Thursday, February 22, 2018

Lysistrategy

I am so proud of our children. When they woke up one day and realized that they were being slaughtered, they decided to do something about it. When they were told that their elected representatives were sending them thoughts and prayers, they said "thank you, no." Okay. They didn't say that exactly. They did have some suggestions about what their elected representatives could  do with their thoughts and prayers. Six years after Sandy Hook. Nineteen years after Columbine. A week after Parkland. Thoughts and prayers are not filling the holes left by the deaths of our children.
These children were not killed by foreign terrorists or illegal immigrants. They were killed by Americans, many of whom were the same age or just a little older than their victims. And now, decades after this terrible series of events began to unfold, those potential victims have had enough. They aren't going to stand around like sheep waiting to become yet another object for thoughts and prayers.

They are raising their voices. They are calling for action. They are walking out and laying down. In front of the White House. On President's Day. While the current "President" was honoring the victims of the most recent killing by not playing golf, students from the Washington D.C. area gathered in the street in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and staged a die-in. They laid there, silently, as cameras rolled and adults standing around the spectacle chanted "Shame, shame, shame."

I wondered why they hadn't chosen the front gates of Mar-a-Lago for their action, but then I realized that this is a savvy group. There are funerals taking place in real life this weekend. In Florida.

Showing up there would be in the poorest possible taste. Like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan arriving this past weekend at the Key Biscayne Ritz-Carlton for a fundraiser. These school shootings are ruining every party this season.

Do not expect the children to make this a one-off, either. There are walkouts and marches planned in the weeks and the months ahead. And if anybody understands how to effectively use social media, it's those darn kids. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

As they should be.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Association

"So, you understand how this works?"
"Yes."
"I say a word, and you say the first thing that pops into your head."
"Right."
"Very good."
"Great."
"We haven't started yet."
"Begun."
"Okay."
"Dokay."
"Ahem. Cat."
"Pussy."
"Dog."
"Obama."
"Right."
"Yes."
"Left."
"Many sides. Many sides."
"Up."
"Stocks."
"Down."
"There."
"Pardon me?"
"Only if you deserve it."
"Uh  huh, let's see."
"Dee."
"Dee?"
"Light."
"White."
"Right."
"Black."
"Excuse me?"
"Nazi."
"Misunderstood."
"Straight."
"Me."
"Crooked."
"You gotta ask?"
"I think we're about done here."
"FBI."
"I think we're done here."
"Meuller."
"No. We're finished."
"Says who?"
"Time to go."
"Make America Great Again!"
"Please get out of my office."
"You're fired!"
"Oh my god."
"Thoughts and  prayers!"
"Goodbye."
"Beachfront property."
- end of transmission-

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

First Response

It wasn't the fact that he went to Florida to meet with victims and first responders. It wasn't that he was on his way to Florida to hang out at his private golf club for the long weekend anyway. It wasn't that he had been blaming any and every possible thing other than the availability of semi-automatic weapons to children who cannot buy their own beer. It was the grin.
No.
It was a smirk.
The photo opportunity that our "President" chose to splash across the banner of his Twitter page had him giving his pompous thumbs-up to a group of heroes who never should have been put in the position of patching up high school kids with multiple gunshot wounds. I cannot imagine the inner strength required to perform such a grisly, unthinkable task. Suddenly a quiet suburban emergency room is transformed into a war zone. These doctors, nurses, paramedics, law enforcement officers and ordinary citizens who jumped into that fray and saved lives have my respect and appreciation. Showing up on the day that first of the victims were being laid to rest, this paunchy orange twit expressed his understanding of the situation in the most insipid way possible.
In the next week, seventeen funerals will be held. If the "President" has clue one he and his thumb will avoid these events if he wants to avoid at least the suggestion if not direct instruction about where that thumb ought to go.
That smirk.
What does this man know about the pain that runs through Parkland, Florida? Aurora, Colorado? Newtown, Connecticut? This is a man who brags about having a button on his desk with which he can dispatch nuclear missiles on his angry whim. This is a man who is willing to dispatch what he feels is justice with that same simple gesture of which he seems so fond. He is not so much a president as a throwback to Roman emperors. Outside the palace, cities are burning. Children are dying. And teachers. Americans. While he plays golf.
While all of this was going on, teenagers in Florida, and across the country were finding their voices. Kids who are just about to turn the age where they can buy an AR-15. And vote. Reading these messages from our youth, I think I know which one they're going to choose. I wonder if he'll be smirking then.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Rings

"Penguins don't come from next door. They come from the Antarctic." This is the kind of logic that pervades a discussion about how a penguin came to rest on the top of a television set in a Monty Python skit. As the two pepperpots continue to debate the origins of this flightless fowl, one of them suggests it came from the zoo. Which zoo? Well, if it was from the zoo, it would have "property of the zoo" stamped on it.
"There, I run rings 'round you logically," she exclaims. This is just before the announcer on the television lets us all know that it is time for the penguin to explode.
I understand that I have done exactly no justice to the humor found within that classic bit of comedy, but I hope the sense of absurdity continues to shine. Pretending there is an ipso-facto path to be followed when a visitor from the South Pole is found perched on your home entertainment center just prior to having that bird blow up was what I was reminded when I read the headline: "Schools have 'option' to arm teachers, Education secretary says." Secretary Betsy DeVos said, "This is an important issue for all states to grapple with and to tackle. I think this needs to be part of the broader, more robust conversation about how can we avoid these things in the future, and how can we ensure that when my child, your child, goes to school in the morning, they're going to go to a safe and nurturing environment." This is why she believes states "clearly have the opportunity and the option" to allow teachers who have had weapons training to carry guns on campus.
Clearly. 
Within a breath, Secretary Betsy used the words "safe and nurturing environment" and the option to carry guns on campus. This is the suggestion the Secretary of Education offered up in the wake of seventeen people dying from gunfire at a school. The logic is stunning. 
And now it's time for the penguin on top of your television to explode. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Never-Ending Story

Forty-nine days. What would a reasonable number of mass shootings be for that time period? If you're thinking zero, then we agree. Any other number of mass shootings in America, a country which is not currently experiencing heavy casualties other than at our own hands, is unacceptable. And yet, here we are again, with that same tape loop that drones on about the victims and the shooter and we all become numb to the noise that is dangerously close to becoming background.
Parkland, Florida joins the list of cities and towns that have experienced a school shooting, a mass shooting, a murder that expresses once again just how important the Second Amendment is to us as a nation. That right to bear arms is so fiercely protected that we cannot protect children at school.
Oops. Sorry. I keep forgetting that now is not the time for debate or discussion. Now is the time for thoughts and prayers. The challenge being that we seem to be in that same never-ending loop of excuses that we are in prayer. While we wait for a time to become available on that discussion calendar, we are told our best bet is to load up and get ready to defend ourselves. Gun free zones? What are those? In a country that has a gun for every man, woman and child, it seems that creating such a place would be on a par with finding a Starbucks-free zone
Seventeen more family portraits torn apart. Dozens more will have a hole where that person never had a chance to grow up and be a part of a solution. To anything. We wring our hands and wish that it were different while the carnage continues. Here is a sample of the conversation we are allowed to have: "I know he had his own problems, but I never thought he would be capable of this. I stopped seeing him before his mom passed away because I ended up moving, but we would still contact each other every other day. I did know he really did like guns a lot, but I didn’t think he would cause such tragedy." 
This kind of surprise has become tired and less than surprising. There is a very tired meme out there about Insanity: It is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Point the gun, pull the trigger. The results are the same. Over and over. It would be amazing if the deaths could take a holiday while we have a discussion about assault rifles and background checks and bump stocks. In case that window is very brief, here are my answers: No, yes and no. In that order, please. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Room For Waiting

Sitting in a jury assembly room is a good time to think about The System. I can groan and mope about how yet another year has passed, indicated by my annual jury summons. Why me and all that rot. When I signed up for all this democracy junk I had no idea what it would entail. First there was all that voting, which necessitated being alert to the way things were being run, and my interest in being part all that running. Then I went and bought property and got myself a fixed address. What a great idea. It made me so much easier to track. On  top of all that, I decided to pay my taxes regularly and give my opinions to those who asked and my signatures to petitions with  whom I agreed. It is really no surprise at all that I am a part of that process.
Which is why, sitting in this  jury assembly room that  I was so gratified to read that a second judge had blocked the "President's" decision to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The "President's" lawyers are in the midst of asking the Supreme Court to overturn  the initial judge's decision, from California of course. This second ruling, from Brooklyn of course, makes that sledding pretty tough. The "President" wanted to get rid of DACA back in September, calling it unconstitutional. It would seem that judges across the country, whose job it is to determine the legality of laws, have other opinions. That's what they call them, you know. Opinions. And judgments. That's their part of the system. The "President" can tweet all he likes about the way he wants things done, but it still has to be checked by this group of people who have job to make these determinations. Hooray for checks and balances.
Currently, the legislative branch seems a little caught up in its own tug of war over just how to make laws for judges and courts to inspect. There hasn't been a lot of  law-making going on since this new administration moved into the Oval Office. Could it be that this change-of-pace out-of-the-box mind that found its way into the executive branch has a fundamental lack of  understanding about how things work outside the televised boardroom where it once reigned supreme? We don't call him the
"Supreme President." We do call it the "Supreme  Court."  Seems as thought we put  a pretty high priority on that court system. That's constitutional.
So I sit here, waiting to be called. To be a part of the process that allows for the people to have a say in what happens. Would it be easier if I could pick and choose my time to participate? Sure, but I appreciate the efforts of my government to keep me honest.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Silly Symphony

I am a notoriously light sleeper. About half the nights I go to bed, I am soothed by the steady ticking of the grandfather clock in our living room. The other half I am tensed, waiting for the chiming of the bells on the half hour. They are the noises that remind me that I am not asleep. Just like all those other noises that go bump in the night. Sirens and car alarms. Neighbors coming home late at night or early in the morning. I am forever conditioned to listen for the sound of a crying baby in the next room, even if the next room is outside our window and inside the window of an apartment across the way. The happy spin on this condition, as I used to ascribe to our own crying baby, is that I don't want to miss anything.
That was why I went with mild anxiety into an overnight stay with friends sharing a hotel room. Based purely on a time equals comfort standard, I should have been happy to have the opportunity to bunk with people I have known for more than a quarter century. Theirs was the wedding that brought me and my wife to the reckoning that we might as well be together since everyone else seemed to be married to everyone else. They helped us put the first hole in the wall of our house and later returned to help construct the deck that hangs off the back. They are the godparents of my son. Why shouldn't I relax around them?
Because I don't tend to relax around anyone. Ever.
So I went with this knowledge in hand and made an effort to be an adult. Yet another challenge. When we had finished our busy day of travel and eating and wandering and eating yet again, we arrived right around bed time at our hotel. Once we had settled whose bed would be closest to the bathroom and who would be closest to the window (theirs, ours), we settled down to get some rest before our next day of eating and wandering. I made a conscious effort to get to sleep first, pulling the covers up to my neck and curling up while my wife and our friends finished up the business of their day.
Which worked well until the very small hours of the morning. There was no ticking clock or chimes. There was no traffic outside. But there were sounds. The air conditioner was on a cycle that brought it to life every forty minutes or so, shutting down after conditioning the air for ten minutes. And there were the respiratory functions of those in the room with me. I hesitate to call it snoring, since I am aware of the gift my father gave me of being able to rattle window panes and rafters when I am in full throat. I decided rather than torment myself with this newfound ambiance,  that I would use the rhythm of the collective breathing in the room to lull myself: Him, her, her, him, her, her, and slide my inhalations in there somewhere. The crescendo building to that ten minutes of air conditioning, when we would all tumble back into our rhythms.
Eventually I drifted off. For an hour. When I awoke again, I was satisfied with my efforts, and chose to roll out of bed to go for a run, where the only breathing I could hear was my own.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Running On Empty

It wasn't so very long ago that they were making movies about how Nazis were the bad guys. It wasn't so very long ago that you could get in trouble for suggesting that Steven Spielberg made up the Holocaust. He did not. He was making a piece of historical fiction. Not a documentary, exactly, but a dramatization of actual events that occurred near the end of World War II in Poland.

Documentation about this period is pretty thorough and the genocide that was brought on by Nazi Germany gave us the phrase, "Never Again." Because genocide is horrible. We wouldn't want to repeat it.

Thank goodness we had a war that wiped all the Nazis out. Once and for all.

Except for the ones marching in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia this past summer. Chants like "Jews will not replace us," were heard on American soil, not as part of some recreation but rather as some sort of awful rebirth of a nation. A nation that we thought we were rid of once and for all. On into the fall, we fought the fight all over again. We were asked to imagine that being anti-fascist was a bad thing. Joseph Goebbels would have been so proud.

And now we begin our long slide into mid-term elections. Who could have imagined that in 2018 we would have a Nazi running unopposed for the Republican nomination for Illinois' third congressional district. Not that he's got a swastika etched in his forehead or even on an armband. Not that he's going to give interviews in front of a portrait of Adolph Hitler, but he's the kind of guy who will say whatever comes into his pointy little head that he hopes will get him elected. This includes denying the Holocaust and referring to it as "an extortion racket." The Illinois GOP has done "everything they could" to keep him off the ballot, but lo and behold, there he is in living lack of color. On his resume is a stint as leader of the Nazi Party and white supremacist. He does not bother to hide any of this.
And a couple of years ago, this wouldn't have bothered me. It's a deep blue district with two other Democrats running against him. What could happen?

I believe Jake Blues said it best: "I hate Illinois Nazis."

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Across The Table

Looking across the table
remembering all the other times
we sat right here
Talking about the old times
laughing and crying about the way
things used to be
But mostly laughing because
after all these years that is the way
life looks to us
It's funny to think about
how close we came to missing
that chance, that one
What would life be like
if we had not met: once, twice
or made another choice
All those flowers sent
letters written, poems recited
to convince, assure
It took some convincing
and some intense negotiations
right up to today
Keeping track of all those things
that we share that we keep that we have made
bring us back here
To the beginning
To the center
To the heart
That's where my home is
That's where you and I live
together
Thank you for making room
Thank you for allowing me a spot
in your heart

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Truck Culture

Instead of focusing on all those double-parked Uberlyft vehicles on my ride to work the other day, I found myself noticing the number of pickup trucks. Not just rolling past me, but sitting on the curb along my route to school. Rams and Tacomas and F-150s, oh my. Very few of these would be part of the mid-size classification.  These were the big boys. The kind that would periodically need to have their wheel wells scraped to remove the occasional Fiat or Smart Car that made the mistake of getting in their way.

Or bicyclist.

These are the kind of vehicles that, when roaring by with their custom exhaust, car alarms are set off via the vibrations. They were easy enough to find, at least on my path. I wondered just how many of these trucks were used for heavy lifting. The mud and the lumber and the boulders dropped from front loaders into the beds of these beasts of burden. The slow motion churning of gravel as they pull titanic loads of scrap metal out of the way or dragging fallen trees off the road so that rescue vehicles crews make their appointed rounds.

I wondered how many of them make their daily commute to a parking lot somewhere and sit all day, waiting for their chance to do something heroic. Then they make their way home to that spot in front of the house where they sit and dream of anything other than that commute to the parking lot. Most of them looked fairly pristine, as if they had been used primarily for hauling cotton batting or the week's supply run from Costco. Mud was absent from their mudflaps and though there were a few beds filled with construction materials and tool chests that appeared to have been used recently, the majority seemed to be hulking reminders of an America that used to need more trucks.

I can remember sitting in the cab of a real work truck. The kind my cousins used to drive on the farm. Three of us on the bench seat, with me in the middle trying not to be self-conscious about the stick shift I was asked to straddle. That truck was clean enough, but it was worn by early mornings and late nights. Days of hard work in the sun had faded the paint and there were chips and scratches where something with a nail or barbed wire was not cleanly avoided. None of the trucks along the street on which I rode looked like that. Maybe they were just waiting for their chance.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Big Red

It is a very specific sound. It is one that would be familiar to anyone who set foot on a playground anytime over the past sixty years. If you were to make an audio dictionary, it would be what you would hear if you looked up "four square." As a kid growing up with plenty of balls of all sizes, colors and varieties, I was always just a little confounded that no matter how many bouncy balls my friends and neighbors acquired, they never had that sound. Or that bounce. At once lugubrious, and then again capable of incredible acceleration when propelled just so. Those big red balls were majestic in their singleness of purpose.

It was odd that I heard that sound as I walked out the front door of my school. The day was over, and the sun was sinking low, but I was sure that I was hearing that rubbery reassuring bounce sound. Not behind me, where the action on our playground had stilled for another day, but in front of me, across the street. I carried my bike down the stairs, and rather than mounting up and riding straight home, something told me I should investigate. Once I had walked my bike to the other side, I rolled it around the fence of the house adjacent to the school. Here I found Eugene and his brother Alex. They were engaged on one of the more polite games of two-square I had seen in years. Not competitive or nasty, just nice high arcing volleys back and forth. Smiles were on both their faces. Brothers playing nicely. Happily.

Eugene noticed me first and held the ball, stopping the game. "Hi, Mister Caven."

"Hey, Eugene." Alex waved a shy wave at me, "Hey Alex."

"Hi Mister Caven."

"What are you guys doing?" Mister Curious.

"Four square," offered Alex.

I chose not to make an issue out of the number of participants, since in essence he was on the money. "That's a nice ball you've got there."

"Yeah," sighed Eugene. The older brother sensed where this was going. "We found it in our yard."

"Lucky you," I replied without the potential sarcasm. I imagined how fortunate they must have felt when they were the recipients of a playground ball that found its way across the street and into their yard. I knew that Eugene and Alex weren't the larcenous types, but hey: Free ball.

For a moment, Eugene held it out to me as if he expected me to take it back to school and lock it up right then and there. Alex looked a little sad. Or was it guilty?

"Do you suppose you could bring that to school with you tomorrow morning? When you're done with it?"

Eugene smiled. Alex smiled. They weren't in trouble, but they were going to get the opportunity to be the rescuers of the missing four square ball. And they had another hour or two of daylight to play in their own driveway.

Lucky.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Playing The Game

When I was in high school, my buddies and I used to play a game where we would create super bands made up of all the best of the best musicians from groups we listened to. There were plenty of bands that had Rush's Neil Peart sitting behind the drum kit. There were a lot of votes for Queen's Brian May on lead guitar. There were a few quiet voices advocating for Peter Frampton, but they were quickly dismissed. Bass was a bit of a head scratcher for most of us, so we let the rhythm section fill up with Geddy Lee, leaving the band a little Rush-heavy. Vocals were a tough one, since we would have to admit to listening to the words, but Bohemian Rhapsody tipped the scales toward Freddie Mercury. This Rush/Queen hybrid withstood plenty of arguments from fans of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and later, Asia. My suggestion of simply inviting all four original members of Cheap Trick to represent the best of the best was politely put down with a shrug. When I started playing this game in college, I started hearing a lot about Robert Fripp and Klaus Nomi. Stewart Copeland became my go-to percussionist, and David Bowie was my frontman. Even now I find myself imagining a supergroup comprised of all the Top Guns, past present and future.

Then it occurs to me: Never once in all those permutations did I list a Beatle. Why not? Probably because I have always considered them an entity in and of themselves. The idea that they would appear in any other form has since been made easier by numerous All-Star Bands led by Ringo, and Wings. These are faces etched in stone. These are Gods who first tickled my ears to what rock and roll might be.

They are also, according to Quincy Jones, "the worst musicians in the world." In a recent torrent of interviews, Mister Jones has been slagging any and all who might once have been or could be part of the musical firmament. My initial reaction was to leap to the lads' defense. Then I realized that Quincy was just playing the game. He had a slightly different approach, but he was just playing the game. No matter that one of the bass line from Day Tripper is one of the most recognized in pop music, and that the four of them with help from George Martin redefined the recording process. They were not the best of the best. Until they played as one. Turns out, that really is the test.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Flu Bug

This is for anyone out there who is reaching for the Mucinex or gobbling Ibuprofen like it was candy to try and stave off the effects that persistent and unwelcome virus that has been plaguing you for the past three weeks: Stop.

Good news! You don't need any of those over-the-counter medications. You don't need any of those "scientific" injections developed by doctors and "scientists." You need to put yourself in God's hands. God's great big care-giving hands. According to Gloria Copeland, "We don't have a flu season." Furthermore, we should not have to accept that "Everybody's getting the flu." Not if you have the Lord by your side. Let our savior keep those germs away. Cast them out.

What she didn't say was that the flu is the work of the devil, which may help to explain all that vomiting and head-spinning. If you cast Satan out, you won't need a flu shot. Or polio vaccine. Or Kleenex. Don't be fooled. That "facial tissue" is the gateway to misery and damnation.

Or something like that. To be completely honest, I didn't bother to listen to most of what Gloria had to say on the subject. I am currently surrounded by hundreds of runny noses and headaches every day at my school, and I would love to believe that a miracle of minorly biblical proportions could sweep over them all and bring back their rosy cheeks and perky spirits. Experience suggests otherwise. I tend to surrender myself to a couple months of fighting something off each school year as part of the sacrifice to the gods of elementary education.

Or I could listen to the Word according to Gloria: “That’s what we stand on. And by his stripes we were healed. If you’ve already got the flu I’m going to pray for you right now. Jesus himself gave us the flu shot. He redeemed us from the curse of flu and we receive it, and we take it, and we are healed by his stripes. Get on the word, stay on the word, and if you say, ‘Well, I don’t have any symptoms of the flu’, great, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Just keep saying that ‘I’ll never have the flu, I’ll never have the flu’. Put words, inoculate yourself with the word of God.” 

All of which would be so much easier to ignore if Gloria and her husband Kenneth didn't occupy a seat on the "President's" evangelical advisory board. Where I imagine they whisper in his ear that there is no "global warming," and all we need to do is pray. 

I'm praying. But not necessarily to keep the flu away. 

Friday, February 09, 2018

A Boy And His Tiger

When the phone rang in the middle of the night, I was relieved to hear that my son was "alright." It was the kind of "alright" accompanied with a sigh that let his mother and I know that he was on the down side of that assessment. If he had been "alright" with an exclamation point, it would not have taken me another hour to get back to sleep.

This wasn't the phone call about a speeding ticket. It wasn't the phone call asking for us to come and pick him up from fifth grade science camp. This wasn't the cry from his crib when he was so very small. This was the call letting us know that the car that he had bought in high school, the one that had been with him all those years and been the source of numerous other phone calls, had perhaps reached the end of its useful lifespan. This the car that had been resuscitated countless times before, and the machine that helped my son learn mechanics in ways unfathomable to me. Which is why I tended to trust him when he said that it sounded like the last legs.

And as I lay awake in bed, after we had done the parental soothing that we could, I thought this: Transmogrify. This was the word our little boy brought into us, carrying the Calvin and Hobbes book he had received for his sixth birthday. "Mom and dad, what does 'transmogrify' mean?" This was his initiation into a world of reading that would take him in leaps and bounds into a world of reading that made him the darling of his elementary school teachers. Over the years, as a family we became familiar with every single panel of Bill Watterson's comic masterpiece, and my son became our surrogate Calvin. So much so that when it came time to christen his first car, my son went to the only possible nom de auto: Hobbes.

There was more in the phone call, I knew. He had a little trouble with a test and a girl had given him a very polite brushoff, but a brushoff nonetheless. I knew that the death throes of Hobbes were at the core of his pain. His late night cry.

I knew that he would recover. He had been taking steps over the past few months to prepare for a world where owning a more "sensible" car would take him further down the road. He has rebounded from school dips and girl trips. He would be fine, but Hobbes was going to leave a mark. It did for me.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Are You Not Entertained?

My wife has been carrying on a social media discussion with a relative of hers who is committed to the idea that the Deep State controls most every facet of American Life. This conversation, over a few days, uncovered massive conspiracies that explain just how completely pervasive the control maintained by this tiny group of manipulators. The courts. The Congress. The media. They even control the National Football League.

The metal tab inserted into judges' spines to control their actions and verdicts is just the tip of the iceberg. Spectator sports are being managed by a cabal intent on destroying our American culture, and what could be more American than professional football? Pickup trucks, Pepsi and Coca Cola, Doritos, online credit score applications. They were all there for the viewing pleasure of millions of chilly citizens with nothing better to do than to stare at their big screen televisions for an entire afternoon. During Justin Timberlake's halftime show, operatives were busy pouring even more fluoride into the water supply.

Of course, if there wasn't any interest in the game, and if it were not competitive, those agents might be caught near the treatment plants with their big bags of fluoride open around their feet. That would be embarrassing. so it's up to the coaches and players to put on a good show. A game decided before halftime would not give those spinal implants long enough to download the latest operating system, let alone the Candy Crush update. That is why the Super Bowl really seemed Super for a change. There was a great story line, with an underdog scrapping and clawing against a champion in red, white and blue. Do I need to remind everyone that Rocky came from Philadelphia? And if you rearrange the letters of Apollo Creed, you get Tom Brady? Coincidence? I think not.

In the end, the Patriots lost, which you can take as a sign that freedom is on the way out, and we will now continue our lemming-like march toward the abyss.

Super!

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Hold The Mayo

How about, for a change, I don't use this space for prattling on about our "President's" Twitter account? Instead, I will test everyone's patience with the Twitter feed pouring out of the head of Speaker of the House and all around nice guy, Paul Ryan.

This past weekend, as evidence of just how well the Republicans rejiggered tax cuts were going over, he offered this piece of evidence: “A secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, PA, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week ... she said [that] will more than cover her Costco membership for the year.” To absolutely no one's surprise, the tweet was deleted shortly after the cries could be heard coming from the Bastille.

This is the measure of the fix Republicans have offered us all? An extra dollar and a half a week sure seems like more money, doesn't it? That translates to seventy-eight dollars a year, which should more than cover an individual
membership at Costco, but not at the Executive Level. For that, she would need to be bringing home something in the neighborhood of an additional two and a half dollars a week. Of course, once she got into that cavernous warehouse full of values, pushing that oversized cart, she still might find it hard to come up with the thirteen dollars necessary to buy that one gallon jug of mayonnaise. Maybe if she pinched her pennies and went without some of those pesky medications that her doctors told her would keep her alive, then the deal could probably be made. 

As I mentioned, the public outrage was such that Speaker Paul took his short-sighted comment off Al Gore's Internet, but he left this: “I have heard time and again that the middle class is getting crumbs, but I’ll take it!” Okay, except that is he really hearing from the middle class? This is a guy who is paid for his service to the country in addition to other business interests earning him somewhere between two and eight million dollars a year, depending on who you believe. Or trust. I don't expect the Ryans have or require a membership to a warehouse store to track those extra nickels and dimes. Instead, he could probably swing a deal for the adults in his district to get individual memberships at Costco. Or at the very least buy them all a gallon of mayonnaise. Because it beats the suggestion that they eat cake crumbs.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Mandela Mandala

My wife and her older brother have been having a discussion lately about the Mandela Effect. If you're one of those head-in-the-sand types, as I was before I got to sit next to half of the conversation as it took place over long distance, then you should know it is the collective misremembering of an event. It takes its name from the death of Nelson Mandela. Apparently many people remember the anti-Apartheid leader dying in prison sometime during the 1980's, not in 2013 after serving as South Africa's president. Other instances of this phenomena include the line "Play it again, Sam," which does not appear anywhere in the film, Casablanca. It is this kind of confusion, primarily based on elements of pop culture, that has led to the suggestion that we are living in an alternate time stream.

To be more precise, there are those who believe that the startup of the Hadron Collider in Switzerland a few years back caused an inter-dimensional rift that caused us to start remembering things from that other place while over here in what we assume is reality those things are just a little different. Like the Berenstain Bears. Or is it really the Berenstein Bears?

Creepy, huh?

I confess that there was a time during my late teens and early twenties that this sort of talk was fascinating to me. It coincided with my reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Coming unstuck in time and place was a pretty regular occurrence in those stories. He gave me this great name for such a time-place: Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum. When I was a lonely nerdy guy searching for a reason for being so lonely and nerdy, the idea that I was not in my correct time-stream gave me some comfort. Once relativity got a nudge from some other coincidence, my life would straighten out and all would become clear. I looked for coincidences and holes where I could point to that vague way things have of being not quite right: unfinished, or just a little too finished.

And then my life filled up with other things about which I needed to worry. Stuck here with the mundane and Berenstain, I stopped worrying about suddenly awakening in a world where Curious George has a tail. I took the blue pill. And I took comfort in having seen Casablanca enough times that I can imagine why someone might truncate that heartbroken dialogue between Rick and Sam into "Play it again, Sam." It's storage issue. As for Nelson Mandela, it seems to me that most of us experienced his legend more than his reality. The idea of a martyr dying in jail is more appealing than a life in politics after being released. Or leading the first manned mission to Mars.

Oops. I probably shouldn't have mentioned that one.

Monday, February 05, 2018

What's The Story?

Who is shooting whom today?
Late last week we had yet another entry in the juniors competition with a twelve year old girl shooting two of her fellow students, injuring one of them critically. The shooter was taken into custody after the fifteen year old boy and girl were shot inside a classroom at Sal Castro Middle School in Los Angeles. Three other students where injured by flying debris.
Just another day.
Just another day of burgeoning post traumatic stress for a sea of adolescents. Starting with those injured and wounded. These kids will never feel safe in school again. Why should they? Any other students who witnessed this assault will be seeing that scene in their mind's eye for the rest of their lives. Hundreds of students, upon hearing the shots fired, ran from the school, fearing the worst. They live in a world where when people talk about school shootings, they are talking about their school. The same goes for the teachers and administrators at Sal Castro Middle School. They can scratch "that kind of thing doesn't happen around here" off their crest.
As the day unfolded, stories about how the shooting was "unintentional." Someone brought a gun to school. This kind of thing happens, apparently. In this case, obviously. Exactly why this twelve year old girl decided to bring a semiautomatic handgun to school is the question that will be asked over the next few weeks, with the truth hanging somewhere just out of reach. The story began to change the instant that the gun went off. How many other guns are in backpacks in schools across Los Angeles? The state of California? The United States? Land of the brave, home of the ones hiding underneath their desks.
The students at San Carlos Middle School will be back in class this week. So will all those other middle schoolers. And high schoolers. And elementary schoolers. And all of their parents. And all of their teachers. With the constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms. In school. 

Sunday, February 04, 2018

By Heart

I work down at the car wash where all it ever does is rain - Bruce Springsteen "Downbound Train"
In Melcroft, Pennsylvania this week, that status changed. Four people were shot and killed at Ed's Car Wash. The four victims, all in their twenties, were murdered by one man who survived an apparent gunshot to the head. Initial investigation suggests that a domestic dispute is what started the deadly chain of events in motion.
This is the moment that I struggle with most: If you have it in your head to kill yourself because things have become so very untenable in your own life, this is a decision made between yourself and your god. All of that angry revenge motif flies out the window once everyone involved is dead. Any sympathy that might be gained by the shooter goes away instantly when it becomes clear that taking someone else's life was the focus. This starts to tip into the territory of common sense, but once you have fallen into the "jealous rage" category. Once again, we are left wondering what might have become of these four young victims had they been allowed to live past this emotional speed bump. And the shooter?  Now the work begins to piece together where his trolley jumped off the track. If he was just an enthusiastic gun owner who purchased his weapons legally and held the Second Amendment close to his heart as he made his way to and from the target range, all that good will and potential for NRA poster boy went out the window when he went on his killing spree.
As Chris Rock has pointed out, this is really an economic issue. The solution to this problem was really not multiple rounds. It was one bullet. All that extra ammunition and property damage was unnecessary to achieve the ultimate goal. If killing yourself is what you really hope to achieve, there are less expensive and less messy alternatives.
Which leads us down the road to Blacksburg, Virginia where a freshman was arrested for purchasing five thousand rounds of ammunition for his AR-15. The student in question is an exchange student from China, so possession of the rifle alone was breaking the law. Which set off a flurry of arguments on Al Gore's Internet where the distinctions of owning the weapon versus buying bullets online. Which seems like a pretty ridiculous line to walk, since owning an AR-15 and buying five thousand rounds seems like a pretty tough rationalization, especially at Virginia Tech. Because by now, we all know the story.
By heart.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

The State We Are In

I have a very visceral reaction to our "President's" voice. It makes me want to leave the room. This could be an echo of the feeling I get when I think about the man who sits in the big chair: I want to leave the country. This is why I chose not to sit in front of the television on Tuesday to listen to him speak on matters known best and perhaps only to him: The State of the Union. When he starts burbling on about the economy and the stock market, I can't help but think about all those still living in the shadows of this great country.

Yes. I said this is a great country. It doesn't need to be made great again. I can prove this simply by pointing in the direction of the "President" to whom I cannot listen. When other presidents before him played around on the fringes of our democracy, the power of our constitution has put us all back on a path that we recognize. Wars, civil strife, economic collapse. These are some of the things through which our nation has endured. When I walked through the room where my wife was doing her democratic duty on my way to the kitchen, I paused just long enough to hear him bluster about foreign terrorists. The word that rang in my ears was "annihilate." I tried to recall any chief executive before him who would have tossed around that kind of verb in an address to the joint houses of Congress and the American people. He says "strong military" and I can't help thinking of nuclear war.

Am I right to harbor such fear? If I were a betting man, which I am not, I would still bet on the systems put in place by all those wise men and women who came before. As an American watching this billowing bag of harsh attempt to represent the ideals of our country, I cringe. This is just a passing storm. Like the hurricanes and floods he took the time to remind us of at the beginning of his speech. The ones that were a result of climate change. The climate change that he refuses to acknowledge as he continues to bore into the past with his clean coal initiatives.

Maybe it's too much to expect that impeachment or coup would take place in order to put the ship of state back on a more reasoned course. Maybe there will be two more similar speeches delivered as the "President" rambles on about the accomplishments of his administration. History suggests that we can live through a Civil War, the rise and fall of authoritarian dictatorships elsewhere in the world, and the break up of "NSYNC." Maybe we can endure another three years of this nonsense. Let's hope there is a planet left to reclaim when he finally stops talking.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Record

There were pictures put out this week on Al Gore's Internet of a meeting between the World's Tallest Man and the World's Shortest Woman. Surprise, surprise. They went viral. And this got me to thinking about most and biggest and smallest and so on and so forth. It's not just America that loves this kind of thing, but it sure does make us all pause to note something that is the epitome of its category.

For example, there are two different locations in these United States that claim to house the World's Largest Ball of Twine. Cawker City, Kansas would have you believe that they hold this distinction, while the folks in Darwin, Minnesota would beg to differ. It seems like a simple enough task to determine which one is actually the largest, but who has the time? Okay. Probably those people who would drive out of their way on a road trip across the country to take in the delights, but if you only had the chance to take in one, how could you choose? The Darwin ball is the work of just one man, while decades of additions have made the Cawker City ball even more gigantic.

Which brings us back to the Tallest Man and the Shortest Woman. Most indicators suggest that men will continue growing taller until they turn nineteen. There are plenty of twelve to fourteen year olds who are looking for that chance at a page in the Guinness Book of World Records. They've got puberty on their side. Eat right and hang from the jungle gym, and you've still got a shot. If you hoped to be the smallest anything, you've got a lot working against you. People and things don't tend to stay small. Not for very long, anyway. The smallest ball of twine, for example, would be no ball of twine at all.

And so it goes. Being the best at anything requires some measure. If there is no certification to be done, what possible good will making the assertion that this or that record continues to stand? I stalled out at five feet nine inches, so I won't find a place in the spotlight for that. There are plenty of guys who are more bald than I am. I believe that if I really want to make my mark, I've got to find a niche of my own. Thank you in advance for all the suggestions I am bound to receive, but I am reasonably certain that common sense and my wife's concern for my health will exclude me from a great many of these potential escapades. My stunt eating days, I fear, are behind me. So what's left? My ten minute per mile pace isn't going to shatter any records at this or any other age group. It will take some training, but I see where the record for most wooden toilet seats broken over one's head in a minute if forty-six. Now to find a sponsor.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Is It Any Good?

I am sure that The Florida Project is a good movie. Objectively, if a film gets a ninety-six percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the opinion of the masses has been heard. I went to see it last weekend after months of hype on Al Gore's Internet and hearing from friends that it was the little movie that could. Willem Dafoe received an Oscar nomination for his work in the film, while critics and metacritics insisted that this one nod was a travesty and The Florida Project deserved so much more.

All of this information swirled in my head as I sat in my seat, watching the lives of these sad men, women and mostly children unspool before me. A pair of single mothers living in an Orlando motel, paying casual attention to their kids as the little ones busy themselves with the things that kids busy themselves with while not really on summer vacation, just down the street from the Happiest Place On Earth. The six year old girl whose adventures include going on a safari for cows and spitting on cars in the parking lot reminded me of the kids I see every day at work. These "outsiders" are the people with whom I deal most every day. Kids who are being parented in the most limited way and parents whose own lives don't allow them to transfer the wisdom we might expect to their offspring. What we used to call "home schooling" is lost on a little girl being brought up in a motel.

I suppose the cinema verité peek into these lives of desperation would prove a useful eye opener for those whose eyes had been closed or averted from this scene. Sadly, I know the story all too well, and when the inevitable end of the rainbow comes, it doesn't leave anyone happily ever after. Instead, the probability of prolonging this chain of sadness only increases. The chances for any real escape are purely cinematic. They are not found in the real world.

So, is The Florida Project a good movie? If you were to trust their press, it is "an exquisite heartbreaker." My visceral reaction suggests that they were successful in this way. The problem being that I showed up at the theater with my heart already broken.