Monday, March 18, 2019

As I Do

I was bicycling home, as I do, and I stopped at the four-way stop. As I do. I looked around the dial, as I do, and checked for other traffic. There was a car to my left, whose driver gave what I assumed was the "after you" wave, so I proceeded into the intersection as I do. That's when I heard the driver of that car yell out after me, "Do you know who I am?" I put my head down and kept pedaling, giving a quiet "Thank you" and a wave back. As I do.
I spent the next few blocks ruminating on the challenges and periodic terrors of riding a bicycle through urban Oakland. Mean streets. This is why I am grateful that my commute tends to be at off-peak hours to keep me from experiencing all the excitable motorists on their way to and fro. I went over and over the incident in my mind, trying to imagine how I could possibly have been in the wrong. I was to the driver's right, giving me the right of way. And I had been waved through out of what I assumed was consideration for my two-wheeled conveyance. Some people just shouldn't be allowed on the road. Not me, of course.
I was on my way to shaking it off when I saw that same car, or one that I was reasonably certain was the same car, pull into the intersection in front of me. Oh good, I thought, a chance to have a cathartic screaming fit on the side of the road with an enraged motorist. As I rolled up, a woman stepped out of the car, and my mind began to size up possible confrontations. She looked familiar, and I began to wonder if this wasn't the parent of one of my students. As I came to a stop, a smile appeared on her face. "Mister Caven! Don't you remember me?"
Now my brain dropped into facial recognition mode. This looked like someone I knew. A long time ago. "How are you? Are you still teaching computers?"
I confessed that yes, I was and I was still at that same old school. The same old school from which she had been promoted nineteen years ago. This was Alice. She was among the very first crop of kids that I shepherded through the ups and downs of elementary school. She was the cousin of two of my fourth grade students who came in a later episode. She asked me about all those teachers who had come and gone since she had been there. Along with our cafeteria supervisor, I was the lone survivor of all the departures, retirements and disappearances.
Then she recounted all the adventures she and her family and friends had experienced in the two decades since we had regularly crossed paths. She had just turned thirty. Her cousin was twenty-one and getting ready to return to college after some time off. She told me she met regularly with her elementary school friends. "Those are still the best friends I have."
We talked for fifteen minutes or more, standing on the side of the street. I asked if she wouldn't mind coming by and seeing the old place. She offered to help out, "When I can." Before she got back in her car and I rode off, we exchanged an awkward sideways hug. As I do.
And I reveled in how quickly a day can turn around. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

How We Did It

Are you wondering what cool scam I came up with to get my son into college?
Okay. Here goes:
First of all, we encouraged him to follow his muse from an early age. That landed him, on a tour of potential high schools, behind a drafting table in the engineering classroom at the local technical high school. He was ready to pursue his dream of becoming a car designer or creator of the next Bionicle. Then he started classes. In high school, the old demon of upper level math rose up and bit him. Hard. As responsible parents we did exactly what we could: We talked to our son. We talked to his teachers. We watched as he suffered along with his grades. We began prepping as a family for the possibility that our son might not go to college, or at the very least he might take a gap year after graduation.
But somehow the flow of life swept him up in the current and he took all his requisite tests and passed all of his classes and he made the treacherous journey through the application process along with his friends. His engineering friends.
By this point, the engineering dream had died on the hill of math. It was replaced with a new love and fascination: Theater. Not acting as much as making everything ready for actors. He became a techie. So while his friends were being accepted to the engineering powerhouse down San Luis Obispo way, he applied as a theater major. It was this savvy move along with his ability to test well that got him in. It turns out that while navigating a semester's worth of information over the length of a semester was a chore, his capacity to regurgitate that information over the course of a three hour exam was nothing but incredulous.
Then his mother and I had to figure out how to pay for his admission. Well, as it turns out, being a school teacher has some perks. Most notably, the relatively small paycheck which made us as a family eligible for money that allowed him to go ahead and pursue his dream of driving a well-designed car and keeping actors clothed, lit and audible when they were on stage. That, along with a number of very generous donations made by his family and friends, he is achingly close to completing his degree.
It never occurred to us that bribery was an option. We did consider going to the admissions office and whining, but we still have our dignity. And a couple bucks left over for pizza.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

What Would Sully Say?

"Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better. Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!"
These were the carefully considered words from our "President" in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines crash over the weekend.
My father died in a plane crash. Not a jet liner, but a single engine prop plane that narrowly missed that best of all possible ends, a landing from which everyone could walk away. My father did not. Do I blame the pilot? No. A family friend who had made that approach hundreds, maybe thousands, of times clipped a power line and dropped his plane suddenly to the ground: he made a mistake. Do I wish that there was one more fail-safe or one more piece of technology that could have averted a crash that took my father away?
You bet I do.
Do I wish that Albert Einstein had been piloting the plane that day?
I am glad that a competent and trained pilot was behind the wheel instead of a world-famous theoretical physicist. I don't know if a little computer science would have helped that day, but I do know that the accident might have been avoided in any one of a thousand ways. That's why they are called "accidents." Meanwhile, our "President" continues to blather on about subjects about which he knows less than nothing. His is a knowledge vortex. For him, "simpler is better" and he suggests that airplanes without computer assisted systems are somehow superior. The same guy who wants to Make America Great Again would prefer that we do it without technology.
"Complexity creates danger."
Shut up.

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Tangled Web

Greetings! You don't look a day over twenty-five!
I am addressing the World Wide Web, which turned thirty earlier this week. Thirty years young and still growing. I am currently packing even more information into this network of computers and related peripherals by typing this birthday salutation. 
Anecdotally, it was my wife who once opined to me that saying "WWW" out loud takes longer than saying "world wide web." Which is just one of the fascinating pieces of information you might find if you chose to lose yourself amid the flurry of pages, sites and pop-up ads currently available on Al Gore's Internet. 
And it wasn't really Al Gore that invented the Internet.
I know, I know. Take a breath. I will explain: On March 12, 1989, Tim Berners-Lee published a proposal at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Now half the planet is using the tool he had hoped would be a space for progress-oriented minds to collaborate. If this includes arguing about which Kardashian is the hottest and making sure you get your Peanut M&Ms in a timely fashion, then we could say "mission accomplished." But that phrase tends to collapse under its own weight, and we are left wondering if the noble intents of Sir Berners-Lee have been left behind for the capitalistic hate-filled fury that half the world spends its time perusing each day. 
Yes, that's right: The inventor of Al Gore's Internet was knighted for coming up with a way to send cat videos across the globe. On the occasion of the web's double quinceaƱera, the knight of the Internet wondered, "Where is the balance between leaving the tech companies to do the right thing and regulating them? Where is the balance between freedom of speech and hate speech?"
My answer to this somewhat rhetorical question would be "right here." The world wide web is a glorious mess, and attempts to reign it in run contrary to the user's purpose. Yes, it would be thunderously great if this series of tubes could be used to find a cure for cancer. Or bring fans of Cheap Trick together to finally get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The challenge is building a conscience into the puppet that Geppetto carved and the Blue Fairy brought to life. A mix of carpentry and magic had to be retrofitted with an external conscience. A cricket with the same initials as Jesus Christ. Coincidence?
Which brings me back to the stated purpose: Thank you Al Gore and Sir Berners-Lee. Thank you for this peculiar forum and a spot for my convoluted thoughts.  

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Straw Poll

Devin Nunes (pronounced "nunya" as in "nunya busniness"), a Representative of the Golden State, had this to tweet over the weekend: "At restaurant tonight waitress asks if we want straws. Says she has to ask now in fear of 'THE STRAW POLICE'. Welcome to Socialism in California!" Did I mention that Mister Nunes is a Republican? Did I mention that socialism has become a bad word in the late teens of this century? You might have noticed this in various places like the NRA attacks on newly-elected Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, labeling her a "self-absorbed socialist darling." 
So let's take a step back and check out Representative Nunes' frustration with asking for a straw in his local diner. At the beginning of this year, a law went into effect here in California which makes straws an on-demand service. Plastic is a problem, and handing out a straw that falls necessarily into the waste stream on the off chance that someone might need one is exacerbating the problem. No less a celebrity than Tom Brady, a native Californian, got behind this movement. No one, not even David Nunes, is calling Tom Brady a Socialist. There are some reports of Americans using five hundred million straws a day. Though they are thin, that would be enough to fill one hundred twenty-seven school buses a day. There was no mention as to who would drive these buses or where they would park since those straws are thrown away. They don't break down. They just hang around for a few thousand years as a reminder of that Diet Coke you ordered and forgot to drink because you were in a hurry to get to the movies.
Which is where you can grab all the straws you like. Apparently socialism has not made its way into movie theaters and fast-food restaurants. Not yet, anyway. Can you imagine having to ask for a straw at Burger King?
Well, actually I can. This happens at regular intervals when I reach for the straw dispenser and find it empty as I go to pop a sipping conveyance into my chocolate shake. So, if having to ask for a straw is Socialist, what do we call it when our government inquires about our immigration status or our voter registration status? 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Road

We spent the weekend down south. Not all the way south, like the Los Angeles or San Diego kind, but the San Luis Obispo kind. The kind of south that required a four hour drive and plenty of conversation between my wife and I. It's one of those times that the rest of the world falls away a little bit and we can have conversations about things in the past or in the future and we don't get mired in what has to be done right now.
There was some mild immediacy to our trip. Our son was running the sound for a production of Shakespeare's Tempest. In the days leading up to our trip, we reveled in telling anyone who would listen that our son had the starring role in the play. He would be playing the Tempest. It is this kind of excitement that translates directly into us getting into a car and driving half a day through admittedly pretty scenic hills and dales, but still stuck in a car with one direction: Son. 
There was a time when finding our son would have been a much easier task. The three of us were pretty close. He would have been in the back seat, busy with whatever action figure guy he was connecting with at the time or busily chattering away about what he had just read in his latest volume of Calvin and Hobbes. But not so much in the past four years. Since he got a car of his own, since he moved out of the house, since he turned twenty-one, we don't see as much of the kid. It's the way of these things, I'm told.
Which is why it was such a nice thing to be invited over to his house and even into his room where he showed us where all that magic takes place these days. It was nice to notice relics from his past that were connected to things we had done and seen together. It was also a treat to hang out with him for an hour or so while he sold televisions at Best Buy. Pardon me, Home Theater. Not televisions. At some point I stopped in amazement at the amount of stuff he carries around in his head. Not just about TVs and computers and cars, but about art and literature and the world around him. The world in which he lives. The world in which we were now guests.
And when the weekend was over, and we piled back into the car there was a call. It was our son, taking a break from his busy day tearing down the set of The Tempest and finding that person in his area that still hadn't purchased that flat screen for the living room. He told us how nice it was to hang around with his parents for the weekend, and he hoped that he would see us again soon. And that he loved us. Which made the trip completely worthwhile. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


A long time ago I was given my first mixtape. My older brother made it for me and it opened a whole world. I had heard some of the music that he had put on the tape, but putting it in a particular order made my mind reel. To this day, when I hear Bohemian Rhapsody, I expect the very next thing I hear will be Maynard Ferguson playing MacArthur Park. That was the profound effect love this tape made on me.
In the following years I became the maker of many mixtapes. Initially, all of these wer for my own enjoyment. Mostly they got played in my car stereo where I could not access my extensive record collection. Then, it became apparent that part of the magic of mixtapes was the opportunity to impress thought patterns on the listeners. It also fit in well with my interest in creating a soundtrack to the movie of my own life as well as those around me . When I started making mixtapes for others, they were invariably for girls I wanted to impress. The music selection was varied, but still linked very much to my own personal taste .
I felt it was my duty to expand everyone's musical taste to mirror my own. And if somewhere along the line I managed to seduce one of my listeners, so much the better. I can say this now with smug assurance because one of the recipients of these mixtapes happens to be married to me.
The real magic of all of this music on tape was that I sent myself a great many rules and goals. Not the least of which was to fill a 90-minute cassette without repeating an artist. This meant that I spent a great deal of time trying to remember what I put on any particular tape because I kept no written record of what I was doing. Well I am able to go back and listen to the tapes I made for my wife, but I don't have access to all that music that I gathered together from High School through college for all those other lucky ears. All the subtle cleverness of me is now lost to the ages. Such a shame. But then again, no one else is stuck with that whole Queen Maynard Ferguson problem.

Monday, March 11, 2019

What Was The Question Again?

The question before us today: Should women be required to register for the draft?
This is the path my brain traveled: People are still registering for the draft? I guess they are because the question was about getting half the people who would be eligible at eighteen to do what the other half was doing. It was eighteen, wasn't it? I remember, vaguely, having to fill out some paperwork when I turned eighteen and being incensed at the idea that I was potentially signing my life away before I could legally buy a drink but since there was 3.2 beer in Colorado at the time I could still get drunk legally but it would just mean more trips to the bathroom. Did my son register for the draft? I seem to recall his frustration running in a similar vein, but without the 3.2 beer because who would drink that swill anyway? Probably the kids who were forced to register for the draft and they wanted some mildly acceptable way to vent their spleen before they reported for active duty. Didn't my mom have a plan to keep my older brother out of Vietnam? Something about taking his motorcycle and riding north to Canada to escape a much crueler fate than all the ice and snow. My older brother was never in any specific danger since he was fifteen when the draft ended. But did he have to go back and register for the draft? I imagine that my younger brother did. I don't know. I don't have a sister, so I don't have any way to measure the outrage felt by her being counted out of this experience. There was also no plan for my mother to stay or flee, since she was busy marshaling her own forces on a daily basis. My father was drafted. This became the source of decades of stories and revelations regarding his hitch in the service, one that sounded a little like a cross between Animal House and GI Blues. Was he stationed in Germany before or after Elvis?
Wait. This is an opinion piece. "Should" is the question. Do I believe women should be compelled to sign up for a lottery's chance to serve their country? Would that be more in line with our feminist future? Or would that be surrendering to the dogs of war and the horrifying notion of a need for every American to have a chance to come home in a box? Registering for national service might make the pill easier to swallow for everyone. The idea that every American could have a chance to serve their country without having to carry a gun seems a lot more palatable.
If you're asking my opinion. Otherwise, you'll just be happy with the random associations I was able to make as a result of the question in the first place.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Hippie Man

I heard the words coming from a veteran teacher. A guy with more years in than me. He was the one who alternated between hope and desperation at our union's negotiations. He had been on the line during the strike of 1996. The one that went for five weeks. He regaled those of us on this new picket line with stories about how it was way back then. I taunted him, "Tell us again about the hippie days." He responded by starting up Country Joe's Fish Cheer.
This was the guy who took his union responsibilities seriously, but not enough to keep him from walking inside the school to use the bathroom when he needed. Nature, it would seem took precedence over that line.
Many of my younger colleagues looked to me for inspiration, but in matters of work stoppage I was not the authority. Instead I chose to look to those around me for cues, especially those teachers with two to four years experience for how to conduct myself. They were the ones for whom I went out on strike. Them, and the kids inside the school. And all the kids who will eventually come into the school. And to all those parents who come up to me on the first day of school asking, "Mister Caven, where did all the teachers go?"
Well, they're here. Some of them are new faces, and some of them have been here for a couple years. But I know what they are wondering: What happened to the teachers who were here last year? Some of them have moved on to other schools. Some of them have gone on to other careers. Some have left the teaching profession to take a break. Maybe to raise a family. Maybe to return. Maybe not. Some of them left with no forwarding address.
And then there was this wily veteran, using the bathroom inside and taking his breaks on the picket line seriously. He had done his time in the district, shuffled about as the district will for some positions and schools. Finally, when we were back inside again, we sat down as a staff to talk about our experience. Here's what he said: "Years from now you won't remember how you felt the week before or the week after. You'll remember that you went out on strike, and some people didn't. Then we all went back to work."
Thanks for that taste of the real, hippie man. 

Saturday, March 09, 2019


Hello, and thank you for coming today.
I understand that there has been a lot of speculation out there on the possibility of someone entering the 2020 presidential campaign who would shake things up and give the people of this great nation a clear and present choice when it comes to the executive branch of our government. A maverick. A firebrand. And yet, a thoughtful and compassionate individual with a clear vision and mind unfettered by special interests and outside influences. A voice at once crying from the wilderness but still able to carry through the highways and country lanes to reach every corner of this land. Someone young enough to remember how things were but still old and wise enough to imagine how things could be. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you -
Not Me.
I will not be running for President of the United States in 2020, nor will I be a candidate in any subsequent elections that might come as a result of changes in our Constitution. And speaking of that document, it's not the restrictions mentioned in Article II, Section I, Clause 5. I am a natural born citizen, and if you're interested I can show you my birth certificate, though I hope my mom's word will be good enough. I have reached and passed the age of thirty-five, and I have lived for all those years as a resident of the United States. And while these qualifications make me a very suitable candidate for donating blood, along with my lack of tattoos, I don't think it will be enough to put me over the top when it comes time to cast our votes for the next Commander In Chief.
I figured I wanted to get out in front of this, since a number of folks have been stating their intentions over the past few weeks, and I didn't want there to be any confusion. I am joining the ever growing crowd of individuals who will not be running for president. I join Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg in announcing my intent to sit squarely on the sidelines as this next great undertaking begins to take shape.
Instead of running for the highest office in the land, I will focus my attention on poking fun at anyone silly enough to think that they have what it takes to steer this ship of state from its current collision course with melting icebergs and social chaos. To those brave enough to stick their necks out and spend their supporters' hard earned dollars, I say: Good luck. I'll be the guy waving from the relative safety of his living room as the train wrecks commence.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Excuses, Excuses

"The President" insists that the reason he came back from Vietnam with no substantive agreements with North Korea was because of Michael Cohen's testimony before Congress. Here is the list from which he chose that excuse:
The light was in my eyes.
These grips weren't taped.
This controller is messed  up.
The GPS gave me the wrong directions.
My daughter borrowed my car and then took my car keys with her to school.
I got stuck on level 2 of Angry Birds.
I don't have a seven on my phone. 
There was an Uber surge.
I had a taco bowl the night before and could barely move.
I had a UTI.
I'm pretty sure there were frogs in my bed.
These newfangled door locks, you know?
I'm pretty sure I pulled a muscle.
It was raining.
It could have been the shellfish.
Jury duty.
Sometimes I just need a little "me time."
I had to meet with my kid's teacher.
Totally freakish thing: the power went out on my floor only.
Have you ever seen The Notebook?
I thought that can of cat food was tuna.
I got my arm stuck in one of those blood pressure machines.
There was a sale at Penny's.
I bowled the game of my life the night before.
We need to build that wall!
Bats in my hair. 

Thursday, March 07, 2019


Pardon me, I've been away. Many things have happened since I stepped out on the sidewalk to stand with my union. Not the least of which was the mouse. On the third day of the strike, I was making ready to do my ten thousand steps in front of the school when I got a call on my cellular telephone. It was coming from inside the school.
"Mister Caven, can you please come in and help with this mouse?"
It was our custodian, a very dedicated and hard-working individual who takes on most messes that would make a parent squirm without flinching. But not rodents. Like so many of us, she has a distinct and unshakable fear of little animals with beady eyes and tails.
"I'm sorry. I really can't do that. I'm out here on the picket line, and if I came inside I would be crossing that line and -" I wasn't able to finish my sentence.
"There's just this one and it's still early. No one has to know." This mouse was not going easily unto this good night.
"I would know. And so would my colleagues out here," I gestured toward my fellow teachers who had no idea why they were being referenced.
After a long pause: "Okay. We'll just stay out of that room."
That was a week ago. I can only assume that there are still mice in the building, since when there's one there are dozens. The first thing I did when we returned to work after settling the strike was to seek out our custodian. "Any luck?"
"With the mouse?" She knew exactly what I was talking about.
"Sorry I couldn't help out." I really was. This is precisely the kind of thing I have made a career of since I came to the school back in the olden days. When mice were nine feet long with lasers for eyes and poisonous venom in their fangs.
I was then regaled with several tales from our cafeteria supervisor and our custodian about encounters with mice while the teachers were on strike.
Well, I'm back now, mice. You can run, but you cannot hide.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Hits And Misses

If I ever went to a Bruce Springsteen concert and he did not play "Born To Run," I would feel slighted.
Likewise, if I paid to see a Jimmy Buffett show that did not  include "Margaritaville," I would come away feeling cheated.
Which is probably what explains the "President's" marathon ramble at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend. The fans, they come out for the hits, and Big Orange did not disappoint. 
He denounced Democrats as the party of "the socialist nightmare," re-litigated his crowd sizes back to the inauguration and took on "sick," ''lunatic" and "dirty" foes at every turn. The MAGA crowd was tempted to use a fork, but they wanted to get every drop. It was a greatest hits show, after all. Like when those artists who have extensive back catalogs simply throw away the set list, he gave those conservatives exactly what they wanted to hear for more than two hours, openly acknowledging that he had "gone off script." But that, he insisted, was what got  him elected. Like when he reached back to old criticisms of his ex-attorney general, mocking Jeff Sessions' Southern accent and calling him "weak and ineffective." Never mind that he was the one who hired Sessions in the first place. And  there was this nugget: "America will never be a socialist country," he said. "Socialism is not about the environment, it's not about justice, it's not about virtue." He said it's about "power for the ruling class."
No really, really right. So right in fact that attendees were unable to take a quick jog across the hallway to use the bathrooms because they were located a few feet from the left. Instead, they turned to the right and went around the building in order to take care of their business.
Okay. I made that last part up, but they were all more than willing to sit still for bits like this: "I think the New Green Deal or whatever the hell they call it — the Green New Deal — I encourage it. I think it's really something that they should promote. They should work hard on it. ... No planes, no energy. When the wind stops blowing that's the end of your electric. Let's hurry up. Darling, is the wind blowing today? I'd like to watch television, darling."
On the Russia Probe: "This phony thing looks like it's dying so they don't have anything with Russia there, no collusion. So now they go in and morph into 'Let's inspect every deal he's ever done. We're going to go into his finances. We're going to check his deals. We're going to check' — these people are sick."
He also took another crack at explaining his remarks that he didn't believe Kim Jong Un knew about or would have allowed the death of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was held prisoner in North Korea, then sent home in a vegetative state. His remarks were widely criticized and led the Warmbier family to say they held Kim and his regime responsible for their son's death. So he tried this one on the crowd: "I'm in such a horrible position because in one way I have to negotiate. In the other way, I love Mr. and Mrs. Warmbier and I love Otto. And it's a very, very delicate balance." 
Balance? That's not why folks show up to a CPAC show. They show up for the hits, no matter how badly they miss. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2019


I suppose the reason I disliked all those chants was because at times it felt like we were shouting down a well. All we could hear were the echoes of our own voices. And the honking of horns from passing cars. Sometimes they rolled down their windows and hollered their support. Some just waved or gave us a thumbs up.
And then there was the hour each morning when I stood on the curb and talked to parents about what we were trying to do. These were the parents who had already more or less made up their minds that their kids were going to school, picket line or not. This is when I heard those chants in the background, and I began to wonder what use they had. Trying to negotiate with a working mother who only wanted a safe place to drop off her children before she went to work. Our cause didn't seem all that important compared to the struggles of a family to keep food on the table and pay the month's rent. Each day that passed brought me closer to that day to day existence. I was doing my own calculations. Each day on the picket line was a day's pay. I was betting those days against a future with a better salary. And smaller class sizes. And more student supports. And public schools. For that mother who was worried about tomorrow.
All those chants were about getting us to the place where tomorrow could be different. Teachers would choose to stay here instead of looking for greener pastures. Students could receive the care and attention they so desperately need. Neighborhood schools for the families in those neighborhoods. Education for all.
Whose schools? Our schools. What kind of schools? Public schools.
Now that those words aren't being repeated endlessly while walking in circles, they mean more. Show me what  democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like. A city came together and shared a voice. The thumbs up and the horns honking were the sounds that accompanied those chants. Those chants that were echoed by thousands of teachers and students and parents and neighbors. That was the sound of Oakland coming together.
It wasn't easy, and I still don't care much for chants, but I like the sound of a city coming together. It sounds like victory.

Monday, March 04, 2019

On Demand

While we're at it, here's some other demands:
Taco Tuesday will now be on Wednesday.
The  Second Amendment needs some serious work.
Lucky Charms should revert to yellow moons, pink hearts, orange stars and green clovers.
There shouldn't be anything priced more than a dollar at a ninety-nine cent store.
Someone should figure out how to make orange juice taste good after brushing your teeth.
The conversation about what the cruelest month is should  happen on a yearly basis.
It's okay to rain on a parade for National Umbrella Day.
Legos should be more barefoot friendly.
Ruffles have ridges but Lays have waves? Come on.
The IRS should be filling in the tax forms, not making them more confusing.
If clothes make the man, who is in charge of making the clothes?
Getting a ticket is a cool thing if it's Green Day, but not if it's parking.
Frozen yogurt is not ice cream, please make a note.
Please define the gift that keeps on giving for the rest of us.
I before E should not need all those qualifications.
Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia.
Dance like no one is looking.
Collect and trade with your friends.
Don't fold, spindle or mutilate.
Breathe deep the gathering gloom.
Let the river run.
Show me what democracy looks like.
Fund public education.
Now, please.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Outside Looking In

Sitting out on the curb while outside the school where I usually teach I felt very lonely. There really isn't another way to describe it except to say that being on strike can be a very lonely business. This does not mean that I haven't had my share of camaraderie and connection during this time. However, since every so often we go our separate directions and someone has to stick around to watch the table or hold down the line as we say, I sometimes feel like I get left behind. That isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes it gives me on opportunity to reflect and to watch the neighbor kid right down the street in front of me practicing his wheelies. Sometimes he falls off. Sometimes he lands precariously, but mostly it's a distraction from the rest of the day which is sitting around and waiting for someone to come and tell me what our next adventure will be. But mostly, there is this waiting. And I would love to tell you that I'm getting better at it, waiting that is, but that would not be true. Now that we have been on strike for a full week, I don't feel any more patience than I did when we started.

This is of course I mean ironic because one of the core principles for being an elementary school teacher is patience. However, one of their realities of that reality is that I am being paid to be patient, when she is most definitely not the case while I am on strike. I know if there are those who are reveling in this opportunity to be on strike and to walk the line and to do all those things that feel like like democracy. This feels a lot like waiting for me. Waiting for test results. Waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting for that popped boil. And I can't help but watch it. What will happen next? I don't know. I wish I did. That would make it much easier to talk to our parents. I don't have that crystal ball. So I wait.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

The Burden Of Proof

Sir, put down that smoking gun.
"What? This old thing?" He waves the pistol in the most every direction, settling on the corpse on the floor.
Yes. Please put that down. And the knife.
"Oh. Sure. Sorry about that," he begins to wipe the blood dripping from the blade.
If you could just put that down next to the body with the multiple stab wounds whose blood is an exact DNA match to that found on the knife.
"I suppose next you'll be asking for these," at which point he pulls out a half-empty bottle of cyanide capsules.
I notice a faint smell of almond coming from the stiff over there.
"What stiff?"
The body. The one you are standing over currently.
"This?" He kicks the cadaver. That is still soaking wet, having recently been dragged from the surf, made even more obvious by the tracks made by the heels coming onto the beach.
The rope is kind of a giveaway too.
"Oh. I needed that to rescue him from the sea."
It's around his neck.
"Is that a problem?"
The fact that you are in direct proximity to a carcass of someone who is obviously recently deceased, whether by drowning, strangulation, poison, stabbing or gunshot leads me to believe that yes, we have a problem here.
"And what might that problem be?"
Well, if I didn't know better, I would say that you murdered this poor soul.
"Prove it."
And once again, the "President" skates free.

Friday, March 01, 2019

I Love A Parade

I have been in my share of parades. Not riding a float, mind you. I was marching, and most of the time I was lugging thirty pounds of sousaphone on my left shoulder during most of them. This past week has afforded me the opportunity to walk down the streets of Oakland, without a sousaphone, but carrying my strike sign. Happily there was a band marching along with us and an assortment of percussion to keep the beat as we went about the business of making our voice heard.
Along with the very helpful and capable assistance of our police department and our mass transit company, we made our way downtown one day. There we stopped and created a racket outside the offices where negotiations were taking place. We wanted our bargaining team to hear our voices. United. Another day, we traced the path from one of Oakland's recently closed schools to the campus where most of the students had been re-enrolled. All along the two mile route, shopkeepers came out to take a photo, or cheer us on. From the balconies of apartment buildings, kids who might otherwise have been in school waved down to us as we made our way through the neighborhood.
One of our chants went like this: Show me what democracy looks like! "This is what democracy looks like!" In my head, these were the words I inserted? Show me what Oakland looks like! "This is what Oakland looks like!" The storefronts. The front porches. The side streets. The main drags. The smiles. The glares. Old. Young. A rainbow walking through the rain.
Because I am cynical at times to a fault, I had to keep reminding myself that I truly do believe in what we are doing. I haven't been at this teaching thing for as long as I have without sipping a little of that social justice Kool-Aid. And it makes my head swim to think about the negotiations I made with parents to keep their kids from going into the school that has been my home away from home for all these years. I truly believe that when we all go back inside together it will be to make a better, safer, happier place for everyone.
I found myself marching in step with the drums around me. The rhythm kept me moving. I don't want to stop. Not now. The parade isn't finished. Not yet.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

For Real

Standing out in the middle of the street, bending down to speak to parents dropping off their children, I became absurdly aware of two things: the shocking lack of traffic for a school day, and the fact that I was standing in the middle of the street under the ever-watchful gaze of our Crossing Guard, Mary. Mary forgave me, because she understands our teachers' struggle. But that lack of traffic. That was hard to shake.
I spend so much of my time trying to convince kids to get to school on time, and here I was trying to negotiate them away. "Just until the strike is over," I assured them. Still, this went against my programming. Kids in seats is the lifeblood of public schools, and here I was turning them back. It made my head hurt a little.
That, along with the feeling that somehow this picket line thing might become normal. We had all begun to find our places and our voices, and mine was to politely encourage our families to take a day away from those hallowed halls. I was fortunate to have plenty of translation help, since explaining our situation in English was a big enough challenge, attempting to describe why all those maestros were hanging around on the sidewalk in Spanish was not going to happen without support.
Which is what it turns out the whole gig is about. The neighbors who turned out to carry signs. The parents who brought food and kept their kids home. The kids who came out and walked with us. The folks driving by who honked their horns. The police officers who flashed their lights and sirens. Teachers are everywhere, and they have provided a base from which most everyone can climb.
Riding my bike home after our third day, I saw a little boy dressed in his Batman jammies, waving a sign that said "Support Our Teachers." I stopped and thanked him. And his mother thanked me. I felt like I could go another day, if I had to.
Because that is what we do. Talking to people. Kids and grown ups. Parents and teachers. Like all those civics lessons, but for real.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Spirited Discussion

It's about shaping young minds. That's what I do, when I'm not on strike anyway. And maybe I'm doing that even when I am standing out on the sidewalk in front of my school. "Mister Caven, what does 'on strike' mean?"
It has meant that I am watching the news more as a participant rather than a simple observer. Which is how the article about Dianne Feinstein filled up my browser this past weekend. It seems that a group of students decided to drop by the Senator's San Francisco offices on Friday to share their views on climate change and the Green New Deal. The fifteen minute discussion was not the friendly photo-op that one might have expected. 
Senator Dianne was not going to be kid-shamed into agreeing with this Green thing just because there were cameras there. "That resolution will not pass the Senate, and you can take that back to whoever sent you here and tell them," she responded after the students insisted the legislation was badly needed. "I've been in the Senate for over a quarter of a century and I know what can pass and I know what can't pass."
The "whoever" in this case was the Sunrise Movement, a group who say "We're building an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people." It is true that these kids did not ride their bikes over to the office, and there were adults there with them, but that dismissive tone wasn't lost on anyone in the room. Maybe they should have had an appointment. "I've been doing this for thirty years. I know what I'm doing," Feinstein said. "You come in here and you say it has to be my way or the highway. I don't respond to that."
Later in the day, she did refer to the exchange as a "spirited discussion" and said "I want the children to know they were heard loud and clear."
Twelve years, Di-Fi. The clock is ticking. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Peter And Paul

Pardon me for a moment while I lament the departure from this terrestrial plane Peter Tork. Yes, there are a few other things going on down here that could use my attention. Our "President" continues to aggravate the world. There's a teacher's strike going on in a neighborhood near you. And I want to pause here to note the passing of one of the Monkees.
Part of me would like to point out that the Beatles and the Monkees are once again on a par with one another in terms of surviving members. Peter's passing brings both groups down to the fifty percent level. I would then also point out that the Monkees' last tour  was in 2016. The  Beatles? Well, if you count that rooftop show for Let It Be, just about fifty years ago. The album the Monkees released a few years back, Good Times cracked the top twenty here in the United States. The New York Times said, "Fifty years later, the Monkees are still endearing."
So there you have it: Good News! Still endearing! Even after Davy danced off to heaven back in 2012, the so-called Pre-fab Four were able to come together and be the musical force that I knew they were half a century ago. Back when the Monkees were my favorite band. In the interest of transparency, I had second pick behind my older brother. He picked the Beatles. I picked the Monkees. When I ended up with Johnny Lightning to his Hot Wheels, I sensed that I may have gotten the short end of the die-cast car stick. 
But that wasn't the case with the Monkees. They were a hit-making machine. True, many of those hits were composed by songwriters outside the group, but Billy Preston wasn't an official Beatle when he helped compose Get Back
And now, Peter is gone. Bassist, banjo player, and the force behind Auntie Grizelda, has gone to the Hall of Fame in the sky. He was "the dumb one," to those only familiar with the TV show. He came to the group with musical chops and friends like Stephen Stills. Mister Stills is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. And he couldn't get into the Monkees. The producers didn't like his teeth. Don't be sad that Peter is gone. He's still out there, on greatest hits compilations and reruns in syndication. Peter Tork stomped on the Terra, and he will be missed. Aloha. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Reading Is Fundamental

Yes, there was a time when I questioned being in a union. Once upon a time, when my mentor teacher dropped by my classroom at the end of the day and dropped a big blue binder in my lap.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Your contract."
"You're a union member. Get to know your contract."
And that's how I learned that by accepting a job in the Oakland Unified School District, I had become a union member. Along with all the benefits of salary deductions and additional meetings, there was the T-shirt I was encouraged to buy. I was going to be asked to wear that T-shirt to show my dedication to my brothers and sisters. All the while, I was wondering why would teachers need a union? Coal miners? I get that. Black lung disease and working underground. Horrible stuff. That's when you need the union and all those aforementioned brothers and sisters. Misery loves company, but collective bargaining even more.
Since those initial impressions, I have settled into a moderately comfortable relationship with my union. I have paid my dues, in all the different ways possible. And I have enjoyed having people looking out for me and teachers like me in my district. As it turns out, all those pages in that contract require attention that I confess I don't really have to give. There are people in my union that do that. Accumulated sick leave? Ask your union representative. What happens when we take extra students in our room if a class has to be split up? Ask your union representative. When those questions get too big or complex, we work up the chain. Instead of asking for a raise, I wait for my union to negotiate one for me.
In exchange, I find myself out on the sidewalk in front of my school, shouting out slogans that strain to rhyme at the front of the building that I prefer to be inside. I do this because my union has asked me to. I hope that my participation in this endeavor will expedite negotiations, since it's been  a while since I read that contract. Happily, I'm pretty sure there's nothing in there about black lung disease.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Laying It On The Line

Somewhere in the early hours of that first day on the picket line, I was called over to speak into a microphone. This did not come as a shock to me, since I had volunteered the day before to be our school's spokesperson if the press showed up. And just my luck, a couple members of the media did appear on our little stretch of sidewalk. I spoke from the heart, and tried hard to stick to the high-minded rhetoric that I had been fashioning over the past few weeks. I talked about the importance of keeping teachers in Oakland. I expressed my hope that we were starting a new era of hope and faith in public education. I ran through my bit about the ridiculousness of a school district and its teachers fighting over the scraps left over from a budget picked clean by so many other priorities. I was asked what I thought about billionaires attempting to privatize public education, and that's when I pointed to the front of our school, named after the father of public education, Horace Mann. 
Sadly, I did not have a pithy quote from the late senator from Massachusetts. Now I believe I might go with something like,  “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Or maybe I could have substituted one from Bruce Springsteen, "Nobody wins unless we all win." Which is why I felt so oddly out of place taking a side: in or out. In the days leading up to our teachers strike, I considered all kinds of different factors, not the least of which was what this might cost me. The somewhat legendary strike of 1996 took place the year before I entered the teaching profession. I have grown up as a teacher hearing about those five weeks that became increasingly desperate and how lucky I have felt to have participated in work actions that were primarily for show and not for substance.
And there I stood, looking out into an uncertain future, with the expectation that this stoppage too would pass, but wondering just what it might take beyond those clever words all strung together for the entertainment of this guy with a microphone. After I had spoken my piece, he turned and asked a colleague of mine some of the same questions. I returned to the picket line, picking up the response to one of the chants that was hanging in the air: "Show me what democracy looks like - This is what democracy looks like!"
Day one. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019


Collaboration versus brinkmanship.
When I walked into my school on the day before I was to join the picket line outside it, I reflected once again on the sad nature of politics. Why, I wondered, aren't the teachers, parents and administration united on this struggle to put funding into our district? Our superintendent assures us all that she believes that teachers need to be paid more, and anyone who has walked the hallways and playgrounds of East Oakland knows that there is plenty of money to be spent on bringing facilities up to twenty-first century standards.
And yet somehow we stand across this gulf of the debate about how those funds should be disseminated and managed. I keep flashing on the bumper sticker from the 1970s  that read, "

It Will Be a Great Day When Our Schools Get All the Money They Need and the Air Force Has to Hold a Bake Sale to Buy a Bomber." So while teachers keep leaving our district in waves when they realize that their dreams of being the teacher who watches kids grow up around them while filling their heads with useful knowledge, educators fight over scraps.

From where I am sitting, I can poke and prod at the finances of my district over the past twenty-plus years. At no point was there a discussion that went like this: "You know, I think we may be spending too much on the kids. And those teachers are getting rich, so we really don't have to worry about their salaries." Instead, money has been thrown at programs and consultants in hopes that some magic could be found to break the cycle of underachievement and overspending. 
So here we stand, glaring across the bargaining table, hoping that the scraps that the state and federal budgets will somehow fill the gap between getting by and just getting by. As a nation, we are spending more than fifty-four percent of our money on our military: almost six hundred billion dollars a year. The sliver of that pie that goes to education is seventy billion. Which is why we need a bake sale or two to get us to the next bargaining session. 
Here we are, staring down other educators, arguing over ever smaller pieces of that pie. I am wondering why we aren't working together to figure out how to get the whole thing.  

Friday, February 22, 2019

For Shame

In a world where scandal doesn't seem too hard to find, it seems that there is no end of finger-pointing. He said this about her who was caught doing something he knew was wrong when she was supposed to be correcting the thing that had been abused by the party of the first part. And the chorus of boos rains down while cries for this or that person to resign as a result of the way things were mishandled. If you are reading this in Virginia, please let me know if there is still a government there.
As I have suggested here before, it seems that Democrats have taken those cries, for the most part to heart. Stepping down and out was rising progressive superstar Al Franken, who was caught in the initial wave of #MeToo. Fellow Democrats called for his resignation, and that is what he did. Meanwhile, Roy Moore pressed on with his candidacy for the Alabama senate seat that he campaigned for while accounts of sexual misconduct with minors piled up. Which garnered him an endorsement from the "President." The good news here is that a thumbs-up from the Cheeto in Charge had its somewhat predictable return: Moore lost, and then sued to keep the election results from being certified.
Meanwhile, all the stories of the "President's" sundry misbehavior before he became a candidate for the highest office in our land has largely gone forgotten in favor of the potential capital crimes in which he participated once he stopped being a game show host. 
And Anthony Weiner will be released from jail in May. The former Representative from New York left federal prison after being convicted of having illicit online contact with a fifteen year old girl in 2017. He will now register as a sex offender in his home state. Which may have a limiting factor on his interest in running for elected office anytime soon. Before he was convicted, Weiner polled just five percent in the Democratic primary for Mayor of New York City. 
Bill Clinton was impeached for lying to Congress. About an affair he had with an intern. He was not removed from office. Bill, if you recall, was a Democrat. 
So where is the shame? It would not appear to be a party-based reaction. Unless it's about finger-pointing. That's where we come together as a country. 
Sleep tight, America. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019


"I rounded first, never thought of the worst as I studied the shortstop's position."
If you are familiar with the works of Jimmy Buffett, then you know that what happens shortly after that is our narrator's leg snaps "like the shell of an egg." I am fortunate that this is not precisely what happened to yours truly as I attempted to play kickball with a group of second graders last week. No fractures. All my bones intact. My pride and standing in the community a little shaken, and a great big raspberry on my left knee.
The title of that song by Jimmy Buffett? "Growing Older But Not Up."
For the record, I had given the soccer ball that we were playing with enough of a ride that even after I picked myself up off the ground and limped on around the bases that I still managed to score a home run. It also helped that a number of the kids initially rushed to my aid, diminishing their fielding options by that same number.
Yes, it did occur to me that I could just lay there for a moment and let their concern wash over me. This was one of those humanizing moments that don't come up too often in an elementary school. Just like the way students struggle to comprehend that I have a wife and a son, that I go to movies, that I have played a video game, they don't know precisely how to react when their teacher falls down.
One little girl asked if I needed a band-aid. That's when I lifted up my pants leg to inspect the wound. The asphalt had done its work, and though it wasn't the bloody mess that some of them had anticipated, there was still a little gasp as they huddled around home base, wondering what might happen next. Did this mean there would be no more PE for the day?
It would take more than this scrape to keep Mister Caven down. I made a brief check of the rest of my systems to see if the rest of me was online. Glasses, cell phone, whistle, keys. Roger, ready and raring to go once again. Increasing my legend just a little bit in the eyes of my young charges, but making the next few days a little more challenging as I negotiated the rubbed raw portion of my leg through my routines.
When the third graders came out, I let them kick the ball. I coached. I'm old.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Aurora. Not in Colorado this time. They have had their share of trouble like this. Instead this Aurora is in Illinois. I recognize this place as a place where AllSteel office furniture is spawned. Five days a week for about four years, I saw that address on multiple cartons and crates as I opened them, emptied them, and eventually recycled them. I didn't work for AllSteel. I worked for a third party installer servicing the Denver metro area. Not far from Aurora, Colorado. It could be that I went with a crew to put in some chairs or some desks in this suburb of the Mile High City. Aurora meets Aurora.
I was also amused to find, mostly by coincidence, that Wayne's World was located in Aurora, Illinois. Wayne's World was a very popular series of skits on Saturday Night Live starring the very popular Mike Myers. Driving around town in an AMC Pacer, singing along with Bohemian Rhapsody, these cartoonish teenagers weren't installing furniture, they were making their way to the big time after being discovered on community access Channel 10. There was a lot of air guitar, but no gunfire.
That image of Aurora, Illinois ended this past Friday when the city joined the ever-expanding list of cities that have experienced a mass shooting. A factory employee who was on his way to being fired chose instead to kill five of his co-workers. With a gun a previously convicted felon such as himself should not own. Then he was either killed by officers who arrived on the scene or he killed himself. Six dead, an additional factory worker injured along with five responding officers in the gunfire.
So ends the amusing anecdotes and coincidences.
If there was an eerie link to the factory, like that it manufactured steel office furniture, then this story would take some sort of personal turn. Nope. The factory that was shot up manufactures water distribution products. And no connection to TV funnyman Mike Myers. No Bohemian Rhapsody. No laughs. Just another senseless waste of human life at the end of a gun.
The connection? Maybe that this all happened the day after the one year anniversary of the massacre in Parkland, Florida. Teenagers were killed there. Like the character played by Mike Myers in Wayne's World. Or maybe it's just another in a series. We humans long for connections and try to make sense of the way chaos interferes with our well-planned lives.
Enough is enough.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Fire And Rain

Twelve years ago, I was the father of a nine year old. I had just passed the thirteen year mark of wedded bliss. As a nation, we had yet to experience the Obama years, and were enduring Dick "Dick" Cheney's Monster Truck Rally of an administration. Robert Downey Jr. had yet to make a splash as Iron Man and Nelly Frutado was still a thing. 
Seems like forever?
Well, if you take that decade and change and flop it over the top into the future, that would tell you how much time we have left before climate change becomes irreversible. Allowing the maximum temperature increase one and a half degrees Celsius will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. 
I know. Look out the window at all that rain and snow. I wish we could have some of that Global Warming right now. Yuk, yuk, yuk. Tiny brains that do not understand the difference between climate and weather should keep their babble to themselves. For twelve years. Until we can stem the tides that come with rising sea levels and polar ice caps melting, keep your pointed heads under your tin foil hats and leave the science to scientists.
In twelve years, I hope to be meeting my grandchildren. At this point, I hope that I won't have to apologize to them for their ticking time bomb of a planet, left to them by people who didn't want to listen and who instead felt that global warming was a punchline to be used whenever the thermometer dropped below forty degrees Fahrenheit. Severe weather events, such as the hurricane to which our "President" responded by tossing paper towels into a crowd, are becoming more frequent. Droughts, floods, tornadoes: these are all part of our future. And worse. 
In twelve years, I would like to take my grandchildren to Colorado. To visit. Not to escape rising sea levels. In twelve years, I would like to look back at this warning as just that, and not a prediction of what is to become of our big blue marble. While there are those who scoff at the idea of "giving up our cars and our jet airplanes," there are plenty of us willing to make sacrifices to keep our planet inhabitable for a few more generations. If that means we'll be listening to Nelly Furtado's new album on communal stereos, maybe that's the sacrifice we'll all have to make. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Just Click Your Heels

It has always irked me that Dorothy could have gone home at any time during her stay in Oz. While travelling the somewhat treacherous path known as the Yellow Brick Road, any concerned Munchkin or Good Witch could have mentioned the deal about the Ruby Slippers to her and she could have been on her way. Magically. With her little dog. Without having been captured by winged monkeys or tormented by any of the strangers and trees she met along the way. But apparently it is important to teach young girls from Kansas a lesson by making her run the Technicolor gauntlet run not by a Wizard, but in his own words "a very bad man."
All of which begins to sum up my reactions to our "President" deciding to go ahead and declare a state of emergency in order to get his "wall" built. After months and months of holding the nation's collective feet to the fire and promising all kinds of different ways to make his multi-billion dollar boondoggle happen, he has landed on this new convoluted deal after having exhausted any sort of legislative deal with an increasingly less than cooperative Congress.
I wonder if Darth Vader would have caved in a similar fashion if denied funding for his Death Star. "You underestimate the power of and Executive Order."
"The President" has pushed the shiny red button labeled "National Emergency." This gives him what he believes is supreme executive power in times of crisis, not unlike Dean Wormer of Faber College. Which may or may not be true, but this means that he really didn't need to shut down the entire government for a month and leave nearly a million federal employees without a paycheck. While Congress did agree to write a check for nearly two billion dollars of new fencing and other security enhancements, there is still not enough money to seal us off completely from the outside world like the Dome that Stephen King once imagined. And Mexico has not made their offer to keep our foolishness from contaminating their airspace, so it looks like we have a good old fashioned Idjit Standoff.
Which means another flurry of lawsuits and counter lawsuits and plenty more legal and political machinations costing billions more dollars than the original ridiculous price tag of constructing a monument to one man's ego that truly defines the man himself: A permanent divider.