Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What's The Difference?

My wife and I take walks around our neighborhood. Once a week or so. We  tend to walk around sidewalks and paths that are well worn. We can meander over the routes our son took to elementary and then middle school. We know these streets like we know our front yard. Somewhere along the way last week, she wondered aloud if we had made a difference.
I am pretty sure she meant to our neighborhood.
What have we done to make a difference to our neighborhood?
We have connected with the kids who lived across the street. They have since moved on. A couple of them moved a little further down the street. We still see them from time to time. They are where they are and who they are, in part, because of the interactions they had with that family across the street: us.
They came and played in our front yard. They pushed our son in the tire swing that still hangs from a limb of the plum tree. They played in our back yard. They scooped sand in our sandbox and built castles and roadways with our son and all those Tonka trucks. They came inside and held our son up as he waddled through his first attempts at walking on his own.
It was those early steps that turned into the ongoing capacity to perambulate up across the street and up the hill, into the halls of elementary school and middle school. He walked through his neighborhood, holding his mom and dad's hands when we came to the corner and stepped off the curb.
Like the curb that we stood on that warm August night as we scooped ice cream for the kids across the street. And everyone else who came out to share in our good fortune. We had been a warded a neighborhood ice cream party because my wife entered a contest, thinking what a great thing it would be to share with the families that lived up and down our lane. Every August after that, we block off the street and spend an evening sharing casseroles and flipping burgers, connecting with those of us who are still here. And with the ones who have moved in since. Since the kids across the street grew up and out. And down the street.
We have made a difference.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Too Soon

I have been told that tragedy plus time equals comedy. I do not know how certain I am that this applies to all instances of tragedy, but the works of Shakespeare have been fodder for slapstick and parody for some time, so perhaps in another hundred years or so some of the things that feel impossibly sad currently will become a laugh riot. On a long enough timeline.
Last Thursday, Karen's grandmother came to pick her up from the after school program. Her grandmother explained that Karen would not be coming to school on Friday, and then gave me a courtesy smile as she walked out the front door with her little charge who turned to wave at me. Her smile was more genuine. It was the smile of a second grader who was looking forward to a long weekend. "See you on Monday, Mister Caven!"
It was our after school director who filled me in: Karen was going home to receive the news that her nephew had been shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. The funeral would be held on Friday. She had just a few hours to confront the death of someone close to her. Not in age. Her nephew was twenty-two. The layers of generations and family connections can make things even more confounding. How is this eight year old going to come to terms with this person who showed up as a permanent fixture in her life suddenly disappeared? Worse yet, how will this eight year old comprehend the loss of another young man in Oakland?  Family gatherings will be a little smaller, a little more somber.
She is eight. I don't know if the comedic aspects of this tragedy will be available to her for, well, ever. I cannot imagine what timeline will allow laughs to come out of this situation. I can imagine that Karen will laugh again. Kids are resilient. Kids are amazing that way. But not so resilient that this won't leave a mark. A numb spot where grief was dulled down to a child-friendly acceptance for the way things are in the world. In Karen's world, where laughter will take a holiday.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Introducing The Conditional Clause

It is in my nature to ask the universe, "What if?" It is the thing that puts me squarely in the creative set, and has bound me to a world of fiction and other made up stuff for the life I have been living. I do this a lot when I am riding my bike to school. It is true that quite often those musings lean toward the "What if I had a car?" Then there are the other days, when I imagine all kinds of different things from outcomes to scenarios that might have turned out differently "if only."
So there's that hanging chad: "If." Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about it. Malcolm McDowell starred in a movie about it. Many of us have lost sleep over that tiny little word. What if a robot came back from the future to kill the lady who would become the mother of the anti-robot rebellion? There's Arnold Schwarzenegger's career. I'm telling you, this is powerful stuff.
Which is why I don't tend to turn it on myself very often.
What if I had paid more attention in those math classes?
What if I had put a little more effort into the science classes?
What if I had not been so swept up in science fiction and fantasy as a kid?
What if I had considered a career path in my twenties?
I like to fix things. I could have been a TV repairman. What if I had done that?
Who repairs TVs anymore?
What if I had become a doctor? Instead of memorizing entire screenplays full of dialogue, I could have committed all those body parts and fluids to memory and made a find living off all that useful knowledge.
What if I would have spent as much time working at promoting my writing career as I did creating all those stories of drunken escapades?
Then I wouldn't be sitting here now, enjoying the trip that brought me to this place. I took the road less marked by regret. What if I stopped saying "what if?"

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Unto Himself

Raise your hand if you remember the Trump Administration's lackluster effort to help Puerto Rico on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Keep your hand up if you were hit on the head by one of the rolls of paper towel that the "President" tossed out during his embarrassing appearance in the wake of the storm that left the island without power and nearly three thousand fatalities. “I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful,” the "President" said at the White House during a meeting with FEMA administrator Brock Long, Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “I actually think it was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.”
In this Through The Looking Glass world in which we currently find ourselves living, it makes sense that Puerto Rico would show up as a success by this "President's" reckoning. A guy who shows up to a September 11 memorial pumping his fists, eager to shake hands with his base has a number of perception issues that cannot be fully discussed in the space we have here. There may not be space anywhere to take on such a sweeping topic. Up is down. Left is right. Catastrophes are successes. 
I get it. Donald Trump wants to reassure the folks in the path of Hurricane Florence that the United States government has their back. He is also correct to point out that the eastern seaboard is not an island. “Puerto Rico was actually our toughest one of all because it’s an island, you can’t truck things onto it, everything’s by boat. We moved a hospital into Puerto Rico, a tremendous military hospital, in the form of a ship — you know that. And I actually think, and the governor’s been very nice and if you ask the governor he’ll tell you what a great job. I think probably the hardest one we had by far was Puerto Rico because of the island nature.” For perspective's sake, 1,833 people died in Katrina. That plus a thousand more died in Puerto Rico. 
Puerto Rico is, and I checked it out to be sure, an island. Surrounded by water. The "President" lives on an island too. Surrounded by delusion. 
God save us all. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Don Of Justice

Your "President" would like the Department of Justice to investigate the New York Times to uncover the identity of the Op-Ed piece written a week ago by a senior White House Aide. If the full weight of all that jurisprudence down on that miscreant, it would make everyone's head spin.
Of course, somebody would have to figure out just exactly what law had been broken in order to send out the dogs.
The whole thing starts to reek a little of a bad whodunit. All those faces crowded into a room, each one eyeing the other with murderous intent. All of that loyalty being tested, minute by minute as the would-be sleuths do their best to crack the case. Men tugging at their collars, women at their hemlines as temperatures begin to rise. Telltale moisture beginning to form on the upper lip of those who have the most to lose.
But who has the most to gain?
Or maybe the babysitter who keeps answering the phone, getting garbled noise on the other end, something about amorality and impetuous leadership. And somewhere in the middle of the night, the phone rings again, this time it's Jeff Sessions telling that orange-haired babysitter that the calls are coming from within that very house.
Meanwhile, Bob Woodward, who knows a thing or two about impetuous leadership and amorality inside a White House, has been happy to raise a hand and sign copies of his book. The title of which is Fear: Trump in the White House, which should go a long way to clearing up just how he feels about this particular administration. How he feels as well as a great many appointees and hired hands in that group of mildly recalcitrant members of a government trolley gone off its tracks. "Crazytown," if we are to believe any (or all) of what Mister Woodward has to tell us.
And why shouldn't we? Each day brings new lies and corruption. Each day brings more confounding chatter. Why wouldn't we, for example, believe that the "President" was close to declaring war with North Korea in a tweet?
And so the plot, as they so often do, thickens. Like a really old bowl of clam chowder.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Fixer

So let's get this out of they way first thing: I enjoy nothing more than fixing something that is broken. The satisfaction that comes from being able to return something to usefulness is unparalleled in my universe. Stopped drains or clogged toilets are especially gratifying. Water swirling down a drain when it had previously threatened to spill out onto the linoleum brings relief along with satisfaction. Mending my son's toys made me feel like a better dad, as well as a thrifty consumer, since replacing a Lionel train engine can be expensive.
Replacing anything can be expensive.
The accounting in my head sometimes adds it up wrong. Assuming that by repairing something on our car does not, I have found, mean that I have saved the purchase price of a new car. Or a used car. I may have avoided paying someone with better tools than I have for their labor and expertise. I can often find parts on Al Gore's Internet for less than I might have paid if I was purchasing them from a "reputable dealer." I don't have to pay in other ways, such as the uncertainty of just exactly what might or might not have been done to the inside of the machine that I have opted to cast into the lap of some stranger.
When my electric lawnmower stopped working, I asked Google for some hints. What I found amid dozens of links describing a similar experience others had, was a video showing exactly how to replace a bridge rectifier. I had no idea what a bridge rectifier was until I spent some quality time removing and replacing this little square doohickey. Can I explain to you now exactly how and why the bridge rectifier brought my electric lawnmower back from the dead? No. But I can say that the piece was correctly named, having rectified the situation in which I found myself.
And then there is the ever present terror of being without wi-fi for any length of time. For any reason. Ever. I have spent a good deal of quality time on my hands and knees, peering at lights that out to be steady that are blinking instead. Then I turn it off. I wait. When I turn it back on, I hope that the lights are steady and bright. I am not waiting or paying for a service call. I did it myself, thank you very much. And now I can get back to the business of writing this blog.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Tee Time

What sort of moron would tell the citizens of their country not to pay attention to sports? Sports are from where all our great metaphors spring: 
“Winning isn't everything--but wanting to win is.” - Vince Lombardi
“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game." - Babe Ruth
“I've never lost a game I just ran out of time.” - Michael Jordan
“Champions keep playing until they get it right.”  - Billy Jean King
“Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points.”  - Knute Rockne
“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play. ” - Mike Singletary
“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” - Phil Jackson
I could go on and on, but you get the point. sports is a unifying force. That's why we have a National Pastime. Even if we don't completely agree about what it might be. Which is why we tend to let our sports seasons go on and on, allowing all kinds of overlap because we, as a nation, love our sports.
So I reiterate: What sort of moron would insist on driving a wedge between us and our sports? 
You know the kind: A golfer.
“Golf is a good walk spoiled.” - Mark Twain
“Although golf was originally restricted to wealthy, overweight Protestants, today it's open to anybody who owns hideous clothing.” - Dave Barry
"Hockey is a sport for white men. Basketball is a sport for black men. Golf is a sport for white men dressed like black pimps." - Tiger Woods
We have a country club golfer for a "President." While the rest of the country was mourning the death of John McCain, he went golfing
Now he wants us to stop paying attention to the sports teams that we have been following all our lives. Because he believes that we should all pay more attention to a song for which he is himself unclear on the words. He won't have our sports champions over to his house because they don't agree with one another. Barack Obama used to golf with John Boehner. And he had a pretty sweet jump shot. Our current "President" says he should have left college basketball players in jail
What a moron. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Moment

Howard Borden opens the door to his apartment. He walks in, assessing the sunken living room. He sighs and walks in, head hanging just a little. In the middle of the room sits an ironing board, a shirt is draped across it waiting for attention. Howard moves to it, and after a moment, picks up the iron. He moistens his finger with his tongue, then touches the iron to see if it is still warm. Without any initial sensation, he touches his finger a little more firmly onto the base. Another pause. Then he puts his entire palm on the iron. And finally, he presses the iron to the side of his face.
The iron is not on.
This scene, from the Bob Newhart show, succinctly captures the magic of Bill Daily. Brokenhearted after breaking up with Bob's sister, he retreats back across the hall from his married friends' apartment into his single man's lair. The bachelor pad where airline navigator Borden has entertained countless flight attendants without ever truly considering becoming immersed in a relationship. Until he fell hard for Ellen. It is a quiet moment on a par with any silent film comedian, and in just a few beats manages to capture all the ennui of a middle aged single man who has suddenly discovered that he may have missed his chance at love.
Bill Daily was the man who gave that performance. It wasn't the only moment where he was allowed to shine, but for me it was the most touching and human. It was a far cry from the skirt-chasing goof Roger Healy from I Dream of Jeannie. Howard didn't need a spit take to sell the joke. He rarely raised his voice beyond a confused wonder. He was the low-key version of what would become Seinfeld's neighbor, Kramer.
Bill was ninety-one when he died last week. He may not have stomped on the Terra as much as wandered about in an amusing path. He will be missed. Aloha, Bill.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Laugh, I Thought I'd Die

What I may remember most is the laugh. It had a way of cutting through any and all pretense. That is a mighty impressive capacity in a town like Hollywood. Burt Reynolds was a guy who seemed to effortlessly rule the box office of the 1970's. Whether it was from the driver's seat of that black Trans Am, immortalized in Bruce Springsteen's Cadillac Ranch, or from the stern of a canoe bouncing over the rapids in Deliverance, Burt delivered.
What did he deliver? A smart aleck who seemed to glide effortlessly in and out of trouble. When asked by his costar Sally Field in Smokey and The Bandit just what he's good at, Burt replies, "Showing off." All of those stunts and all of those movies, there must have been some hard work in there somewhere, but you never would have known it by watching him. Or listening to him.
That laugh.
I was always happy to go out to the drive in with my older brother to catch the latest hard-boiled, southern fried detective flick. How cool would it be to have a name like Gator McKlusky? As cool as it would be to have Jerry Reed as a partner in crime. Live fast, and drive even faster. Burt Reynolds was fast and furious before Vin Diesel was driving bumper cars.
As the eighties came, Burt's career slowed a bit, but there was still plenty left in the tank. Sharky's Machine was a fine example of new noir through gritted teeth. If I watched that one once, I watched it a hundred times.
But mostly there was that laugh. And there was nowhere better to hear it on display than the outtakes from all those Hal Needham films. A feature that may have improved Burt's opinion of one of his last roles, as the porn auteur in Boogie Nights. It's something that might have widened the appeal, Boogie Night Bloopers. With Dom DeLuise. More giggles.
Burt Reynolds stomped on the Terra, and he is missed even now. Aloha, Burt. See you at the drive in.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Make America Safe Again

"I don't care if the bell rang. We are not going anywhere until I find out who did this."
I am picturing the White House staff sitting in the Oval Office, some of them standing because the room is so full of anxious faces. Eyes darting around from one to another, afraid to make contact, just in case something is given away. 
"Who wrote this?" bellows the "President," as throats are nervously cleared and most are examining the carpet just a few inches from their feet. The paper copy of the New York Times Op-Ed page that was purchased as a prop specifically for this ritual humiliation is being pounded into the desk. "This is Treason!"
And still no one speaks. No one flinches. No Spartacus emerges from the masses. No one wants to take responsibility for the anonymous author of the guest editorial who described the "amorality" and "impetuous" leadership style currently on display. "If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!" 
Okay. That last one was an actual tweet. The words and capitalization used by the "President" to holler not just at his staff but at the rest of the world in hopes that the fear and rage on display in equal heaping scoops would be enough to get the person who wrote the wholly unflattering piece for the New York Times would come cowering to the South Lawn, begging for forgiveness before being lashed to a pole and flogged. 
Impetuous? Amoral? Well, in this moment it should be pointed out that even if the editorial was written in a drunken rage by a staff writer from the Times in the middle of the night, methinks the "President" protests too much. As a matter of fact, that seems to be what he is bets at, judging from the way his blood pressure spikes anytime anyone dares to speak out against the throne. Time will tell if any of this sticks, since somehow all of the impetuosity and amorality seems to be piling up somewhere, invisible to those who bought their red MAGA mind control caps back at the beginning and continue to show up at the rallies for an election that is now almost two full years in the past. 
This post is not anonymous, by the way. 

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Do You Feel A Draft?

I used to play fantasy football. There was a core group of us at my school that created an eight person league, starting each year on that second week of school with our draft. If you have never played or experienced fantasy football, I can recommend it as an easy way to build collegiality, and if you don't play for a ton of money, enjoy the bragging rights Monday morning when everyone arrives at work. The old gang has drifted apart over the past couple years, and the vicarious thrills that layered on top of the general thread of spectator sports have gone and left me.
That's why I am thinking of starting up a fantasy government league. You can draft representatives and senators, cabinet members and justices. I'm not sure exactly how the scoring would go, but it seems as though there should be a social media component, where being mentioned in a "Presidential" tweet would be a bonus. Points would be awarded for votes cast, bills written, and possible confirmations. Fumbles and gaffes would be negative, depending on their degree and viral-ness. 
With the upcoming midterms, it might make sense to keep your eyes on some of that rookie talent that's out there. Up and comers like Beto O'Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might be worth holding a roster spot open for one of them. Or this Kavanaugh kid, who seems to be making a name for himself on the bench. Get it? Bench? Like judicial stuff?  
So I suspect that this might make some of the really tawdry things going on in our nation's capital a little more digestible. If someone manages to wriggle free from indictment or if your cabinet member gets fired but still manages to turn state's evidence, it could be a lose-win proposition at the very worst. 
And maybe, just maybe, the good guys will win. 
Stay tuned, America. 

Friday, September 07, 2018

Just Do What?

Nike has courted controversy before. Or maybe you don't recall the sweatshops they have been accused of using since the 1970's to produce their shoes and sports paraphernalia. That one didn't work out so well. During the 1990's, they decided to spend a lot of money making sure that people didn't have to die to make their sneakers. These days, we are told that working for Nike in any capacity is a dream job. Some dreams are still better than others, and nobody is probably going to get Phil Knight rich by working in one of their factories, but at least the body count per shoe has come down a little bit. That didn't keep Jonah Peretti from trying to get a pair of personalized cross-trainers embroidered with the word "sweatshop." Reform doesn't always come with a sense of humor.
The corporate types at Nike got caught in some #metoo mischief as well. Being a purveyor of fitness wear for men and women becomes a little troublesome when the powers that be are less than empowering to their female employees.
And still, there are billions of dollars to be make on tennis shoes. And running shoes. And lacrosse shoes. And so on. And you're going to need socks, right? Head on over to the Nike trough where all your athletic clothing needs can be met. Just don't stare too long at that advertisement bearing the likeness of Colin Kaepernick. The slogan reads, "“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”  It has been two full seasons since Colin has thrown a pass, but the NFL quarterback without a team was chosen by Nike to be their poster boy. The sacrifice he has made, it would seem, is playing professional football. His stated belief: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." The choice set off alarms in all the places you might expect. Tucker Carlson said, “This is an attack on the country. It’d be very different if he were protesting this politician or this policy, or this specific policy for this specific thing.” Well, Tuck, I hate to point this out, but I believe that's exactly what the man did. Nike chose to use his likeness as a way of connecting to that strength of commitment. 
And yes, it is very likely that after an initial flurry of burning of sneakers and socks and foundation garments, the bottom line at Nike will survive. 
And guess what? Everyone is talking about Nike again. There is not such thing as bad publicity. Or at least that is what advertising executives will tell you. Thanks, Don Draper.  

Thursday, September 06, 2018

What A Drag

Story hour at your local library. A volunteer is reading to children. The volunteer is a man dressed as a woman. I know. I didn't have your attention until that third sentence. Kind of the same way that when the Drag Queen Story Hour began three years ago in San Francisco, you probably didn't hear much about it. San Francisco. Drag Queen. Story Hour. Not really registering. Move that party somewhere like Lafayette, Louisiana, and suddenly there is a fuss worth reporting. 
The school board in Lafayette received a petition from a group called Citizens For A New Louisiana, voicing their displeasure with the use of taxpayer funds to promote "sexual deviancy" to three-year-olds.  True, three years might be a little early to start impressing sex roles on unsuspecting toddlers, but what if it were a giant rat instead of a man in a dress? Chuck E. Cheese and Mickey Mouse had better check their straight because the "new" Louisiana won't have room for queer role models. 
But hold on a minute: These folks are reading to children. I am virtually certain that if a group of uptight white folks volunteered to read the Constitution to pre-schoolers, they would probably not be turned away. 
Someone is volunteering to read to kids. Sure, they're showing up in makeup and heels, but they are volunteering to read to kids. 
Am I starting to get through here? 
Not to the Common Sense Campaign Tea Party, who see something nefarious. "The program is designed to purposely target children so as to make sexual perversion acceptable through repeated exposure." Because of course that should be the focus. Not the fact that parents are bringing their children to a library to hear a story. 
Once upon a time, I took my son to our local library to see a guy tell stories with a bunch of puppets. At no point did I worry that my son might grow up to be (gasp) a puppeteer. And if somewhere, down deep inside, it would have made my son happy to stick his hand inside a puppet and use funny voices to release the moose inside him, I would have hoped that it was just a phase, that he would grow out of it. 
But if he grew up and volunteered to read to a library full of kids dressed as Pikachu, I couldn't be more proud. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

What Time Is It?

Sitting on the island that is the Sunday before Labor Day, I became reflective. Time to put away the deck shoes and the white linen trousers. Autumn is coming. Never mind the fact that there are still three weeks of summer left on the scientific calendar that affords us the seasons. I have been back at school now for three weeks, and the length of the day is now described by a bell system. The sun keeps going down later, or so I'm told, since I tend to be going to bed earlier and earlier anyway. I am reminded of the fury my son allowed to pour out of him when, in July, Back To School advertising circulars started arriving in our mailbox. What are the seasons for, anyway?
Exacerbated as things are by living in sunny California, I find myself wondering what will happen over the next twenty years or so as temperatures continue to rise and sea levels change. I used to know that it was time to get ready to head back to school because there were leaves falling onto the ground. I suspect it was some wiseacre who suggested, way back when, that we name the season for the verb. The same knucklehead who say flowers springing up through the oh-so-recently dormant earth and suggested a similar strategy.
All of which suggests that trying to figure out what page the calendar is on by just looking outside may not be the best play. Outside my window the sun is shining and there is a rustle in the leaves on the trees still stubbornly clinging to their mostly green leaves. College football has roared back to life, and we are being promised exciting pennant races down the stretch for baseball fans.
And still I find myself contemplating deck shoes and white linen pants. There was a time when heading back to school meant putting on that extra layer and remembering to wear a shirt with a collar, since that's my teacher uniform. Instead, I find myself teaching PE three out of five days this year, giving my T-shirt collection that many more days a week to shine. I have long ago become accustomed to having Halloween being the hottest day of the year, primarily because it coincides with our sadistic urges to have children dressed primarily in black with rubber masks over their heads march around the block. A stark contrast from my own childhood memories of that first snowfall dropping in on the last day of October, just to take the level of trick or treating up a notch or two.
And what's more confounding is the lack of Jerry Lewis. How can summer end without a telethon? I am telling you now that life as I once knew it has come loose from its moorings and we are cast adrift in time and space.
Living on the edge with everyone else.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

A Different Approach

1600 Pennsylvania
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Occupant:
I hope this letter finds you well. I understand that you have been under a great deal of stress lately, and I can only hope that you are able to find relief in a hobby or recreation that allows you to reduce the tensions of everyday life. For many people, it is work-related challenges that tend to keep them up at night, or waking up far too early in the morning. This can affect sleep patterns in the long term and bring about not only fatigue but potential health problems ranging from muscle aches to high blood pressure and eventually delusional behavior.
I fear this warning may come to you too late.
I confess that for some time I have approached this problem from an angle that may not have been as effective as I had hoped: Ridicule. I don't expect that you have been keeping up with my blog, especially since you got that big promotion, but I will be straight with you, because it's only right. I have not had any nice things to write or say about you here. Mostly I have been poking fun and pronouncing judgement on your awkward attempts at statesmanship. Laughter, it seems, is not the best medicine in this case, since things don't seem to be getting appreciably better even as I periodically find myself in hysterics watching you try and make America great again.
I am writing to you today to say that you can relax. America is already pretty great. We are a global leader in so many things, and up until recently we have maintained a certain humility about that. All of this fear and anger hasn't really changed much, except the number of people laughing behind your back.
I am sorry if this comes to you as some sort of revelation, but I thought you should know. It's not just the media that you refuse to acknowledge as pointing at the Emperor's New Clothes. The rest of the planet is confounded by what you do and say as well. I suspect that there is a way for you to compartmentalize all this criticism in a way that could allow you to continue acting on instincts that so far have proved to be less than fruitful for the majority of the citizens in these United States, but before you pop a blood vessel and collapse in a heap, fretting about how the rest of the world doesn't see things your way, try taking a couple deep breaths. Before you sit down and tweet something careless, or make a pronouncement from your office that requires other branches of the government's approval, take a couple of deep breaths. Take up yoga. Try eating something green.
You might save your presidency. You might save the country. You might save the world. You might even save your marriage.

Thanks for listening,
Your friend

Monday, September 03, 2018


I had to look it up, but if you were wondering what a calumny was, the definition I found had this to say: "a misrepresentation intended to harm another's reputation  - denounced his opponent for his defamatory insinuations and calumny." It sounds a little old school, I grant you, but George Washington was just that. Yes, our first president and father of our country had his challenges with the newly freed press. “Of the sensibility of the President to the calumnies against his Administration with which the press abounded, and of their new direction against him personally, his correspondence furnishes but few evidences,” Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in his biography of old George. Although Washington felt, as he wrote in a letter to a friend that the “arrows of malevolence” aimed at him were “outrages on common decency,” he made no public complaint about them.
What about Thomas Jefferson? Though the press made virulent and vicious attacks on Jefferson’s conduct as President and on his morals as a man, Tom retained his conviction that the press’s contribution to democracy was essential to its survival and must not be tampered with, whatever the provocation. After he left office, he wrote, "Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”
And so it has gone for lo these many terms. The adversarial nature of President and Press has continued. You may remember a guy named Richard Nixon who, after an initial grace period with the fourth estate, retreated to a bunker when things went south in large ways. Rising anti-war sentiment fueled sentiments that suggested that maybe the Nixon administration was no friend of the press. Most fondly remembered in Vice President Spiro Agnew's assertion that, "In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism." Those nabobs were, according to his boss, "the enemy." 
Sound familiar? It should, even though the current "President" has referred to the media as "the enemy of the people," instead of just simply the enemy. Don't be fooled. All the calumnies in the world can't make right what has gone wrong during the current administration. And that doesn't mean the ones flying out of the White House, either. 

Sunday, September 02, 2018

From The Inside

That's a word I didn't imagine that I would be using on a regular basis when I got into the teaching biz. Maybe if I worked in an emergency room, that would make more sense. The kind of thing I got used to hearing about when I was an habitual viewer of ER. You know, guys being wheeled in on a stretcher with a tent pole sticking out of their midsection, victims of some bizarre camping accident. Generally, the good folks at the hospital would put things right with a procedure or a trip to the operating room. There was always some tension, some grief, some tears, but mostly the trauma was the kind that could be remedied by some stitches and fresh bandages. The most interesting thing, we learned by watching all those episodes, was what living in that heightened reality does to the people who deal with bizarre camping accidents on a regular basis.
It has become apparent to me that working in an urban elementary school provides me with a similar kind of visceral mind wash. Coping with children of divorce, children who have been ignored, or abandoned, or mistreated in little and big ways has had an impact on me. I remember now how the guy who first interviewed me to become part of a credentialing program chuckled at my answer when he asked why I thought I could be a teacher. The answer I gave him: "I'm good with kids." At the time, it felt a little cold. Why wouldn't that be a good thing?
I know now why he laughed. "Good with kids" means you can entertain your niece or nephew. It means you can amuse a group of two or three youngsters in your charge until their parents arrive. It means you don't harbor an active dislike for children. Being able to deal with children who have experienced lives of quiet and not so quiet desperation and herding them into rooms where they bump up against one another's sharp edges is another matter entirely.
As it turns out, I am pretty good at dealing with children who have experienced trauma. It is not the jolly ringmaster's job that I had envisioned so many moons ago, but the gore is generally limited to bloody noses and scraped knees. On the outside. The world in which so many of these kids live in bears little or no resemblance to the suburban neighborhoods of my own youth. The scars these kids are nursing are on the inside. And as soon as I can get them to realize that there are adults that want to help and will stay with them even when they growl and hiss, I will teach them how to read.
Or play a game. 

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Crisis? What Crisis?

For the past few weeks, there has been some fury sounded by students and parents as well as concerned community members regarding the impact of the fiscal crisis on school sports programs here in Oakland. Initially, fifty percent of the district's high school sports teams were disbanded. Then the reckoning came: The powers that be determined that girls' sports were affected more than boys'. And so some rethinking was done. And all the while, contributions were being made. An anonymous donor gave thirty-five thousand dollars to save girls' golf and tennis. And then the big guns came out: The Oakland Raiders kicked in two hundred fifty thousand dollars to save athletic programs of all stripes. Thank you very much, Oakland Raiders. Soon to be Las Vegas Raiders, but that's a topic for another time.
And so I felt the initial exhalation of a rescue. All those kids and parents and concerned community members can breathe a little easier knowing that there are certain things that will not be tolerated. Lack of sports would be one of them. Meanwhile, there are teachers across the district heading out to purchase supplies for their classrooms and positions are being cut and class sizes are being raised while the austerity measures of the aforementioned fiscal crisis continues for those off the fields, courts, pools and mats. I understand that there is a limited equivalency between these matters, but it is difficult not to wonder from where the rescue for the rest of the district will come. Since I started teaching, we have been asked to do more with less. Librarians and libraries have been all but eliminated in elementary schools. Generous donations of tech equipment sit in closets without the staff to maintain or use them. Support staff has been cut to minimums that mean classroom teachers must take up the slack and specialized programs fall by the wayside.
And music is not being taught in half of those elementary schools. No time, no staff. The same can be said for art. Classrooms teachers who can find a way to squeeze in a little art with their reading and math are to be congratulated and rewarded. Not with cash, since there is none.
So the budget crunch continues, but at least there is this glimmer of hope on the horizon. Great chunks of money are being lobbed in the direction of high school sports. Maybe there is some clever way for us to promote the idea that learning to read and write and paint and sing is every bit as important.
Because it is.