Thursday, June 21, 2018

BD

I am currently living through a phase of meaningless birthdays. Not that each trip around is not a triumph, as my older brother so regularly asserts, but the benefits and privileges extended to me at each tick mark are less startling. I can say this with some measure of certainty, since I just lived through my son's twenty-first birthday. Much fuss and ballyhoo accompanied this transition. We stopped talking about our child and started addressing our adult. There were a lot of discussions about the responsibilities of turning twenty-one and the importance of designated drivers and knowing when to say when. Do not wait until English becomes optional.
Fifty-six? Not such a lollapalooza. Not like ages one through twelve, for example. Those were the years when six months made a difference. Being six and a half was a vast and impressive change from being plain old six. There was a race to get to get older. At the time, I didn't imagine what the finish line might be, but looking back it seems as though that magical twenty-one was where we were all headed. At twenty-one, you could rule the world. Or at least you could buy them a beer.
Of course, when I was young, there was that curious ledge upon which one could stand called eighteen. In the olden days, there was this thing called three point two beer. It was some weird concession to the idea that if you were old enough to vote and old enough to sign up for selective service, you were old enough to swill watered-down beer. For me, this was the point at which my professional drinking career began. There wasn't a lot of sneaking around, stealing booze for me. I waited until it was my turn, even for "baby beer," and then made the most of it.
And it made the most of me. Three years later, when "the hard stuff" was made available to me legally, I was already pretty solidly into my binge/recover/binge phase. Never needed a fake ID. Somewhere in there, I turned twenty-nine. A little voice inside my head suggested that maybe I had enough. This little voice echoed all those larger voices that had been suggesting to me for some time that I had already passed the tipping point. I like to tell people who are just finding out about my sobriety that I got a note from Milwaukee asking to please save some beer for everyone else.
Like maybe my son.
At fifty-six, I feel like I can speak with some mild authority about how to keep your mind and body humming along to my ripe old age. Knee surgery. Kidney stones. A few near misses. One suspended license. These are the gifts that keep on giving. And a piece of chocolate cake.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Brownsville

Superman was an undocumented immigrant. Separated from his parents, he was sent to this planet by parents who only wished that their child would be safe and happy. John and Martha Kent, Kansas farmers, raised the tyke they found crashed in their field as their own. They changed his name to keep him from being easily noticed by his Kryptonian handle, Kal-El. If Homeland Security had known that there was a foreign national living in secret, capable of mass destruction just by staring at something, I'm sure they would have swooped in and taken him away in some sort of super-restraints, leaving John and Martha crying on their front porch. Much in the same way Lara and Jor-El stood and watched that rocket carry their only son into space while their planet crumbled around them.
But ICE agents never showed up in Smallville. Even though there were all those crazy stories about school buses being pulled out of a raging stream and fires being extinguished in a single rush of air, almost as if they had been blown out like a birthday candle.
To his credit, "Clark Kent" did his best to assimilate. He got himself a real job and a pair of glasses, and went to work reporting on the very feats of heroism he was secretly doing in his cape and long johns. For this, he was admired and respected, though "Clark" never received the respect and admiration afforded his secret identity. Superman stood for truth, justice, and the American Way, and yet he was living a lie. He was out there, nominally risking his life for a country that was regularly uncomfortable with the idea of his existence.
Here is my wish: There are thousands of children being held in camps across the southwest. Maybe just one of them has mutant powers that would enable them to overcome their captivity. Maybe they could break free and find themselves a pair of horn-rimmed glasses to disguise themselves just enough to keep away that unwanted attention. They could become part of our American society and live productive lives of truth, justice and the American Way. But first they have to break out. I want to be there when the ICE agents show up and find a great big hole blasted through the side of the Wal-Mart where the alien children spilled out after some or all of them had enough.
And I hope they're afraid of what might happen next.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Bible Study

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who may or may not be leaving her post as White House press secretary at the end of this year, recently cited the Bible as a defense for her administration's detention of fifteen hundred immigrant children. And so spake Sarah: “It is very biblical to enforce the law, that is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.” So let it be written. So let it be done. The Bible does say a lot of interesting things, many of which are very worthwhile. One of them is "Love thy neighbor." 
I don't think that was the direction Sarah and her boss were heading with that one, but maybe it's time to recognize that Leviticus 11:12 would put a pretty solid damper on your neighbor's Crab Shack, since "Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you." It might also be important to report back to our "President" what it says in Mark 10:11-12: “And He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.'” So, no divorce. No shellfish. And then there's 1 Timothy 2:9 which reads “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments.” Sorry Stormy, Melania, et al. It's in the Bible, and we are nothing without the Word, and following the Word. Which could explain the "President's" issues with the NFL spring. Leviticus 11:8 tells us about pigs, “You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.” No pigskin.
And so, the truth about why anyone could possible justify the incarceration of hundreds of children can be explained away, or justified via blackmail: Give me my wall and I'll stop locking up kids. All of which may start to explain why rumors of Ms. Huckabee Sanders' imminent departure from her position. In order to maintain the slightest whisper of a soul, all real human beings must flee this black hole of reason and morals. This is where thoughts go to die. Like Cain slaying Abel. That worked out pretty well, didn't it? 
If she starts working in Beatles lyrics into her justifications, it's time to flee. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Fences

Like many people, I marvel at the seemingly infinite variety of shapes and sizes of the canine world. Chihuahuas and Great Danes: Same genetic building blocks. Bred for specific purposes and traits, these beasts have been experimented with for thousands of years to the point that their ancient wolf relatives could only look on in puzzlement.
As many of you know, I am a confirmed dog person, meaning that I tend to prefer the company of dogs to cats, not that I am known to eat my weight when left unattended. But that can happen too. I look forward to those moments when I am introduced to a new dog, much in the same way others fawn over human babies. I feel it is necessary to insinuate myself into their doggie lives as much as possible in whatever brief time I am allowed.
The exception to this rule is the group of dogs that I encounter on my runs. I accept that during these times of exercise, I am not nearly as attentive to the animals along the route, concentrating instead on bringing my aging body around the circle I have chosen to make. These paths take me past countless gates and fences. Most of these I can glance through moments before I pass them, anticipating the greeting I may get from the pup prowling or resting on the other side. Inevitably it is the smallest of these dogs who have the most to say as I run by. I know that this is both a territorial and a fear response. I admire the way even the tiniest terrier can get all worked up about their turf. Often this initial alarm raised the defcon level for the rest of the block, and neighbor dogs get up to shout at me just because they heard I was coming.
And every so often, I stop. I make eye contact with the beast that is yipping or snarling at me from mere inches away. What is the big deal? In another universe, we could be friends. I could toss a tennis ball for you to chase in endless repetition. I could scratch your backside until you melted into a puddle of fur and drool. I could be your friend. Your best friend.
But that doesn't happen very often. Instead, I keep going, knowing that if I were to show up the very next day at the same time, and made that my habit, I would still be treated as a stranger. Because that is hard-wired, no matter what the breed. I have crossed in front of the television that is their world view. Who knows what foul intent I may have?
I suppose I could fill my pockets with jerky and take the time to ingratiate myself to all creatures great and small along the sidewalks of my neighborhood, but that seems somehow insincere. I just wish that all those dogs could get to know me before they decided to hate me.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Greatest Hits

If you are a parent, there are plenty of times at which you shudder at the idea of being quoted by your children. Five year olds playing The Fart Game on a crowded elevator need to be reminded that this is funny only when it's just you and daddy trapped inside. Getting off a floor early just so that you can explain to your offspring that not everyone plays that particular game is the price you pay for teaching it to them in the first place.
To my son's everlasting credit, he did not curse in front of his parents until he was almost through high school. Not that he was unable to, he reassured us, "I went to public school in Oakland." There wasn't much he didn't hear or repeat on occasion. That occasion just never occurred while mom and dad were in the room. Which didn't keep my from sharing my own bawdy sense of humor, a gift from my father before me, with my son and his friends.
Yes, I was "that guy."
And now that I am the father of an adult, I have absolutely no leg upon which I can stand when it comes to working blue. Or belching. Or taking more than the prescribed four years to graduate from an institution of higher learning. And because we sent him to college he is very good at citing his references. This means that, at times, he is quoting me and stretching the legacy of his grandfather who taught me everything I know. Much to the dismay of my mother.
And so, when I hear familiar bits coming from my son's mouth, I can't help but feel a certain pride. This can run headlong into the shock and dismay that I should probably be experiencing when my little boy starts in on something that rings a little off-color. And a little familiar. This does stir my wife's ire on occasion, since she rightfully suggests that he certainly knows better, not that he is always up to the task of showing that.
I do remember my mother's concern that I would be out "somewhere nice" and I wouldn't know how to act. While I have drawn scowls from patrons at Denny's and been admonished by the parking tram host at Disneyland to "take it down a notch," I have yet to be forcibly removed or even officially asked to leave anyplace "nice." At the time of this writing, neither has my son.
Which makes me even more proud.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Let's Make A Deal

"You gotta hand it to him."
This is what some people, even my wife, have been saying about our "President's" summit with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un. The handshake alone was a photo op some sixty years in the making. A sitting U.S. president had never met with the sitting leader of North Korea. And so they sat. For this, some people say "You gotta hand it to him."
Sitting down with the man he had so recently referred to as "Little Rocket Man" and opening with a fat joke shows just what kind of exacting preparation our "President" went through in anticipation of this historic meeting.
You gotta hand it to him.
The on-again-off-again summit between these two countries came to pass more or less along the lines as previously described just before it was cancelled in a fit of pique by the White House. And was back on again just as quickly. What changed? Who cares?
You gotta hand it to him.
This was the same "President" who showed up at the G7 meeting in Canada just prior to jetting off to Singapore to make his fat joke, looking to ruffle feathers. Right now it's all about trade for our "President." He is all but foaming at the mouth about tariffs and deals made over the past century. For him, none of it is fair, and if other countries don't look out, they'll have to go without our Made In The USA goodies, and we won't be buying any more of their overpriced goop and gadgets made elsewhere.
You gotta hand it to him.
So just before the G7 leaders went off to discuss climate change and the Paris Accord, our "President" excused himself to go and shake hands with the man he had been threatening with nuclear annihilation ten months ago. A little fire and fury, anyone?
You gotta hand it to him.
Which leaves us with a "President" who seems much more interested in forging new and interesting real estate deals with countries like Russia and North Korea, while our allies wonder where the love has gone. He told Kim Jong Un, "As an example, they have great beaches. You see that whenever they are exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, boy, look at that view, wouldn't that make a great condo? And I explained it. I said, instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world."
You gotta hand it to him? 
No. I don't. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Party Of The First Part

My son is preparing to move into a new apartment. Immediately this made me think of the apartments into which I moved over the course of my college career. I thought about the negotiations my roommate and I had when considering our lease. "They want a two hundred dollar damage deposit?" After a pause, "Yeah, we could do two hundred dollars in damage." This was an amusing, but very realistic exchange. This was primarily because, with the exception of the freshman dorm where I camped out in that first year, the apartments in which we lived were launching pads for frequent drunken brawls we called "parties."
And in those moments when the smoke cleared and the puddles had dried, I went to class. This was the reason I was living in those close-to-campus bunkers that were built to withstand eruptions of youthful indiscretion. The landlords knew what they were doing. Their monthly rates would pay for the holes in the drywall and the regular cycles of painting and repainting. It was our job to try and make them wonder if maybe they figured something wrong.
I'm a homeowner now. I'm a father. I teach elementary school. What was going through my head way back when in a celebration of some occasion or other we started up a pop bottle rocket fight ranging from the living room to the one bedroom we shared. Other fireworks displays took place on the patio of our deck, where the sparks scarred the roof that was a foot or two lower than the shower of fire we set off on purpose. In many ways, we were the stress test that these domiciles required. It was our gesture of public service.
And every so often, when things got "out of hand," we had a neighbor drop by. Most of the time, we were able to work things out by inviting them in. Sometimes that didn't work. They threatened to call the cops. I told them that they wouldn't have to call loud, since we often had a few off-duty sheriff's deputies hanging on the couch. I would love to tell you that at some point our collective conscience put a dent in the hooliganism. I can't tell you that.
I can tell you that I would advise my son to put down tarps. Just in case.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

I Will Hop No More Forever

Around my house, there were some tense moments when the International House of Pancakes, IHOP to most of the planet, decided to change its name. This was where I learned, as a child, to love Pigs in a Blanket. Though I have never been a huge fan of breakfast food in general, this cartoonish fare was well suited for kid with a rather visceral imagination. When the announcement came down on Al Gore's Internet last week that there was to be a change in the way we would refer to the establishment that made it okay to sample a dozen different flavors of syrup on two pancakes, my wife and I began to conjecture. Her first guess was International House of Brunch.
I felt this was a savvy move, appealing to the millennials who enjoy their egg white omelettes and their skillet fried potatoes. I went with the much less inspired International House of Breakfast. This would be playing it safe, and would require little if any change in menu or branding. What I didn't say at the time was "International House of Bunnies."
Many years ago, on a Spring Break trip down to southern California, we stopped in San Luis Obispo for breakfast on Easter Sunday. It was a stroke of luck that we happened to spot the sign as we got of the exit: IHOP. What better place to land on Easter? My son was still young enough to believe that this was the sort of magic that happened on the day that a giant rabbit deposited colored eggs and chocolate treats in barely discrete hiding places.
As luck and time would have it, my son ended up attending college just up the street from that restaurant, and eventually got himself a job at the Best Buy across the parking lot from that IHOP. A year ago we all sat down and had breakfast together on Easter before he had to rush off to sell televisions. Some of the magic was gone, but it was a point of reference.
Now they've gone and changed the sign. And the focus. They have traded their pancakes for burgers. The International House of Pancakes has always served a wider menu, but their focus has shifted to the lunch crowd. I am sure it has to do with finding a way to drag more people in the doors rather than waiting for the breakfast crowd to hang around long enough to try page three and four of the laminated picture book from which orders can be made.
Trouble is, IHOB isn't fun. IHOP was fun. It could be conjugated: Ihop, wehop, theyhop, youhop. Just exactly how does one Hob? I wish them good luck, and I can imagine scenarios in which I find myself wandering in to sample their signature burger. Or maybe I'll see if they can't rustle me up just one more order of pigs in a blanket.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

God Knows

Listen up, pollutants! God doesn't want you wrecking the planet anymore. For those of you who are not on God's mailing list, or don't get the monthly newsletter from his Holiness, the Pope, here's what He wanted us to know: There is no time to lose,” the pontiff told them. “This is a challenge of epochal proportions. Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization.” So, when all is said and done, Pope-wise, the Pontiff is still a fan of civilization, but would like us all to be more responsible about how we fuel it. 
“With each month that passes, the challenge of energy transition becomes more pressing,” Francis warned, “Serious efforts be made to transition to a greater use of energy sources that are highly efficient while producing low levels of pollution.” Which is to say that all that beautiful clean coal that our "President" likes to babble about is not the alternative. 
Pope Francis issued his warnings in at an energy summit named “Energy Transition and Care for Our Common Home." The home of the title is the big blue marble upon which so much of our history has taken place. If you read the Bible, you know that it took seven days to create the Heavens and the Earth, and it took us two thousand years to mess it up. He called on those present to be the “core of a group of leaders who envision the global energy transition in a way that will take into account all the peoples of the earth, as well as future generations and all species and ecosystems.”
And while the Pope was talking to  executives who attended the meeting such as BlackRock Inc. chief executive Laurence Fink, Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive Darren Woods and British Petroleum CEO Bob Dudley, our "President" was walking out on a G7 session focused on climate change and the environment. The "President" is fond of saying that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese. Which kind of makes that seven days for the creation of the Heavens and Earth story seem quite reasonable. 
Come to think of it, most of what Pope Francis has to say these days sounds a lot more reasonable than what issues forth from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Hangin' On The Telephone

I remember, when I was a teenager, how important the telephone was. I can remember how important that long cord to the handset was. The one in the kitchen allowed us to take calls in the garage, for that extra measure of privacy. The one in the basement offered us the ability to flop around in various positions, as long as those positions did not take us more than four feet from the wall mounted phone. The idea of being able to traipse about the room, the entire house, even into the back yard was unthinkable at the time. I spent hours, when no one else was in the house, on the phone. With two brothers and concerned parents, one could never be sure that the extension could be picked up and all that privacy could go out the window in an instant. I knew this because my older brother showed me how to unscrew the mouthpiece while holding down the button inside the cradle so no ambient noise would spill into the transmitter when the switch was opened. Spy stuff.
But oh, how those teenage phone calls could linger on into the wee hours. There were those friends of mine who were fortunate enough to have a telephone in their room. This extravagance allowed them the ability to chat way past bedtime, even on a school night. Me? I was huddled in that corner of the basement, attempting to find the most relaxed posture possible while holding a chunk of plastic to the side of my head.
If I was expecting a call, there was a race to the nearest extension, and while covering the mouthpiece with one hand, the cry would go out from wherever the answering party was in our house, "I GOT IT!" There were plenty of times that my alacrity was rewarded with a call from a solicitor or some family friend who wanted to speak with someone other than me. In this case, a second cry would go out, "IT'S FOR YOU, MOM!" At which point the tension would double as I worried that whoever might be trying to reach me was on the receiving end of a busy signal. Voice mail in those days was someone else offering to take a message, and then forgetting to write it down. "Oh, Mom: Aunt Dorothy called yesterday. Something about the family picnic."
Meanwhile, when that connection was finally made, the most innocuous conversations were held between these proto-adults. Who did what to whom when and how was the customary starting point, with the standard reflection on what the eventual outcome of those events that would take up most of the discussion energy. And what would this mean to me? How would this affect my life?
For the most part, these conversations did little if anything to alter my life's course. However, once I had meandered on into my late twenties, and lived in a one bedroom apartment in which I had two phones, I took a call from the woman who would become my wife. I wondered if maybe I might find my way out to California to settle down with her. After some mildly tense negotiations, I arrived at my answer: "Why not?" When I finished that call and placed the handset back on the cradle, I did the happy dance. Neatly avoiding the cord.

Monday, June 11, 2018

I Am A Rock

The night before I reported to may last day of the 2017-2018 school year, I lay awake. That was not a surprise since I have spent many nights awake, wondering what the morrow might bring. Usually it is before the first day of school, not the last. I tend to fret about beginnings, but endings can be just as stressful.
Because of change. After twenty-one years, I can walk down a hall and attempt to generate a list in my head of all the teachers who have occupied this classroom or that. The names don't come as easily now as they once did. Many of them come from associations with another. Groups or grade levels are easier to assemble than individuals. More slots are opening for the Fall, and I will be that steady presence one more time. I know where the bodies are buried.
Not really. But I do know where the cases of paper clips that were ordered in excess ten years ago sit in a darkened closet under the stairs. I know that the upstairs rooms heat up more quickly in the afternoons. I have a history that can be traced back to the days when ours was a year-round school. But if anyone really wants to know what is going on, I send them to our cafeteria supervisor, who has an additional decade on me.
And somewhere in the middle of the night this image came to me: A rock in the middle of a fast moving stream. Students, staff and parents tumble past and I sit there, altering their flow just by my presence. Many times I have looked up and wondered if it wasn't time to pick myself up and wander downstream to see what is happening there.
But I don't need to seek out change. Change comes to those who sit and wait. It's relativity. A few years back, I was anxiously awaiting Christmas break, and mentioned this to our cafeteria supervisor. Her wisdom was easy to grasp: "You'll wake up and it will be January." And so it goes with this summer. I will wake up and it will be August. There will be ice breakers and introductions and new students and staff. I will wonder once again just what it is that keeps me stuck in this spot. The answer is easy enough: The view from here is the same as if I were doing all the moving. Elementary school is Brownian Motion, but there is order in the chaos. Order I can see just by holding still.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

American Made

So, just how is that "get tough on immigration" plan going down Mexico way? The number of illegal crossings increased slightly in May, to nearly fifty-two thousand, according to figures released Wednesday by the Customs and Border Protection agency. That total includes eleven thousand five hundred sixty-eight people who came through legal ports of entry, some of whom were asking for asylum or other humanitarian protections under U.S. law. “These numbers show that while the Trump administration is restoring the rule of law, it will take a sustained effort and continuous commitment of resources over many months to disrupt cartels, smugglers, and nefarious actors,” wrote Tyler Houlton, press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. Tyler was also quick to point out that border arrests had increased one hundred sixty percent over May of last year. Good news?
Well, when you consider that this is an administration that has implemented a zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration, as well as enlisting the help of the National Guard to combat such nefarious activity, there doesn't seem to be much that stems the tide rolling. Another thing to consider is that those numbers remain low by historical standards. Border Patrol arrests stand at roughly two hundred fifty-two thousand so far for the fiscal year, which began in October. That would put them on track to exceed last year’s exceptionally low number of three hundred four thousand arrests, but the predicted yearly total would still represent only a quarter of the one point six million arrests recorded in 2000.  So, while there seems to be little to turn back the tide, that tide doesn't seem to be as horrible a problem as this administration would have us believe. 
Build a wall. Keep those murderers and rapists out of the country. Meanwhile, the walls in schools across the country could use a coat of paint and the murderers and rapists we have to deal with inside our own border are plenty to keep us busy, thank you very much. Maybe it's time to start looking at the real sources of those things that keep America from being Great. They should be pretty easy to find. They're right here. 

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Missing

Somebody will ask: Will you miss any of them? And the truth is this: Not at first. When the fifth graders head out the door into a world filled with middle school and all the challenges that stand in front of them, I will breathe a sigh of relief. I hope that each and every one of them finds the education they need and deserve. I hope that they will remember the lessons that they learned here in elementary school: Be Safe. Be Responsible. Be Respectful. I hope they will continue to learn the lessons that we may have missed, or shortchanged. I hope they look back on their old school with humor and patience, like we tried to greet them all those years ago. But mostly that relief. It will only be a couple months before the new crop streams in and the adventure continues, much like it has for all these years before.
And I will miss Leon.
Leon was part of my after school group, Upward Roots. Made up of fourth and fifth graders, we met on Tuesdays after school to come up with a community service project over the course of ten weeks and turn it into action by working as a team. I knew Leon from the year before, when he came to our school as a fourth grader. Like many new students, his initial contacts were with adults, and he formed a quick bond with me, helping out on the playground, with a free-floating course of chatter that never kept him from finding that missing ball or fellow student in trouble.
By the time he became a fifth grader, he had installed himself as an integral part of the kitchen staff. Leon was there after lunch to help break down boxes and get them into the recycling dumpster. He never missed a day of helping out in the mornings with our breakfast in the classroom program. Without a grumble. Without a moan. He saw a need and he jumped in to fill it. Other kids came and went, their interests and patience tried by the repetitive nature of the work, but that didn't stop Leon. Those empty milk cartons weren't going to jump into the trash by themselves.
We didn't talk about it much, but I knew that Leon and his family sometimes struggled to make ends meet. That made it even more profound for me to hear him speak in Upward Roots about his wish to help the homeless. Sure, sometimes he talked about wanting a Nintendo Switch, or his phone, like all kids his age. But he also talked about the change he wanted to see in his world. Leon wanted the rest of the planet to be as hard-working and caring as he was.
I learned a lot from Leon. And I will miss him. I hope there will be more like him next year.

Friday, June 08, 2018

All That Winning

The reason our "President" invited Martin Truex Jr. to the White House has something to do with all the winning he did as NASCAR Cup Champion in 2017. If Martin's name doesn't immediately ring a bell, it could be that you are not part of the NASCAR fanbase. They are the ones who stand for the National Anthem, as do the drivers and pit crews. For this, they got to drive on the White House Lawn, and grab some selfies with the "good friend" of Bob France, the head of NASCAR. So much winning.
That was a few weeks ago. Earlier this week, America's biggest NASCAR fan rescinded his invitation to the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. This came after the team suggested that a "smaller delegation" might make the trip. The equipment manager. Charlene from accounting. And that kid who picks up the coffee in the morning. It became clear that most of the Eagles, so named because of their fondness for seventies rock, had more pressing matters to which they needed to attend. Wide receiver Torrey Smith had this to say: ”For me, it’s not just about politics. If I told you that I was invited to a party by an individual I believe is sexist or has no respect for women or I told you that this individual has said offensive things towards many minority groups.… this individual also called my peers and my friends SOBs, you would understand why I wouldn’t want to go to that party. Why is it any different when the person has title of President of the United States?”
And some of them had to attend that thing, you know, that was happening on the same day. 
The players were not interested in participating in the kind of winning that takes place at this version of the White House. The really, really White House. And the "President," who was obviously still chapped by the owners unwillingness to fire the players who chose to continue their protest of the treatment of the aforementioned minority groups, decided to take back the invitation to give the appearance that he was somehow in control. This is the kind of winning with which he is familiar. It's not about inclusion. It's about exclusion. It's about walls. It's about firing. This is how he believes he will make America great again. 
Meanwhile, in sports, the NBA finals continue with the Cavaliers and the Warriors vying for a chance to have their invitation to the White House rescinded. 
Soc much winning. 

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Loaded

It might be convenient to say that the reason I ended up reading the story about the FBI agent was because the dateline was Denver. I admit that I have a disposition toward checking out items that originate from the same state I did. Hence, I catch a lot of news that comes from the Centennial State.
That isn't why I read it.
You might also surmise that my interest in protecting our country from enemies foreign and domestic might bring me to reading up about the latest misadventures of our intelligence community. What would former director James Comey have said about this incident? Is this behavior consistent with the overall malaise of the Federal Bureau of Investigation?
Nope.
I read the story because I honestly could not understand how an FBI agent shot someone while dancing. Not in a cool undercover way like Mel Gibson might have back when he was a Lethal Weapon, but in a really pretty stupid "What was going through your head?" kind of way that did not immediately allow understanding.
According to bystanders, one of whom was shot in the leg, the off-duty agent had just performed a handstand when his pistol fell out of his pocket onto the floor. At this point, the agent bent down to pick up the firearm and it went off. "Accidental discharge" is what they call it. Coincidentally, this is also one of the side-effects of Curactin. This tepid piece of choreography resulted in a non-life-threatening injury to the bar patron who probably hadn't counted on leaving the bar in an ambulance.
Which brings me to the real reason I read the story: What do guns and dancing have in common? There are dance clubs and there are gun clubs. Both seem to be covered by our Constitution, at least as far as the freedom of expression allows the Cabbage Patch. Keeping in mind that this was a trained and vetted individual who made the somewhat confounding choice of performing a handstand while carrying a gun in his waistband holster, it makes me wonder just how wrong this kind of thing could go in a place where concealed weapons were de regueur. It does make me wonder if the agent in question was wearing his Kevlar vest. That would have made doing a handstand even more challenging. Or maybe the rest of the crowd should have been issued bullet proof vests before the night's performance. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Living In The Future

It took me about an hour to connect the wi-fi outlet to our network so I could shout into the ether, "Hey Google, turn on the Not." The Not is the name Ikea gave to the lamp we bought several years ago. My wife and I thought it was amusing enough to keep that name when it came time to robotize our household. We still have to flip some light switches and push some buttons. The dishes do not wash themselves. If I want a window open, I still have to lift that sash all by myself.
But I want to hear Ray Stevens singing "Gitarzan," I just have to yell in the direction of the doorknob shaped object at the front of our living room. I can ask it questions. If I want to know what time it is, or who that girl was in that episode of Scrubs, I ask Google. No typing. Just asking the doorknob. After I make sure that I have asked in a way that will make sense to the artificial intelligence that lives with us as long as the power stays on. 
I try hard not to think about the time I have spent connecting and wiring and making wireless connections and finding ways that this labor saving device could save me labor. Finding ways to amuse myself and others by asking this machine to respond to me in ways that feel clever. Then I have to remember that like all these bits, they are programmed in advance. My request to open the pod bay doors was anticipated by the artificial intelligences that preceded our know-it-all doorknob, but it still gave me a smile. And I try not to think about the rooms full of engineers it took to make that off the cuff silliness. All that energy and effort for the in-joke about the artificial intelligence that went crazy and killed all the astronauts in 2001.
Where is that labor-saving element again?
When I forget to phrase the request just so, or I want something that is not a pre-programmed response, I get a pre-programmed apology for the inadequacy of the response that has not (as yet) been programmed. Or sometimes I get some excuse about how the doorknob isn't able to connect to  the Internet. And guess who has to fix that?
A few minutes or an hour later, when our digital assistant is back online, we can get back to the stuff of life: Gitarzan. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Letting The Air Out

The push pin on the floor should have given me a clue. In the past, it has almost always led to the same conclusion, but when I pushed my bike to the doors of school on that last full day of school, I should have expected a flat tire.
It is an established fact that teachers are not allowed to have favorites, even though they do. In the very same way we would never expect children to have favorite teachers, even though they do. Which is how moments like last Friday occur. This was by no means the first flat tire I have had in my borderline illustrious career as a teacher. I all but beg for such torment by leaving my bike in a corner of my classroom. Unattended. Most of the time it is a piece of furniture that does not concern people too short to climb aboard. Except when the perfect storm of pointy object, inflated tire, and issue with authority combine.
I remember the first time it happened. It was my second year teaching, and when I discovered the wheel resting on a flattened inner tube, I flew directly into detective mode: Who had access? Who had motivation? Who wanted to hurt me? So I questioned a bunch of students, and narrowed down the time during which the maleficence took place. It was a fifth grader who ratted on his friend. He cracked under the intense four minute interrogation. The culprit was troubled kid who just happened to be the son of one of the guys with whom I had worked at the book warehouse. I could not understand how such a terrible injustice could have been meted out to me, everyone's favorite teacher. 
Which is how I came to understand that I am not everyone's favorite teacher. I also discovered, over time, that even favorite teachers and students do things to one another that defy easy explanation. The nature of this dynamic can best be understood by understanding that both parties in this interaction are human beings, capable of doing horrible, rotten, inconsiderate things to one another. Sometimes purely by accident. 
Sticking a pin into a bike tire isn't something I would necessarily categorize as accidental, but by contrast I know that mispronouncing someone's name can be a terrible affront even though the intent was only to try and engender familiarity. And I know that occupying a certain level of authority makes me a pretty broad target for anyone's mild antipathy, especially that of a child who is struggling to form their neural pathways. Twenty years later, I have decided not to take such things personally. I know how to change a tire. I'm a grown up. 

Monday, June 04, 2018

Is It Okay To Shout C*** In A Crowded Movie House?

What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and other metaphors that ring of fairness. Samantha Bee, who is kind of a fixture in our household, said something pretty off-color on last week's broadcast. Which is no real surprise, since most every one of her broadcasts include an utterance or two that would make a drunken sailor blush. The difference this time was that she chose to target First Daughter and the symbol of all that is nepotism to hurl invective. Hers was essentially a more colorful version of the rant I recently had myself about her posting pictures of a cozy Sunday morning cuddle with her son while fifteen hundred refugee children had been misplaced.
So what's the problem?
First of all, it seems that Ms. Bee stepped across a line that had been pre-determined through years of politics: Don't mess with the kids. While steering clear of Barron Trump, for the most part, Ivanka has enjoyed some of the same cushy coverage that presidential offspring have generally experienced. This is in spite of the rather straightforward viciousness visited upon the two elder Trump sons. Even though Ivanka is an adult, with a job of some sort in the White House, she has generally avoided being a focal point for liberal rage. It's like one of those "unwritten rules" in baseball that get written about endlessly when they are broken. Samantha Bee ran right up to that line in the dirt, danced upon it, and then proceeded to hop merrily over it.
Recent events involving women comedians, like and including Rosanne Barr, have made this kind of indiscretion a fuse that has been lit and will continue to set off a series of media explosions until something more critical faces this great land of ours. Like the missing children or the undercurrent of racism and anger that seems to permeate so much of the discourse these days. America is a tough town.
Full Frontal With Samantha Bee remains that for the time being, with its titular host and a few less advertisers, and an apology from that titular host. Good enough? Not according to Ivanka's daddy, who wonders why Ms. Bee was not fired, a phrase he claims to have invented. So is the First Amendment strong enough to defend everyone in this matter? Between you and me, I prefer debates that center on this part of the bill of rights. Nobody has to get shot.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

No Harm Asking

So here's what I have to say about that: Why not?
"That" would be television evangelist Jesse Duplantis would like your help in spreading the gospel, according to him. How can you help? You can become a "partner" by helping him purchase a fifty four million dollar jet. The Dassault Falcon 7X is a far cry from wandering the wilderness in sandals, but this is 2018. As the reverend himself suggested, “I really believe that if Jesus was physically on the Earth today, he wouldn’t be riding a donkey. Think about it for a minute. He’d be in an airplane preaching the gospel all over the world. This plane was not designed for short hops and barnstorming, this technological marvel. It's got wi-fi. I suppose that's included for those moments when reception to the Lord Our God is sketchy. It seats up to nineteen, with plenty of room left for the father, the son and the holy ghost.
So, I return to my initial response: Why not? In a world in which the American "President" can insist that Mexico pay for a wall on their common border, this doesn't seem all that outrageous. The Reverend Jesse (not that one) is asking for help here. He is not demanding. He is praying for your assistance. 
It should be noted here that the Duplantis Ministries already has three private jets in its hangar. Two of them are being used by other servants of the Lord, and the Falcon 50 he owns currently is just not up to the task of spreading the Word anymore. ″[God] said, ‘I want you to believe me for a Falcon 7X,’” the evangelist said. “The first thing I thought of was how am I going to pay for it? And a great statement that he told me in 1978 flooded into my mind, and he said, ‘Jesse, I didn’t ask you to pay for it, I asked you to believe for it.’”
How about that for a business plan? Just believe in it. Let the rest of the world worry about sending in their nickels and dimes to make that belief a reality. Fellow preacher Kenneth Copeland defended their use of private jets in a television broadcast. Copeland, who was on President Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory board during the 2016 campaign, claims in the video that pastors use these private jets as a “sanctuary” where they can talk directly to God. 
And while they're up there, maybe they can find out about that wall. Just asking, right? 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

The Many Lives Of Ms. Barr

Al Gore's Internet was congratulating itself on Tuesday for the cancellation of Roseanne. In case this is the only place you drop by on what must be a pretty lackluster surf of the 'net, Roseanne is the eponymous situation comedy based on the middle class lives of a middle class woman and her middle class family in middle class America. It was recently brought back from sit-com heaven to find a place on ABC's prime time schedule. It got huge ratings, and the somewhat more than middle class powers that be at the network watched as a rather conservative message got siphoned out into the airwaves through their auspices. After twenty years away from the tube, Roseanne was back.
And so were her "antics."
Way back when, 1988, ABC decided to take a chance on a brash comic voice with an "in your face" style that would challenge viewers. Roseanne Barr's somewhat meteoric rise turned into the kind of Hollywood Story that Hollywood Story would be happy to show in True form on E! Entertainment Television. Ms. Barr's tirades were taken in stride by a business that was used to that sort of thing, and was conscious of the potential double standard of putting a muzzle on a woman when men had been kicking up a similar fuss for decades without so much as a tug on the leash.
Until the whole thing just sort of collapsed in on itself, unable to contain the myth of a working class life within the bizarre looking glass of Hollyweird. For a decade, Roseanne traded on her infamy and "in your face style" to run for president as a Green Party candidate for a moment and then for the Peace and Freedom party. It was all a part of her "I will not be silenced" campaign, and she must have been happier than anyone to receive her very own Twitter account to spew whatever point of view she adopted at the moment.
All of which came to an abrupt end when she let fly with a racist slur of a Tweet directed at former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. This came as the folks at ABC were busy counting their Roesanne money, and for a moment it seemed as though things might have been show business as usual. 
Not this timeABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey, in a very few words, said, "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show." The following day, Roseanne blamed Ambien for her poor judgement. "I'm not a racist, just an idiot who made a bad joke." The jury is out on that one, but for now, so is Roseanne. 

Friday, June 01, 2018

I've Got A Bad Feeling About This

I don't know if anyone is going to ask me,but since I have my own blog I can pretend that someone did.
"What did you think of Solo: A Star Wars Story?"
I'm glad you asked. This is the Star Wars movie that everyone feared when Disney bought up all things Star Warsian. It delivers on the blockbuster tropes: Big, loud, and fast. Except not so much on that third one. It is fifteen minutes shorter than the Last Jedi, but it feels like it is half an hour longer. In an effort to cram in all the possible cliches and coincidences, the story lurches around in search of trivial bits to share with us. We who are the nerds who rushed out on the first weekend to see what Opie Cunningham had to bring to the canon.
Two hours and fifteen minutes later, the answer is: not much.
Yes. I grew up steeped in a pot of science fiction with ladles full of a galaxy far, far away. I read many of the spin-off novels and looked at all the schematics of the Millennium Falcon. I sat in my seat, transfixed, waiting for someone to tell me that I wouldn't have to wait a year to find out more about Darth Vader being Luke's father. But I did. And when they showed up and resolved the whole thing with Muppets and a bunch of Teddy Bears, I let it happen. Return of the Jedi let us all know that Han Solo wasn't such a bad guy after all. If the finale ended up looking a lot like the Star Wars Christmas Special, I let it go. Peace had been restored to that far, far away galaxy, and the Empire had been squashed once and for all.
Which is why I was confounded when George Lucas decided to make three new movies based on events that led up to that moment when Luke meets his godfather and they go off on some fool idealistic crusade. To those prequels, I can only say this: Jar Jar Binks. And if you read those words without a shiver going up your spine, feel fortunate, since the scars they left on me are everlasting.
Then someone decided to move the franchise forward. We were given the class reunion of The Force Awakens, and with it, Harrison Ford's insistence that Han Solo must die. And, spoiler alert, he got his wish.
So it became the mission of the machine called Disney to find a way to squeeze a few more dollars out of this flawed cad, a reluctant hero who had already been in four movies. Why not make a movie about when he was a little smuggler, stealing toys from other creatures in the intergalactic day care? Okay, so they didn't do that, but the beginning of the Solo saga tell us that the heart of gold that it took us years to discover was there all along. Surprise. And his buddy Chewbacca has been right by his side for most of those years. Because that's what we already know from watching Episode IV. And neither he nor his Wookiee pal are in any life-threatening danger, since they have to be around for the events that we know as The Rebellion. A lot of things blew up before then, and a lot of hearts were broken before Han showed up in that cantina in Mos Eisley. Sorry, but this is where I came in.
Now aren't you glad you asked?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Tone Deaf

After a terrifically terrible day at my job teaching elementary school, I have a very specific memory of coming home to my little boy who was not quite school age and holding him close. It reminded me of the reason I do most of the things that I do. There are not many things like it. Which is why I can imagine Ivanka Trump chose to celebrate her Sunday morning with her son. As fleeting as those moments can be, they are certainly worth noting.
On social media? While your father is busy tossing around rhetoric blaming others for his draconian measures that keep other parents from holding their sons and daughters in a similar fashion? Fifteen hundred children have been lost by the department of Health and Human Services. According to testimony given by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, it's not really their job to figure out where they got to, not "legally" anyway.
So while the fate of the parents of these children is excruciatingly slowly determined, those Sunday Celebrations will have to wait. As Ivanka's daddy's henchmen continue to treat each and every illegal crossing as a criminal event on a par with members of the MS-13 gang, more and more loving embraces are put on hold. To keep America safe.
Safe from the kind of horror unleashed by parents who are fleeing their circumstances in their own country with the hope that the best country in the world certainly can't be any worse. It is Ivanka's daddy who seems bent on the notion of showing them just how wrong they can be.
When I think of children being torn away from their mothers and fathers, I think of Nazi soldiers separating old from young as the trains pulled into concentration camps. This is not the way we do things in America, is it? Not the America that Ivanka wakes up in, anyway.
So what do we do to keep this embarrassing trend from continuing? That's a tough one, since the level of empathy shown by Ivanka's daddy is on a par with his level of tact in general. Parents everywhere should have the opportunity to cuddle their children on a Sunday morning. It isn't just a comfort. It is strength. And everyone deserves it. Especially the children.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Young And The Beautiful

Hey, I've got this great pitch for a new nighttime soap for the networks. Or maybe Netflix. It goes a little something like this: Who’s going to give back the young and beautiful lives (and others) that have been devastated and destroyed by the phony Russia Collusion Witch Hunt? They journeyed down to Washington, D.C., with stars in their eyes and wanting to help our nation...They went back home in tatters!
The story of these naive public servants who had their lives and dreams crushed would include George Papadopoulus, who pleaded guilty to giving false statements to the FBI.I'm thinking maybe we get James Van Der Beek for George. Michael Flynn, also pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, maybe we can talk Brad Pitt into taking this one? I'm pretty sure we can get Chris Pratt for Paul Manafort, who was indicted two separate times, once for conspiracy and money laundering, and later for bank fraud. Or maybe Chris is more of a Rick Gates, having confessed to conspiracy and making that plea deal.
I guess what I'm seeing here is a kind of feel-good family version of Ocean's Eleven. Except there are nineteen of them. And there's nothing that sexy about collusion, though Witch Hunts have always had an air of salaciousness to them. Then there's the matter of showing lives in tatters when so many of them have at least fifteen minutes of news-cycle fame to get them to their next consultant gig. I guess it's all about how we sell it.
Maybe the angle we want to pursue here is the beautiful lives that all these beautiful people were pursuing before they were lured into this tragic vortex of shame and degradation. The ones who got off the train from Noweheresville and landed in the greatest city of the world. Well, one of them anyway. When they still had stars in their eyes and a song in their heart.
Wait! It could be a musical! We could get Cher and Justin Timberlake! "I Wanna Go Back Home Because Robert Mueller Indicted Me." I'm telling you, this stuff writes itself. And a big dance number in the Senate chamber. This is going to be awesome.
What if they're guilty? We can fix that in post.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Suffer The Children

Like most human beings with a brain and a heart, I was shocked to hear that Democrats were to blame for children being torn from their parents on our southern border. "Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there parents once they cross the Border into the U.S. Catch and Release." Then I considered the source: our "President." As is his practice, he went on: "Lottery and Chain must also go with it and we MUST continue building the WALL! DEMOCRATS ARE PROTECTING MS-13 THUGS."
How can we save this great country of ours from MS-13 and all that unnecessary capitalization?
Let's start with that separating families thing, shall we? Once it became policy for all illegal border crossings to be criminally prosecuted, that meant that parents would be taken from their children and those children would be left in the hands of the Department of Health and Human Services. This was the same organization that recently "misplaced" fifteen hundred kids who showed up at the border. If you're going to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs, right?
And if you're going to build a wall, you're going to have to lose a few kids. What's the problem? Well, how about those bloodthirsty MS-13 gang members? Maybe we should begin with the news to some that this is a gang with roots in Los Angeles, California. They tend to send more thugs south than the other way 'round. Most of the recruiting takes place within our own borders, and while it would be a really good thing to get rid of these bad guys, because they are, they are not the only bad guys recruiting within our own borders. The Proud Boys spring to mind. There is currently no stated policy to separate Gavin McInnes from anyone's children, nor is there a plan afoot to keep him out of America by building a wall or a cage or anything that might keep him from starting up any of his ultra-right shenanigans.
So why would we want to break up families at our southern border? I suppose someone imagined this would be a deterrent of some kind, though I don't believe that given the stress and anguish that cause families to flee their homes to try and find a new life in the United States makes that equation balance. If one of those kids managed to find peace and a new life here in Estados Unidos, then my guess is that the parents would be satisfied. Jailed, abused, sent back to a life without hope, but satisfied that they had given their child a future. Not in a gang. Not in capital letters. In the land of the free and home of the brave.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memory Lane

I remember a lot. I remember riding my bike with friends from the neighborhood down to the 7-11. We descended like a pack of hungry pre-adolescent wolves, in search of Wacky Packages and willing to buy them by the case if it meant we could get those scarce stickers that had somehow remained elusive. It was downhill on the way there, and the way home was a bit of a struggle pedaling against the grade and carrying our purchases. But somehow we managed.
I remember throwing back the rugs on the floor of our mountain cabin to play with our Wizzzers. We had been given explicit instructions not to rev up our gyroscopic tops on the linoleum, but rather to use a strip of cardboard we had around for that specific purpose. Sometimes we forgot. When we did, we left long arcing streaks of rubber that needed to be hastily removed before mom saw and we had to put out tops away.
I remember the orange glow the corrugated plastic that served as the roof to my parents' patio gave everyone who sat under it. There are photos of birthday celebrations, graduations, barbecues and any number of sunny afternoons that fill albums with that oddly diffused light. That light means summer.
I remember the late night drives from my dorm in Colorado Springs to Boulder. The stretch from just outside the Air Force Academy to Douglas County was like driving on the moon. Only the vaguely flatulent sound of my Volkswagen Beetle and the new wave tunes that poured from the tape deck to keep me company. Sometimes I would slide in behind a semi roaring up I-25, where I would glide along in the wake of that big old truck until one of us had to exit.
I remember the dark wood and dim lights of Tico's, where my family went for dinner on Friday nights for more years than I can name. I remember how that vision changed when I got one of my first jobs washing dishes and the bright lights of the prep kitchen where I cleared plates of quacamole that had been used as ashtrays and scraped plates with cheddar cheese that had been fused on by exposure to some kind of nuclear reaction.
I remember the gift shop in The Brookville Hotel, where my brothers and I went after having one of the most amazing fried chicken dinners imaginable. It has echoes in every gift shop in countless hotels and roadside stops. My little brother came away with a cast iron toy ice truck. Thinking of it makes me think of the sweet and sour cole slaw that we attempted to recreate when we returned home and never fully managed.
I remember faces and places and moments and things that have long since been consigned to the dust bin of history, but I find myself going back there over and over again to clean off those relics and look at them once again with the eyes of someone who has seen so much more since then. When the ice truck and the VW and the Wacky Packages are gone, I have the memories. Thank you for those.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sports Update

Do you remember football season? It ended some months ago when the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl Leventy-Seven. Or something like that. Currently, the sports world is focused on the NBA playoffs and the burgeoning baseball season. It's Spring, after all. So why are the owners and powers that be in the National Football League making all this fuss about the Patriots? Not the team so much as the notion that the players of that organization ought to be standing at attention and paying proper respect to the flag of this great land of ours. And now it's not just a notion. It's a rule. This was the "compromise" put forth by the very rich folks who own the teams on which the pretty rich folks play. If they don't want to give the flag the respect it deserves, then they should stay in the locker room.
This is supposed to take away that distraction of players who took a knee during the National Anthem, protesting the treatment of those who don't have television cameras on them on a weekly basis. Leave the social discourse out of it, guys. You're here to play football, not make a social statement. Show up at the White House when you win a championship and be grateful that you have a job in the first place.
Were you thinking that the owners consulted with the players before making their edict? I am sorry to break the news to you that this group of oligarchs felt no need to discuss this matter with those who will be impacted by this policy change. Tragic, since they apparently can't imagine just how ugly all this "winning" appears from down here. Players who do not comply with the new rule are subject to fines, which cost the team money, which could easily be turned into a reason for a player who is otherwise totally capable of playing the game to be let go because they do not fit in ideologically with the star-spangled league in which they now find themselves.
President in charge of Vice, Mike Pence tweeted a one word response to the NFL's decision: #winning. What exactly was won remains to be seen as some owners have already announced their distance from the hard line. The New York Jets' front office has already agreed to pay fines accrued by their players' choice to protest. And the NFL did just make an eighty-nine million dollar donation to organizations promoting social justice. So it's paid for.
And now back to our regularly scheduled sports entertainment. See you in the Fall!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

It's What's Outside

Finding a solution for mass shootings in the United States is a cottage industry for talking heads across this great land of ours. Hugh Hewitt, of MSNBC, suggested a ban on trench coats. “To the teachers and administrators out there, the trench coat is kind of a giveaway. You might just say no more trench coats. The creepy people, make a list, check it twice.” Creepy people like Lloyd Dobler. If you've seen that movie, you know that Lloyd might be considered creepy, but is more likely to be concealing a boom box under his trench coat instead of a gun. What about Rick Blaine? Sure, he's a subversive who carries a gun and fights Nazis, but does that make him a danger to society? In today's topsy-turvy culture, it might be enough to have him put on a list. 
Then there's this bill in the California legislature that would expand on the 2014 law that allows others to "red-flag" dangerous gun owners. The new bill would expand the list of people who can file for restraining orders to include a subject’s employer and co-workers and the staff of a high school or college that the person has attended in the last six months. It was not clear from a cursory reading of the bill if trench coats were part of the "red-flag" items to notice.
Meanwhile, we train ourselves to protect the children who are not wearing trench coats. We conduct lockdown drills. We attend active shooter training. We wonder if we could arm ourselves with pistols or rocks or any version of common sense that would keep our kids safe. The rocks? Really?
Yes. The superintendent of the Blue Mountain School District in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, announced last week that he had armed the classrooms in all his schools with five-gallon buckets of “river stones.” Armed intruders would be turned back by a hail of rocks thrown by kids who will, no doubt be trained and tutored on the effective hurling of such missiles. And they will never use them on each other. Ever.
All of which allows us to continue to ignore the guns being used in all these attacks. The Second Amendment is the law of the land, and it shall not be questioned. Rather than finding a way to make sense of a two hundred thirty year old document in today's society, we seek ways to lay the blame anywhere else: Ritalin. Video games. Rock and roll. Trench coats. I guess the Trench Coat Association of America just doesn't have the clout that some organizations do. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Out Of This World Idea

Earlier this month, the "President" declared to the members of the Army football team, “You will be part of the five proud branches of the United States Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and the Coast Guard. And we’re actually thinking of a sixth, and that would be the Space Force. Does that make sense? Because we’re getting very big in space, both militarily and for other reasons. And we are seriously thinking of the Space Force.”
Gosh, Mister "President," that sounds keen. Will there be lasers and stuff? Will we be able to eat our MREs in the vacuum of space? And how does one camouflage outside the earth's atmosphere? 
Back in March, he told a group of U.S. Marines something similar: “You know, I was saying the other day because we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space, maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force. And I was not really serious, and then I thought, ‘Maybe that’s a great idea. Maybe we’ll have to do that.’ ” Sadly no one was clever enough to ask the "Commander In Chief" if they would have to change their song to include Halls of Montezuma, Shores of Tripoli and the Sea of Tranquility. 
Well, as it turns out, this really neat idea has a few holes in it, which in space can lead to some pretty nasty trouble. The Air Force has had a Space Command division since 1982, and Defense Secretary James Mattis has no love for the notion. Still, some legislators and analysts believe the military needs a new branch devoted to war in the stars. Most of the action for this group, however, would be limited to attempting to shoot satellites out of the sky via ground-based missiles. The recruitment for such a group would not center so much on your Han Solo-types but rather your nerdy neighbor who is really good at video games. 
Also, Senate appropriations for the X-Wing fighter project have been held up in committee. So, dream big, Mister "President." And keep drinking that Tang. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Answer The Bell

Teachers are, by nature, Pavlovian creatures. We respond to bells, not by salivating, but by springing into action. I like to fool myself by setting my alarm to wake me by music. I still know what that sound is. Time to get up. Go hose off the filth. Scrape the fur to limit the chance I will be confused with a werewolf. Stumble to the kitchen, take a moment to wind another clock that will keep remind me of the time that is passing, and pour a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice. Try not to confuse the containers. Shove food into the gaping maw that will transform into the hollering machine later in the morning. Tumble back into the bedroom to don the costume of the day: teacher. Activate the electronic leash and strap the watch to my wrist in case everything suddenly goes analog. Scrub a layer of tartar off my gums and tie one pair of shoes that will carry me through the rest of the day. Kiss the wife. Pull on the jacket and hat. Step outside in the moments before the clock in the living room strikes the hour.
The clock in the living room. The one my father built as a wedding present for my wife and I. It is that hollow ticking and mellow reminders on the half hour that my life is passing by that mark the moments of my day, week, year, life. It has been hanging within earshot for the past twenty-five years, marking time. Until last week. A slave to this particular machine, I have been winding it weekly since it came to rest on our wall two and a half decades ago. It is what I do while I am watering the plants. Which one reminds me to do the other has ceased to be a concern. It is all part of the rhythm of life in my house. Until that clock stopped. Without a reminder each half hour that another half hour has passed, a creeping terror fell upon me. How will I know what time it is?
The microwave. One of the four computers in our house. One of the two smart phones we carry with us. The aforementioned watch. The Google Assistant that waits patiently to answer any and all questions, including "what time is it?"
But that clock stopped. The grandfather clock. Built by my son's grandfather, years before he was my son's grandfather. My wife did some cursory investigation into where we might go in our area to get this machine repaired. Last Sunday, I was left alone. Just me and all those clocks. Ticking. Except the one that had stopped.
I went into the living room and took it off the wall. Carefully. I brought it into the kitchen, where delicate repairs are undertaken in our home. I laid it down and removed the screws that held the back in place. Inside, I found an incomprehensible mass of gears and springs. I recognized the rods that acted as the bell mechanism, and the pendulum that had come to rest. I stood it up, held it with one hand while I opened the glass door on the front that allowed me to move the hands of the clock forward. It struck one. I adjusted the pendulum, and gave it a light toss. For minutes, I stood there, waiting for the motion to stop. It didn't. Somehow, I had fixed whatever had been ailing it.
When I stopped the pendulum to lay it down, to put the back on, it occurred to me that I may have just stilled it one too many times. But when I put the clock back on the wall, and encouraged it back into motion, it stayed in motion. For hours after that, I celebrated each passing hour and half hour. The hands went round. The chimes rang.
And time went on again.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Hand Raised

A lot of kids are anxious for summer vacation. Looking forward to spending more time with family. Fun in the sun. Road trips. A few months away from the pencils, books, and the looming specter of being gunned down in home room.
In the days after the shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, this sentiment has been echoed without a smirk by children across the country. They are not cracking wise. They are stating what has become inevitable fact. News sites have to amend their list of fatal school shootings an a weekly basis. And even as the numbness continues to set in, there is still outrage, pain and suffering among those who can still feel. While we wait for someone to offer up anything that sounds like sense. 
It's not coming from the Lieutenant Governor's office in Texas. Dan Patrick has a lot to say about what is happening in his state, and the nation. Lt. Dan appeared on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, he wanted us all to remember that guns "are a part of who we are as a nation. It is our Second Amendment — you know, it talks about a well-run militia…our teachers are part of that well-run militia.” Yes, I know that there are plenty of other folks across this great land of ours who would like teachers to take on the additional responsibility of armed security for our schools. Most of us educators feel like the job description is already pretty full, and finding the prep time to fit in target practice would mean a whole lot more negotiation with the district and will it be a merit based system whereby each bad guy gunned down brings a bigger bonus? 
This is a guy who suggested that there were just too many doors in a school to keep all the kids safe. Which is interesting from the standpoint of someone who has to run fire, earthquake, and lockdown drills. Mostly we want to keep the kids away from the fire or the falling debris or the gun. It helps to have more than one door for this. We do whatever we can to keep kids from bringing matches to school. We don't allow students to have guns. These seem like pretty good rules to have in place, safety wise. So far this year, adults bringing guns to campus hasn't really worked out so well. 
Oliver North, the new president of the National Rifle Association has a different take. He blamed the problem on "youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence" in which many young boys have "been on Ritalin" since early childhood. "They've been drugged in many cases," he said. Ollie failed to make a connection between the culture of violence and the easy availability of guns. 
So we get ready to head off to summer vacation. Don't worry kids, I'm sure the grownups will have this all figured out by the time the Back To School sales start. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Cult-cha

I have been accused of "knowing everything." Not by anyone in a position to grant true Genius standing to yours truly, but being Mister Know-It-All has its downside. Like the knowledge that I do not, in fact, know everything. I have harnessed my concern rays on a rather specific sliver of all the world's information. A voracious reader and storehouse of pop culture references does not equip me to be a rocket scientist.
I know that at times I appear in people's lives as a font of wisdom, but it is primarily recycled aphorisms from movies that I have seen and lyrics from rock songs that have disappeared from playlists in other folks' minds. I can't count cards, but I can tell you about Rain Man. I find things that appeal or amuse me, and I try to spread these bits of trivia as if they were my gospel. A walk into my living room is a walk into a very busy mind. Two very busy minds, since my wife's obsessions are stuffed in there too. If you visit, we will take turns trying to cram your head full of the things we have just noticed or experienced. We are fortunate when those visitors are willing recipients of the word on high, or medium high anyway.
The trouble is, I am a much better transmitter than a receiver. Heaven forbid someone will take me aside to tell me about a TV show they have been enjoying and it hasn't made my playlist. I search frantically for a reason or connection to something else that will allow me access without having to increase my bandwidth too awfully much. My reputation, as I mentioned, tends to proceed me. That means friends will often show up with artists or artifices that really should be in my lexicon. "You haven't seen....?" or "I can't believe you missed..." Which sets off an alarm in my head. How did this happen? What could have been in the way from me to have ignored this significant event? For this reason, I own a Grateful Dead CD. I have watched the first season of Game of Thrones. These initial contacts were not enough to send me into a frenzy, watching and listening to all aspects and tangential material connected. Breaking Bad was different. That one set off a binge watch that ended with the purchase of a Walter White action figure that now stands on the altar above the television. No Jerry Garcia action figure, sorry.
But now that I have taken the time to write this, I know that such a thing exists.
It never stops.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Which Witch?

“Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History," tweeted the "President," “And there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction. The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money!”
First, apologies on the grammar and capitalization. This is how our "President" tends to spray his invective, in odd swatches of poorly written babble. Words that are to emphasized are big, and we can only be relieved that Twitter does not allow much in the way of font management, or we might be subject to even more creative use of the characters those tiny thumbs are pushing out. 
But what is the message? It seems to be sarcastic, since his overall feeling about the Mueller probe does not seem to warrant congratulations. He does seems to be pretty convinced that there is No evidence of collusion or obstruction, which is interesting since there seems to be a number of other bright red arrows pointing to just the opposite. So far nineteen people and three companies have either been indicted or given guilty pleas: four former Trump advisers, thirteen Russian nationals, three Russian companies, one California man, and one London-based lawyer. In the business of hunting witches, we call this "evidence." And like the trail of bread crumbs in that first showed up in Hansel and Gretel, the idea is to follow them until you find home, you don't expect to find a witch. 
But if it cast spells like a witch, cackles like a witch, and turns people into newts like a witch, it's probably worth checking out. Those bread crumbs, by the way, get more difficult to follow with each passing day, since wind or birds or scurrying rodents tend to disturb that clear path to and from home. A clever witch would probably do whatever he or she might do, as a witch, to disrupt that improvised trail. Which suggests that it might take more than a weekend to uncover the truth behind that house in the woods all covered with candy, and the witch that lives inside. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Surprise Free Zone

My thoughts and prayers this week are with Meghan and Harry. I wish them well, and thank them for supplying a great big international distraction from the horror of everyday life here in the Colonies. Speaking of the "thoughts and prayers" meme, most of the talking heads steered clear of that phrase as they attempted to wrestle with yet another school shooting.
Quick aside: Do you know how much it pains me to put the phrases "yet another" and "school shooting" together?
And we're back. Texas this time. Santa Fe. The headline in the New York Times included the phrase, "Many unsurprised."
Sorry. Another quick aside. Many unsurprised?
A seventeen year old student, armed with a shotgun and a pistol killed ten and injured another ten, including an armed security officer who was unable to stop the carnage or detain the suspect. Ironically, considering the New York Times headline, witnesses reported that the killer shouted something before he opened fire: "Surprise!"
Another quick stop here, while I check to see if the meaning of "ironically" can be stretched to include the way it makes my stomach pitch and fists clench.
This was, by reportage, the deadliest school shooting "since Parkland." Way back three months ago. Back when we didn't have any common sense gun legislation being enacted by our government. By contrast, there was a flash of a scandal last week when a mass shooting occurred in Australia. Certain wags pointed their fingers at that incident to say, "See? Australia doesn't allow any guns and still people die. You can't stop the killing."
A friend of mine said this: "Every time politicians say there’s nothing that can be done to stop school shootings, it becomes a little more true."
Which is why we aren't surprised. It's a part of the news cycle: Sports, weather, and this week's tragic mass shooting. News trucks descend on the town, knowing the drill: conduct the interviews, get some shots of the candlelight vigil, capture the shock and pain, wait for the call to pack up and move to the next little town torn apart. Another church. Another school. Another town full of families that will never be whole again.
I think I will continue to pray that I don't have to think and pray so much about this anymore. No surprise there, either.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

What Me Worry

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day drama that I often refer to End Days here. The "President" fulfilling "biblical prophecy" and the international bartering over nuclear weapons makes most of us nervous. And then it takes a little Neil deGrasse Tyson to remind us about our planet. "Planet Earth survives massive asteroid strikes - it'll survive anything we throw at it. But Life on Earth will not." A fine distinction, but one that seems quite relevant to me after Monday night.
With a head full of concerns about the Golden State Warriors' chances in the NBA playoffs, I sat with my wife on the couch after finishing dinner. That reverie was replaced abruptly by the house rattling and my seat below reminding me of the seventies movie theater gimmick, Sensurround. For a few seconds, I had a chance to reflect on all the things I had been told about surviving in the event of an earthquake. When the shaking stopped, my wife and I were still sitting, transfixed, on the couch holding hands. If that had been The Big One, we would have gone happy, together. Without any rage against the conditions that brought me to the brink of that abyss. It would have simply been the way nature decides for itself in some geological way that enough is enough. Thank you for playing. Game over. 
Humans like to exert their mastery over the ground upon which they tread, but at the end of the day, we don't do as much dictating as we would like to imagine we do. The fracking and the ozone and the litter and the cute attempts at conservation are essentially a sum zero equation for the third planet from the sun. Climate change might eventually make life unbearable for us, but our replacements will be hot and happy with the biosphere we have generated. Someday they will write books about the land dwelling mammals that created the vast oceans that cover the surface and made it possible for the return to the sea. Those volcanic eruptions in Hawaii were just the first shots in a war that sent us back to where life began. 
Or maybe they won't write books at all. Documenting their existence may be low on their list of priorities, since survival seems so very much more important. It's pretty hard to type with flippers.