Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Out into the world. That is where I watched my son drive. The goings and comings of our only child has become something of a routine in the last couple years. As has been documented here numerous times, the  reality of an empty nest is this: It doesn't stay empty for long. Here for Thanksgiving. Gone again. Until Christmas. Then he'll be in and out over the course of those two weeks, taking his meals here for the most part and making a point to connect with his mother and father in all the ways he used to.
And that will be fine, since my wife described to me the joy she feels watching her little boy heading out to face his world. On his terms. The terms that we helped shape, but the terms he faces the universe with every day. Sometimes those views skew to the left or right of the ones we thought we knew, but that's why we keep scheduling these rendezvous. As a parent, it is fun to watch how becoming a grownup suits him. At times it's a jacket that's too tight in the shoulders and too long in the sleeves. Other times, it's a sweatshirt that he's had for years that fits just right.
And he's still growing.
When I feel like there's a place to put a fatherly bit of wisdom, I might take him aside, or whisper in his ear. I know that he hears me, but not always right away. It's usually after the fact. I know that he has a number of different voices, my own, his mother, his friends, his teachers, and all those folks on Al Gore's Internet that have so much to say. He's a great big sponge, and there is still plenty of storage in that squishy mass. This is a guy who has replaced his brakes and now the exhaust on his car and I can only stare and wonder. How did that get into his head? I didn't put it there. His mother was born in Detroit, maybe there's some kind of automotive osmosis at work there.
Or maybe he's been talking to other people. Listening to other people. Learning from other people. And now it's my turn. Not to teach, but to learn. This year when we put up the lights in anticipation of the  next holiday return, he had a whole bunch of great suggestions and the front of our house is now dazzling. I can't wait for him to come back and I get another  chance  to learn from him.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

President For Life

Fidel Castro es muerte. To say this is an end to an era seems a little short-sighted. This was a man who ruled his island nation for nearly fifty years. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush Mark II. Ten different men have held a similar post in these United States while Fidel ran the first communist state in the western hemisphere. The leader of the revolution kept the lights on, more or less, into a new century. How might have things been different here in our country if George Washington had stayed in office until 1839? After Fidel left office in 2008, his younger brother was the only candidate for the office, keeping the dictatorship all in the family.
Back in 1959, Al had yet  to invent the Internet. This was because he was in junior high school back then. His science fair project that year was "Why Greenhouse Gasses Are Bad." In 1959, the Beatles were still the Quarrymen and Ringo Starr was still Richard Starkey. In 1959, music died when a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and Jiles "The Big Bopper" Richardson Jr. gave Don McLean a chance to revive it twelve years later. Barbie was born  in 1959. The doll, not the Nazi. Alaska became the forty-ninth state admitted to the union. Hawaii would be along in short order as number fifty, making flags so much easier to draw.
For forty-nine years, drawing El Presidente was a pretty easy task: Fatigues, beard, cigar. Love him or hate him, he was the guy. While the rest of the communist states fell like the dominoes we all once feared, Cuba kept up its fierce front. Ninety miles off the coast of Florida, Fidel  and his mates kept thumbing their noses and annoying Estados Unidos to the north. This kept their nation from making some of those advances that might have come with open borders, human rights, or democracy, but that was the way things went.
Until 2014 when the eleventh U.S. Chief Executive to take office in the Castro years decided to pry open the door and let a little of that USA sun shine in.
Fidel Castro stomped on the Terra with combat boots. He may not be missed by everyone, but there's something to be said for consistency.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Unanswered Questions

Florence Henderson died last week. Not a shock, exactly, but still a moment to remember where I am in my own timeline. There was a time when the TV shows I watched defined me. If I was at home watching Fantasy Island or Love Boat, something had gone horribly wrong with my Saturday night. These were the late seventies and early eighties so if I were glued to my set watching Doc and Gopher and Mister Roarke, it meant that my social life had hit the equivalent of an iceberg. The thought of slowly sinking into the freezing waters of high school nerd was too frightening. The same could not be said for my fascination with the Brady Bunch. The story of a lovely lady and her three golden haired offspring entering into a blended family situation with man with three boys of his own was must-see TV for me. When I was seven years old, the idea that my parents would go out to dinner and leave us home to fend for our frozen dinners and ourselves didn't bother me as long as I had my spot in front of the tube staked out when the Bradys came on.
It was comfort food. It was ridiculously wholesome, and the fact that there was no problem so big or so complicated that it couldn't be dealt with in thirty minutes was a huge comfort to me. Even those two-part episodes that took them to exotic locales like Hawaii or the Grand Canyon never gave me too much need for concern. Carol and Mike would have their brood all settled down before the credits rolled.
But what about those moments before they got together? What sort of convenient accident brought these recently single lovebirds into each other's lives? The fact that I cannot recall any of the girls once exclaiming, "You're not my real dad!" makes me wonder now just what kind of nefarious scheme they cooked up to make such a smooth transition. Were the kids in on it? The thought of Bobby and Cindy being complicit in their respective parents' untimely demise is perhaps too much for us all to bear, but I can't help but wonder. In the first episode, Bobby looks longingly at a photo of his departed mom, but by the end of the episode it's a mess of a wedding cake that is the real concern. Sorry about those psychic scars, kids - say, anyone want to have a sack race in the back yard?
Maybe I shouldn't ask for so much from my pop culture past. I know that Opie missed his old housekeeper and wasn't looking forward to having Aunt Bea coming to stay with him and his dad the Sheriff, but what exactly happened to open up that spot in the household? Could this explain why Andy Taylor never carried a gun. Not since...The Accident...
Aloha, Carol Brady. Aloha Florence Henderson. Thanks for stomping so mightily on my TV Terra way back when.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

White Power

When things get tense or stressful, sometimes my wife encourages anyone within the sound of her voice to "wrap it in white light." It is her version of magic that she hasn't gotten around to fully studying or embracing, graduating from Mills College as she did rather than Hogwarts. It is an incantation that I understand as a protective gesture, one that will hopefully keep anything worse from happening. In this way, it is her White Power.
It is remarkably different from the White Power that has been discussed over the past few weeks, and beyond. This is the "alt-right" which has become such a part of our national politics as the minutes tick by in anticipation of the moment when Barack Obama is no longer President of the United States. First of all, I should say that my first encounter with the phrase "alt-right" was the one in which I assumed I would be learning about obscure keyboard commands for my personal computer. This was not the case. If you have missed the furor, this would be the truncated version of "Alternative Right" in which the "Alternative" has very little to do with Franz Ferdinand and more to to with Breitbart News. Both have a good beat, but one is imminently more dance-able. This is the group for whom Fox News feels just a little too left of center. It is a place where white folks can huddle together and spout their fear-filled rhetoric among like-minded individuals. They're coming to take our guns. They're coming to take our Christmas trees. They're coming to take our freedom. "They" would be anyone whose agenda or skin color doesn't match their own. If you don't find yourself asking any how or why questions upon looking at their web site, then you might be alt-right. If you don't find the appointment of Breitbart's former executive chair of the cornerstone of alt-right media to Donald Trump's chief strategist and senior counselor worrisome, then you may be alt-right. Forgive me if this is all starting to sound a little like a Jeff Foxworthy routine, but apparently Steve Bannon, the previously mentioned appointee, doesn't like the term. Sorry, Steve.
But getting under Mister Bannon's skin is not what I have in mind. Instead, I ask us all to remember what an oppressed minority looks like. It's not the folks at Breitbart or Fox. The chance to react to perceived threats is now upon them, and we don't have to cringe in fear. That's their gig. Here's something to keep in mind: According to science, the combination of all colors of light in the spectrum makes white. It takes a rainbow to make things white. That's the power of white.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Voice Of The People

It really wasn't much of a surprise that protests broke out in Oakland after the election of Donald Trump. As a community, we are pretty famous for our city's ability to smash a few windows, set dumpsters on fire, and block freeways. It wouldn't be too ridiculous to suggest that the same thing would have happened if Hillary had won. Here in the Bay Area, we tend to riot on a regular basis just to keep our free speech and anarchy muscles loose.
I suppose these demonstrations come as a relief compared to the armed insurrection with which we were threatened by angry Trump supporters who were ready to grab their muskets and tri-corner hats to head out and defend their liberty in the face of potentially rigged elections. That didn't happen. Instead, the winners of the game show we call The Electoral College seem quite happy to sit back and gloat, making me wonder if there really would have been a mobilization of militia and blood in the streets if their boy hadn't come across for the big win. Instead, we should all take a moment to be shocked and awed by the mobilization of voters that Mister Trump and his crew were able to rally in order to achieve their result. Not a popular victory, but a strategic victory.
Which makes the next bit all the more confounding. It seems that a certain number of the Trump faithful are taking Starbucks to task for their past offenses in the eyes of the Orange One. In order to make their point, these zealots are going in to their nearest coffee outpost, waiting in line, and then asking their barista to write "their name" on the cup: Trump. When their double half-caff pumpkin spice foaming latte is ready, the employees (as is their custom) have to shout out the name on the cup. Get it? The heavily tattooed, pierced and obviously bleeding heart caffeine droids have to shout out the name of the candidate they hate. The #Trumpcup rebellion has created a fuss, of sorts, but has also done little to affect the bottom line of their bottom line. I guess what I'm saying is, "Is this the best you've got?" You won the election and now you're going to go stand in line and wait for your coffee and pay for it, but you want people to say "Trump?" Not "Anita Mann" or "Moe Ron?" I guess these folks haven't watched enough Simpsons.
Since this is also the group that is headed by a guy whose skin seems to be as thin as it is orange, I suppose we shouldn't expect much in the way of thoughtful response. Hamilton? Overrated. Saturday Night Live? Not funny anymore. Trump? Your frappucino is ready.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Start Again

"I am writing with some bittersweet news..." This is how the letter began. It was enough. I knew that since it came from out district's superintendent how the rest of it would read: "Blah blah blah opportunity blah blah blah continue the work we have blah blah blah I know that blah blah blah." And so the reign ends. Another Oakland Unified School District superintendent packs it in. He will not be finishing out the year. He will be loading up the U-Haul and heading for his happy waiting employment elsewhere in February. 
He was very conciliatory in his parting remarks, praising us for our efforts in supporting his regime and its goals. According to his letter, delivered while we were all on Thanksgiving break, our students "are now better positioned to succeed than in any other year in Oakland’s recent history." Good news, but oddly reminiscent of the parting shot our last superintendent left us with just a couple of years ago. I don't really need someone who has barely warmed a chair here to tell me to keep up the good fight in Oakland. I have been doing just that for two decades. I have seen leaders and their agendas come and go in that time. Mostly go. 
Please understand that I wish our outgoing superintendent all the best. He is heading to our nation's capitol, where I am certain the issues of achievement and equity will need his constant attention. He will continue what we all recognize as "the good fight," while the powers that be left in his Oakland wake will be starting yet another in a long series of searches for just the right fit for our little corner of heaven. Two and a half years ago, our outgoing superintendent was the product of just such a search. And so it begins again. 
Meanwhile, I try and remember that kind of September when things were slow and oh so mellow and when we weren't looking for a new head of this or executive in charge of that. The head of technology just left a month ago. The supervisor of educational technology just before that. And the head of special education somewhere in there. This kind of body count is more acceptable in a slasher movie than it is in an urban school district. 
I find myself wondering not "what's wrong with our district," but "what's wrong with me?" While others have been climbing over and around me to get to the career to which they aspire, I have held on to the spot where I landed back in 1997. Tight. While the rest of the firmament shifted and twisted around me, I stayed put. Now the earth tilts again and the seating chart needs to be torn up and started over. Again. Bittersweet? For whom?

Thursday, November 24, 2016


It's a tough year to make an accounting
I've got my health
I've got a Super Bowl
and a World Series win
I've got a woman I love
standing beside me
I've got a son out there
finding his own future
I've got my sense of humor
and a song in my heart
I've got a house
to come home to
I've got friends
who remember me
I remember them too
I've got a song in my heart
and stars in my eyes
I've got a lucky penny
I've got heartaches
I've got regrets
I've got missing pieces
I've got missed opportunities
I have all those things
and more than that
I have tomorrow
and the day after that
I've got a chance to make things
more like I imagined
I've got hope
I've got a chance
I've got a hand to hold onto
I've got thanks
For all of this and more

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Fair

Fair is when everybody gets what  they need. I tend to attribute this ideal to a fifth grade teacher with whom I worked some years back. It was his way of dealing with his students whose sense of fairness is tweaked on a minute-by-minute basis. To be fair, the quote is really from author Rick Riordan. Working in an elementary school requires that I maintain as vigilant an eye as my young charges on when things gang agley.
Outside of school, however, things are often agley. A little over a week ago, the Denver Broncos won their football game on a spectacular last second block of a New Orleans Saints extra point and then ran it back for the winning score. I can say this because I am a Denver Broncos fan. I am sure that if I lived in Louisiana, I might feel that the officials missed that foot stepping out of bounds. Saints fans probably don't see that as very fair. History, we are told, is written by the victors. This is why I can savor a National Championship for the Colorado Buffaloes back in 1990. My alma mater's football team won all their regular season games and beat Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl to finish undefeated and at the top of the polls. Well, they won all their games with an asterisk. That asterisk coming against the University of Missouri Tigers. History will show that my Buffaloes needed an extra down to beat the Tigers in Columbia. I feel like that was completely fair because it ended up being a great story with my team winning. More than twenty years later, there are plenty of hurt feelings in the Show-Me-State. I feel bad, but I'm not giving that trophy back. Is that fair?
Well,  that's for the historians to figure out. Meanwhile, in a world that is not entirely focused on who get to line up first and who wins football games, we have the matter of more than a million votes. Two weeks after the election, the final results are beginning to trickle in: In terms of the number of popular votes cast, Hillary Clinton leads her opponent by one and half million.This little discrepancy is, for some, made up for by the arcane existence of the Electoral College. Does this seem fair?
I have been asked by a number of friends and family if I would be comfortable trading the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series for a Hillary Clinton presidency. I don't think I would. And I don't know if that would be fair.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Vocabulary Lesson

deplorable (adj.) -
1. causing or being a subject for grief or regret; lamentable:
the deplorable death of a friend.
2. causing or being a subject for censure, reproach, or disapproval;wretched; very bad:
This room is in deplorable order. You have deplorable manners!
For many, the outcome of this month's election was deplorable. Hillary Clinton was in a peck of trouble with many for referring to her opponent's supporters as a "basket of deplorables." The dictionary will tell you that "deplorables" is not a word, no matter how cute and irascible that image may be when made in reference to a litter of rabid pit bull puppies. But we got the idea, and it set off all kinds of sensitivity alarms. Everyone who voted for Donald Trump cannot be lumped into that litter of rabid pit bull puppies. Not everyone.
What is deplorable for some is completely acceptable for others. For example, if there is a person who insists that the shootings of twenty six and seven year olds along with six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary school four years ago was faked. In an episode of his eponymously titled radio show in January 2015, Alex Jones said that “Sandy Hook is a synthetic completely fake with actors, in my view, manufactured.” Jones, who has claimed that the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks were carried out by the United States government, has been called “almost certainly the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mister Jones is also a self-proclaimed Trump ally.  It has been said that politics make strange bedfellows, but the relative deplorability of those bedfellows isn't often explored until they reach unsafe limits. Alex Jones has his radio show and Infowars, a web site devoted what he perceives as "the truth" and his own YouTube channel where his rhetoric gets full sail. He does daily battle with the evil he has determined is the "mainstream media." If that means he dances on the graves of a few dead first graders, so be it. 
Deplorable? Something to consider as the president elect continues to establish his inner circle. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Runneth Over

I'm a little teapot, short and stout. When I get all steamed up, tip me over and pour me out. This is how I am currently addressing the mild concerns I am having about my memory. It's nothing that I can't deal with or excuse via the number of things that I keep in my head on any given day, but as someone who has always taken pride in his ability to recall, there has been a little movement at the epicenter.
I am used to being presented with kids showing up at school, years after being promoted, who will invariably ask, "Do you remember me?" This is where I make a remembering face and give them a pause just long enough to get them to gush with exasperation, "Deanna. Ms. Mapp's class?" And of course at this point I start to put the pieces together and make the necessary connections to the four foot version of the young person standing in front of me. If the conversation goes on long enough, I tend to find my mental sea legs and right myself enough to make some clever association that gives me karma points to move ahead.
Here's the deal, though: Each year delivers more little faces for me to remember. More names to file away for a later that comes when I least expect it. That suggests that I should start expecting later, since it is as inevitable as "Do you remember me?"
I don't feel that my hard disk is full, exactly, but it is in need of defragging. This is the same space that I use to look up the band that played "A Town Called Malice." It is the same cerebrum that keeps track of things like the function of the part of the brain that is used to hold on to bits of information like that. I worry about the bucket of my memory becoming so full that bits of important information that I might need like the combination to my bike lock might slop over the edge. I can solve that issue by switching to a lock with a key, but since it took me a moment to recollect that I have already done this, you might understand my predicament.
Or not. Since I found the number to my checking account rolling around my brain a few mornings ago, I guess I don't need to worry that much: 148997. Of course this is the checking account I had back in Boulder when I was in high school, and it has been closed for a quarter of a century. there is some debate about just how important that bit of information turns out to be. Would I be better off deleting that file and replacing it with the names and faces of all my former students? Maybe, but I don't think it's that kind of machine.
It's a little teapot.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Dialing For Dollars

I remember when they broke up the phone company. "Ma Bell," as we referred to her back then, was broken up into little "Baby Bells," tearing asunder the monopoly held at the time by American Telephone and Telegraph. You may be more familiar with this behemoth as AT&T. That was back in the 1980's, and suddenly the world of telecommunications was a wide open frontier. You may remember a period of time when you carried around a little card with your MCI number on it so that you could make long distance calls for ridiculously low rates. Lower than those "other phone companies" were charging, anyway.
Ah yes, those were the days, when calling someone in a different area code required the dialing of dozens of digits. I have an expressly visceral memory of hanging out in the phone booth at the end of my freshman dorm hallway calling as many regions as we could recall using the number 867-5309 with someone's purloined MCI account. There are certain experiences that set in stone exactly what times we lived in, and that was one of mine. Add the 3.2 percent beer that fueled this clever bit of chicanery, and you could probably determine just how sad and lonely we were. Those were indeed "the days."
Those days were also a long time ago. Long enough ago that AT&T has re-enveloped most of the baby bells and is now poised to engulf and devour as much of the cellular telephone business as it can ingest. Monopoly isn't just for board games anymore. While it may seem as though we have plenty of choices, there really isn't such a thing as a local mom 'n' pop phone company that will hook you up and lower your monthly bill. Back in another time, my wife and I paid used Working Assets as our long distance carrier. We did this for the same reason that socially conscious folks with a sweet tooth steer their shopping carts to the Ben & Jerry's section of their frozen foods aisle. As long as you're shoveling in that tasty dessert, why not toss a cherry of smugness on top of your self-loathing?
Now it's 2016, and the idea of dialing long distance looms in the specter of those three extra digits you have to add on the speed dial of your smart phone. Would it be any cheaper to call your mom, seven states away, than it is to text your friend sitting across the room? Should it be?
Someday soon, Disney will buy AT&T and my life will be complete. I just hope I can remember my number to get into the Magic Kingdom.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Whose Life Is It Anyway?

There was an angry divide in the United States before Donald Trump was elected president. There were several of them. The election did not make any of them disappear. It would nice to say that some of them have begun to heal as a result of the surprising, for some of us, turn of events. "Can't we all just get along?" may have been one of the most historical rhetorical questions of all time, but it only begins to scratch the surface of the problem facing this new administration. Each new appointment comes as a slap in the face to someone. Imagine how Chris Christie must feel to know that his Q score was so low that he was given a pass by the new cabal. He just might want that endorsement back.
But that's just one of the changes upcoming for all of us, whether we are governor of New Jersey or not. All these new faces will bring new ideas, or really old ones, to the forefront. Racism, misogyny and fear of all that is not Red, White and Blue seems to be on the rise. The headline that read, A "Good Samaritan" saw a deputy being attacked by a Florida man so he fatally shot the assailant, told the story of an officer struggling with an assailant until the "Good Samaritan" shot the bad guy three times, ending the struggle. I know this kind of thing happens with unfortunate frequency in Florida, but I couldn't help wondering if there was some other way this situation could have worked out. 
Is this what we are in for? Four years of "Good guys with guns" and an ever-increasing fear and feeling of persecution on the part of those we bleeding hearts had been working so hard to protect? I have heard more than one person whom I would consider calm and mostly rational suggest that civil war isn't out of the question. 
And to think I was worried about the armed insurrection if Trump had lost.
Now I worry about that well-maintained militia and all its alt-right visions of the future becoming fixtures in the society I thought I knew. It turns out that I didn't know enough. 
Now I'm going to have to learn. 
The hard way. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Days Go By

So we're packing it in, for a week. The modern rules of most California school districts have us closing up shop for a week while we gather together to ask the Lord's blessing. For some, it takes a full seven days to shop for and prepare a Thanksgiving dinner, but that isn't the reason for taking the extra days. It might be nice to suggest that someone in the higher echelons of education saw that teachers and students were beginning to get crispy around the edges 'round about this time of year and for the sake of everyone's sanity, It might be nice to imply that somehow we had all earned this respite for the day to day onus of learning. Not exactly so.
Instead, the reason for us all getting a full week of Thanksgiving Vacation is this: Average Daily Attendance. This number is used to help determine how much funding each school should get. The more kids you have sitting in their seats each morning, the more money your school will get. That makes sense: Mo' kids, Mo' money. When it was determined that the average daily attendance in many California school districts tends to plunge in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, it was decided to just give the whole week away, to be made up at some point a little further down the calendar. This year, for example, due to the flexes and stretches of the one hundred eighty instructional days puts our final day as teachers on a Monday after the kids have gone off on their summer vacation. No more pencils, no more books, but plenty of dirty looks from teachers who will have to pry themselves out of bed to go back to that building one more time to have what is euphemistically referred to as a "Teacher Work Day." That would be opposed to the usual day we spend sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches in the teacher's lounge. It is the price we pay for other obscure negotiations that include getting Veteran's Day off, which came at a point where there may have been a few lives saved, if not careers.
Nobody asked me, but the way I have always worked is straight through. If I were making up the academic calendar, I would have us working one hundred eighty days straight through, then taking one hundred eighty-five off. Nobody asked me. Also, knowing me, I would find another school somewhere else at which I could fill those idle hours until our kids returned.
Happily for my own well-being, I don't get to make those choices. Instead, I will locate the off switch and take the next few days to sort myself out. The kids will miss me terribly, I know, but absence will most surely make the heart grow fonder and we will all welcome one another back to prepare for the next flurry of reading, writing and arithmetic that comes just before those two weeks at the end of the year. I am already counting those days.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


What to do? What to do?
I keep thinking about what Bill Murray was saying in the locker room after the Cubs finally won the World Series. He was talking about how long they had been those lovable losers and now, he hoped, they would be good winners. The people in my personal echo chamber have been good winners for the past eight years. We have been steeped in all manner of Supreme Court decisions and health care and a First Family that made us all believe in hope and change. Those of us who live within the sound of my voice have been happy and content, lulled into the belief that things would just continue to roll along the way it had. Four, eight, twelve more years? Why not? The world was starting to make sense.
That came to an abrupt halt late Tuesday night. The dream of a steady climb through the progressive agenda hit a snag. More of an iceberg, actually. At this point there is no way of telling just how much of the work that has been done over the past eight years. Or more. Pending legislation with a Republican majority in Congress and the potential of one or more new justices added to the Supreme Court makes the deck stacked solidly in their favor. And now it's probably time to address this whole "us and them" thing. E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one. We may not like the one that we have become, but that is why we can all start thinking about how we got here in the first place. We are a nation of immigrants, and we have as many ideas about how the country should be run as we do citizens. About fifty-seven percent of the eligible voters showed up at the polls this year. If any of that missing forty-three percent feels like complaining, please ask them to start with the issues at hand, like what voter turnout can do to affect election results.
I get why people are apathetic. Back in 2008. there was this clear choice, and all sixty-one percent of us showed up to make our voices heard. We don't have to wait four years, by the way. There will be mid-term elections in 2018. There will be countless opportunities to share your views and make sure that you can participate in our Democracy. It's not a spectator sport, folks, and I am as guilty as anyone for not doing enough to rile others up enough to get out there and make a difference. I liked the way we were heading before that big orange iceberg jumped up in front of us. The sad fact is this: That big orange iceberg was there all along and while we were busy shuffling the deck chairs on our ship of state, nobody was going up to see who was steering the boat.
Now we have work to do. Real work. This is an opportunity to get in the game. Watching for the relative safety of the sidelines is no longer good enough. Support those causes that need to be funded. Speak up when you hear someone heading down that narrow path. We can make America great again, but it will take all of us, not just the "winners."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On Top Of Things

Up on the roof. A Fiddler on the roof. Happily, the roof was not on fire. They did manage to tear the roof off that sucker. They tore it off and then, happily, they put it back on.
To be specific, we had a crew come out and tear off four layers of very old roof and replaced it with nice, new braces, plywood and shingles. It was a project that had been our to-do list for a decade or two, but it always seemed way too intimidating. Having strapped myself to a ladder and, with the aid of my wife and a hundred gallons of paint, I was able to make the old homestead a different color. Three of them, to be exact. And the scariest part of that project was the part where I had my wife on belay as she put the finishing touches around the gable at the topmost corner of our Victorian. She made it back to the ground, and that little flash of yellow is the lasting tribute to our do-it-yourself mentality as homeowners.
This past summer, when my son and I constructed a new fence on the north edge of our property, we congratulated ourselves on our speed and precision, bringing the project in under budget and in only three days. But half of the roof over our heads? If you told me back in June that a group of six men would find their way to the top of our house and replace half the roof in one day, I would have looked at you sideways. We have had various contractors over the years give us bids and looks at the challenge of all that pitch and the narrow space between us and our neighbors to the south. To a one, they came away shaking their heads and finding ways to excuse themselves from the job. A few years back, the last guy assured us we had at least another ten to fifteen years left on what we had up there now. It was an odd piece of encouragement, but since our ultimate goal was to get solar panels placed on top of that new roof, we were anxious to get to that next phase.
The future is here. After so many years of waiting and imagining what it would take to get any one of us to find a clever or safe enough way to make the work of replacing all that wood and shingles ourselves, we were the lucky recipients of the flurry that was the crew who stopped by last Friday. I have replaced faucets in the bathroom and the kitchen. I have installed cabinets and counters  and toilets. Most of the plants we have put in the ground have flourished, but it took a bunch of pros to come in and put a lid on  it for us. And now, the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


I stopped on the corner to talk to our neighbor because he is the only other Denver Broncos fan I know within miles of my home in Oakland.
“What happened to our team?” he asked.
“I dunno,” I said shrugging my shoulders, “I guess we weren’t ready to play.”
As Oakland residents and fans of the locally despised division rival, we felt the need to commiserate over a tough loss earlier in the week. We talked for a while about upcoming games and how we hoped that on New Year’s Eve the Broncos might find a way to even the score. Then there was a pause.
“How about that election?” He asked, a little more subdued. This came as quite the relief to me because I knew this was a topic on which we weren’t as simpatico. “I guess that didn’t work out quite the way you wanted it.”
I knew this was coming, because we had already met near this same corner a few months back when he had made it clear that his Republican bias was as unshaken as mine was Democrat. “No, it wasn’t what I had expected.” I tensed for the gloating.
It never came. We stood on that corner and talked about the future of our country. The one we shared. One of us said, “The next four years will be very interesting.” The other agreed. We conjectured about directions that appointments and legislation might go. I found it increasingly more and more comforting to see what points of our disparate views actually had in common. It gave me hope. This was significant, since it had been days since I had felt much of that.

I knew that there would be challenges and fears and frustrations moving ahead, but standing there on the corner I didn’t feel as lost or alone. This was my neighbor. This was my neighborhood. My home. When at last we parted, he stuck out his hand. I shook it and went on my way. I still had my own grief to process and my worries to sort out, but I was here to stay.

Monday, November 14, 2016


"Everybody knows that the good guys lost." - Leonard Cohen Everybody Knows
I know that we all lost a good guy this week. the gravelly voiced poet for a generation or two passed away at the age of eighty-two, leaving behind a tower of song that will last for generations more. If you're unfamiliar with the work of Mister Cohen, you haven't been listening closely for the past forty-some years. Maybe you've heard someone else's version of "Everybody Knows." Artists like Concrete Blonde and Don Henley have taken their shot at this pessimistic anthem. Or maybe you're a Neil Diamond fan and thought that the author of all those Monkees hits had bared his soul for a woman named "Suzanne." That was Leonard's soul he war baring. Or maybe you thought Fairport Convention penned a little song about a "Bird On A Wire." Nope. That was Leonard, too. And for those of you still laboring under the misapprehension that Jeff Buckley was the genius behind the song "Hallelujah," and that all those other artists who have attempted to make it their own over the years owe a debt of gratitude to him, sorry. That one is Leonard's too.
If this all seems like news to you, don't feel bad. I managed to graduate from college without an appreciation for Leonard Cohen. With a head full of as much music as I tend to cart around on any given day, I managed to miss that on the liner notes. Ah, the arrogance and ignorance of youth. I grew up. The Future happened to me. In 1993, I bought the album that would become the unofficial soundtrack for the year my wife and I got married. We used the instrumental track from that album, Tacoma Trailer, for my bride-to-be's walk down the aisle. I can still hear the lilting piano and lulling bass and remember the smile I wore as I stood there on the hillside that August day. Sweet with just a hint of sadness, like so much of life.
This past week as I have struggled to sort out the threads of my life in the wake of everything that has happened and will happen in our world, I remembered another line from Leonard's vast storehouse of memorable lines: "There is a crack in everything - that's how the light gets in." Life, he reminds us, goes on. Wars will be fought again. Ring the bells.
Leonard Cohen stomped on the Terra, and he sang about it too. If you listen, you can hear him still. Aloha, Leonard. We lost a good one.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Leaving For All The Right Reasons

Yes, we have it tough here in America. So tough in fact that on Election Night Canada's immigration web site crashed. Yes, the future looks a little bleak, okay a lot bleak, but where else would you go? Currently the choice so many were picking, The Great White North, has beer and donuts in abundance and you don't need to learn a new language. Just throw on a toque and a few extra "ays" and "aboot" and you're a Canuck. They even play football up there. Sort of.
Maybe fleeing is not your cup of tea. Perhaps you're the type who would like to stick it out, even when the very firmament upon which you have built your life has been ripped from underneath you. Nixon, Reagan, a couple of Bushes, and yet our nation still stands. We've faced worse problems, right? Imagine how awful things would be if you lived in Great Britain?
Lost in the hubbub of our own vicious election cycle was the little matter of Brexit. In a move that should have been a great big overfed canary in a very dark coalmine, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. It was a show of national pride and stubbornness that seemed ridiculous at the time, with a great many Great Britainers looking at one another the day after a twelve Guinness night. "We did wot? I musta been snobbled." Then many of them wanted their vote back. Even in England, where they drive on the wrong side of the road, that's not the way things work. You might expect that a nation like the United Kingdom would be familiar with the concept of "no take-backs." As a result, there are millions of Brits who are now having to come to terms with the choice they made last June in a fit of neo-conservatism. Forward, into the past.
What's the worst part for the Englishers? Well, if you asked them, they might say the ten percent reduction in their favorite chocolate bar. Toblerone has started making a bar that still costs one pound (that's British for "money") but now comes with less chocolate. It's not like they are getting less for more, they're just getting less for the same. Less little spiky bits of chocolate for a pound. The sweeties market will not point a finger directly at the Brexit for the shrinkage, but it seems likely that it has something to do with the economy over there. Hard to say, since they're all metric and everything.
Which gives us something for which we can watch: When Snickers start showing up no bigger than your thumb, we'll know something's up. Perhaps we're too late.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


I apologize. On behalf of all America's white male adults, it is with heartfelt regret that I announce we got our way: Donald Trump is president. I could make excuses about how I didn't vote for him and I don't know anyone who did. But I do. They were white males. I could argue that I did my part by ensuring that the liberal enclaves of California and Colorado came back blue and those were my responsibility. But that doesn't quite add up, since the red tide swept across the hills and valleys between.
I am sorry that we are so filled with hate and fear that the possibility of having a woman of any color causes us to foam at the mouth. To that point, I have to take full responsibility for Rudy Guliani. That means we will all have another four years of spittle-infused 9/11 rhetoric spewed at us from on high. White guy. Sorry.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of loud mouths behind Rudy and in front of him that will commence to crowing and spewing their brand of "truth" at us starting now and ranting on and on into what will seem like perpetuity. I'm sorry about that. The fact that we have just given Ted Nugent fifteen more minutes of anything approximating fame is a national tragedy and again, all my fault.
There will be a lot of sad faces, anxious faces, angry faces that will need to be met in the next few months, gearing up for a Trump presidency. I apologize for the way that women and Latinos and African-Americans and Muslims and a list that continues to stretch on and on were disrespected and treated. The frustration and depression that will be felt throughout our communities is all the fault of the Great White Male. The morning after the election, I had to intercede in a conversation between two fifth grade girls, one of whom was telling her Latina friend that she and her family had "better get your papers together" since the government would be coming to round up all the immigrants. These girls were friends, mind you. I can only imagine what kind of terse discussions took place in other neighborhoods around this great land of ours.
Mostly, I want to apologize for all the hurt and fear that has been caused as a result of this ridiculous need for we, the entitled white guys, to flex our muscles. I am sorry that we feel the need to express ourselves in such slobbering, knuckle-dragging ways. We are not nearly as evolved as all these centuries of evolution suggest we should be.
If we believed in evolution.
Sorry, this is going to take some time to unravel and am afraid that there will be a lot more boorish behavior and "locker room talk" before we arrive at some level of civility. It is not, it would seem, our strong suit. Saying whatever comes into our heads and grabbing whatever gets in our way would be the kind of thing at which we excel. It would be nice to say that I expect to have this matter all cleaned up in the next few months, but I don't imagine it will be quick and painless, and for that you have my most humble apologies.
- A. White Male

Friday, November 11, 2016

How High Can We Rise?

Janet Reno died this week. She was seventy-eight years old. She grew up in a country where women were afforded the right to vote. Eighteen years after the ratification of the nineteenth amendment, America's first female Attorney General was born. She was born in Miami, Florida, the daughter of journalists. A product of Dade County public schools, Ms. Reno eventually graduated from Cornell and then moved on to Harvard Law School where she was one of sixteen women in a class of five hundred.
In 1978, she was appointed State Attorney for Miami-Dade County. A champion for those whose rights are often overlooked, children and minorities, she had many of her convictions overturned on appeal, but she kept up the fight and was re-elected in a landslide. Her run for governor of Florida wasn't as successful in 1984.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Janet and she was confirmed as our nation's first woman Attorney General. Serving just under eight years, she was the longest tenured in that position since William Wirt.
And William Wirt never had Will Ferrell portray him on Saturday Night Live. Janet Reno did. Name another Attorney General who became a crowd favorite on late night TV. Times up. She rode herd on Waco, Timothy McVeigh, and the Unabomber. She was cited for contempt of Congress for not turning over documents during the impeachment of her boss, Bill Clinton. She was a trailblazer and a straight shooter who brought back the phrase, "The Buck Stops Here." Janet Reno lived by that rule.
Susan B. Anthony didn't live long enough to see the first election in which she could vote. Janet Reno, who lived through the rough and tumble years with the Clintons and all their turmoil, passed on before she could see this glass pane of glass shattered. She stomped on the Terra, and left marks for other to follow.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Voice From The Past

There are days when that blinking cursor in the corner of my screen is more than just a challenge to me. It is a curse all its own. There are plenty of things to write about. My feelings about the past, the present, and most certainly the future. I write many of these entries ahead of their actual publication. I keep a few on ice in case of some catastrophic event keeps me from reaching a keyboard and/or connection to Al Gore's Internet when it comes time to spread the daily word.
That's the problem: Daily. As much as I live and breathe to be a model of consistency, I still feel the aggravation of coming up empty from time to time. Usually a quick skim through the morning's news gives me a scent or a flavor that I can follow. Sometimes I will wake up from a dream that will set me on a path to finding the truth for that day's reportage. But I wonder sometimes if I won't eventually use up all the ideas forty-two hundred missives to my constant readers later. I know that I am guilty of hitting the "greatest hits" button on occasion. I know that my obsession with Bruce Springsteen and the Denver Broncos have been explored ad nauseam for many. I have tried to exercise my fiction muscle on a couple of occasions, but the response has been less than rousing.
As I sit here, in front of the screen, watching the lines stack up about how I have nothing to write about, there is an election brewing. I don't know who will win. I know that my visceral reaction currently is to throw the metaphorical covers over my head and pretend that everything will be alright. This is partly because, in my heart, I believe this to be true. A Donald Trump presidency would be an onerous struggle for our country and it would mean worse things for people I have never met, but I have faith in our process and the system of checks and balances we have in place will keep us from falling into a pit of fire and brimstone.
I lived through two terms of (mostly) Nixon.
If Hillary wins, she will be forced to contend with all the ill will generated after a two-year marathon of a campaign that left very few stones unturned. The relief of having an answer, one way or another, will not make the past two years go away. As I sit here, forty-eight hours before the envelope will be opened, I wish I had something else to write about.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


Change is hard. But sometimes it takes place without our notice. Most of the time, in fact. Tang's Imports, for example. A few nights ago, my wife was extolling the virtues of a salad dressing, describing it as "tangy." This fired a synapse in my brain that brought me to a place in my youth that had been all but forgotten: Tang's Imports. It was a little store wedged into the mix in the now defunct Crossroads Shopping Center in Boulder, Colorado. It was a couple doors down from Three Wishes Toy Store, and so it never received my full attention as a kid growing up with a vector to the Hot Wheels rack and the far aisle with its GI Joe display. In the late sixties and early seventies what I understood about Tang's was that it was a place that sold incense. Incense was smelly smoke, and I associated that with a counterculture that existed primarily on the University of Colorado campus and in the hill on the outskirts of town. These hairy interlopers were the same folks who were most certainly dropping by to look at the beaded curtains and statues of the Buddha visible from the front window. What else was for sale inside that dimly lit business?
I have a dim memory of going in once, on a Christmas errand, looking for something exotic for my parents instead of the oh-so-practical alternatives from JC Penny's just across the way. All the price tags were tiny handwritten jobs tied on with bits of string. Everything had the feel of being a relic or on its way, and it in the air hung that smelly smoke I had resigned myself to smelling as I looked for that gift for my parents that would make me feel grown up. "This? Oh, I got it at Tang's."
I didn't buy anything at Tang's that day, and I don't have any recollection of making it back there before it became another casualty of shifting tastes and rising rents. It didn't burn out. It just faded away. Now the whole of Crossroads is a new mass of corporate-sponsored storefronts. The hippy-dippy world of Boulder has made room for the mass-marketed merchandise of Home Depot and the California Pizza Kitchen. Good luck finding incense in one of those places.
Back home again, I went out for a run and found myself making a turn just a couple blocks from my house when I discovered that the Union 76 station had dropped its price on Regular thirty cents a gallon. Then I noticed that it was no longer a Union 76 station. The orange ball was gone. Mobil banners stretched out across the former signage. Somewhere in the last week, while I was trying to recall Tang's Imports, someone had sneaked in and altered my neighborhood. No noise. No fuss. No incense. Just change. It's a constant.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016


Because if the polls are still open, you still have a chance to be heard. Vote.
I have spent years of my life sitting on a couch, leaning to the left or right, willing a stranger's field goal attempt to miss that thirty foot opening he was trying to kick it through. I have worn a path on the hardwood floor as I have paced hundreds of miles back and forth from the front door of my house to my kitchen and back again as I awaited what was an inevitable result. One way or another. I have fooled myself into believing that I alone could change the outcome of an athletic contest being played hundreds of miles away. That kind of power, real or imagined, if there were enough concern rays directed at televisions across the country matter could be altered, space and time could be manipulated and order could be maintained. This doesn't always take into account an equal number of concern rays forcing balls or baskets or bats to go another way, but  that is the case in my warped version of reality.
Because if the polls are still open, you still have a chance to alter reality. Vote.
I was once a member of Amnesty International. I wrote letters and signed petitions and sent postcards to raise awareness of human rights. I was part of an organization that was committed to shining a light on social and political injustice. At that time, I was not registered to vote. A very good friend of mine pointed out how ridiculous this was. I was invested in making sure that citizens of other countries had the opportunity to impact their governments the way I could if I would just go fill out a form and get my opinionated backside out to the polls. There were people in other countries who were being jailed, tortured, and killed to do the very thing that I was too young and clever to do myself.
Because if the polls are still open, you can do something that people in other countries have fought and died for. Vote.
My wife went to sleep full of hope and confidence in the world that would belong to the inventor of the Internet and global warming, Al Gore. That future never came to pass and she woke up she wanted her vote for Ralph Nader back as we spent the next eight years living in the hands of the Karl Rove Empire. The future is ours to shape, field goals notwithstanding.
Because if the polls are still open and you are reading this, there is a chance to make a difference. Vote.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Curbing Expectations

As I ride to work each morning, I encounter plenty of cars double-parked with their engines running waiting for their partner or carpool to wander out to the street to meet them. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to pass by as their Bluetooth phone connection offers me a sample of their patience or lack thereof: "Hey! Where are you?"
"Oh man, I just woke up."
"We gotta go."
"Give me five minutes."
By now I have pedaled on past, leaving their testy moments for them to sort out, and I continue on my way. I am happy that I am riding on a one-seater with no concern for passengers. Then I reflect on a time when I used to be.
In my senior year of high school, I drove my girlfriend to school just about every morning. I cannot say that I was conscious of leaving my motor running, but at least I parked at the curb. I did not impede traffic. Initially, I would park and walk up to her back door which was left unlatched so that I could step inside and have a seat on the couch while the morning's ablutions and preparations were completed. I should note here that during this period, I was not her boyfriend, but just a friend who was really nice and lived nearby and therefore easily dispatched to deliver my good friend to school in a timely fashion. And for all those mornings as I sat uncomfortably on the end of that couch while I waited for my locker partner to be ready to face the day, I was acutely aware of my position as the only male in a divorced mother's house.
Later, when circumstances changed as did my status, it became apparent that it was less appropriate for me to be hanging out in my now girlfriend's living room in the early morning hours. This sentiment was also announced by her mother and reinforced by the often tempestuous nature of our relationship.
So I moved back outside to the curb, where I kept the motor running and the heater on, radio blasting away. In a world without cell phones, I had to live on the expectation that eventually that sliding patio door would open and I would reach over to let her in so we could be on our way. Some mornings I would be peering at my watch when she got to my car, and the day would begin with a time-based bit of tension and a race to find a parking spot in front of the high school.
But I never double-parked.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Final Out

When I woke up on Thursday, the World was different. I was different. The appellation "long-suffering" dropped away from that other sobriquet "Cubs fan." I spent five hours in front of a television watching all that history and all those curses drop away. That which could never happen had happened. The Chicago Cubs had won the World Series. As noted astronomer and Tweeter spent a good portion of the day before reminding us all of the historical perspective. The one that stuck with me was about how the last time something like this occurred Mark Twain was still alive. In the century-plus since the Cubs won it all, wars were fought, won and lost. Elections were held and contested while Democracy chugged along. Professional football was still a fringe sport. People lived and died without ever seeing the Cubs win a World Series, even though they saw Halley's Comet twice.
My grandfather didn't live to see Halley's Comet twice. He may never have walked out to look up at the night sky, but he knew the inside of that tavern in Salina, Kansas. His refuge from the pressures of being a family man, he whiled away the hours before he had to go home socializing and listening to the ball game. The radio kept him in touch with the only team he cared about: The Chicago Cubs. On Wednesday night, I'm guessing Ira Caven pushed away from the bar and hopped off his stool. Last call. It was time to go home.
When he got there, nobody was home. They had all moved to Boulder, Colorado. The series of events that lead to me sitting in front of this keyboard had been set in motion. I only met my grandfather once. He was frail, health fading, in a rest home. I took my cues from my father, who seemed to be anxious to be done with the visit, and so I never got to talk to him about the apocryphal story that has now been told for a generation or more about how we became Chicago Cubs fans. It has only now occurred to me how that might have made him feel. Would it be worth losing your wife and children to travel to see a World Series game?
I don't guess that was the precise transaction, but I would imagine the regrets he felt over the years were real and significant. Had the Cubs ended up winning back in 1945, maybe it would have given him some solace. I hope that now the curse has been lifted and Chicago World Series Champions is no longer a punch line he can rest more easily.
I know I will.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

You Had One Job!

"Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, EH?" This is how I learned to stop worrying and learned to love the bomb. The very notion of a secret weapon is kind of a dated one, since we have terrorists building dirty bombs based on plans they found  on Al Gore's Internet. Or at least that is what we would like to base our collective fears on as we edge closer to eventual global extinction. Combine that with the super viruses being mutated and hatched in labs in various spots across the planet, and we have plenty to satisfy our late-night paranoid fantasies.
Then there's this: China's new stealth fighter, the J-20, debuted this past Tuesday at an air show in Zhuhai. No spy satellites or Clint Eastwood needed. Welcome to the twenty-first century. The plane's first test flight was five years ago, and since that is a fact with which we have been gifted, we can only assume the secret part was that there were a few flights before that that were kept hush-hush. Perhaps because they didn't go so well. Why are the Chinese trotting out this super-weapon into the view of anyone with the price of admission to the week-long aerial event? It's not quite like the olden days when the Soviet Union would hold parades that featured thousands of marching soldiers surrounding their tanks and ICBMs. This wasn't a show of military might. This was a show brought to you by your sponsors: The Military-Industrial Complex. 
This was a way to advertise to all those smaller governments looking for the latest and greatest in stealth fighter technology to get in on the bottom floor. For a penthouse price, of course. China is not expecting to get into a shooting war with anyone who might have a hangar full of stealth aircraft or stealth-detecting technology. They are expecting to export a boatload of these J-20s in hopes of securing their financial future. You can't really buy a secret weapon, since you have to tell someone about it in order to sell it. 
And selling is what it's all about, since sooner or later all this military hardware will get boxed up and sold to local law enforcement agencies. Like the urban assault vehicles favored by so many police departments to hand out parking citations, and it's only a matter of time before the US Army's new "Iron Man" suit starts being used by local authorities for pacification. Robocop can't be a secret. At least not for very long

Friday, November 04, 2016

In The Wake

It ain't over 'til it's over. And even then, according to Peter Thiel, it won't even be over then. If you're not familiar with Mister Thiel, you might recognize him from his net worth: Two point seven billion dollars. This is how Forbes Magazine prefers to introduce him, which sort of figures since that is how that particular publication tends to recognize their profile candidates. For the record, I have yet to be contacted regarding the piece I expect they might never get to on the portfolios of urban elementary school teachers. I prefer not to view myself as a number but rather a series of quirks and odd habits that make reading this blog entertaining if not financially rewarding.
But I digress.
Peter Thiel is a cofounder of PayPal, so if someone asked me how he made all of his money I would imagine that a portion of those little fees that get attached to PayPal transactions end up in his pocket. His ever-expanding, bulging pockets. He was also one of the first major investors in a little startup called "The Face Book," or something like that. One of the ventures that he is invested in is Palantir, a data-mining firm that uses its resources for such diverse tasks as finding lost children, aiding the homeless, and it's funded by the Central Intelligence Agency
So Peter Thiel is a big supporter of Donald J. Grump, and he recently insisted that, "No matter what happens in this election, what Trump represents isn’t crazy, and it’s not going away." In case you're keeping score, it is kind of crazy, but he is right that it probably won't go away anytime soon. There are a few people with a lot of money who would very much like to see the kind of world Donald Yerump would like to visit upon this earth. Happily, for the moment, there are many more of those billionaires who would like to see those big capital T's torn down and have a few condos put in their place. 
But the poison is already in the water hole. The place where we will all be drinking for the next four, eight, eighty years. Making America great again means something different to those kind of people. The ones we live with. Some of them might be next door. It would be nice if all the billionaires would spend their fortunes curing disease and building hospitals and figuring out how to get a solid connection to Al Gore's Internet on the moon, but there are some who are hoping to build a wall. Or bouncing us back to a "better time" when locker room talk was all the rage and those who got were the ones who got even more. The rich get richer, that's for certain, but they don't seem necessarily to get any smarter. 

Thursday, November 03, 2016


In honor of November, which for me is the creepiest month, I would like to share with you the reason why I find it to be so. Way back when I had a father, he was the one who would come to me during those late-night bouts of insomnia that I suffered as a youth. When he asked me what was keeping me up, I told him that there was this song about an airplane crash that was intense and scary and I didn't think I could go to sleep after hearing it. Looking back, I wish that I had the common sense to turn the radio off instead of laying there, subject to whatever evil noises might come from it. Turns out the song was DOA by Bloodrock, and it was a modest hit back in 1970. Though there plenty more horrible noises to come from that radio in the future, this one was the one I remember my father taking the time to explain that it was just a song and that there would be another one coming on in just a minute or two and the mood would change.
He didn't suggest turning off the radio or changing the station. I wonder why that was?
Twenty-five years after this episode, my father died in a plane crash. It was every bit as horrifying as the one described by Bloodrock, with the added component of a burn ward that I still have dreams about from time to time. Ah, November. As part of my father's memorial service, we drove up into the mountains where our cabin was: the place where my father once wrote that he wanted his ashes to be scattered. That was some twenty-five years before this event as well. Somehow, it fell to me to be the guy with the big bag of dad's ashes, and in turns my brothers and the assembled mourners came to me to take a handful or two to sprinkle on the ground that was still partially covered with snow. After everyone else had their moment, I was still stuck with a rather large portion of dad to disperse. I wandered by the creek and into the aspen grove and poured out the remains of the remains in the most casual yet careful way I could. I knew I was being watched, and so I couldn't just dump the bag and flee, even as the light was fading and the temperature was dropping. At last the bag was empty and we were free to go back and tell the story.
The story that I think of each November, and now even more often as I stumbled upon the story of a performance at New York's Metropolitan Opera that had to be delayed and ultimately cancelled because a patron of the arts took the opportunity presented by intermission to dispose of his wife's cremains in the orchestra pit. I suppose I can be relieved that my father wasn't more of an opera fan.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Grounded Beef

The price of a McDonald's cheeseburger is one dollar. Not a quarter pounder. No lettuce or tomato. Just an elemental cheeseburger with those tiny diced onions and pickles which you can, by the way, tell the folks at the counter to leave off if that is your druther. Special orders, as it turns out, don't really upset them much at all. It might make the people behind you in line a little upset that they had to wait behind someone who couldn't just take it as the Gods intended, but that's for them to work out. Meanwhile, I am reminded of an evening where I once waited patiently in a Burger King while I watched two young turks order cheeseburger after cheeseburger, and as they remained at the counter, they would take a big bite. "Hey, this one's cold in the middle!" They would shout, sending the polyester clad burger droid scurrying back to the grill to fetch them another. I don't know how many they went through before management had them forcibly removed since I took my order and left before that, but such is the power and allure of the cheeseburger.
Jimmy Bufftett likes his with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes. I used to pick all of that off. Mustard and ketchup for me, thanks. At least that's the way I used to roll, if you'll pardon the sesame seed pun. As I grew older, and started paying for my own cheeseburgers, I realized that there was more food available for those choosing the "with everything" option. It also meant freeing me from the special orders line just behind those two knuckleheads still chowing down, one bite at at time, on those "cold in the middle cheeseburgers."
This is also about the time that the Cheeseburger Renaissance occurred. When every little pub and bistro started making "craft burgers" garnished with arugula and garlic paste. French fries started were now being made form sweet potatoes and the price you paid for all this special attention and ingredients was as ridiculous as the condiments they found to smear upon those artisan buns. This is right about the time that my friends, while trying to connect with me on my level, asked if I wouldn't like to go out for a burger with them. Burger, yes. Hipster taste sensation? No thanks. I would gladly pay just a little less for something that was undeniably bad for me and had no possible socially redeeming characteristics. Kobe beef? I thought he retired.
I know I won't always get my way. I can remember plenty of times I settled for Arby's when what I really wanted was McDonald's, but my parents weren't going to make a special trip to two fast food joints just to please their burger-fixated middle child. Though this did happen on enough occasions for me to feel slightly ashamed. When I drank beer, I drank Miller Lite. When I eat chocolate, I like me some Hershey's. When I order a cheeseburger, I'll have the lettuce and tomato, but can you please hold the pomposity?

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

End Game

November, and I haven't even started shopping for Christmas. The Halloween decorations are still in place and it's time to order the turkey. Plans for Veteran's Day proceed apace, but I can't help but feel that I have forgotten something.
Oh yeah. The Election.
The swirling eddy of all that makes America Great Again while also reminding us of just how broken we are. The last two years or more will be looked upon as one of the most tempestuous and ugly campaigns since ever. It would be nice to say that all this holiday, end of year, commemorative energy might somehow seep into this last week of email groping, Twitter-fed, fake tan pantsuit slog that the rest of the world has watched with terror and amusement. Don't  count on it.
Instead, we should ready ourselves for a few years of r and r: reconciliation and reconstruction. Millions of votes will be cast for Donald Trump. Millions of votes will be cast for Hillary Clinton. Millions will be disappointed. Not to mention those Gary Johnson fans who will be left scratching their collective heads, trying to understand how their guy could possibly have lost. Who will be able to handle the reality of that final tally, and who will be heading to the garage for their torches, pitchforks, and semiautomatic weapons. If the Democrats lose, you can bet there will be some strongly worded letters and op-ed pieces published.
I can remember going to bed on election night, cautiously optimistic that Al Gore, inventor of the Internet  and Global Warming, was going to eke out a victory over the drunken reprobate and draft dodger who led us into war. When I woke up, that drunken reprobate and draft dodger was President of the United States. My response? I wrote several years of nasty blog posts to let people know how outraged I was. But I never threatened armed insurrection.
And so we wait, with baited breath for this thing to wind down to its denouement. It feels a little like Colonel Kilgore's parting shot in Apocalypse Now: "Someday this war's gonna end." As will this election. Unless it goes into overtime.