Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Adventure Continues

What kept going through my mind was this: It hasn't been that long since I was eating dinner in a freshman dorm. As a freshman. That was me, not my son that was pushing a tray along the rail, looking for something other than blue jello to fill the empty spaces in my gut that remained after a similar experience long about lunch time. This wasn't my freshman cafeteria. This was a place that would make burritos on demand. They offered pasta ala carte and nicely bundled dinners. They had cookies that had somewhat recently seen the inside of an actual oven. This was my son's freshman cafeteria. Ii is where we got together to have our last supper together. For a while.
We had been sharing meals for a little over a week. It was spring break, and rather than heading down to Cabo like so many of his contemporaries, our son had chosen to come along with the family on a road trip. We drove down to the bottom of the state. More to the point, he drove. His mother and father rode along. It was payback, of sorts. He loves to drive, probably because of all the time he spent in the back seat, watching the places we took him go by. Now he was behind he wheel, and even though he was following the directions his parents and the GPS gave him, he was behind the wheel. It was our trip. Together. When we had finished our business on the southern end of the state, the fun part, it was time to take him back to school. By a sad quirk of scheduling, my son's spring break and my own overlapped by about seventy-two hours. The day after Easter, he had to return to classes. His mother and I drove him back to school so he wouldn't miss a day. We hung around as he got back into his routine. We took him to lunch. We bought him a binder. We drove him back to his dorm.
Later that evening, we met up again. This time we had dinner on campus. It was familiar and it was unique. The food was like nothing I would have found in my freshman year. When we sat down and ate that slightly elevated cafeteria fare, I looked around at the undergrads surrounding us. That was the part that I remembered clearly. The groups of two to ten, chatting noisily about what they had just done and what they hoped to do. I heard conversations about GPAs. Spring break had just ended, but there were still more adventures waiting to happen. The weekend was just a few days away. Then there would be more time to go and see and do. Some of them would be back in that cafeteria the next morning, having breakfast and looking forward to the next day's adventure. Whatever it turned out to be.
My wife and I were on the road again. We were returning to our home, the one that had only recently been full of three of us. We weren't in a rush. This was our spring break. We wouldn't be going to Cabo, either.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Good Guys With Guns

A convention where everybody shows up armed? That's not really anything new. It happens all across the country at various National Rifle Association gatherings. It happens at fast food restaurants in Texas. My guess is that it happens at regular meetings of your local branch of ISIS. And now, at least from the looks of the twenty thousand or more signatures on a petition, Republicans would like the chance to bring their guns along with them when they meet in Cleveland this summer to decide who their nominee for president will be.
That should make things interesting.
Given how fractious things have been with the Grand Old Party these past several months, adding the potential of a gunfight makes things just a whole lot more perplexing. Ohio is one of thirty-one states in the union that don't require a permit or a license to carry weapons in public. This may be one of the few things about Republicans that they prefer to do out in the open. With that in mind, what precisely will be gained by having a group of already frazzled conservatives running around waving their pistols in the air? A show of force, perhaps? I'll bet those Muslim troublemakers would stay the heck away. And those Black Lives Matter hooligans. And the leftist media types. And anybody who might take issue with the dominant paradigm, whatever that may be. It could be that the one thing that Republicans all agree on when they get together in Ohio will be that everyone should be armed. Heavily armed.
What happens at a convention hall when a whole lot of people don't agree? My mind goes back to Chicago in 1968, when the whole world was watching. Those were peace protesters. Angry mobs who were beaten down by cops sent to keep them out of the convention. It could be an inspired notion, therefore, to encourage a firefight on the convention in Cleveland. Especially since the now presumptive nominee of the Elephant Guys is the same guy who said there would be riots if he doesn't walk off the stage with the prize. How could anything possibly go wrong here?
It boggles my mind. Which is understandable given the circumstances. Most of what has happened in the Republican arena over the past year has been the boggling kind. If the Republican National Convention becomes the last great stand in the gun control debate, maybe this will all be worth it.
Then again, maybe it's just business as usual. And that may be the hardest pill of all to swallow.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Gimme A Break

That big, hurt look was for me because I suggested that maybe we didn't have to go to Disneyland this spring break. By our reckoning, my wife and I had been in the happiest place on earth at least twenty times together, with the largest portion of those visits coming after our son was born. Some years included more than one trip to the House of Mouse, back in the heyday of our indulgence, saving our nickels and dimes for a stay that would last more than one day, since there was always something left at the end of a trip that we wished we would have stopped and done.
Lately, we have been more strategic. Time and money have been harder to wrangle as our family has grown into other areas of fascination. We have made two days of travel wrap around one action-filled day in the park. This was something I used to swear I would never do, but in order to get our collective fix, we have surrendered some of our more loosely held beliefs. Yes, it is still nice to be able to hunker down and have that day that is merely walking through the attractions without actually feeling as though you had to stand in line. That one less desperate day that made us feel like we could look at things and watch the people swarming around us. Those were the people who had to get to the next ride, or needed to get back to the hotel to take a nap, or were leaving on a plane in just a few hours. Those were the ones with that look in their eyes that I recall as "Disney Desperation." I did not want to be that family: the one on the forced march to Tomorrowland, kids squirming, parents growling. My son's spring break from college gave us just enough time together to make it down to Anaheim and back up to his dorm before his classes started. We didn't have the luxury of a three-day park hopper. This would have to be fast and dirty.
Of course, there isn't a lot about Disney that is either of those. Mostly, you spend a lot of time waiting in a very pleasantly polished environment. Knowing this, my son and I were up early on that Magic Morning, choosing to skip the wait in front of our hotel for the shuttle, preferring to hoof it on over that half mile to the front gate where we still found ourselves parked behind other visitors who had similar designs on being the first inside to relax. My wife was left back with the luggage and the car. She took care of base camp, loading up and securing things while I treated our son to as much Disney as either one of us could take.
And for the first two hours, we moved quickly from one short line to another, feeling a sense of accomplishment with each two minute experience that came after a line we rationalized as being totally worth the wait. It was worth it because we were on Spring Break In Disneyland. At one point, we happened upon Goofy, who was taking a photo with a couple girls. It was an opportunity to test the lingering phobia my son has maintained about people in costume. Even in the happiest place on earth, standing with those characters with over-sized heads made him nervous in the extreme. For many years, we simply avoided this challenge because there is almost always a line in which to stand for the photo opportunity. On this day, there was none. The girls retrieved their camera from the attendant cast member, and suddenly there we were: steps away from that thing we had been missing for all those years.
There was some initial hemming and hawing. The beginnings of an excuse and then it was over. At first, my son wanted to be the one taking the picture of his dad standing next to MIckey's best pal. The cast member encouraged a father and son shot, and my son surrendered his phone to him. As he approached the towering figure, my son offered Goofy his hand. Goofy would have none of that. He pulled him in for a great big Disney hug. The stunned smile on my son's face is genuine in the picture that I will treasure forever. It was his insistence that brought us there in the first place, and now we had met our biggest Disney fear and conquered it. My wife caught up to us soon after that and we spent the rest of the day, til after sundown, after the fireworks, after our legs would carry us no further. It was a Disney-enhanced day.
Will there be a time when even that day in the park is too hard to arrange? Possibly, but for now we have those new memories of our little family coming together for that break from our reality. Another in a series.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Route 66

It was a surprise, coming to me as it did, on the highway. I was riding in the passenger seat of our family car, catching up on e-mail as our son drove us south. We were headed for a little time away, in the bottom half of the state. We were looking for a little rest and relaxation: R&R. What I got in that email was a little reckoning and reaction. Gary Shandling had died, and my friend had sent an message along to me, expressing his shock and dismay.
I was right there with him.
Not just a couple weeks before, I had been watching Jerry Seinfeld’s web series “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee,” an episode that featured his longtime friend and funny guy, Mister Shandling. It was a reminder of all the things that made the two of them such comedic forces to deal with. It also put the styles of these two gentlemen in stark contrast. It made me remember something I had learned about comedy, years ago, from another source.
Chuck Jones, animator for most every cartoon of any importance in my youth, had once suggested that Bugs Bunny was who we all secretly wanted to be. Daffy Duck was who we all really were. Bugs with his self-assured manner and his ability to turn all forces against him back in his favor, including gravity. Daffy and his narcissism and hair trigger temper, and accident waiting to happen for anyone who crossed his path.
Jerry Seinfeld is Bugs. No matter how many times George or Kramer or Elaine brougth their issues into the mix, Jerry sailed above it. The pitfalls and explosions happened to those around him, the ones who didn’t understand that the alternative physics in his world. Things really did bounce off of him and stick to you. He held a mirror up to us all and we learned to check ourselves before we messed with the inevitable machine of fate that would punish us for not taking the simple Jerry zen path.
Garry Shandling used ot do a bit about the mirror on the ceiling of his bedroom. It included the admonition near the bottom, “Objects in mirror may be larger than they appear.” And that was how Gary Shandling’s career existed. It was much larger than it appeared. The number of funny folks who have been brought up through the laugh track is astounding. Not the least of which would be Judd Apatow, the man who launched a hundred new comedy careers himself.
And now, as we bid farewell to Gary Shandling, who passed away at the tender age of sixty-six, I find myself wondering how life will maintain its balance with Daffy Duck out of the picture. Aloha, Gary, you stomped and moaned and whined across the Terra, and made me laugh like there was no tomorrow. I'm sorry you won't be there.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Who Do You Love?

Let's start with the ironic parts. Like the fact that the Georgia legislature refers to their amended bill as "religious freedom." House Bill 757 Pastor Protection Act, which would enable religious leaders to refuse to perform same-sex marriages, and the First Amendment Defense Act, which critics have said would allow tax-funded groups to deny services to gays and lesbians. While the "protection" is apparent in this amended bill, it's hard to find the freedom. I suppose the hard-working lawmakers in Georgia are concerned that pastors, along with other officiants, need to have someone looking out for them when it comes time to deny those men or women who have the bad taste to show up in the wrong couplings and ask to be married. They don't want to be in trouble with the government of the federal kind because they didn't perform a gay wedding. Freedom, as we are reminded by Rhodes scholar Kris Kristofferson, is just another word for nothin' left to lose but still doesn't fully make sense out of this.
And then there's that ongoing friction between intent and outcome. Republicans, who brought this steaming pile of legislation to the fore, are the party of small government. They would, they say, like it if Government stayed out of their people's business as much as possible. Except when it comes to things like who dates whom and gets married to whom and may eventually have grownup decisions to make like wills and mortgages together. Especially on the off chance that it has anything to do with sex which is exactly the kind of thing that Republicans have shown an overpowering willingness to toss aside that whole church and state thing to ensure that men and women continue to have separate bathrooms and pastors are protected. You know, courageous stuff.
Who will do battle with these forces? How about some super heroes? Marvel and Disney, which amount to a good two-thirds of all the entertainment dollars flowing in and out of our economy, have announced that the passage of such a law will cause their great big beast of a company to cease to do business in Georgia. Who needs a bunch of grown men in tights running around saving the made up world from invading space aliens? Well, the Georgia Film Commission, for one. All those Hollyweird dollars would really go a long way to helping move that state's slumping economy along with the jobs that would be created could be a game-changer. That's what a boycott does. It stops money. The stuff that has "In God We Trust" written all over it. Curious how this all starts to come together, isn't it?
Ultimately, haters gotta hate, which is kind of discouraging. But the good news is this: lovers gotta love, and I love me some super heroes. You know, in that platonic men in tights kind of way that would still be legal even in Georgia. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016


I have a house full of stuff. It is somewhat reminiscent of George Carlin's bit:
That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is- a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.
Not that I'm thinking about moving anytime soon. There are still plenty of places to fill with stuff at my house, but I am frequently amazed at how certain corners and shelves have been stuffed full while I was busy watching another spot. This is the accumulated mass of a life or two, or three. Probably more if you count all the stuff from my wife's family and mine that we continue to drag around in cherished pieces. These are collections of memories hardened into wood or plastic or cardboard. We cling to them while other objects have been cast off in order to remain off the short list to appear on the next season of A&E's Hoarders
This process is not without regret. Actually, it is filled with nothing but regret, since the thing that we have thrown away is no longer taking up physical space, we have nothing but the sadness of that toy car or box of VHS tapes being gone to replace it. That, and a little more room.
Oh, and a nagging suspicion that the box that just drove off in the back of the recycling truck had that missing photo of me with Charles Kuralt. Or maybe the box of Hot Wheel track that was shipped off to the kids at our son's old preschool that had Speed Racer's Mach 5. It is a sure thing that much of the vinyl that left our house in crates are now highly collectible and rare, but the idea of picking them up and moving them to one more place where I would not bother to look at them, let alone slide them out of their sleeves and give them a listen gives me a little pain just over my left eye. I don't think I was sitting on a demo recording by the Beatles. There were some picture discs, and a few rare pieces that might have made a collector swoon every so briefly. But that collector used to be me, and I was able to get over the idea that I needed to hold on to every little thing that I came into contact for the long haul we call "life." 
Thanks, but I'm like that chair we left on the curb a few years back: overstuffed. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Time Will Tell

My son was kind enough to remind me a while back that his car is a classic, if your definition of "classic" centers on that car being at least twenty-five years old. By this measure, my son is not a classic, but he's working on it. Some things are relics before they ever reach that kind of milestone. Some places become altars moments after the fact. The fact is usually something tragic. Tragedy plus street corners equals temples of sadness, never mind the time. Heroes are made out there most nights of the week. Heroes that are forgotten even as the spray paint lingers.
Twenty-two years ago, my wife and I traveled to Seattle, coincidentally just a week after the death of Kurt Cobain. This was just a few months after I had sat home, watching as his band played a sold out show just down the road at the Oakland Coliseum. I watched on MTV. I was in my thirties. I didn't go out to rock concerts on New Years Eve. But part of me wanted to be a part of rock and roll history. There was something going on out there: lightning in a bottle. In April, when the news came down that Kurt Cobain had blown his own head off, it wasn't as sad as it was inevitable. I had missed that show, but there I was a week after this sad fact in the neighborhood where he had once lived. We drove past the house, with the infrequent and ironic Seattle sun beating down on the flannel-clad mourners camped out in front. There were candles and guitars, and it looked for all the world like the west coast version of John Lennon's memorial, fourteen years later.
John was a classic. So was Kurt, by a couple years. That's why, after another twenty-two years, when the Seattle police released pictures of the shotgun that ended Cobain's life, there was an uproar. Outrage at the reappearance of this somewhat mythic relic of a bygone era. Grunge is over, but rock and roll lives on, as does the legend of Nirvana's front man. Which may be why Justin Bieber chose, last week, to show up on stage in the Emerald City in flannel and a raggedy haircut, reaffirming what he had asserted about himself six years ago: "I fell like the  Kurt Cobain of my generation, but people just don't understand me."
Justin was born in 1994. He's not a classic. Not yet. Time will tell.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Accidentally shot. That phrase rings in my ears. It makes me think of the following interchange:
"Mister Caven?"
"I accidentally kicked the ball over the fence."
"How exactly did this accident occur?"
"How did you kick the ball over the fence? Accidentally."
"Oh. I was trying to boost it as high as I could and it just went over the fence."
What follows is a few more minutes of trying to understand just how the accident part of the accident occurred, since kicking a ball as hard as you can, especially with proximity to a fence that is just a few feet shorter than the height of the kid could boost the ball. The thin line of accidental was crossed with the intent. The ball was there: opportunity. Showing off for his friends: motive. The fact that balls kicked as hard as possible often find their way over the fence, especially when they are kicked next to fences intended to keep kids in, not balls is the part where the blank stare comes in. And that's when Mister Caven has to go down the stairs, out of the building and into the street to retrieve the accidentally boosted ball. Not a victimless crime.
So much of life that takes place on an elementary school playground exists for me as an allegory to the wider world. I did a Google search for "accidentally shot" and I was rewarded with nearly five million results in less than half a second of searching. Many of them, thousands in fact, were in reference to the same shooting, but certain links jumped out at me. "At least 265 people were accidentally shot by kids this year ..."

"How often do children in the U.S. unintentionally shoot and ..."

Grown ups who end up wounded or dead because of guns are not without their tragedy. The age of consent seems to be an easy enough line to draw for the worst of these stories, but kids and guns are such an awful combination that I feel worse for those who experience the pain and grief before they could drive a car or buy their first legal drink with which they might drown their sorrows. 
There isn't enough booze, legal or otherwise. There are guns left lying around where kids can get at them, and since kids can't make that logical jump from opportunity to motive to "accidental," something should be done to keep it from happening. Mister Caven can retrieve a ball when it goes over the fence, but he can't get a kid back from heaven. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Beautiful Day

Somewhere a breeze blows across a field of gently dancing tulips. The air is calm otherwise and the scent of the flowers drifts up and mixes with the smells of a day in the country. The dust rises up as the horse drawn carriage rumbles down the road, caught in a swirl that curls around behind the laughing passengers who are enjoying the glorious day. The clouds above break up the startling blue of the sky with a reminder of Renaissance painters and the art history classes that were taken as a lark. The sound of the wheels on gravel mix in counterpoint with that of birds in a tree providing shade and a possible picnic spot. It is a complex conversation, but not rushed, with pauses that suggest thoughtfulness and consideration. That harmony spreads across the vast green field bordered by thick forest standing quietly in observance of the day. It is spring, and the world, at least from this point and at this moment, is at peace.
The rest of the planet may be coming apart at the seams, because it is filled with hate and anger that has been kicking around for hundreds of years. Thousands of years. Voices cry out to stop the violence, the bloodshed. No one listens. This is because of our investment in that hate and anger. Letting it go and surrendering to the beauty of each passing day would require the kind of quantum leap that none of us seems capable.
There is nothing natural or beautiful in a world that is constantly at war. Justice for the victims of the violence is how we justify our own violence. The idea of turning the other cheek is so lost in all this chaos that we can only laugh at its simplicity. Forgiveness is no longer an option. The peace of which has been written for as long as there have been these wars has become a romantic ideal, like those clouds in the sky.
Like those birds in the tree.
Like the horse drawn carriage.
Like the breeze.
Like the dancing tulips.
Like peace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

In Search Of...

The headline, "Was Jesus Really Nailed To The  Cross?" was most certainly click-bait. What do the scholars say? I need to know, especially with Good Friday coming up. Well, I guess the truth is this: I don't really need to know since this particular mystery is more than two thousand years old. It made me think of that long forgotten forensic masterpiece, In Search Of Historic Jesus. Back in 1979, I was lead to believe that all the questions surrounding the Prince of Peace had been resolved. Sunn Classic Pictures had already blown the lid of that whole Noah's Ark thing three years before, so I couldn't imagine a better source for the Truth. If that weren't enough, this is the studio that brought us Grizzly Adams, for Heaven's sake. Maybe it was the beards.
Whatever the reason, back in the twentieth century, I thought we had this all figured out. The history of Jesus, Noah and a certain Mister Adams was already established. Why question the doctrine, rated G for General Audiences, of a company run from God Central, Salt Lake City. Yes, there was an ark, and it came to rest on Mount Ararat in Turkey. No fossilized unicorn remains were found on board, so that question was answered as well. Jesus was found not far away, or at least the blanket in which he was buried. What other proof would one need to know everything about the King of Kings? And if that weren't enough, Sunn Pictures helped prove, beyond a shadow  of a doubt, that Grizzly Adams was framed.
It  could be that the recent passing of Dan Haggerty may have caused us all to reexamine our beliefs. What if that was just some other big boat that pranksters parked on the side of that Turkish mountain? And what if Grizzly Adams was a troubled man with an unnatural attraction to bears? And what if Jesus was a really nice guy with a lot of good ideas who was persecuted and tortured by those who didn't understand him, but he wasn't nailed to a cross?
I blame CSI. Meredith J.C. Warren (her real initials) of the University of Sheffield insists there is little evidence to back up the whole nail thing. Which is unfortunate, since it takes away a great many punch lines and expressions that get a lot of play at this time of year. And if you're feeling just a little bad or blasphemous right now about reading this blog, I'll be happy to take on that sin. I'll be looking for forgiveness for a whole lot of things eventually, like trying to figure out why they call it Good Friday without asking the guy they nailed to the tree. Or didn't.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Four Square

Many of the kids on our playground prefer to mix their activities during recess. They like to play four square and argue. This provides some measure of aerobic exercise for a game that isn't too physically exerting. It also gives the people in line something to do while the person in A square complains bitterly to anyone willing to listen to the defense of the ball never actually hitting the line, or bouncing twice, or whatever picayune detail catches their fancy. All that lung power is being expended in the service of determining how next to proceed. Since grownups know that the agreed upon dispute ender is Rock, Paper, Scissors, it is up to one of those authority types to wander by and remind the children playing that in order to move the game along, they need to stop arguing and "Ro Sham Bo."
This is essentially what Bernie Sanders did the other day when the results came in for the Missouri primary. After a fairly narrow margin of one thousand five hundred ballots was announced in Hillary Clinton's favor, Mr. Sanders said that it was unlikely the results of any recount would affect the awarding of delegates in the state and that he would “prefer to save the taxpayers of Missouri some money.”Ms. Clinton would be the Rock in this model, Sanders the Scissors. Bernie understands that over time he might be the Paper, but more importantly there are people waiting in line to get into that vacant square, and that ultimately he would rather be allowed to continue playing the game instead of sitting on the bench because he couldn't settle his conflict amicably. 
Across the way, the Republicans continue to stand around hollering at one another, while one bully in A square holds on to the ball and seems completely at ease at doing anything but play by the established rules. Skipping debates, Predicting riots if things don't go his way. He seems more than content to play out the string while others are sent to the bench, crying foul and insisting that something must be done. Say what you like about the clowns who have since left the car and are now sitting there fuming, wondering who will come along and unseat the bully, but the line forming to stand around and not exactly play the game but stand in the orange glow of that bully continues to grow. 
Some of them punching anyone who shows up with a dissenting opinion. Or worse. Some of them sporting White Power tattoos. Meanwhile, nobody's playing four square on the Republican side. But they are exercising their lungs. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Tab A Into Slot B

My son wants to buy a new car. Okay, he doesn't want to purchase anything made in the last ten years. He wants a car that will be new to him. He doesn't want to drive it, either. He wants to take it apart.
This shouldn't come as any kind of surprise to those who know this kid. He has been taking things apart for most of his life. Putting things back together has always been a little bit trickier. This was never more apparent than in his Lego ethos. The package was opened. The manual was laid out and followed meticulously. Step by step. Then, after a period of time best described by the attention span of a Star Wars fan or Bionicle aficionado, those newly minted creations would sit on a shelf. They would sit on that shelf until such time as they could become a set of parts that would eventually be part of some larger construction. Something from the imagination, not from the manual. Today our house sits on top of a foundation that might be created from all the bricks, sprockets and axles that were once part of that shelf display. They are relics. Little pieces of relics.
That's the car that he wants to buy. A piece of a relic. He doesn't want to buy something to display. He wants the pieces. He wants to take the engine out of a car that has seen better days, maybe it was once on a shelf, and put it into the car he is driving. I do not doubt that, given enough time, tools and access to a series of YouTube videos, that he and some clever friends could make this Frankenswitch happen. I learned a while back not to doubt his wrench abilities when he replaced the brakes on his Supra. He was successful enough on the back end to want to try the front end. Throw an engine lift and a covered garage into this mix and I can't imagine how this couldn't work out well.
Except for the pile of discarded car parts that already litter the inside of our garage. There is a front end, mostly fiberglass, and a set of wheels and tires that would now make it difficult for anyone to pull a car into that space to work on that engine problem. Did I mention the collection of hubcaps that continue to adorn the fence outside that garage, brought there over the span of years before there was a real car on which to mount them by my son?
That idea of interchangeable parts comes very naturally to a young man who swaps out video cards and motherboards with reckless abandon. It makes sense to him that everything is plug and play, even if the plugs are a little different shape or it takes some extra torque to get them to play. I respect that, and I admire it. It also scares me to death.
I guess I'll get to learn something new, too.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Making America Grate Again

"Come with me or there will be...trouble." These are the words Robocop intones to one of the perps to whom he is about to dish out a big steaming bowl of justice. You remember Robocop, the cybernetically engineered law enforcement officer of the future, dealing with the worst that recession-crushed Detroit has to offer. Part man. Part machine. All cop. Back in 1987, those of us in the know looked on at the stylized violence of the original film with a smirk. It was social satire, punctuated by tongue-in-cheek parody commercials depicting a world completely out of touch with what put us in this dystopian nightmare to begin with. The punch line was that with all that machinery surrounding him, it was the man that made the machine, and in the end it was that humanity that saved the day.

Nearly thirty years later, RoboTrump threatens to make America "great" again. I wonder what part of this candidate is still human, or if there was ever a part of him that truly was. Which may explain his response to the suggestion that the party for which he is currently running might not give him the nomination that he has so righteously earned: "We'd have riots." This is what Trumpder  told CNN "Newsday" Wednesday morning. "The really big story is how many people are voting in these primaries," and he says "if you just disenfranchise these people, I think you would have problems like you've never seen before." To sum up, borrowing from another eighties film:
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!
Come with me or there will be trouble. Yeesh.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Crash Of 2016

I hope you're sitting down as you read this: Sarah Palin's husband was seriously injured in a snowmobile accident this past Monday. I know what you're asking yourself: "Will he be alright?" Or maybe "How's the snowmobile doing?" Or perhaps "Why should I care?"
Well, if you're hooked up to the life support mechanism that is the twenty-four hour news cycle, this is the kind of thing that can be worked from several angles. Even if you approach it from the angle of husband of former reality TV star's husband crashes speeding vehicle, there's some juice there. Once you add in the tasty morsels of that former reality TV star being governor of a state that is known for its ice and snow, then you can start to chew on the edges of the environmental impact of such an event. What was Todd doing, zipping around the frozen tundra on a gas-powered machine that is doing nothing but further destroying the ozone layer and contributing to the greenhouse effect that will most certainly bring about the eventual end of such activity before his grandchildren, legitimate and otherwise, have a chance to check it out.
Or maybe it has to do with the fact that the accident will cause the cancellation of a scheduled Trumpfter campaign rally in Florida. Now we have a real thread to follow. Coming fast on the heels of the former sportscaster's denouncement of "thuggery" disrupting Trumpily gatherings, the news of "Todd" Palin challenging gravity with his Ski doo became an fascinating next step. Conspiracy? Coincidence? Cover up for yet another grandchild born out of wedlock?
Or maybe it was just the way we all turn up for catastrophe. What is happening at your average Donald Trumpian rally these days would probably make a nice allegory to the your standard snowmobile fail. A few broken ribs here, a fractured tibia there, and all in the service of making America great again. If it makes Sarah Palin a sympathetic character, so be it, as long as that doesn't let any sun shine on the darkness of what Donald Trumph is selling. Ted Cruz has to say nice things about the Palin family. Isn't that curiosity enough? Ted Cruz saying nice things about anyone or anything?
That's news to me.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Meeting Across The River

You're asking the wrong guy. If the question to which you want an answer is, "How was the show?" I reiterate: You're asking the wrong guy. Would it matter to me if the show had consisted entirely of eighties covers of songs that bands had casually disregarded by their original artists. I would still line up and pay top dollar for a ticket to hear Bruce Springsteen perform a medley of songs by Ah-Ha and Kajagoogoo. If Bruce picked them, there's probably a darn good reason for them to be on the set list. That is why I didn't flinch when I heard that he would be playing "The River" start to finish on this current tour. A double album full of giddy good time rock and roll as well as a few very pointed slower tunes to give us all a chance to catch our breath. Thanks, Boss.
But as I have already suggested, it really would not have mattered what material he had chosen to play with that band of his. I would have been there, dancing in the aisles and singing along as best as I could. The good news for me, while maybe not the best for those around me, was that "The River" was the second Springsteen album I ever owned. And I wore it out. Sure, some sides got more play than others, but over the years I played that thing to death. My favorite song showed up on side three, second track. I put "Cadillac Ranch" on enough mixed tapes that I internalized those last few notes of "Point Blank" so that I could anticipate the cue and get my finger off the pause button just in time to get the roar of those Eldorado fins, whitewall and skirts. Over decades of seeing Springsteen shows, I have learned to appreciate some of those war horses that have been played eternally while some of those lesser known songs have slipped into Boss obscurity.
Not on this night. They came in rapid fire succession: Twenty songs, twenty-one if you include the B-Side opener "Meet Me In The City Tonight." If you grew up listening to "The River," you were happy. Then came the fusillade of hits. Fourteen more songs that spanned a career from "Growin' Up" to "The Rising." I have sat through concerts that were shorter than the "encore" of this Bruce Springsteen show. And they were fine. This was the real deal. Three and a half hours, give or take, start to finish. As we were filing into the arena, the security folks were hurrying us past the metal detectors because word had come down that we needed to get to our seats so we could all get ourselves back out of them to enjoy the marathon.
There were several times that I was brought to tears as I remembered my associations to this song or that. I held my wife a little closer and we sang along with eighteen thousand other voices. I texted my buddy back on the east coast. I had a moment when I wanted to find a quiet spot to call my mom and share the moment with her. I wanted to write poetry.
I didn't do any of those things because I didn't want to miss a moment. Okay. I slipped out to the men's room during "I'm A Rocker," but that didn't mean I missed a note because the mighty E Street Band rocked the house hard enough that I couldn't, even deep within the concrete bunker that is our basketball arena.
Was it a good show? It was epic. It was exhilarating. It gave me back my youth for three and a half hours. It was joy with a beat you could dance to. It made me think. It made me laugh and cry. Simultaneously. Was it a good show? You're asking the wrong guy. It was beautiful.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Making America Safe Again

There are a lot of jobs that I wouldn't want to have. The logging industry is the deadliest possible occupation, according to statistics. Having a tree land on you unawares would be a lousy way to go.There's also a reason for the show to be called "The Deadliest Catch," even though they're catching fish anronid not trees. Make a mistake one the slippery deck of a commercial tuna boat and you might be lucky if you lose a finger instead of losing an arm as you tumble overboard on your way to a watery grave.
Up in the air is pretty safe, as long as you can stay there. It's those sudden declerations from altitudes more befitting of birds then humans that make being a pilot such an iffy proposition. Driving an airplane would be fun if you knew that you could figure out a way to get on and off the ground without having to cheat gravity. The same could be said for roofers, who spend far too much time up where their work is. If they could bring their job down to earth where putting on shingles would be a whole lot easier, or at least less nerve-wracking.
Garbage collectors seem to have a trouble separating themselves from their work, sometimes while it is being crushed into conveniently crushed cubes. Then it becomes somebody else's job to separate them from their work, piece by piece. Nasty business, garbage.
Then there's all those people who drive us and our trucks full of groceries and home electronics. Driving is a dangerous business when you have little or no distractions, but if you know that you have to be in Atlanta on Monday morning and you just left Chicago, it could be a challenge to get the kind of concentration you need to drive all night. At least that's what the songs tell me. That and the sales of amphetamines in truck stops across this great land of ours.c
So, these are all jobs for which I will not be leaving my cushy spot in my Oakland Public School classroom. But if these were all options on the table, I would happily consider them over what I imagine is now the most dangerous occupation in the United States: Working security at a Trump campaign rally. With the idjit on the stage egging it on, the mobs are growing even uglier than the words expressed by the idjit on stage. The same idjit who blames everyone else for the chaos swirling around him. Saying "it's only a matter of time" may be a little fatalistic, but that inevitability is what makes it life on the edge. A great big, noisy dull edge.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Show Has An End

I regularly quote a lyric from an Emerson, Lake and Palmer song when greeting people at work: "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends," I tell them. I don't think about it much, since it's become something of a habit. Or I didn't until I heard that Keith Emerson was dead. For Keith, the show was now over,and now it occurred to me that I might consider coming up with a different way to show those around me how hooked into pop culture I am. The pop culture of the 1970's, anyway.
Like so many of the cool musical introductions that were made for me back in those days, it was my older brother who sat me down to listen to my first ELP album, their eponymous first. This was no collection of pop hits. It was a seminal piece of the progressive rock canon. Songs that would never be played on AM radio. Songs without lyrics, for heaven's sake. But how could that matter when there was all that stuff going on? These virtuosi were generating ornate soundscapes that were, as I was instructed by my older brother, best appreciated through a pair of headphones.
That's where I lived, for most of my junior high years, between those roaring cans. Eyes closed and imagining the sweeping vistas and detailed backdrops to that music that would eventually be labeled "prog-rock." Short for "progressive." In some ways, I never felt completely comfortable with that label, since much of their work recalled previous compositions, especially on their synthesized revision of Mussorgsky's "Pictures At An Exhibition." This provided me with the perfect link between my classical music education and the world of electronic sounds that were swirling around me every day.
It was my senior year in high school when our band director selected ELP's "Canario" as our concert piece for marching band show. Based on Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo's concerto for guitar and orchestra, we used the opportunity to showcase all our high school marching band prog-rock chops. We all took pride in the way we blew our guts out and beat those drums. For those four minutes, we were one with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. We left it all out there on the field. Or at least that's the way we liked to talk about it.
By this time, ELP had disbanded, having fulfilled what they declared was their contractual obligation with the album from whence "Canario" came: Love Beach. The title and the cover photo with the artists posing as furry-chested pop stars didn't jive with the music inside. But it was the 1980's, and the time was no longer right for twenty minute organ solos or entire sides of a record devoted to the tale of a World War Two soldier. Genesis was now being run by Phil Collins. Pink Floyd was crumbling beneath their own psychic weight. The indulgences were now those of the listeners, not the artists.
When I heard that Keith Emerson was gone, I went back and took the time to listen to that music once again. It was fascinating and unique. It was complex and it was fun. It made me want to play air guitar, keyboards and drums all at once. This was the music that came from the mind of Keith Emerson. Thank you Keith, for stomping on the musical Terra. Aloha from Love Beach.

Monday, March 14, 2016

What's Your Sleep Number?

The wee hours of the morning don't really work for me. As a world-class insomniac, I have spent most of my life wishing that I hadn't been awake for quite so much of it. It helps to have someone to talk to, though my wife might not fully agree, given the number of times it has been my unsettled sleep pattern that created the opportunity to chat. Most of the conversations tend to center on doubts and concerns. There was certainly a time when our thoughts turned more to fanciful anticipation: What will it be like when we are married? What will it be like when the baby is born? What will the future hold for our young son?
These days, our possible futures don't stretch out as far. We tend to dread the next commitment or obligation, wondering if we have everything in place to deal with the twists and turns that each new day brings. Do we have enough? Should we get more? Did you hear that clacking noise? Did I remember to tell you that I heard a clacking noise? At three in the morning, there isn't a lot you can do about that clacking noise because A) it is dark and B) you are tired. Instead, you find yourself imagining all the possible ways that the clacking noise will bring about the family's eventual ruin. But it feels good to talk about it.
Most of the time.
A few nights ago, while we were both pretending to be asleep while hoping to catch the other in a moment of wakefulness, the discussion started. What potholes of dread lay before us on our trip through the next few days? How could we possibly hope to hold things together amid the swirling eddies of dark despair that washed around us? And suddenly, my wife hit on the all-time great questions for laying awake: "How much life insurance should I get?"
I have never been a fan of insurance, since it seems to be a way to bet against yourself in the race to stay whole. If you don't crash the car or burn down the house, you lose. All those monthly premiums have been like so many lottery tickets shoved off into someone else's bulging coffers. My coffers aren't exactly bulging, so I want to be clever about where I end up stuffing my lottery tickets and extra dollars. But life insurance? How much is my wife's life worth to me? What price could I possibly put on her existence, our coexistence? How does that break down on a monthly basis? Is there an installment plan where I could eventually get back the love I lost? Or should I take heart in my cynical notion that I would be simply paying into a pot that would end up with me dying first and hope that whatever deal we had made for me would compensate her in what I can only hope would be long lonely years of missing me.
Or maybe this was all part of the opening of some neo-noir story that would have one or both of us involved in some kind of nefarious goings-on. And then I can stay up the rest of the night imagining what those might be.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Thirty-Five Years Burnin' Down The Road

I have probably written about this enough, given the number of times it comes up in casual conversation, let alone the way it rings as a note for me to follow in my daily life. It was thirty-five years ago when I first sat in front of Bruce Springsteen and let myself be carried away with the night. He played his own sound check, before the sun went down, and kept his promise to come back and rock us all night long. He was the guy who played long and loud enough to make me reconsider hollering out for more. By the time he and the E Street Band lit into "Twist and Shout," I was too hoarse to do much more than surrender. He was the Boss.
In my mind, he still is. I have lost track of the number of times that I have seen Bruce and his band play. I can still harp about the times that I have missed a show or two in my area, much in the same way that I complain bitterly about the years that have passed without a trip to Disneyland. I understand that it is patently ridiculous that I don't see this experience as completely value added. In a world where so much is taken for granted and people in all walks of life are merely phoning it in, a Bruce Springsteen show is still a marathon. It is a rock and roll show without smoke and lasers and a lost of special guests. It is the real deal.
All those years ago, before I had a drawer full of tour shirts and I knew every word by heart, I went to that first show as kind of a dare. I had heard of the Cult of Springsteen, and I wasn't the kind to fall blindly into an association with glassy-eyed devotees. It was not my style. I was a DEVO fan. My tastes ran pretty solidly into the realm of New Wave, and even back in 1981 there was a whiff of dinosaur coming from the E Streeters. But with each passing year, that tired old Tyrannosaurus shakes off the dust and proves once again what a wonderful world it would be if dinosaurs still ruled the earth.
And yes, I can see the cracks. This isn't a new album. It's a celebration of "The River," a double disc set that came out back when Reagan was running for President. Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and with Donald Trumpus on the campaign trail, it could be that the time is right to start thinking about stolen cars and going down to that river once again. Sixty-six years old, with a pair of his original bandmates now jamming in heaven, Bruce Springsteen has my everlasting admiration for showing up an performing like it was his job, like if he didn't play hard enough he might lose the title of dino-weight champion of the world.
In a blog that is so full of goodbyes these days, it's nice to say hello again to the "heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, love-making, earth-quaking, Viagra-taking, justifying, death-defying, legendary E Street Band." I won't be able to talk about it tomorrow. I'll be too hoarse. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

By George

Pete Best. Some felt he was let go by the Fab Four because he was too good looking. Or maybe he wasn't a great drummer.
Stu Sutcliffe wasn't a great bass player, but the lads from Liverpool decided to let him go before things got too dicey.
Stu's gal pal Astrid Kirchherr was cast aside essentially for the same reason, since she took nice photos and all but she was a girl, after all.
Murray the K helped open America for the British Invasion, and our mop tops probably couldn't have hit as big without his fanatical devotion and airplay. But he was a DJ.
Klaus Voorman played the bass for the boys in the Berlin days, and later jammed with John in his solo years. He didn't stick around.
Neil Aspinall ran the front office and took over after Brian Epstein died. He played percussion on a couple of tracks. He was not that central figure.
Even Brian Epstein, the man who got them to wear suits and managed them until they were almost too big to be managed, not allowed in that sacred circle.
If there was a fifth Beatle, his name was George Martin. Sir George, as he was known by his pals around the royal order. He was their engineer, and the one in charge of getting the sounds they made out into the world. George was the one who stood up to them. George showed them the way to make records. George Martin produced fifty number one hits. Most of those were Beatles songs. Would they have been as big as they were if they had been recorded by a faceless string of studio personnel who didn't have the personal connection to the band that changed the world? Maybe, but that's hard to imagine. That fatherly presence in the control room helped rein in the fire that raced through the studios at Abbey Road. He helped focus a stream of steady music that wasn't just popular but evolutionary back in the day. That's why everyone wanted to work with George Martin. He had that magic touch.
For several years, my favorite Beatles record was the soundtrack for "Yellow Submarine." Tracks like "Only A Northern Song" and "Hey Bulldog" were interesting relics, but what kept me coming back was the symphonic bits composed by Sir George. That side of music transported me to the Sea of Holes and onto Pepperland. It was magical.
Thank you George for that trip. You will be missed for the music you made and the sounds of stomping on the Terra. Aloha.

Friday, March 11, 2016

What I Don't Get

There are plenty of things that I don't understand. Super delegates, for example. Are these committed voters for a particular candidate who are only vulnerable to Kryptonite? I could try to comprehend the appeal of zombies, but they seem to be safe enough as metaphor and as long as they remain the moaning, shambling type, I won't lose too much sleep worrying about their eventual rise from the graves where they were once buried. Justin Beiber, and his continued presence on the pop music scene remains a mystery to me as well. At each point he seems to have passed into irrelevancy he returns, not unlike the previously dismisses walking dead, to haunt the charts.
I could go on and on, but there remains a pair of things at the top of this list of perplexity: Coffee and Cigarettes. I can grasp the appeal of each at some level, since both are drug-induction devices, and I can't say that I never found myself eating, drinking, snorting or even smoking something that made me feel "better." It is that kind of potential hypocrisy that keeps me from making public scenes when I see someone waiting in line for their extra tall steaming cup of java. I get the appeal from an olfactory sense: a freshly brewed pot of coffee is a welcoming scent that carries all the warmth and goodness that a three egg omelette with a side of bacon might be.
I have never had a cup of coffee. Once, a very long time ago, I tried a coffee-flavored hard candy and it did not agree with me. Or rather, I did not agree with it. I chose then and there not to seek out any further coffee-related experiences. Sure, over the years I have had a few brushes with "mocha" this and "java" that, but not a cup of coffee. Mostly because I never cared for the flavor. Nor did I care for the way it smelled after that initial glorious rush. Old coffee smells worse to me than it tastes. I chose another path to my caffeine enrichment: Coca-Cola. There was even a time back in college where I went to the harder stuff: Jolt. But I made it through my undergraduate studies without having to chug a cup of mud to keep the lights on for an all-nighter, nor to infuse the following morning with the pretend energy that some others might choose.
Cigarettes? Probably because I spent my formative years trying to get my mother and father to stop smoking, and because the idea of inhaling clouds of poisonous gas never really appealed to me, I never took it up. I don't have that urge to light one up before, during, or after any of the day's activities. I am always quietly stunned by the sights and sounds of those hard-core addicts who are puffing away moments after their eyes have opened, hacking and wheezing their way into another glorious sunrise.
The fact that I don't get it doesn't seem to have much effect on those who do. And I guess that should be the part for which I am grateful.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


My son has a new favorite quote: "The difference between screwing around and science? Writing stuff down." This comes to us from freshly retired Mythbuster, Adam Savage. Compared to Peyton Manning, who will most likely have his pick of big paychecks, Adam will probably have to hustle a little bit to catch up to the current zeitgeist. When Mister Savage started his old job busting myths, Al Gore had only recently turned us all loose on his Internet. If you wanted to find out if something was real or fake, you had to send a letter to the friendly and inquisitive folks at M5 Industries. Is it possible to make a lead balloon? Sure, but could you make it fly? Thanks to the busters of myth, we now know that it is possible.
Over the years, nearly a decade and a half, there were hundreds of myths confirmed or dismissed by Adam and his curmudgeonly partner Jamie. Did you think that carrying your credit cards in an eel-skin wallet would damage the magnetic stripes? Fret no more. The Mythbusters took care of that one. Did you believe that cell phones emitted rays of such intense radiation that they could pop corn? Now worries. That one turned out to be less than true as well. Over the run of the show Jamie and Adam, along with the help of their "build team," five hundred forty eight myths were debunked outright, compared to just two hundred fifty-one that were confirmed. There were another two hundred sixteen deemed "plausible," but some of those required stretching the definition.
But mostly, it gave my son and I an opportunity to watch things blow up. Water heaters, small appliances, and cars. Lots and lots of cars. And a cement truck. Each new detonation was a revelation for the two of us. We would sit through whatever science may or may not have been involved just to see the smithereens be distributed far and wide. The tinier the bits, the better.
And now it's over. My son has grown out of his "I reject your reality and substitute my own" T-shirt some time ago, and moved on to watching videos on YouTube that skip directly to the blowing up part. His other favorite Mythbuster quote came from Jamie: "When in doubt, C4." And that pretty much sums up our love affair with those busters of Myth.
Which is also why I bothered to write this down. Now it's science.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Terms Of Retirement

It probably had something to do with my choosing to watch the last forty minutes of Terms of Endearment. This was a movie that hung around my twenties, back when I was studying film and learning to appreciate screenplays. All those words and acting were making me believe that the worst thing that could ever happen was to lose your daughter. Your wife. Your best friend. Emma's death was a revelation of sorts for me, back in the days before I was truly familiar with loss. Thirty-some years later, I could feel the sharp edges of every departure that came after that. Friends. Relatives. Strangers. The occasional celebrity. Well, more than the occasional celebrity. My wife has become used to my calls from in front of my computer, letting her know who has passed on, the ones that matter. To me.
Sometimes they aren't really a surprise. Finding out that Nancy Reagan had finally just said "no" to this existence wasn't a shock. She was ninety-four. She outlived her Ronnie by a dozen years. It was perhaps more of a surprise to find out that Abe Vigoda went to sleep with the fishes, after years of being presumed dead. Then they left him out of the Oscar Memoriam segment. That was an eye-opener. Or an eye-closer, I suppose.
It was into this fluid stream that the announcement was made that Peyton Manning was retiring from professional football. Actually, it was the announcement of the announcement of what was already essentially a foregone conclusion. He was leaving his post. He wasn't sick. He wasn't going Gipper or Brian Piccolo on us. He was simply moving on to his next career plateau. Broadcasting? A job in the front office? Selling pizza? Peyton Manning is thirty-nine years old. He's got a whole extra life waiting to be lived out there. It just won't be on the football field.
And that made me really sad. Even if this announcement had come while he was still playing for the Indianapolis Colts, it would have been somewhat monumental. He helped make part of the argument about the Greatest of all time a reality. I remember when his boss, John Elway packed it in. He had just won his second Super Bowl, and his best years were sadly behind him. Sadly.
There is no way to equate the loss of a daughter, or wife, or friend with the retirement of a professional football player, except that in the way it denotes time passing. The way things change. New faces become old. Old faces disappear. Peyton Manning was seven years old when Terms of Endearment came out. That's an old movie now. Peyton is an old quarterback. He won his second Super Bowl, and he is packing it in. Now maybe he'll have a chance to catch up on some of those old movies. Don't forget the Kleenex.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Words And Music

For years I have been entertaining my eye doctor with a bit about how once I got my bifocals, I suddenly became aware of all these important bits of information on the backs and insides of my CDs: musician's names, song titles, and lyrics. The words to those songs are actually on the wrappings. And my eye doctor chuckles. It could be that he is being polite, since I keep coming back and paying my bill. Or maybe it's a little bit funny.
It also depends on an awareness of the way we used to pore over the insides of our vinyl records. Back in the day, I had a ritual for each new record I brought home. First, I would take the shrink wrap off, since everyone knows that if you leave the shrink wrap on your albums, over time that wrap will follow its intended function and shrink, causing the record inside to warp. While I listened to each side of the record free from the worry of shrink wrap, I set the album cover aside. It could be that the song titles have already been known to me, or I might have had a glance at the track listing, but mostly I wanted to let the music to wash over me without any preconceptions. If the words become clear without any initial study, then there must be something significant about them. Or maybe it's all just too busy and loud, but there's that moment when I think, "did he just say...?"
That's when  the lyric sheet, if it were included, came out. The second listen would be in direct conjunction with the words. Following the proverbial bouncing ball, as it were, and then I would wander around for a week or two, sharing my intimate knowledge of the genius found on side two. With anyone who cared to listen.
These days, if the words matter or not, someone has already taken the time to transcribe them to Al Gore's Internet. Sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they don't. The Kingsmen did not include a lyrics sheet. These days, most of the music I buy doesn't come with a lyrics sheet. Or a cover. It occurred to me the other day that there is an entire generation that has never sat on the edge of their bed, contemplating the meaning of the artwork that comes wrapped around our favorite tunes. Maybe it's a good thing: no distractions from the music. Then again, I never would have bought Sweet's "Level Headed" if it hadn't been for that awesome cover art. Then I never would have known that love is like oxygen. You get too much, you get too high. Not enough and you're gonna die. Words to live by.

Monday, March 07, 2016

The Biz

It was important for Warren to have his own restaurant. The food was good, bordering on great at times, but the atmosphere was the important part. Having his own place meant that Warren wouldn't be asked to leave. He could hold court at one of the big tables, or in the bar, until long after closing time. I know this because in my youth, I sat at one of those big tables. Or rather I squirmed and fidgeted and asked if I could go buy a roll of Certs from the cashier. Sometimes my brothers and I would wander outside and run up and down the sidewalk outside while my parents had one more cocktail and enjoyed the night life from that relatively safe vantage point: on one side of that table.
This was Boulder, Colorado in the 1970's. It was rumored that a large percentage of the cocaine traffic through that city passed through those doors. It was also rumored that a large percentage of that percentage ended up in the sinus cavities of the employees and hangers-on of that corner of the world. The world in which I consumed entire rolls of Certs while the stories and drinks kept flowing. At some point, since my parents were part of the cocktail crowd and not the new age, Peruvian Marching Powder generation, they packed their boys back up in the station wagon and returned to our safe suburban home where I could sleep off my Certs-induced haze. At least my breath was kissing fresh.
Some years later I had the opportunity, because we had a family friend in the restaurant business, to gain an entry-level position in Warren's operation. Not as a waiter, busboy, or coke mule. I was a dishwasher. My entry and exit was not through those big wooden doors up front, but the metal one, painted to look like the rest of the wall. The same door that my brothers and I had cavorted past countless times when we were busying ourselves with the business of youth. Now I was sixteen, and as I worked those late shifts on Friday and Saturday nights covered in a film of water, soap and grease, I tried to imagine the glamorous world that lay just outside those swinging doors in the kitchen. The stories went something like this: The waiters were often tipped large quantities of cash, which they dutifully passed along a percentage to their busboys. Sometimes there were little paper bindles that were passed along with the bills. I heard they sometimes made their way to the cooks. At least that's what I was told by the young prep chef who liked to tell me stories about how six months before he had been doing my job, scraping baked cheese off platters, putting in the hours until his talents for mixing vats of green chili were recognized and he was allowed outside those swinging doors into the kitchen. As a dishwasher, I wasn't allowed on the main floor without special permission. On those rare occasions that the bar was in desperate need of more margarita glasses, I was told to make a beeline with a crate of still steaming stemware, using the side entrance to the bar and stopping just long enough to get a head bob from the bartender. The guy in the leather vest I knew only as "Snake."
That was a summer in my life that I won't forget. I got a chance to see both sides of the operation. From the big table to the dumpsters out back. Warren moved on from that spot to open another spot, in another place, more fabulous than the last. I moved on too. One summer as a dishwasher taught me everything I needed to know about that job: That I never wanted to be a dishwasher again. Warren stayed in the business for another decade or two. Last week, he left that big table for a reservation he had waiting for a party of one in the sky. I have no doubt that when he shows up, it will be fabulous.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The Kontent Of Their KaraKter

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Especially if both of them are rotten. 
"Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke. okay? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don't know."
"I don't know, did he endorse me or what's going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you're asking me a question that I'm supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.”
"I don't know any -- honestly, I don't know David Duke. I don't believe I have ever met him. I'm pretty sure I didn't meet him. And I just don't know anything about him." 
These were the burbling utterances from Donald J. Trumpletter on February 28, four days after the disavowed David Duke gave his personal, white supremacist okey-doke to his Trumpishness. Coming up just short of calling it an endorsement, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan said that anybody else just won't do. “Voting for these people, voting against Donald Trump at this point, is really treason to your heritage.”
If you don't have a memory as exceptional as Trumplington, then maybe you have no current reference to David Duke. He wasn't part of the original cast of the Dukes of Hazzard, nor did he appear in the big screen reboot years later. But he probably would happily wrap himself in that Confederate flag and refer to himself as "a good ol' boy," when he wasn't referring to himself as a "European American." 
But some kind of help, as the poet said, is the kind of help we can all do without. Especially when your campaign is crushing it all over this great land of ours and a connection to an avowed racist might mess with the mojomentum of that program. It would be additionally awkward for there to be stories about how PaterTrump was arrested in after a Klan riot in Queens. There is no reason for his little boy to remember something that happened in 1927, except Donald Junior showed up in remarkable proximity to another white supremacist just the other day. On the radio. That's three  generations of Trumplers with curious connections to white power types. It sort of makes sense, sinc there isn't any "orange power" groups currently making waves in the political arena. 
Me? I believe that someday a person will be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their spray tan. Or the vile company they choose to keep. 

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Toys In The Attic

Upon waking a few mornings ago, my wife asked, "Do you ever miss having toys? Just lying around?"
Of course I do. Part of that response is based squarely on the reckoning I do nearly every day on they way I miss my son hanging around the house. Even though I have completely visceral memories of stepping on Legos in the middle of the night in my bare feet as I made my way through his darkened room, the joy that came from those little pieces of plastic monumentally outweigh the pain. The same could be said for any number of toy cars that also found their way underfoot.
Speaking of cars, I can't remember a ride in our family car that didn't require at least one "guy" brought along for our son's amusement. It wasn't until he began driving himself that this obsession began to ebb. Action figures, train cars, something with moving parts that could be manipulated while strapped securely in his seat. We were a travelling play place, and most stops on road trips required a Happy Meal, not for the empty calories, but the toy inside.
This was the way we made our way in the world.
The truth is, we were that way before the kid came along.
When asked, on the eve of turning sixteen, what I wanted for my birthday I replied, "Toys. Plastic toys." After an initial discussion with my mother about how birthdays are not for necessities but for fun, she got the message. No pajamas. Unless they are covered with pictures of Spider Man or Darth Vader. No appliances. Unless they can be used to make toys. Power tools fall into a special category that it took me years to accept, but now that cordless jigsaw fills the void that would once have been a nice fit for a remote control helicopter.
Having a son gave me all kinds of room to wander the aisles of Toys R Us  This past Christmas, my son and I returned to those crowded passages to stare in wonder at all the choices and permutations of little pieces of plastic. We both pined for different things, and agreed on others. Some items we recognized from our collective youth and wondered how we could ever afford to live without them, or how we could save up our allowance to bring them home. Where they would eventually find their way into a box, full of memories and fun wrung from hours spent playing on the floor. Where they would eventually be stepped on and cursed, rather than lighting a single candle.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Banned Wagon

Not long ago, a number of fast food chains came under metaphorical fire for their stand on open-carry for firearms in Texas. The concerns raised were essentially these: Customers walking in and out of their restaurants with loaded weapons made them nervous. Not just employees, but other customers as well. The potential of a gun battle breaking out while trying to decide on an item from the dollar menu was considered to be too big a risk for their business plan. Which, of course, brought cries of "freedom crushers" and "rights abusers" from folks who are disposed to seeing the Second Amendment as their right to infringe on that whole "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" thing. You know, they folks with guns strapped to their hips.
Now, across the pond, KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) has banned those under eighteen from coming into their restaurants unless accompanied by an adult. This wasn't a firearms-related concern, since we all know that there are no guns in Merry Old England. But if you want a box of chicken tenders or a bowl of mashed-up Kentucky meat in Meir Park, Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire, prepare to bring along your mum or a fake ID because you won't be allowed inside. You can still get drive-through, but don't plan on sitting around and enjoying your "food" with your mates. Or tearing up the place before, during, or after.
It seems that there has been trouble among a group of teenagers. A recent scuffle between two dozen youths resulted in eight arrests and the confiscation of two guns. Waitaminnit. Back up. Two guns? How could this be? Apparently this is not an isolated incident, since a nearby McDonald's experienced similar trouble, causing them to ban minors from their dining room. This was not the same Mickey D's that kicked a group of youngsters out of their lobby for bringing along their own china, candles and cutlery to enhance their dining experience.
I remember being a teenager. I remember "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Dice." I have remember the signs taped to the doors of most every establishment within a quarter mile of our high school reminding us they only allowed "Two Students At A Time" inside. I have been kept down by the man. Of course, now that I am the man, I wonder if this isn't some clever way to keep a nation's next generation from ingesting too many biscuits with gravy. Everybody wins.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Chock Full Of February

It's all over now. The banners have come down and the confetti has been swept up. The short month of February which brought a Super Bowl and an Oscar pool win to my living room is all packed up until next year when it will go back to being just the one with exactly four weeks. As it stands, I have to think twice about the dates in March because they don't line up easily like they would when it's not a leap year.
There was a lot of living packed into those twenty-nine days. Groundhog Day and its promise of and early spring based on Punxsutawney Phil's inability to see his shadow started the ball rolling. This was followed by the onset of the Year of the Monkey, the celebration of which brought joy to all the monkeys in my neighborhood and beyond. Somewhere in there my wife and I managed to sneak away for a long weekend that was really just a drive up the coast and a stop in Bodega Bay overnight. It was a romantic blur, Observing both Presidents' and Valentine's Day gave us a chance to reflect on the romances of our chief executives. It also gave us a chance to exercise our constitutionally guaranteed rights to free enterprise, stopping at the outlet malls on the way home to purchase those items that can only be purchased at outlet malls on a long weekend.
And somewhere in the midst of all that hubbub came that Super Bowl, with the Denver Broncos putting a cap on the career of Peyton Manning as well as giving me bragging rights at my elementary school for a day or two until all the attentions of these Oakland kids turned back to the wonder that is the Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry. It's okay. I have the T-shirt and the DVD to remind me over and over again about where I was on that Sunday: pacing back and forth from my front door to my kitchen, with stops every so often to take in the action and remind myself, "it's only a game."
The Academy Awards brought me the closure that any awards season needs. My wife and I managed to bag all eight of the nominated films before the ceremony. This made us expert enough to pretend to be voting members and enjoy all that glitz and glamour from the relative comfort and safety of our living room.
All that fun jammed into one month? With an extra day to spare? No pressure, March. Spring Break is coming.