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.