Monday, February 29, 2016


Whether we are one nation under God or not, we are certainly not indivisible. We are regularly divisible for all kinds of reasons. The lengths that we go to as a group of individuals to make ourselves appear indivisible are pretty impressive: all those Fourth of July picnics and parades, those moments when we are attacked by space aliens and we all band together as one to repel the invading forces. There are probably a whole lot of things, aside from Sara Lee, but that list is often obscured by the oppressive way in which we tend not to get along. We even had a war, back in the day, that we like to remember fondly as "brother against brother." We called this one our "Civil War," and even though Guns 'n' Roses went out of their way to let us know that there is nothing civil about war before disbanding in acrimony, we tend not to focus on the irony of that title.
Instead, some of us continue to celebrate this period in our history. An estimated fifty thousand Civil War re-enactors go out into the fields and forests of our heartland to pretend to shoot at one another with pretend guns and die pretend deaths in order to keep this memory alive. It could be this constituency that Mississippi's governor Phil Bryant is trying to appease by naming April "Confederate Heritage Month." It could be that since the American Civil War took place nearly a century and a half ago that Governor Phil doesn't have all his facts in place, since my research tells me that the Confederates were the losers in that one, and the guys in the gray suits have generally been described as the bad guys. Sure, there are at least fifty shades of gray, but since there was a surrender involved as well as a piece of our Constitution that was written to make sure that the terms were spelled out for future generations this one seems to be a done deal. Or maybe we like to cling to our past, no matter how divisive it might be.
After all, it was just a few months ago that the last battle flag came down from its lofty spot above the state house just a couple states away from where Bryant made his proclamation. For many, the Civil War isn't over.  Somebody should probably mention that even the Mississippi flag is about one quarter Confederate, and maybe that represents the good-hearted folks down there below the Mason-Dixon Line. Or maybe it's about time to let the past recede into the past. Let all those flags and gray uniforms go where they belong: museums.
And maybe we can be glad that Governor Phil doesn't want May to be "Nazi Heritage Month."

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Dead Men Walking

Remember back a few months ago when I kept referring to the crowded field of candidates on the Republican side of the presidential race as "a clown car?" Well all of a sudden, that metaphor doesn't seem quite as appropriate. It could be the lack of floppy shoes and red noses, but the attrition rate over the past few weeks has made me think less of that cramped carrier of colorfully costumed carnival comedians and more of an episode of The Walking Dead.
I make no real bones (pun emphatically intended) about my fascination with AMC's series about the zombie apocalypse. My wife and I consider it to be one of "our shows." It is appointment television. The same cannot be said of the Republican debates which we have avoided like the zombie-inducing plague. But I can't help thinking that it would be easy enough to simply throw a little grime and a little extra gore (lower case) on the group of survivors to add to the effect.
Way back when the TV series started, there were a dozen or so main characters who were making good their escape from the advancing horde of teeth-gnashing-brain-gobblers. Now, most of them have fallen away, leaving a very few of the original members of the cast to struggle through and find their way in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Heroes and villains have been left behind or eaten with callous disregard. Being a good guy doesn't mean that you get to live. More often than not, it is those selfless acts that cause that selfless one to become zombie chow.
This could explain why the remaining Republican candidates lean more to the "anti-hero" type. Most of them would look comfortable wielding a crossbow, or wearing an eyepatch, both of which are protected by our Second Amendment. What part of the hungry cadaver universe would these guys make up? The Governor is out, but it could be that he was never fully alive to begin with. The number of forgotten victims now completely overwhelm that of the ones left standing behind the podiums. In the coming weeks, who will survive and what will be left of them?
When the sheriff on TV encounters another survivor, he asks three questions: "How many walkers have you killed? How many people have you killed? Why?" I'm thinking the next GOP debate should have a much simpler format next time.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Time Passages

Time is a slippery thing. It flows like a river, if you believe what you hear on the record you've listened to for more than thirty years. You can't stand in the same river twice, someone will tell you, because that's wisdom. But then you think back to that song about time and realize that you've stepped in that same river hundreds of times over the year. That's what memories do for all of us. Photo albums and journals are like the recycling fountains of time. You can wade back in whenever you get a chance, those images and sounds and feelings are there once again to bring back the past and you can feel free to drink as deeply as you'd like since the past is there for you. It's a resource. It evaporates as the pictures fade or the CDs get lost or the emotions that you once held so dear are now just murmurs of the shout they used to be.
I have my own struggles with time. Like so many other humans, I can't get enough when I need it. Like another old song tells me, "There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do." This is why I write these blogs days in advance. I am writing for the future. Sometimes this means that by the time I read the words I wrote days later, I have had other thoughts that would have made things more clear, or better jokes. Hard to imagine, I know, but as carefully crafted as every one of these entries appear, once I put them in line to publish I start to feel anxious about how it will be received in the days to come. Or weeks after when someone stumbles on my blog while searching for a connection to something that happened months ago.
Or years.
Meanwhile, in my living room there is a machine that is busy keeping track of the television programs that I don't have time to watch at the time they are being broadcast. It is keeping track of my present, in order to let me watch programs from the past in my future. Sometimes that means that I have to ignore my present, like avoiding conversations with friends and family until I have had the experience they had when it was now back then. It is now when I decide it is now. It is a manufactured sense of being able to control time. Pause, fast forward, rewind. Such power. And all around me that river rushes on. I like to pretend that I can keep up, but I know that eventually time will win, just like it always has. And always will.

Friday, February 26, 2016

What Now?

You know that slightly glazed look that people get after they have drunk the Kool-Aid. Zombies that lurch forward in response to simple commands. Like "Trump!" Billionaire narcissist and Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trumpsil has an army of followers currently filling his tent and voting for him in primaries to the extent that one might imagine that he somehow represents the zeitgeist of American culture. With thirty-two and a half percent of the votes counted, Mister Trumplala won. Two hundred thirty-nine thousand eight hundred fifty-one South Carolinians got in line for what he was serving. It sounds like a lot. It is a lot when you put it in terms of filling sports arenas or waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
But what about that missing sixty-eight percent? When the smoke clears and the confetti has been swept up, will all those other votes just magically shift over to Camp Trump out of some mildly perverse sense of loyalty? Now that Jeb :{ Bush has packed up his show and headed back to Florida where I hear he has a job waiting, will his supporters surrender to the vortex that is Donald Trumpyoki?
I confess that it is something I worry about. Especially when I find out that His Eminence Trumplich has a beef with the Chicago Cubs. Oh, Dark Donald of Sith, is there nothing which I hold sacred upon which you will not somehow fling bile? The twit tweeted, "I hear the Rickets family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $'s against me. They better be careful. They've got a lot to hide!" First of all, it is the Ricketts family, but he may have been worried about his character count. Second of all, I guess it can't be that big a secret, since you were able to discover this nefarious activity and throw a light on it while everyone else was busy looking at something that might really matter. Like what might be hidden in the belly of that big private jet with a golden T on the tail. I heard that Donald Trumpaoli flies around the country with a cadre of slave children who work on his spare hair pieces in the dark while he is off on the campaign trail, searching for more souls to devour.
Well. That's what I heard. And all that squinting in the belly of that plane might explain the hair problem.
And stop messing with the Cubs.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Get Smart

Here's what the lady on the radio said: "You know, back in the days before smart phones, they probably could have found another way to figure this out." In this story, "they" would be the investigators looking for clues in the San Bernardino shooting last December that left fourteen people dead. The part of this suggestion that rang n my head was "back in the days before smart phones." There was a time when we asked strangers for directions. There was a time when, if we wanted to know who wrote that song, we would have to wait until we got home and looked through our record collection. Or asked a stranger. There was a time when, if we didn't know what time it was, I would have to guess. Or know that it was time to ask a stranger.
It's not just police work that has changed in the digital age. This is what I am saying. What you are reading right now would probably be scribbled in a journal somewhere, never to see the light of day. Unless some intrepid detective got it into their head to pry up the floorboards in my house after those ice cream trucks went missing in my neighborhood. Nowadays, "they" would probably use satellites and thermal imaging captured by drones and fed back through a wireless network to cameras attached to lamp posts and ATMs without ever leaving their desk. A very high tech desk that can be converted into a yoga mat with just a flip of a switch.
Technology makes us lazy, and not just in that standing-on-a-hoverboard-slurping-on-a-slushee-kind-of-way. We don't have to think as much as we used to. I have surrendered to the pervasive cloud of information that makes my once impressive knowledge of pop culture something of a relic. Not when I can dial up Wikipedia or ask Google to check out the world for me.
I do love a good piece of technology. The Shazam app that allows us to hold our hyper-intelligent phones to the wafting sounds around to tell us what album that David Gates tune came from, it's a beautiful thing, but it's not like coming up with "Lost Without Your Love" all on your own. Arbeit macht frei, as they used to say in the old country. Or "if you don't use it, you lose it." My wife and I recently lamented about our reliance on GPS and the way we have surrendered our shortcuts to the navigating device on our dashboard. Is it really the shortest route? Take the next left and try not to think about it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Who's In Charge Here?

A career ago, I worked for an employee-owned book wholesaler. After three months, I was asked to be a shareholder, just like all the other shareholders who had come before me. Some who had been there  for decades, some who had been hired just a few weeks before me. I bought my shares, like everyone else had, for five hundred dollars. In fairly short order, I wrangled my way into a management position, which gave me the dubious distinction of being the boss of what were ultimately my other bosses, the shareholders who worked in the warehouse with me. Those folks reported their feelings about my job performance to the Board of Directors, made up of people like myself who were able to garner enough votes to sit in that august five person committee. And that's where I found myself, two short years after being hired. It was in this forum that I had a great many discussions with my fellow board members about "temporary" and "permanent" employees. The lingo of the company had those folks who had yet to be vetted in the shareholder process listed as temporary, and once they had been invited to buy into the company for those five hundred dollars worth of shares. As a manager, hiring and firing was a lot more of a circus than any other company where I had worked as a manager. The whole setup was a bit arcane, especially given that whole permanent employee thing. There were a whole lot of old hippies, and some new ones, who had found themselves a way to feather their nests and lower their job performance expectations to the point where we needed to hire a few more new shareholders to get the books out the door. It was a social experiment that had been born in Berkeley and had made money for the shaggy, idealistic few who had made their five hundred dollar investment back in the days when the tie-dye waters flowed strong and free. Theinkse really were permanent employees.
They were on the ship when it finally went down. They weren't fired. The business closed underneath the weight of all that idealism.
That is what I have been thinking about since Antonin Scalia died. Supreme Court justices are hired for life. They are permanent employees. There are a number of other federal judicial appointments that will last forever, until death do we part. This confounds me when I think of the time I have spent puzzling over those county and state judges that I need to approve on my local ballot. These same judges who, when they grow up, may be the ones appointed to the Supreme Court. For life. Maybe not by the people, but for the people. It's in the Constitution. In 1776, the life expectancy was about thirty-five years. How many bad decisions could you make in that time? That's about how long Antonin Scalia served on the Supreme Court. For ever.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Agree To Disagree

Sometimes I describe situations this way: "It's like Iran and Iraq having a war." It's for situations that are the antithesis of the "win-win" experiences my wife enjoys describing. I can be contrary, on occasion, but these aren't exactly "lose-lose" situations. They are more like "we all win while they work out their differences on each other" kind of deals. It's how I feel when the Kansas City Chiefs play the Oakland Raiders. If it could all end in some awful, muddy tie, that would be fine with me, the Denver Broncos fan. Just let them beat on each other for four quarters, maybe even overtime, and then call it a day. Everyone else benefits from their futile struggles. I understand in this particular model that being from Kansas City or Oakland, or Iran or Iraq, your results might differ.
So let's try a different set of parameters. The U.S. government would like very much to have Apple and its technicians to unlock a cellphone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino killings last December. In hopes of finding out if there were any further bits of evidence or complications and certainly no important clues that might lead us to stamping out terrorism once and for all. Apple has said that it won't comply, citing privacy concerns for iPhone users past, present and future. The Justice Department, for its part, isn't having any of that, suggesting that Apple's stance "appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy." Apple, the corporation, acting out of a less-than-selfless sense of duty? Easy enough to believe. They are the ones who put the "i" back into corporate earnings. See? There it is, right near the end.
The other side doesn't have to be the Justice Department. They're just doing their job, after all: catching terrorists, or at least giving the appearance of catching terrorists. Instead, let's put on the other side Donald J. Trumpet. It is the Republican candidate's stance that we should all boycott all things Apple until this matter is settled and all the bad guys have been rounded up. Mister Trumpnot does not own an iPhone, according to his handlers, which makes his part in this action pretty simple: venting his spleen. As a Windows-based concern I don't have a horse in this race either, but I don't really want that which is Trump to succeed based on his momentary whim to halt other's capitalist endeavors. Maybe this Apple/Trump imbroglio can keep them both occupied long enough to put off yet another slightly larger version of that iPhone or yet another iteration of iTunes and maybe Humpty Trumpty will be distracted from his campaign long enough to lose a few dozen points in the polls.
And meantime, the world keeps spinning for the rest of us while they spin their wheels.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Yeah, I Guess So

Try to imagine tracking a single water molecule in the trickle of water that flows down the gutter in front of your house after you have been washing your car. Now expand that imagining to that same water molecule in the creek down the street. And now that same tiny molecule in the roaring, tumbling Colorado River. Into the Gulf of California. Then into the Pacific Ocean. This blog won't be about conserving water. Not because it isn't a good idea. I'm all for it. Go check that dripping faucet in the bathroom, will you? I'll wait.
Now back to the metaphor: Instead of talking about water, let's talk about the garbage that spews forth on a daily basis from the mouth of Donald Jay McTrumpington. The Republican presidential hopeful has made his opposition to the invasion of Iraq a major talking point of his campaign for the White House in recent days. When he was asked in a September 2002 interview with Howard Stern if he supported going to war in Iraq, Trumpenstein replied, “Yeah, I guess so.” Did you suggest that Hillary Clinton gong to the bathroom was "disgusting?" 
"Yeah, I guess so."
Mister Trumpoli, I'm going to write that on my board for all my classes to see: "Yeah, I guess so." One of those tiny molecules of barely informed, opinionated verbiage that came tumbling out of that gaping maw was tracked down by alert media types who now have a special mission: tracking those molecules of invective and inconsistency to their source. Did you really say that?
"Yeah, I guess so."
The Pope, a guy who we generally trust to make distinctions on such matters, said about the Trump Tank plan to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border, “A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” At which point the Trumplemeister picked a fight with his holiness. “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”
Um, Donald? I think that may be the one thing that religious leaders do, being religious leaders and all. Of course, that wasn't enough words for His Trumpishness to insult the Vicar of Christ, so he issued a press release to make sure he didn't miss anything. In case you're too busy worrying about that plumbing issue we mentioned earlier, I can save you the click by telling you that it starts with the phrase, "If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS..."
Donald McTrumpin, did you really just go there?
"Yeah, I guess so."
And the river rolls on. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Looking For Something

He was in my fourth grade class. When I was a fourth grade teacher. That was ten years ago. I am still at the same school, but I am the computer teacher. Again. He is twenty years old now. A young man by most every measure. He was smoking a cigarette when he stopped and turned around. His moment of recognition was about as long as mine. We hadn't seen one another in five years.
Five years ago, he had come back to our school with his younger brother to look around the place and check out who he knew was still working there. At that time, he had gold hair and a state-issued ankle bracelet. When they left, one of our teachers was missing her brand new laptop computer. That kind of coincidence was unfortunately the kind of thing that followed these two about.
Five years later, he looked at me and apologized to his fourth grade teacher for smoking. "I'm trying to quit," he confided as he walked closer.
"Well, you might start by putting that one out," I suggested, pointing to the cigarette he had burned down nearly to the filter.
He dropped it and ground it into the pavement with a smile and a shrug. "You still here?" he asked.
"Right up there," I pointed to the classroom where I had been just a few minutes before, and for the past two decades.
"Yeah," he laughed a little. Then he went on to describe, for my principal who had been a teacher and then assistant principal back in those days, what had been happening over the past ten years. We had kept track of the family as best we could, even beyond that disappearing laptop. They were part of our community, part of the village. The fixture they had been, riding bikes and scooters up and down the sidewalks, dropping by to let us know how the family was holding together.
Then they were gone. His younger brother was in jail. His dad had moved away. His sisters were living their lives in other cities. He was back in the old neighborhood searching for something. A way to quit smoking. A way to quit smoking weed. A way to reconnect with the man he wanted to be. He told us he was going to have a kid. He didn't know if it was going to be a boy or a girl, and he had some names in mind. He told us that he had been living in Las Vegas. He told us a lot of things, including a tacit apology for his "anger issues" that he had back in elementary school. He told us about his friend who had been killed, mistakenly, by police a couple weeks before.
Then he told us that he was looking for his dad, and he was trying to find a way to get across the bay. And he didn't have any money. He needed a ride. He needed some cash. He needed a hand. This young man came back to the place where he had always been given another chance. My principal gave him that ride. And a few bucks.
Who knows when we will see him again, but I imagine we will.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Ain't That America?

O beautiful for spacious skies, 
For amber waves of grain, 
For purple mountain majesties 
Above the fruited plain! 
America! America! 
God shed his grace on thee 
And crown thy good with brotherhood 
From sea to shining sea! 

I read on from there. Eight verses, and not a mention of guns in the batch. Simon and Garfunkel went on and on in their ode to hitchhiking across this great land of ours, with a nod to "real estate" and a man in a gaberdine suit they managed to get through their song without having to include a refrain about the glory of popping a cap in anyone or anything. Just those cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Well there's a young man in a T-shirt
Listenin' to a rock 'n' roll station
He's got a greasy hair, greasy smile
He says: "Lord, this must be my destination"
'Cause they told me, when I was younger
Sayin' "Boy, you're gonna be president"
But just like everything else, those old crazy dreams
Just kinda came and went 
John Mellencamp, late of the Indiana Cougars, was able to express his love of the country surrounding his hometown. Ain't that America? For you and me? It might be, but it's not for Jeb "!" Bush. For the Republican's last chance at a legacy, America lives in the Twitterverse, or in the chamber of his weapon, as he tweeted on Tuesday. For Jeb^, America is found in the barrel of a gun. The barrel of an engraved gift of a gun. And maybe that has something to do with the reason that he continues to ask people to clap at his fundraisers. I guess the good news is that he's not doing it at gunpoint. Not yet, anyway. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Back To Which Future?

Pitchers and catchers report this week for all Major League Baseball teams, which means that it is just about the time for those of us who call ourselves Cubs fans to start making excuses for the 2016 season. Last year was a nice ride, and for a moment or two, I even started to believe. I blame this on Marty McFly. Back in 1989, Marty went back to the future where he encountered a time stream in which the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. That was last year. It was one of the things that Robert Zemeckis predicted that did not happen.
He got some things right. Hands-free gaming consoles. Video phones. Personal drones. But not that big win for the North Side of Chicago. I wouldn't expect perfect precognition from something that came out of the coke-fueled eighties - pardon me - Pepsi-fueled, but this is the kind of thing that can really stick with a person. Especially when you add in that whole hoverboard thing.
I remember the first time I saw a hoverboard. That's what they call those little wheeled devices that people stand on to roll them about without having to expend any real effort. They don't hover. They creep about at speeds just below the average pace of human beings walking. Slowly. The first one I saw gave me pause because I was trying to discern what method of locomotion I was seeing. It wasn't a skateboard, since there was no one-leg kick to make the wheels turn. It crept forward like a Segway without a handlebar that was low on batteries. I decided then and there that I would never own such a machine. It was de-evolution. It was most definitely not the zippy piece of hardware shown off by Marty McFly as he raced about the town square. This one moved at a pace more suited to those scooters that get folks from slot machine to slot machine in Vegas when they are too old or drunk or both to perambulate themselves.
I have this vision of a different time stream in which none of what was predicted came true, and here's Marty McFly, staring at his "hoverboard." The one that will burst in to flame without any notice. No Cubs World Series. No life of leisure because daddy struck it rich with his science fiction novels. Just a series of name-tag jobs and a bunch of leftover payments from that truck he always wanted. All those pretty dreams are tattered and torn. Except for those hands-free video games. Feel free to dance around your living room to your heart's delight, miming the pennant chase. The one where the Cubs win. Oh yay.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Alternative Lifestyles

When I go away from home, I sometimes find myself looking around at the way things are wherever I land. Could I live here? What would I do for work? What would I do for fun? Where would I hang my hat? Sometimes I even do this when I am out for a run in the neighborhood around my house. Could I live in those apartments? Where would I put all my stuff? Could I walk to work from there? Would I have to find a different school to work in?
If my travels take me further down the trail, I might even consider a career change. I woke up on Presidents' Day and went for a run around Bodega Bay. Okay, it wasn't a full circle, since the water has to get into the bay and all. All those fishing boats have to find their way out to the ocean, looking for crab and  tourists who want to eat them. The crab that is. As I ran, I started to imagine making a career out of selling diesel fuel to fishermen, or spots on those boats to folks who wandered into the area looking to soak up a little of the local flavor.
Or work in a surf shop. On Valentine's Day my wife and I were waiting for our table to open up for dinner, so we went next door to check out the flip-flops, wet suits and boards. I asked the young man behind the counter, "What? No Date on Valentine's Day?" He shrugged, laughed his laid back surfer laugh and eventually he landed on his response: "The waves are my woman." We laughed our surfer laugh as my wife turned things over to look at their prices and I asked another question: "What percentage of the traffic in here on any given day are surfers versus the number of people who just want to buy something that makes them look like they're surfers?"
He thought for a moment. "Most of our customers are looking for a way to feel like part of the scene. That's why most of the boards and wet suits are upstairs. That way we don't have to -" And that's the line I saw, drawn in the sand. Us and them. I was them. He was us. He was going to get up the next day and go looking for some waves. I was going to get out of bed and pack the car. I wasn't going to serve any clam chowder. I wasn't going to sell any salt water taffy.
I was going home.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Checks And Balances

So, here it is: a study in contrasts. On the one hand, we have a presidential election. Every four years, like it or not, our country sets out to make things right/better by shaking things up from the top down. Recently, this has meant that the campaign to put a new face behind that big podium requires at least a couple years' worth of standing behind smaller podiums, waiting for a chance to reach the American people with your vision of a new direction. Or the same old direction. Or some made up paranoid fantasy involving building walls and arming every citizen to protect the unborn citizens until such time as they can start carrying their own weapon and help building that wall. On the other hand, we have this secret society of black-robed individuals who are appointed for life to dispense wisdom and justice to us all. They are replaced only when they are worn out or die. Kind of like Jedi Masters, but with pens instead of light sabers. We trust the people to elect a president, but not enough to select a Supreme Court Justice.
That distinction is left to the executive and legislative branches. They will get together and put the right man or woman in those hallowed chambers for all time in a bipartisan effort to ensure that our Constitution is interpreted correctly and fairly in perpetuity. Ha, ha. I kid. I'm a kidder. That's not what happens, especially when the spot on the nation's highest bench needs to be filled at roughly the same time that all those senators who might be helping ease the transition to a new limb on the judicial branch are busy trying to show the folks back home that they won't let just anybody be a judge on the Supreme Court. You know, the court that decides whether or not Superman can use all of his powers all the time. The court that tries to figure out what to do when Meatless Monday falls on Memorial Day and you've been planning to introduce your friends and family to the epicurean delights of the hamdog. The court that decides at which trimester unborn fetuses will be assigned to build or guard the wall between us and the paranoid fantasies on the other side of that wall.
Things should never be boring, especially when so much of the rest of the world has real shooting wars when there is a change in leadership. We Americans should rejoice in the fact that we have such orderly transitions of power. Way to go, Founding Fathers! You really had this one all figured out. Just like that whole well-regulated militia thing, they probably couldn't have imagined a world with automatic weapons or the need to give them to first graders to protect us all from "the bad guys." It will be fascinating/painful to watch the proceedings as both sides seek to control the pace of the selection while the election continues to drone on in the background.
I believe it was Chief Justice Bette Davis who said it best in her dissenting opinion of Channing v. Harrington, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Family Fun

I caught myself as I was putting laundry down the chute the other night. I had been talking with my wife about how we might spend our Spring Break. Where would we go? What would we do? Who would we see? And for the first time in eighteen years, we were making plans that might include just the two of us. All of these years had provided us with a public school calendar that synced up effortlessly with the family who was devoted to that tried and true system. It was part of the rhythm of our lives. Now our son was away at college. Even if the dates were the same, who knew what new set of priorities would show up to keep the time from making a difference.
For years, we had weekly meetings with the three of us sitting around the kitchen table on  Monday evenings. One of the categories we filled in, week after week, was "Family Fun." Sometimes we scheduled a trip to the movies, or a lunch and a bike ride. We could do this, a week at a time. We had fun, as a family. Back in those days, we set the agenda. We were the parents. It's what parents do. By the time our son was a senior in high school, way back last year, we found ourselves sometimes leaving that spot on our plan blank. Sometimes weeks would go by and we would wonder where our son had gone, even though we would wake up the next morning and find him asleep in his room. Sometimes he would be asleep long enough that whatever family fun we had planned had to be rescheduled because he was so tired from whatever fun he had been having the night before.
He was having his fun. We were having ours. We were having fun. And every so often, we would get back together and do just that once again. As a family. These were the road trips, the adventures and vacations we took when school was out. Last year, we didn't go to Disneyland. We made campus visits. We toured the campus of the school where my son now lives. The place he now calls "home."
Now when we talk, several phone lines are involved, but we talk about getting together again to have some fun. As the laundry tumbled down the chute, I realized the next time we all ended up in Disneyland together, it would most likely mark his first ironic visit to the happiest place on earth. He's a liberal arts major, after all. And I wouldn't miss it for anything.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Something To Consider

Something to think about on Presidents' Day: Next year at this time, we will be adding a new name to that list of forty-something who have served before. It's not a simple popularity contest, certainly. Becoming the Leader of the Free World carries a certain weight, some gravitas. Like the kind you get from leading the free world. So how should we pick? Certainly we would like to think about how, moving forward, these gentlemen or ladies might fare at selling mattresses in a week-long sale that will blow the doors of the competition. After four to eight years leading the free world, you need something to fall back on: mattresses.
How to pick, then? Former senators, sitting governors, brain surgeons and billionaire megalomaniacs. So many choices. So little time. Why not by the number of syllables in the candidate's last name? Our first president had three. Washington was good enough to be father of our country as well as both a state and a District of Columbia. It may have been the powdered wig. It could have been the wooden teeth, but I think that those three syllables may have set a trend. From Thomas Jefferson to Barack Obama, there have been twelve presidents with this distinction. Two of them were Roosevelts, but that seems to reaffirm my theory.
If you really want to be a Free World Leader? Two-syllables is your way to go. Twenty-two of those bad boys. I can say that without any current hesitation, since they have all been boys. And I'm using "bad" in that hip, kind of urban slang way. Like Michael Jackson, who was never President of the United States, but he was bad. Abraham Lincoln was also pretty bad in his own right. He kind of leads the way in both mattress sales and currency, right behind George.
And speaking of Georges, there are eight previous commanders in chief that have just the one syllable for a last name. Two of them were of the Bush clan. Ulysses S. Grant gets extra points for his initials, which is why he shows up on the fifty. Taft and Polk have something to do with tariffs and Ford will always be remembered for that first season of Saturday Night Live. Pierce and Hayes? I think they had a TV show made about them on ABC back in the eighties.
Who's messing up the curve for everyone else? Dwight David Eisenhower. Which I suppose makes it a double shame that we won't have Carly Fiorina to kick around anymore.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


I learned about love
from watching movies
I learned about love
from reading books
I learned about love
from the music I heard
I learned about love
from watching TV
I learned about love
from walks in the woods
I learned about love
from walks in the streets
I learned about love
from the beginning
I learned about love
from the end
I learned about love
from listening to friends
I learned about love
from listening to strangers
I learned about love
from the dreams I had
I learned about love
from laying awake at night
I learned about love
from being alone
I learned about love
from being with you

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lifting Our Voices In Song, And Other Things

Were you surprised to hear that Beyonce's Super Bowl halftime performance was a none-too-subtle adjunct to the Black Lives Matter movement? Fists raised in the air, black berets, and a "slap in the fact to law enforcement" have led to the organization of a counter-protest to be held at NFL headquarters in New York next week. If you want to add your voice to the mounting uproar, get yourself on a plane, bus or wagon and head on over to the home of what's wrong with America: the home offices of the National Football League.
I suppose the mistake that those in the halftime entertainment division made was that they allowed anything "edgy" to creep into what should have been a celebration of trucks and beer. That would explain the presence of Coldplay, or as comedian Tony Camin referred to them in his Tweet: Radiohead for moms. Bruno Mars? He could be considered dangerous by all those who consider "Uptown Funk" with its references to "hood girls" a threat to our great society. The revolution was televised, and it was watched by one hundred eleven million viewers. Those twelve minutes, or at least the part where Beyonce and her henchwomen did their worst to tear at the fabric of what makes our country what it is, deserve to be recognized as the subversive acts that they were.
Or a fiercely choreographed promotion for her new song and summer tour.
Or both.
Art usually is, at some level choreographed promotion and subversive. It all depends a lot on the day of the week. Super Sunday isn't probably when you expect to see anything the might be considered "thought provoking." Unless that thought happened to be: "Hey, why is Coldplay doing the halftime show at the Super Bowl?" The obvious answer is, "To sell your Radiohead loving mom beer and trucks." If tossing in a little political or racial friction into this mix makes everyone uncomfortable, then maybe we should all take a step back and examine our priorities. Do we really want to bring back "Up With People?"
Okay. I'm sorry I asked. You can put down your raised hands. But I guess I'm still curious if there will be additional protests outside NFL Headquarters to protest brain injuries and their treatment by the league. Or maybe that explains how we got that monkey-puppy-baby thing from Mountain Dew.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Chaos Out Of Order

Ah, the twenties. Not the 1920's, but that decade in my life when I skated by without any health insurance. I discovered this about the time I jumped out of a swing and tore three of the four ligaments in my left knee. Meeting with a surgeon the following day left me with two options: cast up the leg and see how the leg came back together under the cover of darkness and plaster, or open it up and see what we could do about getting me back to fighting trim. It seemed, at the time, like a no-brainer. This was unfortunate for the simple reason that surgery, whether it be on knees or the absence of brain, costs money. Insurance money. Somewhere in the flurry that was my parents' divorce there hadn't been any discussion of who would be insuring those of us without brains or coverage from our employer. After I was all sutured up and coming out of anesthesia, the bomb dropped in the form of a question: How did you want to pay for this?
The short answer is time. The slightly longer answer is payments. We were able to swing a deal with the doctors who repaired my knee in which I was asked to pay for the refurbished limb a hundred fifty dollars a month for what seemed like ever. Working at a video store didn't net me any kind of insurance, unless that meant that I never had to worry about getting a VCR and a copy of Top Gun for the next family gathering. When that shop closed and I went to work assembling modular office furniture, I learned a lot about cordless drills, and I'm pretty sure that if I had dropped a desk on my foot I would have gotten a ride in the company van to the emergency room. But I expect I would have been laughed out of the room if I had asked if regular eye exams were part of the plan. I don't think it would have occurred to me to ask. I was in my twenties. I was indestructible. In spite of the mounting evidence to the contrary like that knee surgery, I was a lean, mean fighting machine. With really ugly teeth.
I spent those roaring twenties without any regular dental care. I have always been a pretty conscientious brusher and flosser, but I didn't have anyone giving me that deep down to the gums cleaning during the Reagan/Bush regime. It wasn't until I was going to be married when my father picked me up at the airport and suggested that he make an appointment with our old family pal, Doctor Willy Kittleman, DDS. It took an extra long time in the chair, but on my wedding day, my teeth sparkled and shone, not unlike the glare from my forehead. Shortly after that, as a newlywed and as a member of an employee owned corporation, I went out and shopped for a dentist. One that I could see twice a year and have it all nicely covered, including x-rays and fillings.
That was more than twenty years ago and now, it seems, I will be letting someone else paw around in my mouth for the next twenty years or so. My dentist is retiring, and leaving his practice to this nice lady who I'm certain will do a good job and whose billing system will not change the tiniest bit from how things are right now, but change is hard.
And so is finding good health care. Things in my body and my mouth are moving from a more ordered state to less ordered. I shouldn't expect anything different from the universe. Maybe I could get entropy insurance.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

I was asked, by one of my very good friends and Super Bowl party guests, why I had steered clear of the subject in my blog. She is a constant reader, and this was before the  game had actually begun on Sunday. Before kickoff and before halftime and before the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy. That means it was before the Denver Broncos took that kickoff and drove down for the initial score of Super Bowl L. That means it was before the extended hodgepodge of talent that took to the field in the absence of the Denver Broncos who were leading the Carolina Panthers at that point. When they did get around to handing over that trophy, it went to the Denver Broncos. But not before I had worn a path in living room floor, astounding my guests with my inability to sit down, including the friend who had asked why I hadn't blogged much about the Super Bowl in the week leading up to it.
You don't mess with a streak, simply put. This football season has been one of ups and downs, mostly ups, for my favorite team. So many pundits were pointing their fingers at Peyton Manning, wondering how this old man with diminishing skills was going to get his tired old bones on and off the field, let alone lead his team to a win in the biggest game of the year. They were missing the real story: It's a team sport. The Denver Broncos had a great punter and placekicker. They had a coach who was returning to his football roots. They had a dominating defense, and they ended up proving that old line about defense winning championships. That's what happened. They didn't win every game. They lost a few they might have won. They won a few that those same pundits insisted that they maybe shouldn't have.
But they did, and the Denver Broncos found themselves playing in the Super Bowl. They were not favored to win that one, either. But they did, and I watched every minute of it. Compared to the debacle in the Meadowlands two years ago when the Seattle Seahawks began dismantling my Denver Broncos before I found a seat in front of the television, this was a spectacle that I had been hoping for since my son was a year old.
It's a roller coaster ride, but it is just that: a ride. I don't invest a lot of money in my fandom outside of the occasional bit of swag, here and there. That does mean that over the years, however, I have accumulated a good deal of that. When guests showed up this past Sunday without something orange to wear, I was quick to offer up one of the jerseys, hats, or t-shirts that mark me as a die-hard Broncos fan. Soon, I had a living room full of road cone/tangerine colored friends who were there to watch what happens to me as the front car of that roller coaster makes that first big ascent, and then that plunge into unknown twists and turns. Fifty years into this obsession, I don't find many of the turns that confounding, or the twists too unpredictable, but  it doesn't stop me from getting back in line for one more ride.
And now, the park is closed. For a while. It will be just a few months before training camp starts back up and all the questions about the Broncos repeating their run to become Super Bowl champions once again. I will probably write about some of those moments, as they occur, but being a gracious winner is something I hope to share with my son who is now old enough to remember this one. This one's for him as much as me, since the last time the the Denver Broncos won a Super Bowl, I could carry him in one arm, like a football. Like a football wearing a tiny blue and orange jersey, smiling up at his dad, trying to figure out what all this fuss was about.
Now he knows. This ride is over. Thanks for the ride.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hungry For News

I have said it before, and I am certain that I will have a chance to say it again, probably before the week is over: "It's not news if anyone could have predicted it." A recent example of this would be the end of an "unlikely friendship" between a Siberian Tiger and a goat at a Russian zoo. After a couple months of avoiding the natural order of things, the tiger lost its temper with results that were not a surprise to anyone, save the zookeepers who had to rush in and rescue the goat.
There was no zookeeper on hand to save the life of a participant in this year's Krispy Kreme Challenge. A fifty-eight year old participant dropped dead at the start of the contest that uses as its mantra: 2400 Calories, 12 Donuts, 5 Miles, 1 Hour." If that's not enough of a description to make your aorta strain at the thought, let's break it down. Each contestant must run two and a half miles to a Krispy Kreme store, eat a dozen glazed donuts, then run back to the starting line before the sixty minute time limit expires. And, if you're ready for it, the punch line is that all the money raised goes to support the North Carolina Children's Hospital.
When you're signing up for this event, for which part of the experience do you suppose you could count on being prepared? I am over fifty and proud of the fact that I can still manage a nine or ten minute mile pace over a pretty flat course. While I have retired from my career as a semi-professional stunt-eater, I can imagine a mind and body space in which eating a box full of fried dough and sugar would have seemed manageable. Only in America would it become a good idea to marry these two feats together. Running two blocks, let alone two and a half miles, to the local doughnut shop to eat any number of doughnuts seems like a bad idea, and it would be contraindicated by most clever folks to jump up from that snack and run back home. Unless you were trying to make your chest explode.
It should be pointed out, for the sake of "news" that the odd thing about this story is that the person who collapsed did so in the first mile of the event. Before the doughnuts. Another "newsworthy" mention might be that this is the first fatality in more than a decade of Krispy Kreme Challenges. It would also be news to announce that next year's even will include the introduction of live tigers tot he course. Hungry live tigers.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Ruling Class

It's a pretty ridiculous job. I spend a lot of time getting paid to tell kids not to be kids. From those early morning hours out on the playground, when I start having these kind of discussions: "Marvin, where do we play kickball?"
"Over there." Marvin points to a spot in the corner of the yard.
"Why don't you head on over there and find a friend to play with?"
Marvin had been kicking a ball against a wall without a a particular rhythm or reason. He was doing what six year olds do when no one else is around. He was playing. "Okay,"Marvin's shoulder's slump just a little, as if he had just been caught doing something awful. He takes the ball and wanders off to the kickball diamond.
For the record: Marvin wasn't doing anything awful. He was doing what kids do. I was doing what adults do. I was giving him structure. It's my job.
I tell kids to walk in the halls. As George Carlin once pointed out, this is patently absurd from the point of view of anyone under the age of seventeen. Hallways are the only place you can get up any speed. Just don't do it with scissors in your hand. Or lean back in your chair. I have been teaching for nineteen years, and  in all that time, I have only witnessed one actual injury associated with leaning back in a chair came in the form of a pretty nasty cut from a bookcase that happened to be just a little too close to the landing spot of that unfortunate child. For a few years, I would trot that out at the beginning of each year as the reason we don't lean back in our chairs. It's not the real reason. The real reason is because when somebody falls out of their chair in the middle of class, everything stops. Everyone turns, looks, and laughs.
Except me. I'm the one working hard to impress order on the chaos. I'm the one telling the kids who are chasing each other across the playground that they should stop, because "chase" is not a game. "Tag" is  a game because it has rules. And boundaries. I am the grownup, and I want to have all four legs of a chair on the floor at all times. I want kickball to be played on the kickball diamond. I want kids to stop chasing one another across the yard. Not without rules I don't. It's my job, after all.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Limited Time Offer

Just in case you thought I wasn't paying attention to the other side of the fence:
ANDERSON COOPER: One of the things that Sen. [Bernie] Sanders points to and a lot of your critics point to is you made three speeches for Goldman Sachs. You were paid $675,000 for three speeches. Was that a mistake? I mean was that a bad error in judgment?
CLINTON: Look. I made speeches to lots of groups. I told them what I thought. I answered questions.
COOPER: But did you have to be paid $675,000?
CLINTON: Well, I don’t know. That’s what they offered.
CLINTON : You know every secretary of State that I know has done [paid speeches].
COOPER: But (inaudible) for office they’re not running for an office…
CLINTON: Well, I didn’t know…
COOPER: … have known.
CLINTON: To be honest I wasn’t — I wasn’t committed to running. I didn’t know whether I would or not.
COOPER: You didn’t think you were going to run for president again?

CLINTON: I didn’t. You know when I was secretary of State several times I said you know I think I’m done. And you know, so many people came to me, started talking to me.
They came to her and started talking to her about coming to speak at their luncheon or graduation or Wal-Mart closing ceremonies because she was getting ready to run for president. Again. Six hundred seventy-five thousand dollars for three speeches works out to two hundred twenty-five dollars a speech. I dd the math. They must have been awesome speeches. I can only assume they were giving away puppies. The line that burns me, and seems to bother ninety-nine percent of us, is the "that's what they offered" line. Arms for hostages? That's what they offered. Three hundred dollars a month for satellite TV? That's what they offered. Sub-prime mortgage? That's what they offered. It's enough to make me want to check out John McAfee's campaign. If I'm going to vote for a crazy millionaire for president, at least I know what I'm buying

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Wish You Were Here

It's still far too soon to start picking the next President of the United States. We still have to decide who wins the Super Bowl and the Grammy for the Best Record of the Year. Best Record, by the way, is different from Best Song, and if I have to explain it to you then you haven't been watching enough awards shows. A whole baseball season stretches out before us in addition to the second half of the NBA season. There are a whole bunch of major awards to be handed out still, including Best Bear Mauling in a Feature Film at this year's Academy Awards. It's not a sprint, ladies and gentlemen, it's a marathon studded with pop culture distractions designed to keep our eyes off the silliness going on up and down the campaign trail.
Now that both Ricks Perry and Santorum have suspended their campaigns, and Rand Paul packed it in, pickings are getting a little thin on the Republican side. Lindsey Graham will head back to the Senate, hoping that his voice will still be heard above the rustling being made by all those other rats scrambling to get of their sinking ships. Erstwhile third wheel Democrat Mitch O'Malley is headed home for Maryland where his governor's chair is probably still warm.
Finding venues big enough to hold some of these lollapalooza debates will now be considerably easier. Easier than finding arenas with the capacity to hold all the pyrotechnics, lasers, and Styrofoam bricks necessary to mount the production of Pink Floyd's The Wall. I mention this because Ohio's Governor John Kasich has announced that part of his plan to unite us as a country once again is to reunite the surviving members of Pink Floyd. It's all a part of his campaign's insistence on avoiding the "doom and gloom" rhetoric spewing forth from the Cruz and Trump camps. Considering Governor Kasich managed to turn his slightly less dark vision into a third place in the Iowa Caucus, he may have a point. He may have tapped into that heretofore overlooked voting block of conservative stoners.
In the meantime, as others are packing up their tents, the Kasich tour of the Americas rolls on. I do wonder, with his fondness for things less doom-y and gloomy which Pink Floyd album he finds brings us the best vision of our future.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Mixed Nuts, Mixed Results

Did anyone catch the results from the Iowa caucus? I did. Ted Cruz won. Scrooge McTrump came in second. Billionaire iconoclast with all those big endorsements Donald J. Trumplet failed to win. Sarah "Tina" Palin couldn't save him. Feuding with Megyn Kelly and skipping that last debate didn't have the effect on which he may have been counting. All those big numbers in the polls didn't turn out to be the safe haven he was expecting. All the sports metaphors that could be mustered about how this is still preseason and those caucuses decided by a coin flip don't decide anything. Champions are made in November. When the wind blows. And the snow flies.
What makes the Iowa caucus special? It's first. After the past year and a half of tub-thumping and posturing, this is actual voting, even if it does involve milling about a high school gymnasium or finding the correct side of the Gas 'N' Sip to stand on if you prefer Fiorina to Rubio. Which I believe was also a double play combination for the '36 Red Sox.
I digress. It's been a long election season already, and this first flurry of ballots probably don't mean much. Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan share something with Donaldo McTrump, aside from an insatiable lust for power: none of these men won the Iowa caucus. It should be pointed out, however, that this corollary cannot be extended much further. There are lots of winners and losers of the Iowa caucus who have not gone on to win much else. Bob Dole, Mike Huckabee, these are some previous winners. Rich Gephardt? And what about this "Uncommitted" fellow. He came in first a few times on the Democratic side. I wish I could have had a chance to vote for him (or is it her?) in the general election.
For now, the most important point is this: Donald Trumpuh lost. Sure, we could make the finer point that he came in second, but he didn't win. I am sorry to say that this little bit of news put an extra spring in my step and made global warming feel a little more like a manageable problem. Somebody out there has been taking notice. All of that sound and fury signifies nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but second place. Now the challenge that awaits us all is how we can start unraveling the sweater that Ted Cruz is knitting. Or maybe we can expect that by the time the real election comes the Donald and Ted show will still be stuck in the cornfields of Iowa, arguing over those last few sticks of fried butter.
On to New Hampshire, but don't tell those guys.

Friday, February 05, 2016

How Do You Get A Giraffe Out Of The Theater?

We didn't go to San Francisco just to see Super Bowl City. Fog City has so much else to offer. There are plenty of other lines in which one could wait while visiting Baghdad By The Bay. My brother, my wife and I had made the trek to take in some theater. We had the opportunity to buy overpriced NFL swag, but we stayed for a performance of "The Book of Liz." It marked the official end of the Christmas season, as these were tickets purchased for my brother as a present, as he is a fan of all things Sedaris.
I enjoyed the play: eighty minutes of sarcastic David Sedaris wit punctuated by his sister Amy's jokes about flatulence, as described by the theater company's director before the show began. I watched with amusement, but was distracted by what I could only describe as the intimacy of the production. We were downstairs in a room that compressed about one hundred seats into one side of the room, which left the front row to dangle their toes precariously close to the lip of the stage that was made obvious mostly by the lights and the black tape that marked its edge. The audience sat in the dark, in rows, behind this tape. We sat quietly and passively while the actors cavorted about on the other side of that tape. I was aware of transitions between scenes, accented by the raising and lowering of those lights, as well as the pointed story points that came along with them.
Then I drifted away still further, wondering about the people behind the biographical sketches on the back of the program. Were these intentionally pithy blurbs written with the intent of reflecting back the nature of the play in which they found themselves? I thought of the subtitle I had seen recently on a commercial for one of those fantasy sports sites: "These are real people. Not Actors." The assertion seemed to be that actors could not be real people. There are no people like show people, after all.
That's when I started to feel bad for those folks on the stage, real or not. When the show was over, were they going back to their studio apartment, getting an hour or two of sleep before they had to get up and work a shift at the local convenience store until it was time to head back to the theater where rehearsals for the next big show have gotten underway. They have forsaken friends and family all in the name of their craft. Their closest connections are the ones formed on that stage. Underneath the lights.
There was a time when I thought I might make my living as an artist. A writer. A poet. An actor. Or anyone of the muse-driven types who live for that moment, that phrase, that scene, that perfect shade of umber. I was glad I got to go home with my wife and brother, waking up to the next day with a list a mile long of things I had to do. Sure, I miss the bright lights and the chance to be a star, but this is close enough to fame for me. Right here.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Fuzzy Memories

I have a whole category here on this blog about things past: nostalgia is the label I apply when I feel the tug of days gone by. There have been a lot of them. Sometimes I feel as though this blog is the place where my memories go when I have grown tired of lugging them about. It gives me a link to those stories about "the olden days" that I used to try and squeeze from my parents. Before Al Gore's Internet. Before instant media gratification, followed almost immediately by media frustration. I feel the need to write this stuff down as it comes to me before it returns to the burned out section of synapses that all those wild times and scary moments get banished to after they have been trotted out one too many times at dinner parties.
This past weekend, I sat in my living room across from my younger brother. Younger, but still over fifty. We shared in the big tin of popcorn and peanut M&M snack mix he brought, as he always does. I offered him something to drink, as I always do. But I didn't offer him a Coke. I didn't have any to offer. Part of my kidney stone induced prohibition on things that might bring on anything that even resembled the pain and suffering brought on by too much phosphoric acid. So, instead of a cola, we had some iced tea.
And we talked about the way things used to be.
He reminded me of the two liter bottle stunt that I was prone to pull before my innards became a repository for calcite. It put me back in a frame of mind that I remembered from when I hopped on the sobriety wagon. Back when I used to spin tales of drinking and drugs. When I shared legends of debauchery that were intended to ring in not just caution to those who might be foolish enough to follow my path, but just a little bit of glory for surviving some of those really bad choices I made. Chugging a two liter bottle of Coca Cola now seems every bit as regrettable as those beer-soaked nights. The hangovers from my twenties now feel infinitely preferable to the trips to the emergency room brought on by that soda habit.
Or maybe I'm old enough now to understand just how destructible I really am. Every morning when I get out of bed, I wonder how I used to do that with a head full of straw and a stomach full of churning green steam. Every time  bounce back from one of those kidney stone episodes, I used to do that same "never again" speech I used to throw around on those bleary Sundays. Now it's cold turkey. I'm sure that stock in Coca Cola will take a hit, but I feel I've done my part over the years to give them a base upon which they could build their plans for world soft drink domination.
So my brother and I shared some iced tea and talked about the olden days.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Distance

The conversation I have had with several people over the past week and a half goes something like this: "Are you going  to the Super Bowl?"
"Nah. I've got a pretty comfy couch."
"But it's right across the bay," they are baiting me now.
"And the nachos at my house don't cost fifty dollars." I'm not giving in.
It goes on for a moment or two longer, and the reality sets in: The thirty nine miles between my front door and the gates of Levi Stadium could be traversed, traffic permitting, in less than an hour. It is by far the closest geographical proximity I might hope to experience. My son, who understands the value of a hot ticket went online to see if he could wrangle his father a seat to the big  game. He came away with  three thousand reasons why it is the thought that matters and his father's everlasting respect. Thirty-nine miles and three thousand dollars meant it was possible, but not likely that I would be sitting in the stadium watching my team playing in the spectacle of all spectacles.
Admission to Super Bowl City was free. It was also only thirteen miles away, right at the base of the Bay Bridge. A couple of Bart stops. And no one  was more excited about making  that trip than my wife. We had a trip to San Francisco on our itinerary anyway, so we figured we could stop by the football Mecca, just to check it out. We took my younger brother, the sports fanatic, along with us. Okay, he's not so much a fan as a good sport. He went along to see the crowd, and he wasn't disappointed. When we came up the stairs from the underground train, we found our way to the line that would let us in. We passed heavily armed police and went through metal detectors, emerging into a land of Bud Light stands and a myriad of NFL logos. The three of us made our way through the throng, stopping long enough to ask some of the orange-jacketed volunteers questions. "Who won  Super Bowl VIII?" "Who's going to win Super Bowl L?" and "Where do we buy stuff?"
We were pointed in a general direction, where we found the longest line in all of Super Bowl City. Hundreds of the faithful were queued up in front of a semi trailer, open on one side, with merchandise flying out of it as fast as the credit cards could be swiped. Did I say "fast?" There may have been some part of this experience that flew by, but as people pushed through our line on their  way to lines that  were actually moving. My wife and  brother stuck with me as we crept ever closer to the spot where I could  exchange my hard-earned money for official Super Bowl merchandise. We made friends with those around us. My brother and I chatted up the lady in front of us who turned out to be not just a Forty-Niners fan, but an Elvis fan from way back in 1969. Talking about  The King helped us wile away the minutes, hours, days we spent there in line. My wife struck up an  acquaintance with  a lady who was sipping Cabernet from a plastic cup. She worked in downtown San Francisco, and was there getting a sweatshirt  for her niece. My wife started to make a deal where we we might get her to come back during the week when it wasn't so busy. And there might be more merchandise.
While we waited, and watched, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and all manner of memorabilia was pulled down from the wall behind the six harried concessionaires. They weren't being restocked. The closer we got to the open windows, the more people seemed to pause and shop, looking for that  one particular  item. I just wanted a hat. I wanted proof of the time I spent in Super Bowl City. When my friend the Elvis fan got her black and gold sweatshirt, I waited one more time for my chance to participate in the true spirit of the Super Bowl: waiting. The gentleman who was changing his order, adding and subtracting pennants, pint glasses and beanies as he could have been completing his transaction happened to be the guy behind whom I was stuck. Then his card wouldn't go through. Nor would the second. He loudly insisted that he had over fifty thousand dollars in his account. How could  this be?
Simple enough. It was all part of thee plan. At last, I was able to pay for my paltry purchase, and I headed with my wife and brother to the exit. We didn't go on the zip line or take in the big stage where Chris Isaak would soon  be performing. We fled.
We walked out of Super Bowl City with our lives, and memories of what happens when you close blocks of a major metropolitan area for weeks at a time to sell beer and give everyone "an experience." We walked up the hill to our theater date, leaving visions of the Lombardi Trophy behind us. Later that night, as we walked back to the Bart station, I spied a sporting goods store, where I was pretty sure  I recognized a hat next to the cash register. Upon entering, I walked over and looked at the price tag. Same hat, five dollars cheaper. And what was even more apparent to me, there was no line in which to wait.
I laughed a little. The laugh that said, "Well, how about that?" I couldn't be bitter about my journey. It was my choice. I didn't force anyone to join me, and no once force me to make it. There was still a week left until the Super Bowl, but I had already made my trip.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Goodbye, Mister Chips

Poor Chris Christie. He hasn't been mentioned in this blog for months. Or in very few other media outlets. Not that I aspire to the Associated Press, but  the carnival that is the race for  the Republican Presidential Nomination has its main drag and its side shows. I leave it to you to figure out who the bearded lady is. Currently, Chris Christie is hanging  on to his spot on the edge of the spotlight, still sitting at the grown-up's table, if I can introduce yet another metaphor here. He's trying to keep his place on the big stage, but the odds are against him. Part of the problem could be that he just isn't crazy enough.
That may be why he chose, scant days before the Iowa Caucus, to go on what we have become familiar with as "the offensive." While not nearly as offensive as the petulance tossed around by the Dark Lord of Sith, Trump Vader, the governor of New Jersey let loose with a rant that he hoped might bring him the attention and votes he believes he so desperately needs. He went after Senators Rubio and Cruz, insisting that those two "have never run anything in their life."  That's because they are senators, and they work in the United States Senate, which Governor Christie compared to an elementary school. An elementary school where they tell everyone when to show up, where to sit, and they take  recess. Do we really want the first executive position for these bozos  to have be the Presidency of the United States?
That last bit was supposed to be a rhetorical question, I think. It should be noted that there have been sixteen senators who have become President of the United States. Many of them served as Vice President first,  but there were three of those who went directly from the Senate to the White House: Warren G.  Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama. One of  those guys was a Republican. Seventeen previous presidents got their starts as governor of one of these United States.
Five presidents were previously teachers, six if you include that stint Obama had as a professor of constitutional law. And here's what I can tell you: I can't imagine an occupation that would better serve our  next president of the United States. I think it's important for everyone to have a place to sit, and if you have to go to the bathroom,  make sure you  take a pass. Good luck on that one, Mister Christie.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Sound Of One Gum Flapping

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Even if that enemy will go back to being my enemy when I say its name out loud because it is so very icky to even consider that I could be friends with...that enemy. More on this in a moment.
For now, I have to confess to the utter and continued evil genius of Donald J. Krump. It was his inspired and wicked thought to simply skip a nationally televised debate. Days before the Iowa caucus, skipping a nationally televised debate? What could he have been thinking? It would be easy enough at this point to snark and laugh, making sport of this non-professional non-politician who continues to make blunder after blunder.
But that's not what is happening. This is a guy who can stand up in front of the media and declare"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." When he made this announcement, my first reaction was: He's finally gone too far. To paraphrase Mister Al Pacino, to whom I believe the Donald owes much of his persona, "He's just gettin' warmed up." Now it could be that Trumpson was suggesting that the disdain that all native-born Iowans feel for the denizens of Fifth Avenue. They all deserve to be shot and killed by a megalomaniac billionaire. Or maybe he doesn't realize that cable TV has finally made it to Des Moines. Or maybe he's just stating fact: Donald Trumply can do whatever he wants now and people will still line up for a chance to bask in the shadow of his hair. How does he stir up more press? By refusing to speak in front of them. 
Like so many other people with the capacity to accept auditory and visual stimulation, I have grown tired of most everything that can be said on any stage that contains more than one political candidate. The suggestion that we might hear anything new at this point is moot to the extreme. How then to expand that message? Take on the medium itself. Donald Trumplich has made more noise by simply finding, ever so briefly, the off switch. 
And now everyone's talking about how Donald Trumpenfelder isn't talking. Genius. Great big creepy genius. So guess who's mad now? Fox News. Poor Fox News. Big Bad Donnie Trumpberg is beating up on the voice of conservative America. Poor Megyn Kelly. Megyn, who once made me bristle with her insistence that Santa Claus is white, is now on that list of folks who have been caught in the whirling blades of Trumpson's rhetoric. Who's next? Who knows. I can only console myself briefly with the sneaking suspicion that I have about all of this being one vast conspiracy, with Karl Rove directing it all from behind a black ventilating mask and tossing around words like "precious" and "yes, yes" with horrible sibilance. 
And things just keep getting weirder.