Thursday, July 20, 2017

Java Jive

It would be a bit of a stretch to say that I don't like coffee. I have never had a cup. Not Short, Tall, Grande or Venti. I made the mistake once upon a million years ago of eating a piece of coffee flavored hard candy. That was enough. Want a cup of coffee? No thanks.
This doesn't mean that I don't have appreciation for some things coffee. I like the smell of a freshly brewed pot. For a while in my youth it was my job to start up the Mr. Coffee for my dad's caffeine needs each morning. It's the scent of the sun coming up, which is nice. And it's always fascinating to watch people perform their coffee ablutions.
A little cream. A whole lot of sugar. Black as midnight on a moonless night. Watching others dab and stir and sip and stir yet again is fascinating to me. And it seems to be fascinating to a whole world of coffee lovers.
There I was, not for the first time, standing in line with my wife while she ordered her macchio latte slow drip iced frappucino something or other. I don't know. It's a language I to which I have no real connection. It's a bit that comedians have been dancing around for years now. What if you wanted just a cup of coffee made from ground beans with hot water poured through them? What if you didn't want something fancy? I looked up at the menu board and tried to take in all the permutations of coffee. So much of what seems to happen across the counter is taking that black liquid and finding ways to lighten it up. Decorations and ice and lots of fancy machines that spray milk or cream or foam of some sort into the cup. It's quite a production.
Which is why it's such an industry. And people wait in line to be served those chemistry experiments that now provide that morning jolt that Mr. Coffee used to do for dad. And while we're in the midst of reminiscing, what happened to coffee cups? A cup of coffee used to be a pretty standard serving size. Not so much anymore. And they're not made of china. Maybe in China, but they're paper. In three sizes. Would  you like that fifty percent recycled or plain white bond? Hemp maybe?
The whole thing makes me tired.
Which is a problem, because I've got a big day in front of me. How am I going to stay awake and alert?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Giving Thanks

There are a number of films that, when they appear on a screen before me, I sit rapt with attention until they are over. Even though I have seen them countless times. Films like Bride of Frankenstein, Animal House, Gross Pointe Blank. The list goes on: Animal Crackers, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Caddyshack. And on: Risky Business, Dr. Strangelove, Taxi Driver. There are more, but decorum forbids me from continuing the list here.
Needless to say, in a household with a TV located in the living room, this can cause a logjam when it comes time to determine just how the living will be done in that room. All this new-fangled technology that has been created to make watching any movie merely by clicking your remote three times and saying "There's no place like on-demand" doesn't make that visceral need to sit and watch. Maybe I lack the faith necessary to believe that I will get another opportunity to review all those antics and actions. Maybe I lack the imagination to switch the channel and try something new. Maybe it's just laziness. But there is good news: My wife has found some of these that she can enjoy right along with me. Our mutual vortex includes The Philadelphia Story, Batman Returns, and Fight Club. That last one, I'm proud to say, has played in the background on numerous winter evenings as we address our Christmas cards. Like my own list, there are plenty more mutual favorites. They're the ones that keep us laying in bed on a Sunday morning because we are hostage to the final credits. There's so much life out there. So many other things to do. But not until we have finished watching our favorite movie. One of them, anyway.
So imagine my amusement when I found myself walking out of the living room the other night while my wife immersed herself in one of her celluloid touchstones. The lady who has so often cajoled me out of watching Die Hard one more time gasped with glee when I flipped past Hair. It was just starting, and she sat transfixed. Happily, the couch did not burst into flames, and our son didn't call with an emergency of his own. She was able to sit and savor that little gem from her collection like it was the first time. Or the twenty-seventh. She knew the words. She sang along. I thought for a moment or two she might rise up and dance along.
She didn't. Which was fine. I didn't mention the DVD we had of that same film that she could watch whenever she wanted.
Because that's not the deal. It's the gift of cable TV.
Thank you, cable TV.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No Such Thing As A Free Speech

"Knowledge Is Good." - Emil Faber
The words of "Pencil King" ring in my head as I read an article that suggests that a majority of Republicans believe colleges are bad for the United States. An interesting assertion, since there is a lot of debate about what the first university on these shores was, but they all came about just after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So what's wrong with our institutes of higher learning? Free speech. Or, in this case, the lack thereof. A few years back, most Republicans had a favorable view of universities. The shift comes amid several high-profile controversies over freedom of speech on campuses across the country, including protests earlier this year at the University of California, Berkeley after scheduled appearances by conservative commentators Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos were canceled. Conservative critics have said these incidents are silencing opposing ideas, while some people who disagree with inviting polarizing figures to campus say the safety concerns in these cases outweigh the importance of free speech.
Lately, a lot has been made of how comics like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin wouldn't feel welcome on college campuses as they once were because of the over-arching cascade of political correctness. You can't say this and you shouldn't say that. The seven words you can't say on television would have to evolve into the catalog of terms that are no longer acceptable for use and could be considered Hate Speech.
When I think about the way my own speech has evolved, and the ways I have been corrected, it hasn't been political. It has been personal. I would never be confused with the boundary busting mouths of Bruce or Carlin, but I have always found it fascinating to see what words we choose to give power, and how those words can take power away. I don't expect that I would keep my job in the Oakland Unified School District if I didn't have a sense of just how to go about using my words. It is my job to help build minds, not tear them down. There are plenty of words that can do that. Explaining to five and six year olds why words they have heard their older brothers and sisters throw around aren't the ones they should be cavorting with on the playground. 
I really do wish that Milo Yiannopoulos could show up in any college auditorium and let fly with whatever was on his tiny mind. It would be a test of the learning that had gone on for all those years prior. Do any of those words apply to me? Do I want to take them along with me into my life after school? Maybe by making them secret and prohibited, we make them more exciting. There really isn't anything that mystical about Hate Speech. You can pretty much tell what it is just by looking at it on the page. Or listening to it as long as you have the stomach for it. 
But someone has to help young folks figure out how to recognize it.
That's where I come in. 
I'm a teacher.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Fly Away Home

I watched a movie called Ladybug, Ladybug. Made in 1963, it tells the story of a group of students and staff who receive a false alert of a nuclear attack. The school is located in a rural area, and while the principal attempts to verify the warning, students are assembled in a "drill" to be dismissed for the day. as time ticks by without a clear resolution, the decision is made to send the children home to their families. One of the teachers is charged with escorting a group of kids on their way, to make sure they get where they are going.
The discussion among the students about the potential for an actual attack and what that might mean is the bulk of the storytelling. A small group of them end up going to one girl's home that is equipped with a bomb shelter. Here, without parental supervision, they decide to close the door and prepare for life after the world they know has been turned to ash.
I won't spoil the ending, in case movies about the Cold War are your thing, but watching this film brought back a wave of creepy nostalgia for the days when the looming presence of nuclear war was background noise for most every interaction. Armageddon wasn't a comet heading for the earth or alien invasion. It was a daily reality called Defcon, short for Defense Condition. Years before we had color coded terror alerts, we lived in a nation that didn't spend a lot of time in the peaceful blue of Defcon 5. 
As years passed, and the capacity of the nuclear arsenals of the East and the West increased in number as well as destructive capability, plans for surviving a first strike diminished. Bunkers like the one in the movie I was watching would be part of the radioactive rubble upon which future evolution would build it societies. Bomb shelters became as quaint as the instructions to duck and cover. I grew up in an era that provided a couple of choices: be at ground zero calling for a fair catch, or await the gradual and torturous death by radiation sickness. Einstein's quote,  “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” seemed hopeful by contrast. 
And then the Berlin Wall came down, and everybody celebrated by purchasing their own pair of American blue jeans. No more Cold War. We fixed it!
Just like we fixed racism after we elected Barack Obama. 
Crazy people with nuclear weapons? 
Only in the movies. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Still Looking

Depending on who you listen to, Amelia Earhart has been found. Okay, not so much Amelia as clues to her whereabouts after she went missing in 1937. If you've ever complained about a flight of yours being late, imagine a delay of eighty years. I suppose her estate is due some free drink tokens and an upgrade to first class in perpetuity. The History Channel would like us to know that Ms. Earhart probably ended her days in Japanese custody on the island of Saipan. Which is a tragedy, and a relief. Probably more of a relief at this point, since all the possible fates she might have faced were mostly on a par with being held prisoner: crash and burn, eaten by sharks, and so on. The relief comes from knowing the end of the story.
If this really is the end. If she wasn't a spy. Or if she lived. Or whatever potential circumstances that have not as yet received their full History Channel treatment. If the Earhart file can now be closed, what and whom do we have left to settle with? Every so often, D.B. Cooper climbs to the top of the list of Persons Gone Missing. You remember D.B.? He wasn't flying a plane, but he was on a plane that he was hijacking back in 1971. Until he suddenly wasn't. He jumped out, with a parachute and two hundred thousand dollars ransom. And was never seen again. Eaten by bears? Swallowed up by the jet's engines? Inspiration for Twin Peaks' Agent Dale Cooper? A year ago, the FBI closed the active investigation of the case, but they will still take any physical evidence that might lead to a conclusion to this mystery.
So how about Jimmy Hoffa? The former head of the AFL-CIO disappeared a few weeks after millions of dollars from the Teamster's pension fund did the very same thing. The happiest version of this story has Jimmy taking his ill-gotten gains and heading off to some tropical destination where he opened a school for local children staffed by expats not unlike himself. Or he was killed in some very messy way and disposed of in some even messier way. Buried in some shallow grave? Or in the end zone of Giants Stadium? Or maybe he's still alive?
That would be something.
And working for The History Channel.  

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Too Much Of A Good Thing

How high were the expectations? Chrysler Building high.
A new Spider Man movie came out last week. I went on opening day, and even though I had seen all the trailers and teasers way in advance of the release, I made a point of staying away from articles about the story and characters. Spoilers.
Still, I could have told you that Spider Man was going to rescue some folks, and he was going to have to face a foe much older and intimidating. It is what super heroes do, after all. Underdog to Iron Man. But Spider Man. That's a toughie. He's going to have to do more than that. All those unbelievable odds and he's a kid. He's still figuring out how to be a man, let alone Spider Man. This journey is the thing that makes him different. That and the fact that he's been in my life for nearly fifty years. For a period of time, as a much younger me, I signed my name Dave "Spider Man" Caven. I bought comic books that had tangential connection to my friendly neighborhood - well, you know.
I lived through the heartbreak of Gwen Stacy's death, and how Peter Parker lived through loss before: his parents. His uncle Ben. Tragedy was never far away from Spider Man. But he kept giving himself back to his community. A hero. So when they started making movies with my favorite comic book character, I was in line. I bought a ticket. I bought a T-shirt. I bought some action figures. For my son.
A very good friend of mine went to see the Broadway musical starring Spider Man and brought be back a souvenir: a signed photo of Stan Lee underneath a picture of everyone's favorite web-head. It hangs on the wall just to the left of my desk, reminding me of my childhood fixation. I still have those T-shirts, and a completely vivid recollection of the origin and subsequent adventures of Spider Man. With the Avengers. With the Human Torch. With Iron Man. Against Electro. Against the Vulture. Against the Green Goblin. When the people around Peter Parker started dying, I felt it. And every time Spider Man felt like hanging up his blue and red tights for good, I understood. With great power comes great responsibility.
That was the message I took away from the comics. And the movies. There have been four actors who have spun a web. Yes, I count Nicholas Hammond among them. Just like I count Adam West in my litany of Batmen. The radioactive spider bit this high school kid and set this whole thing in motion. There have been three different iterations of this legend on the screen in the past fifteen years. I bought tickets to all of them. Each time I hoped to have that I would plug back into that magic. The magic of youth.
When I sat in my seat, watching this young turk leap about in his Underoos, I felt old. Maybe the lessons that Spider Man has to teach me are done. Maybe I have gone down this path one too many times. In this version, spoiler alert, nobody dies. Maybe I need more dire consequences in my Spider Lore. Maybe I am too old for this stuff.
At last.

Friday, July 14, 2017


"Hey buddy, howya doin'?"
"Fine. Just fine."
"Good to see you. At last."
"Yes. At last."
"Shall we sit down?"
"Crazy week, huh?"
"Yes. Especially for you."
"Whaddya mean?"
"Oh, you know. People talk."
"Who's been talking?"
"Oh you know."
"No. No I don't."
"Angela? What does she know?"
"Well, you know."
"No. I don't."
"She doesn't really, well -"
"Doesn't really what?"
"She doesn't like you."
"Oh, I don't know about that."
"Well, like I said, people talk."
"Not everybody likes you."
"Pardon me?"
"I'm just sayin'."
"Maybe you should be more worried about yourself."
"Maybe you should too."
"I'm just sayin'."
"Well. Should we shake hands or somethin'?"

Thursday, July 13, 2017

What Is It?

If it walks like a duck - 
If it quacks like a duck - 
If it lays eggs like a duck - 
If it swims like a duck - 
If it takes dictation like a duck - 
If it shops at Target like a duck - 
If it smokes clove cigarettes like a duck - 
If it watches old Doris Day movies like a duck - 
If it pays his monthly gym membership like a duck - 
If it reads the latest Tom Clancy novel like a duck - 
If it sweeps the driveway like a duck - 
If it plans a Star Wars themed birthday party like a duck - 
If it looks at a sunrise like a duck - 
If it summers on the coast of Maine like a duck - 
If it records a solo album like a duck - 
If it studies for midterms like a duck - 
If it sits out of dance class because of a twisted ankle like a duck - 
If it challenges the status quo like a duck - 
If it prepares for extra vehicular activity like a duck - 
If it checks the box like a duck - 
If it puts coasters down like a duck - 
If it picks you up at the airport like a duck - 
If it snores until you kick it like a duck - 
If it waits until the cookies cool before having one like a duck - 
If it generates steam heat like a duck - 
If it comparison shops for new carpet like a duck - 
If it changes its passwords frequently like a duck - 
If it drives for Uber and Lyft like a duck - 
If it sits quietly in a corner at the cotillion like a duck - 
If it avoids learning to drive stick like a duck - 
If it collects back issues of Sports Illustrated like a duck - 
If it makes a great Harvey Wallbanger like a duck - 
If it plays rhythm guitar like a duck - 
If it carries a chip on its shoulder like a duck - 
If it never misses an episode of NCIS like a duck - 
If it plants a window herb garden like a duck - 
If it ignores wet paint signs like a duck - 
If it clings to the past like a duck - 
If it climbs the highest mountain like a duck - 
If it grabs the spotlight like a duck - 
If it clips two-for-one coupons for Denny's like a duck - 
If it releases e-mails that prove that it has been in contact with Russians about some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia like a duck - 
It's probably a duck.
A junior duck, but a duck nonetheless. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Distance

A parsec is about three and a quarter light years. It's a measure of distance. This is in case anyone tells you their ship made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, you can tell them what they have suggested is ridiculous and unscientific. Which of course points to the fact that such claims tend to be made in science fiction movies, since most of the parsecs that I have traveled have been - well - I have never traveled a parsec, let alone twelve. Of course, just sitting here on the earth, I can claim to have gone nearly six hundred million miles in one year. Light travels six trillion miles in a year. A parsec would be three and a quarter time that. Closing in on twenty trillion miles. In fifty-five years, I haven't quite managed that. kind of voyage, since I'm not an astrophysicist.
I took a class once, in college, called Astrophysics for Non-Science Majors. It was my chance to do that "oh wow" stuff like figuring out how long it would take to get to the nearest star. What happens to people and things when they start going at or near the  speed of light. What really happens inside a black hole. Not that there were field trips that would allow for practical applications of any of this knowledge. It was all mainly theory. In this way, parsecs could just as easily been a measure of time rather than distance. Or the number of angels that can dance on the head  of a pin.
My wife asked me how long I thought it might  take me to run from Oakland to Boulder. I figured I could probably manage ten miles a day, if I was going to be fresh and ready to go the next day. On a journey of more than twelve hundred miles, that's one hundred twenty days without a break. I might have to run through a few snow drifts if I didn't time the trip just right. And not being Forrest Gump, I don't expect that is a realistic concern.
My wife also gave me a book: Astrophysics For People In A Hurry. It was written by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I have graduated from being a non-science major to a person in a hurry. Still, even with his careful explanation, I find it difficult to imagine ever being in enough of a hurry that I might suddenly accelerate to a speed that would help me through the Kessel Run or a run through the Rockies. About the time you start adding those powers of ten to numbers that might make sense, you start to make that jump to hyperspace. Whatever that is. Warp drive? Science fiction? That's where you travel to places where you can only imagine. Science. For non-science majors.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Seat Filling

As I have mentioned heretofore, I did not select Donald "Jay" Trump as my President. That was the electrical college or something like that. Nevertheless, he persisted. He's got the red tie and he keeps showing up at state functions with a red tie on, babbling about making my teeth grate again and generally promoting his own private agenda that seems to include making the world more fashion forward.
Which may be the reason why, when "The President" had to step out of a meeting at the G20 Summit, he handed his seat over to his daughter Ivanka. She is the adviser to the Senior Adviser to the President of the United States, her husband Jared. Not the Jared from Subway and child porn. This is a different Jared. He's from real estate. Somewhere in there he thought it would be fun to run a newspaper. Now he's in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian peace problem, which sort of makes sense, since it's a real estate issue, after all. It might have made sense to send this young buck as a seat-filler while his father in law was out grabbing a Diet Coke with some of the other guys. 
Alas, Jared was busy being investigated for a whole lot of things, like so many folks in the current administration. Since he couldn't make it, Ivanka was happy to fill in. Her background in jewelry and accessories put her in good stead as the rest of the world leaders ignored her, since nobody else had been told this was "Take Your Daughter To Work Day." 
When the world reacted to this odd bit of seeming nepotism and bad judgement, our "President" retreated to his Twitter Cave and tapped out the following: "If Chelsea Clinton were asked to hold the seat for her mother,as her mother gave our country away, the Fake News would say CHELSEA FOR PRES!" Which is wrong in so many ways, like for example the way this suggests that this couldn't happen since he was busy in this reality giving our country away, and since Chelsea holds degree in history from Stanford, a doctorate in International Relations from Oxford, and a masters in Public Health from Columbia she may have been a little ahead of the game compared to Ivanka's bachelor's degree in Economics. But rather than take this up myself, I leave you with Ms. Clinton's response, which continues to be more presidential than the guy in the red tie: "Good morning Mr. President. It would never have occurred to my mother or my father to ask me. Were you giving our country away? Hoping not." 
I hope not, too. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Support This

It must be summer. Why else would I be answering the phone. At all, let alone accepting calls from "Windows Security." It must be summer because I am seeking out human contact rather than having it controlled by a system of clocks and bells with hordes of short people vying for my attention during my waking hours. Taking a cold call from a helpful technician concerned about my Windows PC seems like an event in an otherwise dull day.
When my wife hands me the phone, I have to run through my initial shock sequence. "What? You say my Windows PC is sending error messages? Are you sure it's not my wife's Apple computer? She's working on it right now."
I can't help but feel a little victimized on this one, since like those jury summons, I just seem to be a magnet for computer support scams. Which is fine by me, especially in the summer, when I have all that daylight to burn. And since I always have that seed planted in my head that this might somehow be a legitimate concern, I listen carefully to what this fellow has to say.
When he sends me directly to the keyboard to press the "CTRL" key, I let him know how please I am to find out after all these years that that button is the "control key" that I have heard so much about. Right next to that is a key with a picture with four squares on it. I tell my concerned friend that it looks like a flag to me. This elicits the first of what will be many heavy sighs on the part of my concerned friend.
Nevertheless, he persists. He really wants me to press a combination of keys that will reveal to me, him, and the world the errors that have been transmitted by my now suspect PC. I continue to find ways to obfuscate his clear and insistent direction to press the CTRL, square, and "R" for Romeo or Roger keys all at once?
"All at once? Won't that break my keyboard?
I am assured at this point, with a heavy sigh, that this will not break my computer or any part of it. It will only enhance my Windows experience. I was then asked what I see on my screen.
"I see Civilization IV. It's the game I was playing when you called."
Eventually, he coerced me into minimizing the game so we could look more closely at the errors that were causing my computer to run so poorly.
"I haven't noticed anything particularly bad about how my computer has been running."
I was reassured that this would only be a matter of time before the whole thing went kerflooey. Or some other tech talk that I couldn't possibly understand.
"My son said that Windows Defender would take care of those kind of things."
Now I was told that my son may have been the reason that all of these errors were taking place. I took this news with a heavy heart, and an even heavier bladder.
"Do you mind if I go to the bathroom?" I really didn't care what he answered, since I was done with the practical part of this exam.
My concerned friend wanted to know why I wasn't taking his call more seriously.
"What? Just because I'm an older man and feel the call of nature, I promise you this is still my highest priority, but I don't want to have an accident."
He accused me of not being an older man, and suggested that maybe I was having fun with him. When I came back to the office and sat down, the heavy sighs had given way to huffing and puffing. I apologized for not taking his concern for my computer and the data within more seriously. We had been after this for more than ten minutes now, how could I not be taking this seriously?
"Especially when you're calling people with nothing but a phone list in hopes that you can get them to give up their machines to you."
He asked if I wanted him to wait on the line while I called the cops.
"Sure," I said. Then I sat the phone down in front of the speaker and played a little Lyle Lovett until I heard the dial tone. I guess he wasn't taking my problem very seriously anymore.
Ah, summer.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

My son is no stranger to heartbreak. He has experienced a few disappointments on his path toward relationship nirvana. To this end, he has shied away from girls, preferring instead the company of cars. This has generally kept him free of many of the pitfalls that crop up for young men of his age. He has maintained a close and mutually supportive relationship with his Toyota Supra since he drove it home almost three years ago. He dotes on that car. Which is fine, since there isn't anyone else right now to take it's place n the sunshine of his love.
And devotion.
Which is why I was a little surprised around Memorial Day this year when he called to tell us that he had found someone new. Something new. A new Supra. New to him, anyway. This was a project car. It was going to be the one he would work on in the garage that he had recently acquired with the house he was renting. He had made what was, my most accounts, an amazing deal for this new (to him) piece of rolling stock. He was quick to shove aside any comments by me that it was a "parts car," just around long enough have all the best bits removed and the rest sold for scrap. This was going to be his summer avocation. He was going to bring this car back from the grave and give him two where there had only been one.
I decided not to argue the point, since this is a kid who has replaced his own brakes and exhaust system. He diagnoses engine problems of vehicles we sit next to at traffic lights. He has the capacity to do all kinds of automotive magic.
But would he?
Well, it turns out that commons sense and true love prevailed at the end of last week. He had spent some time helping a friend work on his car and was up this elbows in somebody else's mechanical project when it dawned on him that he had a perfectly good car of his own, and this new beast was going to take his weeks if not months of attention and work to return to any kind of street legal shape. Now all he wants is to seal everything back up and sell number two off to a good home.
For a profit.
In his father's mind, he's already made his money back in the lesson he learned.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Collecting Dust

I believe that in this day and age of Amazon Prime and streaming video and Amazon streaming food that having a collection of anything is a little pointless. Let me start by saying that I have what I believe is a pretty boffo collection of movie posters. I have wall space to display approximately half a dozen of these, which means most of them spend a lot of time filed away. Having dozens of movie posters that cannot be displayed may not seem like a problem to you, unless you have moved objects of that size and shape across the country and to a number of different apartments in the Bay Area. Like all those albums that I toted here and there for all those years. That eventually found its way to a used record store. It was replaced with a compact disc collection which was eventually massaged into minimal package for storage near the stereo which now gets used more often than not to play CDs but to funnel our Pandora account into our living room. We have bookcases that are full and overflowing, so much so that we have boxes and bags of books stored in the basement.
This does have the effect of providing us surprises every so often. "Hey, I forgot we even had that!" This is what happened with my comic book collection. I have winnowed this pile down to a single pile, rather than the multiple piles. The value they have is not unlike that of the movie posters. Lots of people and websites will tell you that I am sitting on a gold mine, and that would be great if there was some way that I could actively turn these bits of memorabilia into cash as I needed it. And eventually there would be fewer crates and boxes of stuff to stumble over in the dark.
And I wouldn't have that issue of Spider Man that I remember reading in the loft of our cabin when I was twelve. Or the B sheet for Adventures of Baron Munchhausen that reminds me of the other movie posters that have amusing anecdotes connected to them. And every so often, I drag visitors into our spare room and pull them out to show them off.
"That's quite the collection you've got there."
Yeah. Like the bookcase full, not of books, but of DVDs. Wow. When was the last time we gave that copy of Vincent Price in Last Man on Earth a spin? Holding on to stuff is becoming more of a chore than moving it. Sending along a great big box of Legos with my son the last time he visited helped. I probably shouldn't mention that he could get next day delivery on Legos from Amazon Prime.

Friday, July 07, 2017

On The Beach

I made an editorial decision on this blog, since it's mine and all, that I would include links to photos rather than simply include the photo itself as a way of comment. This allows me to stretch my wordplay and to try and amplify the worth of the thousand words the picture already carries. In this case, I submit this link to a photo of New Jersey governor Chris Christie sitting on a beach. It's summer after all, and it's time for such things. Folks in the Garden State would most certainly find their way to the shore for a little fun in the sun and surf. Why not?
Well, perhaps because the budget crisis that had blossomed into a full-blown government shutdown caused the aforementioned governor of the state to close state offices, parks and (ta-dah) beaches. The beach upon which Governor Chris set his considerable girth along with his loving family was closed to the public. With no sense of irony, or shame or anything that resembled humility, he used his position to take his clan out to the beach for a little rest and relaxation after a hard day of arguing about a government shutdown that kept the beaches closed. To everyone but him.
This is why I included the picture. It adds weight (please no snickering here) to the disjoint that exists between this man and the people for whom his so supposed to be working. When asked about his trip, he replied, "I think I have proven over the past eight years, that I don't care about political optics."  Which is a fancy way of saying what folks in Jersey often say, "Whuddyagonnadoboutit?" 
And while I cannot speak knowingly about the specifics of the budget crisis in New Jersey, I can toss this on a pile of other "optics" problems experienced by so many of us around the country. The sight of an elected official lounging on the beach mixes with that of a congressional candidate body slamming a reporter with an amusingly doctored piece of video showing our "President" body slamming a cable news network. 
While Japan and South Korea worry about the most recent missile tests in North Korea, the Twitter account from the current occupant of the White House sent this message: "Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!" Meanwhile, get outta my way. You're throwing shade on my day in the sun. All of which leads me to yet another picture. This one is an album cover: Supertramp's Crisis? What Crisis?
Don't forget your sunblock.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

When The Gong Gets Tough, The Tough Go Golfing

There's been a lot of talk coming from the White House recently about how tough our "President" is. We have been told this is why he hits back when he is attacked. Because he's so darn tough and all. I'm not exactly sure where being tough on Twitter or the professional wrestling circuit stacks up in the world leader courage meter, but he certainly seems to have an abundance of energy to throw around that playing tennis and golf isn't managing.
I'm pretty sure he wishes he had a war on which he could unleash some of his bulgy seventy-one year old testosterone. Apologies for any images that phrase may have evoked, but this is a guy who seems to be spoiling for a fight. Fake news organizations, obstructing Democrats, cable TV hosts, Muslims. He won't get to be a truly big shot until there's real blood in the water. And in that instant, my guess is that Donald Trump would not back down. Not because he's so tough or because he's so crazy. He is, as the late poet once wrote, "The Perfect Warrior King."
I wish I was the warrior king in every language that I speak
Lord over all that I survey, and all that I see I keep
Power omnipresent, undiminished, uncontrolled
With a message; violent fury at the center of my soul
I wish I was a warrior king; inscrutable, benign
With a faceless charging power always at my command
Footsteps so heavy that the world shakes
My rage instilling fear
Yet cautious firm but fair and good
The perfect warrior king
I wish I installed angles in every subject's house
Agents of my goodness no one would be without
A steak on every plate, a car for every house
And if you ever crossed me
I'd have your eyes put out
You don't exist without me; without me you don't exist
And if logic won't convince you then there's always this:
I'm bigger, smarter, stronger, tougher
Yet sensitive and kind
And though I could crush you like a bug
It will never cross my mind
It wouldn't cross my mind to your neck
Or rip out your vicious tongue
It wouldn't cross my mind to snap your leg like a twig
Or squash you like some slug
You are a violent messenger
And I'm not above your taunts
And if you hit me you know I'll kill you
Because I'm the warrior king

And in this way, Lou Reed foretold the coming of the Beast we call Trump. Sorry I wasn't listening close enough, Lou. 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

It Takes A Lot Of Ballisters

About a billion years ago, way back when the earth was still cooling, the contractor who did all the necessary repairs to our home before we could move in built a stairway out front to replace the one that had stood the test of time for the previous billion years. This was made more necessary because for a brief period our house was lifted up in the air on jacks while the old brick foundation upon which it had sat since the dawn of time was replaced by this same contractor with a poured concrete plotz on which we hoped to ride out the next series of geological disasters. When our house came back to rest on terra firma again, we still needed a way to climb up to our front door. That's when they set to work crafting our stairs.
It should be noted at this point that my wife was on her way and eventually became a mother as this string of events unfurled. This was back in the days when my life was changing from being the new husband and warehouse manager to becoming a new dad and an elementary school teacher. Vagaries like front stairways seemed like things that could or by all rights should take care of themselves without massive time and feedback on this young family beginning their new adventure.
This was not the case. We, my wife in particular, learned more than she ever wanted to know about building codes and just exactly how high a handrail needs to be in the state of California. She learned this when the county inspector came out to take a look at the construction being completed at our newly refurbished home, as inspectors will. His response, in a word, was "no." The banisters needed to be redone in order to bring our front stairway up to code.
As newly minted homeowners, we had no real interest in holding the contractor's feet to the fire or making more trouble than they already seemed to be experiencing. So we let them fiddle around with how to fix the mess that they created. When they were finished, the rail was at the correct height, but in order to achieve this goal, they had skipped any pretense of aesthetics. They put a sandwich of two by fours layered on top of the original, and cut off the top of the newel posts to be stuck on top of these layers to give it that "finished look." It was a monstrosity, but it was our monstrosity, and with that "U-Save-Termite" and their various tools and employees drifted out of our front yard and eventually out of business.
Go figure.
For the past billion years, we have dealt with that sloppy fix. We even painted it when we did the rest of the house. We did it because it was part of the house. Meanwhile, my wife and son kept giving me power tools for various holidays, and I used them to fix, break, and fix things again throughout our home without ever considering what was sitting just outside our front door.
Last weekend that all changed. I measured and made a drawing of the way our stairway should look, and we went to buy the lumber we needed. It took a couple days, but with my wife's help I was able to right a wrong that had been hanging off our front porch for a billion years.
It was a relief.
And about time.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Independent Thinking

Independence day. We could celebrate our independence from the power company. We have these solar panels on our roof that makes the power we need to run our laptops and any number of other screens that might require electricity. It's been a wonderful three months, especially after spending fifteen years trying to make it happen. It's not like two hundred forty years of creating a republic and making it work.
Living in the USA is chock full of opportunities like getting solar panels on the roof of your house. Drinking Budweiser and going to the store to buy more Budweiser is pretty darn American too. So is buying a mattress, which you can certainly do for just a few days more. Come to think of it, buying and selling things is pretty darn American.
Freedom? How about Free Enterprise?
And what about the folks in America who can't afford to play this game? Wanting to fix what is wrong with the country costs money. If those families who can't pay their utilities had solar panels on their roofs, they might not be so poor. And if those families driving cars from back when there was a gas shortage got one of those snazzy electric cars that could be powered by those solar panels on top of their houses.
Those solar panels will not, however, supply them with Budweiser. Or mattresses. They would still have to go shopping for that. But they could keep the Bud cold in their solar powered refrigerators. And the mattress could be hauled home with that electric car.
This program of getting poor people things like solar panels and electric cars would probably have involve some sort of socialized program that would be funded by people with money who aren't using all of theirs right now in order to get people things they really need right now.
Like health insurance. Wouldn't it be great if all Americans could focus their energies on buying and selling things instead of worrying about Medicaid? Wouldn't it be great to be free of worrying about preexisting conditions? And all the hospitals and doctor's offices could have solar panels. And while that sale is still going on, maybe they could get a good deal on a whole bunch of mattresses. In celebration of Independence Day.

Monday, July 03, 2017


As a salute to hard-working Americans everywhere, let me just give a hats-off to Donald J. Trump's handlers. Dealing with this kind of free-range maliciousness must be difficult if not impossible to deal with. Hard enough when the person from whom the bile exudes has little or no sense of responsibility or propriety, but couple that with the recklessness with which that spray is vented and you've really got your hands full. Is it any wonder that Sean Spicer would hide in the bushes? It's one thing to have to go on Entertainment Tonight and explain Mariah Carey's New Year's Eve "performance," but imagine stepping up to the podium and trying to do that for this "President."
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the one now out in front of the bushes and behind that podium tried to explain the reason behind the ugly twitterant her boss went on Thursday morning about Morning Joe hosts Mika and Joe. “When he gets attacked, he’s going to hit back.” Never mind how offensive or ridiculous. “I don’t think you can expect someone to be personally attacked day after day, minute by minute and sit back,” Sanders said. “The American people elected a fighter, they didn’t elect somebody to sit back and do nothing.”
Well, Sandra, that is precisely what I would expect from the President of the United States. For the record, I did not elect Donald Trump, and neither did a majority of Americans. And since that's how the game is played, I won't try and change the rules (as some people have recently suggested). This is also the guy who recently suggested, "We've had a very, very divided country for many years and I have a feeling that Steve has made a great sacrifice but there could be some unity being brought to our country. Let's hope so."
So maybe it's not going to be his media relations folks. Maybe his wife can keep him in line. She is, after all, dedicating her reign as FLOTUS to eradicating cyberbullying. "We have to find a better way to talk to each other, to disagree with each other, to respect each other," she said back in November. "We must find better ways to honor and support the basic goodness of our children, especially in social media. It will be one of the main focuses of my work if I’m privileged enough to become your First Lady."
In the wake of her husband's takedown of a pair of cable news anchors, she had her spokesperson say this: “As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back ten times harder."
And it should be noted that Melania's spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, said this with a straight face. Talk about a tough job. 

Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Patience of Job

My wife's screen saver dredges her picture file and old photos come tumbling onto her monitor in a hypnotic cascade. There are a lot of pictures of my son in there, at various stages of his development. He was a little boy, once upon a time. Now he's a young man. We don't have as many snapshots these days. He's too busy.
He's going to college. He's living away from the home. He's doing his own thing.
And now that thing includes having a job.
Not that he hasn't been working. He's had gigs doing tech work for theater companies. He has done IT for friends, family, and in an ironic stroke of luck, for the Mechanical Engineering department at his school. Most of this was freelance, but it kept him in pizza money and brake pads.
All the while his father kept looking over his shoulder, keeping a steady stream of questions and what sounded like encouragement on the way out but was really more parental nagging. "What about food service?" or "Have you thought about retail?" I just wanted what was best for him. And what better way to find the best thing for him than to mine my own youth. He should be mowing lawns. Or working in a fast food restaurant. With luck he might work his way up to manager and be given his own brown polyester vest. That would be quite the rite of passage.
Unless he wasn't interested in slinging roast beef. Or mowing lawns. Or any of the jobs that his father endured over the course of his proto-career. I remember, sometime after 9/11, he told me earnestly that he wanted to be a fireman. Most five year olds will spend some time planning their career as a first responder. Nevertheless, it made me so very proud. That, it turns out, was really the thing that sons really need to for their fathers.
The good news for both of us is that I'm a pretty easy touch. When he called last week to tell me that he had been offered a job at Best Buy, a position that he had been pursuing for months, it made me feel every bit as pleased as if he had called me from the firehouse. He had gone through a series of interviews and filled out the requisite paperwork and jumped through all the hoops through which he needed to jump. Bravo.
Am I looking forward to a picture of him in his blue shirt? You bet I am.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

How Much Is Too Much?

Two, four, six, seven, nine. Not prime numbers. Not factors of any particular product. These were the channels we received at my home in Boulder, Colorado back in the 1970s. When we were gifted with an Atari 2600, we knew that we had nothing but dead air on channel three to play Tank, Breakout, and more. Over the next few years, twelve and thirty-one joined that mix. It should be noted that this was a period that saw cable television becoming pervasive. More channels. More choices. Over the past forty years, that original handful became dozens. Enough for Bruce Springsteen to pen a little ditty entitled, "57 Channels and Nothin' On."
That was way back in 1992. Fifty-seven channels would be your bargain basement package for most cable systems. What? No shopping? No gardening? No garden shopping? What sort of selection is this? All those empty spaces have been filled in. Oprah's got a channel. National Geographic has a channel. Arts and Entertainment have one, and so does Science.
I remember when Science Fiction, pardon me, Sci Fi got its own spot on the dial. It was promoted with weeks of a dark, swirling void on screen, with periodic ghostly voices letting us know "it's coming for you," naming all manner of sci-fi luminaries from in front of and behind the camera. This was the most interesting thing on the channel initially, since it became a conduit for reruns of old movies and TV shows that Universal had in its vaults. Original programming came along later, as did relative success, so much so that a few years back they changed their name to SyFy and people could still find them to watch new stuff on an old channel with a new name.
And still the choices grew. Spike and Nick and at least half a dozen ESPNs. This made it more and more difficult to flip through all those stations grumbling, "There's nothing on." Truth is, there is probably too much on, making choices burdensome and tiring. What's the good news?
Esquire Network stopped broadcasting on Wednesday morning. They finished up an episode of Friday Night Tykes, and then the screen went blank, except for a message: Esquire Network has ceased operations.
One down, seven hundred fort-something to go.