Sunday, May 28, 2017

Big Sky Country

Would you hit a guy with glasses?
No. I'd hit him with my fist.
Or, in the case of Montana's Republican candidate for congress, Greg Gianforte, you might just slam him to the floor. That's what Mister Gianforte (Italian for "big and loud") did when he was approached by reporter Ben Jacobs. Mister Jacobs asked Mister Gianforte repeatedly about the Republican redux of the the Affordable Care Act, the guy running for office stopped running and took matters into his own hands. He threw Jacobs to the floor and, according to a Fox News team on the scene, and started punching him. These members of the press cooperated with the authorities who then cited Mister Big and Loud for misdemeanor assault, with an appearance in court scheduled for June 7.
Why wouldn't this automatically throw the election in the direction of the Democrat, Rob Quist? Or any other human being who hasn't body-slammed a reporter asking questions about politics? Well, we now live in a world that seems to thrive on such confrontations, and what seems unimaginable in the past is now Standard Operating Procedure. Candidate doesn't release his taxes? No problem. Candidate openly mocks reporter's disability? No worries. Candidate discusses his groping technique with a reporter? No contest. We now live in a country that seems to reward this kind of behavior. This will most definitely change the tenor of student council elections moving forward.
Did you kick that kid in the stomach?
Well, yeah.
Why did you do it?
I wanted to be Student of the Week.
And so it goes.
No mention about how the newly re-jiggered Trumpcare will deal with pre-existing conditions like broken glasses received at the hands of Mister Big and Loud.
But for heaven's sake, don't ask him about it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Dying Is Easy, Playing James Bond Is Hard

I had already pretty much made up my mind. Sean Connery was James Bond because, duh, Goldfinger. Never mind that 007 was supposed to be English and Sean's Scottish brogue only got thicker with each iteration. I had seen the face of James Bond and it was Mister Connery.
So imagine my hard to please sneer when I heard he was being replaced by that TV spy, Roger Moore.  I can't say that I had watched an episode of The Saint before I landed on my opinion, but knowing that Mister Moore was able to wear a tuxedo well did not immediately qualify him for the big leagues. I kept this bias running through my eleven year old head in the first moments of Live and Let Die. Maybe it was the hard rocking theme from Paul McCartney and the Wings. Maybe it was the first time I had sat in a movie theater to get my James Bond fix. Maybe Roger Moore was up to the task of carrying a license to kill. It was probably a pastiche of those factors along with the sweeping zeitgeist of the seventies. Cubby Broccoli had made his choice and we were going to live with it. And let die with it.
And for seven feature films, from 1973 to 1985, Roger was the guy with the golden gun. Technically, this was Christopher Lee, but it makes such a fine phrase. Much in the same way that my son grew up in a world with prequel Star Wars, I was subject to the Moore-Bond, and I confess I enjoyed the ride. I still had my television reunions with Sean Connery, but soon ABC was showing Roger's oeuvre in slots that used to be From Russia With Love.  Suddenly, the Aston Martin with an ejection seat had competition: An underwater Lotus. The lighter, more sardonic image of Ian Fleming's superspy began to emerge. Okay, maybe this was James Bond Lite, but it was the sustaining version of my youth. The balcony of the Flatirons theater every other summer was filled with the kids from my neighborhood awaiting the next installment.
And now, Sir Roger Moore has gone to that big gadget filled adventure in the heavens. No doubt he will show up to the Pearly Gates in a dinner jacket, with a wink of fun. Shaken, not stirred. Because that was what he brought us. Aloha, Mister Bond. You stomped on the Terra.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Voice Of Reason

I am pretty sure that I don't want to live in a world of fake news. Yes, I know that all human observation is subjective and therefore each person's viewpoint comes to us through a filter of his or her own experience, but there should be some level at which we can simply trust. This was "journalism" as I grew up with it. Walter Cronkite didn't lie to us.
Did he?
Since Walter retired back in 1981, we lost the most trusted man in America. His voice brought us through the sixties and seventies. Vietnam. The Kennedy Assassination. Watergate. The moon landing. Not a screen full of screeching pundits, but one man who reported the news from behind a desk, with the occasional side trip to a war zone or vacation spot. Mostly you could find Mister Cronkite on CBS, giving you the evening news in a digestible form that wasn't designed to taunt or entice or inflame. It was the news.
Now we have an entire network that calls itself "News," but wants to keep its distance by reminding us after the fact that they are giving us opinions. That's part of the way that a twenty-four hour news cycle can be filled. Rushing to air with the first bit of information that has yet to be verified makes ratings spike, and that's good business.
But is it news?
In the wake of the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, the machine called News turned its Eye of Sauron onto Northern England to feed us the terror and confusion that was pouring out of that city. That's what happens when the satellite trucks show up. The correspondents will tell you what they have just heard and if enough of them agree on that collective hunch, we run with it. This is about the time that someone phones in their claim of responsibility, and the terrorism label can be applied. Meanwhile, the stories of the families go on in the background as the tragedy is mined for the patience of the audience.
Until something else blows up. The circus tents come down and move to the next crater. Before the smoke clears.
I miss you, Walter Cronkite.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Voting With Your Feet

And hands. And mouths. And whatever appendages express disapproval. This past week, a few dozen Notre Dame graduates walked out of their commencement in protest. Apparently, now that they had finished the formal portion of the schooling that they will spend some time (about twenty years) paying off, they didn't feel the need to hang around and get lectured about free speech by the Vice President of the United States. The Vice President of the United States who used to be the Governor of Indiana. Notre Dame is located in Indiana. Indiana is one of our fifty states. In our fifty states, the rule of the law is free speech. So there. 
"I would submit that the increasing intolerance and suppression of the time-honored tradition of free expression on our campuses jeopardizes the liberties of every American. This should not, and must not be met with silence," said the Vice Governor President guy. And those wacky kids, what do you suppose they did? That's right. They walked out anyway. They didn't toss their mortarboards and gowns in a pile and set them ablaze, dancing naked around the rising flames chanting anti-government slogans. They walked out Not a prank. A statement.
The government guy went on: "Far too many campuses across America have been characterized by speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness all of which amounts to nothing less than the suppression of the freedom of speech." 
Um, excuse me, Mister Governor Vice? Your ability to spout rhetoric is most definitely protected, but our willingness to listen to it is as well. It's like the "off" button you used to find on most televisions. You know, the one they call "power" now. An interesting thing, really. Since free speech seems to be connected to power. The last couple of commencement addresses given by members of the Trump Regime have included what we in the profession call "The Whiny Passage," in which the speaker announces how put upon they are because of the restrictions put on them by the media or the administration of the university at which they are speaking. "No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down, you can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams," opined our "President" to the graduates of the Coast Guard Academy. None of them walked out, but that may be because they were hoping to keep their jobs at the end of the presentation. My guess is that none of the Notre Dame early exiters were looking for a cushy job aboard a Coast Guard cutter, so they felt free to walk on out of their ceremony. 
Freedom. Ain't it grand? 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Foolin'

"Who's more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?" That's what Obi Wan Kenobi wanted to know when his leadership was questioned. Old Ben Kenobi had the Force to keep him in line, if you were into that kind of thing. But Han Solo, whose name suggested that he wasn't much of a follower, went along with a great big bag of skepticism. That was how a rebellion was born. Give or take. As it turns out, it wasn't really foolish, but courageous. Sure, there was a big gulf between the mystic Kenobi and the mercenary Solo, but the common ground of the rebellion brought them together.
There was another side of this coin, of course. There was Darth Vader holding down the mystic end on the Empire side. The rank and file of those bad guys were guys who were only in it for the money. Most of them were putting up with Vader's insistence on his sad devotion to his ancient religion. Whatever kept them in Nehru jackets and white helmets.
It seems like the Rebellion was always blowing up a Death Star. Somehow, the Empire kept finding funds for another planet sized weapon. And even though there was always some little flaw, no bigger than a womprat, the Empire went back to the drawing board and came up with another big laser beam that had to be carted around the galaxy on a floating platform that looked like a moon under construction. So who is more foolish?
If you're the kind of droid who would follow Old Ben on some idealistic crusade, then you'll probably be the fool who follows the rebellion. If you like the uniforms and that illusion of a super weapon that will destroy all enemies then you will probably fall into line with the empire. And then there's the rest of the galaxy that has no real rooting interest beyond getting enough credits to buy blue milk. This is the group that ends up getting blown up, sadly, more often than not.
So here we slow down and leave the long time ago and galaxy far, far away and zoom back to a planet called Earth. This is where we are all waiting in line for blue milk and trying to decide if we want to join up with the good guys or the bad guys. Presently it seems like the lines are pretty clear, but it's not clear that we're going to find the exhaust port in time.
May the Force be with us.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Bill Comes Due

"You can expect a bill!" These were the words intended to strike fear into my heart. It didn't. I was far too amused at myself and pleased with my performance. Shakey's had just  closed, and I was walking out into the crisp autumn night with my friends from high school and those who still attended. One of my former classmates had reached his car ahead of us, and was warming up the engine. The parking lot was almost empty, and when I saw the reverse lights come on I had made up my mind about what to do next.
This guy's car was coming at us, backward, at a speed that gave me just a moment to get ready. When his rear bumper came to a stop just in front of us, I stepped up on it. Then I used the collective momentum of car and me to hop up onto the roof of the Honda station wagon. When I crawled to the front of the car, I rolled down off the windshield, then the hood, and off onto the parking lot once again. It was all over in a matter of seconds. I turned to face the laughter and applause from my friends still waiting on the threshold. We barely notice the Honda racing back across the parking lot, this time forward. He stopped under one of the big, pink sodium lights, popped out of the car with the motor still running, and began to inspect his vehicle for signs of mistreatment. My friends and I were still giggling as we strolled toward our own cars. That's when we heard him yell.
"You can expect a bill!"
I was still living at my parents' house, and when the phone rang just after I got home, my father answered it. When he hung up, he came to ask me what had happened. I described my little stunt, and defended it with the rationalization, "He was coming straight at me, dad." He pursed his lips and told me we would talk more in the morning. We did. We discussed how we might go ahead and pay for any little scratch I might have made on this guy's car. In the days that followed, we got the report from his dad: twelve hundred dollars. Twelve hundred dollars? They wanted to paint the whole car, trunk to hood. How were we going to pay for that?
Insurance. That meant that we would have to talk to our insurance agent, my cousin. That meant I would have to explain this matter one more time. At least it wasn't going to be a complete stranger. So here we were, a week after the fact, sitting in my cousin's office waiting to give my deposition. "We have to record these things," my cousin told us as he rummaged in his desk for a cassette. He loaded it up, positioned the microphone, and asked me to describe the events of that evening.
"Well," I began, "We were walking out of Shakey's and this car came roaring at us from across the parking lot." I went on to enumerate the action, step by step, concluding with, "And I rolled off the hood, kind of like Starsky and Hutch."
With this, my cousin began to snicker, and reached for the stop button. "Sorry," he said, pulling himself together, "We'll need to do that last part again." He backed up the tape and we ran over it once again. I didn't spare any details or the potential for my own recklessness. And I finished with the same Starsky and  Hutch coda. This time without the snickers.
The bill got paid, and the car may or may not have been painted. I never saw it again. I never saw that guy again. But I still smile every time I see a rerun of Starsky and Hutch.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Help

Pete wasn't Pete when I taught him. Well, he was, but that wasn't the name by which I knew him. He was Wayne, because his father's name was Pete and he didn't want that confusion. He would explain this to anyone who wanted to hear it, but mostly he was Wayne. Wayne wanted to help.
On the playground, in the classroom, before school, after school, it didn't matter. Wayne's eager face greeted me most mornings when I went outside to distribute the jump ropes, balls and soccer goals, along with the orange cones that delineated the areas in which various games would be played. "Can I help, Mister Caven?" No matter how many times we had this interaction and no matter how well he knew the task ahead of him, he always asked.
There was something different about Wayne's quality of help. He didn't doddle or stretch the little jobs into endless tedium. He worked like it was his job. It wasn't. The majority of the kids at my school were happy to let the equipment come to them, waiting in little clusters, chatting with friends until the playground was made ready. There were some who came to me, anxious to begin their soccer game and offered to carry the jerseys to the field, or carry one end of a goal to speed the plow. Once their goal had been place/achieved, they were done helping. There were others who came to help carry this or place that, who wanted extensive praise and recognition for the menial bits they did. They got theirs. I have always been generous with praise and acknowledgement when my job is made easier.
That wasn't Wayne. He was there to work, and even when all the balls and goals and jerseys and jump ropes and cones had been spread across the playground in anticipation of a day's play, he came back to check if there was anything else. Wayne was eager in the way golden retrievers are eager. It wasn't the approval he was after. He was after the connection of completion.
Years passed, and when Wayne's little brother was promoted to fifth grade, I assumed that I would end up with a similar face on the playground every morning. Ned was no golden retriever. Probably because his brother was. Ned was more of a lone wolf, and it took me some months to fully understand just how different the two brothers were. I could still count on Wayne's little brother in a pinch. If he was interested, he was every bit as helpful as Wayne, but Ned had his own agenda. Ned became part of my fifth grade leadership group, and he did his part. He came to meetings and pitched in as the situation dictated, but he never overwhelmed me with his presence.
Last week when that leadership group gathered for a celebration of a year's worth of character building, Wayne showed up as Ned's chaperone. He showed up early, and helped carry trays of food into the gymnasium. He did this while his brother sat in a corner, waiting for his friends to show up. When Wayne spotted me, he came straight over and asked, "Do you have anything I can do, Mister Caven?" I let him hand out the certificates for completion to his little brother and his friends. I encouraged him to help himself to the dinner that was provided, and to relax while the rest of the presentations were made. He came and sat next to my wife and me, keeping a pleasant flow of chatter as the evening progressed. Wayne was a high school freshman now, and wanted to fill in all those missing years since we had last met on the playground.
When the celebration was over, Wayne cleaned up and offered to deliver the certificates of the kids who hadn't made it to the party that night. How could I say no? I didn't. And I watched Ned, who came clear to me in a moment, when I saw the tiniest pained expression cross his face when there was one more thing to do. But he followed along with nary an eye roll. That's life as the little brother of a golden retriever.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Rock Solid

As bleak as things have been over the past few weeks, it's important to keep the sunshine over your shoulder. Like the news that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson currently leads Donald Trump in a very premature poll for possible presidential candidates in the 2020 election. What better metaphor for these times than having a professional wrestler turned film actor run for the highest office in the land. As a potential leader of the free world, there are plenty of things to recommend about Mister Rock.
First, he's an icon already. In the mode of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is excluded from this race because his career choices didn't allow him to choose being born in the United States. As it turned out, The Governator did not run California into the ground or turn it into a futuristic dystopia run by robot overlords.
This nearly happened when retired actor Ronald Reagan took office, but that's a matter for the history books to decide.
Speaking of history books, it might be worth returning to those thrilling days of yesteryear when Arnold ran for governor. This was the election that saw one hundred thirty-five candidates vying for the big chair in California, including Gary "Diff'rent Strokes" Coleman and porn actress Mary Carey. Say what you will about California politics, but we know how to put on a show. When the smoke cleared and the confetti was swept up, Maria Shriver's ex-husband had been elected, and a lot of the world scratched their collective heads at this outcome. By the time the Terminator won his second term, there was less collective head scratching. Maybe movie stars really can be politicians.
Like the Mayor of Carmel, California. Congressman Fred Dalton. Congressman Sonny sans Cher. Congressman Fred Iowa Gopher Grandy. And the list goes on, none perhaps as profoundly in this case as Jesse The Body Politic Ventura. Jesse didn't have time to bleed, because he was so busy being a movie star and a wrestler and governor of Minnesota. And hanging out with Hulk Hogan who wasn't a politician and Arnold Schwarzenegger who was.
The Rock has all of that mojo moving forward, but why anyone would give up their nine to five Hollywood gig for a 24/7 life of constant aggravation and stress? Couldn't be the paycheck. Maybe it's the car.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What Now?

Lately, I have been lamenting the percentage of words that I feel compelled to waste on our "President." Keeping myself from clicking on whatever fresh salad of mistruth his orangeness has proffered up to the public is a chore that I wish I did not have. Staying abreast of what is happening shouldn't involve burying one's face in one's hands and sobbing, "What now?"
And yet, this is where we find ourselves a couple weeks into the second hundred days of the Trump Regime. The one that caught my eye on a recent trip to the "What now" bin was the one where a report suggested that The Creamsicle of the United States had asked recently fired FBI director James Comey about jailing reporters. While this is consistent with the overall disposition of the Orange Crush toward the press, it still gave me more than just a little pause. I did a quick check to see where journalists are being thrown into prison. A prison census taken last December puts Turkey and China at the top of the list, with eighty-one and thirty-eight newsfolk respectively. Of the Two hundred fifty-nine jailed at the time of the study, that's a pretty big lead. Of course, these are the ones that could be counted because they were actually in a jail. Not locked up in a room underneath the stairs or dead. This was Orange Whip's solution for stopping the rampant leaks in his administration. To wit this tweet: "I have been asking Director Comey & others, from the beginning of my administration, to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community....."
One man's leak is another's news. Giving up confidential information is, after all, a thing that only "Presidents" can do. A source familiar with the recent gift that Dr. J Trump handed to Russians in an Oval Office meeting said that he had “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” Unless, of course, he is unclear about just who our allies are. Or maybe that's our problem. 
So, instead of asking you, dear reader, to ruin your day by worrying about this and other scandals, I point you instead to the story of a man who was chased by a wild otter to his car. Feel free to draw all the comparisons you'd like. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Right

"As a government employee, I am granted health care and I see firsthand that to have health care, you need to have jobs. We need to continue to cultivate this environment that we're given the opportunity to have health care as well as jobs." If you were assuming that these were the words of our "President" in one of his early morning Twittages, you aren't far off the mark. These were the sentiments of newly selected Miss USA, Kara McCullough. Ms. McCullough, who is a scientist who works for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, made these remarks in the heat of competition, while under direct examination by host Julianne Hough. Later in the contest, she was asked what sh considers feminism to be and whether she considers herself a feminist. “I don’t want to call myself a feminist,” McCullough said. “Women, we are just as equal as men, especially in the workplace.”
Here are a couple of interesting factoids to stir into the mix. The MIss Universe compendium of pageants was owned, until 2015, by a "Donald J. Trump." Also, Ms. McCullough was representing the District of Columbia in the 2017 version. 
With that said, it would be fair to toss in the day after comments the newly crowned representative of the USA, clarifying her stance on health care: "I am privileged to have health care and I do believe that it should be a right," she said today on Good Morning America. "I hope and pray moving forward that health care is a right for all worldwide."
I think we can all get behind Miss USA on that one. Mostly because that was where we were just about two weeks ago. As we consider the duties and responsibilities of our current queen, I hope and pray that her job at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is safe. You never know when you're going to need something to fall back on, in case that next pageant doesn't pan out like you'd hoped. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Retired

Sure I miss it.
"Mister Caven, what happened to your hair?"
There are a lot of different explanations: I grew up through it. It slipped down my neck onto my back. It grew back inside my head. I gave it away. I don't tend to mention male pattern baldness. Kids aren't interested in that kind of science. There are plenty of kids who want to know why I didn't go with some kind of fade with a Nike swoosh carved into it.
My head as a canvas for corporate advertising. An interesting suggestion.
Instead, I prefer to keep my head clear of hairy distractions. For many years, I used the changing of the seasons to announce the shearing of my locks. Not anymore. It is now part of my daily ablutions. I leave the eyebrows, as they are good guides for where to put my glasses. As my friends grow gray, I know that if I were to let my pelt grow I would be a silverback.
This doesn't mean that from time to time I don't pine for something other than breeze covering my scalp. I don't recall the last time I blew bangs off my forehead. I do remember that my part was on the left. It was, until it was eliminated by the thoroughfare of my forehead going through. I also remember brushing and combing in a desperate attempt to straighten my wayward mop. The one my "friends" referred to as "bird's nest." Combine that ritual humiliation with the attempted afro I maintained in my senior year in high school, and you might understand why my current hairlessness comes as a relief.
Which still doesn't leave me without regrets. The Snoopy hair brush that has traveled with me from my parents' house in Boulder, Colorado and has been a part of my grooming kit since I was in elementary school now sits in my medicine cabinet with nothing much to do but hang out with the nail clippers, waiting for that one last chance to separate tangles and straighten my 'do. Snoopy's is a lonely and thankless existence. How do you tell a hair brush that he's been retired?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Everything Old Is New Again

I was recently made aware of an new, expanded release of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Fifty years after this record was first unleashed upon the public, a multi-disc wallow in the creation of this sonic masterpiece will be coming to a music store near you. Music store? Record? What are those?
Well, if you have historical perspective, you can probably come up with reference points to some of this.The Beatles were that band Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his book Outliers. Record stores were places where you could go and paw through recorded music by hand, hence that "record" business. Records were objects you would tend to find in "record stores." The Beatles made a few of those objects, and a lot of people want to believe that they were the best of the objects to be found in record stores, once upon a time.
Back in 1967, at a time when some folks liked to believe that they were experiencing a summer of love, these lads from Liverpool were providing the soundtrack. As I have suggested, this is generally accepted as a piece of history. Classic music for a classic time. There were a lot of records released in 1967, but this was the one that became the touchstone of a generation.
That generation has moved on. They built a shrine in Cleveland, Ohio and set about converting all that music played via friction to digital. In the meantime, with each passing day, new ears are encountering Sergeant Pepper every day. It's still out there. Just like when my older brother sat me down in front of his record player and I listened to all those sounds. Since then, I have heard those sounds more times than I can count, and I still have buckets of love and respect for that album. What about everybody else? 
If you go anywhere on Al Gore's Internet, you can find someone who wants to fight. Trolls will give anything a one-star review just to get the party started. Let those go, and focus instead on the "critics" who want to give Sergeant Pepper a three-star review. Something like this one: "If you grew up in the sixties and liked the Beatles at all, you'll want this. If you didn't, you probably won't 'get' it. Not their greatest selection, but Lonely Hearts Club had its own sound at a time when the Fab Four were 'evolving.'" Or how about, "Again without claiming Rock & Roll expertise... it seems to me that The Beatles were merely an opportunistic pop band that rode the bandwagon of The Doors, Simon & Garfunkle and many others."
Yes, those are the outliers, not unlike the Beatles themselves. Fifty years is a long time. A lot of ears have taken in that music since. Critic proof? No such thing. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I Don't Have To Prove That I Am Creative

I have nicked the title "Artists Only" from a Talking Heads song a few times. I have used it to try and describe my slippery relationship with things creative. I started out as a child, drawing on pads of paper brought home by my father the printing salesman. I wanted to draw like my older brother did. I wanted to draw cartoons. When I was in fourth grade, I added author to that illustration gig. I had in mind that I would become my own little cottage industry. Picture story books by Dave.
In the meantime, I kept drawing. On purpose and absently. On those pads of paper and in the margins of my notebooks. And painting. I started painting. That lunch box I carried through junior high. The bunk bed upon which I slept at our mountain cabin. I drew invitations to our family picnic. I drew political cartoons that I imagined might eventually get me a spot on somebody's op-ed page. I painted my first canvas in acrylic: a cartoon demon sitting on a throne, surrounded by bright orange and red flame. While my pallet knife  technique was lauded, I was asked not to use quite so much cadmium yellow.
Now my attentions began to shift to the Royal typewriter I kept on my desk. I wrote page after page of single-spaced thoughts and imaginings. I wrote stories and opinions and musings, in what I hoped was the style of my hero, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. These were not the picture story books I was authoring in grade school. These were darker musings of an adolescent kind.
And I kept drawing. Now I was aping the styles of the artists I was reading in Heavy Metal magazine. If I couldn't be Kurt Vonnegut, I would be Frank Frazetta. And I had a movie camera. I was making Super 8 versions of films I had seen in my youth. I was going to be Steven Spielberg. Or Stan Brakhage. I was going to be an artist.
I kept drawing. Now it was mostly Christmas cards and the doodles I made on post-its during meetings. I painted on the walls of my son's room. I started to write screenplays.  Romantic comedies and episodic TV. I was going to be William Goldman. Those scripts still have an honored spot on the hard drive of my computer. I have always had a self-promotion problem.
I'm still drawing. I'm still writing. You're reading it. Something's working. And I'm cleaning. I'm cleaning my brain.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Score

Now my son is more than twenty years old. Not a lot more. Just a day or so, but now he can officially be "twenty-something." This is a marked difference from the first few years of his life when we were counting his existence in months. Two hundred forty, in case you were wondering. The milestones come a little farther between. The walking and talking thing he's pretty much mastered now. It is his father that struggles with those things more now. That's part of the curse of not having a kid when you're young enough to share every minute with them. So much of his life is currently vicarious amusement for his parents at this point.
Which is, as I have mentioned here, a victory. Not a completely joyous one, but a victory nonetheless. Out in the world is where we really need him to be, struggling and taking his big swings. Looking over his shoulder occasionally to make sure that we are still watching.
We are.
I am glad that my son will, from time to time, drop by this page during one his regular forays into Al Gore's Internet to see what is on his dad's mind. Like so many of my constant and not-quite-so-constant readers, he prefers those entries that feature him or references to him. He's happy to catch up on what is on my mind, but he prefers to read about himself. Like looking at old photo albums, it's always interesting to see pictures of what used to be, but it's nice to have some context. Well, here it is, kiddo: your context.
I am so glad to have had all those moments together. Even the ones in which your mother left to go to an appointment or meeting and left the two of us alone. You looking out the window, wondering how you got stuck with me, and me reassuring you with every other breath that mommies always come back. She did. And eventually you came to trust me on this. Somewhere in there, you started to miss me too. When I went to work, long before you were rolling out of bed to get to your school, I came in to make that first vain attempt at waking you up. Because you are a champion sleeper.
I know this because you have fallen asleep in Disneyland. Not recently, but once upon a time, when your little clock ran down, I carried you out with your head resting on my shoulder. All that magic still swirling around in your head, but eyes closed to let the dreams begin. Someday you'll carry me out of Disneyland. We have a deal.
Now it's been two decades and I am pleased and happy that there are jokes my father told me that will, with your help, survive for another generation. There are people who will never meet me who will hear about "my dad" and laugh. I couldn't be more proud.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Kitchen Table

Sitting across the kitchen table
the mother asks the son,
"How was your day?"
Most of the time
the answer is easy
"Fine," he says
Then there are those times
when the day wasn't
easy or fine
not easy
This is the kind of day
that makes these chats
so very important
vital
These are the days when
moms earn their day
they listen
they care
They know that listening
won't make everything
fine again
but
it is a port in the storm
that's why the phone still rings
on a Sunday afternoon
from miles away
years away
from that kitchen table
comes a sigh
"Hi, mom"
And that circle is renewed
"How was your day?"
Even when the answer
is "Fine."
A mother knows
She knows because
she's been listening
and she knows
and she cares.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Those Meddling Kids

I was alive in 1973. I remember the uproar when Richard Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. At eleven years old, I did not fully comprehend the political and constitutional train wreck that ensued. I remember the bow tie. And the crew cut. In those days, I did have a solid sense about most everything that Richard Nixon did and said had a piquant of scandal. And treachery. He was a bad man and he was doing bad things. I read enough of Time magazine to know that. After I read the movie reviews, of course.
Looking back, it's not hard to connect the dots. Backed into a corner, where Tricky Dick spent a good portion of his professional life, he chose to make a public display of his power. "Investigate me? I don't think so!" He ordered his Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, to fire Cox. When he said he'd rather resign than do that, Nixon said, "Okey dokey," accepted and moved down the ladder to the Deputy Attorney General, William Ruckelshaus. He sent the same message to the embattled president, so he was let go as well. It was then up to Solicitor General, Robert Bork to get rid of Archibald Cox. And he did. Which may be part of the reason why, years later, Bork was denied a seat on the Supreme Court. Ted Kennedy asked us not to " reach into the muck of Watergate" for our Supreme Court Justices. 
Now, some thirty-four years later, we have a "president" who seems determined to get rid of anyone who might start sniffing around his rather curious connections. And the firing of FBI Director James Comey brings headlines that ask "Why?" Why now? Why not wait for the full report to come from the Justice Department? Perhaps because that report already bears the barely legible orange crayon scrawl that says, "You're Fired." 
It didn't happen in one night, but over the course of three months, the "President" has fired three people: Sally Yates, Preet Bharara, and James Comey. All three of these folks were investigating the White House's ties to Russia. Hard, at this moment, not to reach back into that muck of Watergate. Hard to imagine why we didn't learn from the first time. 
Maybe we will this time. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

No Sanctuary

No sanctuary in Texas. That's what governor Greg Abbot would like us to know. Governor Greg signed a law on a Facebook event last Sunday, which will punish any city in the Lone Star State that refuses to enforce federal immigration laws. The Texas ban not only permits local law enforcement officers to request immigration papers from anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, it also makes so-called sanctuary policies illegal. Local sheriffs and police chiefs who refuse to comply with federal immigration detainer requests now face hefty fines or even jail time, while elected and appointed officials may be subject to removal from office. Critics argue that such a practice amounts to encouraging racial profiling. To which Governor Greg replied, "So?"
With the signing came the expected and attendant backlash. Not from the Department of Justice. They had this to say: “The Department of Justice is committed to promoting a lawful system of immigration and the attorney general commends Governor Abbott for his work to end the lawlessness of sanctuary cities." The uproar you can probably hear from where you are sitting comes from the people affected: the ones living in the state of perpetual confusion (Texas). Then there were the two hundred faith leaders from across Texas that signed a letter condemning the new immigration legislation. They pointed out, correctly, the proud history of immigration that is the foundation of Texas. The Republic of Texas was annexed from Mexico in 1845 just before a little kerfuffle called the Mexican-American War. There's always been a lot of Mexico in Texas. 
And just who will be responsible for getting the Mex out of Tex? Law enforcement officers. These departments and individuals can be put in jail for not stopping folks on the street and asking them for their papers. Let's see now, what historical allusion do we have here? Cities, counties and colleges could face fines ranging from one to twenty-five thousand dollars a day for not getting in line with the program.
Which might help defray the cost of the proposed boycott of that area just south of Oklahoma. Remember the Alamo? Davy Crockett would be so proud. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Scoring

So we lived through it. Another year of standardized testing is in the books. We sat third, fourth and fifth grade kids down in front of Chromebooks each morning for two weeks and asked them to show us what they had learned. No pressure. Not for them, anyway. For those of us standing just outside the door, looking in, there's plenty of pressure. What if all those months of preparation don't turn into increased scores? What will happen to these kids?
Well, most of them will be just fine, thank you for asking. They will continue their path toward their eventual scholastic potential pretty much unfettered by their "personal record." The school at which they took these tests? Maybe not. The ugly not-quite-a-secret is that doing poorly on one or more of these standardized tests will not impact the kid who is taking those standardized tests. Until the school at which they are taking those standardized tests gets shut down because the test scores on those standardized tests did not rise to some particular standard.
Growth. That's what everyone wants to see. Did we do better than we did the year before? Of course we did. Why wouldn't we?
This is where my mind wandered into an alternative reality in which standardized tests are being given to kids in war zones. What sort of expectations are put on students in Syria? Even if there were concentrated months of review beforehand, what sort of success would we expect from kids in Nigeria? How about Yemen? I ask this not just for the ironic counterpoint but because we have more than a dozen students at our school this year who have recently emigrated here from Yemen. Add to this the number of Latino students whose families are currently living with the obscure threat of deportation and suddenly I find myself wondering what we must have been thinking. What do we expect our results to be?
Growth. We want to show growth. Getting our kids in the door and in their seats is a project most every day. Teaching them to read a second language because that's the language of the test is the next one. The ability to express complex thoughts in that new language is the next step and if we're not quite ready, that's too bad because this testing window doesn't wait for anyone. We need to fit those kids into it and hopefully we come out with growth.
Sometimes maintaining the status quo feels like growth.
Running to stand still.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Checkout Line

'I shouldn't have let you in front of me,' the Muslim shopper says as she begins filming.
After a long pause, the hurried shopper says: 'I wish they didn't let you in the country'
'Excuse me?' she replies. 'I was born here.'
'Oh you were? Okay,' the shopper with the gray sweater says. 
After another long pause, she resumes the conversation.
'Obama's not in office anymore. We don't have a Muslim in there anymore,' she comments.
'Yeah...I wish he was,' the Muslim shopper says.
'Well, he's gone. He may be in jail too in the future,' the other woman tells her, rolling up her sleeves. 
Incredulously, the Muslim shopper asks: "You look a little crazy, maybe you need to get some help.'
'Oh, I'm fine,' the woman says. 
"No you're not, because you don't just strike up a conversation with people in line talking about stuff like that if you're normal,' the shopper tells her.
'I'm very normal,' the gray-dressed woman insists.
'Looks like it, I can tell,' the Muslim shopper replied before filming stops.
This incident is sadly not unique or obscure. A few years ago, abuse like this a in Reston, Virginia Trader Joe's was more commonly experienced online. The uptick in hate, subtle or in-your-face, was committed primarily from behind a keyboard. Comment sections and forums filled up with all manner of racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic blather was easily found in dark corners of Al Gore's Internet. With the election of The Great Pumpkin, these exchanges have moved out into the light. On street corners. At the workplace. In line at Trader Joe's. 
To quote the Great Orange Twit: "Sad." 
The hardest part of that shopping shame is the end, where the hater says that she's "very normal." In our current climate, it's hard to argue that point. Not normal in a good or  reassuring way. Normal in a horrifying how can this happen in 2017 United States of America kind of way. Maybe it's a good thing that these folks are out in the light. They're easier to spot. And hopefully easier to shame. 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Existence and Pre-Existence

I have a confession to make: I have a pre-existing condition. Actually, I have a few of them. Most of you have already probably noticed my predilection toward sarcasm. And male pattern baldness. And a knee that was surgically repaired after I jumped out of a swing. When I was twenty-one. Thing is, most Americans acquire some sort of condition that could be "pre-existing" by the time they reach twenty or so years old. Even if it isn't sarcasm.
This new vision of health care, brought to you by the people who made sure they kept themselves covered while deciding just how the rest of us would make out in the big sweepstakes we call "health care." Interesting, since there doesn't seem to be a lot of "care" in it. Some of the folks in the House of Representatives didn't bother to read the legislation.
Like the list of ailments and conditions that won't be covered if this revamped and fresh piece of lawmaking breathes life after debate in the Senate:
Acne Acromegaly AIDS or ARC Alzheimer's Disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Anemia (Aplastic, Cooley's, Hemolytic, Mediterranean or Sickle Cell) Anxiety Aortic or Mitral Valve Stenosis Arteriosclerosis Arteritis Asbestosis Asthma Bipolar disease Cancer Cardiomyopathy Cerebral Palsy (infantile) Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Cirrhosis of the Liver Coagulation Defects Congestive Heart Failure Cystic Fibrosis Demyelinating Disease Depression Dermatomyositis Diabetes Dialysis Esophageal Varicosities Friedreich's Ataxia Hepatitis (Type B, C or Chronic) Menstrual irregularities Multiple Sclerosis Muscular Dystrophy Myasthenia Gravis Obesity Organ transplants Paraplegia Parkinson's Disease Polycythemia Vera Pregnancy Psoriatic Arthritis Pulmonary Fibrosis Sarcoidosis Scleroderma Sex reassignment Sjogren's Syndrome Sleep apnea Transsexualism Tuberculosis
Way back when, Obamacare didn't add pregnancy to that list. Or PTSD. Rape survivors will have to worry about the potential STDs they might have acquired from their attack. If you could simply live your life like a middle-aged man, you shouldn't have a problem. Of course, I'm being sarcastic here. My premiums are going to be through the roof. 


Monday, May 08, 2017

Gotta Catch 'Em All

Most teachers have a drawer, or at least a section of a drawer, devoted to confiscated items. These are the items that interfere with the educational process. Rubber balls. Action figures. Whistles. Joy buzzers that don't bring joy. A lot of these things have been staples in teachers' desks for years. Then there's Pokemon.
I remember the first wave of Pokemon cards. Gotta catch 'em all. Or in the case of the students I encountered, gotta trade, sneak, buy or steal 'em all. Those were the cards that found their way to our campus around the time I started teaching. They were part of a game that was initially rationalized as a creative outlet and a channeled path for kids to use higher level thinking to determine how many points were needed to defeat opposing pocket monsters. And that phrase was as quickly discarded as the rationalization. The cards brought one thing, inevitably: tears. Someone lost or misplaced or had their prize card or collection of cards taken from them surreptitiously or by force. And then it was time for the teachers to step in and repair the situation. Gotta return 'em all.
And so, way back then, it became a school rule that Pokemon cars were a prohibited item, not just at our school, but across the country. Lo and behold, some twenty years later, Pokemon cards made their return. This was no doubt in conjunction with the expanded reality smart phone time sink that was Pokemon Go. There were a few kids who made valiant attempts to hunt Pokemon on our playground, but since their cell phones have to be turned off and put away during the school day, that one was easy enough to enforce. It was the creeping, pocket sized cards that were so hard to track down and limit. At first, the "what are they hurting" rationalization appeared, and we rolled with that. At first. When the tears began to appear, we had to put down our collective grown up buzzkill foot. It only took one kid losing his great big binder of ten dollar cards to bring the fuss to a fever pitch. Now we are once again duly deputized to confiscated those bright bits of cardboard, with the hopes that mom and dad will come to school and retrieve them so we don't have to carry them around and police that drawer in our desks anymore.
Besides, we have to start making room for that new wave of Fidget Spinners. Every kid wants one. I don't. Please leave them at home. I don't have room in my desk.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Everything's Eventual

I don't play nearly the number of video games that I used to. Back in the mid-nineties I wore out my Sega Genesis console. I spent hours, no days, staring at Sonic the Hedgehog as he and his pal Tails zipped from left to right on my Cathode Ray Tube, trying to grab as many gold rings as possible without being bounced by the evil Doctor Robotnik. This compulsion eventually spread to the adventures of Vectorman, whose main objective was to move from left to right, trying to grab as many starry powerups as he could grab without being bounced by the evil Warhead. It all seems hopelessly simple-minded now, of course, since growing up and raising a kid and and starting a career in teaching was so intensely more complex.
Which was part of the charm, of course. There was a calm and reassuring quality to those video game interactions. My skills were such that I could sit down and launch myself into that linear world for a break from all that three-dimensional thinking for the time it took to forget about some of it. And if the going got really tough, there was always the reset button.
All of these memories are what came rushing back to me as I considered the idea of a "good shutdown" of the U.S. government. What if there was such a thing? "President" Trump issued this edict, as most of his pronouncements come, from his Twitter account. Then it was the job of his minions to scurry about, screeching, "What he meant was..."
I know what he meant. When things are going bad, and you're about to be bounced by some evil adversary who means to take your rings or your powerpoints, push the reset button. What's the worst that could happen? Sure, you'll have to start over again at the beginning. You'll have to endure all those boring initial levels of training and preparation for that eventual confrontation. The difference here, as I see it, is the collateral damage that would be done by hitting the government reset button. All those little bunnies and mushrooms that depend on Sonic to free them from robot bondage are sixteen-bit figments of someone's imagination. They are not employees and their very real families depending on a paycheck to keep food on their table and a roof over their heads. Congress can take a week or two back in their home districts to soak up some of the abuse that would most likely be heaped upon them for not doing their job: keeping the government running.
What kind of president do we have currently? He's the kind of guy who would toss his controller across the room and blame the equipment.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

With Friends Like These

Chatting it up with Vladimir "Bear Hugger" Putin on the phone.
Inviting Rodrigo Duterte to the White House for a visit.
Suggesting a sit-down with Kim Jong Un.
What about our allies in Europe? Angela Merkel owes us money!
It's all a part of the ongoing Bizarro World diplomacy set forth by "President" Trump.
Okay. It's possible that I just don't understand all the moving pieces and intricacies of international relationships and the way things turn on the tiniest details. I have a degree in creative writing, not world affairs. There are so many things I do not know.
Maybe this is the time-honored strategy of keeping your friends close, and your friends closer. My father used to say, "Love your enemies. It'll drive them crazy." My father was a printing salesman, not a statesman. I believe he got this idea from a Peanuts calendar. I would be more comfortable with this tack if it was consistent.
Perhaps this is all part of a ruse to bring these nutjobs into one room and then force them into releasing their people from the evil clutches of despotism. This would be more believable if it weren't for that whole consistency thing. One day China is our friend, then they are wicked and bad. All that praise "President" Trump throws around for dictators sounds more like fawning than Machiavelli. 
I am not the only one who is confused here. Senator John McCain is befuddled as well. In reference to the "President's" overtures to Kim Jong Un, "I don't understand it," McCain said. "I don't think that the president appreciates the fact that when he says things like that it helps the credibility and the prestige of this really outrageous strongman." It was one thing when Dennis Rodman went over to North Korea to shoot some hoops with the guy, but what message does it send the world when the leader of the free world starts making eyes at him? What kind of praise are we talking about? 
"At a very young age, he was able to assume power," Trump said. "A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie." That's your Kim Jong Un. Maybe our "President" feels comfortable hanging around a guy who says, “You know, I am capable of eating a person. If you anger me, in truth, I will eat you alive. Raw.” If that's not the makings of a great state dinner, I don't know what is. That's Rodrigo Duterete. And Trump's bromance with Mister Putin goes back some time now. Maybe farther than we all currently know. I'm guessing the Fourth of July Barbecue at Mar-A-Lago is going to be a blast. 

Friday, May 05, 2017

Hisstory

I've said it before, and I'm about to say it again: I don't sleep so well when I know with absolute certainty that I am more intelligent than our "President." By the time I was in fourth grade, I knew that the causes of the U.S. Civil War were more complex than who owned slaves and who did not, but if I were asked to give an answer on a game show, I would distill it down to just that. The North wanted freedom. The South wanted slavery. Industrial North. Agrarian South. I was always, frankly, eager to learn more subtleties as I grew up and studied more. I was happy to find out that Britain, while diplomatically neutral in the conflict, was building ships for the Confederacy.
And Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States. You may have heard of this guy. Freed the slaves. Wore a beard. Shows up on pennies and five dollar bills. He took office in 1860, the year before southern states began to secede from the Union. He was president some fifteen years after Andrew Jackson died. You may remember Mister Jackson from his role on the twenty dollar bill. Founder of the Democratic Party, The guy who signed the Indian Removal Act into law. 
And apparently, Andrew Jackson was "really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said: 'There's no reason for this.'" This revelation comes to us thanks to the tireless historical revisionary, Donald "Nostradamus" Trump. "People don't realize, you know, the Civil War — if you think about it, why? People don't ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?"
This insight rivals that of noted historian, Jeff Spicoli, who once distilled the causes for our Revolutionary War in the following manner: "What Jefferson was saying was, Hey! You know, we left this England place 'cause it was bogus; so if we don't get some cool rules ourselves - pronto - we'll just be bogus too! Get it?"
Got it. 
It should also be noted that Old Hickory, as Andrew Jackson was called, had a great fondness for the Spoils System, which rewarded his supporters with political positions, further concentrated and entrenched his and later presidents’ executive power. The other fact that gets lost in all of this controversy is how Jackson developed his own time machine and traveled to various points in history, setting things right. Hitler didn't commit suicide. Andrew Jackson. Navy Seals and Osama bin Laden? Jackson. Ever the innovator, Andrew Jackson owned one hundred sixty slaves right up until the time of his death on his plantation. Probably part of his master plan for emancipation through relocation. People don't ask why.
Actually, I do. All the time lately. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

He Said What?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It was Doctor Hunter S. Thompson who once said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Things don't get a lot weirder than they have over the past few months. Surreal. The good doctor would be shocked and tormented by the goings-on in Washington currently. The greed-heads and the human jackals have taken over. This is no time to curl up into a fetal position and wish that it would all go away. 
Not when the "President" and his minions are "looking into" changing the First Amendment. 
Yes, you read that right. In an interview with ABC's Jonathan Karl, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked about a Trumptweet that said,  "the failing New York Times has disgraced the media world. Gotten me wrong for two solid years. Change the libel laws?" Karl asked, "That would require, as I understand it, a constitutional amendment. Is he really going to pursue that? Is that something he wants to pursue?"
"I think it's something we've looked at," Priebus replied in the affirmative. "How that gets executed, or whether that goes anywhere, is a different story."
A different story, indeed. 
Now the "president" is looking into messing with the First Amendment. Never mind that the Second Amendment seems to be etched in stone and not up for any sort of discussion. Never mind that freedom of speech is what gives his wispy orange head a place to take his petty rants on Twitter. Never mind that it is the bedrock upon which our Constitution is based. And surely it creates a nifty little vortex if you start arguing about the right to free speech, since it is protected in the First Amendment an all. But what happens when that protection gets legislated out of the rule book. Having a rather unhealthy looking rust-colored skin may also have the effect of making it too thin for public service. You thought that being "President" was going to be easier? Imagine all those ninnies out there with access to a keyboard. Or a smart phone. Or a Twitter Account
"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Harry S. Truman
"Air conditioning broken in Oval Office. Can't get good help. Sad." Donald J. Trump

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Fan Attic

I am a fan of a lot of things. I appreciate those people, organizations and experiences that exceed my own abilities. Sometimes I do so begrudgingly, but as I sat in front of the television watching the three hours of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions for this year, I was impressed by how many of the artists made mention of the fans. In the end, that's what it's all about for a performer. An athlete. An author. A teacher. To make that trip to the Hall of Fame, you've got to have fans. By contrast, when you toil in relative obscurity, you still count the fans and you probably know them all by name. "I wanna thank you all for coming out." Individually. And I think of those stadiums filled with empty seats and a few committed die-hards there to see their team through the lean years. I think of that relationship from the other side, and I consider the number of "followers" I have on Twitter and this blog, and the responsibility involved. Please, take a moment to freshen your beverage, won't you? As I continue.
The first time I wanted to be a member of a fan club was after reading the back pages of a Captain America comic book. There was an ad for FOOM - Friends Of Old Marvel. It was the seventies version of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. I was sorely tempted to send my allowance to them and wait six to eight weeks for delivery of my membership card and subscription to the insider's magazine. I confess at that point in my life I was more interested in the stories and pictures in the comics and less in the stories behind them, and so I saved my nickels and dimes for more adventures and less commentary.
Years passed, and inside New Traditionalists was an application for Club Devo. By now I really was intrigued by the business end of show business. I wanted the inside skinny and I looked forward to each issue of The Brainwasher fan magazine. Along with my membership card and an offer to purchase more devolved swag, I received exactly one issue. I waited for months, and then gave up. I didn't stop being a fan. I became a little more jaded.
That's why, when I signed up for Oingo Boingo's Secret Society, my expectations were extremely low. Their membership card was every bit as keen as Devo's, and I could carry them together in my wallet in case I needed more than one form of identification. Their promise of additional surprises never really came to pass, but I was grateful to have the lyric booklet they sent along. Neither of these new wave opportunities gave me a chance at a backstage meet and greet, or access to special fan-only recordings. I was a little bitter.
Which didn't stop me from joining up when, after seeing Pee Wee Herman live at the University of Colorado, I joined up. This time, I was awarded with an invitation to an advance screening of Pee Wee's Big Adventure. At last. A true fan experience. I brought my older brother along, and we had the time of our lives in that shopping mall concrete bunker of a theater. Now I had three forms of identification, in case I needed to cash a check.
And that was about it for my fan club days. I signed my son up for the Denver Broncos' Kids Club, but living in Oakland made it difficult for him to take full advantage of all the activities and personal appearances. When I go to a show, I buy a T-shirt, mostly out of habit. I'm not much of a joiner after that, but in my wallet I still carry those reminders of what it truly means to be a fan.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Irony Board

I'm never fully sure about irony. I suppose that's the nature of the beast. It doesn't help that we live in a world that currently seems to plant, harvest, manufacture, export and wallow around in it. Irony, that is. 
Stuff like this: “It’s up to us to speak up against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites, and media elites,” he said. “These are America’s greatest domestic threats.” He is Wayne LaPierre. He is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Rifle Association. He is telling his followers, his members, those who hang on his every utterance that tumbles from his pursed lips, that the elites are the threat.
And so, as is my nature, I decided to check out what the dictionary has to say about "elite." The folks who make the definitions say this: the choice part. Of course, Merriam-Webster is probably an example of exactly the kind of threat that Wayne was talking about. Who decides what words mean, after all? All them snooty intellectual types. Next I suppose you'll be telling us what a "threat" is. "An indication of something impending," in case you're one of those people who are willing to have their language controlled by an elite media empire. 
Beware of college graduates, and millionaires. Watch out for people who use their positions of authority to steer your thoughts and beliefs. People like Wayne LaPierre, who earned a Masters Degree from Boston College. Wayne earns just a hair south of a million dollars a year for his work with the NRA. And before he was elevated to his lofty spot at the top of the Gun Rights totem pole, he was a lobbyist (defined as "a person who tries to influence legislation on behalf of a special interest" in case you were still keeping score). 
So I'm wondering just what Wayne would like us to believe. Is he telling us to watch out for educated types who try and influence us with their clever words and their bags of money? Is he appealing to our sense of irony when he tells us, from his place among the elite, that we shouldn't listen to him? Or is he blissfully unaware of this juxtaposition? "A pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other's false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning." Because I'm one of those intellectuals for whom you much watch out.

Monday, May 01, 2017

No. Really.


"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going," "President" Trump told Reuters in an interview. "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier." This comment goes such a very long way toward explaining the problem here. This is a guy who, according to his headgear, was aiming at Making America Great Again
He thought that was going to be easier.
Doesn't he read the papers?
Wait. Sorry.
Doesn't he watch the news?
Oops.
Doesn't he watch anything but Fox and Friends?
"I like to drive," he said. "I can't drive any more."
Which is interesting because he is currently driving a lot of us. To drink. Crazy. To the brink. 
More than five months after his victory and two days shy of the hundred-day mark of his presidency, the election is still on Trump's mind. Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map. "Here, you can take that, that's the final map of the numbers," the Republican "president" said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. "It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us." Obviously.
Somewhere, the sun is shining on a gleaming Golden T. Birds, or what is left of them after the effects of the global devastation wreaked over the past few years, are singing. In the penthouse offices, a whispy orange buffoon rambles about. Picking up phones. Screaming into them. Putting them down. The staff shivers in distress as they try in vain to meet their boss's every demand. Suddenly, the buffoon looks up. There is a faint trace of an expression crossing his face, replacing the perpetual grimace. Is it a smile? "I think I would like to go for a drive." On the way out, he grabs the keys and hands a crumpled piece of paper to his manservant. "You see those red states? Those are us."
Not anymore.  

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Apologizing is something that I learned to do when I was in college. At first I wasn't very good at it. I had spent a great deal of my life prior to that using those moments of sorry to explain and excuse my behavior. Saying "sorry" was the doorway to returning to whatever I was doing before things got all confused and misunderstood. Me, specifically. Who could doubt that my motives were pure? I never meant to do anyone harm. It's not my style, after all. So forgive me.
I spent a lot of time in my youth waiting for apologies from others. As the round kid who was picked last and probably read too much, I expected that I was owed an apology from most of the organizing principles of the universe. I wasn't going to be sending any out. Wasn't it apparent to everyone in attendance that I was obviously the victim of a universe that was always somehow putting me in that spot?
As it turned out, I was completely capable of making bad choices, and stepping on some metaphorical toes. And some actual toes. When I was in junior high school, I found my voice, as it were. Loud. As a teenager, I found myself saying sorry to my parents more and more. I confess that I didn't really mean all of them. I was mostly looking to move on to the next event in hopes that it wouldn't involve apologizing because it took up so much time. I wasn't a juvenile delinquent or anything, I just had my hands full of growing up and occasionally my enthusiasms or doubts or growing pains created the opportunity for me to ask forgiveness. Even if I was unclear about the transaction.
In high school, I began to realize the politics of apology. There was some physics to it. It wasn't just a simple arithmetic problem. There was some mechanics to it. Like so many things about being in high school, I wish I would have understood this better. Adolescence isn't the time of life when people tend to be looking out for the feelings of others, and sadly I was no exception. Staying drunk during the Reagan and Bush administrations did not help this stunted perspective.
It wasn't really until I sobered up that I began to understand the transaction. It wasn't asking for another chance. It was about making the most of the moment that could be mended. I learned that some things cannot be forgiven, but that list grows exponentially if you never bother to ask. It was somewhere in there that I wrote an apology for all men. All those terrible things that we do and say and never bother to go back to see if we have hurt any feelings or broken any hearts. Or simply stunk up the place with all that man smell.
And shortly after that, I fell in love and got married. I couldn't stay married without a good solid apology in my hip pocket at all times. Not just to relieve the stress of a situation, but to repair it. "Are you okay?" Magic words. "I didn't mean to..." but you know you did so don't bother. Go ahead and say you're sorry for what you did and hope that it takes.
That's what I am teaching at school.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Art Of The Deal

The Trump Empire has been in business since 1923, when grandma and grandpa opened up shop. Little Donny took over in 1971 and proceeded to run it into bankruptcy four times. This, according to Little Donny, is "a common business practice." Now, at the age when a lot of people might consider retirement, Little Donny has decided to move on up to the East Side, to a deluxe apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue. This is where his new career as a world leader is just beginning. He suggests, or at least his hats do, that he can make America great again. Hats made in China.
It's hard to be consistent when the whole world is watching, but that's part of the game when you decide that you want to lead it. As it turns out, the United States is a far more diversified organization than the Trump Empire. That deceptively simple-looking diagram of the three branches of government don't really give one the full justice and majesty of the democratic principle. Winning an election is not the means to an end. For most of his life, Little Donny has not had to worry much about his approval ratings, since mummy and daddy gave him a business to run into a wall. If you didn't like the way things were going, fire someone. This was an amusing enough notion that a whole network TV show was created around it. "You're fired" was a catchphrase at a time when our country struggled to get itself back on its feet economically.
Why not just turn the country over to this guy? He's not a politician. He can straighten things out in days. He'll drain the swamp. He'll Make America Great Again. Unless there are those who can't simply be forced out of the way. He sent all those US Attorneys packing. Or the way he shipped those so-called "dreamers" back across the border. He sent cruise missiles to Syria, and a great big bomb to Afghanistan, and still got in a round or two of golf. Whatta guy.
While he's been looking for the drain to this particular swamp, the country waits for the "really fantastic" solution to health care and all those amazing changes on their taxes. And since the wall he wants built down south doesn't seem to be getting much traction in Mexico, he's decided to go ahead and figure out how to get American taxpayers to foot that bill. That "big, beautiful wall" seems to be hanging in the in the midst of a potentially bigger money issue, like the government may not have enough money to keep running unless everyone agrees on what to spend. Not working together could result in the lights going out on all those big plans.
Working and playing well together is not high on the list of Little Donald's accomplishments. If we were going to have a game show host for a president, why couldn't we have picked Monty Hall?

Friday, April 28, 2017

To Whom It May Concern

What I got back, some thirty years after the fact, was a photocopy of the original letter I wrote. I wrote it to try and get a young friend of mine into the University of Southern California film school. The original was spit out of a tractor feed printer, and I confess I missed the tiny flanges of paper that used to connect that strip of holes. I remember how I composed it on my mother's computer, on Wordstar, a program I barely understood but I wanted to make this thing look as impossibly impressive and professional as possible. Beyond the technical aspects, I strove to put as much heart and soul into this letter as I could, ensuring my good friend of a safe and prosperous future and a career that would take him places about which we only dared to dream.
My friend didn't make it into USC. I blame the admissions office. I blame Wordstar. I blame myself. The good news is that he doesn't seem to blame me. He ended up at the University of Colorado, the same fine institution that gave me my Creative Writing degree. He graduated from the School of Engineering. Graduated. No real thanks to me, but he kept the letter.
All those years.
When I looked at it again, through the haze of middle age and all the time that has passed, I thought of all the other letters I had written since. Written for friends. Written for people with whom I am friendly. For school. For jobs. For jobs in school. Letters with effusive praise and appreciation, none of which was faked or inflated. I like to tell myself that it was my skill as a wordsmith, working with something other than Wordstar, that made the difference when those who received those letters sat back in their chairs and said, "Well, after reading this I can't see how we could imagine a more qualified candidate."
Sometimes I wrote these letters begrudgingly, sending a colleague off on a new track or a path that I might have investigated myself if I weren't so very, very busy.
Writing letters of recommendation.
But mostly I'm happy that I can have an impact on the lives of those around me. I am almost always flattered when the opportunity arises, and I only wish that I could guarantee that my words and the way I string them together would be enough to put the subject of that letter over the top. And my most sincere apologies to those of whom I failed. I hope your life had another twist or turn that my letter from being the bane of your existence.
Thank you for your consideration.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Answering The Bell

When we hear footsteps on the front porch, we await the ringing of the doorbell. This past weekend, in the middle of the night, we weren't awake to hear those footsteps. The first sound of the bell made my wife and I imagine there had been some sort of power outage, and that wink of electricity had set off our mild security system. Then it rang again. This was really someone on the porch.
I rose from the bed, and my wife called after me, "Make sure you use the chain."
I assured her that I would, but first I was going to put on my robe. That would give me the warmth I needed as well as giving me the extra few seconds to clear my head for this operation. When I got to the door, however, my wife was already there.
"Who is it?" she called through the closed door. She wasn't using the chain.
I stopped and listened along with her. The voice on the other side let us know that it was the teenager from down the street. He had been on our porch a few times recently, looking for a calm place in the storm of adolescence. This was a change from years past when he was running an errand for his mother who needed to borrow a cup or sugar of a couple eggs. Or maybe he was just out walking his dog and stopped by to see if our son was home. And if our son, impossibly older by five years, wanted to play.
On this late night, he wasn't there to play. He needed a place to rest. He had been out on the streets for hours, locked out of his house. Now with the door opened to receive our neighbor my wife and I kept our concerns to ourselves, even though we had so many questions. Where was his mother? Why didn't he use his key? Was there someone we should be calling? Where had he been for all those hours that preceded midnight?
He didn't want to talk much. He looked as tired as we felt, and so my wife set about making up the bed in the back room for him. When she came back, I went and brought back a glass of grape juice that seemed like a caring gesture. That's when my wife texted his mother.
No response.
There was little more to discuss. It was time for sleep, and the details would be sorted out in the morning.
In the morning there was a note on the bed. Two actually. One was the draft of the more legible one that thanked us for the place to rest and that he didn't want to wake us. Again. He had gone out the back door to a friend's house once the sun was up.
Shortly after that, we got a call from his mother, filling in the blanks. The trouble he was in. The challenges she had been having. The challenges he had been having. The challenges of a single mother and her son. She thanked us for the safe place we gave her son.
And we wonder if that bell will ring again.