Tuesday, December 18, 2018

There Is Nothing Right About This

There are a number of Guatemalan girls at my school. I teach them. A few of them are seven years old. My heart broke a little when I read that a  seven year old Guatemalan girl had died of dehydration after being arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol. The little girl started having seizures eight hours after she was arrested by border agents in New Mexico last Thursday, after entering the country with her father at an illegal crossing. She later died from dehydration, septic shock and fever. She had nothing to eat or drink for several days. Though she  was airlifted to a hospital in El Paso, Texas she went into cardiac arrest and died the next day. 
In what version of the American Dream is this okay? 
Pundits on the side of walls and intolerance lay the blame squarely at the feet of the girl's parents. If they didn't want her to die, why did the father insist on dragging her across the desert? Why did the mother let them go? I can't really call them "pundits on the right," since there's nothing really right about this. 
Eight hours. 
Why did it take eight hours to figure out that a little girl who had been trekking  across a desert, who had nothing to eat or drink for days, might be in need of medical assistance? The idea that this is somehow not "our problem" because we never asked her and her father to come here in the first place borders on the obscene. 
Borders. 
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Fox News the girl's death was "a very sad example of the dangers of this journey."
Tucker Carlson wanted to put blame at the feet of Democrats who have been fashioned by conservatives into the sponsors for illegal immigration: “We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer, and dirtier, and more divided. Immigration is a form of atonement.”
Atonement. Reparation for a wrong or injury.
There is no atonement for the death of a seven year old girl. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Behind Closed Doors

There is a moment in the James Cameron film True Lies when Jamie Lee Curtis comes to the realization (spoiler alert) that her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a spy. And he has killed a a number of people.To which Arnold adds, "Yeah, but they were all bad."
It is this kind of assurance that makes the goings-on in the White House so much easier to take. The "President" says that his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, is just doing all this talking about hush money and affairs with strippers "to embarrass me." Somewhere in this mix is the disappointment the "President" has for the way his previously trusty fixer is now ratting him out in public. Which tends to undercut his embarrassment, which is an emotion that our "President" seems incapable of anyway.
I'm wondering if Richard Nixon was embarrassed by John Dean.
Or wanted him dead.
Now legal experts are suggesting that all of these tawdry goings-on are not enough to impeach anyone. Even a philanderer and serial liar.
Which makes me wonder where on this slippery slope we can actually call "the bottom." Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about an extra-marital affair. Okay, it was a little more complex than that, but it was the thing that stuck. That was twenty years ago. And continues to stick. That was about the time when we started to learn way too much about the private lives of our chief executives. For years, it had been kind of cool to think that JFK had been canoodling with Marilyn Monroe, and that FDR had a mistress. Then the mental pictures started to form: That elaborate network of back braces that Jack Kennedy had to negotiate before intimacy. The generally floppy nature of the lower half of Franklin Roosevelt's body.
Brrr.
Thanks to social media and a twenty-four hour news cycle, we have become privy to way too many details of the current "President's" special moments. All of which is not, we are reminded, collusion. It's just really icky.
And disappointing.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Setting My Sights

I have been wearing glasses since I was five years old. Life through lenses is how life looks to me. This doesn't explain the pit that appeared in my stomach when I found out that my son would need glasses. He, like his father, had a lazy eye and the notion that I might have somehow passed along this unenviable trait to him in the lottery of genetics made me terribly sad. The fact that he rarely wears them now and occasionally pops in a contact lens or two has brought me some relief, but I have not fully escaped the vortex of guilt I swirl around for impairing my son's vision.
Which doesn't keep me from being lighthearted about it when kids at my school are prescribed corrective lenses. Here I see it as a victory, since one of the possible roadblocks to reading has been removed, and all those gray squiggles on the page can now be transformed into letters and words. "All the smart people wear glasses," I whisper to those students who are struggling with their new eyewear.
Because it is a struggle. When I was a lad, the optometry department at the medical center stocked extra left and right bows in my style because they knew that I would be in on a regular basis, looking for a replacement for the twisted plastic and metal that resulted simply as a matter of them riding on the face of a five year old. I see this same struggle occur on our playground on a daily basis, and even though parents admonish their children to leave their glasses inside when they go out to recess, that's a step that sometimes gets missed when it comes time to race out to the playground. Once fun and physics take over, anything can happen. And heaven forbid that a kid would actually remember to take his or her glasses off and put them in a safe place before all that action, resulting in that safe place turning out to be not so safe or easily forgotten.
Back to the world of the nearly sightless. Another trip to the optometrist and another chance to adorn the bridge of your child's nose with a fancy new pair of spectacles. Until that pair is dropped, crushed, lost or digested by the void.
Now that I'm all grown up, I tend to hold on to a pair of glasses until my insurance says I can get a new pair. For the past nine months, I have been limping around with glasses that are slightly askew, a result of an unfortunate collision with a fourth grader. He wasn't wearing his glasses. I was. My glasses took the brunt of the impact.
I'll get this straight again soon.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Standing On The Corner

As I stood on the corner, cars racing past me, I was impressed once again with the concept of "Rush Hour." I had taken up a spot behind the first row, who were eagerly leaning off the curb to be seen and heard by the late afternoon traffic. Horns honked. Voices were raised. This was a work action.
And I was in it.
In spite of my ambivalence.
I was hollering, as my tired voice allowed, along with my fellow teachers. I was waving my sign, though my arms were sore from a day of lifting and stretching and leaning down to tie kids' shoes. I made my presence felt.
This is what I tell myself now as I reflect back on the hour that I spent on that corner, repeating the call and response chants that became more familiar each time they reached my ears. The noise from the street at times overwhelmed that from the sidewalks, so I sometimes just uttered random monosyllables to feel as if I were participating. Because I wanted to participate. Because I wanted to be heard.
This was a demonstration of solidarity. My union is preparing itself and the community at large for a strike. That decision is still pending, since we won't need to strike if the school district bends to our demands, and we can all relax and get back to the drudgery of our day to day jobs.
That ambivalence I mentioned earlier? I remain conflicted by the very need for a teachers' union. Why isn't education a priority in our country? Why do I, as a professional educator, need to stand on a street corner on a December evening and scream at passing cars? Because when fresh-faced graduates from a credentialing program arrive in Oakland to discuss the possibility of starting their careers in our schools, they look at the salary schedule. They want to be here, helping those students who really need them. They also want to make a living wage. The fringe benefits are pretty amazing: being the first on your block to acquire the newest strain of flu, constantly changing directives and curriculum, a sea of faces that all require your special attention, and the opportunity to shape young minds. And the chance to keep your old mind fresh.
So why do I feel as though I accomplished more here in these paragraphs than I did standing on that corner?

Friday, December 14, 2018

Guardians Of Our Galaxy

If you have let your subscription to TIME magazine run out, you may have missed their big announcement: You can still buy subscriptions to their magazine. That, and they also let the world know their choice for Person of the Year. In 2018, the winners are The Guardians. These super heroes are the front line in what Time called "the war on truth." Journalists. The ones who ask a second question even when the microphone is being yanked away. The ones who are labeled "fake news" as they attempt to describe the byzantine business of a government gone wrong. Men and women like Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was murdered and hacked to bits by assassins anxious to still his voice.
Sorry. Did I say "murdered and hacked to bits?" I meant to say "allegedly murdered and hacked to bits." The allegedness is inserted because even with an obscene amount of evidence both physical and anecdotal, the current administration chose to ignore it for weeks while they attempted to continue the cozy nature of our relationship with the country that sent the killers: Saudi Arabia. Jamal wrote, "“Must we choose between movie theaters and our rights as citizens to speak out, whether in support of or critical of our government’s actions?” 
Back here on our shores, there was the staff of the Capital Gazette, five of whom were shot and killed last June for being a standard for the First Amendment, a daily newspaper that has been reporting on the events in and around Maryland since 1884. The shooter was unhappy with the reports the paper published about his harassment of a high school acquaintance. After a lawsuit against the Gazette was dismissed, the nutjob got a shotgun and decided to shoot up the place.
And where would such an idea come from? 
Back in June, the "President" announced that "Fake News is the biggest enemy of the people." If you're a borderline person with access to a shotgun and you happen to have a beef with the local newspaper, why not do the "people" a favor? 
And if a Washington Post columnist is murdered and chopped up, why not reserve judgement on the overwhelming pile of evidence that implicates the powers that be, the ones sitting astride all that oil? 
Just keep shouting "Fake!" and deriding those who would remind you of reality even as it continues to rush past. 
Congratulations to those that tell the truth. We salute you. And hope that yours will be a less dangerous occupation once again. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Steaming Hot Cup Of Justice

Time for the folks at Merriam Webster to let us know what we are going to put in our scrapbooks as this year's Word. And the winner is:
Wait for it.
No. It's not "wait for it," that's just to build tension.
2018's Word of the Year is Justice. And that seems to make sense to me. Whether we are talking about the pursuit or the lack thereof, it certainly has been on a lot of people's minds. On this little corner of Al Gore's Internet, there have been twenty specific mentions of justice, dating back all the way to 2009. So it would appear that I am ahead of the curve, appreciation-wise. As a matter of numerical fact, this entry will put me at twenty-one, so I feel pretty good about this level of justice acknowledgement.
And it turns out that justice is pretty important. It is fully one third of the things for which Superman tends to show up. There are warriors who use justice as their modifier. We have a Department of Justice that seems to be in a state of flux currently. It's also something that seems to be obstructed from time to time. This is not something that eating more bran can fix, however. Finding ways to get a more freely-flowing stream of justice is in most everyone's interest. In many ways, 2018 was a year in which justice was sorely lacking from our cultural landscape.
It should be noted that the folks at Merriam Webster decide on their annual word in part by the number of inquiries made to their web site about spelling and definition. If you're curious, they define it as "the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments." If you would like to break into small groups at this time and discuss "what is just," remember that you have just twelve months to be back here when we will hopefully have an answer.

The Walls

“'Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun...No Collusion.'” @FoxNews That’s because there was NO COLLUSION. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution,....which it was not (but even if it was, it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama’s - but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me). Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!"
Let's start with the "smocking gun." A good laugh, since it's mostly a product of early morning thumb typing, but still worth noting that it had to be repeated. This is the social media account of a desperate man. The typos are one thing, but the caps lock identify it as that which should not be protested too much. The whole point of the Meuller Investigation is to find collusion, and with each passing day, it becomes more evident to just about everyone outside of the White House that collusion is exactly what was going on. And as unhappy as he may be about his choice of Michael Cohen as a litigator now, it was the choice he made when he needed a lawyer to pay off a stripper to keep her mouth shut about an affair. Sorry, alleged affair. And the "President" is currently swimming upstream in the river of lies he has created over the years.
"A simple private transaction?" Raise your hand if you have had a lawyer arrange hush money paid to anyone before? There is not anything simple about it. It's the kind of thing mobsters do. Not presidents. The smocking gun? It's right there: "but even if it was." This is burrowing back into the muck and mire that has already been sprayed. If Michael Cohen is trying to get his sentence reduced, it is because he has muck and/or mire to spread on the wheels of justice to help them grind smooth and hopefully, yes, reduce the time he will spend in jail for "making a mistake."
If it gives you the sense of walls closing in, like those in the garbage compactor in Star Wars, you're not alone. However, in Star Wars, there were heroes mixed in with that garbage. Here there is only garbage.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Outside The Wall

My grandfather was a mailman. This may explain why I attract the attention of so many dogs as I go on my way. Running or riding past a fence is quite an affront if you happen to be of the canine persuasion. It is their territory and they guard it ferociously. It is their job. That and sleeping in the patch of sun that comes through the trees. I get it.
Our dog, who was as patient and loving as any I have encountered in my travels across the galaxy, still had issues with those who dared make the mistake of walking in front of our house. If you happened to be wearing the uniform of the United States Post Office. So much so that there was a time when she was sitting in her chair, staring out at our front lawn, when she spied a mail carrier approaching her turf. Enraged, she began to bark and paw at the window. With each step that the postman made to the mailbox, our dog became more unhinged. I had just walked into the room when the window broke. For a moment, no one moved. Not me. Not the mailman. Not our dog.
The mailman moved first. He quickly shoved a couple envelopes into our box and moved on. I looked at our dog. She looked at me. With a certain amount of resignation. "Did you just expect me to let that guy come and trifle with our empire?"
She didn't really say that. Dogs don't talk. But I could feel her profound disappointment at being in trouble for doing what came so incredibly naturally. For my part, I was more interested in keeping her from leaping through the shattered glass and continuing her pursuit in whatever shape the shredding and the drop would allow her to. Happily for all concerned, the pause was long enough to keep her inside the house, and though she was still agitated, her focus had shifted.
Which is why I tend not to exacerbate the situation when I run past a dog who is working to protect their masters' domain. I understand that it's nothing personal. It's just a job. It's not an easy job either. There are constant threats to their sovereign territory. It might look like they are simply passing by, but they won't be fooled. They put on a show of teeth and snarls. Don't let that tail fool you. This is for real. Until the sun hits that certain spot on the yard. Then it's time for a break. Vigilance takes a lot of of a pup.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Solidarity

I have no issues telling anyone who will listen that last Friday night, at approximately eight forty-five, I teared up a bit. I was standing right at the edge of the stage watching Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul playing just for me, and I got all misty. Okay, maybe weren't playing just for me, but they sure made it feel that way.
Let me back up: A few months ago, I caught wind of an organization called Teach Rock. Their champion and their muse was none other than Steve Van Zandt. I know. This is where I lose a few people, but if I say "guitarist for the E Street Band," some will come wandering back. Little, Miami, or whatever modifier you put in front of Mister Van Zandt's name, has been singing and playing in support of the teachers of America - for free.
I got to see Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul for free. From the second row. And got a free T-shirt. I got to hear him and his band rock the Fillmore in San Francisco for two solid hours, and before that, along with a sea of fellow educators, I was treated to a glimpse at what he referred to as "STEAM" curriculum: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. He and his organization have shoehorned Arts back into the equation, encouraging students to find what they love and follow their own path. The message: Don't teach kids what to think. Teach them how to think.
From my own years as a student of music and a student in general, I can remember finding the history in the songs I heard. Procol Harum had a hit with a Bach mashup. And the way math swirled around in all those different beats and rhythms. I spent most of my junior high and high school years doing homework with my headphones on. Listening to music.
So there I was, twenty-plus years into my teaching career, treated to a concert by one of my favorite artists, dancing and singing along. I felt joy. The night, the music, the soul, the sound. Rock and roll was there to save me once again and remind me that I made the right choice, all those years ago. When the show was over, I didn't exactly want to go home, but I did want to take that feeling with me wherever I went. Teachers have power. Music has power. Together they make a difference. Together, teachers make a difference.
I had been making the joke earlier that this was a better perk than the school photo I get for free once a year, but now I see those as souvenirs that I can use as a way to show my commitment to the next generation. Thank you Steven. Thank you for making me feel happy to be a teacher.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Tucker Everlasting

I don’t think he’s capable. I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system. I don’t think the Congress is on his side. I don’t think his own agencies support him. He’s not going to do that.”
Our "President" “knows very little about the legislative process, hasn’t learned anything, hasn’t surrounded himself with people that can get it done, hasn’t done all the things you need to do so. It’s mostly his fault that he hasn’t achieved those things."

These are words that spouted from the head of the usually sycophantic Tucker Carlson. You remember Tucker, don't you? He's the guy who said in 2016,  "There's no reason to elect Donald Trump president. There's literally no reason." 
Which is interesting, since he has spent the last couple of years taking up a position on the conservative side of the television news aisle. Not that all conservatives are supporters of the current resident of the White House. Melania's husband. That guy has taken the words and claims of Mister Carlson and his minions and turned them into fact-based morsels to incite outrage. Like Tucker's segment last August in which he bemoaned that a land-reform policy proposal in South Africa was sparking the murdering of white farmers in that country. The "President" proclaimed, via Twitter, that he had asked his secretary of state to check in on the matter of “farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” The “South African Government,” he added, “is now seizing land from white farmers.’” In case there was any confusion where he got the idea, Trump helpfully tagged his tweet with the verified handles “@TuckerCarlson” and “@FoxNews.” 
I don't expect that the Tuck's most recent tirade will be re-tweeted via the White House. 
It's almost as if Fox News is beginning to separate themselves from the big orange baby before he becomes completely untethered. True, it's not like the friends of Fox and Friends have suddenly turned their back on their favorite viewer, or as if Sean Hannity had made any indication that he would stop sharing lawyers with His Royal Orangeness, but as the release date for that Mueller Report creeps ever closer, who knows what will happen.
Tucker?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Absence

For many years now it has been suggested to me that I "should take more days off." I am one of those people who has maxed out the number of sick and personal days they can carry on account. I could, potentially, walk out of school one day and not have to look back for several weeks. The theory behind all of this nose-to-the-grindstone foolishness is centered on a somewhat fervent commitment to my employer. I figure if I am being paid by this entity for my services, I should show up and deliver them as agreed.
Exceptions in the past few years have included jury duty and a kidney stone. Aside from that, I have managed to limp into work, or ride my bike in most days, and put in my eight hours. Or ten. Or whatever it happens to take. This kind of tenacious loyalty has been rewarded by a steady move up that salary scale. The same progression available to those who finish the fiscal year with a zero balance in their days off. If there was a cash value for sideways looks earned by telling others what my work attendance has been like over the years, I would currently be retired in style.
Running a bait shop in Key West. This is the alternative at which I tend to arrive when I start to imagine a place to land instead of the front door of my school each morning. I figure that the number of sick days a guy who runs a bait shop would probably be limited, especially in south Florida. And if I did decide not to open up that day, it would be my own business that I would be turning away.
It doesn't work that way with kids. Every day, they're here. Not all of them. Some of them miss a lot more days than I ever will. But when they show up, I want to be there. Because that's my job: being there. Sure, I hope that I can cajole some learning out of them, but when you're seven years old and there's this guy who is there day after day, holding the door open, getting the balls down off the roof, asking the tough questions like, "Did you really kick her on accident?" it starts to feel like a permanent gig.
One that I will continue to show up for until they tell me to stop. Because that's what teachers do.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

The Age Of Conspiracy

History Lesson:
There was a comedian who once suggested that he had concerns about giving Ronald Reagan access to "the Button," the one that sends our nuclear arsenal into the first act of Armageddon, because "I have an uncle who's seventy and we don't let him use the remote control for the TV." This was later considered by many to be ageist. 
Addendum: 
There was a senator from Alaska who insisted that the Internet is "a series of tubes." Plenty of folks had fun with this meme for a while until apologists decided to make the stretch that maybe Senator Ted was "kind of right." The senator's age and wisdom from all those years in office gave him the gravitas to make these kind of weak generalizations. Al Gore, who invented the Internet, was not available for comment. 
In my own living room: 
My son, on his visits to his ancestral home, will sit down on the couch and shame his mother and father for their lack of bandwidth and set about fussing with settings and modulations before he declares us once again safe for cyber traffic. And just when we believe we have caught up to him on Facebook to thank him, it turns out that he has moved on to some other social media venue that requires setting up an account and logging in. And once we get there, he's gone again. Like vapor.
What I am suggesting:
Technology is for young people. Rudy Guliani, "lawyer" for our "President" hastily made a tweet in which he wrote: "Mueller filed an indictment just as the President left for
http://G-20.In July he indicted the Russians who will never come here just before he left for Helsinki.Either could have been done earlier or later. Out of control!Supervision please?" Because Rudy did not put a space between the period and the "In," he inadvertently generated a hyperlink, which a clever person used to place the message, "Donald J. Trump is a traitor to our country." "If you don't believe me, click the link above. This required a conspiracy response from Rudy: Twitter allowed someone to invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message. The same thing-period no space-occurred later and it didn’t happen. Don’t tell me they are not committed cardcarrying anti-Trumpers. Time Magazine also may fit that description. FAIRNESS PLEASE"
The tweet he referenced included the parse “Helsinki.Either” and since .either is not a recognized domain, there was nothing the machine could do but allow the sloppy typing. Rudy Guliani is seventy-four years old. Someone please hide the remote control. 
 July he indicted the Russians who will never come here just before he left for Helsinki.Either could have been done earlier or later. Out of control!Supervision please? 

Friday, December 07, 2018

Rejuvinator

I remember a time when I flinched at the idea of having Arnold Schwarzenegger for a governor. I can remember groaning at his acceptance speech, when he insisted that his administration wasn't just going to "think outside the box, we're going to blow up those boxes." This was an election in California that included such other impressive candidates as former child star Gary Coleman and former porn star Mary Carey. We elected the Governator.
Did I mention Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Republican? We re-elected him three years later. How did this happen in the bluest of blue states?
Maybe it was the same energy that eventually brought Donald Trump to the Oval Office. Maybe California was test-driving the new reality before it actually hit the market a decade in advance. Or perhaps there was a sense that all those signs - the infidelity, the Humvee, the allegations of groping - were all part of a smokescreen to cover up the tree-hugger inside.
"If we would've never started in that direction and used other technology, we'd be much better off. The biggest evil is fossil fuels: it's coal, it's gasoline, it's the natural gas," he told U.N. climate delegates at a conference in Poland. He said he wishes he could travel back in time like the cyborg he played in The Terminator so he could stop fossil fuels from being used. Schwarzenegger later told The Associated Press he has converted his signature Humvee trucks to run on hydrogen, electricity and biofuel and only allows himself to eat meat three days a week. "I mean, maybe it tastes delicious, but I think we should think then and there before we eat about the world and about the pollution," he said. "So I discontinued eating meat four days a week. And eventually, maybe we'll go to seven days." What happened to the Governator? There must be some sort of science fiction silliness at work. Did Green Zombies come down and fill his head full of these radical new ideas? Some sort of ecologically safe body swap with a member of the Sierra Club? Or maybe an old dog can learn new tricks, and we should applaud this re-education. We're glad he's back. 

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Just Don't

It's an interesting thing, this American football. In so many ways, it is a mirror that can be held up to reflect so many of the best qualities of this land of ours. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. The run-pass option. Maybe it's the ground acquisition element of the game. It's like war. Or real estate. We love a hero. And we love to see a hero fall.
Over the next few weeks, the National Football League is promoting itself by allowing its players to wear shoes that reflect their beliefs. Causes such as underprivileged youth, safer schools, breast cancer awareness and the SPCA are featured on cleats worn by players across the league. And when the television cameras zoom in on their feet, as they sometimes do, there is a moment when that choice is visible to the worldwide audience. One player, Demariyus Thomas of the Houston Texans, chose to use his feet to bring attention to the problem of domestic violence.
An interesting choice, given the past couple of weeks in the world of professional football. Star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, Kareem Hunt is no longer the star running back with the Kansas City Chiefs because the Kansas City Chiefs let him go. They let him go because of a video that surfaced showing him shoving and kicking a woman in the hallway of his Cleveland residence. The video was taken last February, and it was only after those civic-minded folks at TMZ decided to publish it last Friday. Mister Hunt did not disclose any of the details of the event to his employers, nor did he have contact with any law enforcement. If you're a fan of the game, you might remember former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's elevator incident back in 2014 during which he punched his then fiance in the face. TMZ was there again to make sure the world saw that ugly scene.
And if it sounds like I am in any way ambivalent about any of this behavior, I am not. The whole thing stinks from top to bottom. The idea that we need tabloid journalists to help find our conscience in these matters troubles me. For his part, Kareem Hunt understands that his time in the sun may be setting. It would be amazing if this was the object lesson that let everyone know once and for all that no matter how mighty or talented, it is a long way down from the top. Or the middle.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Yo

I love to go to the movies. However, with all the alternative paths that those movies can take on their way to my eyes, when I do go out to the movies, I would like very much for the experience to be worth my while.
When I end up feeling as though the meetings that took place in order to get the movie made in the first place, then I start to feel regret for driving out to find a parking space and buying that ticket and one for my wife and maybe some popcorn and a big old Sprite and sitting there in the dark wondering, "I bet the meetings that took place in order to get this movie made in the first place was more interesting than this movie itself." Which is probably not the optimum response to any movie-going experience. It was, however, the way I felt after I went out to see Creed II.
I really enjoyed Creed. The story of Apollo Creed's illegitimate son finding his way in the gritty world of professional boxing was a good ride. It was a way to bring new life to the Rocky saga, a saga that had managed to go the distance over the course of six films, into the twenty-first century. It was Ryan Coogler, writer/director of Fruitvale Station, who helped make this leap. And that was fine. This was a story that deserved some screen time.
And it made a lot of money. So of course there was a discussion to be had about how money could continue to be made, along the lines of the thirty years of Rocky movies turned out by Sylvester Stallone and company. Who benefits from this exchange? Sylvester Stallone. He wrote and produced Creed II. His supporting role as the trainer got a little heftier in this sequel to a reboot. He was also able to wrangle stars Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, fresh off their successes in Marvel super hero franchises to reprise their roles as the boxer and his lady. Mix in a little Dolph Lundgren as the Russian beast who has fallen on hard times since his defeat at the hands of the Italian Stallion, and a cameo by Brigette Nielsen as the Russian ice queen and you have a retro-sundae of a return to what used to be.
Without any of the soul that once made Rocky and Creed great stories in the first place. Underdog stories became a cliche because of the success of Rocky Balboa. Delivering that to a new generation deserves some praise, but banking on it by using the same formula without even bothering to write new characters. Boxer loses first fight, has to find his way back and wins the second. The other stuff is essentially window dressing. And yes, I paid to see it. There was some comfort to be gained in all that familiarity, but do I wish I would have waited for it to show up on some streaming service?
Yo.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

One Less Point Of Light

The first time I attended a real protest, I was brought there by the policies of George H.W. Bush. I shouted along with the crowd outside the local armed forces recruiting offices, "No Blood For Oil!" This was on the eve of Operation Desert Shield. This was how "Poppy" and his administration proposed the United States should protect our oil in Kuwait. Did I say oil? I'm sure I meant "friends." Not oil. That would be a horrible suggestion, especially in this time of national mourning.
No. I meant oil.
And once we got all those tanks and soldiers over there in Shield formation, it was only a matter of time before it turned into a Storm. No longer content to merely stand around protecting our oil friends, the decision was made to chase the bad guys back into Iraq. Where they came from. For their part, the bad guys insisted that Kuwait had always been a part of Iraq, and they were just going down to protect their coastline. The coastline with all the oil and harbors for shipping oil and so forth.
And if all of this sounds familiar, A) you may have lived through it, or B) you may have caught the rerun a little more than a decade later. Conveniently enough, Poppy's little boy had found his way into the White House by then, and he was gifted with the opportunity to go raging back into the Middle East in search of the man who shot his Poppy. Well, they didn't exactly shoot him so much as embarrass him out of the White House.
And now time has done us all the favor of making a kinder, gentler version of this chunk of history. The Bushes and the Obamas have been hanging around together at various funerals and natural disasters. It would seem that time heals all wounds, except those of the two thousand U.S. soldiers wounded or killed in Desert Storm, or the hundred thousand wounded or killed in Gulf War Part Deux.
Yes, I understand that comparing the failed policies of another generation allows twenty-twenty hindsight. But I knew it way back then. And I know it now. The passing of a leader is always a chance to reflect, and I hope that given our current regime's proclivities, we are getting a clear picture. George H.W. Bush caused a lot of Terra to be stomped upon, but it didn't need to happen. Those thousand points of light could have been run on solar power. Not oil.

Monday, December 03, 2018

The Effects Of Radiation On Vegetables

What would you call it if a lawyer walked into a courthouse and told the judge, "I was lying?" You might call it a pretty good start. If you're like me, you might call it The Beginning Of The End.
If you are not like me, but perhaps aspire to be, you should know that this is a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to a 1957 movie about locusts that eat radiation enhanced vegetables that grow to gigantic size and terrorize the city of Chicago. You would also know that this film stars Peter Graves, who ended up becoming famous as Jim Phelps the leader of the Impossible Mission Force, was also the little brother of actor James Arness who played The Thing From Another World. A giant carrot. His brother Peter, who made those giant vegetables in the first place and started the mess with giant locusts attacking the City With The Big Shoulders eventually figured out that those enormous insects could be lured by a sound that mimicked that of locust mating calls. Right into Lake Michigan. Sorry. Spoiler alert. Anyway the whole doom and gloom part of the title comes from the moment shortly after the big bugs have drowned that scientist Graves wonders what other insects, animals and so forth might have made a meal of his irradiated vegetables.
All of which brings us back to the lawyer: Michael Cohen, who admitted that he had lied to Congress out of loyalty to the "President" and to align with his boss's “political messaging.” He had been lying about his involvement along with his boss, referred to in court documents as "Individual 1," in the 2016 discussions about building a giant skyscraper in Moscow. Moscow being the capital of the country that had been under economic sanctions by the Obama administration. Moscow being the capital of the country that had been meddling in the U.S. electoral process. Moscow being the capital of the country that had been involved in secret experiments on the effects of radiation on vegetables and certain insects. 
Okay, I might be lying about that last part, but the other stuff? Lying to Congress about then Candidate Trump's business affairs with Russia? Collusion? I looked it up: "secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others." Keep your eyes out for the giant grasshoppers. 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Dispensing Widsom

When I was in ninth grade, I suddenly felt that I had acquired the gift of foresight. I believed that my experiences on the outside looking in gave me some additional sense of what really was instead of what was supposed to be. I began matter-of-factly labeling my peers as "plastic" and "real." Having lived to the ripe old age of fourteen, I was pretty sure that I could judge someone's character by the tangential interactions I had with them. I wrote a forty-two page epistle describing these distinctions. "Plastic" people were those who lived in that bubble of the social hierarchy. They had boyfriends and girlfriends. They went to dances. They sat at the cool table. The table itself wasn't that cool, but the people at it were (or were purported to be). They were not like the "real" people with whom I chose to consort. These were the ones with real feelings and cared about the feelings of those around them. They were the ones who kept quiet in class. They were the ones who carried the whole day's books with them in their backpacks to avoid an uncomfortable interaction at their locker. They were my friends.
This was the dawning of the geeksurge that would hit its peak through the films of John Hughes. Before my eyes were opened to the potential that it really was the nerds who were running things, I thought it was simply our job to provide shoulders to punch. Whether we were flinching or not.
What I hadn't counted on, way back then, was that I was generating my own private cult. All that matter-of-factness was being spooned out in great big globs to my friends and then to their associates such that I started receiving terrified notes from girls asking, "Am I plastic?"
Only now, after all these years, does it occur to me that I might have used this moment to my social advantage. That is the kind of thing that turns a social outcast into a campus hero. And just as often, it required him or her to have some kind of comeuppance which would require the revelation that we are all "real," but we wear many masks.
That's not what happened to me. That was the John Hughes path. In the late nineteen-seventies in Boulder, Colorado the way it turned out was this: I slowly began to realize that I was putting myself further into a corner, and as an oracle of sorts I was only making myself more and more untouchable. That was not what I wanted. Thankfully, I was afforded a summer with my family at our mountain cabin which allowed me to become more of a memory to those I had so callously labeled. When I entered high school in the fall, I was just another nerdy sophomore. Surrounded by a school full of teenagers trying to find their own way.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Price You Pay

General Motors stock went up after the automotive gigantus announced that they were cutting fourteen thousand jobs and closing seven factories across the globe. For me, this is a terrific illustration of just how the stock market does not work for the American worker. As of 2013, the top one percent of households by wealth owned nearly thirty-eight percent of all stock shares. Stock ownership by individuals has fallen since the recession of 2006, and as of 2013 the top twenty percent of Americans owned ninety-two percent of the stocks, leaving eight percent for the rest of us. General Motors shutters factories, and the top eight percent wins. 
Meanwhile, our "President" wants to get all fighty with GM because he had been promising American workers, specifically those who held jobs in some of those auto plants, that he would make America Great Again by keeping their jobs here in the once great but soon to be great again land of the free and home of the brave. 
And out of work. 
Meanwhile, as the "President" continually touts the peaks and records of the stock market, he is threatening to end subsidies to General Motors because they laid people off. Last year, the "President" told workers, “Let me tell you folks in Ohio and in this area, don’t sell your house. We’re going to get those jobs coming back, and we’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build brand-new ones. It’s going to happen.” 
Back in the recession of 2006, as American automakers were teetering on the edge of collapse, the United States government gave them billions of dollars to stay afloat. Thirteen billion went to General Motors. Now they are closing factories. And their stock goes up. All of those big corporations that benefited from big tax cuts from the current administration are making money again. Including General Motors. Money is being made in lost in vast troughs that never seem to land on the workers, specifically those who are losing their jobs. 
All that winning. Some of us are tired of all of that winning. The "President" wants to take away the subsidies from GM? What sort of impact will that make? Maybe it will cause another trillion dollar bailout. Winning, winning, winning. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Sporting Life

The Bay Area professional football teams have not had a lot to shout about this season. The Forty-Niners and the Raiders are battling it out for the cellar in their perspective conferences, while injuries and poor management make it hard to bet against either one in their race to the bottom. And all of this might be easier to take if it were just football related.
You may remember the San Francisco Forty-Niners as a once proud franchise with a history of Super Bowls and superstars. Currently in search of their third win for the season, they are perhaps more easily remembered currently for their handling of one Colin Kapernick. The Niners' ex-quarterback has not played a down for them or any other professional football team since 2016, but remains a recognizable face due to Nike's pop-culture savvy ad campaign featuring him. Kaepernick is currently more recognizable as the leader of a movement than the leader of a football team. By taking a knee during the National Anthem to raise awareness for police brutality on people of color. His actions led to him being let go by the team he took to a Super Bowl in 2012. And made him a Twitter-target for the "President." And led to all manner of knee-related sports protests, including a Forty-Niners cheerleader who took a knee at the beginning of two games this season.
This being the Left Coast, and a perennial hotbed of social activism, you might expect that this kind of forward thinking would be reflected if not rewarded by the team. You might believe that cutting linebacker Reuben Foster after he was arrested for domestic violence while on a road trip to Tampa Bay is an example of such forward thinking. Except that Mister Foster had been arrested just last spring on the same charge. With the same woman. This is a guy who failed a drug test before he was drafted into the NFL. He served a two game suspension last year for marijuana possession and a gun charge. Last year when both of those things were still illegal.
Two arrests for domestic violence. One suspension for gun and drug charges. Reuben Foster was let go by the San Francisco Forty-Niners. Colin Kaepernick, who has not been arrested for anything is still looking for a job. That's the sporting life.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Mornings Are Broken

How do I feel about morning radio? What has been referred to as "drive time" was always my "time to wander around my classroom time." I no longer wake up to the radio. The alarm I set is on my Google home assistant. On mornings that both my wife and I are getting out of bed at the same time, I ask Google to play me something off Al Gore's Internet. We hear music, and the chatter between songs is the conversation we are having as we prepare to go about our day.
The idea of a "morning show" in which a little music is played and a little traffic news is discussed and a taste of national and local events are ruminated upon is one two which I surrendered many years ago. I accepted that listeners might want or need some kind of chat to begin their day. I shuddered to think that one of the local stations had become part of the Howard Stern Radio Domination Network, but I needn't have worried. Howard took his peculiar brand of talk to the satellite and our airwaves were once again peaceful and quiet. But only for a moment. Syndicated sounds from across the country came swooping in to fill the void. That comfortable relationship that I had once endured with Dave Morey on KFOG was replaced by a series of cleverly matched voices chosen to stir my brain cells in a manner I had not been accustomed.
I stuck with KFOG primarily because it meant I didn't have to tune the analog dial I had in my classroom for all those years. This fall when I returned to start a new school term, I quickly tired of the babble streaming from the speakers and retreated up the frequencies until I landed on a place that gave me one voice followed by a little music, followed by that same voice with a little bit of music. It sounded like a radio show.
This lasted a couple of months. Then suddenly I was gifted with another voice on this station. Now there was both chit and chat. There were "segments" with discussions of roommates and shopping and boyfriends and the incidence of music became more spread out. Apparently there was a lot more roommate, shopping and boyfriend concerns than I had originally imagined. Music? That was to take us to the top of the hour.
So I went back down to KFOG, only to discover that The Woody Show had taken up residence at that frequency. Plenty of surveys and contests and "can you believe this?" And music to take us to the top of the hour. I surrendered. Now there is noise coming from the corner where my radio sits. I try not to pay attention to the types of noise, just make sure to turn it off before I go outside for yard duty. If I want music, I'll ask Google.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

What We Get

Spending time with my son over the past week, he said something to me that lingered: "I've picked up a lot of your mannerisms over the years."
I thought about all the things I have seen and heard, over the years, that he might have been referring. The first thing I remembered was how, after years of hearing me answer the phone, I heard him answer a call with my own odd inflection: "Mmmm-yello." Since I had borrowed this from Frank Bonner portraying Herb Tarlek on WKRP in Cincinnati, I felt as though my job as a conduit through which popular culture could pass was being done effectively. How else would this sound from a seventies sitcom find its way to to his head in the twenty-first century?
I asked him what he felt was a gift from my generation to his, and he replied, "You know how when  you burp, you say 'burp?' I do that too."
I could have been more proud.
That's when I started thinking in a little bigger picture: My son had appropriated one of my odd bits of business, which is something I could relate to, since that's something I have been doing with the sounds around me for my entire life. If something got a laugh, I made a note of it and incorporated it into my big catalog of fun. Upon further review, I recognized the absurd number of noises, songs and stories I got from my father. Maybe not absurd, but comforting.
This is what I began to consider about my relationship with my son. All those jokes and ancillary silliness, my son had been listening. To what else had he paid attention? He has a deep and abiding respect for others, and a passion for helping others. Did I do that? It would be awesome to me to think that I did, in that big book of nature versus nurture. I would like to imagine that I had some hand in the character that was built with my wife's help. And the rest of the world that comes pouring in every day. Or maybe he was genetically engineered to announce his gastric distress onomatopoetically. 
Hard to imagine that I could be more proud either way. Which, in itself, is funny enough to continue passing down this silliness.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Baby, It's Cold Outside

I can't help myself. No matter how much I try, I still find myself drawn inexorably to the Twitter feed of the "President." Here is what he had to announce last Thursday: "This is the coldest weather in the history of the Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC, and one of the coldest Thanksgivings on record!" All by itself, it sits in a realm of what a lot of Thanksgiving dinner finds its way to: The Weather. Really Grandpa? Tell me about those balmy November days you used to spend on the golf course. That's fascinating. Except this is the "President" of the United States, and in between crabbing about how the border patrol can't do its job unless they can kill people and announcing that he will take time out of his busy day to talk on the phone to some active duty soldiers, he found time to toss this little meteorological fact out into the pool.
Well how about that? Coldest Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, you say? I guess this means that people had better bundle up if they are going to attend. And they probably want to get some cocoa before they go out shopping afterward. And global warming is just a hoax, since it's so cold.
And this may be primarily because the government which he currently "leads" is released a report on the this "hoax" the day after the "President's" weather report. Climate change is already harming Americans’ lives with “substantial damages” set to occur as global temperatures threaten to surge beyond internationally agreed limits. The report continues, “impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well-being are rising.” Climate change-related risks “will continue to grow without additional action.” 
Some of the other "highlights" include: 
The summary states the “earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future.”
Average sea levels along the US coast have increased by around nine inches since the early 20th century as the oceans have warmed and land ice has melted. If emissions aren’t constrained then “many coastal communities will be transformed by the latter part of this century.”
Fisheries, tourism, human health and public safety are being “transformed, degraded or lost due in part to climate change impacts, particularly sea level rise and higher numbers of extreme weather events.”
Wildfires have burned at least 3.7m acres of the US in all but three years from 2000 to 2016. “More frequent and larger wildfires, combined with increasing development at the wildland-urban interface portend increasing risks to property and human life,” the report states.
More than 100m people in the US live in places with poor air quality and climate change will “worsen existing air pollution levels.” Increased wildfire smoke risks heightening respiratory and cardiovascular problems, while the prevalence of asthma and hay fever is also likely to rise.
Major groundwater supplies have declined over the last century, with this decrease accelerating since 2001. “Significant changes in water quantity and quality are evident across the country,” the report finds.
Climate change will “disrupt many areas of life” by hurting the US economy, affecting trade and exacerbating overseas conflicts. Low-income and marginalized communities will be worst hit.
The report doesn't mention whether or not certain Florida golf resorts will be underwater, but we can only assume that the "President" already has a plan for that. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Too Much?

My son works retail. He does his job very well. He does his job proudly. That doesn't mean that he was aching to work not just the day after Thanksgiving, but the day before and on Thanksgiving Day. Happily, we were able to spend some time together on the days leading up to the retail Armageddon, but he was missed around the dinner table, and we could feel the tension mounting as the day approached: Black Friday. In those days leading up to the event, we talked about the sad reality of naming what amounts to a celebration - sale-a-bration - Black Friday. 
I looked it up: In the 1950s, shoppers would swarm Philadelphia after Thanksgiving and before the big Army-Navy game to prepare for the holidays. Police, cab drivers and anyone affected by purchasers taking over their city called the chaotic day “Black Friday” to show their disdain. And yes, I know from my training as an Arby's employee that customers are not an interruption to our business but rather the reason for our business. I also understand that businesses across the country bank on these final weeks of the calendar year to turn their ledgers from red to black. Why not just put on your big-boy pants, or big-boy blue shirt and make the best of it? 
Maybe because the scariest part of free enterprise is on display in those moments when the doors fly open and the deals start pouring out. And all that crazy spills out, leading to injuries to shoppers and employees alike. There was a shooting at an Alabama mall on Thanksgiving night. One dead, two wounded. Sadly, in the age in which we find ourselves living, one doesn't need a shopping excuse for gunfire. Still, every year people are injured, and even killed, on this festival of mercantilism. Perhaps some of this angst is a result of not taking the time to reflect on those closest to us. Maybe we should be counting our blessings instead of our savings. 
Just before the deluge began at the store where my son works, he tweeted this:" Like as happy as I am with time and a half and as much as I enjoy my job, being told "I'm sorry you have to work on Thanksgiving" is such a #@*@! cop out, like no you're not if you were sorry you wouldn't be here." And he could be sitting at the table with us.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

One To Open

In this space, I have at times pontificated about the perils and terror of being "the opening band." The audience is invariably still arriving, carrying with them the devil may care attitude that comes with the thoughts of a headliner, and this is just the bonus material, music to accompany finding one's seat. These are our seats? I think I'll nip out to the loo and see if I can get a snack before the show starts.
But of course the show has already begun, and the opening band is putting their collective heart and soul into winning over the crowd as they trickle in. This was not the case last Wednesday night when my wife and I traveled over the hill to Berkeley to see Steven Page, late of the Barenaked Ladies. His opening band was John Wesley Harding, also known as Wesley Stace. If the name sounds familiar, it could be that you remember the Bob Dylan album about the nefarious outlaw with the same name, or the nefarious outlaw himself. Or maybe it's because you were listening to college radio in the late eighties and early nineties and you caught his early stuff. I discovered the early stuff about the same time I discovered Steven Page and Barenaked Ladies.
Full circle, right?
And it so happened that the venue at which we found ourselves was the Freight And Salvage Coffeehouse, the same hall where my wife and I watched our son perform his piano recitals back in the day. Back in the day that my wife and I were attending more piano recitals than concerts by big names like Steven Page and Wesley Stace. We found ourselves seats right near the corner of the stage. Second row for us was a new experience. Even when we came to those piano recitals, the other parents crowded in ahead of us and nabbed all the best seats.
Not this night. We were close enough that we could see and hear Mister Harding/Stace as if he were doing the show in our living room. He sang songs from those olden days. Songs from 1992, and he commented about how things hadn't changed all that much since then. And he told stories about how the songs were made and where they were recorded and reminisced about a time when there was such a thing as radio and records. When he finished up his set, he told us that if we enjoyed the music, we should really catch him at the merch table. "This is just a warm-up. I'm really great at the merch table."
And it turns out that he was. He was happy to sign a CD for me and chat me up, if ever so briefly because there were dozens of others who had come to see the opening act. Steven Page came on after that. He did a great show, but he didn't stick around and sign things. Thank you, John Wesley Harding.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

You Deserve A Break Today

Good guys with guns. Sounds so musical and right. What happens if that good guy has a bad day? Like if that good guy got some really bad news and was in a McDonald's, ordering his Value Meal, and he decided to make somebody else's day just as bad as his. Or worse?
Which may or may not have happened at a Minnesota McDonald's last Monday night. I am trying to give the guy in question the benefit of the doubt, but video of the interaction doesn't make him look so "good." The fact that he ended up pulling a gun on a group of Muslim teenagers makes him look, well, dangerous.
And maybe I should say that it has been a long time since I worked in a fast food restaurant, but I am pretty sure that once this confrontation started, I don't think that my response would have been to send the kids outside where the guy with the gun was waiting. I worked in fast food long enough ago that the idea that a dispute in that establishment would have probably ended up with me having to mop up some drunk guy's poorly digested Beef 'n' Cheddar. I currently live in a neighborhood that has recently installed a bulletproof glass shield around the food prep area of our Subway. This is because you never know how a good guy with a gun is going to react to getting his twelve inch meatball marinara on wheat bread instead of Italian, which is what he asked for! I live in a world where armed guards are everywhere. I live in a world where I have to go through a metal detector to get into Disneyland.
I was a teenager, once upon a time, and I was completely capable of being an obnoxious handful along with a few of my buddies. I was never threatened with a gun. I have been a grownup for a while now, and though I have encountered my share of obnoxious teenagers. I have threatened none of them with a gun. Not the Muslims. Not the Jews. Not the Seventh Day Adventists. This has a lot to do with the fact that I don't believe that a gun is the proper response to a fast food dispute. And probably also because I don't carry a gun around, just in case someone forgets to put my curly fries on the top of the bag, where I can get at them on my drive home.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Siren's Call

In the middle of the night, I could hear it calling.
Calling my name.
I tried to sleep.
In vain.
I was a mile away, which I believed
was a safe distance
to rest
to wait.
I didn't stand a chance
there was no way
I could stay
asleep
Just up the road there was magic
waiting for me
and my family
to arrive.
The gates will soon be open
and we will all
pour in
as we do.
And yet another day of magic
will blossom
and glow
for us.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Gratis

I am grateful for on demand
I am grateful for walks in the sand
I am grateful for the chance to snooze
I am grateful for the Jungle Cruise
I am grateful for a little bit of rain
I am grateful for still appearing sane
I am grateful for the trips we take
I am grateful for forest floors to rake
I am grateful for a peek at the stars
I am grateful for hybrid cars
I am grateful for the songs we sing
I am grateful for my wedding ring
I am grateful for that piece of pie
I am grateful for a nice blue sky
I am grateful for that son of mine
I am grateful for students in a line
I am grateful for a place to sit and write
I am grateful for a place to grab a bite
I am grateful for chocolate
I am grateful fora a sneezing fit
I am grateful for our big old house
I am grateful for my lovely spouse
I am grateful for the roses out back
I am grateful for that turtle named Mack
I am grateful for another chance to vote
I am grateful for that thank you note
I am grateful for the moving picture show
I am grateful for having a place to go
I am grateful for each new sun
I am grateful for being done

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Breaking Up

It's your birthday. You and your significant other have been together for quite some time now. You're looking forward to spending some quality time with one another on this special day. When that day comes, your significant other is nowhere to be found. It's not like you made a secret of the day or time. It's not like it wasn't a big deal. It's not like this day hadn't been important for both of you for a very long time. Now it's your birthday, and you're left alone.
Should you break up?
Even if it had been raining?
I ask this because I think it's time to break up with our "President." On Veteran's Day, both the "President" and his Vice Minion chose to skip the part where presidents before have traveled to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Could it be that they were out of town? Nope. Barack Obama missed a Veteran's Day wreath-laying, but he was in China at the time. Other presidents have missed the ceremony, but somehow managed to send someone in their place. The Executive Branch was a no-show this year. Maybe he was caught up in the hurly-burly topsy-turvy daily events at the White House. Or maybe he was using that time to tweet about how the threat of  "presidential harassment" was giving the stock market "headaches." This comes from a guy who routinely touts his love and respect for our armed forces and veterans from his Twitter account, but seems challenged to make a meaningful connection to the troops deployed across the globe. Too busy. Phone calls to make. Tweets to send. Fox & Friends is on.
All of which might be a little easier to take if he had shown up at all for the one hundredth commemoration of the end World War I. Instead of joining the rest of the world's leaders walking hand in hand down the Champs-Elysees, our "President" took a motorcade to the photo op at the Arc de Triomphe. After which he hopped in his car and headed back to the palace for lunch. 
Whether it is his fear of steps, or his inability to operate an umbrella this guy continues to thumb his nose at common courtesy and convention. He is content to make everyone bow to his whims and limitations. 
Or we could just break up with him. 
In a text. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Getting It Write

The first screenwriter I knew about was Paddy Chayefsky. He wrote Network, and when he won an Oscar for it, I was just old enough to figure that he was the bomb. And he was. For a time. This opened the door for me to start paying attention to the screenplay credits of all the movies I watched. And while I was waiting for Mister Chayefsky to turn out another masterpiece, there was this guy who seemed to have a pretty good gig going: William Goldman.
I am probably dating myself by suggesting that everyone should see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. At least once. Made in 1969, it was the prototype for buddy movies that came by the crate-full shortly after that. And while many of them were quite enjoyable and well made in their own right, they didn't have the wit and buoyancy of the original. All through the seventies and eighties, when the credits included "screenplay by William Goldman," you could be pretty sure you were in for a fun ride. He wrote the novel Marathon Man and adapted it for the screen, giving us all a legitimate fear of Nazi dentists. He adapted Ira Levin's novel The Stepford Wives, giving us all a legitimate fear of suburbia. He turned Stephen King's Misery into a movie that made us all fear our number one fan.
Then there was this book my wife, before we ever started dating, insisted that I read: The Princess Bride. It was written by S. Morgenstern, and retold in a "good parts" version by William Goldman. Yes. That William Goldman. When all that fencing and fighting and torture and true love was made into a film, it was only right that William Goldman should prepare it for the screen. I hope that I am not dating myself again by suggesting that if you were alive in the past thirty years and have not seen The Princess Bride, then you are not as happy as you could be. And though she would complain bitterly that the omission of the first chapter of the book makes it a lesser work, my wife will always watch every frame, because it was written by William Goldman.
And now the man who made so many of those favorite moments has gone. He left dozens of screenplays and inspired a generation of screenwriters, and would-be screenwriters like me. He brought the Terra to life for Butch and Sundance to stomp on, and for Buttercup and Westley to find each other. He will be missed.
Aloha, Mister Goldman.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Anatomy Of A Snow Day

When I was a lad, I used to sit in the kitchen listening to the radio, barely able to breathe as school closures were announced. At times the list seemed to be organized with the specific intent of driving those children in Boulder Valley RE-2 mad with anticipation. We certainly had our share of disappointments, as our hearty pioneer town's spirit was generally rewarded with a slog to school in all kinds of inclement weather. It snows in Colorado. Get used to it, kid.
But on those rare occasions when the roads truly were impassible and the forecast was for even more, we got what we wanted: A chance to spend the day playing outside.
And that's pretty much what I expected when the Oakland Unified School District chose to fall in line with the rest of the Bay Area and cancel classes for the Friday before Thanksgiving Break. What would be gained by sending those children hearty enough to brave the last day before a week off into the poisonous cloud that had been plaguing the area for the past week? More and more kids had been showing up to school in masks, along with their parents, certain that any exposure to the atmosphere would cause them to melt into a choking mass of spasms. I didn't have the heart to explain how bitterly all of those students had taken the pill handed to them called "indoor recess." They would happily run and kick balls and climb and chase one another until they dropped. The powers that be just didn't want to be responsible for that last part.
So we got a smoke day. It was announced just as school was being dismissed for the day on Thursday, and I heard the news first from a group of third graders. Which is precisely why I doubted it. Then our crossing guard approached me with the same proclamation. Which is right about the time my phone began to buzz. An email delivered directly to me, from the superintendent, telling me that I didn't need to come to work the next day. We were getting an extra day right before our scheduled vacation.
Which I used to come into school for a couple hours, to straighten up and prepare for the next time we all got together to do the teaching thing. On my way down the hill, I saw one of my little charges jumping rope on the sidewalk. Braving the elements. "Mister Caven!" she cried, "What are you doing? There's no school!" Her face was squished into a knot of confusion that mostly found on second grade girls.
"I'm just going to go in and clean some things up," I replied. And enjoy the day of quiet.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Bearing The Smoky

As we negotiated the poor air quality here in the Bay Area, I had a number of random thoughts.
The first one was this: I would love to be the person who had the concession on those tacky surgical masks that men, women, and children of all ages are strapping to their noses and mouths. I have to imagine that the markup on those babies is pretty severe, since they run from anywhere between eleven dollars and thirty-two dollars. Reminiscent of the run on duct tape and plastic sheeting in December of 1999.
Another aspect of living in a haze is the choices that we make. I went out for a run on a couple of mornings after the air quality began to dip. This decision was based primarily on the notion that I might not get any exercise at all being trapped inside all day. This transferred abruptly to the enthusiasms of the kids at school, who felt disabused by the suggestion by these so-called grownups that they should not be allowed to play outside. Never mind that their number had been reduced steadily over the course of the week due to parental concerns and wheezing among their family members. The overarching sentiment seemed to be, "I may end up in the hospital tonight, but I will play four square today!"
The last impression that has been renewed for me is that of the morning cigarette. There have been plenty of times when I have been riding my bike to school or out for a run as the sun is making its presence felt, and I see a man or a woman hunching over to light up. There is no better way for your lungs to start a day than to fill them with contaminants. Add to this picture the gray could of smoke enveloping them from outside even as they take that first big drag. And proceed to hack up what remains of their respiratory system.
And all the while, we know that these are the lucky ones. The ones who dealt with the extraneous effects of the worst wildfire in California history. Where there's smoke, there's smoke. The fire is a hundred plus miles away. Take a whiff of that. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mnemonics

What a great slogan "Good Guy With A Gun" is. It has that brevity that makes it hard to dislodge from your prefrontal cortex. It has the alliteration that makes it sing. It seems to make so much sense. Until you start to unravel it.
The number of good guys with guns that died in the line of duty because of a gun that wasn't in the hands of a good guy is forty-four. Forty-four good guys and gals with guns died because their jobs are inherently dangerous. Because, as most people will remind you, there are a lot more bad guys with guns who don't follow the rules who don't care who they shoot on the other side of that thin blue line.
And then there's Jemel Roberson,a church musician and a security guard at Manny’s Blue Room Bar in Robbins, Illinois. Jemel was doing his job early last Sunday morning when he asked a group of drunken patrons to leave the bar. Moments later, one of them came back with a gun. He opened fire. In the ensuing tumult, Roberson apprehended one of the men outside the bar. He had a knee on the bad guy's back and held a gun on him, suggesting that he did not move. Police officers arrived on the scene and shot Jemel Roberson. He was shot five times. Without ever firing a shot in anger, Jemel Roberson was dead. 
Two days before this incident, Roberson had played at his grandmother's funeral. 
Without casting any further judgments into these murky waters, let's just take guns out of this interaction. Security guard asks drunken patrons to leave a bar in the wee hours of the morning. One of them comes back looking for a fight. A scuffle ensues, and police are called. They show up and settles the dispute. Someone ends up being cited, maybe jailed, for their behavior. Order is restored. 
In this particular version, however, Good Guy with a Gun Gone. And the number of times this kind of thing goes wrong, it's probably worth remembering. Not just in your prefrontal cortex, but in your heart as well. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Evacuate And Shun

A very good friend of mine and I were joking the other night as we talked on the phone. She was relating to me how she had coordinated a five minute, a thirty minute, and a one hour evacuation plan. I suggested that we pitch an HGTV show, where she could go from home to home, advising others on the delicate balance of things you need when you can't stay in your house. Having just returned from two days away from her own home, evacuated from the path of the Thousand Oaks fire, our conversation strayed into some pretty dark places. Considering there were a great many people who had never had the chance to flee, or to ponder what items might make the trip away from their homes, there was an edge of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I.
Which made me start to inventory my own life. What would I drag out the front door if I only had five minutes to choose? Would I have the presence of mind to remember my carefully laid plan? The most obvious answer is the one where I take the irreplaceable: My wife and myself. The stuff would have to wait. People, we preached to our son from a very early age, are more important than things. But what about those animation cels? The movie poster collection? Somewhere in a recess of my mind, I recall insurance playing a part in this, but I cannot imagine that there will be a replacement for the frame signed by Chuck Jones to me. I don't expect there is a set price for wedding photos. Or DVDs of our son when he was a tiny boy. When we taught him that people are more important than things.
Still, there is a short list of things I would like to believe I would tuck under my arm when the flames came over the hill, or the house began to creak and fail in an earthquake. The photo album. That first edition of Breakfast of Champions. Our wedding cake topper. The file cabinet with the last twenty-five years of documents, warranties, and policies. Or maybe just my wits.
It pains me just a little to think about what Neil Young must have lost in the fire. It makes me smile when I think about the man who found his wife's wedding ring amid the ashes. It gladdens my heart to know that my friends and family are safe again.
For now.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Man

I have thought about writing this epitaph a hundred times. Stan Lee lived to be ninety-five years old, and I am still working on finding words to express the impact this man had on my life. For a period of time, I was signing my name with the parenthetical (the Amazing Spider Man). I read more comic books than your average nerd, and though I had dalliances with other publishers, I was a Marvel guy. This was the standard and the brand that I could trust. It was part of the road map of my life.
It should be noted that the first time I proposed to my wife, I did so as an homage to Peter Parker and his paramour Mary Jane Watson. As I mentioned, this was the first of many attempts, but it should be noted that a copy of that comic still stands on an altar next to our wedding photo. It is the way the legend has proved to be stronger than the more twisted path of reality.
If you don't know Stan Lee, you might have been asleep for the past fifty years, so I will tell you that he is the man responsible for heroes. Heroes like the aforementioned Spider Man, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Incredible Hulk, and Howard the Duck.
Yes. I went with my older brother to see Howard the Duck when George Lucas turned it into a movie. We paid full price. And we liked it. I watched the CBS TV version of Spider Man. Okay, I wasn't in love with it, but I watched. When Sam Raimi finally got his hands on the Webslinger, I was in heaven, even if that third outing went a little awry. But I was back in line when Andrew Garfield pulled on those red and blue tights. Twice. All this time, Stan was gearing up for a Marvel Cinematic Universe that brought us Iron Man, and resurrected Captain America, breathed new life int Black Widow and made Hawkeye cool.
With each new movie, I found myself drawn back to those comics. The ones I had read for so many years, and eventually introduced to my son. He and I sat in the audience of together and waited for the cameo from the man who brought us all these amazing stories. As many times as I have watched the Avengers on screen, I return to that frame where the Avengers discover Steve Rogers, frozen in time. This was the moment of my awakening, and ever since then, I have made mine Marvel.
Stan Lee stomped on the Terra and galaxies beyond our imaginations. Thankfully, he shared those worlds with us, and I that those ninety-five years were never enough, but I am eternally grateful for the gifts he shared. He will be missed. Aloha, Stan. And Excelsior!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Autumn Years

Autumn, for me, is a swirl of memories about  loss. When my grandmother died, my father drove my friend Darren and I around  while he picked up his mother's  ashes. Afterward, not knowing exactly how to  cap off an errand like that, stopped and bought us a case of beer. Which we put in the back of the car with that box of cremains. That was one fall.  A couple of  years later, as the leaves began to  turn, it was Darren who died. He was taken much too soon, before he graduated from college. It was my father who went to the hospital to pick up  my friend Joe, who lived through the car crash. He told  Joe that this was the time that he believed that dads should be able to tell kids  that everyone and everything would be okay. They both knew it wasn't. It wasn't okay. My parents bought us pizza that we may have eaten. We weren't hungry. It was a few more years before it was my father's turn. I was hungry on the day of my father's funeral.  It wasn't a car but a plane that got him. By this time, I had stopped drinking, but I went for a cheeseburger and sat in a booth where we had sat with my father so many times. It was almost twenty years before the undertoad reached up and grabbed our beloved family dog. I suppose she did us a favor by choosing the anniversary of Darren's death to go to sleep and not wake up. We buried her in our back yard. There was a chill in the air.
And all of these images come to mind when the days start to get shorter, and the shadows grow longer. I have been able to fill in the gaps with seasonal memories that don't come with graveside visions or ironic connections to those who have passed. Trick or treating with my son. Thanksgiving preparations and back to school sales. Most of those years have not included funerals. Still, at some point when summer is over, my mind starts to wander down those dark lanes. At some point I will sit and ponder my own existence and how I came to live here. To be alive here. I figure I owe that to those who went ahead of me. I am making autumn mean something more than loss. Yet, I can't help but be a little anxious at this time of year.
Because I remember.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions is a climate change denier. "Carbon pollution is CO2, and that’s really not a pollutant; that’s a plant food, and it doesn’t harm anybody except that it might include temperature increases," he said during a 2015 Senate hearing for EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
He called the Voting Rights Act a “piece of intrusive legislation,” a quote that he stood by during his failed 1986 federal judicial confirmation hearing.
One of Mister Sessions' staffers, Thomas Figures, testified that his boss derogatorily called him "boy" and joked about the KKK in front of him. Sessions' former co-workers also testified that he joked that he thought the hate group was “OK," until he learned that they "smoked marijuana.”
Figures also testified that Sessions called the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” 
Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump. “People don’t have to endorse all of his rhetoric, but he’s correct on the issues, substantively, and he’s where the American people want to be, and we as a party should celebrate this and join this movement.” 
Yes, there was a time when Jeff Sessions was appointed by the man who he felt was"where the American people wan to be." He became Attorney General of the United States. And when that didn't turn out to be a slam dunk for his boss to be immune from prosecution, his boss had to let him go. Or in this peculiar version of reality, he was "asked to resign." Now he's gone. In his place is an opening that will no doubt offer the "President" a chance to fill it with something more subservient and dedicated to the movement he inspired. Something more divisive and more supportive of the untouchable nature that this administration demands. Jeff Sessions, once considered to racist to become a federal judge, apparently wouldn't go fare enough.
Scary? Imagining there might be a future when we look back at Jeff Sessions' stint as Attorney as "the good old days?" Very scary indeed.