Sunday, November 30, 2014

Play Nice Or Don't Play At All

Vladimir "Got Mine" Putin would like us all to know that Russia is not a threat to anyone. "We pose no threat to anyone and do not intend to get involved in any geopolitical games or intrigues, let alone conflicts, no matter who tries to draw us into them or how they do so." Comforting words from a man who was talking to his military chiefs on the shore of the Black Sea. Which is why he turned around with his next breath to say, "At the same time, it is indispensable to securely safeguard the sovereignty and integrity of Russia and the security of our allies." That one is just a little harder to parse. I checked out this whole "sovereignty" thing. It means "supreme power or authority." It could be that it's a tough translation from the original Russian: suverenitet. Should we take this guy at his word, that he doesn't want to be involved in geopolitical games, even though most of the past year has felt like a prolonged game of Risk in the Ukraine. Does this mean he's not interested in rolling again? Maybe he just expects the world to accept the geopolitical games that he has already played, and now we can sit back and accept his lack of intrigue, since it really wasn't that subtle in the first place: "Those guys aren't Russian soldiers. They may have been dressed like Russian soldiers, and speaking Russian, but they aren't Russian soldiers." And these aren't the droids we're looking for.
Subtlety from this guy would be something new anyway, if he's not hitting on China's first lady, or wrestling with bears, he's busy doing something manly or aggressive. Like turning a Siberian tiger loose on the unsuspecting goat herds of northeastern China. Keeping in mind, of course, that the tiger was a gift to China. Maybe it wasn't a Russian tiger at all. Just like in the Ukraine, there weren't a lot of witnesses left in the goat house to confirm. If only Vlad would stick to cribbage.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Building Something

For many years, my son dutifully held the light for me or handed me screws when I needed them. He was my little helper. Over the course of his life, we have built an entire new bathroom, replaced the insides of our kitchen, painted the outside of the house from foundation to rooftop, and a great many home repair projects in between. There's a picture somewhere out there that shows me holding my cordless drill while my son stares up at the fence we were creating in our back yard. It's a great father and son moment.
Except it wasn't, exactly. I have a tendency, like a lot of fathers I suppose, to take the lead when it's time to put something together or take it apart. I know where the tools are. I put them there. When it's time to get the saw out, I can tell someone where to go and pick it up. That someone is often my son. When he's not there, I ask my wife. There are also plenty of instances in which I don't ask for help at all. I just push on through. That's the way things get done.
Like the Boogle House in our back yard. It's the club house I built over the years with the bits and pieces of lumber that were left over from the home improvements we made. I built it. I thought my son would love it. His friends sure did. But he never took to it the way I thought he might. As it turns out, his mother had some insight that I didn't: Maybe if he had helped build it, he might have spent more time out there. Maybe he would have had his friends over to hammer nails and drill new spy holes. Or maybe he was more interested in his video games and Legos.
I'm pretty sure his mother had it right. I wish that I would have found a way to share the chore of making our house the estate it is today. Or will be, once we finish a few more small renovations. The ones I plan to ask for help on. You see, last week I went with my son to his school to work on some of the backstage construction he is doing for the Fall play with his friends, the Techies. I walked into his shop where he knew where the tools were. I held boards together while he used a pneumatic stapler to hold them together. He asked me to wait while he found the broom so we could help clean up. It wasn't humiliating, exactly, but I felt it. I watched him work, and I felt something else: proud. I can't really take credit for teaching him how to put things together. That was his teachers and his friends at school. Maybe a little bit of that leaked through from the days we spent together fixing things and putting them back together. Watching my son build things made me feel like I wanted to build something. With him.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Too Soon

It was Steve Allen who first suggested the following equation: Comedy is tragedy plus time. Or maybe it was Lenny Bruce. Or Carol Burnett. Or Woody Allen. Or Mark Twain. Regardless who came up with the concept initially, it would explain my reticence for making light of the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Any and all attempts at humor fall flat in the face of what has become a national tragedy. Rather than promoting any sort of understanding or peaceful response to what is becoming a far-too-predictable series of events, the reactions on all sides have been just as shameful as the past confrontations brought on by initial confrontations.
I should state here and now that I have no firm beliefs or convictions about exactly what happened on that August afternoon in a suburb of St. Louis. A Grand Jury was asked to determine, based on mountains of evidence and hundreds of eyewitness accounts, and they couldn't come up with anything. Or they chose not to come up with anything. What this meant, for the months prior to the Grand Jury's lack of decision, was that the accused officer, Darren Wilson, remained on paid administrative leave while the whole ugly mess was taken apart and put back together dozens of times by a steady stream of pundits, prosecutors, and experts who gave their opinions from just outside the closed doors where the actual deliberations were taking place. Meanwhile, in Texas, a high school teacher was fired for her angry rants about the situation on Twitter. The months that have passed have not made this funny. Not funny "ha ha," anyway.
And so we wait. Will there ever be anything funny about the death of Michael Brown? Is there anything amusing about a town being torn apart? Is there laughter to be found anywhere, on the outskirts of town? In the midst of the broken glass and spent tear gas canisters? My son and I watched the footage of a Little Caesar's Pizza restaurant being burned to the ground in Ferguson, and we made lame attempts to make a joke out of what we were seeing. What we were doing was "gallows humor," the kind of jest that occurs when the only way to make sense of that uncomfortable situation is to say something completely inappropriate. We couldn't make it funny. We couldn't make it right.
That will take time. Lots of time.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


If there was a works department truck, hauling a load of screens and barriers for covering storm drains, it would be grate full. Full of grates. Literally. If I were to be found near the faucet insuring that the aquarium, I would be insuring tank fullness. Literally. It's that time of year: When we make horrible puns and then wish that we hadn't.
I'm thankful that I live in a world where such a lifestyle is possible. I'm grateful for the opportunity to spread that lifestyle through my online presence. Literally. Words mean a lot to me. Making those words work is important to me. Emotionally. It's more of a feeling. It's hard to be literal about it.
I'm thankful that we have been able to move beyond the tensions of the mid-term elections. Politically. I'm grateful to still be connected to Al Gore's Internet. Electronically. It is a wireless connection. Specifically. I'm glad I have new worlds to explore. Boldly. I'm happy to have the ability to share my thoughts. Effortlessly. I am thankful that there are still things I can share. Joyfully.
Thankful for all those adverbs. Grateful for the music of Supertramp. I am grateful for the chance to speak with you today. What do I know about gratitude? I know a train of thought when I see it. I know a train wreck. But now I'm speaking metaphorically. It wasn't an actual train wreck.
And I wasn't speaking just now, either. I was writing. Or more to the point: I was typing. I am thankful for the opportunity to explain myself.
And to express how beholden I am you all, those of you who took the time to read this. I am indebted to you for giving me that chance.
And thankfully.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Perception Of Doors

In my mind, I keep going back to what must have been a dozen different images from comedies on TV and movies where an overzealous police officer breaks down a door only to discover moments later that the door was unlocked all the time. All that splintered wood and bent hinges and red faces all around. That's the thing about doors: they aren't permanent barriers, only temporary. They are put in their places to provide a break in all that masonry. Closed doors are about quiet and privacy. Open doors are welcoming. It's all just a matter of checking the latch and turning the knob. Outside. Inside.
I mention this because I've had my struggles with doors. I prefer them to be open, allowing people to walk in or out. When the doors are open, we can see what is happening in the other room. You can hear someone call your name. Sometimes the door gets closed to keep in the heat, or to keep out the noise. That makes sense. But sometimes doors get closed to keep people out. Sometimes doors aren't just closed, they're slammed shut.
I've slammed my share of doors. It's supposed to be punctuation, some sort of exclamation point to the exit. It has the added effect of putting your troubles on the other side of that door. Yanking that door shut makes a big noise and creates a wall. Now what?
In a perfect world, everyone would understand and accept the meaning of that slammed door. "Sorry, we are closed." The less reasonable of us will see that as a challenge. Far too often, I have seen that door slam as an opportunity to test my own knowledge of the way doors work by throwing it back open. Then, just as abruptly after my own pithy bon mot, I can slam it closed myself, thank you. "I said, 'Good day!'"
But doors aren't just angry punctuation. When the door is opened from the other side and you see a smiling face, the wall comes tumbling down. Doors are an option. Quiet or noisy. Warm or cold. Open. Closed. Yes. No.
It took me a long time for me to fully comprehend them, but doors are pretty special.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Still The King

I don't imagine there is any way I could get an accurate count of the number of times I have watched "King Kong." I reference the 1933 version here, but I will admit that one of the best ways to sucker me onto the couch for an hour or two is to suggest either in title or by comparison any sort of "Kong-nection." One of the reasons I retain a solid memory of the film "The Stunt Man" is the offhand reference to just how tall King Kong really was. I know that I have seen the Jessica Lange/Jeff Bridges version enough times to be embarrassed by the number. For the record, I didn't cry when Jaws died, but I didn't shed a tear for Dino De Laurentis' Kong, though I maintained a fascination with Rick Baker's ape suit. Peter Jackson's version ran nearly twice as long as the original, but as fascinating as all those computer generated beasties were, it was a remake.
Nearly fifty years after the first time I sat at the foot of my parents' be and watched that RKO gem, I continue to be drawn to it. Twenty-plus years after my wife and I placed Kong and Ann at the top of our wedding cake, I watch it with an eye for every detail that I've read about or noticed in those countless viewings. I have even slowed things down, frame by frame, to watch the ripples in the great ape's fur created by the tiny manipulations by his animators. As a side note, I consider myself lucky to have "King Kong" as a favorite film. At one hundred minutes, I can watch it a couple of times and still have time to catch a little of the making-of documentaries before my mother can take in just one showing of her beloved "Gone With The Wind."
It happened again this past Saturday morning. Carl Denham got Captain Englehorn to steer The Venture into the mists near Skull Island. If it had just been the guys taking the trip, there might not have been any need for trouble. Carl and his men could have gone ashore and made another one of those amusing little films about monkeys and lions. But instead of following the wisdom of Mark Trail, who left only footprints and took only photos, he gassed that forty-foot gorilla, strapped him to a raft and dragged him back to civilization. All for a girl.
It's a love story. It's a story for the ages. If it's on again tomorrow, you'll know where I'll be.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Click Or Treat

Can you believe Jose Canseco lied to us all? Hard to believe a man of such sterling credentials would stoop so low as to perpetrate an Internet hoax. About himself? The ugliest part about this is not how easily I personally was fished in. I wasn't the only one. What strikes me now is just how believable it was for me, and millions of other fish, that Jose Canseco who shot his own finger off might have enlisted such a bad surgeon that his feeble attempt at reattachment resulted in some sort of ugly personal embarrassment. After all, Al Gore's Internet is where we go to confess our sins and weaknesses.
How quick are we to gasp at a headline and click without thinking about what sordid event we may be perpetuating? I was completely guilty of giving Jose Canseco yet another three or four minutes of infamy, long after his shot at Dancing With The Stars had passed by. Still, I can't find it in my head or my heart to make him into the villain. I only have myself to blame for the level of gullibility I choose to maintain. This system of tubes and wires that allow information to fly through them at such blinding speeds is not the culprit. I wanted to click on that morbid little piece of fiction, and what is worse, I wanted to believe it.
That is precisely what is keeping me from delving into the litany of complaints against Bill Cosby. Is it news? It gossip? Is it sad? Is it true? Is it a train wreck in slow motion? I'll go with that last one. As much as everything I know about Doctor Cosby up until the present tells me that this is as real as Canseco's detachable finger, I was completely willing to buy that ridiculous premise. Why shouldn't I believe that this comic genius has more than a few skeletons in his closet. Comic genius. Closet. That juxtaposition is more than a little uncomfortable even now. What should I believe?
I believe that I should refrain from jumping into that information stream. A difficult task, given how fast and full that river runs these days. It's hard not to feel like you're missing out if you haven't seen the latest video or seen the picture where - well, you know. I think I liked Al Gore's Internet better when it was just about the cat videos.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Right To Left

If it weren't so magnificent in so many other respects, it probably wouldn't bother me as much. I wouldn't fixate on this one little hitch in the proceedings if it wasn't surrounded by so much awesomeness. It's the fly speck in what is some pretty amazing ointment, and it may be the thing that was left in the mix to keep the gods from getting angry. What could possibly be so special that this tiny aggravation keeps me from relaxing and enjoying it for precisely what it is: an American classic. And why can't I say that the fact that Benjamin Braddock is driving the wrong way on the Bay Bridge when he is racing to Berkeley to meet up with Elaine?
I can't dwell on this now because Mike Nichols is gone. He died last week and he can't go back and fix that little glitch. We're stuck with a flawed masterpiece. Why am I stuck, staring at the tiny flaw that can hardly obscure one of the brightest lights in cinema history? Probably because "The Graduate" was the first film that I studied intensely. I had been watching movies repeatedly, but never considering the finer points of plot, character and underlying themes. That was the kind of thing I heard my older brother talking about, and I was listening. By the late seventies, I was getting a sense of just how complex a conversation one could have about a movie. Mike Nichol's "The Graduate" was my entree into that discussion.
Was Benjamin going from right to left on the moving sidewalk at the opening a conscious choice? How about his use of a cross to keep the angry mob inside the church while he and Elaine escape? Of course they were. These weren't just accidents or circumstance. They were planned and executed in order to give the viewer another layer to think about: subtext. Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katherine Ross, Buck Henry, TV funnyman Noman Fell, and even the blink and you'll miss it second film appearance of Richard Dreyfuss.
I have been in love with every frame of that film for all the years since I saw it first, but I would have liked to have the chance to ask Mister Nichols, about that whole Bay Bridge thing. I can negotiate an answer from the reality around me: It makes most sense to film the hero on the top of the bridge, since heading to Berkeley in reality would make that nice helicopter shot pretty unnecessary. That's what art does sometimes. Mike Nichols made a lot of art. Some of it was on stage. Some of it was on record. He made some great movies in addition to "The Graduate." Some not quite so much. There wasn't a real stinker in the bunch. I know because I have seen them all. I enjoyed them all. But "The Graduate" is the one that I won't turn off, even if I'm going to regret staying up to watch.
And now, Mike Nichols, I forgive you for that touch of artistic license. You stomped on the Terra. Aloha.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Common Ground

I do read other people's blogs. Sometimes it's my wife. Sometimes it's one of those featured in my documentary debut, "Friends We Haven't Met Yet," like "The View From Farview Farm." The truth is, maintaining a daily presence on Al Gore's Internet tends to keep me from reading someone else. There are so many clever, interesting voices out there, sometimes I have to put my hands over my ears and go "nanananananana" until I can be sure that they all go away long enough for me to hear myself.
Then again, sometimes it's nice to know that all those voices in my head are not my own. I do like it when those voices that I choose are harmonious with my own. I read some sports blogs, but mostly the ones that will tell me what I already know. I read some film blogs, but generally those that sound like reviews I might have written myself. Reading opinions other than my own tends to confuse me or make me upset, so if I get through those first few lines and I find myself rolling my eyes or gritting my teeth, I move on. I find that reading the words of other educators or parents can be a dicey thing. Sometimes I get sucked in by the story, only to find that it is actually a propaganda piece for some new program or curriculum that aims to save our next generation from the missteps of the one preceding. I read one last week that made me feel like I was pointed in the right direction: "Dear Parent: About THAT kid..." If you don't feel like reading the whole thing yourself, I can tell you that it is about how we, teachers, have to juggle when it comes to talking to parents about "that kid." The one who seems to be in trouble all the time. The one who bothers every other child in the room. The one who makes them cry by poking or prodding or pinching or cursing or just making the learning stop.
We, teachers, can't tell parents all the reasons why "that kid" is making education such a daily challenge. We can't tell them confidentially of otherwise all the ways that this child has struggled to make it to this point. We understand that it is our job as head of the classroom to make sure that everyone is in their places with bright shining faces, ready to learn. "That kid" is not. But that doesn't mean "that kid" won't be ready. Soon. And we want to be there when that magic moment occurs. Sometimes it takes a year. Or two. Sometimes "that kid" finds their way out into the world and you, as a teacher, get to read about "that kid" in the local news. And when you do, you remember the good things. By contrast, I've been happy to greet "that kid" upon their return to our school, after years at this middle school or that high school, to find "that kid" found a path that worked for them. Some teacher along the line got to them. An afterschool program helped them get into some sport or activity that gave them an outlet for all the ya-yas they couldn't use up in second grade. Or fifth. Now they return to say "how's it going?" but what they're really saying is "sorry about that part when I was crushing crayons into the carpet. I wasn't at my best." That kid won't say it, but I'm always happy to see them.
By the way, I don't agree with everything Miss Night has to say, but it's nice to have that common ground.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Yes, there are plenty of red states out there. More than there were just a few weeks ago, but the interesting trend to me is that in spite of this tide, there is an even more impressive spread of rainbow. Across this great land of ours, it's getting easier and easier for men to marry men and women to marry women. I know I've been a but of a Grumbly Gus when it comes to the accomplishments of our President lately, but I will have to give him credit for a good deal of Hope and Change on this particular account. In thirty-three of fifty United States same-sex marriage is legal. And speaking of legal, there is all kind of litigation still in the works in hopes of moving off that sixty percent mark and moving into a solid one hundred.
This makes many people nervous. It makes some people scared. Mostly it makes people want to change the subject. Those who are determined to continue the debate tend to turn directly to the "wild animal defense." It's the one that comes pretty soon after the one about how same-sex couples can't have kids, which is news to Elton John, and Melissa Etheridge and countless others who have been creative or simply adopted. The bestiality defense of traditional marriage is the one that suggests that as soon as we start letting men marry men and women marry women, the door is kicked wide open in to a world where we will be encouraged to wed any and all of God's creatures. Usually something smelly. Or with sharp teeth. "Next I suppose we should legalize marriage to wolverines!"
Well, not so fast there, pointy-headed one. That's not what we're suggesting, but if it would bring in some sort of unforeseen tax break or incentive or cause us all to become more responsible gun owners, why not? See how easy it is to fall into that trap? Okay, I'm not really going to suggest that making marriage to large, ill-tempered weasels legal is a good idea, but then there's this: Charles Manson was issued a marriage license last week. He and his twenty-six-year-old paramour have plans to tie the knot within the next month. Eighty-year-old convicted murderer Charlie Manson is legally allowed to marry anyone? What is up with that? He can't have a driver's license. A fishing license won't do him much good, since there isn't a lot of good casting to be done from his current housing situation. License to kill? Revoked. I would like to think that some goodhearted animal shelter employee would think twice before issuing him a dog license. But Charles Manson can get married. Okay. Then I'm guessing that whole wolverine thing seems just a little less ridiculous. Or crazy.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Son Set

Saturday evening, before we found our way into the theater and our seats, my son paused just past the snack counter. He took out his phone, which he was using as a camera at this instant, and set up carefully to take a picture of the sunset that was occurring just outside the window. I felt my usual tug to get inside and find a seat, but stopped and marveled at the care my son was taking with his composition. I was also aware of his intent: he was trying to capture the beauty he was seeing around him. I made a mental note of this because I could not remember him ever uttering that word, in any of its various permutations: beauty, beautiful, beauteous. It is not a word found in your standard seventeen-year-old boy's lexicon. Unless that seventeen-year-old boy happens to be Doug or Bob McKenzie.
His first shot included a flash, which reflected off the window, and while he re-calibrated his shot, I considered how we found ourselves in this particular moment. Not the part where we went to the movies. We've been doing that all his life. I was more interested in his new-found fascination with the beauty of the world around him. I knew that he and his friends had made a plan on Halloween to meet at the top of a nearby hill to watch the sun go down. Back then, I had assumed it had more to do with the coming of the spooky night rather than the picturesque end of the day. I had not imagined that he and his friends might have been gathering in appreciation of the sunset, something that reminded me of a youth spent watching sunsets with my mother and father, who used that opportunity to rate them. It was my father's insistence that there was no such thing as a "10."
When I went to Key West for the first time, I found a sunset that would disagree with that scale. While I was there, I saw a number of them. It was there that I did the same thing my son was doing. I took a photo through the window on the top floor of the Holiday Inn. I wanted something to take away from that moment. The problem with snapshots is that they can't take up the sky. They don't stretch to the horizon. They are reminders. All the photos of all the sunsets my family has ever taken are dull asterisks to footnote the experience. We have a lot of them. But that doesn't mean I want to discourage my son from taking his share. Let him make and album, post them to Reddit. I don't mind. It's what we do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What's It All About?

I'm not sure if this is a sports-related blog entry, but it does concern the antics of one professional athlete. It could be a social commentary, since professional athletes often provide us with examples both good and bad of behavior off the field. On the field, this gentleman distinguished himself initially by beating the heck out of baseballs for the Oakland Athletics. It turns out that one of the reasons he was he was able to generate so much offense for the A's was because he was, in his own words, "Juiced." Jose took steroids to make himself a better athlete. The drugs he took may have made him a better player, though there is some debate about exactly how good a baseball player he ever was. What is certain is that while the drugs may have improved his athletic performance, it probably didn't make him a better human being.
Recent events remind us of the perils of looking to professional sports for role models, but if we're looking for examples, Jose Canseco might be best suited for the "bad" category. That whole cheating and then bragging about it business aside, he might still make the Darwin Awards short list for shooting off his own middle finger while cleaning his gun. There may be some poetic justice in the seemingly coincidental obliteration of his middle digit, since that seemed to carry a good deal of his attitude toward the rest of the world. Imagine then how the relief he must have felt when surgeons were able to reattach Canseco's bird to its flipping mechanism.
Until this past week. Jose's surgically reattached finger fell off during a poker tournament. Fell off. What was Jose's reaction? He tweeted about it. A number of times. Ha, ha. More funny stories for the fans. Maybe not "funny-ha-ha," unless you happen to be pointing a finger at him, preferably one that had not been hastily stitched back on by a doctor whose skills may or may not have been enhanced by steroids. How else could it be explained? Maybe a lack of fingers would eventually limit Mister Canseco's access to social media. So maybe this blog entry turns out to be one about responsible use of social media. One thing is certain: steroid use does not promote decision making skills nor does it appear to help in the regeneration of missing body parts. So this one, it appears, is all about science.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Where's The Beef?

If you know anything about me, you know how much I need me a good Beef 'n' Cheddar every twelve or thirteen years. It used to be much more frequent than that. Sometimes more than once a day, if I were working a long shift. And there were some long shifts, back in the day. When I spent what would have been my freshman year in college working for Arby's, there were a lot of long shifts. I opened the place, and worked through lunch. Eventually, I worked my way into an Assistant Manger's vest, and that led to closing the place which, on the weekends, had me getting out of there sometime after one or two in the morning. In all that time, there was a consistency: Beef and Cheddar. 
Maybe it was the onion bun. It probably had more to do with the primal meat and cheese connection that has been the top of my food pyramid. That, in turn, is probably one of the driving forces behind me getting a job slinging America's Roast Beef, Yes Sir! It would have made more sense for me to run my own McDonald's franchise, but Arby's happened to be the closest fast food restaurant to my house, and I had an in: one of my best friends already worked there. Looking back, I can see why I was such a find as a prospective employee: high school graduate without a class schedule to juggle, available night and day. I could have made it a career path if I had chosen to, but that wasn't in the cards. And so, my Beef 'n' Cheddar fixation fell by the wayside.
Now, years later, I find myself drawn once again into that cheesy, meaty vortex. It might have something to do with nostalgia. I forced my family and friends to accompany me on my fiftieth birthday to the nearest Arby's we could find. We ate and we laughed and shared stories of those late nights and early mornings. Later, we all moaned and complained about how they just don't make them like they used to, but I think they really still do. It was beef and it was cheddar. Or what approximates that combination in the world of fast food. It could be this lack of verisimilitude that brought on Jon Stewart's series of par-ad-ies. Why be hatin' on Arby's like that?
Why set yourself on fire in front of one? The creepy part, for me, was that one of my co-workers who was also my girlfriend back then moved to Phoenix where last week a man was found engulfed in flames outside that franchise in the Valley of the Sun. A quick thinking store manager rushed out and turned the store's fire extinguisher on the man. And now you can feel free to write your own horrible, terrible Daily Show bit that will probably keep me away from Beef 'n' Cheddar for another few years.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Stuck In Neutral

You might think that a guy who spends at least a few minutes on Al Gore's Internet would have an opinion on "net neutrality." It sounds like something that I would like, given my predilection toward the middle and my fondness for Switzerland. But what would it mean to have a "neutral Internet?"
According to Wikipedia, which I believe was also invented by Al Gore, Net Neutrality " is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication." Doesn't that sound fair and correct? Why should any data be discriminated against? Just because I have all this bleeding liberal heart drivel to spout, I don't think my data deserves any sort of preferential treatment. I believe the information found on my little corner of cyberspace is every bit as important as that found elsewhere in this virtual realm. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of the trusted voices at, in which case all that talk of specialness applies. I would gladly pay a surcharge for the turkey wisdom that can be mined there.
Of course, that sets a pretty nasty precedent, doesn't it? Who am I to say that the folks at wouldn't also deserve some sort of special dispensation? Or perhaps all purveyors of fried and melted foodstuffs? Without net neutrality, we might experience a filtering of our inbound data. That would be awful. Soon, you might be missing important Kardashian updates just because your ISP decided that they were less than worthy of your newly cleansed and sanitized feed. That family's antics have occasionally threatened to break the Internet, and isn't that what this game is all about? On a less-than-neutral net, would Alex From Target be allowed to thrive? Whether it's a Kardashian backside or John Oliver asking his viewers to focus their "indiscriminate rage" at the FCC, surfing the Internet is the sport of kings. No, wait. That's polo, not web browsing. I found that out by using my net neutral connection. And it didn't cost me a penny. Well, actually it probably costs me a fraction of that penny when I break it down over the number of searches and clicks I make in the course of a day. Totally worth it. If I had to start paying extra every time I wanted to find the nearest Dairy Queen, I guess you would understand why I'm all about net neutrality. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Social Engineering

"Hey, Dave."
"Hey. Where are you?"
"I'm running a little late."
This was nothing new. I had a friend in high school who was never on time for anything. He was a funny guy, and what's more, he thought I was the funniest person in the world. That helped take the edge off some of the annoyance he racked up over the years by being late. The good news was that he would always call.
"How late are you going to be?" From my perspective, where fifteen minutes early is "on time," I could only imagine what the wait might be.
"I'll be there. Don't worry."
In those days, I didn't worry, exactly. I worried in a very inexact way. Sometimes I let the bitter end of my patience show before I remembered to whom I was speaking. "That's fine. We'll just wait."
"Okay. Good." He had successfully negotiated that gambit, having rationalized that he would be forgiven for his trademark tardiness. "Are you ready?"
I held the phone away from my head. "Sure, go ahead." I knew what was coming. I didn't hang up, because I wanted to hear it play out: A clanging sound, followed by a few sharp cracks, then after a pause, one more resounding thump. Then: "Dave?"
I put the phone back to my ear. "Yeah?"
"Not this time."
"Okay. I'll see you soon."
We were participating in the end of the ritual which was the attempted destruction of public property. Or maybe it was private property. I was never clear on just how to categorize payphones. My friend was attempting to break the headset in half by clanging it a few times against whatever solid object happened to be close enough. This was an odd quirk in what was an otherwise pretty straight character. In all the years he called me from a payphone, he never managed to crack one, leaving us both in awe of the durability of Bell System products. It was especially impressive to my friend who went on to get a degree in electrical engineering, and landed a job with Motorola. It was there he worked to develop chip technology that would revolutionize cellular telephone communication.
He finally found a way to destroy pay phones.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Riding The Storm Out

My grandfather was a mail carrier. That's probably where I got my rain, wind, sleet and snow stamina. I have plenty of wet, windy days to my credit as a bicycle commuter here in California. Having the right shell and a trip of less than three miles makes it easier to wear that particular badge of courage. Some days I have wet socks, but mostly I deal with the rushing torrents as annoyance rather than deterrence. Every so often my wife looks out the window and says, "Wow. It's really coming down. Do you want a ride to school?" I know that a little rain never killed anyone, but I recognize that it's what people do when it rains that kills people, so I consider the offer. Then I zip up and press on out into the storm.
That choice is driven primarily by my previously mentioned bloodline and a youth spent at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. I used to walk to school in the snow. It used to take thirty minutes of prep to get all the necessary layers and gear on to make the mile trek uphill to my junior high school. Yes, you read that right: Uphill. A mile. In the snow. Not because it was honorable. It was reality.
Indoor recess was as rare back in those blizzard-y days as they are for us here in drought-stricken California. The difference is that when it does rain here, we always keep the kids inside. We don't expect them to bundle up and go outside to brave the elements. Snow and rain are different experiences, which may be the reason that us Colorado kids were sent outside in our boots and mittens and puffy coats to romp and play in drifts up to our necks. It was a different time. It was a different reality.
The reality in which I find myself currently, there are no snow days. There are no rain days. The schools stay open. I have heard stories of earthquakes keeping schools closed for a week, but that doesn't fall into the precipitation category. My guess is that if something like that were to happen here in the Bay Area, district officials might look to the example set by schools in the Midwest. Many school districts in the tundra are turning to technology to limit the impact of snow days. Students are expected to log in and work from the relative safety and comfort of their homes on their laptops, tablets or smartphones. Climate change has played havoc with the school year recently, and places like Minnesota and even New York City have asked their students to stay in school virtually. School boards are asking to include these days as part of the mandated one hundred eighty. No word yet on contingency plans for the zombie virus.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Future Prep

Like so many of you, I worry about the coming apocalypse. This would be the one that stands in stark contrast to the one that has already occurred. As a homeowner in an earthquake zone, I know how to shut off the gas, and my wife has already divined the secret potential of sawdust toilets. My son and I have read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," and I sat through the movie. On a related note, my wife and I have made a study of every episode of "The Walking Dead," critiquing the various approaches to life after the zombies show up. My son has a zombie plan for each and every locale he finds himself in, with the intent of never being at a loss for how escape with his brains intact and uneaten. And still there's this nagging voice in the back of my head that says I haven't done enough.
What am I going to do when the race of super-intelligent apes take charge? When I was a kid, the looming threat of nuclear annihilation was flavored with just a touch of what could only be labeled "hope." In a particular corner of the world's imagination, the survivors of such an exchange of thermonuclear weapons would have left pockets of humanity alive, and those lucky enough to be left alive would eventually devolve into loincloth wearing animals hunted for sport by the aforementioned super-intelligent apes. Lucky them. But that was just one reading of the future. Off another exit on that timeline was the possibility of a more cooperative version of the future where humans who accepted the fact that they had been responsible for most of the rotten things that had eventually given rise to the Planet of the Apes were allowed to hang with the chimps and orangutans in charge. The gorillas weren't having any of that, but you never could negotiate with a gorilla. I spent enough time in my youth imagining cohabitation with super-intelligent apes that the thought doesn't give me much pause. What does concern me is how I might be perceived by the simian and human community around me. How would I contribute to this new society and not end up stuffed in some museum?
I'm a teacher, right? Someone has to teach all those little apes how to read and write. I would have to make sure that I kept my credential current, and I did all that I could to consider the special needs of my students. I would encourage my ape overlords to remember the lessons of Brown v. the Board of Education, and try to keep my classroom a representative mix of human and super-intelligent ape. And mostly I would try not to teach them everything I know, at least not right away. That way I remain useful to them, and become less likely to end up on the experimental lobotomy list. I think for I'll hold on to that sawdust toilet technology for a good long while.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Just For One Day

Where were you when the wall came down? Twenty-five years ago, some of the people with whom I work were in elementary school. Or yet to be born. They don't have a solid memory of just what a momentous occasion it was when the concrete and barbed wire that separated East from West Berlin ceased to be a barrier. This symbol of division was magically transformed into one of unification. There was a time when there was an Eastern and Western Europe. The idea of any sort of unity, economic or otherwise, was blocked by tensions generated much further east and much further west in the Soviet Union and the United States. I find it a little ironic now that both of those nations emphasized unity right there in their names, but couldn't seem to figure out how to make that happen, especially in a place like Berlin.
You remember Berlin? In Germany? West Berlin used to be an island of democracy created out of the slivers of a city once occupied by four different countries. At the end of World War II, France, England and the United States combined their corners of that battered burg and after a couple of decades of barbed wire, the Soviets (as we used to call them) decided to make a more permanent structure.  Families were separated. Lovers mourned the distance between the two worlds marked by machine guns and miles of reinforced concrete. David Bowie sang about it. Nearly three more decades passed and suddenly, on a dare, that edifice of ignominy was pushed over, knocked down, and eventually broken up. Into little bits. Somewhere, back in those newly bright days, a little sliver of one of those bits found its way to me. I would not have guessed it at the time, but the girl who gave it to me turned out to be the woman that I married. Odd how that wall ended up bringing people together.
Just like that song.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


My son eats his cheeseburgers with mustard and ketchup. No lettuce. No tomato. No onions. Pickles? Fuhgeddaboudit.  He would probably consider going without the bun if he could. Cheese. Burger. He's a pretty elemental guy. I know where he gets that. I used to scrape my burgers free of most anything that might otherwise interfere with the carnivorous enterprise.
For some time I found myself in negotiations with my wife about the contents of my chocolate chip cookies. The cookies, I felt, were the delivery system for the chocolate chips. She is very fond of walnuts. I worried for a while that this might somehow sully the whole chocolate chip cookie symbiosis. Eventually I caved, partly because I felt it was the diplomatic thing to do and partly because it turns out that a few chopped walnuts don't really hurt a thing.
Still, it's hard not to feel the chocolate experience being diluted. The solution? Sit on the couch with a bag of chocolate chips and don't bother with all that dough nonsense. This attitude is echoed in the way I tend to eat my chocolate cake: I flip that bad boy on its head and eat down until I have a thin layer of frosting left. The hard work done, dessert can be enjoyed. I should also, by way of confession, allow that I have been known to enjoy taking a spoon to a can of Betty Crocker ready to spread frosting. That's what I really want, after all.
Which brings me to the National Football League. These guys have figured out the sports equivalent of a can of Double Fudge frosting: The NFL Red Zone. You can, if you're so inclined, sit on hour couch and watch six straight hours of nothing but scoring plays. No beer commercials. No timeouts for a measurement. Just flipping around the country looking for those touchdowns, field goals and safeties. Every so often they let an extra point sneak in there, if something interesting happens, but mostly it's just touchdown after touchdown. They make a big deal about how they don't do commercials, but cooler heads will realize that it's really all one big advertisement for the corporation known as the NFL. Does that keep me from sitting on the couch and shoveling all that football action into my head? No walnuts. No pickles. No worries.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Stand Back, We're Doing Science

I tend to like more than a little science in my science fiction. Flash Gordon never appealed to me because it didn't ask for me to accept much more than Sam Jones or Buster Crabbe rushing about in their tight pants. In the future, why couldn't they find a way to get some pants that actually fit? The same can be said for the Starship Enterprise: A vehicle that can travel faster than the speed of light really ought to come equipped with seat belts. Still, the folks at Star Trek did keep us wondering about things like the time space continuum, as well as the somewhat ridiculous cut of their officer's slacks. And so it's entirely possible that when one's mind is so consumed with special relativity, the last thing you worry about is haberdashery.
In space, they say, no one can you you scream. My older brother, who was my first and best instructor on the ways of things outside our atmosphere, is the one who pointed out early on that all those explosions that we hear in all those space operas really shouldn't be in the vacuum of space. It would likewise be just as difficult to hear John Williams' score. Or the Blue Danube. After seeing "2001: A Space Odyssey," I pretty much figured that once you left the earth, you were probably going to hear a lot of Strauss. I do remember how quiet most of that film is, and how much science there was before fiction took over. The fact that Stanley Kubrick seems to have presaged Siri by a few decades adds cred to the science end of things. Most of the time, however, we don't need to fuss about physics while we're sitting in the dark, munching on popcorn.
The most recent example of this disconnect was the way Neil Degrasse Tyson ripped into "Gravity." Doctor Tyson would very much like us to know that Sandra Bullock may be America's sweetheart, but she doesn't know beans about astrophysics. I heard all of these voices in my head as I watched Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar."  I was caught up in the story of one man's journey to save the Earth for his children, but somewhere in the midst of all that vast expanse of space were the murmurs of why I should reign in all the belief that I had so willingly suspended. Eventually, I'm happy to say, the story won out. It was a film-going experience that took me back to 1968, when I sat with my family who were all swept away by Kubrick's masterpiece. I was also reminded of a conversation that my older brother had with me about whether aliens from another planet would necessarily be carbon-based life forms. Upon further reflection, I decided that it didn't matter, as long as they weren't carrying death rays.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Or Not

As I have mentioned here before, I am Pro-Choice. Not that this opinion affects any woman's reproductive rights. That would be the rather exclusive domain of those who are capable of making such decisions. I'm looking at you, Rand Paul. But before I start down a path which I have already asserted that I have no business being on in the first place, let me say that the choices I prefer to be involved in are those which can best be served by those without ovaries. Even now, however, I find that the number of choices over which I actually hold sway may have reached a peak, and now I find myself on what could best be described as the downhill side. I am ready to embrace that moment when I can no longer be trusted to feed and clothe myself, and choices like paper or plastic will be determined by someone much more capable than myself.
That doesn't mean I'm ready to retire as a parent. I'm going to stay on that horse until the buzzer sounds, but all those things that used to require my signature or affirmation are beginning to taper off. There aren't as many family discussions about what we will all do with the upcoming vacation day, or whether taking that extra class would be a good idea. These days I find out where my son is via text, or that he has decided to have a free period at the end of day over dinner when we all sit down to dinner. This isn't to say that he is keeping things from me. On the contrary. He is quite forthcoming with news and updates about the course of his life. But it is his life now, and I can only blame myself for raising a son who would be capable of making these kind of choices for himself.
Like the choice he made to quit going to weekly piano lessons. It would be tremendously peevish of me to complain about my son's decision to stop going to piano lessons after ten years. I quit going to piano lessons myself long before I was a senior in high school. That coupled with the somewhat embarrassing way that my son's talent and skills outstripped my own long before he ever began to consider quitting makes it all the more quirksome of me. What right do I have to tell him not to do what I had once done, years before?
The same right he has to pick his own path. That's what his mother and I have been creating all these years: A person who can chart his own informed course into the future. Gone are the days when we set up playdates for children we felt best suited his developmental stage. We no longer bring clothes home to him. He wants more black T-shirts, and he'll tell us where we can get them. Now we look ahead to the future. A future that will be filled with options and alternatives that will eventually put him in a position of picking from an ever expanding menu of possibilities. What college to go to, what his major will be, what career, where will he live, who he will be friends with, who he will date, who will he he marry, whether or not they will have kids of their own someday who will break his heart by growing up and making choices of their own.
Or not.

Sunday, November 09, 2014


What is gross? One hundred and forty-four of something. Twelve dozen. That's gross. It's also the total before taxes, but that starts to get a little opening things up for lots of discussion so we'll skip that for now. Just like I should probably skip the assertion made by that there are nine totally "gross" things that most of us do without recognizing how "gross" they are. I suppose this could mean that we do them one hundred and forty-four times without thinking about it, but I think the Answers folks were aiming more at the "repulsive" rather than any fixed number.
First of all, why wouldn't I trust a web site called "Answers?" Wouldn't this be the repository of all knowledge known to our species? Mis or disinformation would not be allowed here, nor would there be anything as tawdry as "opinion.", by the way, is apparently a parked domain just waiting for someone to scoop it up and fill it with all the unsubstantiated hearsay and judgments that storage will allow. For now, however, we'll stick to the facts.
Answers tell us that one of the most awful things we can do to ourselves is to use a dirty makeup brush. "Dirty makeup brushes have the ability to cause pink eye, skin irritation and acne. If you share makeup, beware that makeup brushes have the ability to spread diseases like herpes." Okay, so you can pretty much scratch wearing eye makeup off my "things to do in a commune" list. Next they want us to know that letting dogs lick our faces is pretty horrible too, since that whole "dogs' mouths are much cleaner than our own" meme turns out to be less than completely accurate. I have a pretty solid recollection of some of the places my dog's mouth had visited, and I still periodically let her get away with a public display of affection. I tried not to get too Lucy Van Pelt about it. 
While we are on the subject of oral hygiene, it's also pretty awful to leave your toothbrush exposed to the elements. "Although you are unable to see it, every time you flush your toilet the contents spray in the air and land on the toothbrush." Great. Now I'm burdened with the image of a veritable Old Faithful in my bathroom, splattering any and all with the contents with every flush. Speaking of toilets, the folks at would like us to know about a Kansas State University study that found that our backpacks are dirtier than your average toilet seat. After a dog has licked it. 
There are other terrible affronts to decency and cleanliness in this cybersnickety link, but I won't burden you with them now. I have to go and sanitize my keyboard.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Pop Goes The Vote

This is the end. We can all start preparing for the worst. Ebola? Who cares? We have seen the coming of the Apocalypse and it looks like election results to me. What was once red is now blue. The next two years will be an unrelenting assault on Obamacare, never mind the consequences. Even if it means that Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in a landslide in 2016.
But that's not the only change occurring. There were plenty of local initiatives and measures that will affect all of our lives: after school programs, street repair funding, and that whole minimum wage conundrum. It's great to be trusted with the power of a vote. We can change the world. Or maintain the status quo.
In the Bay Area, we have a lot of things we had to figure out: Who would be mayor? What sort of city council did we want and how did we imagine our school board moving into the future? And what did we want to pay for our soda pop. Yes, health care and taxes may be inevitable, but soda is life and we had some hard decisions to make out here. In San Francisco, voters did not turn out in numbers strong enough to turn this idea into law. The supporters of this additional taxation declared victory in spite of their lack of a two-thirds supermajority because more than half of those who turned in a ballot proclaimed their allegiance to adding a few cents to the price of pop to help keep kids from getting diabetes. Or at least they will have to pitch into the public fund that will pay for the ongoing care of those of us who are trying to erode our teeth and general health by chugging down those twenty ounce Coca Colas. The sugary beverage industry pumped money into the anti-tax promotions like it was corn syrup. Millions of dollars were spent right here in the Bay Area in hopes of maintaining the low, low price of a can of Pepsi. Or Mountain Dew. Or Jolt Cola.
In Berkeley, where things are far more revolutionary, the soda tax passed with the kind of ease that Republicans rode into the Senate. Berkeley’s Measure D needed only a simple majority to pass. It will levy a penny-per-ounce tax on most sugar-sweetened beverages and is estimated to raise more than one million dollars per year. Proceeds will go to the general fund. Measure D calls for the creation of a health panel to advise Berkeley’s City Council on appropriate health programs to receive funding. Who are these people, and why weren't they swayed by the same ads that poked holes in their ideals across the bay? 
Perhaps these are the true visionaries. The ones who see the future and want to make it their own. The same folks who voted to make their city a nuclear free zone. That's been working pretty well for them since 1986. Maybe next they can make up some anti-zombie legislation. Then I could sleep at night. 

Friday, November 07, 2014

Re View

The images that we were looking at had been seen by us dozens of times before. Maybe hundreds. It would be hard to calculate, since once upon a time we lived in a Super 8 world. There were Saturdays when we didn't leave the basement. We plugged in the projector and watched reel after reel of Kodachrome stock as it spooled past the lamp. Not content to merely watch the movies as they had been shot, we slowed them down. We sped them up. We watched them backwards and forwards until sometimes they broke. Initially lacking the technology of splicing, that meant that those memories would have to live on as just that. We would not have the handy guide of that great big box of home movies to remind of us of the olden days.
When I sat down on the couch with my younger brother last weekend, I knew what was in store for us. I had previewed all nine hours of footage that had only recently been transferred to digital disc. As I watched them by myself, I was surprised at exactly how much I remembered: colors, faces, places, cars, pets. But I was haunted by the lack of sound. These were silent movies, and as I sat there on my first viewing, I struggled with that vacuum. What did Uncle Marvin sound like? There were miles of marching band footage without any music. My brain raced to try and access the files that would sync up. Eventually I surrendered and put on a CD for background ambiance. This was my suggestion as I returned, some weeks later, with my younger brother for another trip down memory lane. The Christmases had that same warm glow. The family reunions were all dazzling in their similarity. The trips we took to Santa Fe and the desert southwest blurred into one cohesive vacation. We loved our ruts. We got favorite things and stuck with them.
Maybe that's why it all felt so familiar. Maybe that's why it felt like a familiar piece of music that you find yourself humming before you even notice that you're doing it. This was the story of our lives together. The moment that stuck out for me was that of my mother climbing out of the passenger side of our station wagon. My older brother and I rushed up to see what bundle she might be carrying. It was our little brother. There is a permanent record of the first time we met. Now, nearly fifty years later, we were watching it all unfold once again. As if it were new.
All the food. All the haircuts. All the Christmas trees. All of our lives laid out in front of us to ponder. To peruse. To look at once again. In living color.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Sunny Day

Sweepin' the clouds away, on my way to where the air is sweet. Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?
Practice. Isn't that the punchline? Maybe that's Carnegie Hall, but it's somewhere in that corner of the mostly mythical United States of America. Next week, the home of Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and everyone's favorite ambiguous couple Ernie and Bert marks its forty-fifth anniversary. This makes it the longest running children's TV show in our country's history, mythical or not. A pretty amazing accomplishment. So why do I feel cheated?
It could be that I am skeptical of this cloud-swept, sweet-aired sunny spot located somewhere in the vicinity of New York City. The demographics are pretty close, but all this singing and smiling seems somehow oddly out of place in the Big Apple. Maybe it's in Brooklyn. It just never rang true, even though they do have a guy living in a trash can who hates most everything. I never felt I was getting a clear picture of life in the city that never sleeps.
Of course, this is probably because it was never intended to be a gritty, realistic portrait of life on the streets. It was created to teach us all the ABC's, and how to count to ten. I am bitter because in November of 1969, that job had already been done on me by somebody else. Ernie and Bert and Cookie Monster and Grover were instant reminders of where I had been only a few short years before. I was in the second grade. I didn't need puppets to tell me how to read and count. But these weren't just puppets. These were Muppets. I had been enamored with the fuzzy creations of Jim Henson since I first spied them on The Ed Sullivan Show. Now they had their own show, more or less, only I was excluded from their demographic. While The Count was busy doing his thing, and Grover was trying hard not to be scary, I was busy at school. My younger brother, three years younger, was the beneficiary of all this carefully researched and modulated TV curriculum. Lucky lad. My viewings of the Street called Sesame were restricted primarily to days when I was home sick from school. It was a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.
Now it's forty-five years later. PBS is proud to tell you that forty-nine percent of its viewers are over eighteen years old. Most of them know their letters and numbers. I do too, but when I'm flipping around the digital dial, every now and then I find myself in that happy place where I come to play and everything's A-OK. It's hard to stay mad at a bird that big.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014


The bumper sticker said, "Stop U.S. Aid To Israel." I thought about it for a while and it seemed like it was forever ago when that would have been an unthinkable thought, at least on these shores. We, the United States, were indispensable supports for the beleaguered nation of Israel. Now, after years of protecting them from the bullies in their neighborhood and sitting down with them and the bad guys who were making life difficult for them. And selling them tanks and guns and missiles and the kind of aid that we don't generally consider "humanitarian." If I were asked today who the bully was in the Middle East, I don't know if I would have picked Egypt. Or Palestine.
But the way things stack up presently don't line up with all of our past commitments and the history that surrounds them. It's an easy enough bet to make that the San Francisco Giants would win the World Series now, but six months ago, the Bay Area's Sure Thing was the Oakland Athletics. Time and perspective allow us to see how all the movements and machinations of the baseball world came together to help create this outcome. All the pieces were in place, it just needed a shove to send it in motion. The reason for all those other teams to be sitting at home in October? Strings.
The strings that were connected months ago. Years ago. Decades ago, if you happen to be a Kansas City Royals fan. What does baseball have to do with foreign affairs? Strings. The treaties and agreements made over the past century have put our team in a position to win it all. Or not. Mostly we try and maintain the status quo, whatever that is. World peace is pretty much out of the question, but we'll be happy if we can avoid world war.
In my twenties, I didn't see all those strings. I lived in a world that kept me righteously and blissfully unaware of the muck and the mire. I was immersed in the very idealistic world of Amnesty International, where all we wanted to do was cut those ties that kept anyone bound. Torture was bad. Enhanced interrogation techniques? That would have brought only outrage, not even derisive laughter. Torture, as it turns out, is still wrong, but thirty years later I can see all the strings that were pulled to make it appear that we might have needed to waterboard those bad guys to save American lives. Strings I could not have imagined half my life ago. Could we stop sending aid to Israel? Cut those strings and see what happens. Maybe nothing. Maybe next year the A's will win the World Series.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014


I said goodbye to an old friend last Saturday. We had been together for years, and even though it was my wife who first introduced us, she was happy to see this particular relationship come to an end. There weren't any tears. There were no hard feelings. All relationships, a therapist once counseled me, eventually end. For more than two decades, we had been through wind, rain, summer, spring and fall. Together. Now it's over.
Don't panic. You probably didn't know this shirt. It was my Saturday morning running shirt, and not it is strips of shredded mostly cotton. When all was said and done, the remnants weren't really suitable for anything. Not even rags. Now what I have are memories.
When I first moved in with my wife, I explained to her that I had a certain number of T-shirts that I wore when I took my daily runs. She was the one who surmised that certain number ought to be seven. As the proud owner of many of the nation's T-shirts, it was my wife's polite suggestion that I simply put a few of those less important or meaningful souvenirs into the exercise rotation. I had a couple that were able to make that transition, but I still ended up a couple shirts shy of a week. When I came home from work one afternoon, my wife presented me with a gift: She bought a pair of T-shirts from a thrift store for a dollar each. One of them was a winner: A commemorative shirt from the class of Northgate HIgh's class of '95. I didn't go to Northgate, nor did I know anyone who did. I had graduated fifteen years before that. What made this piece of somebody else's used clothing interesting to me was Northgate's mascot. Then Northgate Broncos. I'm a Broncos fan. It wasn't a Denver Broncos shirt, so I didn't have to feel bad about getting it all sweaty or laundering it excessively. It was a one dollar shirt.
I wore that shirt out. Once a week for the past twenty years, I've pulled that shirt over my head and gone out into the world for a run. Somewhere during that time it became my habit to wear the Northgate Broncos shrit on Saturdays. It made sense for me because my Friday shirt was a Colorado Buffaloes shirt. It provided me with a ritual. Rituals with totems: Buffaloes and Broncos. And now, one of them is gone. I let my wife tear the last bits of the shirt she bought for me way back when off my back. That was a ritual too.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Such A Lonely Word

"I'll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It's been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader." Honesty has always been the best policy, but when that honesty is coming from the mouths of elected officials from the president's own party, is it time to review that policy? These comments were made by Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu from Louisiana. Honestly, I guess that's the kind of talk we've come to expect from the "Sportsman's Paradise."  To be honest, it may be part of the reason why we need to be careful when we start electing women folk to office because they can go a little crazy once a month or so. 
Or maybe we should stop legitimizing hate by calling it "honest." In this bizzaro scenario, who should come to the president's defense? Louisiana's Republican State chairman, Roger Villere. said "Louisiana deserves better than a senator who denigrates her own people by questioning and projecting insidious motives on the very people she claims to represent. Senator Landrieu and President Obama are unpopular for no other reason than the fact the policies they advance are wrong for Louisiana and wrong for America." Okay, maybe Mister Villere wasn't exactly defending Barack Obama, but at least he seemed clear on that whole "party line" thing. If you're going to hate a president, hate him for the right reasons. 
Or maybe that's still the wrong tree up which we should be barking. When partisan politics starts becoming indistinguishable from bigotry, we may have lost track of some of our principles. Even Superman has to consider his place in the world today: What's so funny about truth, justice and the American Way? Honestly. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Foul Play

Authorities announced early last week that "no foul play" was suspected in the disappearance of a Colorado man. Why is this news? Perhaps it was because he was last seen amid a crowd of his sixty or seventy thousand closest friends: Denver Broncos fans. Fifty-three year old Paul Kitterman wandered off at halftime from his seat at Mile High Stadium where he and his family were taking in the spectacle of his team beating their division rivals, the San Diego Chargers. Why weren't they concerned?
Considering the kind of behavior that can be found in and around the sports arenas of this fair land, it was a surprising reaction. When I consider the case of Bryan Stow, a San Francisco Giants fan who was beaten and left for dead by Los Angeles Dodger "fans" who took the battle on the field out into the parking lot. Without any rules. Without any protective gear. Without any common decency. The good news is that when it came time to throw out the first pitch for game four of this year's World Series in San Francisco, Bryan was on hand to shout out to the crowd, "Play ball!"
It's not the expectation of most sports fans to end up in the intensive care unit when they go out to the local sports arena. Then again, no one expects that the joy of winning would be as agonizing as defeat. How then do we explain the broken windows and burning couches in the streets of San Francisco right after the Giants won their third World Series Championship in five years? Was this some kind of retribution for the injustice suffered by Giants Superfan Bryan Stow three years ago? Some sort of cathartic upheaval connected to the pent-up frustrations of sports fans in the Bay Area? That doesn't make sense, since winning championships is getting to be pretty much routine. Disappointment remains the currency of Oakland Raiders fans, but even they seem to be able to maintain a certain amount of decorum when it comes to losing. Practice, it seems, makes perfect.
As for our missing Bronco fan, it turns out that he had "had his fill of football," and just left. He went "for a walk." One hundred miles later, he was found in a Pueblo, Colorado K-Mart parking lot. This is good news on two fronts: Mister Kitterman was found safe, and there is still a K-Mart in Pueblo. He didn't get beat half to death and left in some ditch by angry San Diego Charger fans. He wasn't left in a coma, battling for his life. He just left. The Broncos were ahead at halftime, so maybe he just figured he's seen enough and it was time to see something different. Like the parking lot of a K-Mart in Pueblo. That might also explain why there were all those broken and burned things in San Francisco. No foul play here. They had just "had their fill of baseball."

Saturday, November 01, 2014


Like so many haunted houses, you could walk past it nearly every day and never give it a second thought. Only during certain times of the year did it take on a special quality. Eerie. Creepy. Haunted. That is not how the Gresham house felt to me. It was scary year-round.
I ride my bike past that house twice a day and it has always seemed like a bad place. A pistachio-green duplex that has had some level of disrepair hanging around the edges. It was the place where the Christmas lights never seemed to come down and the space next to the fence filled with pieces of bikes, rusted barbecues, and car parts that may have been on their way to one of the cars parked perpetually at an angle on the driveway. It was where the Gresham kids lived. When I was a fourth grade teacher, I had first the older sister and then the middle brother in my class. That didn't work out quite the way I wanted it to.
With the daughter, I was in my first year as a classroom teacher, after six years as computer teacher. I wasn't prepared to deal with parents in the full measure that having just one class demanded. The Gresham girl showed up with a neighborhood feud going against another young lady in my class. From the first day, they were at each other: on the yard, in line, at lunch, and in my room. I used all my training and all my tricks to get some order out of the chaos these pre-teens brought every day. Eventually this led to a meeting with the mothers of both girls in the principal's office. The mother's eventual solution was to flip a coin to see which girl would stay in my class and which would be moved to another fourth grade. I was never clear what the winner was going to get: me or the switch. I do remember that two years later I got the middle brother. He wasn't feuding with anyone. He was feuding with everyone. He had no interest in being in anyone's classroom, to the point that he would on a regular occasion, make himself throw up underneath his desk so that he could be sent home.
Back to that house. Eventually, the Greshams decided that we were not the school for them and they took the rest of their elementary education to another school in the district. I would imagine they chose that school based on a roll of the dice or a flip of the coin.
They didn't move. They stayed in that house, where I rode my bike past twice a day. The perpetually inebriated father shambled about and nodded in my direction in a way that seemed vaguely friendly, but never committal. He was the guy who didn't bother taking down his Christmas lights, but took great care each Halloween to decorate his front lawn with styrofoam headstones and severed body parts. Fake severed body parts. Each year brought a new addition to the display, culminating a few years back with a ten-foot-tall inflatable black cat.
This week there were no tombstones. There was no inflatable black cat. There was a freshly installed chain link fence around the entire property. The Greshams have moved away. It could be that they finally found someplace better to be. Better schools. Better neighborhood. Maybe they were looking for a living room that could hold all their furniture without feeling crowded by the big screen TV that dominated the room. That big screen TV that was kept on and blaring when I stopped by to talk about the kids' progress in school. Maybe they were trying to get away from their past. The past that saw that middle son accidentally shot in the bathroom of their grandmother's home. The ghosts of the past. The ones that haunt me still.