Sunday, August 19, 2018


I don't often go big for honorary titles, but every so often the powers that be get it right. For example, I have never been completely comfortable calling Elvis "The King." His impact and influence is undeniable, but he essentially usurped the throne that belonged to Chuck Berry. But, since justice doesn't tend to have much to do with the the way kingdoms are handed out, I suppose it makes some sense. Michael Jackson as the "King of Pop?" Okay. I won't argue that, if only for those moments when he had just made Off the Wall and was on his way to unleashing Thriller on an unsuspecting planet. Not quite Chuck Berry, but it'll do.
Late last week, the Queen of Soul died. Long live the Queen. I don't have much to quibble with when it comes to calling Aretha Franklin The Queen Of Soul. There are not very many folks lining up to argue about this one. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Elvis and Chuck Berry made it in that first year, but Aretha was right there behind them. There was no doubt as to who had earned the R-E-S-P-E-C-T. She defined it. In 1980, she gave a command performance for that other queen, Elizabeth. She performed at inaugurations for Presidents, perhaps most notably, bringing down the house not just with her rendition of "My Country 'Tis Of Thee" but her amazing hat as well.
But what I think I will remember most about Ms. Franklin was her no-nonsense performance in The Blues Brothers. There was no doubt that her vocal chops would stand that test, even in the company of other greats such as Ray Charles, James Brown, and John Lee Hooker, she filled the screen with her own style and grace. Wearing a dirty apron. In that film she also managed to hold her place as in her character, as well as her singing. We should all do right by her and "Think."
And now she's gone, leaving a void in the royal succession. Who could possibly presume upon that title now that the Queen has gone and left us? I would suggest that the position be left vacant. For the time being, anyway. Anyone who sang for Martin Luther King as well as the Obamas holds a lasting place in the pantheon of music.
Aloha, Aretha. You stomped on the Terra, and you will be missed.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Warning Signs

Here's a phrase that should set off alarms: "I'm not racist, but..."
Did you miss it? Let's see if this helps: "I'm not racist, BUT..."
Ir you spotted that conjunction right there at the end, you're a quick study, and are probably ready to move on to something a little more challenging, like "Some of my best friends are..."
Again, if you were reading carefully, you noticed those telltale dots at the end of the sentence, commonly known as an ellipsis, used to denote a missing word or words. In these examples, that's where you'll find the racist part, the part that should be setting off bells, or an air horn, or something like the sound of a thousand wasps descending on you at high velocity. 
In case you're curious, I looked it up for you. A racist is, "a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another." And in case there was any doubt, prejudice is the "preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience." All of which tends to add up to racism or aggressive stupidity, which is an easy enough leap to make. 
Currently, there are a number of public figures who are making the claim that they are not racist, but this tends to swing the argument back around to something that sounds like, "Well, if that's not racist, what is?" A person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another. Didn't we just cover this? 
How about the time that guy was ridiculing the African American anchorman for his interview with the African American basketball player for being stupid? 
Or that guy who repeatedly commented on the "extraordinarily low I.Q." of a certain African American member of Congress? 
Maybe it was that guy who tends to speak of foreign criminals and terrorists with phrases such as "These animals are crazy and must be dealt with through toughness and strength!"
The easiest assertion to make would be that these guys may need to check themselves to be certain that they don't carry around a lot of prejudice, but since they are all the same guy, the answer is even easier. "The President" is a racist. 
Or maybe that's just me being prejudiced? 
Nope. I have experience and reason that backs up my opinion. 
I looked it up. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Center For Shark Control

The most callous part of me woke with this thought: New school year, time for those back-to-school shootings. Perhaps this was fueled by that meme of a photo of the gun sale at Wal-Mart. Of course that doesn't mean that gun violence took a holiday in June and July. Caps were popped into folks all through the summer. Chicago had a particularly rough time of it.
Which is important, but it is not the thing that makes me cringe the way that phrase "school shooting" does. All of those minds coming up with solutions like metal detectors and arming teachers are trying to imagine ways to solve a problem without fully understanding the problem. Last spring, Congress voted down funding for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence. If you had already concluded that the National Rifle Association had something to do with that vote, please feel free to take a hollow point round out of the prize bin for being so clever. If you figured this was a recent event, sorry, you'll have to give back your souvenir. It was back in 1996 that the CDC was prevented from studying gun violence as a public health issue. In the past twenty-two years, more than six hundred thousand Americans have been shot.
And yes, there are probably a vast number of people who have been stabbed during that span.
Or run over.
Or electrocuted.
Or attacked by sharks.
Eighty-eight shark attack fatalities in 2017. Worldwide.  It is interesting to note that the United States leads the way with fifty-three of those deaths. More than half. Somebody was studying this. Keeping track. There is no shark lobby interfering with the research being done on how to keep humans safe from sharks. Because sharks are dangerous. I would suspect that bringing a hungry shark to a school would be something that would be discouraged, after some research. Or maybe we can just agree that having a hungry shark anywhere near a school is a bad idea.
How about loaded guns? I guess we'll have to wait for the report to be released.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


I was introduced to Lime Bikes by my wife, who knows a thing or two about conservation and public transit. I have avoided learning a lot about my city's mass transit by adopting a bicycle of my own. If you are unfamiliar with Lime Bikes or other ride-sharing opportunities, you should know that these are pedal-powered conveyances used by citizens of towns across this great land of ours to get around. You use an app on your smart device to log into the system that allows you to borrow one of these bikes for a dollar, and then charges you another dollar for each half hour that you ride. Pretty cheap if you're willing to do the pedaling. For those less pedal-inclined, there are electric bikes and scooters as alternatives.
Gosh, what a great, forward-thinking solution to urban commuting. Except when it doesn't work. Like when dozens of trips terminate at one place, like a BART station. In a perfect model of this Utopian system, there would be dozens of folks coming off the next morning's BART trains, eager to scoop up those same bikes and roll them on to their next destination. Distribution of all of this transport should take care of itself.
Except for when it doesn't. Users who go online to discover the nearest bike to them find out that they are still in a heap where there were dropped by the exodus the night before. The same thing happens with the scooters and electric bikes. They tend to pile up in central locations. And in Oakland, some of the less-civic-minded folks have made a sport of tossing the scooters into Lake Merritt, where they tend to do even less good than cluttering up the mass transit stations.
Which made my question to my wife, upon hearing about this new service, even more apt: Is it somebody's job to retrieve and redistribute all of those wayward machines? Could I get a job as a Lime Bike wrangler? I checked their employment opportunities, and found that being a "local route driver" was the thing I had hoped to find. It brought back memories of my youth, when bad kids used to sneak into our neighborhood under cover of darkness and take anyone's bike that was foolish enough to leave them outside in the yard or in the driveway overnight. The next day, that bike would be missing, and a search would ensue until it was found, usually much the worse for wear, sometimes in an irrigation ditch, but the lesson was learned: Don't leave your bike unattended, or it will be "ditched." Which may be the reason they are all painted green.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cold Comfort

A lot can change in a year.
In Charlottesville, Virginia there was an anniversary observance. Like other dates and in other locations, there is now a reckoning for what brought us to that point and what happened after. The realization for so many Americans that racism is alive and well in spite of the fact that we have Martin Luther King Day and we elected a black president came as a shock. Alive, well, kicking and screaming. 
A year later, we have demonstrations and marches across this great land of ours reminding us just how far we have not come. Our current "President" reminded us "The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!" That particular tweet came just a day after the one in which he chastised NFL players thusly: "“They make a fortune doing what they love…Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of the money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!” Which seems to be how he expects us to come together as a nation. His way. 
A year ago, Heather Heyer was alive. She was doing what she thought was right. She was trying to "spread love," in the words of a friend. And she was run down by a young man with very different views. He was not spreading love when he crashed his car into a group of protesters who were there to shout down the hate being spewed by Unite The Right.
A year later, a state of emergency was called before the anniversary was fully upon Charlottesville. The thought that things would be calm and that lessons had been learned was not considered. Police in riot gear were there ahead of time, just to make sure that everyone stayed in their lanes. 
A year later, dozens of white supremacists gathered in Washington D.C. to stage the sequel, and were drowned out by counter demonstrators who outnumbered them by hundreds. Which came as some comfort.  Not the kind of warm and fuzzy feeling you get when the bad guys are finally gone for good. More like the kind of feeling you get when the battle is over and the war is still far from being won. 
Maybe next year. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


It's a parental thing. I can accept that.
First of all, let me say that I cannot be happier in my heart of hearts for my son who has found a girlfriend. I am not sure if that is the current term or the one he and his paramour feel comfortable using, but it is the one that fits the convention of which I am about to prattle on about. As I said, I feel nothing but joy in my heart for my son and this discovery he has made.
And I'm pretty sure she's not good enough for him.
Which, of course, sounds immediately contradictory. If you're confused, imagine how it must feel inside my head as I try to discover from where that little voice erupts. The one that suspects that I would find something wrong with Meghan Markle if she had showed up on my son's arm. Too duchessy. Or how about Malala Yousafzai? Too into herself and her "causes" to give my son the attention he deserves. 
Hold on. I just got finished telling everyone how happy I was that my son has found a relationship, the kind that I know he has pined for on occasion for many years. So what is my problem? 
Currently? I believe that I am being way too protective. I want him to sail through life without the bumps and crags that caught his old man. I don't want him to have to sit outside, staring up at the stars trying to figure out just how a night with such promise ended up in so much pain. I don't want him to have his heart broken.
And I know that's ridiculous. It is bound to happen, and there is nothing I can do about it. Of course, I can also accept a possible future in which nothing bad happens and my son sails through this pairing that lasts into that region called "forever." Wouldn't that be, as the song has it, loverly?
So I will set my sights on that place, and do that parent thing, keeping the bad voices at bay. I know that his experience is different from mine, and for the most part, he has conducted himself with far more restraint and dignity that I ever did at his age. I am guessing that his responses will be far more evolved than mine were. He's a pretty clever kid.
I wonder where he gets that? 

Monday, August 13, 2018

So Peaceful

I made a note of it. That quiet moment on the Friday before the first day of school. I had spent the day helping anyone and everyone in the building get prepared for that first day of school. I spent a lot of time going up the stairs and down the stairs, visiting classrooms and checking in with teachers who were working feverishly at the arrangement of desks and chairs for their pending students. The school was that beehive of activity you have always imagined.
I didn't have to imagine it. I was there. Again. Bulletin boards covered with brightly colored paper. Furniture that had no place in one room found a place in another. Games that had lost their pieces, books that had lost most of their pages, VHS tapes and other obsolete items found their way to the proper receptacles. More books and games were put away on empty shelves that became full.
The quiet moment did not come until much later. Lots of staples had to be pushed into paper, and plenty of signatures had to be affixed to forms that would allow those eager faces into those prepped and polished classrooms. Grownups reminded one another that certain phrases and attitudes would need to be put on hold before the kids appeared to be confounded or oppressed by same.
Teachers, after working in their classrooms for a number of days were having a mixture of feelings: anticipation, excitement, confusion, fear, and more anticipation. As the hours passed, many of them started getting a little punchy. It is a pretty unusual thing to have that much adult interaction over the course of a day in an elementary school. The rooms and hallways were full of a different type of energy.
Until suddenly they weren't. At some point, everyone had to give in and go home. At some point, no matter how much any teacher prepares, there is only one thing left to do: bring in the students. Everyone came to that point at a little different time, but eventually the time came to surrender. What else could be done? And that was when that moment came. It sounded a lot like the moments after the last day of school. That teacher work day that feels so strange.
And so quiet.
But not for long.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Big Head

It's not something that I have considered to be my strong suit. I tend to throw in with sense of humor or being clever. Part of this may be that I am internally very aware of the moment at which my patience runs out. I have a history of what is now referred to as "rage quit." When I was in junior high, I would spend hours in front of my algebra homework, leaning hard on that expectation that a clever person such as myself should be able to discover the answer to a math problem, especially since there were problems just like it at the top of the page that gave me clues. And all those notes that I took put me in a position to go back and examine where I might have gone wrong. Somewhere along the line, I reached a point of frustration that sent those notes and that book and my pencil and my notebook to the floor in ways that were in no way orderly or helpful to the continued process of math homework.
The unraveling of all that stress would take some time, along with the attendant shame for not having been able to avoid the flinging of all those materials and having to pick them up off the floor. During the time that it took to shake off all of that fuss that had been generated, none of the problems, notes or examples had magically rearranged themselves to become any more comprehensible to me. So there they sat, on my desk, staring back at me without the tiniest clue as to how to proceed. Everything I knew was wrong.
So I sat there.
And fumed.
There were evenings when I spent hours bouncing my head off the same two pages of algebra until I had worked myself into what my mother lovingly referred to as "a lather" that I was left with little alternative except to show up the next day without my homework completed and a sense of doom accompanied the depression that came with it. It was my father, who tried in good faith to sit down and struggle through the math he had long since forgotten, that suggested that I go in early and ask my teacher for help.
That was surrender. And I wouldn't have it. Even if I got every answer wrong, it would be my work. Flawed and inconsistent, but all mine. Which only now occurs to me as an odd form of patience. Not a really happy looking or something to be proud of patience, but patience nonetheless. Now that I am a teacher of things such as math, I have learned to be patient in a way more fitting to my station. I ask for help when I need it, because as it turns out, everyone does now and then. I learned that making mistakes helps your brain grow. No wonder I have such a big head.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Here We Go Again

This is the time. This is the place. This is what I thought about as the moments ticked down.
Hours. Minutes. Left. I should be careful about whining too long or too loud since I can remember having a school year that wrapped around on itself. It was called year-round school, because that is what it was. I used to teach at a school that was never completely closed. Okay, at Christmas. And on the Fourth of July. But not a lot in between.
That was because there was such a need for classrooms and teachers that the building to which I had been hired to word as a teacher did not comfortably fit with all those teachers. So we worked in shifts. Two months on, one month on. Because I was a very important piece of this puzzle, the prep teacher, I was able to make my own schedule as far as when I worked and when I was off. To a point. I was encouraged to try and make sure that all the students at the school got at least a taste of what I had to offer: computers. Which got me to thinking: What if I could make sure that all the kids got all the computers I could give them? Wouldn't that be awesome?
I was coming from a job managing a warehouse in which the only days we took off were the ones that UPS did. I was only used to having a couple or three days in a row off work before it was back to the salt mines. The suggestion that I might take a couple weeks off sometime in the middle of the summer seemed completely amenable to me. Summer vacation? Why not? And in the meantime, I could be making a little extra money be effectively substituting for myself. I was now a year-round employee at a year-round school.
And this worked fine for me for those first couple of years. I got a lot of sideways looks from veteran teachers who could not understand how or why I would subject myself to extra time at my job. Not that they didn't take full advantage of my services while I was there. They did not refuse to send their kids to my computer lab when at their appointed time. They never asked if the could drop in and help out. It wasn't exactly a selfish thing. They had been there for the long haul and they were not sure how to comprehend my eagerness to stick around so very much.
Eventually, the magic wore off. So did the year-round thing. The neighborhood changed and the number of teachers employed at my school dwindled to a more rational number, one that fit the number of classrooms or thereabouts. At the time I wondered about the old adage about having fewer perches in a cage for too many canaries. You have to keep tapping the sides of the cage to keep some of them in the air at all times. The solution: more perches or fewer canaries. Our solution was fewer canaries. And now we have even fewer teachers than classrooms because that is the neighborhood in which we live. I can take a whole summer now. Even if it is a shorter version, ending as I write this. But that's okay. This is the time.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Just A Number

Is age just a number?
Is the Indy 500 just a race?
Is champagne just a drink?
Older is wiser
Older is better
if you're cheese
Or wine
Which is fine
The odd thing is
It doesn't feel
Any easier
Some days
It's all uphill
And every day
Doesn't feel
Like a gift
But it is
To all of us
Your loyal fans
We are here
To keep you going
We can't get enough
We want more
For us
You never get old

Thursday, August 09, 2018


"California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!"
That is your "President's" assessment of the wildfires that have been raging out here for weeks. Don't try to figure it out. Let's just say that his heart and mind is not exactly focused on support for the Golden State. That's where all the lefty liberals have holed up and are making it hard for him to Make America Great Again. Apparently it has something to do with how we are diverting water to the Pacific Ocean. Never mind that the main reason that drought and wildfires have been increasing is the hoax of climate change. 
Never mind that this in-depth analysis came just days after the Trump administration moved to scrap tough vehicle emissions standards. Standards that were initially established by California. This move will clear the way for vehicles to pump an additional six hundred million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2030. That’s the equivalent of the entire annual emissions of Canada. Which figures, since we're not really friends with Canada right now anyway. 
One of the things I teach fourth graders is how a watershed works. The water that falls on top of a mountain or a hill will eventually find its way to a bigger body of water, like a creek or a stream. Eventually these run into even bigger rivers and eventually into The Pacific Ocean. Okay. I guess he's got a point there, but "diverting?" Isn't that pretty much just gravity doing what gravity does? 
Sorry. I forgot that I had encouraged us all not to worry about how such a leap could be made. And how it is important for the inhabitants of this planet to limit the metric tons of carbon we fling into the atmosphere. To be fair, we aren't just flinging it. We are sitting there in our carbon fuel machines letting tons of carbon drift up into the atmosphere, much in the same way that we are allowing water to be "diverted" into the Pacific Ocean. It is what the forces of nature allow. 
And I get a grudge. I do. Especially with this "President." But maybe someone should point out that eventually one of these fires is going to destroy something he really cares about: A Golf Course. 
Just sayin'. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2018


Thirty years ago, someone had a great idea: Let's put neo-Nazi skinheads on the same show as a group of civil rights leaders. What could happen?
What did happen was during the taping, one of the members of the White Aryan Resistance Youth called Roy Innis an "Uncle Tom." These,  along with others were fighting words, and a fight broke out. Once the melee was quelled, and the host's nose was broken, they went on to tape the next two shows for the week. The host's name? Geraldo Rivera, who referred to the skinheads as "roaches." Apparently even roaches have the right to free speech. 
The young man who made the racist comment on that show? John Metzger, son of Tom Metzger who founded the White Aryan Resistance after he left the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1980's. The roach didn't fall far from the roach tree. John added "Youth" to the title and he was set. 
In 1990, young John spent a couple days on the witness stand in Portland, Oregon. He and his father were being sued for ten million dollars because it was alleged that they had incited violence and the murder of Mulugeta Seraw who was beaten to death by a member of the White Aryan Roaches. The Metzgers lost that battle. To the tune of twelve and a half million dollars.
Which may be why the newest crop of roaches have returned to Portland this summer, most recently over the past weekend. The "alt-right" movement skittered out into the light under the guidance of Joey Gibson, whose group Patriot Prayer says they are "hoping for peace but prepared for war." Which came in the form of violent confrontations with "anti-fa" protesters. Surprise, surprise. And while we're at it, last time I checked, weren't "anti-fascits" more easily recognized by their other name: Americans? It was in Portland a little more than a year ago that two men were stabbed, one fatally, by a participant in one of Joey's "Free Speech" marches. 
And every time one of these experiments in free speech take place, violence erupts. And yet it feels brand new. Take it from Geraldo: there is nothing new. And that vault in Al Capone's basemet? It's empty. Except for the roaches.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018


Right away, I would like this out of the way: I have no particular love for LeBron James. Before he was ever the driving force on a team that was regularly tested by the Golden State Warriors, he was on my bad side. He was one of those guys who came out of high school to enter the NBA draft. High school. As an elementary school teacher, this kicked a great big hole in all the arguments I had for kids who did not see their paths going on to college. No matter how I described the odds, narrowing  down the chances of one of these fourth graders making it past the gauntlet that would be their teenage years, they held fast to the image of LeBron James: Superstar.
The continued success of Mister James didn't do much to dampen their enthusiasm. Even those kids born and raised in Oakland, die-hard Warriors fans, were swept up in the marketed myth of LeBron James, the man who finally brought a championship to Cleveland. The man who came back to his hometown to break it out of lethargy with that championship. The man who has become a humanitarian presence in Ohio, opening a school that offers college tuition for all graduates, as a recent addition to his legend.
And so, I feel compelled to back off my previous sentiments. I have seen this man will a team with limited talent to the NBA finals, taking it on his back and pushing himself to the limit. A man who gives back to his community not just one the basketball court, but in ways that truly matter. And he  was pretty funny in Trainwreck. So I'll save my venom for those moments when he is playing against the team for which I root.
Which, sadly, is not the way our "President" has chosen to approach LeBron James. Witness: "Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!" A tweet. A single tweet disparaging both men. An anchorman from CNN, and two time MVP of the NBA. Without managing to spell LeBron's name correctly. Dan Rather, retired CBS anchorman responded: "I'd much rather live in a world reflecting the values, philanthropy, and yes intelligence of LeBron James and Don Lemon's intelligent commitment to truth and journalism than the divisive peevishness, lies, and narrow self-interest displayed by the President of the United States." Don Lemon? "Who’s the real dummy? A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages? #BeBest
And LeBron James? He's getting back to what he does. 
I admire that. 

Monday, August 06, 2018

The Perils Of Dating

This week, in honor of our silver anniversary, my wife suggested that we go to a movie a day: silver screen, get it? Which is what we did. Monday through Friday, we picked a movie and went to a theater and sat down and watched without a pause button or phones ringing. We put ourselves at the wisdom and mercy of the projectionists and concessionaires. While I can't say that I enjoyed each and every one of the films we saw, I can say that I truly enjoyed the experience. It is part of our heritage, after all.
Way back when we went on our honeymoon, after we had returned to land from our cruise, and taken in a couple of days at Disney World, we had a day left in Orlando before the airplane would take us back to the rest of our lives together. It was on this day that I learned the very real danger of the phrase, "I dunno. What do you want to do?"
We were driving around Florida in our rental car, having crawled out of bed at an hour that seemed comfortable. After the flurry of activity of the past two weeks, we were still of a mind that said every day needed a port of call or designated fun. Finally, we decided on taking in a movie. We love movies. What we had callously overlooked was that we also love to eat, which we had not done since the night before. And now we found ourselves standing outside the Orlando Superfaplex, trying to decide on what movie and when.
Hypoglycemia set in.
We were no longer the happy go lucky newlyweds, soaked in bliss and marinated in our love for one another. We had become creatures with no civil thoughts for anyone else. This included our newly minted life partner. As the testiness grew, and tempers started to flare, it was my lovely wife who stalked off with the only rational thought: I must find food. Never one to let a human need get in the way of my unidirectional need for completion. We were going to a movie. We could get food at the concession stand. Where had she gone?
It was at this moment that if anyone had suggested that we simply part ways and find someone more reasonable with whom we could spend the rest of our lives, there might have been two takers. After much fussing and furrowed brows, we found each other and made our way back to the ticket counter. The yogurt my wife had found was having a calming effect on her, and I was ready with grim determination to get inside the theater before the previews were over. What did we see? So I Married An Ax Murderer.
We have seen a lot of movies since then. Some of them were great. Others not so much. But we have learned to try and time our meals prior to our movies. It just makes good sense.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Buy, Process, Or Sell

My wife and I were driving up to Berkeley for a dental appointment, and as we drove into the new morning, she was noting the variety of shops and businesses along the avenue. "Extreme Pizza," she enthused. She took mild joy in the myriad of signs as we drove along by reading them aloud. "Wally's World Market." I looked out my window and watched a similar parade of storefronts roll past on my side. There was a moment when we both wondered how we had avoided all of this commerce, located as it was just over the hill from our house.
To be fair, it is a pretty big hill. And we have our own flurry of coffee shops and shops near coffee shops in our own neighborhood. We don't tend to notice them in the same way since they are part of the firmament. They are those things that are between us and our daily destinations. Every so often, one of those businesses becomes our destination, but we don't often stand outside and admire the signage before we wander in. That's not what brings us in. Suddenly, I found myself thinking about storefronts as advertising. What must go into the design and care of the entry to these places. What would I want to put up on a board in front of my business to cajole, encourage or trick passersby into coming into my establishment.
And that's when it occurred to me that I have never considered opening my own business. I may have joked with a friend about "opening a restaurant" because I was really enjoying the barbecue that night, but the idea of becoming a restaurateur is a foreign one, even though I have worked in a few. I have no interest in owning a bookstore, even though I read and I have worked in a warehouse that filled bookstores with books. I worked in a video store once upon a time, and that has been the only enterprise that I have ever considered making my own. In a distant future, after all other avenues of employment have been attempted.
I have also made a suggestion, from time to time, to my co-workers that I would like to open a bait shop in Key West. This is generally in response to a really bad day on the job, after which I imagine what a relaxing place a bait shop would be to work. Talking to fisherman in the morning before they head out to sea, then a nice long break during the heat of the day when I could refill the ice bins and catch up on my napping, and then a bit of business at the end of the day when those fisherman return to tell me tales of the catch of the day.
But not really. I know from experience in retail that there would still be inventories to do. And rent to  pay on the shack. Should I sell snacks, from a stand next to the counter, that would bring in some of the foot traffic?  And taxes: property, sales, business.
Suddenly, it's not so relaxing. Not like sitting in the passenger seat, reading all those signs.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

The Price

This summer, I happened to be in Colorado just about the same time that the Eagles were bringing their tour to Denver. And for a moment or two, there was some wild talk between my older brother and me about getting tickets to go see this remnant of the seventies. We had, back in the early eighties, sat in a stadium and watched them headline a summer festival of rock that finished up with all those peaceful, easy hits. They were a machine. And now, nearly forty years later, we were just a few miles away from seeing that machine in action one more time. Except our ticket-buying budget had not grown in proportion to the price of tickets to see such a beast. We did not attend that show.
When I came home from my trip to Colorado, just a couple of days after I returned, DEVO was playing outdoors in Oakland. Just a few miles from my house. It was one of those outdoor festival gigs, like in the old days. They were going to close out the show. It would have been like in the old days.
Except for that ticket price.
I stayed home. I watched highlights on YouTube.
That wasn't like the old days.
Back in the day, my roommates and I took shifts sleeping outside the nearest Select-A-Seat outlet. We camped out for two days prior to the tickets going on sale. The university was used to such shenanigans, whenever shows were announced, there would invariably be an encampment stretching out the door and around the corner of the student union. Aside from the sleeping bags, people brought radios, books, magazines. Some put on a show of studying while they waited for the window to rise up. Some were there for the duration. We were fortunate to have a crew. We were able to attend classes and make somewhat regular bathroom stops. We had agreed that anyone who wanted a ticket to the show, up to our limit, would have to sit. And throughout the days and night, people passing by on their way to wherever, would stop and ask, "What's the show?"
We told them, "DEVO."
And some of them laughed. They scoffed at our commitment. So we started making stuff up. Telling them it was a Led Zeppelin reunion tour. Anything that would keep them from ridiculing our slumber party.
And that was the price we paid. The dollars we spent seemed completely reasonable combined with the hours spent sitting out on the sidewalk. We had a party at our apartment the night of the show. We were celebrating our tenth row seats. We were celebrating our chance to see the Spud Boys up close and personal, the future of rock and roll.
We were celebrating our youth.

Friday, August 03, 2018


Well, thank goodness for this: A group of Rutgers University scientists have determined that having cell phones and personal laptops in classrooms limit concentration and can ultimately lower students' grades.
Thank you, Rutgers University scientists. First of all, for being at a university where the real hard thinking takes place, and for being scientists. That means these guys are super thinkers, so when they say that they have figured something out, we owe them a listen. They did a study with college students in which one group was allowed to have laptops and cell phones open for non-classroom purposes, and the other group wasn't. The group using devices scored about a half a letter grade lower on exams: the difference between passing or failing for some students. It should also be noted that students who didn’t use a device but were in the same classroom with those who did also scored lower. This was likely due to distraction from surrounding devices.
There it is, folks. That word that teachers have been tossing around for years and years, almost always in direct conjunction with an eye roll or heavy sigh. Of course you were just looking up that answer on Wikipedia, but you happened to be going there by way of your Instagram account where you happened to see a cat playing a piano. Which required you to, quick, forward that to a half dozen of your closest friends and oh by the way did you see what Alphonse said? 
What was the question again?
I have a somewhat rehearsed rap in which I talk to parents or teachers or anyone who will listen that being the computer teacher at an elementary school is, at times, an exercise in futility. This is because the kids who show up in our computer lab are often carrying devices that have more functionality and power than the desktop machines at which I sit them. So just under the table, where they believe their hands are invisible, they carry on the business of being ten. Or twelve. Or younger. Our school has a rule that no cell phones are allowed to be turned on our visible during the day. After the bell rings, power up and return to the wireless world of whatever you do with that phone that may be smarter than you are. 
Meanwhile, I continue to walk the line of teaching technology and asking my students not to participate in it as fully as they might, since fiddling with their personal technology is probably going to keep them from learning about how to use it properly. Now I can tell them that Rutgers University scientists have told teachers to "explain to students the damaging effect of distractions on retention -- not only for themselves, but for the whole class."
That's science. University science. So there. Mister Caven is still a meanie.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Being There

What is the measure of friendship? How far would you travel to help decorate for a friend's party? And did I mention that the accommodations include sleeping on a couch or an inflatable mattress? And the morning after, you get to wade through the debris and help scrape said debris into appropriate bins for recycling or decimation, just prior to climbing back on an airplane and heading back to the life you were leading that was already in progress?
For some people, these aren't really questions so much as a statement of fact. This is what they do. What they did. Faced with the task of entertaining a couple dozen folks as a celebration of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, we called in the shock troops: friends from high school who should know better if they really expected to drop by the Bay Area for some free and easy sight-seeing and socializing. Sure, they got to see the part of our neighborhood between here and the grocery store, and we were willing to stop the cuckoo clock from hooting all through the night to allow our guests a little extra shut-eye, but mostly the visit was all about party planning, dispersal, and reclaiming.
Both of these ladies were part of that long ago high school band experience that was the eventual bend in the fabric of time and space that brought my wife and I together. They are the ones who stuck, having been there at the joining and the continuation of that relationship. And what am I doing here? I am making as public announcement as I know how to proclaim my love and thanks to their efforts because it was not required.
That is what makes it friendship, I know, but I am totally capable of forgetting that bond in many cases. But not here. These are tried and true friends, the kind you can't get on social media and don't expect to meet online. Sure, there are plenty of emails. There is the occasional text, but aside from all that hanging of silver spirals and slicing of vegetables, there are the conversations that go on for hours, filling the time we spend together, making it sad when we have to say goodbye since there is still so much left to say.
So goodbye for now, and thank you both.
And if you have a friend like that, don't forget to say "thank you," and next time there's a streamer that needs to be hung, Be There. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2018


Forever is a long time
When I signed up for this gig
I had no idea
Forever is longer than
cockroaches live
or a really bad movie
When I said "forever"
I meant it
but I had no idea
I had a guess
I felt it was true
this was our love
It would last forever
I just checked
It hasn't been forever
not yet
But it has been
quite a while
standing here:
hand in hand
heart in heart
tongue in cheek
Waiting for
the forever bus
Our lives crossed over
like some version
of a Venn diagram
We share this life
like we share
our love: together
This is not
the ride I promised
or the opera
I was too lazy
to write
This is the middle
or thereabouts
of the adventure
We are on our way
to forever
I'll see you there.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

So Long

It struck me full in a peculiar way: I was watching a baseball game on television. The local team, the Athletics, were on the road playing in Colorado. The Rockies all had the number twenty-five stitched into the side of their caps. It has been a quarter of a century since I sat in Mile High Stadium watching a game in the Colorado Rockies' inaugural season as part of the celebration leading up to the wedding that would join me to this women til death do us part. As yet, no man has torn us asunder, so the blessings bestowed upon us by Major League Baseball have held steady. The group that attended that that baseball game has shrunk by a degree or two. Time is not always kind, which is kind of the reason to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays, it occurs to me now.
Twenty-five years is a significant enough event that it gets a special color. Or metal. Or Colorado Rockies cap. Prior to this, I have spent all the years leading up to this one being a slave to the associations generated by those in the know as the conventions for which anniversary is which. Paper. Wood. Lace. Tin. Copper. Bronze. Steel. Kryptonite. Porridge. And so forth. I slavishly held to this hierarchy, always with an eye toward twenty-five. I told myself that if I made it to silver, that I could knock off all that foolishness and concentrate on what was really important: making it to the next occasion.
Now that I can look back over my shoulder at two and a half decades of being married, and realize that it is longer than my son has been alive, longer than any career I have embarked on, and longer by far than the Beatles stayed together.
Of course, there were four of them. That would seem to complicate things exponentially. "Wait just a moment. I'll have to check with my wife." That's not so difficult is it? Well, after years and years of rehearsal, I think I pretty much have it under control. Each day that passes is a lesson learned. Remembering to listen and remembering to be kind is almost second nature now. The love remains a constant source joy and laughter. Twenty-five years later, my sides hurt at the thought of it.
Truly, this is a mixed bag, since the next big turn doesn't come until fifty, then one hundred. And I wonder what the Rockies will be wearing on their heads then.

Monday, July 30, 2018


I was having one of those late-night conversations with my wife in the dark of our bedroom, reminiscing about Oreos. Specifically, I was remembering a time when one of my roommate's friends came up for a party at our house, and over the course of the evening he proceeded to decorate our apartment with Milk's Favorite Cookie. He did this very discretely, wandering from room to room with a fistful of Oreos, eating one side, and then sticking the other side via the creme filling to walls, furniture, small appliances. It wasn't until the next morning that we discovered, in our hungover state, what Lonnie hath wrought. That was how we learned that his name wasn't "Lonnie." Instead, he was known thereafter as "(expletive) Lonnie."
It was this memory that sent me out to the living room in the middle of the night to do a search for my old roommate. We only lived together for a year, but that year was filled with vivid memories. How we discovered that three of us were not going to be able to live with the Big Brown Bear, who had a habit of playing guitar in the nude and wanted us to join a vegetarian co-op. This wasn't going to happen. Not either one of them. So we held a house meeting and sent him packing. Terrible behavior in hindsight, but three guys who were getting along on beer and Hamburger Helper weren't going to survive any of that way-too-in-touch-with-himself behavior.
We could put up with Lonnie. Somehow he seemed to fit right in. And my friend Darren and I were very pleased to have this ruggedly handsome guy living just down the hall from us because he was like honey to the bees who came to our parties. Girls who would not speak to either of us were coming to our house to play beer drinking games and hang out. He was from Chicago, where his favorite line from his freshman year back there had been, "You can see the L tracks from my room. Wanna come see?" It was a different game he was playing. Darren and I were happy just to be in the audience.
The next year, that trio split up. Darren was back in the dorms and our friend from Chicago was looking to consolidate his lifestyle. He probably ended up living with Lonnie. And the Oreos. But there, in the wee hours of the morning some thirty years later, he was. Same great smile. A little gray on the top, but still hunky enough to shove past me in my prime. And that made me feel good, knowing that there was still someone out there who would remember that apartment, and how we wrecked it. It was a great adventure, and a heck of a ride. Oreos and all.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Record And Play

If you are as old as I am, or have an affinity for history, you might remember that once upon a time there was a president named Richard Nixon. President Nixon got it into his head that taping all of his conversations would somehow benefit him, and in the end it was the very thing that brought him down and forced him to resign. Hearing people say, in their own voice not a transcription, “The Jews have certain traits,” Nixon said into the rolling tape he had installed in the Oval Office. “The Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can’t drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish.” He continued: “The Italians, of course, those people course don’t have their heads screwed on tight. They are wonderful people, but,” and his voice trailed off. And these were not the comments he was caught making regarding the Watergate break-in. And then there was the unexplained eighteen minute gap on one of the tapes that was originally ascribed to his secretary, Rosemary Woods, "accidentally" leaving her foot on the pause button for more than a quarter hour. 
Once Richard Nixon was caught with his metaphorical pants down, it was only a matter of time before Gerald Ford was being sworn in as the thirty-eighth president of the United States. Which brings us tumbling through time to number forty-five. Recently, CNN has unveiled tapes that reveal our current "President" talking to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen about how to buy up the rights to a story about an extra-marital affair the-candidate Trump had with a Playboy model some years ago. "I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," Cohen said in the recording, likely a reference to American Media head David Pecker.
When financing comes up again later in the conversation, Trump interrupts Cohen asking, "What financing?" according to the recording. When Cohen tells Trump, "We'll have to pay," Trump is heard saying "pay with cash." If that sounds a little unclear, keep in mind this is the same man who once bragged to Billy Bush, I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything." And so on. On tape. Treasonable? Probably not. Reprehensible? Most certainly. Including the part where he ends up throwing a little shade at Gerald Ford as they prepare to exit the bus. And what has our "President" done in reaction to these gaffes? Well, he went to Twitter, of course. He asked, rhetorically, "What kind of attorney would tape a client?" Not that he was looking for my response, but I would say, "The kind of attorney you would hire." 
And then there's the matter of the missing bit of tape in the official version of the Trump/Putin press conference. The White House version edits out the moment when a Reuters reporter asked whether Putin wanted Mr. Trump to win the election. Not an eighteen minute gap, but it sure seems significant. And continues with that long and consistent streak of being reprehensible. Treasonable? Stay tuned. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

There's A Party At My House Tonight

It used to be that it didn't take much effort. The epitome of this was the evening that my good friend and roommate noted that it was Bruce Springsteen's birthday on our trip home from work. We made a quick detour and found ourselves in the Disneyland of Beers: the cooler at Liquor Mart. It was here that we applied all our drunk boy math skills to figure out the difference between buying a case of beer and a keg. Since we owned our own tap and didn't need to pay a deposit for that, it turned out that we were actually saving money to buy a quarter keg. Such a deal.
The fact that we didn't have any guests beyond the two of us invited to help us swill down all that amber goodness did not impede us. We hustled home, iced the keg down and started pouring. That's when we started making some phone calls. Would you like to drop by for a celebration of the Boss's Nativity? Yes, we know it's a weeknight, but it's the Boss. And we've got a keg.
It was that last sentence that seemed to be the kicker for so many of our friends. These were the folks for whom an evening's plans always started with the same five words: "Let's get real drunk and..."
These were the people we were counting on. The ones for whom a mid-week party was a matter of course and might require an extra Tylenol and copious amounts of water the following morning, but could be managed.
Meanwhile, back at celebration central, the beer was flowing and the music was loud. We played darts and extolled the virtues of each and ever member of the E Street Band. As the evening wore on, up crept the volume. It was a party, after all. Somewhere in there, a few of our hastily invited guests showed up and took some of the edge off the gallons of Miller Lite with which we had challenged ourselves. No one bothered to note that there was no attempt at decorating or creating a festive atmosphere beyond the keg and the loud music. And periodic shouts of "Bruuuuuce."
And somewhere in there, the few brave souls who wandered in to share in our night wandered out. It was up to the two of us left marginally standing to bring this bad boy home. Which is what we were doing around midnight, as we sang along one more time to "Born To Run." Not content to merely howl along, we eventually were down on our hands and knees, pounding out the chorus on our kitchen floor.
That's when the phone rang.
It was the lady who lived below us. She was trying to get to sleep, and somehow the importance of Bruce Springsteen's birthday escaped her. The fact that she was almost in tears moved my friend and I. So much so that we turned down the music, and walked out on the front steps where the keg sat, taunting us with still more beer.
"We can save it."
"Yeah. For the weekend."
We put a few extra pumps to keep it from going flat, and dragged the tub inside. There were no streamers or balloons to take down. We turned off the stereo and called it a night.
And what a night that was.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Clean Slate

I know.
I've said this before: These are end times.
While there are those who stomp around the globe touting economic success and military superiority, the planet is begging to differ. In Greece, wildfires have raced across the country in what witnesses have referred to as a "biblical disaster." Tourists are retreating to the sea to avoid flames that are forcing them to the shore. A heat wave in Japan has taken the lives of sixty-five in what some have called unprecedented. Unprecedented compared to a world that wasn't experiencing end times.
What does that mean? End Times?
It's a biblical thing. Like the wildfires in Greece. There are also wildfires burning as far north as the Arctic Circle. You remember the Arctic Circle, don't you? Where the icebergs and the polar bears are. Were. Not so much anymore. In Siberia, where once upon a time the temperature dipped to minus eighty-nine degrees, colder than Mars, people have been sunbathing in ninety degree weather. Ninety degrees above zero.
The Bible doesn't have a lot to say about sunbathing, but a fiery end to life on earth shows up a lot. A whole lot. Not that I tend to believe the Written Word as if it were the Way Things Really Are. Or are meant to be. But it is pretty interesting how all this heat is showing up just when everything else seems to be erupting.
It's probably science. That talk about global warming seems to make a whole lot of sense, scientifically speaking. Lots of people would like to remind us that the climate has always been changing and so why should we worry about this?
Polar bears spontaneously combusting? That would be something to worry about, right? Hasn't happened yet. A U.S. president threatening war with other nations over social media? That would be as ridiculous as, oh I dunno, a polar bear spontaneously combusting. It would be amusing if it wasn't so horrifying. Which is a little how I see some of those stories in the Bible.
Yes, I know that I have prattled on about how the world seems to be coming to an end. Which seems pretty hypocritical considering I have plans to see the followup to the most recent Avengers movie. In which half the universe is wiped out in a finger snap. Oops. Spoiler alert. Which won't really be such a big deal anymore once the end times really do come.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Left To His Own Devices

"Son, what have you got there?"
"In your lap."
"In the folds of your robe."
"Don't play dumb with me. You know the rules."
"Which one? There are a lot of them."
"The one about sneaking your phone into the presidential chambers."
"I know, but..."
"Don't you 'I know but' me, mister."
"Look, I'm sorry. But I really think..."
"Oh, you're thinking now."
"I really think you should see this."
"Really? What is 'this?'"
"It's a tweet from the American President."
"Great. What is he blathering on about now?"
"Well, remember how you were talking about 'the mother of all wars' last week?"
"Yes, yes, yes. Our standard 'death to America' jab. It's part of our regular briefing."
"It seems as though the American President isn't as familiar with our rhetoric as some."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that he went on Twitter and threatened us back."
"That's odd."
"And he did it in all capital letters."
"You don't have to shout."
"Sorry, but that's kind of how it's presented."
"Right. And you say this came from the American President's personal Twitter account?"
"Yes sir."
"Not through diplomatic channels?"
"Not at some state gathering?"
"I wonder how he expected that I would see it, then."
"Maybe he thought you spent as much time on social media as he does."
"That is funny."
"I know."
"It does make me wonder, though."
"What's that?"
"Who writes his stuff. That's great!"

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Not Yet

Valentine's Day, 2018. I remember it because I was serving on jury duty. On our lunch break, I walked out of the courtroom and sat down on a bench in the hallway. I opened up my laptop to check my email and was distracted from that mundane task by the breaking news of a school shooting in Florida. Parkland, Florida. The school was Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen students and staff were killed that day.
I was excused from jury duty. Not because of the events in Florida, but because of the discussions I had been having with the prosecuting and defense attorneys who didn't expect that my attitudes and opinions were going to give the proceedings the right balance of judgement. So I was free to go, which meant that I called my wife to come and pick me up. Meanwhile, things in Florida were unraveling in much the same way that they had in all those other cities and towns before. By the time my wife showed up, I had been checking in for the details. Because that is what I have become conditioned to do.
As the days and weeks passed after Valentine's Day, something different started to happen. The students who survived that massacre started to speak up. Not just the typical, "We never would have expected that -" but "We never want this to happen again." There were demonstrations. And marches. And more voices were raised to say, "We never want this to happen again."
Never again.
Bad news about that. There was a shooting at Savannah State University in Georgia just ten days after the one in Florida. And then another eight days after that in Michigan. And so on. Even though there was a March For Our Lives, people kept losing theirs. Because of guns. Or mental illness. Or terrorists. Or maybe it wasn't guns at all.
Because, five months later, people are still dying. Sure, there are a lot of them dying because bullets were encouraged to fly across space and put holes in body parts. By guns. Sometimes operated by folks with mental illness. Or terrorist groups. Or just people making awful choices. Like the guy who killed the father of a brother and sister who survived the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High. His son and daughter made it past the shooter in their high school only to have their father taken away by an armed robber.
Armed with a gun.
Never again?
Not yet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

It's What's Inside

I enjoyed The Big Chill when it came out. It gave me an appreciation for Motown that I had callously ignored. It made me think of the friends I had made in high school and college. It gave me one of my favorite heydidjaknow moments in film: Who played the corpse?
If you haven't seen the movie, it's not a huge spoiler, since the corpse figures briefly in the opening credits and then becomes the mostly unspoken issue behind these nascent adults and their burgeoning grown-upness. One of their member has died and they all have to come to grips with that looming specter. Not so much of their friend's death but their own mortality. Birth and sex and marriage and relationships all tend to terminate at the same station is something these folks reckon with over the course of a weekend. Coming to grips with the death of their friend is the theme of this long weekend in the country. The Motown helped.
As years passed in my life, I have had a number of opportunities for similar reflection. It hasn't always taken the death of someone close, but there have been gatherings of "the clan" at moments that brought back all of those connections and tensions between those people who at one time shared a very intimate experience and then drifted away. And as witnessed in that movie upon which I am basing all current and future ideals of friendship, there are some people who never shake loose. That's the prize.
It helped, in the movie, to  have a bunch of really good actors saying  words written by a really good screenwriter. And access to all that good music. They were oldies back when that movie came out. Like listening to DEVO now. It occurred to me that those college buddies from the late sixties would now be in their seventies, and their number would likely be thinned by the drag of life and all its hazards. There would be grandchildren. There would be failed marriages. There would be the ones that were now relegated to the Christmas newsletter. And the inevitable Facebook discovery.
When The Big Chill came out in 1983, I tried to make it fit into my world view. Thirty-five years later, it turns out that it that most of us are riding that same wave, seeking the comfort of friends who knew us when things were so simple. And safe. When I first saw that movie, I had a flurry of cynical reactions to it that suggested that I couldn't be touched by it. Because that's what Hollywood had in mind when they made it.
Turns out, I was wrong.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Who Decides?

It's right there in their name: Oath Keepers. They are honor-bound to defend the Constitution. This is why they keep their Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly right up there with the right to bear arms. Which is why they offer anyone who joins a chance to win a gun. A really cool gun that sounds like it could be a tank. All you have to do is join up. And keep your oath.
And what oath might that be? Well, it goes a little something like: "I, [state your name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God." If it sounds familiar, that's because it's the oath that soldiers take when they join up. This is a group of Constitution Keepers. They also welcome those who did not serve in the armed forces or law enforcement, as long as these Associate Members keep their oath. The one about upholding the Constitution. 
This was the group that was scheduled to show up in front of Maxine Waters' office in Los Angeles this past week to "conduct a peaceful protest against Maxine Waters’ inflammatory incitement of harassment and intimidation." How were they going to do that? In much the same way they have done in the past, like when they showed up in Ferguson, Missouri back in 2014 to help "keep the peace" by taking up armed positions from rooftops across the city. Much to the consternation of the active law enforcement officers who had taken an oath to serve and protect the public but were having their authority tested by members and Associate Members of the Oath Keepers.
On Friday, when it became clear that Ms. Waters would not be at her office, but that many fierce and loyal supporters of hers would be there, the Oath Keepers broke their oath about protesting in front of that office. It would seem that defending the Constitution isn't something you want to do if your hands get dirty, or if someone fights back. See, these folks who showed up instead of you have their own beliefs about the United States Constitution and are protecting it the way they know how: Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Speech, and making a noise that sounds angry. 
Because they are. What makes the Constitution work is not the defense of it, but the exercise of it. Even if that does include burning a flag. You don't have to like it, but you do have to deal with it. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Big Blue Bubble

So, here's the metaphor: The guy standing outside of his girlfriend's house late at night. He whispers. He clears his throat. Then he reaches down on the ground and picks up a tiny handful of gravel. He tosses the tiny stones at her window pane, one at a time. Picking up another fistful, this time he throws a little harder, making a showering sound that must surely wake anyone inside. Nope. This time, he picks up a slightly larger rock, lobbing it at his target, making a somewhat resounding thud. Still nothing. Finally, he picks up a nice sized chunk of granite and throws it with mild certainty at his girlfriend's bedroom window. This time there is a crash of glass breaking and the light in her room comes on immediately, with the window thrown open almost as abruptly.
That's how it's supposed to work, and for the purposes of this comparison, the guy is me and the rest of the country is asleep inside. I keep tossing my pebbles of satire and cynicism and the lights stay off. I play my little game of replying to our "President's" tweets and get plenty of amused agreement with my crushing analysis. I put quotation marks around the "President" in order to express my outrage.
Pebbles. What gets heard in Washington D.C.? That same dull hum of the refrigerator running. No one wants to unplug the refrigerator. It's just the noise that comes with having a refrigerator. All the thoughts and criticism and voices of dissent create that appliance sound. Sure there are plenty of people out there who disagree with the direction this country is taking. Some of them have worked for the current administration. Many of them are of the same party affiliation as the "President." What sort of course corrections are being made? None. It's just the refrigerator humming. Those pebbles aren't waking anyone up.
How big does the rock have to be? Caging children? A face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin in which the matter of the 2016 election hacking is blithely tossed off with an assurance from Vlad that it never happened? Making deals with our enemies and taking swipes at our allies? Doing nothing while school shootings continue? Doing nothing while racism becomes the order of the day, or jumping in on the game himself?
How big does the rock have to be?
Maybe we need to break a few windows.
Or maybe this is the wrong house.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Go Ahead And Ask

I was invited, a few days ago, to be on a conference call with a group of tech types. Perhaps the the first challenge was making sure that I had the tech to make that thing happen. This was especially true because I was going to be interviewed as an expert on educational tech. I should be able to hook up a web cam.
I have been doing this thing, teaching tech, for twenty-one years. I had not ever considered that I would be an expert. Except maybe Malcolm Gladwell. He wrote that about the time it takes to become an expert on something: Ten thousand hours. That works out to a little more than four hundred days. If you did something twenty-four hours a day. I didn't do that. If you could manage to do something for three hours a day, then you would reach that magical total after nine years. Of course, I wasn't teaching three hundred sixty-five days a year. A school year is one hundred eighty days. And if you are keeping score at home I can say that I was asked to teach computers, not math. I am pretty sure that somewhere in there I chalked up ten thousand hours somewhere in there. Thus, by the measuring stick proposed by Mister Gladwell I have ascended to that pinnacle of expertness.
So I prepared to show up on this conference call as an expert at teaching tech. Because I had earned it. I was going to answer these questions, posed by a group of people who had certifiable degrees in things technological, and I was going use my best answer-with-conviction voice.
Because, as it turned out, it really wasn't about my ability to hook up a web cam. Which I was able to do. Never mind that for a good portion of the interview I was only visible from my chin down, that voice of calm authority came shining through. I spoke of how I do things, how I have done things, and how I would like to do things. I talked about being a computer teacher in an urban Oakland elementary school.
I am an expert computer teacher at an urban Oakland elementary school. Who can connect a webcam. There are probably a few other things for which I can claim to be an expert. Many of them are not what might be considered marketable. Or interesting. But if you have any questions about scribbling cartoons on posti-its, I'm your man.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Troubled Times

Green Day and Barack Obama - A Duet
What good is love and peace on earth?
When it's exclusive?
Where's the truth in the written word?
If no one reads it
A new day dawning
Comes without warning
So don't blink twice
We live in troubled times
"The politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear. And that kind of politics is now on the move. It's on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago."
What part of history we learned
When it's repeated
Some things will never overcome
If we don't seek it
The world stops turning
Paradise burning
So don't think twice
We live in troubled times
"I am not being alarmist, I'm simply stating the facts. Look around: strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it, where those in powers seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning."
We run for cover
Like a skyscraper's falling down
Then I wander like a troubled mind
"But in the strange and uncertain times that we are in,and they are strange, and they are uncertain, with each day's news cycles bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines. I thought maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and try to get some perspective, so I hope you'll indulge me."

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Friendly Neighborhood

Steve Ditko has gone to that big bullpen in the sky. If you're not familiar with Mister Ditko, this is the guy who drew Spider Man the first time. As with comic book origins, there is plenty of discussion about who did what for how much or how long and where did that web-slinging thing come from? Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and many others have a spoon in the pot that was stirred so long ago, a time in which comics were generated primarily by putting an adjective or noun before "Man." While so many men have come and gone, this one has stuck around. Like a spider, get it?
And what made Steve Ditko's "Man" so different? He didn't show up as a muscle-bound caped crusader. He wasn't a millionaire or an alien from another world. He was a weedy nerd of a teenager from Queens who had the misfortune of being bitten by a radioactive spider. He did share that absent parent thing that so many of our heroes endure, but the idea of having an adolescent navigating the hallways of a high school while intermittently battling super-powered bad guys made Peter Parker, Spidey's secret identity, relatable to a nerd who was instantly recognizable as such by his obsession with comic books.
Thank you for that, Steve. For a period of time, becoming Spider Man was a career goal for me. The idea that "amazing" would show up anywhere near my name was encouraging. The fact that I was unable to bench press a car or cling to vertical surfaces limited me to a certain degree, but having a mom who could sew did allow me to gain the use of a serviceable Spidey Suit. I did not use it for fighting crime as much as a costume for our Pep Band's super-hero night, the theme that I suggested and fought for until the rest of the band nerds caved. This was in the late seventies, before the cinematic renaissance of Marvel comics, when my costume easily outstripped the clunky version seen ever-so-briefly on NBC TV.
But reality was what really kept me from swinging from a web, and the cheesy TV show kept me going back to the comics, where fantastic things were more possible and occurred without visible wires. It would be another twenty years before Hollywood got it right. By then, I was buying Spider Man comics "for my son." Even my son was clever enough, at ten years old, to figure out that Spider Man 3 was an embarrassment. It would be another six years before Iron Man swooped into cinemas and stole my son's obsession.
Which is fine, for him. I will always remember that willowy costumed figure imagined by Steve Ditko, who helped Spidey stomp on the Terra. Aloha, Steve. Thanks for the memories.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Cup Of World, Please

Congratulations to France on the occasion of winning the World Cup. They beat Croatia four to two in Moscow over the weekend. France beat Croatia in Moscow. This is why it is called the World Cup. The whole world is involved. When my wife traveled to Europe, she encountered throngs of fans from various locales across the globe who were immersed in this soccer tournament that takes weeks to complete across a number of different stadiums and cities in the host country. Our friends who are biking through South America encountered a similar phenomenon on their travels. Football, the international kind, stopped the rest of the world as a new champion was crowned.
A World Champion.
Many, including myself, have made the observation that we have, in North America, a thing called The World Series, to which we are polite enough to invite some Canadians, but with the exception of 1993, it has been a United States-centric affair. We are clever enough to call the championship game of the National Football League "Super," even if all the swag printed afterward suggests the winners are World Champions. The same can be said for the National Basketball Association, which manages to stretch their chase for the trophy over a month and a half, but it's still the local boys who end up wearing the T-shirts and hats that insist they are champions of the world.
One tiny effort that has been made over the past dozen years or so is the attempt to bring international athletes to our shores to play our games. Dominicans and Cubans playing baseball. Australians kicking our prolate spheroids of pigskin. Lithuanians crashing the rim. As long as they come along to America and play by our rules, we're fine with the idea that they can be World Champions. We will even travel to China or London or Mexico City to put our games on display, but if you want to see it for real and in person, you had better make your travel plans to include Estados Unidos.
What about golf? There's a pretty solid bias toward the US of A, but since the game was born in the British Isles, there is a piquant of the rest of the planet. Which is horribly ironic, since our "President" claims that the only exercise he gets is playing golf. And it seems to me particularly unfortunate that, while visiting those same British Isles, that he did not choose to check out the links of Saint Andrew's. Instead, he and his cabal retreated to the country club he carved out of the historic dunes of Aberdeen. Where he can have McDonald's and KFC carted out to him, and the spectators have to howl at him from behind six million dollars of Scottish security.
What a different world this would be if we had a soccer fan in the White House.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

It's In The Way You Say It

Sorry To Bother You will make you think of a lot of things. It will make you think about more. If you have not seen Boots Riley's film, I invite you to take a walk on the Oaktown side and check it out. It may shock, surprise, sadden, enthrall you, but I don't expect that it will simply slide on by.
Here is what I thought about, in part, after I came home from a lunchtime showing: I became a teacher in Oakland just a few months after the Oakland school board passed a resolution recognizing the legitimacy of Ebonics, or African American English. As part of my intern credentialing program, I was given some very basic tools for teaching reading, ,writing, math and classroom management before being turned loose in a classroom in urban Oakland. I was never instructed in the delicacies or intricacies of Ebonics. All I knew was that it was legitimate.
Like many white teachers who found themselves in an urban Oakland classroom at that time, I found myself as intrigued by learning this dialect as I was in teaching "proper English." It was a fifth grade teacher, who was also new but not white, that suggested that in his class he would be teaching "money English." This was the kind of English that would get you a job. The kind of English that would get you money. He didn't discourage Ebonics between students, but he made certain that all academic discussions in his classroom took place in that distinct mode.
I felt a little challenged by this, since I was still recognizing my own struggle to acclimate to my new setting, and I was as pleased as anyone to have students respond to me in any way. I endeavored to model that version of English that could be found in the textbooks that we set in front of kids, and in the standardized tests that we administered to them in hopes that they could decode and interpret what sat on their desk. Somewhere in there, as the years passed, it became clear that I would also have to help bridge that gap by talking the talk. The talk that I could hear going on around me every day.
Not very much, since I am painfully white. I wouldn't try to mirror the speech or vocabulary used by the kids at my school. I will sometimes pick out a word or phrase, just to send a message: I am listening. Like the Spanish that I hear but rarely speak, I understand plenty but become confused when it comes time to enter into conversation, Ebonics is not my native tongue. I don't expect that students of mine will leave my room "sounding white," but I hope they are ready for a world that will hear them speak their minds. They are, we are told, terrible things to waste. No matter how you say it.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Next Door

I wish I could comprehend it: this anti-immigration stance that is so prevalent these days. Not just our "President," but across the globe. This idea that borders, lines marked on a map, somehow define who should live where. The United States is a nation of immigrants, and the lines put on our map were placed there out of convenience and time. It took us a while to wander as far as the Rocky Mountains, then extricate and exterminate the indigenous population to make room for settlers to come and plop themselves down where another culture had held sway for thousands of years. 
And in neighborhoods across the United States, where one group of immigrants showed up and eventually took over the shops and houses left by another. Entry level tenements that once housed folks from Ireland filled up with Italians and then Koreans and so on. Each of these shifts came with their share of grumbling and, at times, violence. Xenophobia? Ironic considering the natives here on these shores were generally welcoming and hospitable, providing us with the makings of a Thanksgiving feast. Or so the legend goes. 
White folks have ruled the roost here in North America for a couple hundred years. It's been a good run, but statistics suggest that it may be coming to an end. Like so much of what happens on this planet, that doesn't fit with that white-folk-dominance, needs to be challenged or argued. Or stopped. Don't let anyone else in who doesn't fit the parameters (white) set by those (white) in charge. If this sounds oppressive and evil, it was the basis of a regime that held sway in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. Now our "President" is visiting Europe, spreading a message: an influx of migrants fleeing violence and seeking asylum has caused the continent to lose its culture and “changed the fabric of EuropeAnd I don’t mean that in a positive way. I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you’re losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or fifteen years ago.”
My guess is that the Lenape might have similar feelings about Trump Tower jutting up out of a landscape that was once their hunting ground. But that was five hundred years ago. Ten or fifteen years ago, there was a shawarma place on that corner. Or maybe that was down by the United Nations. Things change. People change. Not attitudes. The actual people. Our "President" is talking about a continent with thousands of years of history, and he is quibbling about what happened a decade ago. 
Then I think about those woolly mammoths hanging out on the land bridge across the Bering Strait, watching those early humans wandering in their direction. "There goes the neighborhood."