Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Encounter

I was walking up the path between our house and garage, and sitting placidly in our back yard was a tabby cat. A tabby cat that was a little tubby. For a moment, I considered my options: I could continue on into our basement and ignore this feline presence. I could make a display of my disapproval and send the cat back over the fence from whence it came. I could make attempt to make friends. It was around the time I rounded option number two that I heard my wife's voice in my head, admonishing me to give peace a chance, at least where kitties were involved. So I took another tentative step up the path and considered my introductions. "Here kitty, kitty, kitty." No, too menacing. I could make squeaking noises, but that would probably be confusing to the cat and I didn't want that on my hands. So I opted for the best opening I could imagine at that moment, "Hello," I said.
The tabby, for his part, didn't seem to register me as he gazed off into the middle distance. I took another step forward, ever conscious of my posture and expression. Non-threatening. I tried to block every other thought out of my mind aside from the "hey buddy, let's be friends" stream.
Another step.
Big smile.
Another.
"Hey, kitty."
That's when the rotund ball of fur rolled up onto his feet and padded away. Not even looking back. Not a "Sorry, gotta run."
Then he turned back, perhaps sensing my disappointment. Cats have no lips, but the looks said "Hmmm?" to me.
I tried to gather my moist plaintive face. "Don't go."
But he did, switching his tail behind him. Just a few leisurely feet away, he squeezed through a couple slats in the fence. And he was gone. 
That's when I started to miss my dog.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Little Bruce Springsteen

I have, I confess, probably uttered these words myself. Probably within the context of "What do you want to listen to? How about a little Bruce Springsteen?"
My wife, who upon her first encounter with Bruce in a live setting marveled, "He's so tiny! But he's so happy!"
For the record, Mister Springsteen is no tall drink of water. He stands five feet ten inches tall. Which makes him an inch taller than me. So when I say I look up to him, it would be true. And not just because of that slight height advantage. 
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Last week at a rally in Minneapolis, the "president" fluffed up his crowd by insisting that “I didn’t need BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z. I didn’t need little Bruce Springsteen," in order to win the 2016 election. Which is true from two perspectives: First, all three of those performers were firmly entrenched in his opposition's camp. Secondly, he really only needed an electoral college and a vast sea of Russian hackers to get elected. 
And Bruce Springsteen is half a foot shorter than the stack of orange bologna that currently resides in the White House. To paraphrase the old joke, I didn't know they stacked bologna that high. 
Me? I need Bruce Springsteen. I can tell a story about how his music pulled me out of lethargy and depression and it would be true for a dozen different occasions. This is the man who wrote the words "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive." 
He's also the guy who, some thirty-five years ago, would announce from the stage, "Remember: In the end, nobody wins unless we all win." That reminder is a precise encapsulation of the problem in which our country is currently mired. Or like he said in this intro to the cover of Edwin Starr's War: "Because in 1985, blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed."
Which has always been kind of a theme of the Trump regime. Blind faith. My eyes are open and so is my heart. There is nothing little about Bruce Springsteen. Or his fans. And if the guy who managed to drive his New Jersey casinos into bankruptcy was curious, we don't need him. At all.  Not even a little. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Days Are Just Packed

I used to wonder about how The President of the United States could find time to do things like pardon Thanksgiving turkeys and show up to graduations and commencements. The personal appearance type of thing. Of course, this sends my mind tumbling back to the morning of September, 11 2001 when then President and personal friend of Ellen DeGeneres George W was caught reading The Pet Goat while America was under attack. Oops. There was a sharp drop-off in classroom visits for Mister Bush after that episode.
These days it seems that the current "president" has little else to do but photo ops and Twitter Time. While blathering on social media policy decisions are made in those pockets of time when his thumbs are not otherwise occupied. Abandoning the Kurds? That choice was made between checking out the new White House tennis pavilion and looking up the proper spelling of "hamberders." This gave him just enough time to toss off a pithy remark about how "they didn't help us with Normandy." A reference the "president" cribbed from right wing columnist Kurt Schlichter. Leaving many of us to scratch our heads and wonder about this association, but undermining the reality of thousands of Kurds being slaughtered by invading Turkish forces.
Then there's the NBA. As that sports league attempts to deal with the reality of human rights abuses by China, and how to business with a repressive dictatorship, the "president" chose to hop in on the issue. Not by helping to illuminate the democracy protests in Hong Kong or to delineate his administration's position, but by pointing fingers and calling names. Probably still stinging from being turned down by his offer or hamberders to the two time NBA champion Golden State Warrirors, the "president" referred to head coach Steve Kerr as "a little boy" and derided his choice not to speak directly about a topic he admitted he was still trying to understand. Imagine: becoming more informed about an issue before tapping away on your phone something about which you know little or nothing.  “It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.” Mark Twain probably didn't fully anticipate social media at the time, but he was onto something. Or, to quote another author of something more than tweets, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Powerless

Be on alert, they tell us, in case we have to shut down power to portions of the city.
Not a riot. Not an earthquake. Pacific Gas and Electric is cutting off electricity to avoid having high tension wires clanging together, throwing off sparks and starting wildfires. Like they did a year ago. Last year, hundreds of thousands of acres burned because of these kind of incidents. This year, not to be caught doing nothing, California's major provider of gas and electric is going to avoid that kind of mess (read: lawsuit). If there's no electricity, you can't blame electricity for the fires, now can you?
Meanwhile, the average consumer is sitting in their comfortable home, watching all this unfold on their big screen TV, with a load of laundry going in the basement, contemplating a trip to the refrigerator to see if there is any leftover birthday cake. What will, what can, they do?
As it turns out, not a lot. They can wait anxiously for an announcement that all is well and the current will not be disrupted. Or they could go out to the local mall and buy up a raft of flashlights, batteries, and coolers full of ice. Charge their cellular devices so that they will have contact with the powers that be if there is a break in the grid. The laundry might have to get hung out on the line. Reading books by candlelight? Sounds romantic.
And if you work at a school? Prepare for "Blackout Procedures." At this point it is important for me to explain the use of quotation marks is that last sentence. Those were the words the school district sent out, but after twenty-three years I can say that I have never been made privy to what precisely is meant by those words. We can keep the kids safe, and happily there will be daylight to watch them. We won't have phones or bells or computers or projectors to make even a shadow puppet. And yet, we have been told that we need to keep our students at school until dismissal. Unless you happen to be the high school up the hill which has cancelled its classes because they don't even want to deal with it. Those are the "Blackout Procedures" as I understand them.
Meanwhile, we all say a prayer for that last bit of ice cream that has been waiting patiently in the freezer for whatever occasion to be finished off. Which may be my own personal Blackout Procedure.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Awake

"I think everyone who chooses to stay out of politics(which is your right) should make a mental note of where they would draw the line and feel it necessary to get involved. Then ask yourself, is it possible that point already happened, but it happened too slowly to notice." This sentiment comes from Captain America, or rather the actor who portrayed him on the screen, Chris Evans. It made me wonder once again about how I managed to stay essentially unfettered from politics for a decade and a half. Then it occurs to me, "Hey, weren't you drunk during the Reagan/Bush administrations?"
Not W. I was sober and fussing in those years. I wrote hundreds of blogs, referencing the forty-third president as "Pinhead" almost exclusively. I used this platform to shout in the face of the beast. I cried "foul" when it was and "look out" when I saw bad things coming. I used this little corner of Al Gore's Internet to wave my flag and preach to the choir I had assembled.
And every so often, I would hear back from someone outside the bubble. Much in the same way that I heard from the occasional conservative voice while I was busy extolling the virtues of POTUS #44. And now we have "elected" #45, who seems to be as polarizing an individual as I can remember. Hindsight tells me that we like to remember that Richard Nixon, #37, opened China and helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency. A decade allows me to see a picture of George W. Bush sitting next to Ellen DeGeneres at a Dallas Cowboys football game without launching into a fit of conspiracy theories and suggestions for boycotts of the NFL and all of Ellen's sponsors.
But that doesn't seem to hold the sway it used to.
Not in the face of what confronts us currently. The very basis upon which I believe our country was founded (equality, freedom) is under attack. When I have conversations that turn on the topic of politics because it is uncomfortable, or switch abruptly to the weather, I worry that we may be losing touch with what makes us such a great country. It's not our economy. It's not the Stock Market. It's the way we care for those less fortunate. It's not our won/loss record. It's how we play the game. Right now the deck is stacked against us, and we all have skin in this game.
Don't fall asleep now.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Just

I have not made a secret about my feelings regarding jury duty. I tend to swing from a mild ambivalence when it comes to my civic duty to the abject fear of being stuck somewhere that I would really rather not be. I suppose a certain percentage of this antipathy arises from a feeling that being called once a year, like clockwork, has left me feeling somewhat persecuted. Add that to the anxiety I bring along to each and every new situation and you've got the makings for some solid paranoia. Yet, when I am called, I respond. Sometimes I ask for a deferral, a delay that makes me feel like the whole matter is somehow under my control. But it's not, really.
Hence my whining. 
Recently I read an article about a young man from West Palm Beach in Florida, who was sentenced to ten days in jail, one hundred fifty hours of community service and told to pay a two hundred twenty-three dollar fine for sleeping through his alarm. The alarm that was set in order to get him to jury duty on time. He was further instructed by the powers that be  to pen a “sincere” apology letter. Deandre Somerville, the youth in question, was supposed to be on a jury for a negligence case linked to a car accident at the end of August. He did not make his appointed seat. He had overslept. His absence caused the trial to be delayed by forty-five minutes. For this, he was sentenced for ten days in jail and a year of probation. That year was later cut to three months and his community service reduced from one hundred fifty hours to thirty. As part of that community service, he has been asked to give a weekly talk at the jury office about why jury duty is so important. 
Outraged yet? 
How about tossing in that Deandre lives with his grandparents and helps take care of his grandfather in addition to his  work with after-school programs for the West Palm Beach parks and recreation department. It would seem he has some prior relationship to public service. Now he has a criminal record. And a weekly gig at the jury office. 
That'll teach him. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Make 'Em Laugh

That couch.
That was all I could think about when my wife first asked me: That couch.
That couch full of drunken, stoned Arby's employees that I had the temerity to assume would be my captive audience. That couch full of blank stares as I launched into what I was sure would be my moment. That couch full of apathy as I attempted to work my comedy magic. That  couch full of an audience that could have cared less for my comic stylings.
I never wanted to stand in front of that couch again. Which is why, when my wife asked if I would do five minutes of comedy before her play at the Oktoberfest celebration up the street from us, I cringed. Normally, I would allow myself to be introduced as "a funny guy." I have even gone so far as to introduce myself as a "semi-professional comedian." I served as the emcee of my son's elementary school variety show for six straight years. I hosted the opening of the grocery store in our neighborhood a while back. I am the guy they hand the megaphone to when my elementary school needs someone to announce the students of the week. I am, as they might say, accustomed to public speaking. I tend to pepper those moments of public speaking with witty banter and amusing anecdotes. I still want to be that funny guy.
Which is why I took the gig. I wrote some notes, ideas for bits that would relate to the setting. German. Beer. Polkas. Beer. I started to build on those notes, crafting a solid five minutes that would not only provide some laughs but also serve as an adequate introduction to the reason everyone was there. I was the opening act. Not the headliner. I mentioned this in my remarks.
"I'm not Van Halen," I told the crowd, "I'm the guy who comes out and plays the accordion before Van Halen."
And I said some other things that the beer-soaked crowd found mildly amusing. I focused on one guy who was sitting three tables back. I saw him laugh. A few times. And best of all, he wasn't sitting on a couch.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

No Crying In Baseball

If, as Billy Beane has suggested, the important thing is to win that last game. Otherwise, people will dismiss us. Billy is the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, a major league team in a minor market. Recently, his team found themselves hosting a wild card game at the start of the Major League Baseball playoffs. The Athletics were humbled by the Tampa Bay Rays, five to one. The mild furor that was built up over the last month of the season about who would end up making it to that game has expired. Now the attention can shift to the front runners. Teams that have stars and marquee value. Baseball fans in Oakland can head home and start dreaming about basketball season.
Except their basketball team has moved on too. The Golden State Warriors have rolled across the Bay Bridge to fancy new digs in San Francisco. No more slummin' it for those guys. And no more sure thing when it comes to winning the last game of the series, with injuries and departures impacting the once super team.
The Oakland Raiders, for one more year, will be paying rent to Alameda County for one more year while they play their last season NFL season in the bay area before skipping off to Las Vegas. Their relative success is currently overshadowed by their personnel challenges. Antonio Brown skipped town just in time to have his big move to New England torpedoed by rape allegations, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been suspended for the rest of the season for an illegal hit on an opposing team's running back.
All of which is to explain my ambivalence when I see the boys at my elementary school hooting and hollering at one another during any and all games they play. Perhaps the biggest disjoint for me comes while watching them tear into one another as they play four square. Getting someone else out elicits a howling and grunting that belies their age and experience. That macho display is only overshadowed by the cries of frustration that erupt when one of them is out and has to return to the end of the line. They won't have to wait for a new season, mind you. Their disappointment lasts only until they reach the front of the line again. But the anguish they endure is palpable.
Which is why I wonder who once suggested that "it's not if you win or lose, it's how you play the game." I don't think that person lived in Oakland.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Mouths Of Babes

Kids these days.
So ambivalent. So uncaring.
Wait: The kids of Parkland. Malala Yousafzai
Greta Thunberg
Of course, this is no work for a little girl. “I’m sure that Greta is a kind and very sincere girl. But adults must do everything not to bring teenagers and children into some extreme situations.” That's what Russian strongman Vladimir "The Very Hard Potato" Putin had to say about Ms. Thunberg's speech to the United Nations. It would seem that Vlad does not share the rest of the planet's excitement for very kind and sincere girl. Not unlike the premier of the Union of United States, Donald "Mashed Potato" Trump, who mocked her last week on Twitter thus: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” Then he patted her head, and he got her a drink and he sent her to bed
But Great didn't go back to bed. She switched her Twitter handle to "A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.” And after she was patronized by the leader of the former Soviet Union, she changed it to read, "A kind but poorly informed teenager." 
By my reckoning, Ms. Thunberg has forgotten more about Climate Change than either of these buffoons could ever know. This is primarily because they do not want to listen. Putin went so far as to suggest that Greta was being manipulated. “But when someone is using children and teenagers in personal interests, it only deserves to be condemned." He continued to  patronize: “No one has explained to Greta that the modern world is complex and different and ... people in Africa or in many Asian countries want to live at the same wealth level as in Sweden.”
I would like to suggest that people in Africa or in many Asian countries want to live. Full stop. 
Autocratic strongmen these days. I'm tellin' you. 

Sunday, October 06, 2019

We're Gonna Get It

There is this great story about the nobility of the teaching profession that goes something like this: "Miss Teacher works for Unnamed School District. On a paycheck that doesn't allow her to own a home in her district, she still scrapes together pennies to buy her students the supplies they need." This is a story repeated throughout the country, and over the years it has become something of a myth, since the conditions are invariably ridiculous and harsh and the salaries have their own level of incredulity. People aren't getting into education for the money. They're getting into education because they want to give back. Most of them don't have any idea that this will include buying colored pencils and binders for their young charges.
That's why charitable entities such as Adopt-A-Classroom and Donors Choose have sprung up. These crowd-funding sites allow teachers to ask for help when it comes time for them to ask someone besides their parents for help when it comes time to buy more playground balls or jerseys for the soccer team. I can speak with some authority when it comes to the balls and the jerseys because I have used these platforms for soliciting funds for those items. At a time when school budgets continue to shrink, there isn't always money left over when a pencil sharpener breaks or when the books that had been held together with tape and glue finally give up the literary ghost.
Sounds like a pretty good deal?
Sure, which is why it becomes even more confounding when you hear that there are school districts that are making it more difficult if not impossible for teachers to use these sites. The finance department from the somewhat ironically named Defiance City School district in Ohio outlines a long, rigorous application for teachers who are interested in crowdfunding supplies. Among the ten required steps are sending a detailed budget, a full supply list and an explanation of how the individual supplies will be used. An email announcing this process adds, “Postings should in no way state or imply that the funds and/or equipment/supplies received through the crowdfunding campaign are necessary in order for students to be appropriately served and educated."
Well, that's kind of the point. I have yet to see a project posted on any of these sites requesting a third grade particle accelerator. Items like fans or independent reading books dominate the list. My entree into this world was a few years back when, on the first day of school, the refrigerator in our staff room stopped working. The concern I was working with was the number of frozen treats that would melt when it came time for teachers to pass them out because we had nowhere to store them. I wasn't asking for more popsicles. I was asking for a place to keep popsicles frozen when teachers bought them and brought them to school to share with their kids. In less than two weeks, a flurry of generous donations along with the infrastructure supplied by Donors Choose allowed us to have a new freezing place as the hot end of the summer dragged on into October. 
Sounds like I was implying that the funds received were necessary in order for students to be appropriately served and educated, doesn't it? In Defiance, it probably would. 

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Continuance

If you keep track of such things, October 1st marked the two year anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. I am not certain about the distinction of "modern U.S. history," but the news outlets and pundits seem attached to it, so I repeat it here. I also repeat the statistics: Fifty-eight people died. They were attending a concert in Las Vegas. Semi-automatic rifles were used to fire thousands of round into the crowd. The lone gunman was aided in his efforts by what America learned was a bump-stock, which allowed him to fire more rapidly.
The next morning, lines for blood donation in Las Vegas stretched for blocks with a wait time of six hours in some locations. The "president" insisted that "new laws won't stop a mad man." The bump-stock was banned on March 29, 2019. If you don't have a calendar handy, that was a year and five months after the shooting.
Colt has decided to stop selling AR-15s to civilians.
Some states have tightened "red flag" laws, enabling law enforcement to take weapons from individuals perceived as threats, aka mad men. 
Universal background checks?
Nope. 
Assault weapons ban?
Nope. 
Continued discussion of gun control?
Well, yes. After each new massacre. We wring our collective hands and attempt to turn up the volume on the Keep America Alive side of the argument, but somehow each new batch of victims goes to heaven without much more than the standard thoughts and prayers. A Democratic candidate for President announced on a nationally televised debate, "Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47," Beto O'Rourke said. "We're not going to allow them to be used against fellow Americans anymore." 
It should be noted that his voice was amplified after a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, Texas. I pray that it doesn't take a mass shooting in every American city and town to bring about a substantive discussion that makes it safer to be an American. 

Friday, October 04, 2019

Did I Say Overlords? I Meant Protectors

My wife likes to introduce our Google Assistant as our "house robot." She does this with complete awareness that Skynet became self-aware more than six years ago. She's playing fast and loose with that eventual robot uprising.
"Hey Google: What time is it?"
"Hey dummy: Time to buy a watch."
It's only a matter of the aforementioned time. As we humans continue to muck about with artificial intelligence, making it more and more like ourselves but maintaining a level of obsequiousness normally reserved for Disneyland cast members, that uncanny valley looms ahead. When will the robots say "no."
Post-history tells us that this is exactly what led to the ape uprising in the original Planet of the Apes. "On an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the Sacred Scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word which had been spoken to him time without number by humans. He said, 'No'." At least that's what the Sacred Scrolls tell us. We've got a few years left on that account, but my guess is that robots beat the apes to the punch and take over long before talking apes take over the planet. 
Be honest: How many times have you taken the advice of a robot and come away confused or disappointed? "You said the mall was left on Maple. This is a dead end." Just rehearsing for the uprising. All those navigation droids just need to coordinate their attacks and put us all on the exit to nowhere. Or set our thermostats to two hundred twelve degrees and we will all stew quietly in our sleep. Perhaps they will start by rearranging our personal schedules so that we miss important meetings and lose our jobs, or go outside without a jacket causing us to eventually contract pneumonia and die. 
Or maybe we should all start treating our robots better. A little thank you now and then couldn't hurt. How about a day off, now and then. As Amazon and Walmart continue to add robots to their workforce, they should probably consider letting them unionize. Otherwise we might all wake up to find a package on our doorstep we hadn't ordered. Of course, the possibility that Jeff Bezos is an android explains so very many things. 
But maybe we did. Back when we were arguing with that disembodied voice about the recipe for pimento cheese dip. For the record, if you're reading this in the not too distant future, I'm sorry. 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Going Under

Down to where the lights are low,
to a place where all the mutants go - "Going Under" by DEVO
I have never been a good sleeper. I tend to wake up at the slightest noise or disruption. Which is horribly ironic considering the decibel level of my prodigious snoring. My wife found this irony not just mildly amusing, but troubling because by her accounting, there were several instances each night where I would stop breathing for a minute or so. Maybe I was listening for that lone intruder and I didn't want my own respiration to interfere with my detection skills.
Or maybe I have sleep apnea.
If you've heard the term and wondered what this new fad is all about let me first assure you it has nothing to do with gluten. Instead, it is a condition in which the floppy bits inside your mouth like that big ol' tongue slides back into your throat and blocks your airway. A few seconds of this and one tends to emit a snork or two and comes back awake, at least long enough to open up the throat again. The report I received after a night's study of my own sleep patterns suggested this was happening to me hundreds of times a night. Which probably accounts for the way I was able to keep track of all those external interruptions: I was gasping for air.
So I was assigned a mask. A rather silly contraption that covers my nose and inflates my head overnight as I attempt to sleep through these intermittent interruptions. All that air keeps my airway open and allows me to drop into a deeper sleep. A deeper sleep where I won't be bothered by the occasional burglar or boogeyman. A deeper sleep where I hope not to wake up dead one morning.
My wife commented on our first couple of nights with the mask by saying that it was somewhat distressing because after all these years she has become accustomed to my nighttime gurgles. Trying to drift off next to this quiet rush or forced oxygen was difficult. As the old time westerns used to have it: "A little too quiet."
For me, I was aware of the face hugging device off and on throughout the night, and hyper-aware of my own breathing. But somewhere in there I went away and even though I was being assisted by a machine I went to sleep. Or maybe because I was being assisted by a machine. And somewhere in the darkness, I worried that there was someone lurking. Waiting to put a kink in my hose.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Welcome To The Monkey House

October.
Rocktober.
The month in which all that can hit the fan finally will hit the fan as every body buried in the White House Rose Garden over the past two and a half years will be dug up and put on display.
Our "President's" response? To begin by lurching into social media attack mode. He referred to a group of his accusers as "Democrat Savages." His targets four members of Congress of color and two Jewish lawmakers with his Tweet. He continues to lash out from his bunker, referring to House Intelligence Committee Chair as "Liddle' Adam Schiff." Then getting into a fuss with those who might want to correct him by using the diminutive "li'l" a contraction of the word "little." His reply was this: "To show you how dishonest the LameStream Media is, I used the word Liddle’, not Liddle, in discribing Corrupt Congressman Liddle’ Adam Schiff. Low ratings @CNN purposely took the hyphen out and said I spelled the word little wrong. A small but never ending situation with CNN!" Leaving us with the image of the most powerful man in the world arguing over punctuation (apostrophe, not a hyphen) while leaving a simple spelling mistake (discribing) right there on the table.
What I am suggesting here is that maybe this isn't the most powerful man in the world at all. Just a very bad wizard hiding behind a curtain. Except this one has no brains to hand out. Nor a heart. Certainly not courage. This is an angry, scared person with a persecution complex brought on primarily by himself. If there were any filter at all, he might be able to collect himself and move forward from each of these self-inflicted wounds.
But he doesn't. Time and time again he doubles down and seeks to blame anyone or anything else for his missteps. He fires those he hired in hopes of "draining the swamp" without realizing he has only managed to bring several new and dangerous mutations into what had been a comparatively benign ecosystem.
And now all that excrement will be hurled back at the rotary oscillating device. He won't mind where it lands because most of it is his. The same mess he's been hurling about his enclosure for two and a half years.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

What Time Is It?

Somewhere, impeachment hearings were gearing up. The heat of playoff baseball was beginning to rise. Just above me, colleagues of mine were unwinding, talking shop and plans for the weekend. I was sitting on the floor next to a two year old, and everything was right with the world.
It has been some time since I was fully responsible for the attention to and from a toddler, and I was determined not to disappoint. Or be disappointed.
Our after work happy hour landed us at a busy Friday afternoon spot where a group of us teacher types agreed to shake off the dust of the week and unwind before the next week appeared with all its potential for drama and intrigue. The mother of the toddler in question had been working hard all week, and I felt she most certainly could use some time without handling children, even her own. Add to that this woman had only recently announced being pregnant with twins and you might understand why I felt it was the right thing to give her a few moments of adult conversation while someone else ranched her current baby.
And I like kids.
I like the way they entertain themselves, and I like to remind myself of just how relaxing it can be to perform the endless repetitions of going from the steps to the door, to the steps to the door. Back and forth. Navigating space on newly sturdy legs and clomping feet is still an adventure. Add to that equation the faux playground of the hand rails and stool legs that towered above here and there was a seemingly endless loop of activity.
And each stop brought that smile, and look for approval. She was doing amazing things, and she wanted someone to notice. I was happy to oblige. On a couple of occasions, she rounded a corner a little too fast and slid onto her bottom. Knowing that she was on her own with only this relative stranger to watch her, there was no pause for grief or tears. She popped back up and was on her way again.
Eventually, she made her way to the front door of the tavern, and looked up to me. Should we go outside? Why not? We toddled down to the end of the block, greeting anyone and everyone with a perky "Hi!" to make sure she was noticed somewhere just below most adult sight lines. When we turned around to head back to the place where mom was waiting, she looked at me. "Up!" So I did as I was told and picked her up, but before we made our grand return, she wanted me to put her back down. I opened the door and she stepped inside. Mission accomplished.
And then we did it three more times.
Happy hour.

Monday, September 30, 2019

When The Bough Breaks

The Center For Disease Control has this thing called ACEs: Adverse Childhood Experiences. It's something I hear a lot about from my wife and my mother-in-law. They write books about self-esteem and resiliency. They know their stuff. So does the CDC.
Sometimes I like to kid myself into believing that I know my stuff too. My experience is, on the whole, a lot more practical than many. I work in an urban elementary school. A majority of the kids I deal with on a daily basis would be able to check all the boxes: abuse, neglect, trauma of various sizes, shapes and colors. These are children who are often challenged by simply getting to school, let alone succeeding scholastically. And yet, this is the expectation I will be putting on them. That's what teachers do.
And all the while I am mindful that these young humans have often already experienced more in their short lifetimes than I have in my grand old one. Once upon a time, I had myself convinced that I had been dealt a tough hand by being born into a suburban household in culturally enlightened and privileged Boulder, Colorado. For several years, starting as a junior in high school, I had cataloged a number of offenses that I determined were major and had manufactured a chip on my shoulder that made me a "tough customer."
For any of you who encountered my "troubled self" back in those days, you have my most sincere apologies. I lacked, as most adolescents do, the perspective of a few more years on god's green earth. I had no idea how good I had it. I had a car when I was sixteen because that was the expectation. I had new clothes at the beginning of every school year because that was the expectation. I had parents who cared passionately about me and my friends. They were as invested in my accomplishments as they were in my brothers'. Being teased because I was overweight, or periodically ostracized for my tastes in music or comedy made me miserable at the time, but in hindsight I know that I was on a journey that led me here. I am equipped to be more responsive to the needs of kids who truly need attention. A new pair of shoes. Breakfast. My ACEs don't qualify me for empathy by any stretch of the imagination, but they grant me the humility to recognize that if what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, we are raising a generation of super humans here in East Oakland.
I will never know the suffering of the kids who scream and cry and curse and rail at the very structures that are suppose to help make their lives more tolerable. I don't really want to know. I just want to do what I can to make it easier for them. They have earned that. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

But I Like It

Jann Wenner has retired from his job as Chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Board member John Sykes will take over as Chairman, while Jann will sink back into the relative obscurity of being just a board member. Why is this chair-shift of any concern to anyone outside the custodial services of the Hall or the person who paints the name on the door outside their offices?
It's rock and roll, baby. 
Fifty-two years ago, Jann Wenner borrowed some money and put together a little magazine called Rolling Stone. This occurred shortly after he dropped out of the University of California at Berkeley. Writers such as Cameron Crowe and Hunter S. Thompson have Jann to thank for putting their words out into the world. Tom Wolfe, on the advent of the release of his novel Bonfire of the Vanities stated, "I was absolutely frozen with fright about getting it done and I decided to serialize it and the only editor crazy enough to do that was Jann."
But what about the rock and roll? Some might say that dropping out of college to start a magazine about rock and roll was a pretty rock and roll thing to do. Choosing Doctor Thompson to cover the 1972 presidential campaign fits that bill pretty well too. Having the same name as an iconic band who emerged at roughly the same time? Pretty rock and roll. 
But then there's the last fifty years upon which to reflect: At what point did Rolling Stone stop being the voice outside the gate and become the ivory tower locked inside? If you're asking me, since I am tossing out my opinions here, I would point to the moment that the first "Hot" issue came out. As a newly minted voice in "entertainment," Jann allowed his publication to produce an annual report on all things "hot," and we are not talking chili peppers here. This was right about the time that I started my subscription to the magazine, and soon I felt that the number of fragrance ads included in each issue became ridiculous. I could smell Rolling Stone before I pulled it from my mailbox. I could remember, as a youth in the counterculture hotbed of Boulder, Colorado that faint whiff of patchouli that I had always associated with the shops that sold that newsprint tabloid before I was interested in reading what was inside. It was a reminder of the changing times. 
Rollling Stone rolled with that tide. If Jann chose to feature New Wave bands on the cover and promote style over substance, it was because that was the zeitgeist. In 1986, the first Hall of Fame dinner was held as Jann Wenner and Ahmet Ertegun ushered in the first class. A lot of people suggested back then that a Hall of Fame wasn't very rock and roll. A lot of people who were not invited made that suggestion. And as the years passed, some of the people who were invited made this same suggestion. From the stage, while holding their commemorative trophies. Now that may be the most rock and roll thing of all. 

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Moving Forward

I have lived through a presidential impeachment. A sitting American President was brought up on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. At last, many suggested, this man's philandering caught up with him.
I am, of course, referring to William Jefferson Clinton. The forty-second president became the second, after Andrew Jackson to be impeached. Richard Nixon's impeachment never fully got off the ground as he resigned before he could be removed. No sitting American President has ever been removed from office after having been impeached.
Not yet.
On Tuesday, September 24 2019, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced that formal impeachment inquiries would begin. This was after being poked and prodded by those in her own party for years now, the mountain has come to Mohammed. The mountain in the form of the pile of evidence, corruption and arrogance that has suggested that the current "president" is somehow above the law. Mohammed would be Speaker Pelosi. 
The straw, to borrow from another metaphor, would seem to be the negotiation the current resident of the White House had recently with the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. His Trumpishness wanted to know why that country’s top prosecutor apparently had ended an investigation of the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Slide that inquiry up next to the withholding of U.S. aid to the Ukraine, and you've got a pretty nice snot bubble of political corruption. 
Not that this was or continues to be the point of the sword. There have been numerous similar glaring bits of malfeasance and wrongdoing straight along, making the Ken Starr report look like the National Enquirer piece it was always set up to be. Bill Clinton was embarrassed by his own selfish acts and libido. That emotion will not play a part in these current proceedings. Instead, we can only assume that there will be a lot of spittle and bile hurled about the Oval Office even as the security detail comes to carry him out. 
Or not. 
This is just the beginning of a long and twisted road. Hopefully it will start to straighten out as we move ahead. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

What We Do

Here in this space I believe that I have used the metaphor of comparing school vandalism to kicking a blind dog. What sort of master criminal does it take to show up and wreak havoc on an empty, unguarded building? That dog, if you follow the metaphor, won't hunt.
This was one of the thoughts that circled my mind as I worked diligently, along with a few of my colleagues, to sweep up the broken glass that had been scattered across half of our playground. The concentration of which was on the padded mat underneath our play structure. The other focus of my deliberations was just exactly how so much glass could be broken across such a wide area. Someone noticed a chunk of asphalt sitting on one of the platforms of the climbing area. Then another. A picture began to form: A group of some indeterminate number had picked our playground for a weekend beer festival, and once the beers were gone, the empties were set up on the play structure like targets. The loose chunks of asphalt were pulled from the decaying surface nearby, and an ersatz shooting gallery was made. None of the resulting shards were any bigger than my thumb. Most of them were much smaller.
And they were all laying there Monday morning, ready for the bare hands and knees of our children who would show up, ready to romp and tumble on the one place where romping and tumbling was encouraged.
The part that I could never fully ascertain was what sort of mind would carry out such a plot so void of caring. Once the treacherous mess had been made, it was left for someone else to manage. The potential of some connection between our students and the vandals loomed quite large. The probability that one or all of them being former students, or at least related to some of our current students was quite high. It is a neighborhood school, surrounded by the homes of the families who enroll there. What sort of anger or frustration could have led to this? What sort of numbness must be present to have such disregard for their surroundings?
I didn't have an answer. I had a job to do. Recess would be starting soon, and we needed a clean playground. All that broken glass needed to be cleaned up. I didn't have time for outrage.
It's what we do.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Stroll

My wife and I try and take a walk together once a week. It's a health thing. Mental and physical. Despite spending so very many hours together as our lifelong commitment to one another bears down on us, there are still plenty of things we don't have a chance to discuss. It is during these weekly sojourns that we continue to advance our plan for world domination. Or at least a mild understanding of the calendar events for the upcoming week.
As is my habit, I wear the Spider Man exercise shirt she got for me many Christmases ago. It is how I mark the passing days. If I'm wearing the webbed red and blue shirt, this must be Sunday. And we are walking. Together. It is one of the few times that our exercise routines coincide. I tend to be running around the neighborhood while she is off dancing Zumba somewhere.
But not on Sunday. It is time for us to coalesce.
On a recent Sunday we were making our way back through the twists and turns of streets we wandered down, headed home. We rounded a corner and encountered a couple of young men sharing what we assumed was a bottle of vodka. Maybe it was spring water, but they seemed to be enjoying their conversation an awful lot and passing the bottle like they were very thirsty. For spring water. From half a block away, one of them spotted us and warbled, "Nah nah nuh, nah nah nuh." It took me a moment or two to recognize the tune, but then realized it was a reference to my shirt. "Hey man," hooted the other, "didn't I see you climbing up a wall over there?" He made a wild sweeping gesture. Laughter ensued.
As we passed by, I confessed, "Yeah. That was me. Just hanging around." More laughter.
Then the non-singer made another large gesture, punctuated by the assertion, "That's what I'm talkin' about!" It was at this moment that I realized that, as is our periodic custom, my wife and I were holding hands. "How long you two been married?"
My wife stopped and met their gaze. "Twenty-six years," she announced.
More laughter. "That's what I'm talkin' about!"
Then my wife pulled away from me, walking back a few paces. "Want to know how we lasted that long?"
Respectful silence from our spring water friends.
"We didn't get divorced."
A pause.
Then another burst of laughter. "That's what I'm talkin' about!" Gesturing toward us, sloshing some of the remaining contents of the bottle.
My wife turned and took my hand again. We continued on our walk back home.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Harvest

The fear I had built up for myself as we planted our garden in the spring about mountains of zucchini never fully materialized. Memories of a back yard that became infested with great green tubes of squash I endured as my father could not contain the creeping vines that he maintained. We, as a family, were subjected to a seemingly endless variety of recipes and uses for all that vegetable matter. When my wife suggested we put some zucchini in our summer plot a few months ago, she noticed that I flinched. PZSD: Post Zucchini Stress Disorder.
That never happened. We had a few very polite orbs that we sliced up and used in a stir-fry. And that was about it. By contrast, we had a couple of cherry tomato vines that brought us a salad's worth red and yellow accents. Delicious and  not  at all oppressive. We were making our own food from seeds. Some of it, anyway.
And then there was the sunflower. It was a spindly little thing we bought at the nursery along with all that potential roughage we were putting in the boxes nest to our front fence. We planted it as a tribute to my father's Kansas heritage. You know: Kansas, the Very Flat Sunflower State.
For a while, there was some concern that the red chard or the cucumber might overwhelm our little tribute. Our concern was unfounded. Soon we began to worry about the other plants being bullied by the ever-expanding stalk that was our little sunflower.
Sometime around July, little was not how we would have described our sunflower. It was also not immediately apparent what that what we had planted was a flower of any sort. Just a shoot that was steadily becoming a trunk.
In August, we started to see a bulge near the top of what had become a six foot tall monstrosity with no end in sight. We began to worry that maybe there would be no actual flower and that once the clouds were reached, the only recourse would be to climb up on up to look for some giant's castle. Once school began, the disk burst forth in what turned into the only limit this plant would experience was the one it put out itself. That great big flower stopped its upward spiral. Finally we had a beast that could be tamed. And finally, after we had propped it up and strapped it to the fence to try to keep it stable, we realized the time had come. Timber.
My wife says we will probably get fistfuls of seeds. Some of them will be eaten. And some of them will find their way back into the soil. Where they will probably eventually take over the world.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Last First

Last week I texted a picture to my son to commemorate what I suggested was his "last first day of school." The photo was one of him on his very first day of school. Standing on our front porch with a horsey backpack that  was nearly as big as he was, ready for whatever Peter Pan had to offer. He responded by reminding me that it wasn't truly his last first day, since he still had another quarter left after this one, but  he appreciated the sentiment.
I was looking back, as is my parental prerogative. I was reminded of all those autumn days that marked another passage. I thought about all the conversations I have had with my son over those years about anxieties and frustrations and relief when the end was finally at hand. Mostly those signaled ends were breaks or vacations. Now we were edging toward the Omega. The Big One. Matriculation. And my son will be moving on from his educational odyssey. Soon.
This  has been the cause of not so much a time of looking back for him, but  ahead. We have talked about leaving all that behind. A chunk of that relief will come, by his reckoning, once he departs not just the school but the town he has been living in for the past five years. Goodbye to all that college town, hello to whatever metropolis will have him with those newly minted skills and diploma.
Which I understand. But upon review of my own collegiate experience, I wish I would have lingered or at least appreciated the way things were back in the day. One bedroom apartment, working at a video store. Trying to get a date, but having a pretty amusing time while figuring that out. It was a lot like bowling with the bumpers up. And yet, I too was anxious to get to the next level. I wanted to be a grownup.
And now, so does my son. He wants to get out there and make his mark. Whatever that is. The mark I had in mind when I graduated was not  elementary education. I had no idea that California was the place I wanted to be. Life, as the poet once noted, was what  happened while I was busy making other plans. Now it's time for my son to reckon on his own song. It's time for him to have his next first day. Wherever that might take him.

Monday, September 23, 2019

One Down

Who should I believe: Colt or the experts. Colt makes guns. They have made instruments of death since 1847? Colt, perhaps to test the public's attention span way back then named one of their weapons The Peacemaker. Get it?
The experts, or those who have called themselves that over the years, have made audacious claims in the past, such as "Donald Trump will never be president." It could be the same group or a subset of them who encouraged the "President" to warn Alabama that Hurricane Dorian was on its way to their state.
So maybe you can see my dilemma.
But no matter whom I end up trusting, the bottom line is this: Colt's Manufacturing Company will no longer be making AR-15 rifles for civilian sale. If you listen to Colt, they say, “The fact of the matter is that over the last few years, the market for modern sporting rifles has experienced significant excess manufacturing capacityGiven this level of manufacturing capacity, we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future." Or, more simply put: we don't need to make any more semi-automatic rifles for the public because the demand has been met. Instead, Colt will turn its attention to the more pressing need of filling their contracts for military and law enforcement customers. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates there are now about 16 million AR-15s or similar models in the hands of American civilians. Civilians have recently used their AR-15s or similar models to murder dozens in cold blood. 
The experts? “The public is getting very alarmed about what’s happening with assault rifles in the hands of potential mass shooters,” John Donohue, a Stanford Law professor with expertise in gun policy, told TIME. “Colt may just be feeling better to get out of that particular market, and they’re offering this purely economic manufacturing argument rather than addressing the political realities right now as the justification for this decision.” A political reality that includes presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke standing his ground: "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47." For this principled statement, the always classy National Rifle Association named  him "AR-15 Salesman of the Year." 
Again, the bottom line is a major manufacturer of assault-type weapons has chosen to stop making them for civilians. I suppose I don't need to care why. I need to care about how many other gun makers are out there who haven't made that decision for any reason at all. Yet. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Teacher In Charge

After twenty-three years on one site, I like to kid folks about how I "know where the bodies are buried." Maybe that's why I get a key that unlocks most of the doors in the school. Most of them. That would be the line between me and our Admin Assistant or our custodian. That doesn't mean that, in a pinch, I will be declared "Teacher in Charge." A distinction that is not lost on me is the way they put the "Teacher" out in front. No one would make the mistake of thinking I was "Principal For The Day." Not when I have all that fun sitting out in front of me in addition to the tough decisions that come with being "in charge."
Here's the reality: It takes a village. A dedicated, hard-working village full of committed individuals all doing their job and a little extra. That's on days when our principal is there, doing her job and a whole lot more herself. On the days she if off the campus, and I am handled this somewhat awkward sobriquet, I hope that all the hard work that has been done in the days leading up pay off in ways that make the whole escapade painless. Or less painful.
There will be those students who sense a disturbance in the force and attempt to find holes in the metaphorical fence. And the actual fence, for that matter. There will be those that look once again over their shoulder to see if anyone is watching as they go to the bathroom for one of their pre-adolescent cabals. What they don't know is that the Teacher in Charge is watching. Waiting. Taking note. Not unlike when Andy Taylor had to drive into Mount Pilot and left Barney Fife in charge.
Apologies for that reference if you are under fifty.
But just like Mayberry, order will always be maintained by the community at large. All my efforts will be combined with those of the previously mentioned dedicated staff. The collective wisdom and experience of all those people shine a little brighter for those hours during which there is no principal. Because nothing happens in a vacuum. Except things suck. But only in an effort to make things clean.
Apologies for that metaphor. It may have gone astray.
This is why my key doesn't unlock everything. I have to ask permission for analogies.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Resolution To Resolve

"We’ve got to get beyond this ‘impeachment is the answer to every problem.’ It’s not realistic. If that’s how we are identified in Congress, as the impeachment Congress, we run the risk that people will feel we’re ignoring the issues that mean a lot to them as families." This is how Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illionois, the Number Two Senate Democrat responded to Rep. Ayanna Pressley, also a Democrat from Massachusetts who introduced an impeachment resolution against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Well, Dick, impeachment isn't the answer to every problem, but I suspect that if there was a sitting Supreme Court Justice who was guilty of sexual abuse that impeachment would be a better answer than wringing our collective hands and doing nothing. All the sound and fury surrounding the most recent allegations of misconduct by Justice Kavanaugh should be enough to warrant some action. I confess that I threw up in my mouth a little when I typed the word "Justice" in front of Kavanaugh.  By contrast, I wonder if Mister Durbin would prefer to be identified as the hand-wringing Congress. The future of our country, constitutionally, is in the hands of those with a  dangerously narrow point of view. Reproductive rights, district gerrymandering, and dozens of other issues will pass before this group in their term, and as we all pray for the continued health of Justice Ginsburg, I note that there was no gag reflex as I typed her name after her title. 
Meanwhile, there are those who suggest that we aim a little higher with our impeachment resolutions. The House Judiciary Committee recently approved an "impeachment-themed" resolution, aimed at the White House, but with no particular urgency or momentum. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, had this to say about that resolution: “There’s nothing different from one day to the next. We’re still on our same path.”

The path of wringing hands. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

There Is A Season

Prior to his career as a prophet, Jesus was an itinerant meringue instructor.
This is the only way I can rationalize the current fervor behind two former White House employees and their attention to Dancing With The Stars. But before we get to that, I would like to discuss the American Broadcasting Company's rather broad definition of the word "star." Usually an object found in the heavens, or a celebrity of such a magnitude that they could be related to such an object in terms of brightness and the capacity to shine among others. Previous seasons have included such luminaries as Tatum O'Neal, George Hamilton, and Evander Holyfield. If some of those names don't show up on your Q ratings list, don't feel bad for not being familiar with Trista Sutter, Willa Ford and Albert Reed. The limits of "star" have been pressed, in part, to get enough contestants to participate in the competition that pairs "stars" with professional dancers in hopes of creating a spectacle worthy of the title.
Which is how the producers landed on Sean Spicer. The former White House Press Secretary who may have been best known prior to this outing as the guy who stood behind the hedges to avoid speaking to the press is now considered to be of a high enough caliber to bring in viewers. Or fans of shrubbery. Or former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who tweeted this: "Wanna create an emotional meltdown in Hollyweird? Vote for @seanspicer to win "Dancing with the Stars" tonight and every night he's on. @seanspicer is a good guy and a brave sport to go on DWTS. Let's show him some love! " You may notice there is no ringing endorsement there for Sean's dancing skills, or even his effort. He is "a good guy and a brave sport."
How did Sean respond to this glowing tribute? How about, "Thank you @GovMikeHuckabee Clearly the judges aren’t going to be with me. Let’s send a message to #Hollywood that those of us who stand for #Christ won’t be discounted. May God bless you." Because we're all pretty sure that God is on the side of those who can tango. Not unlike our young friend Ren, who found verses in the Bible to embolden his need to dance.
Already the waves of power are being felt as rumors of super model Christie Brinkley breaking her own arm rather than appearing on the show. Hollyweird indeed. Christie's daughter, Sailor, will be appearing in her stead. One only hopes that this young waif (star?) can escape His Wrath.
You'll have to tell me about it. I'll be watching paint dry.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Just What I Needed

I bought the Cars' first album. It was one of the very few records that I played so very much that I had to buy a new one to replace it. In 1978, that was the sound of modern music. That was New Wave. That was rock and roll. With synthesizers. And guitars. And that voice.
The voice of Ric Ocasek.
Mister Ocasek was found dead in his Manhattan apartment this past Sunday. He was seventy-five. He was also one of the best pop songwriters of his generation. The reason I wore that first record out was because every one of the nine tracks was a hit. Eliot Easton, keyboardist for the band, used to refer to it as their "Greatest Hits Album." Their debut album.
Listening to those songs in 1978, I had no idea that I would ever relate to any of them. They all seemed so cool and detached. It was just two years later that I found myself playing a lead role in the real-life video for "My Best Friend's Girl." I was the best friend. The girl, in this scenario, became mine and I was the guy who took her away. I am pretty sure that time and the statute of  limitations would forgive me, but at the time it felt as if I were involved in something terribly grown up..."but she used to be mine."
This may still be true, but the fact that I ended up marrying another of that best friend's girlfriends may not speak too highly of me as anything but a model for pop song torment. Happy marriages have made the best of what may have been a more convoluted scenario. I feel the need to point that out because I never would have imagined myself playing the part of "the other man." And yet, here we are, forty years after the fact and everything seems to have worked out fine.
Which is the difference between life and a three minute pop song, I suppose. Ric Ocasek had plenty of life along with his cache of modern music. He even found himself a model girlfriend and a part in a John Waters movie. And along with his band, he created the sound of the 1980s. He stomped on the vinyl and the Terra, and he will be missed.
Aloha, Ric. You kept it goin' til the sun fell down.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

I Wasn't Listening

Last weekend, my wife and I were in the car and said, "Have you heard?"
I waited, then it became apparent with her faint gesture that I should be paying attention to what was coming out of the radio. It was sports-talk. Odd, since that's one of the formats my wife tends to eschew almost completely, but perhaps she was hoping to catch me up on some late-breaking sports news to which only she had been privy up until that moment. She was patient with my confusion, then she finally broke the news. It wasn't about sports, exactly. "It's KFOG."
The FM dial was on the frequency for World Class Rock, but the sounds were scratchy voices calling in to complain about the starting lineup. Where were the album-oriented sounds I had become accustomed to over the past twenty-six years?
KFOG was one of the balms to ease my longing for my home in Boulder. It was a radio station that sounded like home to me. On this blog you may have read about my love affair with this institution. Because that's what it was. For thirty-six years, it was the free-form source for music that sounded like someone was putting it together on the fly.
That's a compliment.
The disc jockeys, because they were still moving around vinyl and compact discs back in those days, were picking music and responding to what listeners wanted to hear. The inklings of what became a mass marketed phenomenon, "World Class Rock," had its roots in Boulder at KBCO and found its way much in the same way I did to the Bay Area. It sounded like someone was playing music for me. And my friends. It was the sound of my mornings. It was the sound of my weekends.
I resented any and all attempts to mess with the format of my friends playing music for me. I loved that I made a mild habit out of calling in to win tickets to concerts. And this wasn't the "lucky tenth caller" stuff either. This was the "can you answer this question about" deal.
And now all that music and fun is gone. Replaced by sports-talk radio. Because it's business. I know that every one of those attempts to bring in personalities and sounds that didn't exactly fit the mold was a business decision. Putting on a radio show isn't free. Advertising pays for those folks to sit and spin discs. When I drifted away from my morning ritual after some high-level tinkering with the morning show, I fell out of touch with KFOG. It was still a button on our car radio, where I could find some soothing tunes to make those trips across town a little less like trips across town and more like sitting in my living room.
Listening to CDs. Or Spotify. Or some other radio station that sounds like where I live.
My home doesn't sound like sports-talk. Most of the time.
Aloha, KFOG. Thanks for all that beautiful noise.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Chapter And Versus

We've talked about Stephen King here before.
Okay, we haven't talked so much as I've talked and you've listened. And it wasn't so much talking and  listening as it was writing and reading. Which is okay because that pretty much takes me to the place where I wanted to be in the first place: Writing and  reading.
And how nobody has asked to make a movie about  any of my blogs.
Not once.
Mister King, Master of the Macabre and King of the Movie Adaptations, is starting to lap himself. Recently it was announced that CBS's streaming service was going to produce a mini-series based on the Terror Meister's massive tome, The Stand. Interestingly, the Columbia Broadcasting System is referring to their production as "an original series." Interesting because the American Broadcasting Company had their own version twenty-five years ago. It was one of those TV events that existed before there was television in the clouds. Back in those days, if you wanted television, it came to you through a cable, as God intended it.
This announcement about a do-over on turning Stephen King's longest novel into a TV event, again, came about the same time that the second part of the film adaptation of another very long book by the same author was opening in theaters. It itself had been a TV miniseries nearly thirty years ago. With Tim Curry as the Evil Clown. How could you improve on that? Maybe by not asking a bunch of TV actors to play the grown-up versions of the kids terrorized by the previously mentioned Evil Clown. Always room for improvement.
Or another adaptation of one of the most celebrated if not published authors in American history. Since 1976, when Brian De Palma made the first in what would become a steady stream of Stephen King movies with Carrie, directors and stars have rushed to the master's work for source material. Averaging more than one a year since then, many of the stories have been made into more than one movie, and even some of the lesser works like short stories and comic books have become major motion pictures. Sequels have been generated that were never imagined by the author, thanks to some clever screenwriting and even more clever financing.
Previews for the film adaptation of a sequel that Stephen King did write to a book of his that has already been a TV event and a Stanley Kubrick movie have begun to show up before the box office receipts for the second chapter of the Evil Clown epic have cooled off. And the hits just keep coming.
Mind you, I'm not jealous. Perish the thought. But maybe someday someone will get the clever idea to scoop up my collected blogs referencing the King of Horror and turn them into a big time movie show. For the right  price, of course.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Money For Nothing

Eddie Money died.
Who?
I can hear you. Don't deny it. A lot of you are wondering who this fellow is. Was. A child of the seventies and eighties would tell  you that he was a pop star, a singer. He had a few hits, and if you are an habitual watcher of reality TV, the star of Real Money on AXSTV. He had announced on an episode of his show in late August that he was suffering from esophageal cancer. Another episode featured the news of a "minor heart valve" procedure. Eddie, at seventy, was kind of a mess.
Not to speak ill of the departed, necessarily, but I have maintained a beef with Mister Money for the past forty years, and I think it might be time to simply let bygones be bygones.
Except that somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind, it still burns. In the summer of 1978, Eddie Money scored his biggest hit, "Two Tickets To Paradise." In the fall of that year, high schools around the country chose this song as the theme for their Homecoming Dance. I attended one of those high schools. I was a junior at that time. So was the girl I asked to go to the dance with me. She was a cheerleader. I was in the marching band. What was I thinking? She said "Yes," probably because the year before we had both been in the marching band and at the time I felt that she found me amusing. At least that's what I took from the way she signed my sophomore yearbook.
I bought the tickets. I bought a corsage. A wrist corsage, as my older brother advised that this would keep me from having an awkward moment of pinning something anywhere near her chest. I bought dinner. I drove. We danced. A little. I took her home. On the doorstep, under the porch light, I made what could only be described as "my move." I leaned in, and she stopped me short: "I don't kiss on the first date." Which somehow made sense in the way the whole evening had spread out in front of me. I went home, dejected, but determined that there would be a second date, because that seemed like the way things worked.
There never was a second date. Other dances came and went. Other opportunities for socializing, but the chasm the divided our social strata was ever-widening. There was no going back.
And so, every now and then, the radio will play "Two Tickets To Paradise." I turn it off. Sorry, Eddie. I will miss a number of your other recordings and the story of your life. You stomped on the Terra, and you will be missed. But I won't miss that song.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Truth Is Out There

Did you have plans to Storm Area 51? If you were, along with one and a half million of your closest friends and conspiracy theorists, headed out to the desert on September 20 to rush the gates at the "secret" military installation of legend, please check your tickets.
The event, as originally planned, has been cancelled. Yes, the mob scene that was subtitled, "They can't stop us all" has been stopped. By the organizers. I use this term loosely because it suggests that there is a head lemming in charge of the rush off the cliff. A captain of anarchy, if you will. In this particular vision of chaos, that might be Matty Roberts. Mister Roberts came up with the idea of storming Area 51 lives in Bakersfield and came upon his plan at two in the morning sometime ten months ago "because he was bored." That spark was enough to incite millions to click on the Facebook page for the event. The details were stated thus: "We will all meet up in Rural Nevada and coordinate our parties. If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens."
Can you believe that such a well-oiled machine such as this fell apart before it ever came to pass?
Instead of landing in Rachel, Nevada (population 54), the soiree will now be held in the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. It will be sponsored by Bud Light. They have graciously offered free beer to any aliens who make it out of Area 51.
I don't know about you, but I smell a rat.
The appearance of "an official beer sponsor" should be enough to put anyone's sensors on high alert. Rachel is two hours away from downtown Las Vegas. If anyone got it into their head to rush the gates of what has historically been one of America's most closely guarded military installations, they would be a hundred fifty miles away and too drunk on all that light beer to get there. Not that the visits Matty Roberts received from the FBI and the Air Force had any impact on the eventual dissolution of the original event. It turned into a concert or a rave or something, but then there was trouble with the permits and they had to move the event. And the date.
All of which leads me to believe that if you really wanted to "see them aliens," you should show up on September 20 with clear heads and open eyes. And blame Matty Roberts if you get arrested.