugar, why the friendly lady hadn't offered me an adrenalin needle for the moment that my heart stopped. That's when I stopped. I had reached my limit at two. That left us with the one remaining fried Oreo. Eyes watering and brow sweating, I made my way down the path that lead us past a half dozen more trailers equipped with deep fat fryers, each one exalting us with claims of the best, the tastiest, the most heart-stopping. I kept moving, and when we encountered my son's friends, who had agreed to meet us at the fair, I played a game: Who wants to guess what this used to be before it was boiled in oil? Better them than me. I still had room for a waffle cone.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

L

If every day is a gift
there are a lot of boxes
some of them are packed full
with jewels and tiaras
or kittens and puppies
some of them, alas,
have been disappointments
filled with tissue paper
or nothing at all
not to worry
even these sad boxes
are giving you something
more tissue paper
for example
who doesn't need
another empty box
and even if this
doesn't convince you
imagine the law of averages
working in your favor
then again
you don't have to
instead you can
look out upon
the sea of memories
the ones you have made
on all those trips
around the sun
and stars and planets
every day is a gift
and I am so very happy
to be sharing this one
with you.
Happy birthday

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Best Performance In A Mini-Series

In this installment, we find out how Dave's TV misbehaved and caused him to doubt the very fabric of the known universe. As we have discovered in previous episodes, television is very important to me. I head that. "Too important." That may be, voice inside my head, but nonetheless, I find myself consumed at times by the care and maintenance of the machines that bring me such joy.
Imagine, if you will, what would happen if one of the several TVs in our house stopped working. Well, as it turns out, that wasn't exactly what happened. The near-tragedy this week was when we discovered that our remote control wasn't working in the living room. The first reaction for our more sane and relaxed readers would have been to take solace in the full functionality of the flat screen in the bedroom. Couldn't we just go in there and watch? If pressed, couldn't we move that screen out to the living room and go without in the bedroom? Sure. But for how long? And what about all those programs backing up on the living room Tivo? How can we watch those?
Well, as it turns out, all those questions remained less than vital, since I immediately set myself to fixing the problem. I wasn't going to let a stupid remote control ruin my day of programming. I tried another remote control. I switched out the batteries. I went so far as to walk the several feet across the living room rug to unplug the set and then turning the TV on with that button on the side. How many times had I lowered myself to this kind of servitude? Turning the TV on and off with the button on the side? How positively twentieth century. Next I could expect to be changing channels from this same position? Not hardly. I was suddenly reminded of the first television remote control I ever had: my younger brother. He was the one I forced to make that treacherous journey across the living room to change channels or volume, brightness or contrast. He wasn't available, so I was going to have to figure this out.
I looked in the manual. Nothing. I checked online for troubleshooting hints. I called Best Buy to check on the possibility this TV was still under warranty. No such luck. The friendly lady offered to connect me to the support people at Insignia, the people who fabricated my television in the first place. It took just this four minute phone interaction to determine that my set needed to be cleared. I did this by following the instructions Bill from Insignia gave me: unplugging the set, again, and holding the power button down for twenty seconds. How had I not lucked onto this particular set of actions is beyond me, but that's probably why I had to call the support guy. As it turns out, his process was just what the doctor, the TV doctor, ordered. Joy was restored to Mudville, and for a few more minutes, I enjoyed the simple pleasures of turning the TV on and off from across the room. You never know what you're going to miss until it's gone.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Obsequious

It starts with turning on the television in the living room. Things have changed a lot since that first eighteen inch diagonal with the limited function remote control. When I push the "power" button on this new machine, a message appears on the screen: "Please Wait..." I do remember a time when there was such a thing as "warming up" your home entertainment system. This was when it consisted of a bunch of glass tubes that needed time for the electricity to flow through them all. That was back when electricity was thicker and ran more like maple syrup. Or something like that.
But that doesn't really explain why my TV is currently asking me to wait while I sit there waiting anxiously for the potpourri of digital entertainment that awaits just after that very polite assertion. A few seconds of staring at a blank screen would be okay. I don't think that I would panic unless those few seconds stretched out to half a minute or more. Then there is the matter of the ellipses, those three dots that come right after the request for my patience...Like we had some sort of enduring relationship that I should be able to refer to as I await the inevitable return of my broadcasting day. It might just as well ask me to "Have a little patience, huh?" But that wouldn't be very nice, would it? Somebody at the television factory put that little chip in that made me think that I had some mild choice about how long it took for the picture to appear on the screen. If I were to ask nicely, maybe not every time, but if I were to throw in my own "please," it might get me to that Simpsons episode just a little quicker. Or not.
Add to this video conundrum my relationship with the Wii Fit trainer. She's very good, and since I've been working with her for many months, she has been very encouraging. That wasn't always the case. It took me some time to work up to the point where this computer generated figure wouldn't chide me for the swaying or leaning or moving in something other than the instructed way. That doesn't mean that there aren't moments when our relationship is less than smooth. Like when I miss a day, and the machine asks, "Too busy to work out yesterday, eh?" Thanks for the reminder, but "eh?" It's those two little letters that are the ingratiating ones. I'm sure that's the syllable that is supposed to make it okay that a video game is chiding me on my priorities. Oh please.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Quantifiable

If I said that it was as big as a bread box, it probably wouldn't mean that much. That's because the use of bread boxes as conveniences has become somewhat archaic. What do you do with a bread box? Don't most people keep their bread in the refrigerator? And as it turns out, bread boxes aren't some very specific and scientifically calibrated size. This particular designation is a bit anachronistic and unspecific, but it was the first thing that popped into my head. It would also be useful if I told you what "it" I was talking about before I proceed: My television set.
This was the second television set that was bought specifically with me in mind. The first one was a portable Panasonic AM/FM radio/black and white television that I had in my room the year after I graduated from high school. The second one was the very flashy color set that I received as a housewarming present from my parents on the advent of moving into my second apartment. As I was living alone, initially, I could no longer presume on my roommates for television. I needed to be TV sufficient all on my own. My parents did me the favor of buying me a GE cable ready remote control set. That whole cable ready thing was the fascinating part for me, who had grown up adjusting antennae and twisting knobs for tuning. This thing was going to give me up to ninety-nine channels with just the push of a button. Or a bunch of pushes, since there was no way to put a particular number into the remote. If you wanted to move from channel eight to channel seventy-two, your finger could get quite a workout. But that didn't matter as long as I knew that i had access to the wealth of video choices that was pouring into my bachelor pad. I wanted my MTV, and now I finally had it.
Over the years, I moved that simulated wood grain box from apartment to apartment, and eventually it came with me to California, where it eventually became the bedroom TV in the household I set up with my incipient wife. I hooked up all kinds of different components to that set over the years: VCRs, laser discs, Sega Genesis consoles. Each time we upgraded our television profile, that set from 1982 held steady as our base. It eventually found a home on top of our refrigerator as the kitchen TV, just a few feet away from the bread box that never contained bread, just a wide variety of vitamin supplements. In all those years, it kept doing its job, until one day, it was finally moved out to the basement. Even though it was still in working condition, it was a tiny cathode ray tube that couldn't compete in a flat-screen world.
It spent an ignominious few years holding up a pile of detritus that was the drift of things that moved from being most useful and important to the category of discard. We didn't set it out on the curb during all the time that someone might have adopted a free cable ready TV. It was too special.
Until it finally wasn't. This past weekend, it went away in a carload of stuff we no longer needed. That television was never something that I needed. I could have done without it. But I didn't. I dragged it halfway across the country and held onto it for thirty years. Now that it's gone, I miss it. More than a bread box.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Leftovers

At the end of every professional sports season, there are leftovers. Just as there is no trophy for second place, there are no souvenir T-shirts for the team that comes up short. Sports Illustrated will not be hawking the also-ran's DVD, yearbook and locker room T-shirt package. Crews have to hurry into the losing team's locker room to take down the tarps protecting everything from the champagne shower that will never come. I suppose they could just move that champagne across the hall, but those T-shirts. Where do they go?
The good news is: Not in the incinerator. It's a good thing that one city's disappointment can be turned into something good. The international humanitarian aid group World Vision collects the unwanted items over the days following the game at their distribution center in Pittsburgh, then ships it overseas to people living in disaster areas and impoverished nations. After losing Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, Arizona Cardinals gear was sent to children and families living in extreme poverty in El Salvador. In 2010, after the New Orleans Saints defeated Indianapolis, the Colts gear printed up for Super Bowl XLIV was sent to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. World Vision also works with the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, along with several NCAA conferences and championships. Waste not, want not. And maybe those professional sports teams are opening up potential new markets in foreign lands.
One place they're not sending those shirts is Cuba. Not necessarily because the United States has a trade embargo with our neighbors to the south. And it's probably not just because they're only ninety miles away from a state that is full of professional sports: Florida. It might have made sense for the Oakland Athletics to send their most recent souvenir giveaway shirts to the Republic of Cuba, since that is from whence Yoenis Cespedes hails. When the A's traded their home-run derby winner to the Boston Red Sox last week, they did it just a couple days before the team had planned to honor their all-star by giving away ten thousand shirts with his likeness and nickname printed in gold and green. In the end, Oakland fans were the recipients of this odd bit of memorabilia. If you're keeping score at home, by the way, at least they spelled his name right. 

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

My Son The Tralfamadorian

I had a therapist who told me "all relationships end." This was big news for me at the time. I truly felt that I could force or control the way I connected with people. I had this idea that modulating my personality or by sheer force of will I could convince someone to stick around. This was especially true of the girls I dated. It never occurred to me that I wasn't eminently lovable. Who wouldn't want to spend all their time with me? Not that I was arrogant about it. I considered it my life's work to be as charming as I could possibly be in order to keep that unbroken string. Break up with me? Impossible.
All relationships end. As confounding as it felt to me, I learned that other people can change the course of a relationship. This realization took me a decade to fully comprehend. It meant that I had to figure out a new way to view the rest of the people I encountered along the way. This was going to be a challenge. I would still need to be as witty and charming as I always had been, but it still wasn't ultimately up to me alone. This was what I tried to explain to my son as he and his first girlfriend teetered on the brink of the abyss.
All my fatherly wisdom wasn't enough to sway him. He was convinced that he needed to be nicer, call more often, be a better boyfriend. What was he doing wrong? I could not explain it to him how there was this two-way street, and how he could want nothing more than to live happily ever after, but there were no guarantees. Weeks went by, and this girl would not return his calls. She avoided him. I could not believe that anyone could ignore him. I wanted to make it easier for him. I couldn't. He suffered. For the record, he held up much better than his old man, but he suffered.
Until one day when he got what was, essentially the final word. Here is what he said to me when found out that he and his first girlfriend had broken up: "Either it happened a while ago, or it hasn't happened yet." Suddenly he was at peace with the whole situation. He is seventeen. He found a way to understand this thing like his father never did. Like a Tralfamadorian.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Interrogative Enhancements

There's a report that will be issued soon from the Senate Intelligence Committee. In it, the truth will be revealed. According to our president, we may have "tortured some folks." Well, ain't that a fine how'd'ya'do? In his briefing this past Friday, Mister Obama said, “When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe, and I think any fair-minded person would believe, were torture. We crossed the line.” That line would be the one between being the good guys and being the bad guys. The line would be this one, in case you haven't read the memo: Good guys don't torture. Bad guys do.
Then there's the whole matter of euphemisms. "Enhanced interrogation techniques?" "Pretend drowning?" "Checking your battery with someone else's body parts?" You know, for kids. Really bad kids who may have been hiding secrets from our government and therefore deserved to have their secrets extracted from them in enhanced ways.
The reason for our president to get out in front of this report was to explain how this could happen, how we could have been involved in such nefarious activities. “And that needs to be understood. And accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.” Maybe this is because he feels confident that there was nothing he could do about it since it wasn't on his watch. It was that other guy. The guy who hired John Brennan as the head of the National Counterterrorism Center. If you want to point a finger at someone, point it at that guy. Mister Brennan is now the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Whose idea was that? Oh. That would be Barack Obama. The same guy who would rather that we not point fingers at anyone. Or ask for anyone to resign. Or fire anyone. That would be inhumane, right? “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had,” Obama said. Don't get sanctimonious. Check. Responsible. Check. Forget? I don't think so. The question isn't whether or not we abused some of the prisoners we took into custody just after September 11. We did. But you can't hold a whole intelligence community responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole CIA? And if the whole CIA is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our law enforcement institutions in general? I put it to you,  isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

In The Sue-Ers

There are plenty of good reasons for lawsuits. Take the case of a nurse in Colorado who is suing her former employer because no one bothered to tell her that the guy who held her hostage at the Heritage Park Care Center was all a part of a safety drill being conducted. Even though the gun wasn't real, the fright and ensuing damages are just the kind of things that get lawyers frothing at the mouth.
Frothing at the mouth wasn't one of the side effects listed when Novartis AG apologized for their mishandling of the way they may or may not have reported what happens when people take their leukemia drugs. Once the Japanese courts have their way with them, I'm sure there will be plenty of folks lining up to sue the corporate pants off Novartis and its appendages. 
Nobody lost any arms or legs in Minnesota, but former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura might be able to buy himself some spares with the nearly two million dollars he was awarded after a two year court battle over a claim that he had been punched out by a Navy Seal. A jury gave Governor "The Body" Ventura one point eight million dollars and settled his reputation as a patriot and tough guy. 
There are some tough guys in politics. Some of them are Republicans. Maybe that explains why they are suing the President of the United States. They say that Obama's executive orders are so extreme that they violate the Constitution. The President says,  “They’re going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people. So they’re mad I’m doing my job. And by the way, I’ve told them I’d be happy to do it with you. The only reason I’m doing it on my own is because you’re not doing anything,” he said of Congress.
And so, who wins in this lawsuit? America? Maybe American attorneys, but as for the rest of us, the jury is out.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Poli Sci

In the Kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Those are the words that keep bouncing around my head as I watch the continuing reports of violence pour out of Gaza. The only power plant in the region was blown up by Israeli artillery, making a more emphatic example of the phrase, "bomb you back to the stone age." 
The idea that one should pay for an eye with an eye, literally, is found all over the historical and religious teachings of the cultures in the Middle East. I know this because I looked it up on Wikipedia. It doesn't seem to matter whose eyes they are. Men. Women. Children. Military. Civilian. All eyes are equal in the, well, eyes of the Lord. That's why retaliation seems to be a way of life in Gaza. And Syria. And Iraq. And so on and so on. Sooner or later, one hopes, they will find the one man, woman or child with that remaining eye and have them take over because that would mean that the logical extreme had been met.
Did I say logical? I meant "ridiculous." Wikipedia also tells me that "The known history of Gaza spans 4,000 years. Gaza was ruled, destroyed and repopulated by various dynasties, empires, and peoples." This includes the bunch we find currently working on that cycle: Israelis and Palestinians. More than fifty casualties on the Israeli side, more than two thousand on the Palestinian tally. If that score sounds a little uneven, it's not as if there is a "winning side." Unless you're on the side of chaos, in which case you can feel free to cash in your chips anytime. 
But that's not how this place runs. There's this absurd notion that runs through this region that sounds something like logic, only it isn't. "They want to kill us. We have no choice," said thirty-nine-year-old Jerusalemite Gil Yair, referring to Hamas. "They are holding a gun to our head and we have to take control of the situation." Taking control seems to have something to do with launching rockets at one another. Apparently they are fans of the old British War chestnut: "Be Calm And Launch More Rockets." Or something like that. Or maybe an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

On Your Side

when we turned
to face the crowd
there I was
when we stood
at the top of the stairs
there I was
you held my hand
that misty morning
there I was
walking in
to the Magic Kingdom
there I was
standing at the sink
finishing the dishes
there I was
sitting on the deck
watching the water fight
there I was
leaning against the rail
staring out at the waves
there I was
turning out the light
heading to bed
there I was
on your side