Friday, November 24, 2017

Since October 5

For a lot of people, it started with Harvey Weinstein, Producer and co-founder of the Weinstein Company.
Then came Andy Signore, Senior vice president of content for Defy Media.
And Roy Price. Head of Amazon Studios.
And Chris Savino, Creator and showrunner of “The Loud House."
And Robert Scoble, Tech blogger and co-founder of the Transformation Group.
And Lockhart Steele, Editorial director of Vox Media.
And John Besh. Chief executive of the Besh Restaurant Group.
And James Toback, Director and writer.
And Terry Richardson, Fashion photographer.
And Leon Wieseltier, A former editor at The New Republic.
And Knight Landesman, Publisher of Artforum.
And Rick Najera, Director of CBS's Diversity Showcase.
And Mark Halperin, NBC News and MSNBC contributor, author of "Game Change."
And Ken Baker, E! News correspondent.
And Kevin Spacey, Actor.
And Hamilton Fish, President and publisher of The New Republic.
And Michael Oreskes, Head of news at NPR and former New York Times editor.
And Andy Dick, Actor.
And Kirt Webster, Music publicist.
And Brett Ratner, Producer and director.
And Jeff Hoover, Kentucky speaker of the House.
And David Guillod, Co-chief executive of Primary Wave Entertainment agency.
And Ed Westwick, Actor.
And Jeffrey Tambor, Actor.
And Benjamin Genocchio, Executive director of the Armory Show art fair.
And Roy Moore, Alabama judge and politician.
And Louis C.K., Comedian and producer.
And Andrew Kreisberg, Executive producer of "Arrow," "Supergirl," "The Flash."
And Eddie Berganza, Editor at DC Comics.
And Steve Jurvetson, Co-founder of a venture capital firm and a board member of Tesla and SpaceX.
And Al Franken, U.S. senator.
And Glenn Thrush, Reporter at The New York Times.
And Charlie Rose, Television host.
A month and a half of revelations, and more sure to come. Most of these men have been fired, resigned or "stepped away" from the companies that hired them. That won't fix the problem. And the problem isn't blue or red or Hollywood or D.C. It's men. Time to wake up. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Simple Machines

I am thankful for pop-top cans. Back in the olden days, beverages came in cans that had to be opened with a church key can opener. One hole in the front for easy pouring and one smaller vent in the back to keep gurgling to a minimum. Sounds cool? It was a hassle.
Then came pull tabs, which were a revelation at the time. They did provide endless hours of amusement and craft-making possibilities. Mostly they created a rival for cigarette butts when it came to the most prevalent scrap of litter found on beaches, forests and city streets. Then, in 1975, the pop-top appeared. It came with all the convenience of the pull tab, but kept the tab attached to the can. The litter stayed attached to the can. 
Special thanks go to Daniel F. Cudzik, inventor. Thank you for helping save our environment. 
I am also thankful for the lumber and composites that sit above my family's head as we go to sleep each night. Since 1895, this bit of construction has kept the rain off our heads and the sun out of our eyes. We have shelter, and that is an amazing thing. That roof protects my family and our possessions. We tend to invite friends, family, and the occasional stranger to enjoy the comfort and safety of something under which we can sit, talk, sleep and play the occasional game of gin rummy. It is a place where we can stay until we decide to go out and brave the elements, with the option of coming back to be inside when we get tired or bored of being out in the wilderness. And all the while we could reflect at the distinct lack of pull tabs littering the outside. 
There is so very much for which we can be thankful that it seems ridiculous for this one day to ponder the alternatives: those things that we could do without. There certainly have been buckets and boxes full of disappointments and grief since last November, and I would like to suggest that on this day we take a standing eight count to give ourselves a moment to reflect on the things that continue to work in our lives. Pop-top cans. Roofs. The front door that when closed keeps out all those winds and scary monsters. When it opens, the choice of walking outside or welcoming folks inside. 
I am thankful for the bits and pieces around my life, and tomorrow I wish for everyone to have a chance to enjoy them, if only for a day. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

News That Needs To Be Fake

Yes. I saw the headline: The FAA Can’t Stop People From Throwing Live Turkeys Out Of Planes. I clicked on it. I really could not believe that this was an article that could be true. But it came from Huffington Post. I trust these folks. It cited a Turkey Drop in Yellville, Arkansas. The Federal Aviation Administration was asked to find a way to stop the annual festival in that corner of the map that uses the plummeting fowl as a promotion for their Turkey Trot. Their city website proudly announces  them as "Home of the Famous TURKEY TROT." Or infamous. Dropping turkeys from an airplane flying fifty feet above the ground seems like a bad idea for the people on the ground as much as the birds in the air. 
Really? I thought this was just a play on the episode of WKRP in Cincinnati in which Les Nessman, winner of the coveted Silver Sow Award as well as three Buckeye Newshawk awards, described the scene at a local shopping mall where his stations's owner and sales manager were pitching live turkeys out of a helicopter. It's a sit-com. It's not real. Even at the end of the episode, as owner Arthur Carlson returns to the station in the aftermath of the debacle of a promotion, he states, "As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."
For the record, no turkeys were harmed in the filming of that WKRP episode. Those in the Yellville festival were not quite as lucky. While it is true that Thanksgiving tradition suggests that  the mortality rate for turkeys is high, what brain trust got together to figure that replaying a scene from a seventies situation comedy in celebration of our annual feast was a good idea? 
Wouldn't it be better if this was a made up story? And while we're at it, wouldn't it be nice if we could select a news item each week to be the one that didn't happen? What a treat it would  be to turn back the clock and  tell everyone that the shooting in Texas was really just pretend, and nobody died. No innocent victims, fish, fowl, or human. Hit that big red FAKE button and put the brakes on any more carnage. That might mean that we would have to let Melania Trump turn out to be a replicant, but that should be left up to us. We, the people. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Made It

And so we made it. All the way to Thanksgiving break. It shouldn't be a surprise. The world keeps turning and the pages of the calendar keep falling off, making a mess of the floor beneath the calendar. Coming soon to a floor beneath that calendar: Winter.
It's a cycle. I get it. Fifty-five changes of season and there are still rises and falls in this great big circle. Each group of trick or treaters and every fireworks show. Birthday wrapping paper gets cleaned up in time for the Christmas tinsel to get ground into the carpet. Holiday meals are prepared, consumed and the nice plates are put away for another occasion. Whatever that is.
Now I teach. In a public school, and the rises and falls are well-worn ruts that make creases through modern American life. Before that, I worked in a book warehouse. My life took the shape of the UPS calendar. I worked when UPS worked. That's how we planned our wedding, once upon a time. The first of August was after our annual inventory and before the first wave of holiday orders started pouring in. I was back from my honeymoon in plenty of time for that.
It was the death of my father that put a crimp in my otherwise stellar attendance record. I knew that the day after Thanksgiving was going to be an explosion of retail fun and it was up to my crack staff of  book schleppers to stuff boxes full of new books to fill up the shelves of stores that needed what we had. It was my duty to be there to be sure that those orders went out on time.
And I missed it. Because I was in another state. I was attending to other matters. Before I could climb back into the ring with the whole American Free Enterprise system, I had to scatter the ashes of my father.
When I returned, the warehouse was still running along. I limped through the rest of the holiday season, and by the next spring, I was getting ready to leave the warehouse to start my career as a teacher. And buy a house. And have a son. And for the next twenty years, public education would shape the waves of my life. Summer vacations allow me to celebrate my anniversary. Thanksgiving break allows me to notice the seasons change and count the rings on the tree. The tree we planted on the front lawn. The one we hang lights on every winter. At our house. The one we bought with a down payment that came from the insurance money we got for joining the dead dad club.
So we made it. To another Thanksgiving break. Now can I get some help with all these calendar pages?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Don't! Stop!

I blame Mick Fleetwood. He's the guy who asked Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to be in Fleetwood Mac back in the mid-seventies. That was the alchemical decision that turned them into a Supergroup, responsible for dozens of pop hits. Including "Don't Stop." If you didn't live through the seventies, you might not be familiar with this ditty, penned by Christine McVie about the end of her marriage to Mac's bassist John McVie. It was sung by Mister Buckingham and Ms. McVie, but it helped introduce the world to the messy world of relationships in a rock band.
Like the one being lived by the aforementioned Lindsey Buckingham who was involved with the ethereal presence and vocalist known as Stevie Nicks. There was no hit single describing the abuse Stevie experienced at the hands of her collaborator and paramour. That was just part of the magic that swirled around the band back then.
This magic was powerful enough to last all the way into the early nineties, when Bill Clinton used "Don't Stop" as his campaign's theme song. The disbanded Fleetwood Mac re-banded to play the tune at Bill's 1993 inauguration. It was two years later that President Bill began his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. Fans of President Bill tend not to throw a light on the indiscretions of their favorite saxophone playing chief executive, but it might be argued that Hillary Clinton was due some special recognition for her patience while her husband sorted out his personal affairs. It was the stuff of impeachment, at least back in those days.
These days? It seems as though most every male human being has been or is becoming incapable of suppressing their prurient impulses. The daily parade of shame continued last week with the naming of Senator Al Franken, an announcement that left me wondering just exactly when this trend might stop. The good news is that women and men who have been oppressed or violated by sexual predators are finally being given a voice, and the actions of men that have been tolerated or excused by so many for so long are being shoved out into the light. The illusory power that men seem to have is been assumed by men is being stripped away. Franken's harassment of Lauren Tweeden comes in like an unwelcome tide that shows no sign of moving back out. The worst part about this story is that it most certainly connects up with others, experienced by victims too ashamed or afraid to come forward.
It also shows up as the allegations against Alabama's Roy Moore continue to muddy the Senate campaign. Al Franken has made his mandated apology. For what it is worth, Ms. Tweeden has accepted, and Franken has joined calls for an ethics probe. On himself. All the while, men continue to float excuses about this and that, including "not remembering" incidents in which they acted deplorably. The victims in these incidents remember.
That's what counts. That's what matters. Don't Stop Believin'.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Penalty Box

Death and dying. The ultimate penalty. So many innocent bystanders shuffle off this mortal coil simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ninety-three Americans die every day because they were in the path of a bullet that may or may not have been intended for them. The good news in this factoid is that the number is not higher. The idjit who went on a gun-fueled rampage in Tehama County, California might have pushed the average higher if the local elementary school had not been on lockdown. Reports say that the idjit with a gun fired at least thirty rounds into the building, but when he couldn't gain entrance, he went elsewhere to pop off a few more caps into four others, having already murdered his wife the night before. Police shot the idjit when they caught up with him, making the killed by guns total for Tehama County for that twenty-four hour period six. There will not be a lot of argument about whether or not the idjit in question deserved to die. That was good guys with guns justice, and the hardened among us will quickly point out how much we saved in court costs bringing this idjit to trial and all the consequent appeals process and so on. It was all over in a hail of bullets. Justice. Or what seems like it in 2017.
It's a timing thing, after all. Recently, an inmate on death row in Ohio had his execution delayed because a vein could not be found into which a needle could be placed for the lethal injection. After twenty-five minutes of poking around, medical personnel gave up trying to kill the convicted murderer. “We’re not going to rush to execute,” Gary Mohr, head of the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. “We’re just taking our time and I think that’s fine.” This came after officials had decided to allow this same inmate a special wedge-shaped pillow upon which he could rest on the gurney to "help him breathe" as they executed him. Just like that alcohol swab they use to clean the spot where the needle for the lethal injection will eventually go, it is important to be humane. 
Which may have had something to do with the mindset of the doctors who treated Charles Manson at a Bakersfield hospital. I suspect their Hippocratic Oath was stretched to its limits as they worked to keep the eighty-three year old murderer alive. Officials there said "It's just a matter of time." As J.K. Rowling, and countless others, have suggested “Death comes for us all in the end.”
Sooner or later, we all end up in the penalty box. It's just a matter of time. And timing. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Trust Verified

There is not a lot of room left for excuses. When Mitch McConnell says he will no longer support a Republican candidate for Senate, the margin has just moved past fractions to zero. If you have been avoiding anything that says "scandal" or "molest" or "grope" over the past week or two, you may have missed the part where Alabama Senate hopeful Roy Moore has been accused by a group of women who claim Mister Moore molested and pursued them when they were teenagers. As young as fourteen years old. Teenagers. 
While that settles, let us remember that Mitch McConnell Voted "No" on a government sponsored bill to reduce teen pregnancy by education and contraceptives. Mitch Voted "No" on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. What is Mitch for? He Voted "Yes" on barring the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. So, it would seem that saying "I believe the women" is something of a breakthrough for him. 
Then again, Mister McConnell is also a bit of a surfer. He tends to see waves coming in and going out and knows how to catch the next one. I hesitate to use the rats leaving a sinking ship metaphor because that would be degrading to the rodents. The real ones. The Grand Old Party is drawing a line in the sand on this one. Jeff Sessions said he has "no reason to doubt" the allegations. The Republican National Committee has pulled funding from Roy Moore's campaign. Always a little late to the party, Sean Hannity has decided to hop aboard the anti-Moore bandwagon. This may have had something to do with the number of advertisers that were jumping off the Sean Hannity bandwagon as he tried to figure out just what to believe, but now he has seen the light.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The election will be held on December 12. Less than a month for Republicans of all size and stature to decide how they feel about alleged sexual abuse. Alleged as in Mitch McConnell believes the women. 
Go figure. As for the fifteen women alleging sexual misconduct by one Donald "You Figure Out What The J Stands For" Trump, we all must sit and wait. 
Go figure. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Price You Pay

Right here on this spot I have bemoaned the state of commerce in these United States, when retailers feel compelled to keep their doors open to lure any an all potential shoppers into their brick and mortar lairs. We have taken to referring to this as "Black Friday," which is ridiculous for a fistful of reasons, not the least of which it has very little to do with a particular day. The idea that there was something magical about that day after Thanksgiving when the deepest and most insane discounts would be available for this limited window of time, well, it's not real.
Not when I am getting emails in September urging me to take advantage of Black Friday savings now! Maybe this a tribute to the Black Friday of 1869, that was caused by a pair of gold speculators who wanted to corner the market after the Civil War. This caused a panic that echoed through Wall Street and put the country's economy in a tailspin for months afterward. No flat screen televisions were bought or sold during this period.
Perhaps this is some kind of homage to the late Walter Becker, who plays an amazing solo in the midst of the Steely Dan track about greed and fear. Walter passed away in September. Coincidence? Maybe.
Most likely, the name of that day derives from the hope shop owners harbor that this one day, or in this case months, exists to drive all that red ink out of the ledgers. You've got a warehouse full of carrot peelers that aren't moving? Just wait until Black Friday. Knock the price down to just a little over wholesale and get rid of them once and for all.
And you don't even have to have your doors open and a staff of eager salesfolk at the ready to make all of those shopping dreams come true. Competition has made it possible for us all to experience those same savings on Al Gore's Internet. Best of all, you don't have to camp out for days in advance or show up outside your favorite store at dawn, foaming at the mouth, to enjoy this retail frenzy. It's going on now. Stay in bed and order that carrot peeler from you smart phone.
And yes, I know that my son's paycheck will experience a bounce of some generous proportion because of his willingness to put himself on that front line. He will be standing there when the doors crash open and the last best assault on holiday savings begins. Or ends. Will it interfere with our traditional Thanksgiving routine? Yes it will. I suppose the good news is that I know my son will be available online most every other day.
It's the price we pay.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Yuk Factory

Fans of classic comedy, be of good cheer, Don Rickles is not dead. Well, okay, he's mostly dead and remembered fondly by generations of badda-boom badda-bing fans. Perhaps none as fondly as the currently touring tribute act, Don Trickles. Check out this sample of his best stuff: “Why would Kim Jong Un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’” Get it? See how he turned that lame insult by the leader of North Korea into a rubber/glue type retort that ended up being a zinger back in his face? Ba BOOM!
Yes, welcome to the comedy stylings of Don Trickle, comedian and sometimes "President" of the United States. Exactly how funny you find his brand of humor probably depends on how you feel about his most frequent targets. There's "Crooked Hillary," and "Pocahontas." "Lyin' Ted Cruz" was hot a year ago, and "fake news" continues to be a hot topic in the cavalcade of yuks being foisted on us all from the mouth that continues to roar.
But no one seems to be as frequent a target as Kim Jong Un, the aforementioned Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea and supreme leader of North Korea. Regularly referred to as "Little Rocket Man," Don Trickles seems to take special joy in needling this man not for his love of Elton John but rather for his possession of nuclear warheads that can be launched against the United States and its territories with little or no provocation. Ha ha ha. Get it? 
No? But we might. If the reality is that Kim Jong Un is a madman and a despot who treats his own people with careless disregard, what makes us think that calling him names won't unleash a missile or two in the general direction of his tormentor? I understand that the Pacific and the West Coast is relatively free of Trump real estate holdings, so the worries felt at Mar a Lago are limited, but those of us in the line of fire get a little nervous when we start looking at maps defining the range of those "little rockets." 
Sure, it seems funny. Until someone gets hurt. Or incinerated. Then I guess the joke's on us. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Policy

Nancy is a good student. She is one of the fifth graders I can expect will be up out of her seat if someone nearby needs some help while I am across the room working with someone else. Not that it's her job, it's something that she does.
That was why I was surprised to find her hunched over, looking furtively left and right, with her cell phone in her lap. "Nancy," I said as I approached, "Please put your phone away."
Nancy looked up at me abruptly. "What? I was texting my mom!"
I was a little confused by this response since I had expected that Nancy would quickly demur and stuff the offending technology in her pocket. Problem solved.
"Why can't I text my mom?"
I took a breath before I began: "The school rule is that phones are to be turned off and put away during school hours." I added, "That's for everyone."
The phone was still out, and I could see that Nancy was becoming more agitated by the second. "Go ahead, call my mom," she huffed.
Interesting, since I hadn't reached Defcon Mom yet. "I just want you to put your phone up. That's what I expect from everyone else." What I didn't say was that I didn't expect Nancy to be the part of everyone that I would have to remind.
Nancy had begun to cry. Just a little. Tears of frustration. I chose to back away, rather than exacerbate the situation. It occurred to me that earlier in the period, she had been talking to Grace. It was a brief interaction, but it had a conspiratorial vibe to it. Since it was Nancy and Grace, I decided to let it go. Now I wondered if there wasn't something else going on. "Grace, is there something going on with Nancy?"
The look on Grace's face told me that I may be on to something. "No." The quick  answer made me wonder even more.
"You're not in trouble. Neither is Nancy," I was trying to figure out what sort of situation I was trying  to figure out if it wasn't trouble.
Then Grace cracked a bit. "Nancy feels bad because she pushed somebody. She's trying to apologize."
"So she was texting someone?" I could tell that tensions were running pretty high for Grace too, as she started looking back over her shoulder at Nancy.
"Yes."
Now I needed to decide: Was this worth  pursuing, or should I let the last fifteen  minutes of class play out without getting to the bottom of this illicit behavior? I decided to let it go.
When it came time to line up, I was still getting a glare from Nancy. I went the other way as she and Grace made their grumbling way to the line. On the floor next to Nancy's vacated seat was a folded piece of notebook paper. My teacher  curiosity was piqued, so I opened it up. Without reading the whole thing, it was an obvious mash note, with Nancy's name and a boy from another class featured inside a heart.
Suddenly, I didn't want to be Hercule Poirot anymore. I just wanted Nancy to feel better about her place in the scheme of things: fifth grade, growing up, negotiating the perilous path of preadolescence. Later that day, I went up to her on the playground and apologized for tormenting her. I told her that I didn't want to upset her, I just wanted to be fair to her and everyone else. She didn't smile, but she didn't cry. She was on a journey, and I had put a roadblock in her way. It's what grownups do. Even the well-intentioned ones.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Give And Take

Every successful relationship has its share of compromises and boundary pushing moments. One of the very first ones I experienced with the woman who would become my wife was her insistence that I learn how to dance. Really dance. Not that flopping around for which I had become known. I used this as a defense initially: "People say I'm a good dancer." She acknowledged this, but held firm. "But not a lot of fun for me to dance with you."
So began the somewhat painful but ultimately satisfying education of my feet to conform to a set of steps: box step, cha-cha, the waltz. Ah, that waltz. I could hear the music in my head but something about that structure put me off. I muttered one two three under my breath and kept my eyes down. It was no fun.
Until I practiced enough and realized that breaking into a waltz in public is a great way to blow up tension. If you don't believe me, pull the car over to the side of the road and ask your partner to get out there and dance with you on the shoulder. See if it doesn't win you some romance points. It worked for me.
Which was the kernel of what got me on skates last weekend. Coming out of the sporting goods store, I noticed a raised platform with children, of all ages, swirling around in circles in that unmistakable glide of blades on ice. I knew that my wife would love to have the chance to show off her skills, and she showed it with an embarrassed smile when I asked her if she wanted to go check it out. Being a grown up who is married to a profoundly land-based mammal, she declined, but kept walking with me toward the rink.
"It wouldn't be any fun unless you went with me," she said.
I kept cajoling, and by the time we were both signing our waivers, I had made up my mind to give it a try. What was the worst that could happen? I could fall down. A lot. I could hurt myself and since I had just signed away most of my rights as a citizen, there would be no recourse. I was going to strap on a pair of skates and attempt to do something that takes a lot of practice. With no real chance to do it in private first.
The walk across the carpet on those rented blades was awkward enough for me, but once we got out on the ice, every muscle tightened and I focused all my energy into staying upright. I clung to the rail and made my way around once, twice. Small children came up behind me, "Excuse me," the huffed as I blocked their passage. "Sorry," I replied through gritted teeth. I kept sending my wife off on another circuit as I plodded along. Slipping. Sliding.
When I looked up, I watched my wife, or rather I watched her smile as she drifted across the ice in an effortless way that made me wonder what cruel evolutionary step I had missed as I continued to skitter my way around the perimeter, where the slush was collecting and the clock in my head began to tick loudly.
How much more of this fun could I take?
I watched young men and women, boys and girls, dads and moms skating like it was part of normal pedestrian traffic. I could not comprehend it, and eventually made my way to the benches where I could watch my wife. Watch the breeze in her hair and the innate control she seemed to have over the path she made. In my mind, I pictured what I had hoped to be able to do. Nothing fancy, but something beyond that survival clamp I had on the wall of the rink. I wanted to skate with my wife. I wanted to share those moments with her.
And when all was said and done, with our orange plastic rental skates returned to the counter and we were back on the same footing of the parking lot, I realized we had. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Wanna Buy Some Pencils?

I get email from the people with whom I work all the time. Not that I know many or most of them. They come to me in the form of surveys and exhortations for which educators are known. We are all fighting good fight, after all. None of us wants to see the death of public education, but according to these emails, that is certainly the choice with which we are faced.
That and the perils of ending  a sentence with a preposition, especially when writing to teachers.
In the past week, I was reminded of the responses of the rank and file of our local educator's union. We were asked to call out any places that we saw waste in our district. "Cut from the top down!" was the cry heard loud  and clear, with some taking the time to specify departments and even individuals that they felt were especially in need of having their jobs eliminated. The Central Office, an almost stereotypically easy target for any union's anger was the problem, and the solution was dissolution. "Why do we need," started many of the rhetorical suggestions. The eternally embattled classroom teachers struck back with all the force of a group that had already sacrificed so very much and were  not willing to let another budget cut force them into buying more pencils and paper for their pupils. They really wanted to see that red ink resolved in some other way. "Get rid of," came the responses. You could hear their anguished cries calling out from their electronically dispatched missives.
And then there was mine. I suggested  that it was time to stop pitting ourselves against one another. It was time to stop begging for scraps. The values of our country seem to have slipped from those lofty assurances of education being the cornerstone of democracy and no child will be left behind. We are all educators, from custodians to superintendent and all those positions in between. We shouldn't be fighting over scraps. We shouldn't be pointing fingers at one another.
So much for my Mister Smith moment. My voice was all but drowned out by the angry mob. Later that same week I received an email from our superintendent, telling me and everyone with a district email address that the magic number for budget cuts this year had grown to more than fifteen million dollars. Along with this lovely piece of news came the announcement of a Voluntary Salary Donation Effort. It was our superintendent's hope that this VSDE would help defray costs for the current school year, and save money moving forward. Nearly ten percent of of "confidential management employees" had opted in to this program by week's end. Then there was this chilling addendum: "While the initiative has not been extended to other employees at this time, I am personally committed to working with employees and our labor partners to tackle the current challenges together."
And so my dream of us all working together came true. In the nastiest possible way.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Donaldson

My dad would have been in his eighties by now. This would be his victory lap. He might spend it visiting grandchildren and puttering around that wood shop that he never really got to in the life he left a little over twenty years ago. My son shows up historically as a marker of that passing. He was named for my father because we figured there was probably a parking space with that name somewhere that wasn't being used: Donald.
And now, two decades later, we are stuck with a "President" that might want to share that spot. Which is a pity, not just for the memory of my father but mostly because my son suffers under the weight of the label his parents put on his lunchbox so long ago.
Cheadle, Sutherland, Fagen. All perfectly acceptable pop cultural icons upon which one's Donald hat could be hung. Pleasance, Driver, Bellisario if you wanted to be a little more obscure. And of course there's always that Duck.
If you're a little more relaxed and more comfortable with the one syllable monikers, you could be happy with Rickles, Henley, Siegel, Novello, Adams, McLean, Ameche, Meredith, Shula, King or even Corleone.
Any of these are much more along the lines of the legacy that my son's mother and I had in mind when we offered up something to put on our son's birth certificate. It seemed like such a natural and appropriate tribute. These days it turns out to be a burden.
In an alternate reality, one in which our son had been our daughter, we had settled on Magnolia for the little girl who lives on another street in another time and place. There are no serial sexual predators or failed diplomats named Magnolia. As a sobriquet, Maggie has Thatcher to deal with, but Simpson tends to make that a wash, and Gyllenhaal and Smith would serve nicely as theatrical doppelgangers.
Or maybe I should embrace the fact that my son was given a name that he will eventually make his own. The banner under which he marches will carry the weight and lifted up by all that history. All that memory, and not just the actions of one enormous creamsicle, melting under the lights he asked to shine on him. This is the name of my father and my son, and that's the way I will forever remember it.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Easy Enough

Virginia is for lovers, and for the foreseeable future, Virginia is for Democrats. The Democratic candidate for governor, Ralph Northam, defeated his Republican challenger on Tuesday in an election that saw our "President" once again backing the losing choice. Not that you would guess that from The Twit In Chief's post-election tweet: "Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!" Ed was the Republican that, a few days before, the "President" had been saying would "totally turn around" Virginia's "high crime and poor economic performance." 
We may never know what sort of Virginia Ed Gillespie might have created. As a Republican, he has just been set adrift by the head of his party. It seems likely that Herr Trump will go ahead and delete those messages of support from his account in the same way he disappeared those pumping up Luther Strange, an Alabama senator that lost his chance to run for reelection in a primary runoff a few weeks back. The winner of that Alabama election, Roy Moore, said in the aftermath, “Together, we can make America great,” borrowing someone else's slogan and adding, “Don’t let anybody in the press think that because he supported my opponent that I do not support him.” Roy Moore understands one of the cardinal rules of politics: It's not what you kiss, but when.
Meanwhile, up the coast in New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy will be replacing the term-limited (and conscience limited) Republican Chris Christie. No word yet as to whether or not Governor-elect Murphy has tickets to see Springsteen on Broadway. 
Back in Virginia, the Democrats can feel smug in the number of seats they picked up in their state legislature. Sixteen seats, putting them in a dead heat with a previously Republican-dominated House of Delegates. Including one for Danica Roem, who takes over the spot vacated by twenty-six year incumbent and author of a proposed “bathroom bill” prohibiting trans people from using the bathroom of their choice. Ms. Roem, who ran primarily on transportation issues, is coincidentally transgender. 
And so we look to the future, knowing that each one of these elections means exactly nothing in the big picture if there are not results attached to them. Status quo is no longer an option. What are we after? Hope and change. 
Sounds easy enough. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Worship

Did you ever know you were my hero?
Probably not, since I don't get around to telling everyone who may have been assigned that lofty perch. So many men, women, dogs have been the focus of my adoration over the years that I would have to go back and read all these blogs over again and ask my mother who she remembers me holding in high esteem since I was young enough to make a scrapbook.
These days, I find myself hollering at my Echo whenever it plays a Bill Cosby track while shuffling through my music collection. "Skip!" Following Mel Gibson's career since Galipoli doesn't seem as worthwhile an avocation any longer. Memorizing every line from Annie Hall now feels like a waste of time, since bringing up Woody Allen in most any context gets me a sideways look. It took just a little over a week for Kevin Spacey to fall from greatest living American actor to sexual predator.
And Bill Clinton? Never mind.
What is the pathology of fame? Is it the borderline personalities that seek out the adulation or do we as a culture find them fascinating and worthy of our fawning? Certainly there was a time when hard-drinking womanizers were revered for just that. Hugh Hefner went to his grave as an unrepentant Playboy. Charles Schulz, creator of good ol' Charlie Brown was anxious and depressed, even more than his comic-strip avatar. Separating the art from the artifice has always been difficult. I still tend to bristle when I hear others talking trash about my demigod Bruce Springsteen. John Elway divorced his college sweetheart and ended up getting remarried to an Oakland Raiders cheerleader. How to reconcile all this pop culture wreckage?
Maybe at fifty-five I am ready to let go of hero worship. My father left his wife, my mother, leaving a gaping hole in the myth of Ward Cleaver. As it turns out, he was human, and subject to frailties and confusions suffered by everyone throughout history. Turns out he was really good at some things, but was confounded by others.
A little like me. Somehow, I managed to be nominated for sainthood by my son. Proud and embarrassed in equal measures, I read his college essay and wondered if he had captured the real me. The guy who wakes up in a pool of his own self-doubt on any given morning and carries a list in his head of ways he might have done better. And I think back to that scrapbook. The one with pictures of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Black and white photos of my first heroes. Bela was a tragic mess of a star, whose lasting contributions are equal parts Dracula and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Boris had his share of low-budget scrapes, but somehow managed to maintain a dignity that shines through today. And that may be worth remembering.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Not Well

Hello, United States citizens. We have a problem. Americans are dying in numbers that are uncomfortable and unreasonable. It's not heart disease or AIDS. It's not polio or tuberculosis. They are dying because of lead poisoning. How is this lead being introduced into their systems? It is fired as a projectile into their bodies by machines designed expressly for that purpose. The tragedy of this current epidemic cannot be overstated. It only takes one of these pellets to stop the life of a human being, and that death creates a ripple that takes the life away from all of those in proximity. Walking dead. Zombies, if you will.
Okay. Enough pretense. I am talking about guns and the violence they emit on a daily basis. According to the Center for Disease Control, on an average day ninety-three Americans are killed by guns. It's that "average day" that haunts me. Sunday was not an "average day." Twenty-six Americans were killed as they went to church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The good news? There are those who will point to the "good guy" who chased down the gunman and shot him. Which brings our total to twenty-eight, just for that little corner of the Lone Star State. Another dead American. That doesn't subtract from the total, which is something that may be lost on our friends at the NRA.
Gavin Newsom, lieutenant governor of California, suggested that instead of legislators sending their prayers to the victims of this day's mass shooting that they should send some common sense gun legislation. Common sense? Like prohibiting access to firearms for those who have been convicted of spousal abuse. In at least fifty-four percent of mass shootings, a partner or intimate was shot along with a number of other innocent victims. Domestic abuse runs like a bright red line through the rest of the statistics, not to mention the fact that ninety-eight percent of these shooters are male.
The killer in Texas was kicked out of the Air Force for (wait for it) for spousal and child abuse. At this point, I don't expect that it takes a Jonas Salk to come up with a vaccine. We need to be able to talk about this. We need to be able to control this. We are trying to control heart disease. We ask that people wear seat belts in their cars.
Maybe we can ask people not to shoot one another: This is your brain. This is your brain on guns. You supply the images. I don't feel well.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

What's The Point?

A point in every direction is the same as no point at all. - The Pointed Man
My wife asked me if I had been to Inspiration Point. I was initially taken aback, since by my reckoning, there was an Inspiration Point in just about any and every municipality from Oahu to Roanoke. In the same way that every town has a Main Street, there is some local site of mild interest with a view of something that provides stimulation to the core senses and thus inspiration. Also, I was primarily familiar with this geographical convention through episodes of Happy Days. It was the place where Richie and his pals went in search of their thrills, to put it only slightly euphemistically. Once I had cleared up any confusion about my wife's intentions in this matter, it became clear that she wanted to show me the spot in Berkeley that bore the title.
She said she wanted to see if I would get inspired there. Artistically.
I gave her three points: at the bottom of a swimming pool in Key West, at the top of Longs Peak, and the middle of our couch in the living room. These have been inspiration points for me. I might have gone ahead and named another half dozen or so, with an eye toward the mundane just to make the point clear. I tend to get my inspiration from wherever my path takes me.
This is not to say, by the way, that I would not be inspired by any sweeping landscape or grand vista. Quite the contrary. I grew up with those. For thirty some years I had the good fortune to stare up at the very first line of mountains in the chain called the Rockies. I lived in those mountains and walked through the pines, breathing their scent and listening to the wind rush through their branches. This wilderness experience was foundation for me. Decades later, I got some of the same level of influence, with a piquant of irony via the view of the Matterhorn from Disneyland's Main Street. I was inspired by my eventual trip to Yosemite National Park. I was also moved to create after walking for miles through the streets of Oakland. And that spot on our couch. Watching or listening or just sitting quietly, I have been moved to write, draw and even burst into song on occasion.
Still, does this mean there is no inspiration to be found for me at that lofty perch in Berkeley? It could be argued that it has already brought me to that point without ever making the trip, as witnessed by the last few paragraphs.
I don't know if you could stand it if I actually went and took it all in.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Twenty Years And Eleven Minutes

Martha O'Donovan has been accused of attempting to overthrow the government of Zimbabwe. How did she do it, or attempt to do it, anyway? Via Twitter. She is accused of calling ninety-three-year-old President Robert Mugabe a "sick man" in a Twitter post that included a photo illustration of the president with a catheter. For this she may potentially spend twenty years in prison. For a tweet.
Such is the state of cybersecurity in the world today. And so we find ourselves wondering how long before our "President" gets wind of this. 
For now, we assume that the Tangerine Terror wouldn't want to limit the free-flowing exchange of ideas represented by his own presence on social media. But maybe a disgruntled Twitter employee might, in a fit of pique, pull the plug on the "President's" account. For eleven minutes last week, that is precisely what happened. What was initially called accidental, but soon it became apparent that a "rogue employee" on their last day decided to give the planet a breather for less than a quarter of an hour. 
And what happened? Nothing, but a lot of people worried about it before, during, and after. What if he had deleted his own account in anticipation of pending indictment or litigation? How about Russians once again asserting their power over our infrastructure? Maybe that former Twitter employee was planning to hijack the "President's" account  and post a lot of ridiculous and cruel messages that could cause some kind of international incident?
Well, maybe that last one doesn't seem like much of a stretch, since the man who gave the world covfefe is more than capable of making his own ugly mess online. Meanwhile, my own campaign to be blocked by Sir Cheeto has taken another hit. Pithy responses to our chief executives ramblings on Twitter don't seem to matter much in a world that seems to be burdened by tiny-brained ninnies with access to a keyboard or smartphone. 
And how did Orange Julius respond to his ever-so-brief absence from the Twitterverse? “My Twitter account was taken down for 11 minutes by a rogue employee. I guess the word must finally be getting out-and having an impact.” Yes, the word is out. Our "President" is addicted to Twitter, a social media service used primarily to argue the merits of Michael Keaton's portrayal as Batman and oversharing about this and that. Our "President" is a sick man. 
Now I await that knock on the door. 

Monday, November 06, 2017

Nutty

Oh Rick. The smart-guy glasses aren't working. A bag of hammers labeled "brains" is still a bag of hammers. Rick Perry is still Rick Perry.
Maybe it is some odd hazing ritual that had our "President" naming this nincompoop Secretary of Energy. A couple years ago, when he was still Candidate Rick, he did not mince words when it came to the man who would be his boss: "Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant, it betrays the example of Christ. We can enforce our laws and our borders, and we can love all who live within our borders, without betraying our values." This was on his way out the door, and he wasn't too careful about where the door hit him. I suppose we should have suspected something when the man who would be "President" responded to that assertion with this tweet: ".@GovernorPerry is a terrific guy and I wish him well- I know he will have a great future!"
That future turns out to be licking the boots of the man Rick Perry once referred to as a "cancer" on the conservative cause. That, and travelling the globe dropping some of that very special brand of Perry wisdom. Like the twisted suggestion that fossil fuels would play a "positive role" in preventing sexual assault in Africa. Ever the big picture guy, Rick Perry was relating the story of his encounter with a young woman in a village, at which point he added his own conclusion: "When the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts. So from the standpoint of how you really affect people's lives, fossil fuels is going to play a role in that. I happen to think it's going to play a positive role."
So, here we have Ambassador Perry, shoveling coal onto a fire that was already burning out of control, and claiming that somehow these fossil fuels would do nothing less than bring the light of righteousness to this dark continent. It makes sense that a man who refuses to see a connection between burning fossil fuels and climate change could generate his own causal relationship between sexual assault and fossil fuels. 
In spite of the glasses, this guy is no Einstein. The Nutty Professor, maybe. 

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Levels Of Tragedy

Last week, eight people died when a man drove a rental truck into a crowd along a walkway in Manhattan.
Last week, three people died when a man walked into a Colorado Wal-mart and opened fire with a handgun. 
The suspect in Manhattan, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, was apprehended at the scene. 
The suspect in Colorado, Scott Ostrem, was still at large and considered armed and dangerous.
Last week, the "President" tweeted, "NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!"
Last week, the "President" tweeted, "Wouldn't it be great to Repeal the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate in ObamaCare and use those savings for further Tax Cuts."
Wait a second. Where is the outrage and moral certitude? Why no cries for the death penalty for random shooter in Colorado? 
It could be that by choosing not to shout "Allahu Akbar" at the time of his crime, suspect Scott Ostrem didn't have a lot to say. Bang. Bang. Bang. 
Maybe our "President" wanted to be sure that Miter Ostrem was in custody before he started making pronouncements about his guilt and ultimate consequence for his actions. 
Perhaps killing just three innocent people doesn't rate a judgmental tweet from the "President." It's only after you match the magic number of the day, which turns out to be eight this week, do you receive condemnation from the White House. 
Or maybe it's about terror. Nobody expects to be run down in Manhattan by a rental truck from Home Depot. That's terrifying. Nobody expects to be gunned down while shopping at Wal-Mart, either. That's terrifying. 
But we're probably not going to be politicizing Scott Ostrem's crime anytime soon. The good news is that Ostrem is now in custody, and now the terror is over. This round, anyway. But I continue to puzzle over the difference. Both of these murders have my attention. If it's purely a math thing, I guess I understand, but why are we discouraged from politicizing the death of fifty-eight Americans in Las Vegas?
Last week, a whole bunch of Americans died. Senselessly. Tragically. 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Surely, Laverne

Laverne is gone. Her last day was Wednesday. Perhaps I should say her most recent last day was Wednesday. Laverne has left us before.
Last year, when she was in fourth grade, there was a tearful week of goodbyes and a party wishing her bon voyage and best wishes with promises to come back and visit.
We didn't expect that she would be back in a month and that visit would turn into the rest of the year. And into her fifth grade year.
Now we have been assured that she is really and truly moving. She and her mother have taken up residence a few exits further on down the road and the commute would be ridiculous. This time it's for real.
Laverne will be missed by many, including myself. She is a very clever young lady with a lot on her mind. I suspect if I were her regular classroom teacher, I might get a little tired of hearing those thoughts on a regular basis. And not all of those encounters with Laverne's thoughts are uplifting. Partly because she swears like a sailor and she has a temper that might best be described as volcanic. Asking Laverne to put her cell phone away or to take her hot chips to the cafeteria instead of distributing them in fistfuls to her friends and the ground is risking a confrontation that could go on for the entirety of lunch recess.
Still, there's something about Laverne that makes her presence borderline magnetic. If a fifth grade girl who periodically erupts in geysers of profanity and anger could be said to have charisma, then that is what she has.
I told her it would be interesting to see how she liked her new school, and taking a small conversational risk, I wondered aloud if she might have trouble rebuilding the slime distribution ring she had enjoyed here at our school. She looked at me with a wry smile that let us both know that her network of manufacturing and sales minions were probably not going to survive without her. She had the recipe, after all. And the presence to lead the organization.
And for once, there was no lengthy argument about how I was picking on her and why did I always think it was her doing these things? That smile told me that we both knew. When Laverne is gone, she will be missed, and not just because the slime pipeline will dry up.
Goodbye again, Laverne. You will be missed.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Sides

Many sides. Many sides. History has become a dodecahedron. Our "President" wanted us to know that after the events in Charlotesville: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides." Not the folks with swastikas calling out for white supremacy. Many sides.
In this life, perspective is everything. Knowing that history tends to be written by the victors is not enough anymore. I live in a city where Columbus Day passed without so much as a phone call to my school's office asking if kids needed to go to school. I am teaching a batch of students whose only memory of "President" is Barack Obama, and they cannot make sense of this scary man who currently shows up on social media mocking and threatening. How did this happen? 
On Monday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said  that a “lack of ability to compromise led to the Civil War” and called the removal of Confederate monuments a “dangerous” scrubbing of history. Describing Robert E Lee, General Kelly went on: “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which, one hundred fifty years ago, was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War. And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had to make their stand.”
It just so happens that, historically speaking, half of those women and men were standing where their conscience told them that owning other human beings was part of that "faith." When the Civil War was over, there was an amendment passed to our Constitution abolishing that practice. It was one of the first steps in an impossibly long journey that continues today, even after we elected an African American man as President. This journey continues as Houston Texans owner refers to his players as "inmates,"  Meanwhile, there are those who scoff and sniff at comparisons between this kind of thinking and white supremacy and Nazism
There are no statues of Hitler in Germany. He lost the war. It's in the history books. You can read about it. Maybe the problem is that here in the United States, our Civil War continues to drag on. And on. On many sides. I'll just stick with the ones who came up with the idea that all men are created equal. 

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Get Promoted

There are those who react with surprise upon hearing that I am in possession of a creative writing degree. I earned it, the old fashioned way: I took a boatload of writing workshops and fiction classes and film classes and eventually surrendered my transcript to a counselor and asked them to make a diploma out of it. Presto! Creative Writing Degree.
Now, thirty years later, I find myself plying my trade once a day, right here on the corner of surrender and frustration. Which isn't exactly true. The career I might have envisioned for myself at age twenty, scribbling furiously on a deadline and delivering hilarious stories to the delight of audiences far and near mostly fell by the wayside. That is because I lacked that most important muscle: the promotion muscle. Selling myself has never been anything I would be willing to do, let alone be coerced into making my art into a commodity.
Which sounds terribly snooty, in hindsight. Bruce Springsteen doesn't live on an island, creating his records for the flora and fauna there. He has an army of marketing people and a management team that wakes up in the morning trying to find new ways to get The Boss into your life. That wasn't always the case, of course. There was a time when Bruce was lugging his guitar and his tapes around in a station wagon, wishing for a record contract. He had plenty of encounters with the business end of the music business, none of which ended with him giving up.
Me? I sent some poems off to a literary magazine that paid in contributor copies. That was my last truly defined act of making a living as a writer. I have done a lot of writing since then. According to my wife, I write about a book a year. This is borne out by the collections she has put together of these blogs and made them available for sale. To say she did this against my will would be an overstatement. I have done nothing to block any of the transactions made through this online presence. Mentioning it here makes me a little nervous. What if someone read these and liked them? And what if the demand for my talents became so great that I had to retire from teaching and spend every day sitting in front of a blank screen, waiting for inspiration?
Ah, my wife. She is her own industry. She actively promotes herself and her work with a passion that makes me believe that it can't be such a bad thing after all. Her wish to be known for all her creative endeavors overwhelms me at times. This should come as no surprise, since it tends to overwhelm her at times. But that doesn't keep her from working at it tirelessly, and not only that, she seems interested in bringing that same light to all her creative friends and family. She coaxed my younger brother out into the world of galleries and shows. She got him an email address. She put him on Facebook.
Then she looked at me, and I ran. Not far away, but a safe distance that kept my thoughts in a safe place, away from the prying eyes of the audience I might have intended.
If I did such a thing.
And all the while, she kept a respectful distance, asking if I minded if she shared this or that piece. Then she submitted a blog of mine to the Good Men Project. They published it. There was no cash award, nor were there contributor copies. I can still be proud of my starving artist image while I remain fed through my "real job."
And I can be grateful for the light that my wife continues to shine on people she finds entertaining. I am humbled by her attentions. Now it's back to the shadows for me.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Idle

I had heard of the Great American Music Hall, but I had never been inside. When I go to concerts, I am often lining up to stand along with my fellow music fans in some basketball arena or other sports facility. Great big tours with superstars and dinosaurs with smoke and "lasers." Sometimes I wish for a more intimate venue, like the Kerr Theater in New York City. A bunch of lucky folks who have access to a really fast computer and wads of cash will be enjoying an evening with Bruce Springsteen on Broadway. I won't  be one of them, lacking the second half of that equation. I was able to get a seat at the Great American Music Hall to see Haley Reinehart.
You might be one of those who, at this moment, sit stroking their chin and staring off into space, "Haley Reinehart? Who is Haley Reinehart?" I was one of those a week ago, when my wife invited me along with one of  her friends to head out on a Friday night to take in a show. Her friend, it seems, was not part of that school. She was the one who explained Haley and her stariness to us. Haley was on American Idol. You remember American Idol, right? One of those singing shows, with judges who decide who gets to be famous and who has to go home. My wife's friend told us that Haley was not the eventual Idol of America, but she came really close. We were made to understand that third place was still pretty awesome, catapulting her to near-Idol status. She was the headliner, bringing along some opening acts who would not be of the Idol caliber, but every bit as scintillating.
When we showed up at the venue, we got in line. Then we were politely ushered out of what we came to understand was the VIP line. These were the fans who had paid a premium for the opportunity to come in early to meet and greet Haley. Maybe get a photo or an autograph. Then  they were ushered back outside where they stood in line just a few feet from us, the great unwashed non-VIPs. Once both lines had found their way inside the Great American Music Hall, the three of us found a table just behind a group of people we recognized  as VIPs. They were wearing their VIP wristbands. We had nice sight lines, a nice waitress who took our food and drink orders, and we waited for the show to begin.
And the show was fine. Mike Annuzzi played his love songs. Then Savannah Outen came out and sang her angsty tunes. At last, it was Haley's turn to take the stage. Which she did, with her band, and played a mix of sixties covers and originals. Most of which were played too loud for the room, but that didn't seem to diminish the joy in the crowd. Except for us. Maybe we weren't accurate judges of Idolatry, but we had heard enough after about six songs. We walked back out into the night air, wondering if we had missed something.
After all, we had just been in the  presence of an Idol.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Obsessed

When I was a lad, I remember being caught up in the flurry of what costume I would wear starting sometime just after the first day of school. At some point, just a little after the school supply aisle had been cleared out and the orange and black crepe paper had been draped in the Ben Franklin store about a mile from my house, the boxes of Collegeville Costumes appeared. Initial surveys of the stock were taken on bike trips with my friends as we looked at the ends of those boxes to see what characters had made the grade that year. Always a lot of Casper, the Friendly Ghost and a great many generic witches and ghouls. When we found something that caught our interest, a GI Joe or a Hot Wheels race car driver, we slid the box out of the stack and peered through that cellophane porthole. There we could see the black eye holes staring back at us.
That was when the serious coveting began.
The next step was to engineer a trip with mom back to Ben Franklin. She knew it was coming. With three boys all angling to have the best and brightest rayon bib of a costume, it was going to happen and it was going to coincide with a trip to the grocery store, just a few doors down from that five and dime. After we had loaded up the back of  the  station wagon with bags of sustenance, we dragged our mother down those narrow aisles to find that one box that would be worth all that patience and pushing the cart and carrying bags of frozen food.
Unless when we got there, the costume we had obsessed on had been picked up by someone before we had a chance to make it our own. Or the one that we had been certain would lead to massive candy collection turned out to be the wrong size. Maybe your little brother could -
No! No! No!
Depression set in. How could any trick or treat experience be successful without that lace up smock and cover your face with the back of your head bare save that thin band of elastic? As it turns out, it never really mattered. I could have shown up on our neighbor's front porch with a sheet over my head, holes cut to see where I was going. I was going on a walk with my friends in the chilly autumn night, begging for candy. I can remember a couple of occasions asking my mom if I could sleep in my costume. The next morning, it wasn't about the costume anymore. It was about the Snickers  bars. It  would  be another  year before the drama would  begin again.

Monday, October 30, 2017

How To Act In A Crisis

If you're James Bond, the suggestion that you might Only Live Twice or Die Another Day would come as a comfort. If you had just lived through the most deadly mass shooting in American history, those kind of words might put you on edge. If you did not personally possess a license to kill yourself, receiving death threats after being shot at could be, at the very least, unsettling. 
That is what is happening to Braden Matejka, a Canadian native who escaped the Route 91 music festival with his life after being shot in the head. He had no idea that celebrating his thirtieth birthday would end in tragedy, but he never could have imagined that his wounds would not be the only enduring trace of the horror he experienced on October 1. 
A message was left on Matejka/s Facebook page days later: “You are a lying piece of s--- and I hope someone truly shoots you in the head.” Another well-wisher wrote, “Your soul is disgusting and dark! You will Pay for the consequences.” These threats are coming from idjits who are operating under the ridiculous assumption that the massacre in Las Vegas was all some carefully orchestrated "false flag event," a fabricated moment created to stir up emotions and turn the public against right-thinking Americans. Or idjits with access to the dark and creepy corners of Al Gore's Internet. Apparently all you really need to have is an inquisitive nature and access to a keyboard in order to spin dark conspiracy theories about the most recent tragedy. 
Braden Matejika is not alone in his post-trauma torment. Parents of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting are continually being called up for their roles as "crisis actors," and the families of those who perished on 9/11 are still being harassed for their part of something much bigger and more insidious. What brought me hope was the reaction of Matejika's family. Braden's brother Taylor said this: “A really sad part of this is that a lot of people think they’re fighting the good fight and exposing truth.”
Spoken like a true Canadian. Keep fighting the good fight, Taylor. And get well soon Braden. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

At The Intersection Of Flake And Corker

Somehow, I don't think this is the world in which Republicans hoped to find themselves at the end of 2016. With control of the House of Republicans, the Senate, and the White House, these should be the salad days for the Grand Old Party. If you were to read select tweets from the Executive Twit account, "So nice being with Republican Senators today." "Multiple standing ovations!" "Most are great people who want big Tax Cuts and success for U.S." This account was confirmed by Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, who told reporters earlier that the caucus gave Trump "three standing ovations." He added, "We appreciated him being there, and we had meatloaf." 
I hear the White House does a pretty swell meatloaf, which might explain at least one of those standing ovations. An impromptu game of "President Says" could account for at least one more. That leaves us with the one that could probably be connected to the buzzers installed in all the senator's seats earlier in the day. Or maybe this really is the group that continues to slavishly follow the master's voice.
Except Bob Corker.
And Jeff Flake. 
Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona was busy this week announcing his retirement from the Senate. He gave a speech that went a little something like this: “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve. There are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles,” Flake told his colleagues. “Now is such a time.” There was no report about how many standing ovations Senator Jeff received, but it was apparent that the senators from Arizona as a group are now on the "no meatloaf" list at the White House.
Meanwhile, Senator Bob Corker has also decided not to seek re-election in 2018, allowing him the freedom to express his views about how the current "President" is turning the White House into "an adult daycare center," and the "reality show" hosted by reality show host Donald J. Trump is putting us "on the path to World War Three." 
Between tweets about NFL players kneeling and sycophants standing, the "President" has been tossing around catty comments about how Corker couldn't get elected as dog catcher. Since that position is generally an appointed position, one might expect that it would be filled by someone with the last name of Trump, and they would have to support a constitutional amendment to limit the number of stray dogs allowed into the country. Jeff Flake has experienced a similar flurry of negative attention from the Cheeto in Charge, who has railed on about Flake's dismal poll numbers. This is, of course, without any sense of what the Cheeto's own approval rating is. 
As we meander toward midterm elections next year, there will be a lot more movement left and right by politicians to align themselves with a winner. Will they go red or blue? Or Orange? 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Security Blanket

"No problem is so big or so complicated that it can't be run away from." - Linus Van Pelt
That was the poster that I first hung on the wall of my room when I was in elementary school. That one, along with one of King Kong looming over the skyline of New York City with Fay Wray in his paw, made the trip downstairs as I moved into high school and papered the walls and the ceiling of my adolescent den.
For many years, I identified with Charlie Brown, specifically with his no-Valentine-unrequited-love-and-neurotic-dog lifestyle. It was accessible, and it was driven by the star turn Chuck had on a daily basis in that comic strip. It was years later that I began to find myself drawn toward Linus, that quiet voice of reason. Not that he was necessarily any better equipped than his round-headed pal to deal with life's bumps and bruises, but his ability to reflect on a situation and sum it up in a way that brought understanding to a place that was so full of questions: childhood.
I think about this as I reflect on Charlie Brown's plea for anyone who could explain the true meaning of Christmas. It is Linus who steps out into the spotlight and riffs briefly on a passage from Luke, and before he returns to his thumb and blanket, he tells CB, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." Hard to argue with a stately presence like that.
And then, decades later on my way to work last week, I found myself perplexed: How is it that this kid, so obviously full of brains and wisdom and Bible passages can be so hopelessly devoted to his singular obsession of The Great Pumpkin? He puts the kind of tireless energy and enthusiasm into his worship of this confused symbol of pagan worship? Periodically he finds himself tested by his peers for his commitment to a holiday hero that no one else seems to know about. And yet, Linus maintains that every year, the Great Pumpkin will rise out of the pumpkin patch that he deems the most sincere, spreading joy and treats to all those who truly believe.
His big sister Lucy is embarrassed beyond words, yet she remains vaguely supportive. I suppose you have to admire the perseverance little brother shows in the case of overwhelming pessimism and ridicule. Year after year, he sits out there in the pumpkin patch, waiting, only to face disappointment as November dawns. Linus is so very full of faith and will not bend to persecution. He truly believes that next year will be different.
And that's the meaning of faith, Charlie Brown. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Looking Down

It's that time of year. Autumn is the winter of my discontent. Made glorious by the confluence of events brought forth on these rust colored days. As often as I make a practice of finding the sunny side of life, I am acutely aware of the constellation of Orion in the night sky. It was there years ago, and years and years ago, and will probably be there a year from now. That group of stars stand as a reminder of the season. A season for departure.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to hide the Darren-sized hole in my life as we close up October and get ready to plunge into November and darker places. Every attempt I make to be amusing is measured by that Okie from Muskogee. I have lived another lifetime since he drove off into the sunset, but letting go isn't something I do with funny people easily. Funny and caring people. Funny and caring and mildly tortured. Over the past couple decades, I have run scenarios that try to track Darren into adulthood, and they tend to come up a little empty. The truth is that I have no idea what he would have been if he had "grown up." And every October, that bothers me. I can't shake it. Apologies to all the friends and therapists and friendly therapists who imagined that I would be over this by now. Each time I make that big turn into Halloween, I feel that loss.
My dog did me a favor, I suppose, years later for picking that same fated date on the calendar for her grand exit. Hers was a quieter, more stately passing, but I wasn't quite ready to be without a dog. I still had need of dog, but I suppose I have lived most of my life that way. Why haven't we replaced our dog?
Because I couldn't replace Darren. I couldn't replace Maddie. They are those pictures in my life's slideshow where I pause and remember all that was and how they made me feel. Happy. There aren't enough of those. Especially in October, tumbling toward November, in which I confront the passing of my father.
And Orion is up there, looking down from the darkness.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

It's A Tie!

What does it mean to be "presidential?" Is it the bearing? Is it the discipline? Is it the tie? It's got to be the tie!
We all know how the level of discretion in the current administration is as low as the approval ratings for that particular group, but the shell game being played with reality is numbing to say the least. Remember when we were worried about Vladimir Putin meddling in our elections? Remember when we were worried about starting a nuclear war with North Korea? Remember when we were worried about the number of white supremacists advising the "President?" Remember when aliens landed and offered us a cure for global warming but were sent away because the "President" had a ten o'clock tee time?
Ah yes. Those were the days.
Keeping track of the scandal du jour is as challenging as keeping track of the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Amid all the hiring and firing and tweets and rants, the picture begins to emerge of a house on fire. Save the paintings! Save the dog! Wait, we don't have a dog! Save the ties! The desperate clinging to replace and repeal, the wall, and six foot ties means that when real life intrudes, the powers that be have to scramble to find a way to get us to look at a stock market that continues to rise against all ordinary expectations.
"Don't pay any attention to that man behind the curtain!"
And yet we feel to slow down and watch each new train wreck in all its gory detail. "I said his name! I have proof!" Why would we doubt his word?
Oh. That's right. The tie.
And now he wants us to focus on the recently declassified documents about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. What better conspiracy-laden imbroglio than the murder of JFK to distract us all from the mess going on currently in Washington? His Orangey Goodness tweeted, "Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened." Since this turns out to be more of a non-act than an actual effort on his part, it makes complete sense. Maybe at long last we'll have and answer to some of those burning questions, like "Why did Kennedy prefer a single to a full Windsor?" 
And can we get those aliens back, please?