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." 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Don't Touch

Did you know that in Ohio it is against the law to touch a nude or semi-nude dancer? Or to have that nude or semi-nude dancer touch you? Suddenly, all the interest I ever had in going to a strip club has fallen by the wayside.
Not that there was a lot of interest in the first place. This is primarily because I once attended a bachelor party. It was a bachelor party for me, then a prospective groom. My brothers and buddies took me out for a night on the town and we ended up, around one o'clock in the morning, at the strip club at the far end of my hometown. I had been there before, but that had been during a blurrier time in my life. This was a place where I wore what is commonly referred to as "beer goggles." In those days, there was a lurid feeling of danger and possibility. Every Penthouse letter I had ever read came flooding back to me in a besotted refrain, "I used to think these letters were made up, but listen to this:" and so on.
On the night of my own bachelor party, I was sober. But I felt the momentum of the evening swinging in that direction, and chose to go along for the ride. Once we were inside, it became apparent that my pals were not going to let me nurse another Coke while we talked about the old days. I was given a fistful of bills and nudged in the direction of the scantily clad young woman on the stage in the center of the room. This was the rite of passage, I understood. I understood all too clearly because I wasn't drunk and knew that protesting was out of the question. There wasn't a lot of reasoning going on back at the table. And so I meandered on up through the gentlemen sitting ringside, and held out of five dollar bill. At this point, the young lady sashayed over to me and made a dip to a squatting motion, presenting her buttocks and hips to me, her hand gesturing toward the g-string at the top of her thigh. I moved a little closer and she helped slide the bill under that piece of elastic. She smiled and stood back up, but since I was very sober, I knew that this smile was not for me.
This smile was for her, and the forty-some minutes she had left on her shift. Last call was coming and she wouldn't have to hear that same ZZ Top song again until the next night she worked. She was counting the minutes until she got off work. She just made another five dollars in tips. I have no idea if that was a nice thing or just a mild annoyance. She was doing her job.
When I returned to the table, I got a lot of yuks and pats on the back. I had made the exchange, and now it was okay to call it a night. On the drive home, I suggested we stop and get some donuts. It was here I had the best time of the night, without the distraction of semi-nude women or booze, we told stories and laughed until the sun threatened. It did not occur to me then to notice the smile of the waitress who brought me my chocolate honey-dipped and milk. I assume it wasn't all that different from a lady I saw earlier that night. I tipped her too. I left that bill on the counter.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Plans

I had a while to think about it. A few hours.
Or three weeks.
Or twenty-six years.
I was trying to imagine a truly representative response to the return of my wife after her trip across the pond. I had begun trying to imagine just how I should run, walk or fling myself at her after being away for most of a month. I am not used to that kind of separation. Did I want to play it cool and let her walk to me? Should I go for the big welcome home movie kiss, or the warm embrace that had been missing for so long? I replayed these various scenarios over and over in my mind as I sat at my computer, idly checking email and news while tracking her flight's progress toward San Francisco Airport.
Not the airport she left from, back in June. SFO is the only airport from which I ever missed a flight. That was twenty-six years ago. Three weeks ago, she took off for Italy from the International Airport down the street: Oakland. That one's easy. I know that place by heart. I flew out of there recently myself, taking advantage of a summer vacation that allowed me to play gin rummy with my mummy. When I got home, I still had time to mull over just how I would handle that airport greeting. Over and over.
It was that flight that I missed twenty-six years ago that affirmed my notion that this might not be the worst place to move my life. A place where I could spend time with this woman all the time, with some common sense breaks for work and the occasional day trip. It was nearly twenty-five years ago since we made that obsession legal by getting married. Hugs and kisses are the currency of our relationship, and I confess that I am sometimes stingy when it comes to handing them out.
But not after three weeks.
Not after twenty-six years.
When I saw her coming out of the customs baggage claim, which I found with a little help from signage and a clue from my wife, I did rush to her. And the good news is that she rushed to me. And I don't remember exactly how it all went down because it turned out that seeing her was such a relief that I forgot all those careful moves I had planned. The moment simply unfolded. Which is exactly how it should be. It has been. Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Don't Judge

I am hopelessly naive. I thought that fair is fair, right is right and wrong is wrong. I understand that sometimes we find ourselves driving out of these well-worn ruts and into a bog of uncertainty. This is why we have a legal system. You have the right to an attorney, should you so choose, to defend you. This is especially when things are not exactly as they seem. You want to get someone like Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda to represent you if this is the case, since what we are all after here is justice. Which brings me to the Supreme Court.
If you have argued that your right to wearing a red shirt is being infringed upon by your employer, and your employer is Best Buy and they want you to wear the uniform and that's that, it doesn't have to be. Because you can take them to court. If that court doesn't uphold your right to red-shirtness, then you can appeal to a higher court. And this appeal process continues until all the wisdom and experience available can be brought to bear on this question. Even if the matter has to go all the way to the Supreme Court.
And what happens if the Justices on the Supreme Court don't rule in favor of your tweak to the dress code of your employer? Well, you can continue to bash away at this process until you run out of money, time or interest. Probably more that first part, since it would seem that justice can be a rather expensive proposition. Which is why you don't tend to take trivial matters like Best Buy's dress code to the Supreme Court in the first place.
But if you have enough money, time and interest, you can continue to find ways to make cracks in the decisions made by any judge. Interesting to note that once you find yourself, as a judge, ruling on the Supreme Court, you get to change your name to "Justice." That's how good a judge you are. You are wise enough to know that there are legal precedents that say that an employer can force their employees to wear blue polo shirts as a condition of employment. They have studied and studied and continue to study to be certain that the decisions they make are fair.
So why should it matter if the Justices are liberal or conservative? It is their job to interpret the laws of our land based on the bedrock of our legal system, The Constitution. Maybe the clue can be found in that word, "interpret." I like the idea that laws are black and white and yes and no and up or down. Left and right seems to play a bigger factor than I am comfortable. Especially if you have enough money and time to keep bashing away at those pillars of conduct we are all supposed to follow.
And you know what else? Those Justices are appointed for life. Or until they get tired of sitting there in their black robes, all full of wisdom and experience. Not like judges in your local courts that can be voted out because they don't dispense justice the way we see fit. If somebody shows up on the Supreme Court at the tender age of fifty-something, they could be interpreting the Constitution for decades. So that one opinion could keep you in a blue shirt for a good long time.
Or something much more important. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Late Night Viewing

It just so happened that one of the last nights that my wife was away just happened to be the night that one of those cable outfits decided to run Videodrome. If you are not familiar with David Cronenberg's 1983 science fiction romp through television and the subconscious, then you have my permission to skip reading this blog and go straight out to your local video store and - wait. Sorry about that. Punch a button to have your streaming video service jack you in for the ride of your life. Yes, the fact that it stars Deborah Harry of Blondie and James Woods of the born-again right wing is enough to keep you away form it, but that would be a shame, since unlike many things from 1983, it has aged pretty well.
This probably has a lot to do with the gentleman who rubbed our nose in it way back when. David Cronenberg, perhaps best known for his remake of The Fly, has made a career out of pointing a camera at our worst impulses. And if they happen to squirt gore, so much the better. He has made a couple of very intense gangster films recently, if you like your intensity a with a little less science fiction and a little more Viggo Mortensen. I enjoyed both of them, but I continue to be drawn back to Videodrome, which is creepily ironic, since it is all about a video transmission that plants a tumor in the viewer's brain that causes them to be controlled by, well, watch it if you need to know.
I did. Again and again. Which probably says more about me than it does about the movie itself, but it came to me at a time when video was my life. I ran a video store, and keeping an eye out for the next big thing was my job. I remember drawing the line at a series of videos called Faces of Death. This was a mashed together bunch of clips purported to be actual footage of people dying. In horrible ways. I turned a great many customers away when they came looking for any volume of this snuff. Often my response was to try and send them home with Videodrome. If you want to wreck your mind, why not have a story? A point of view?
So there I was, alone in my dark house staring at a movie about snuff TV that generates hallucinations in the viewer, and I wondered what the attraction was. Then I remembered America's Funniest Home Videos. And YouTube. And Instagram. And all the other places where our basest nature can be easily found on display. And I wondered if it was time for a sequel.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Cleaning Up

Digital and analog are not the same thing. I am not talking about the somewhat tired and now antiquated discussion about recorded music. I surrendered some time ago to the convenience of pushing a button or simply asking Google to play Suburban Lawns "Flying Saucer Safari." There is a lot to be said for the challenge of pawing through a collection of vinyl and taking the album carefully from its dust sleeve and setting it on the table to cue up that one song, snap crackles and pops. I could go on about the liner notes and lyric sheets and artwork that has been resigned to a past that includes a CD collection as well.
But I promised not to go there. Apologies.
Instead I refer to another kind of album: Photo. In the busy-ness of cleaning the house over the past week or so, I found myself sitting down in front of a bookcase that had not received my full attention for some time. It is the one that holds our photo albums. The pictorial history of a life spent together, my wife and me. And then along comes our son. And our dog. The adventures we shared. The occasions we celebrated. The sunsets we watched. They are all there, lovingly arranged and cataloged for a decade, and then perhaps we ran out of shelf space. Or we started taking digital photos. And for a moment there, we lived a lie that we would be ordering prints from one of those online sites that will do that kind of thing for those of us who need something to touch.
Something tangible.
Something that touches us.
I found some envelopes of stray photos that had never made it to an album. Rather, these were a group of pictures that had been set aside after our dog went to heaven, where all dogs go. As I sat there on the floor, flipping through these memories right there in my hands, I felt connection to a beloved pet that still shows up in my dreams at night, and cannot be replaced. It was as different as those vinyl albums are to the Mp3s of the very same music. I found a pocket-sized album that had been left empty, I reasoned, for just this purpose. I made a new album of pictures of our dog.
And I cried, just a little, as I finished that little chore. Then I smiled knowing that she has a place now. Not someplace in a cloud.
In my heart and on that shelf.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Being A Joiner

Panshu Zhao was discharged from the United States Army. Not because he was transgender. That was so a year ago.  Now, in an effort to Make America Great Again, the "President" has decided that foreign born soldiers who were serving in our armed forces in exchange for a path to citizenship would no longer be welcome in the ranks. Panshu was born in eastern China, but grew up loving the United States. He came here to attend graduate school at Texas A&M University. Go Aggies! 
Panshu signed up in 2016 in hopes of trading his service for a chance to become a part of the country he had loved from afar.
Not so fast, Panshu. If your name was Robert or Bubba or some naturally occurring moniker, and you were born and raised here on these shores, then you might have a chance. But then you'd probably already be a citizen, wouldn't you. Therefore this is kind of a moot point. Never mind all that literature and fast talk about getting your citizenship because we are in the business of recruiting Americans for our armed forces and business is good. 
Maybe you've heard that recruitment numbers are down, and we should be glad to take anyone with a pulse, but that 's not true. Well, it's kind of true. The U.S. Army is "relaxing" their recruitment standards in order to fill their ranks. If you smoke dope, just don't do it on guard duty, and make sure your uniform covers those racist tattoos. The Army is also willing to be a little more "relaxed" about your general aptitude scores. What really matters in today's Army is conforming to some ideal that is not exactly clear.
Leaving Panshu wondering what he needs to do in order to be all he can be. His PhD means nothing, nor do the years he spent training and waiting for clearance from his adopted government to become a soldier. Apparently, clever immigrant types were using this military path to find a way to sneak into our country. Shame on them. Using the programs made available to them along with their dedication and hard work to become a part of this great nation is unconscionable. At least that's what Panshu is being told, now that he is years into the process that he signed up for in good faith.
So who will be fighting our next war? Robert? Bubba? Ramon? Sorry, Ramon. We've already got your exit visa planned. 

Monday, July 09, 2018

Hits And Misses

I miss Steve Page. Well, I know what Steve is up to. He's even going to be in the neighborhood this coming November. If you don't know Steven Page, he's a Canadian singer and songwriter who used to be in Barenaked Ladies. they are a Canadian folk-rock band that was recently inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Still drawing a blank? Well, you've probably watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and therefore you have heard one of their songs. They wrote the theme. And sang it. And they tend to play it at their concerts.
I know this because I am a fan. I have been ever since I heard their song "If I Had A Million Dollars" way back in 1994. Finding their mix of humor and musicianship of the highest quality, I sought out more and more of what they had to offer. I tend to do this with bands. I find a song and then spend weeks months years pursuing their creative output until it dries up. Or goes away. Or something else happened.
Like Steven Page left the band. Or was asked to leave. Depending on the account you choose to pursue. Suffice it to say that Mister Page's behavior was, at one point, hard to reconcile with the feel-good silliness that Barenaked Ladies had to offer. Which was a shame at the time and continues to be, since I haven't found myself actively searching out the new album or looking for tickets to their latest tour for some time now.
Which causes us all to wonder, "Does one person make a band?" If you were to ask Sting, for example, he might say yes. Different groups have survived changes in personnel over the course of their history. The Rolling Stones have had their share of turnover, but if Mick and Keith ever call it a day, then they may cease to rock. Mike Nesmith seems to be able to wander in and out of whatever group of Monkees decide to tour, but the odds are against there being an "official reunion" without all four showing up. Thanks, Davy
Am I suggesting that it would be better if Steven Page had gone to folk rock heaven than resigning in disgrace?
I don't know. Maybe I am. As a selfish person, I wish that things could have continued in the way they had forever, and I would be listening to their new album with Steve in tow, and looking forward to seats in the theater when they come to my town again.
Or maybe that isn't the way these things are supposed to go. Paul McCartney continues to pack stadiums as a solo act forty-eight years after his little group broke up. And if I want to see Steven Page sing, I still can.
So could I please stop whining now?

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Another One Bites The Dust

The "President" accepted Scott Pruitt's resignation on the Fifth of July because of course he did.
The Former head of the Environmental Protection Agency had been on the watch list for quite some time, having spent the last several months as even money in the administration resignation pool. Not because he was rolling back regulations that had been effectively protecting the environment. Global warming wasn't a big concern for Scott. Undoing anything associated with the Obama administration was.
That and checking out the possibility of getting his wife hooked up with a business opportunity with Chick-Fil-A. Well, not so much Scott on that one but an aide that Scott sent out on an errand to see about getting Scott's wife a fast-food franchise. To have something to do while Scott was busy dismantling the environmental legacy of the guy who came before.
That, and staying busy spending the taxpayer's money in creative ways: First Class travel wherever he went, and finding reasons to travel back to Oklahoma whenever possible. Oh, and my personal favorite, instructing an aide to go out and rustle him up a used mattress from a Trump hotel. I am certain that the mattresses used at our "President's" string of "luxury" hotels are certainly worth checking out, but the whole notion of seeking out a used mattress from anywhere is pretty suspect. On a lot of levels. I suppose we can be relieved that he wasn't asking this public servant to drive around the neighborhood looking for old mattresses leaning up against phone poles. That would be icky.
No more icky than a head of the EPA getting a deal on a condo in Washington D.C. for fifty dollars a night. If you were going to shove a used mattress in a fifty dollar a night flop house, that would make sense, but this is also the guy who spent forty-three thousand dollars on a sound-proofed phone booth. We are left to surmise that whatever conversations taking place in that rather expensive phone booth must have had some rather secret conversations. About chicken sandwiches. And rooms to let. And used mattresses.
So bye, bye, Scott Pruitt. Good luck in whatever swamp you can find suitable lodging.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Beauty And The Beast

"Hello, Ann."
"Hello?"
"It's :me Ann."
"It can't be. You're - you were -"
"Dead?"
"Well, everyone said - I saw -"
"Just shows you can't trust everyone. Especially if they're in show business."
"Mister Denham was just trying to -"
"I know what Mister Denham was trying to do."
"But, you're alright?"
"It took a lot of rehab, and I can definitely tell you when it's going to rain. And I try to stay away from tall buildings."
"Where have you been keeping yourself?"
"There aren't a lot  of places where a forty foot gorilla can hide out. I hung out in the Caribbean for a while. Got some work in the fields, agriculture seemed like a logical next step for an ape of my talents."
"But that doesn't explain how you managed to go unnoticed for -
"Unless you've got somebody who wanted me to stay missing."
"Denham?"
"Nope, but you're getting warmer."
"I don't know. The police?  The mayor?"
"Think a little closer to home."
"I - don't understand."
"Are you still hanging around with Jack?"
"Jack? Of course. We were married right after - well. You know."
"I know. And I figured that the two of you needed some peace and quiet. After all I put you through."
"Put us through? What  about you?"
"Well, I've had some time to think about that. And even though your husband has been most generous about finding a way to keep your happily ever after from being anything but."
"What are you talking about?"
"Monthly checks. Made out to a retirement fund. Keeps me in bananas. And away from you."
"Jack would never -"
"Once a month. Check your account."
"Which still  doesn't explain why you're calling me now."
"I want to see you, Ann."
"I don't know if that's a good idea."
"Are you worried about what Jack would say?"
"It's just that we've been having kind of a tough time lately."
"I could have told you that."
"You're so sure. What makes you so sure?"
"Well, there are a lot  of Jacks out there - "
"But only one Kong."
"You said it. I didn't."

Friday, July 06, 2018

Designated

About two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women drivers. This is 2018. Two weeks ago. 2018. Really.
The only country in the world that kept women from driving a car has relented. It is no longer illegal for women to operate a motor vehicle.
2018.
Really.
By contrast, I can tell you that one of the reasons I have been missing my wife as she travels across the pond is that I let her do most of the driving. I pretty much  have  dibs on shotgun. I watch the world go by from the  passenger seat, safe and secure in the knowledge that my wife has been driving for nearly forty years and she does a fine job. It is a ginormous relief to go for a ride, though I tend to avoid the temptation to put my head out the window and feel the  wind rushing past.
Which makes me wonder why the prohibition in Saudi Arabia existed in the first place. I suppose if the idea was to keep them home, barefoot, pregnant, subservient. And probably a little more relaxed. Maybe a lot more.
I don't like to drive because it makes me nervous. Sometimes to the point of distraction. Which is kind of contraindicated in most circumstances on the road. I suspect that if I were to take the wheel as some form of revolutionary act, maybe I would feel differently. The women of Saudi Arabia hit the road in protest of these restrictions twenty-eight years ago. Forty-seven women were arrested for driving through Ridyah back then, and many more followed their path in the years after.
I can remember the embarrassment and frustration I felt when I failed my first driving test. At sixteen, it seemed impossible that I had waited that long to the privilege of being a licensed driver and was denied. For two weeks. It took me a while to get bored with it, and eventually I took relief in the opportunity to turn over those duties to someone else. Anyone else. My wife, my son, friends. But if someone told me now that I was barred from this activity, I would have pitched a fit. So, the good news is that I can now go anyplace, including Saudi Arabia, and ask someone else for a ride.
At last. What a relief. It's almost enough to make me want to dance....

Thursday, July 05, 2018

What Have I Been Missing?

It's my fault that Toys R Us went out of business. Not me alone, of course, but once Amazon started selling toys, shipping them to my home at a discount, it was a fait accompli. Sure, I continued to make my visits with my son and whomever I could drag along. I would make a few impulses, now and then, but my go-to source for toys was no longer the big concrete bunker full of amusing plastic playthings. I could get what I needed on Al Gore's Internet.
Shame on me.
It is, of course, ridiculously ironic for me to be pining for that warehouse full of fun that once upon put all the local mom and pop toy stores out of business. Maybe I should explain.
My wife has been out of town.
I have been watching TV without supervision.
I finally watched most of You've Got Mail. That little bit of romantic comedy fluff from the late 1990's with America's collective sweethearts Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. She runs a little bookstore and he runs a great big bookstore and he puts her out of business but they fall in love because they send pithy emails back and forth without knowing that one is trying to put the other out of business. Sorry for that spoiler, but two decades is just about long enough to be public domain. Especially since it was a remake of a 1940's film called The Shop On The Corner that starred America's period sweethearts James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.  And that was, in turn, a film adaptation of a Hungarian play called something in Hungarian starred Hungary's theater sweethearts.
Crawling back up this ladder of distraction, it bothered me then and now that the connection Meg and Tom made was made on America Online. Hence the title. That proud and loud announcement that there was something in your electronic mailbox was a momentary pronouncement that has fallen by the wayside. Most of us would run screaming from the room if they were reminded by that voice every time someone from Nigeria wanted to propose a deal to unlock his inheritance with your help. But oddly enough, there is a place you can go to get just that for your Gmail account.
Pardon that digression, please.
At the time, Time Warner owned America Online, and this rom-com redux was foisted on the public by Warner Brothers. It was all one big ad for their Internet outlet. And since the whole story revolves around how corporations engulf and devour little businesses, it seemed just a tad ingenuous. So I made a choice not to go see the movie, in spite of all that meant-for-each-other cuteness exuded by Tom and Meg.
Now AOL is going the way of the mom and pop bookstore. Toystore. Warehouse. My mother bailed on her account, which means that there are probably about six more people still connected to the vestiges of the Internet's first McDonald's. I have heard that some people are connecting to Al Gore's Internet using their own wires and cables they found laying around the garage. My mother has been engulfed and devoured by a beast much larger and perhaps more insidious than Time Warner. Google has her now, god help her, since there is no turning back from that vortex.
Or is there?
I watched that movie, after all those years. It didn't put anyone out of business. As far as I know. My mom can now check her email without being yelled at. But I still miss the toy stores. I hope my wife comes home soon.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

War Games

There was a trash can in my friend's garage. It was full of toy guns. There was a ritual in which we would file into that garage and stand around that can and solemnly choose our weapons. If you were first to pick, the machine gun was the way to go. These were mostly rifles of some sort or other. Most of them were made of plastic, scaled down versions of the real thing. Some of the were defunct BB guns. Their springs and their workings had become less viable. The second most chosen toy gun from that barrel was a rifle with lever action that still functioned which provided a satisfying click when you pulled the trigger. The rest of the armory had, at one time, been more functional. Part of what had landed them in this communal can was their limitations.
None of that really mattered. Once we held those rifles up to our shoulders, they became machine guns. This ensured us of a kill. We did this by making a noise, way down deep in our throat. It was a phlegm-clearing sound that was stuttered in imitation of automatic firing. Run out of phlegm, run out of bullets. Not that this ever happened. No matter how long the firefight raged around us, we managed to keep shooting. Sometimes we paid lip service to the idea of running out of ammo, but as long as we could clear our throats, we could continue our assault.
Or defense. Sometimes we barricaded ourselves in and around my friend's backyard clubhouse. We fended off invisible enemies. Sometimes they were monsters. Sometimes they were Nazis. Sometimes the monsters were fifty feet tall. The Nazis were always pretty average size. This is how we stayed vigilant for those times when we split into factions and shot at each other. Selecting your cover became the key, since standing out in the open assured that you would be pumped full of phlegm-y lead. It wasn't very often that someone would simply fall down dead. Not without some discussion or debate. Once you had made your shot, you had to prepare your defense. Not from the barrage from the other army, but of your pretend marksmanship.
"I got you!"
"No you didn't."
"Yes I did!"
"How could you have gotten me when I'm behind this wall."
"I got you in the leg."
"No you didn't."
"I could see your whole leg sticking out."
And so it went, pushing a great big pause button on the battle, while our youthful Warren Commission set about proving or disproving the way we had or had not killed one another with pretend bullets. Sometimes when these debates turned into lengthy arguments, the rest of the group grew bored, and turned in their guns. Especially if their guns were not as cool or functional. If you wanted to keep the game/battle going, it was best for everyone to just fall down dead. And then you had to wait until the war was won. Or if boredom set in and you were willing to become a different soldier in some brand new incarnation. Miracles can happen.
I don't know how many times I died back in those days. I lost count early on. My personal body count, the bad guys I put away was ridiculous. My friends and neighbors. The same ones who were looking to blow me away. As many times as we all could. Until boredom set in.
Until dinner time.
But we always came back.
Turns out the only way to stay alive is not to play.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Time Of The Season

Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the streets.
Okay, I'm not exactly dancing, and I have been pretty much sticking to the sidewalks when I am doing anything that might resemble dancing. Walking, running, and so forth. There have been some other telltale signs that the season has changed. The days are longer. The nights are shorter. Flag Day has come and gone, and the big daddy of them all, the Fourth of July is almost upon us.
People are cooking outside. You can smell it. People are playing  outside. You can hear it. And in anticipation of Independence Day, you can hear and smell people prepping for fireworks displays that will eventually light up the night. The sulfur and explosions remind me of another month passing and the calendar pages ticking down the moments we know and love as summer vacation.
Having already made a trip out to Colorado to visit my mother, I have now begun the secondary function of my summer which is to catch my breath and imagine a new school year that will begin before I know it.
Which is the surprising part. After twenty-one years, one might imagine that the rhythm of the school year would be hardwired in my nervous system. I should feel the waves and anticipate the ebbs and flows. I should know the way this thing is going to turn. Teaching for a couple decades, and spending another decade and a half as a student, how can there still be any surprises left?
Okay. They're not exactly surprises. They are more like moments of supreme naivete. What sort of nuance or subtle deviation from the norm should I expect? I check my email and look at the calendar and I wait for the call. There was a time when there was more preparation and planning. When the school district was flush with money to train us all to perform and present newly adopted texts and programs.
Now the school is being cleaned. One hundred eighty days of wear and tear and child-scrawled graffiti must be scrubbed from the desks and walls. New teachers will be hired. New kids will enroll.  I will be going back. But not today.
It's summertime, and the living is easy. More or less. 

Monday, July 02, 2018

Enemy Of The People

So, upon further review, the "President" came up with these words to say about the murder of five people working at Maryland's Capital Gazette: "My government will not rest until we have done everything in our power to reduce violent crime and to protect innocent life." 
Let's start with that possessive pronoun, shall we? "My government." Not by the people, of the people and for the people. MINE. That public service thing still doesn't seem to have fully sunk in. He is supposed to be working for us. The people. 
And then there's the part about "everything in our power." In his brief address before he went on to tout his tax-relief program, he did not mention the First Amendment. Four of the five victims of Wednesday's shooting were journalists. A group that has previously been described by the "President" as the enemy of the American people. Sick, awful, fake, pile of garbage: these are words he has used to describe the fourth estate. And now, he would like us to know that "Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job." I understand that he was limited in his rhetoric, but I do wonder why he felt the need to reassure journalists that they still deserve the same protections under the law that all Americans experience. 
Meanwhile, we wait to see what kind of bold exercise his administration is going to offer up as a solution to reduce violent crime and protect innocent life. The last brainstorm ended up being a plan to separate children from their parents. Innocent life seems to be somewhat subjective here. How about a program to separate pump shotguns from their constitutionally protected owners. The Second Amendment seems to get a lot more play with his government than the First. 
The killer in Maryland chose to deal with his disagreement by exerting his right to bear arms in direct confrontation with the stories the Gazette wrote with their freedom of the press. That freedom was upheld in a court before the killer turned to murder to solve his issues and then again on appeal. Not liking the court's decision, he decided to take matters into his own hands. In this case "matters" was a shotgun. 
So what will it be? Everything in our power? That's a pretty powerful boast. I wonder how this will work out. 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

In The Cards

I struggled for a while on the last day of my trip to Boulder, trying to come up with the perfect souvenir from my home town. What could I take back to Oakland that would forever remind me of this place where I grew up?
A T-shirt?
I have drawers that are full and  overflowing with T-shirts that remind them of places I have gone and concerts I have seen. One in particular that came from a University of Colorado athletic department dumpster more than forty years ago that has become a staple in my athletic wear. Much to my wife's chagrin. It takes me back to a time when my older brother and I would seek out anything that resembled a link to the football program. He got a broken helmet once. I got that T-shirt.
So I don't really need a T-shirt.
I took a bunch of pictures, many of which are repeats of photos I have taken on trips to my hometown previously. Evidence of having returned to this corner or that. Vistas that have been photographed by professionals long before I came along with my cell phone and affirmed their choice of an angle or subject. The mountains, it seems, are lovely. And that's the way I remember them when I close my eyes anyway, so these are redundant memories as well.
So I didn't really need all those pictures, either.
I think that the thing I will bring back with me is the gin rummy game. My mother and I sat at her dining room table and played cards into the night. Initially, I had to remind her of the rules she had taught me when I was eleven, but soon we were on an even keel and we talked about everything but the rules to the game, since they had been internalized so very long ago. It was not unlike the hours we spent together wandering around the rest of her house, out in the yard, sitting down to have lunch on her deck in the back yard. We started talking and kept kibbitzing until we realized that it was time to move on and do something else. The gin rummy game was one of those activities that kept our hands busy while we pursued the main focus of my trip: reminiscing and catching up and sharing our thoughts about what had been and what will be. It was a direct link to all those games we played at one end of the dining room table at our mountain cabin, by the light of a kerosene lamp.
I needed that gin rummy game. I'm taking that home with me.