Friday, August 31, 2018

Thanks For The Ride

At the top of the hill, my older brother told me to put my hands in the air and close my eyes. The request did not seem out of line, given that we were on the brink of plunging into the darkness of the last ride of the night on Mister Twister. Lightning flashed all around us and I could see that faint shimmer as I complied, hands in the air. And just when the bottom fell out, as we began that first great acceleration that would take us on the rest of our ride, my brother grabbed my hands as we rolled with that coaster into oblivion.
Or close to it. Apparently, we were the ones who made it back from the brink. We had skated close to the place where the ice gives way, and returned. No heart failure, in spite of the warnings given on the signs hanging on the fence leading to our eventual plunged into the two minutes of uncertainty, even though we had memorized every shift and turn on Mister Twister.
Which explains the need for closed eyes and hands held back above one's head.
It was my older brother that educated me in the ways of the Tilt-A-Whirl. We would stand there, queued up and searching for the car that had the most grease. Which one would benefit most from the shifting of weight from side to side as the platform rocked us up and down? Which one would be the best ride? We took this same ethos to the Tea Cups in Disneyland. We sought out the one with the loose wheel, the one that would spin as furiously as possible.
"It's that inner ear thing," he once explained to me.
Of course he was right. He had spent the years ahead of me searching for those moments when gravity was optional, when the thrill could still be squeezed out of the moment. It should be pointed out that while we seemed reckless and dangerous, we were still frightening ourselves within the boundaries of safety. This was the part that always surprised me. None of what we were doing was breaking the rules. We found our adventures within the bounds of (mostly) common sense.
Now we teach these tricks to our children. We tell them stories about all the times we were sure we weren't going back again.
And what a ride it was.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The OCD Couple

It's not your fault that every time you think "neat" you think of Felix Unger. It's not your fault that every time you think "neat freak," you think of Felix Unger. It might be your fault if every time you think of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder you think of Felix Unger. For everything up to that, you'll have to lay the blame at the feet of Neil Simon.
Neil passed away this past weekend, leaving behind a legacy of plays and characters and movies and television that will be difficult to match for those aspiring screenwriters out there. The International Movie Database has him listed for more than one hundred films. Some of them are credits for remakes and that whole Plaza/California/London Suite thing that was really just a series of skits all set in a hotel where Neil could hang out for a few months while filming took place. And if he did get a little lazy here and there, who could blame him? A career that started seventy years ago as a staff writer for The Arrow Show, where he wrote bits for the likes of Phil Silvers and Jack Gilford.
Neil toiled away in mostly live television for fifteen years before he got a play produced, and then he became a force. Titles such as Barefoot in the Park, After the Fox, Sweet Charity, and Last of the Red Hot Lovers came tumbling out of the machine that bore his name. Neil Simon's (fill in the blank) was a sure-fire ticket. Neil Simon's Grocery List. Neil Simon's Telephone Book (A-M) and the follow-up Neil Simon's Telephone Book (N-Z). He had that golden touch.
But if you were a child of the seventies, you were probably most well-acquainted with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall doing their Oscar and Felix bit on ABC for five seasons. Oscar was the slob. Felix was the neatnik. And so it went. Meanwhile, Richard Dreyfus was winning an Oscar, but not the Madison kind. Neil himself never won an Academy Award, though he was nominated four times for adapting his own plays into screenplays.
And now he's gone. The lights on the Great White Way will be dimmed and the linguine will be served aldente. Neil Simon stomped on the stage and stomped on the Terra. He will be missed. Aloha, Mister Simon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Walking The Walk

Let us begin with what I imagine is obvious, but in case there is any doubt: I did not vote for John McCain. This is primarily because I am a registered Democrat, and I live in California, so the opportunity for casting my ballot for the Senator from Arizona came around exactly once. I picked Barack Obama instead. This was also at a time when many of the decisions being made by John McCain seemed to be coming from a different place. He seemed to be playing along with the powers that were in the Republican Party back in 2008. Eight years after giving George W. Bush fits as the two of them squared off for their party's nomination, he played along to be the next in a string of conservative voices. The problem was that the conservative voice of 2000 was a very different one in 2008. There was more fear and rancor after September 11, 2001. So much so that the GOP platform of 2008 called for a heaping helping of both. Something that candidate McCain never seemed completely comfortable with.
There was a town hall meeting in Minnesota, a month before the election, Senator McCain stood and listened to a number of his supporters echo the tired refrains about this "foreigner" that was running against him. Then he abruptly took the microphone from a woman who was referring to Barack Obama as "an Arab." With less than thirty days to the election, John McCain said this: “No, ma’m. He’s a decent family man - and citizen that just I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about." And in that moment, Senator McCain was able to define politics in America for those who had forgotten. “I want to fight, and I will fight,” he said. “But I will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him.”
If there was nothing more to the story of John McCain, this is significant enough to distinguish him from so many other politicians before or since. A veteran and public servant for virtually all of his adult life, he didn't just understand the importance of giving back in a democracy. He lived it. Contrasting mightily to the "birther" hoots coming from Donald Trump in 2008, and in proud defiance of that same man's degrading remarks as they ran for the Republican nomination in 2016, John McCain walked the walk. 
I may have had some disagreements with him on fundamental issues, but he was able to keep the fight in the ring. I respect and admire him for it. John McCain was a hero, and he stomped on the Terra. He will be missed.
Aloha, Senator McCain. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Stage Struck

I covered my mother's plastic hand mirror in tin foil. Then I scotch-taped pink ovals of construction paper on either side, decorated with question marks. Voila: A magnifying glass. Working primarily with a paper grocery bag and that same scotch tape, I was able to fashion a dog's nose and ears that could be worn over the head. Of an actor. An actor portraying the faithful companion of the detective searching for the Missing Part of Speech.
Detective Musgrave was being portrayed by my pal Ronnie. Kent won the part of Hector the Bloodhound. These were the guys with whom I sat in a group in Ms. Stuart's fourth grade class. Though it was a combined production along with Mr. Pazour's class, all the big parts went to Ms. Stuart's students. The other member of our group, Warren was cast as the irascible Herb the Verb, featured in the number that brought down the house, "Herb the Verb Is A Man of Action." The rest of the fourth grade filled out the chorus, playing various parts of speech. I made signs for them to hang around their necks, making them easy to identify from out in the audience.
I was none of those. I was the prop manager. This was because I would be away while the play was being performed. This served a couple of purposes: I was able to be a part of the show and able to show off my talents as an artsy-craftsy kind of guy, and I was not forced to stand up there while all that star power from the rest of my group took center stage.
Having played the title role in my kindergarten class' version of Peter Pan, I had my fill of the spotlight. I learned that being an actor could lead to wearing tights or having to kiss Tinkerbell. Even though I was pretty sure that standing in the back row of the adjectives would probably keep me safe from such torment, I felt a calmness as I completed my assigned tasks, knowing that my name would appear in the program, a line of my very own: Costumes and Props by David Caven.
No record of this show exists. It remains part of the visceral memories of those who were there without videotape cameras or smart phones to capture all that wonder. I remember watching some of the rehearsals, but I never got to see the whole thing come together. But every so often, when the sun peeks over the horizon and the wind is blowing in from the north, I catch myself singing, "Herb the verb is a man of action, he's busy all the day through. He runs, he walks, he whistles, he talks. He does whatever you do."

Monday, August 27, 2018

Time To Learn

Until last year, I had no idea what the T-C logo on the Minnesota Twins' hats stood for. I let it become part of the wallpaper of life, and since I did not live in Minnesota, there wan not a big reason for me to dwell on these specifics. There were so many other pressing matters to which I could attend. Like the whole A to Z deal in the Amazon logo. Or how to calculate standard deviation. Or what makes a good cherry pie. The last time the Twins appeared in the World Series was 1991, and back then it was a minor novelty to have a team that played in a domed stadium playing in the World Series. And it probably never really occurred to me to focus any attention on the boys of summer playing in the frozen tundra.
And then, it came to me, like a bolt out of the blue. The Twins play in Minneapolis, It's one of the Twin Cities. T-C. Suddenly, I was transported back to a much earlier version of myself, a little boy who wore pajamas. These pajamas had a bunch of baseball logos on them. I would be lying if I said that I remembered if they were all American League or National League or that there was any particular rhyme of reason for the way they were scattered across my jammies. But I do remember the logo for the Twins. Two baseball players leaning forward to shake hands with one another across a bridge. At the time it never would have occurred to me to notice that they were standing in front of the silhouette of the state of Minnesota, and on their shoulders were the letters M and StP: Minneapolis and Saint Paul. What did occur to me was the fact that had just been introduced to me about this time, my zodiac sign: Gemini. The whole Twin thing became a mild obsession for me each time I put on those pajamas. Forget the Dodgers. Never mind the Yankees. Where were those Twins?
Those pajamas were gone long before I began questioning that whole T-C thing. They might have been enough to shove my thought process into the conclusion sometime earlier than that.
Or maybe I was just destined to discover this at a much later date. Odd, since I was a big fan of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, set in the WJM-TV newsroom, located in the heart of those Twin Cities. Somewhere among those one hundred sixty-eight episodes, there must have been some reference or acknowledgement of the home team. She wore a Vikings jersey to wash her car, after all.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Commute

It was a Toyota Sequoia. The kind of Toyota that makes on wonder how the company ever made a name for itself as a "small car" maker. On a gray morning pedaling my bike to school, I stopped at a stop sign on the quiet residential street on which I make my way across town to school. Another bike rider whizzed past in front of me, mostly ignoring the four-way stop sign. Then it was my turn. I eased into the intersection, and was halfway across when the aforementioned Sequoia powered through to my left, with the same callous disregard for signage as my fellow biker. Missing my front wheel by inches.
And I know, because this is not the first time that urban biking has put me in mild danger. On one end of the spectrum, there was the time that, in the midst of a torrential rain, I ran into the back of a parked van. My glasses were fogged and I wished for the wiper goggles my older brother had when we were kids. The impact was sufficient enough to put a nice gash on the knuckles of my left hand, and a bend in the rim of my front wheel. I had to walk my bike the rest of the way to school in the rain. And there was another time, riding home for the day, when I was nearly caught in the crossfire of a youth gang disturbance outside a nearby funeral home.
So I didn't get hurt. I didn't get shot. I got scared. Which sounds about right in the big book of urban bicycling. Part of the reason I leave so intentionally early in the morning is my tendency toward being first on site, but the other contributing factor is my interest in getting out in front of that first wave of commuter traffic. I also travel side streets with the expressed intent of avoiding motor vehicles as much as possible. I know that on Wednesdays I cannot avoid the flurry of trash trucks making the rounds in my neighborhood, and the hundred yard stretch of the main thoroughfare will be more relaxing if I time it just right.
But there is no accounting for that SUV that comes meandering through a four way stop, its driver far too consumed with the coffee in their lap or the text that they are trying to fire off before they reach their destination.
It only occurs to me now that I could have taken the time to pull over and text the license plate number of the wandering Toyota to the local constabulary. But I had to get to work.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

Well, here's the good news: The Witch Hunt found and convicted two witches.
The bad news? There seem to be a whole lot more witches out there.
Paul Manafort, guilty of five tax-evasion charges, two bank-fraud charges, and one charge of failing to register a foreign bank account, was the "President's" campaign manager during the 2016 election. How did the "President" choose to acknowledge this legal dust-up? "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal.' Such respect for a brave man!"
Such a brave, convicted felon of a man.
Meanwhile, just up the row, the "President's" private lawyer (one of them, anyway) was pleading guilty to eight counts including tax fraud, false statements to a bank and campaign finance violations tied to his work for the "President," including payments he made or helped orchestrate that were designed to silence women who claimed affairs with the then-candidate. The reckoning from the White House sounded a little something like this: "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!" See, it's funny because the "President" did retain the services of Michael Cohen, and so that's the joke.
Somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright. The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light. But not here in Mudville, where the mighty Trump has just struck out. I understand that the folks who showed up to hear him blather on about NFL players standing for the national anthem and proudly display their MAGA spirit won't see it that way. It's just another bit of Fake News. It's another distraction along the path to making America what it once was: an arctic land mass covered in ice and snow. 
So the Witch Hunt continues. Resignations and indictments continue to abound. All the while, someone is trying to manage a country. How does this happen? In between self-righteous tweets about the fractured reality in which we find ourselves trapped. The one in which our justice system is regularly referred to as "a witch hunt." 
Stay tuned. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Monumental Mistake

Protesters at the University of North Carolina pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier on their campus. They did this in 2018. More than one hundred fifty years after the end of the Civil War. Silent Sam, a bronze figure set atop a stone pedestal back in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. That was some fifty years after the surrender at Appomattox.
The Confederates lost that one, by the way.
And yet, symbols of the Confederacy continue to dot the landscape of these United States. Which sort of makes sense, especially considering just how united we find ourselves at this point in history. What continues to amaze me is how commonplace these monuments are. If that place happens to be somewhere below the Mason-Dixon Line. Statues of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee have received a good deal of attention over the past few years, and many states have made an effort to shift the perspective of the war that once divided our nation. Can you guess which state leads the way in this abolition of anti-abolitionist symbols? Texas. A state that wasn't even a state during the Civil War comes in second in the number of monuments to commemorate the South. It makes sense that the Lone Star State is out in front, since they have the most cleaning up to do.
Did I mention that the South lost the war?
In Germany, the remnants of a Nazi past are mostly erased, with the exception of those sites that help them deal with the Vergangenheitsbew√§ltigung, or “the enduring confrontation with the past.” As Germans continue to deal with their colonial, Third Reich, and communist pasts, a frank discussion continues about how history landed them where they are now. But swastikas are not part of that plan.
This is because now is not the time for reenactment. Now is not the time to revel in the horror of what used to be. What is left is a reminder of how that horror came to be.
And most significantly, no one is suggesting that new statues be put up fifty years after the fact for fallen soldiers of the losing side. Five days after the Declaration of Independence was signed, a group of forty colonial soldiers roared into Manhattan, pulled down a statue of King George III, and it was subsequently melted down for musket balls. The British flag is flown over U.S. soil now primarily as a courtesy for diplomatic events or to decorate Mick Jagger's wiry frame on yet another farewell tour. 
And isn't it strange how the Confederate flag seems to show up in tandem with that of Nazi Germany? Losers on parade. Check it out. It's history. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

These Aren't The Facts You're Looking For

"Truth isn't truth."
That's what "America's Mayor" and attorney for the "President" had to say this Sunday on Meet The Press. Admittedly, in the topsy-turvy world in which we currently find ourselves, it makes what has become known as sense to send up that trial balloon. We have Nazis running for office. We have Fake News and this doesn't include Fox and Friends. We have a first lady who advocates against bullying while sharing a house with the biggest bully in the country. And, as the poet once noted, Pluto's not a planet anymore
Rudy Guliani's continued insistence that truth is a relative thing, “They may have a different version of the truth than we do," falls squarely into a line of thought that affirms Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts" concerning the size of the crowds at the "Presidential" Inauguration. And more often than not, it is the members of the Fake News media that are stuck trying to assemble stories from the wreckage. 
The truth is stranger than fiction. The truth will set you free. Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters. Truth is everybody is going to hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for. Half a truth is often a great lie. The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is. And so on. I looked into this truth thing, and minds like Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein didn't manage to come up with anything approximating Rudy's assertion. The closest I found was Benito Mussolini, who said, "The truth is that men are tired of liberty." And that may be the problem. There may be so many people who have grown tired of the work we have to do to maintain our freedom that it has become easier for them to lie. Straight up. Black is white, up is down, and the truth isn't truth. 
I am sure that there are those who will insist that Mister 9/11 was just foaming at the mouth and prattling on in that way he has, but it reflects the darker purpose of all that prattling on. 
It doesn't have to be the truth. Not if there is no such thing.
Let me assure you, dear readers, there is such a thing. All we need to do is look up and around us. And maybe change the channel once in a while. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Sawing Logs

You awake?
Long before I ever shared a bed with my wife, I was sharing sleeping quarters with my brothers. Sometimes it was bunk beds, other times it was a double bed in a motel, but we almost never got much rest because we were far too busy talking. Whispering. Laughing.
Don't make me come in there.
My older brother and I heard that threat countless times when we shared a room across the hall from my parent's bedroom. We were just clever enough to listen for the padding of my father's feet coming to our door to hush just before the door opened. We were pretty sure that if we were silent when he came in, there was no way he could prove that it was the two of us making all that noise in the middle of the night.
Just keep it down.
So we did. Mostly. There was still plenty of snickering and fake flatulence, but we did not want to find out just exactly what fate lay in store for us if we didn't knock it off. Mostly.
At our mountain cabin, all three of us boys slept in a loft above our parents' room. The silliness that went on between two of us was significant enough, but gathering all of us into the same place, tucked into our sleeping bags did very little to ensure a quiet night. Quite often we heard that same growl from down below, altered slightly for the geography.
Don't make me come up there.
This was just a little more intimidating, since there was a moment when we could hear my father thumping up the ladder that led to our lack-of-sleep-spot. His head would suddenly appear from that hole in the floor. We would react quickly by turning off our transistor radios or pushing our flashlights and comic books deep down into our sleeping bags.
Sorry dad.
And then it would be over. For another night. We would drift off with the mild terror we had brought on ourselves, and the smug assurance that we would have another chance to disrupt a good night's sleep again soon. It only occurs to me now that my father's prodigious snoring may have been his ultimate revenge. Nicely done, dad.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Well, That Makes Sense

I was asked by a friend if I had any wacky phobias, and the first one I came up with was Luposlipophobia the fear of being pursued by timber wolves around a kitchen table while wearing socks on a newly waxed floor. This comes to me via Gary Larson, but I also harbor one of my very own, which is suddenly becoming very thin when I am walking over a grate. That and I do worry about diving into a pool and having someone slide a Plexiglas cover over the surface of the poos before I can come up for air. 
Most of the other fears I have are pretty reasonable. For example, I don't really mind heights, but I would rather not find myself teetering high above the earth with no tether or ledge upon which I could easily balance. It's a matter of survival that we all have a certain amount of fear surrounding the dangers presented by the force represented by the acceleration of gravity. It's probably best to surrender just a little bit to the idea that the higher up you go, the faster you will be going when the ground breaks your fall. Or that pool of water.
Maybe nobody explained that to Taylor Smith. At eighteen years old, maybe Ms. Smith has yet to take a course in the laws of physics, or maybe she had something different on her mind. According to the interviews she has given in the wake of shoving her friend off a sixty foot high bridge, she has suggested that she was trying to help sixteen year old Jordan Holgerson get over her acrophobia. Jordan fell all sixty of those feet, hitting the water below, resulting in broken ribs and a punctured lung. Now Taylor is being charged with reckless endangerment. 
I will say that in my own experience, there have been plenty of times where amusing "pranks" that might have gone awry but ended with a hoot from both parties in relief and a story that will be told in perpetuity. "Remember that time I threw a beer bottle at your head after I told you to stop singing 'Oklahoma?'" The ones that don't result in punctured lungs. The ones that don't end in an arrest.
And so now Jordan Holgerson will have a very rational fear of heights, as well as a deep-seated case of disamicaphobia, the fear of being shoved by your "friend" from behind. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

My House, My Rules

Things that grow well in basements: Mold, mushrooms, Nazis.
That last one may seem curious, or given the company Nazis are keeping, maybe fungus that breeds best in the dark is an all-encompassing term.
Need proof? How about Jason Kessler, who organized last year's Unite The Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Mister Kessler was also responsible for the two or three dozen fascists who gathered in Washington, D.C. on the anniversary of that event, substantially outnumbered by the police officers dispatched to protect them from the crowds who gathered to taunt them. It is, however, hard to keep a good fungus down, and so last week a podcast that was originally recorded in June started making the rounds on Al Gore's Internet. It features host Patrick Little, himself a failed candidate for senate in California, sharing his hateful views about Jews and others with Kander. Just about the time that the antisemitism had reached a boiling point, a third voice can be heard.
"Hey! You get out of my room!” 
This would be the voice of reason, also known as Jason Kessler's father, Eric. The room in question is the one in which Jason was live-streaming his bile, located in the basement of his father's house. “I have somebody who supports Israeli, uh... orthodox… We are kind of at crosshairs on that right now.” 
And Jason's father persists: “I want this to stop in my room, Jason. This is my room.”
After being chided by Little for "living with an Orthodox Jew," Jason went on to complain, “And I’m stuck in this situation where, with all these lawsuits, I need to stay with my family.”
The family that wants him to knock off all that Nazi business and get a real job. His dad says they are“dismayed across the board about this situation. We’ve never identified with racial politics.” And little Jason, thirty-four, complains, “I’ve been turned into an avatar of hate.” 
Or a mushroom, maybe? 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Warning Signs

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

Friday, August 17, 2018

Center For Shark Control

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Ditched

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cold Comfort

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Parentalnoia

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

So Peaceful

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Big Head

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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Here We Go Again

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

Friday, August 10, 2018

Just A Number

Is age just a number?
Is the Indy 500 just a race?
Is champagne just a drink?
No
No
No
Older is wiser
Older is better
if you're cheese
Or wine
Which is fine
The odd thing is
It doesn't feel
Any easier
Some days
It's all uphill
And every day
Doesn't feel
Like a gift
But it is
To all of us
Your loyal fans
We are here
To keep you going
We can't get enough
We want more
For us
You never get old

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Diverted?

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

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Roaches

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

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Superstar

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

Monday, August 06, 2018

The Perils Of Dating

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

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Buy, Process, Or Sell

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

Saturday, August 04, 2018

The Price

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

Friday, August 03, 2018

What?

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

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Being There

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

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Plenty-Five

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