Sunday, January 20, 2019

Ad To The Discussion

I heard an ad on the radio for Buffalo Wild Wings. If you are unfamiliar with this chain, it promotes itself primarily through three words: Wings, Beer, Sports. The commercial that I found myself listening to was focused on those last two. It suggested that men should drop on by their nearest location to watch the playoffs rather than hanging at "your place." Which they suggested might mean sitting on the couch, rubbing knees and/or elbows which would be "uncomfortable." Instead, they promoted the idea of five dollar pitchers of beer and your own personal stool to avoid any discomfort from closeness. Because any drunken brawl should begin by gnawing on extravagantly spiced poultry bones and guzzling beer from your own private homophobic perch.
At least that was my personal takeaway from the ad.
Contrasting mightily to this radio bit was the commercial I viewed online from Gillette razors. For a minute and a half, no razors are sold, just the slogan: The Best A Man Can Get. Images of harassment and brutality are confronted by men choosing to stand up to the problem, asking "Is this the best a man can get?" The message seems to be "not yet," and encourages us all to take a stand against what has been labelled "toxic masculinity."
Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of people (mostly men) chose to take offense at this message. James Woods had this to tweet: "So nice to see @Gillette jumping on the 'men are horrible' campaign permeating mainstream media and Hollywood entertainment. I for one will never use your product again." Mister Woods was not alone in his disapproval. Hindu chaplain and futurist A. Mathura tweeted, "I won't be buying Gillette and other P&G products again. A company that has built its empire thanks to men buying its products for decades now dares to spit on masculinity in the new commercial. I'm done! #BoycottGillette.
Spit on masculinity? Sexual harassment is all a part of men being men, boys being boys. Intimidation is all part of growing up male? I can get behind the notion that Gillette may have been motivated by factors outside the ideals that they are promoting, surely promoting positive values will help drive sales. But what about those men who are defending their "spit-upon" masculinity? I guess we'll have to save them a stool at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Vacation Negotiations

So, how is everybody enjoying their extra vacation? All those teachers in Los Angeles who are taking an extra few days to march around in the rain instead of attending to things in their classrooms. We call this a "strike." It is an interruption in the services generally considered to be automatic in the United States of America. Public education is the stuff of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I work at a school named for the gentleman who is referred to as the father of public education, Horace Mann. Horace figured, way back when, that basic literacy and familiarity with the basic tenets of their government was vital to keeping a democracy alive. He said, "A republican form of government, without intelligence in the people, must be, on a vast scale, what a mad-house, without superintendent or keepers, would be on a small one." 
If you're wondering if there is some connection between "republican" and our current "Republican," you need not search long. It's there. 
Meanwhile, as my own teacher's union continues to support those who are striving for better pay and lower class size, I find myself on the cusp of walking out myself. What if my local votes to strike? What about all these kids that I work with every day? Their families and this community? How will they handle hearing that their children's teachers feel they are underpaid and overwhelmed? Having a salary to negotiate in the first place is a luxury tow which many of our parents can't relate. Their day-to-day routines will be fully impacted without a public school to tend and teach their kids. What sort of solidarity can we hope to generate here in urban Oakland?
Hypothetically, a lot. The "what if" discussions that have taken place over the past few weeks have been mildly encouraging. But when the second or third day comes around and finding day care for three small children who need someplace to stay while mom and/or dad head off to their paid by the hour jobs. Parents who are routinely challenged by the options of coming to school to pick up their sick or misbehaving child or finding a way to negotiate the situation so they don't have to leave work. 
Meanwhile, the government shutdown continues. As does the "vacation." 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Burger King

If I walked into a room full of tables loaded down by a variety of fast food, I might believe that I had walked into a dream. At least that was the case once upon a time. When I was in college and lived on a diet of Hamburger Helper and whatever I picked up on my drive home, this would have been something akin to finding the Golden Ticket allowing me entrance to Mister Wonka's factory. This may have been the logic behind our "President's" choice to create this drive-thru nirvana at the White House when this year's college football champions showed up to be recognized by the guy who lives there.
It certainly generated a unique photo opportunity, where a variety of providers had piles of their "food" stacked in pyramids, awaiting all those hungry hungry football players. Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, and pizza were on the menu, and few if any of the Clemson Tigers seemed disappointed by the spread. College kids. Free food. What's not to like?
How about this: The reason for the burgerpalooza was that White House chefs were not available to prepare the feast because of the government being shut down. The "President" bought all the grub himself, because he's that kind of guy. The kind of guy who would buy all the food to celebrate the National Champions of college football visiting his home. They guy who is a millionaire. The guy who shut down the government and could have postponed the celebration until he got chefs back to work. The guy who has had some difficulties getting championship teams to drop by the White House.
That guy.
The guy who has his own predilection toward buckets of chicken and Big Macs. The guy who eats pizza with a knife and fork. The guy who could have spent a few bucks more per person and brought in something nice, that would have been something other than empty calories for these student athletes.
That guy.
The guy who noticeably glossed over one fast food provider: Taco Bell.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Really Super

This is the time of year that I tend to ask my mother who she likes to win the Super Bowl. Occasionally, the answer has been an easy one. Those are the occasions on which the Denver Broncos find themselves in the running for the Lombardi Trophy. When this is not the case, she will search for some rationale or hint that will bring her to some connection that will allow her the three week run-up to the Big Game to be full of intrigue.
Otherwise, it's just another football game. Another year with the promise of spectacle that tends, for most people, to center on the commercials. Or the puppies. The expectation, however, is right there in the title: it's supposed to be Super. It should be noted that only about thirty percent of these games have been won by seven points or less. That's out of fifty-two games, so you figure it out.
What I am suggesting is that my mother and I continue to try and drum up excitement for a game that rarely lives up to the hype. By having this conversation with my mother, I am trying to invigorate my own concerns about Super Sunday. I have, over the years, hosted Super Bowl parties even when "my team" has not been a participant. This is primarily because I want to have the badge of honor that says I have participated in this cultural event. Anecdotally, I can add that back when the Denver Broncos did win Super Bowl Fifty ("L" to its friends) I had jury duty the following Monday morning, and my opportunity to flaunt the outcome of that contest was lost by sitting in a very quiet room with a bunch of folks whose football allegiance was as unknown as my own to them. The next day when I showed up to school, no one was really interested in discussing the finer points of Peyton Manning's last game, or the significance of winning the third Super Bowl in franchise history.
Everyone else had moved on. Super what?
But now we're here, and the road to Atlanta is heating up. Atlanta is where the Super Bowl is being held this year. Building excitement is the challenge for those of us living outside the four remaining cities that have a horse in this race. Okay, they're not horses, that's a metaphor. A sports metaphor which is worth mentioning because my mother also attends a yearly Kentucky Derby party at which she has picked the winner for the past seven years in a row.
Wonder why I'm asking my mom about the Super Bowl?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Picture This

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I suppose I could have saved a lot of time by making this a photo-blog. I also wonder if that valuation has changed at all in the world of digital photography. It used to be that when you took a photo, you would hope that the control you had over the exposure and light and the relative stillness of the subject would suffice to become a signpost for memories. Looking at all those pictures when they came back from the lab, there was no turning back. You had that strip of negatives, and if you wanted to get prints, you could mark those and -
But we never did. We just took the pictures and when that roll came back from the developers we were happy with what we got. Who know from a pixel back then? I can remember the idea of one hour film developing. Drop it off in the morning, pick it up at night. I can even remember where the local Fotomat was.
But who cares? Now we can take dozens of snaps of any moment or any event. As long as our battery holds out, we can take pictures of ourselves standing on that same ledge for days in hope of getting just the right shot. I can remember being admonished not to waste film by making faces at the camera that had been pointed at me. Now we make a game out of photo-bombing our friends and strangers alike. I can remember that getting a roll of super eight movie film would take a week or more to come back to me. Now I just push that little button on my phone and watch as it unfolds. If I don't like what I see on playback, I press delete and do it all over again.
So it is for these reasons that I believe we should reconsider that exchange of one picture to each thousand words. I am guessing that five hundred would do at this point. I might suggest that what you have read so far has done a fair amount of stirring your gray matter, perhaps even to the point of creating a picture or two in your mind. If I had a mind to suggest that you imagine a blue giraffe hunched over a plate of  greens in a booth at Denny's while a snowstorm raged outside, you might generate an image or two of your own. Or maybe you have spent the past few moments recalling your particular past experiences with photos, digital or otherwise. The strip of four that came from that booth in the front of K-Mart. Or the one you took of your dog after she had gone ten rounds with the puddle out back. Whatever the picture, whenever it was, words struggle to keep pace with all those colors. The lights, the darks, the shadows. And maybe they will make you smile. Like these five hundred words did.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hair Of The Dog

Here's an interesting thing, to me: I get about the same number of questions about my relationship to alcohol from adults as I do from kids about my relationship to hair.
Mister Caven, why don't you have any hair?
Mister Caven, what happened to all your hair?
Dave, why don't you drink?
Dave, what made you stop?
The difference, apparently, is in the mode of address. Kids tend to be a little more formal, where adults are a tad familiar. Which is fine, since in those cases where I am being offered a drink, I have already been offered something and turned it down.
Still, it's those moments of mild intrusion into my personal business that chafe ever-so-slightly. If I had my way, I expect I might be enjoying a full head of hair, rocking all the latest in styling products and taking those extra minutes in front of the mirror that hair can require. By the time I was in my twenties, my hairline had crept back past my forehead and was retreating back across my skull. My nominal solution was to let it grow wild and as curly as possible, since the air that I induced gave the impression of volume. It was my father's voice, one of quiet confidence in his disappearing hairline, that told me that true surrender came in the form of a comb-over, not the simple acceptance of baldness.
I don't drink because I was no good at it. Or perhaps I was too good at it. It kind of depends on the way you slice it. I do not remember a time when I had "a couple of drinks." That was a skill that I lacked and seemed determined not to pick up until my drunken behavior brought me far too close to the edge of a cliff where my personal relationships began to disappear.
Like my hair.
If I was able to sport an award-winning haircut and sip a cocktail at a party, I think this would be a relief of galactic proportions. The fact that this experience has somehow evaded me throughout my adult life is a nagging if not persistent thorn in my side.
The good news is that I have been able to find comfort and solace in shaving my head smooth, and avoiding hangovers for the second half of my life. So far.
Meanwhile, the nagging question persists: Do you miss it?
Not when I have those extra minutes each day that could have been spent on hair maintenance. Or the time it took on a somewhat frequent basis to make those phone calls of apology for my drunken behavior. I don't miss that at all.
And neither should you.

Monday, January 14, 2019

How Much Do You Really Want To Know?

I confess that I am tempted by the occasional click-bait story, though once I see the "sponsored" heading at the top, I shy away because I don't want to have to wade through all the possible pop-up and drop down distractions that accompany such curiosity. That restraint has recently been tested when I read this headline: Groom Reads Bride's Affair Texts Instead Of Vows. And this wouldn't have been quite as intriguing, even though it was, if I hadn't seen a very similar headline just the day before: Bride Reads Groom's Affair Texts Instead Of Vows.
So my mind was confronted by this question: Really? Had this event occurred somewhat coincidentally to both a bride and a groom? Is there some geographical link? Maybe a family that shares some of the same commitment issues? What other sociopolitical links might exist?
Because here's the deal: Weddings do not tend to be cheap affairs done on the sly. They are lavish events that involve the efforts and attention of dozens if not hundreds of individuals. Which may explain why, rather than simply calling off the whole soiree, the bride or groom might be tempted to go through with the charade if only to have the thrill of pulling off some sort of viral social media scene that would be talked about for years.
Or end up as text bait on Yahoo.
This is the part where I start to wonder what sort of characters we are dealing with. When confronted by the news that your perspective mate is cheating on you, would you feel crushed or humiliated? Certainly. Would you then set about on some lavish stunt to publicly embarrass your fiancee on the day that would have marked the first day of the rest of your lives together? Which in turn makes me wonder who else was in on the stunt. The Best Man? The Maid of Honor? Mom? Dad? Would it still be a funny story if Uncle Jack had a stroke as a result of the big reveal or the fistfight that broke out in the pews of the First Methodist?
So I have decided that I am just fine with the distance I maintain between these folks and myself. By not clicking on either of these stories, I can stay in the dark. I don't want to know the details. Except maybe one thing: Is this the same couple doing a mutual expose of their infidelities? So many questions. So few answers.
Which is fine with me.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Survey Says:

I looked for a while at the graph posted outside one of our second grade classrooms. The title of the graph was "Our Favorite Restaurant." My first bit of pleasure came from the proper spelling of "restaurant," since that word has burdened both my son in his appearance at the district spelling bee and my own classroom experience where I spent a week teaching that word as vocabulary and having to pause each and every time I wrote it. But there it was, big as life, spelled correctly. This was notable for me, since last year when a different teacher occupied that classroom, there was a note posted asking other students, "do not reap our work." The first hurdle was cleared.
The second thing I noticed was that there was something there to notice. The teacher whose classroom had this graph on display had only been there for a couple of days. She had come in as a substitute for the lady who had been there since the beginning of the school year. And left. Before she left, there had not been a lot of student work displayed on the bulletin boards outside her classroom. She had been struggling with the business of managing a classroom. Inside. What happened on the bulletin boards was going to have to wait.
As I examined the data on the graph, I thought about the different approaches teachers take with their classes. I have struggled at times with my own approach: taskmaster or fun guy? The answer, as it almost always is, lies somewhere in the middle. Finding the middle is the adventure. Continuing to reach and educate young minds while this search goes on is the challenge. This is what was obviously going on inside this second grade classroom. Eight kids had placed their post-its on the McDonald's line. Only one picked Burger King. The majority of the class had stuck their post-its next to Taco Bell. Suddenly, a world of information was made available to anyone who took a moment to look at the graph. That one outlier sticking to their Burger King guns was to be congratulated for their steadfast commitment. The first choice on the list was McDonald's, so it made sense that there might be a solid mass there, but the majority of the class held out for the third choice, Taco Bell. There was some thinking going on. Choices were being made. And if the students in that class came away with a rudimentary understanding of line plot graphs, everybody wins.
Teaching is a hard job.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bird Brained

When I was in Kindergarten, I had watched (mostly through squinted eyes), Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. It wasn't until much later in my life that I began to appreciate all the layers and subtleties of the film, not the least of which was the torment experienced by the film's star, Tippi Hedren, at the hands of her director. When I was five, the focus was squarely on being chased by crows that were only concerned with pecking out children's eyes. Which is why it stuck with me all the way to morning recess on Monday, when I began to entertain my friends with the lurid story of how this girl got chased by crazy birds.
We decided to play The Birds. The rules were simple, I would be the bird that chased the boys and girls around the playground, trying to peck out their eyes. Without an immediate approximation of a beak, I settled instead for pulling my arms into the sleeves of my jacket and racing around while twisting my shoulders, giving the impression of flapping wings.
Terrifying.
And this worked tremendously until I tripped and fell. On my front, but more significantly on my bunched up arms that were the thrust into my stomach, pushing all the air inside of me out. I had heard of "having the wind knocked out of you," but I had never experienced it. I thought that I might die. There was no air in my lungs, and in my fright, I was having a very difficult time catching my breath. Once my little friends determined that I was not attempting to lure them closer by pretending to be unable to breathe, a few of them came to my aid. They helped me across the yard, into the building, and to the nurse's office.
That was where I attempted, through sobs and gasps, to recount just exactly how I had landed there. No matter that by this time I had regained most of my lungs' capacity and was using it to heave and cry about how I was sure that I would most certainly die. Until I calmed down and realized that I had returned to something resembling normal and I would almost certainly survive.
My mother likes to remind me, from time to time, that the book she was reading while she was pregnant and awaiting my birth was The Birds. After many years of living in the Bay Area, my wife and I spent a long weekend in Bodega Bay, where locations for Hitchcock's film were shot. And now I am an elementary school teacher, who doesn't panic when he sees flocks of birds swarming the playground. That fear returns when I see a kid pulling their arms into their sleeves and begins to chase their friends across the yard.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Crisis? What Crisis?

Describe for me, if you will, what constitutes a national emergency for the United States. If you have been reading this space for any period of time, you know that my own beliefs put it somewhere in the category of alien invasion. The outer-space, clawed, ray-gun toting, carnivorous and bad tempered aliens. Not the aliens from just down the coast below, like Nogales and San Diego and Rio Grande. And it occurs to me just now that if you didn't want Spanish-speaking folks from crossing over into our country, don't give your cities Spanish names.
While we're on the topic of common sense, let's try this on for size: Much of the furor being generated about our borders is the fear of terrorists finding their way onto our shores. So here's the deal: The number of terrorists apprehended at our southern border, the place we are suggesting that we spend five billion dollars to build a wall, is zero. Suspected terrorists have been caught coming into our country at airports. They are not scrambling over, tunneling under or sneaking around any fences, walls or dotted lines in the dirt. The job of apprehending these potential threats falls to the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration. These are some of the folks who are being impacted most directly by the government shutdown. Their union believes that hundreds of security screeners have quit or called in sick over the past two weeks as a result of not being paid. If the threat to our country is gong to assailed by terrorists, it would be good if we had the path through which they most regularly travel would be properly staffed.
So, not paying that first line of defense and keeping the rest of the government closed while we wait with baited breath for this insisted wall that could be concrete, could be steel but will definitely keep our country safe. From eight year old girls from Guatemala. From the scourge of drugs that plague our cities, not the opioids, that other scourge that is being hauled across the southern border inside the calf implants of vicious gang members who exist only to commit the vicious crimes for which most of the immigrants who are crossing the border are fleeing their own country and -
I'm sorry. But the logic here has broken down so significantly that I can no longer bear to discuss it. Meanwhile, Americans here legally suffer. Migrants attempting to make a new life for themselves in our land of plenty are cut off from what had been historically legal avenues to citizenship. There is a national emergency, but it is not at our southern border. It is the vacuum of leadership sitting in the White House bathroom, tweeting.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Milestone

If you were to put all of these blog entries end to end, depending on the font, you would have just about a mile of blog. This is my coy way of saying that you are currently reading the five thousandth iteration of what is on my mind. Five thousand. That's a lot of stuff on my mind.
Don't blame my parents, though my mom and dad have certainly inspired a great many of the stories and memories found here. They are also responsible for supporting this habit of writing since way back in second grade when I was writing stories about Snoopy playing quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Don't blame them, either, by the way. I have used this space to voice my opinions and observations about professional sports, much to the dismay of my younger brother. You can't blame him, either, since the only ones he acknowledges are the ones in which he appears. There have been a few of those. My older brother too. My family has been featured more than some, and this is especially true of the kid I raised from a puppy. My son has been a very good sport as I have related stories of his youth while reflecting on my own as it fades. And my wife who has been showcased for her attentions and distractions and her love and support of all this meandering.
Friends, some of whom tune in for a glimpse of the past, or a taste of what happened this past week. Strangers who have stopped in here to find out what all this fuss is about, some of whom have returned again and again, just to see if all this fuss has continued. It has. I am still here, writing tales of what once was and what might be. I'm telling stories because it's what I do. Forgive me if you've heard this one before, but I have been telling stories since that second grade flurry. And before that. I used to think that I wanted an audience and now I have one. It may not be the adulation of opening night or provide me with book signings and hobnobbing with all those other writers of stories, but look: I made you read this.
That's the trick, ultimately: Getting someone to read this. Otherwise it's only five thousand journal entries. Kept under lock and key, this blog would still be that exercise of getting what is on my mind out on paper. Or on a screen. And I suppose, to that end, I should thank Al Gore for creating the Internet so that I would have a place to hang all this thought laundry. Thanks Al. And to all those  other innovators and creators who have inspired me. To all those destroyers and hypocrites that have lodged something in my metaphorical craw, thank you for supplying grist for this mill.
The story mill, where I work every day. The place where you'll find thousands of stories. Some of them are funny. Some of them are sad. Some of them are poems. And happily, most of them are less self-congratulatory than this. Thank you for your patience. Tomorrow, we'll get back to the stories.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

I Don't

Funny, or funny odd? Or funny not? Try as we all might, it is sometimes very difficult to arrive at those things that are universally funny. In this pile, I would point to the films of Charlie Chaplin. Charlie's movies are considered by many to be the pinnacle of slapstick, while others see them as the work of a communist sympathizer. What's so funny about socialist propaganda? Well, lots when you take into account all those folks falling down and such.
Then there's the work of comedian Louis C.K. I am not certain of Louis' political affiliation, but I am familiar with the public relations train wreck he experienced when his rather sordid and unfunny bouts of tormenting women and harassing them sexually came to light. As many public figures did over the past couple of years, he took some responsibility for his actions and then his bosses did what they do, which was stop giving him a place to be "funny." So off Louis went to comedy jail, with little or no hope of parole.
But just recently, Louis broke out. Comedy jail isn't that hard to break out of, what with the sleeping guards and rubber bars. He showed up on stage, including in his act a little riff on the survivors of the Parkland high school shooting: "How does that make you interesting? You didn’t get shot," CK can be heard saying. "You pushed some fat kid in the way and now I got to listen to you talking?” Pretty edgy stuff. Or pretty awful stuff coming from a guy who has proven himself a poor judge of what is and is not appropriate. He wound up the bit with, "Everybody gets upset when there’s a shooting at a high school, I don’t see why it’s worse than anybody else dying, I don’t.” 
In baseball, we might call that "swinging for the fences." Say or do something so outrageous that the world will forget that you were showing off your private parts to female subordinates in an exchange that can best be described as "pitiful." Not funny. So now the legacy of comedian Louis C.K. is a sad tale of poorly judged circumstances and the relative power of words. His apology from a year ago hasn't given him the freedom to mock victims of a mass shooting. To take his own tack, it's sad when anyone's career dies, but I don't see why it's worse than anyone else's career dying. 
I don't. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Prep

Dear Superintendent Trammell -
Kyla -
As I write this, I savoring those last few moments before winter break concludes. Like so many of us in the Oakland Unified School District, I am collecting my breath as I preKapare to launch back into a new year of working with and for the students and families of Oakland. 
I know you can relate. I can  also confess that I am using this somewhat odd and interesting connection  between us to speak directly to you about our work. I have never had a personal relationship with any of the other superintendents for whom I have worked in twenty-two years with  the district. I have met, shaken hands and showed my school off to any of those who made their way to our doors. In the case of Gary Yee, I was lucky enough to make a connection that became more than professional, and I have appreciated that bond over the years, providing us both with insight and understanding about the challenges of working for Oakland Unified.
You were my son's elementary school principal. Back in the day, I would sometimes ride from my school to my son's, switching  personas from teacher to dad's club member. I remember being relieved when you came along to fill the void left by Kathy Maloney. Like all parents, I hoped for consistency in my son's progress through school. Like all teachers, I hope to provide that same consistency by sticking with the school where I work for as long as I can be effective. 
I can't say that every teacher at Horace Mann has felt that same commitment. This is largely because of the nature of teacher retention. The challenges felt in schools like Horace Mann are not unique, but for young teachers starting out, the prospect of trying to make a living wage in the Bay Area is daunting to say the least. Feeling valued not just in respect but in salary is never the  reason that any good teacher would stay in education, but it certainly makes a difference at the end  of a tough week. Or semester. Or year. 
As  I write this, the potential of a strike looms over our district, and  I know  that you are juggling facts and figures that require you to make tough decisions. i am sure we agree that given the clear option of raising teachers' salaries or lowering class sizes in a fiscally stable district there would be little discussion. We find ourselves working with what others have given us. The OUSD legacy is both a proud and twisted one, full of contradictions and loose ends. I do not envy your position as you attempt to tie some of those together. 
But I am asking, as a dad of a Sequoia student and a graduate of Oakland Tech, as well as a veteran teacher who has spent his entire career at one school to consider the chances of making good on the promise that Oakland Unified has to offer. Our amazing and diverse student population is mirrored by a workforce every bit as diverse. Oakland deserves to raise and maintain a staff of amazing teachers, committed to their jobs and their kids, who will hopefully raise and send their kids to public schools just like I did. And not have to wonder if they are doing the right thing. 
It is. 
I know that none of this comes as news, exactly, but I wanted to share it with you because we have traveled many miles on the same road over the years. I would feel honored to be able to encourage others to join us. 
Yours truly,
David Caven

Monday, January 07, 2019

Look Out 'Cause Here It Comes

For just a moment, let's forget about the invading hordes of migrants at our southern border. While we're at it, we can take a pause in our panic about climate change and/or global warming. Scientists at Durham University have detected a neighboring galaxy hurtling  through the void on a collision course with our Milky Way. They warn that this will bounce Earth out of the Goldilocks Zone. That is the range of temperatures that make it neither too hot or too cold for life as we know it to exist on our just right planet Earth. No five billion dollar wall is going to fix this one. I can stop using aerosol spray cans today and still the Large Magellanic Cloud is still going to come crashing into us. Electric cars? Too late. No help. Impeach the "President?" Sorry. This is a galactic problem. And it's going to happen even before the Andromeda Galaxy plows into us just a little after that.
Okay. But since we're talking about galaxies that are not cell phones, maybe we should flip all the cards before the panic erupts fully. The Large Magellanic Cloud, LMC to its friends, will be bumping into us catastrophically in about two billion years. So we have some time to prepare for all that Armageddon-y type stuff that comes along with galactic collisions. And if that one doesn't get us, then surely the Andromeda Galaxy will finish us off. In about six billion years.
Which reminded me of Escape From The Planet Of The Apes. That's the one that tells the story about Zira and Cornelius coming back to Earth in 1973, and how these talking chimpanzees find their way in Los Angeles. Celebrities at first, it becomes apparent that these ape-o-nauts came from our future, and if something is not done, they will be the progenitors of the race of apes that will enslave all human life. Except for the mutants living under Manhattan who are holding on to that last really big bomb, and once the apes and mutants commence to fighting, the bomb blows up. No more Earth. Probably a good idea to get rid of those chimps, charming though they may be. Because the fear is that two thousand years won't give us enough time to avert that kind of eventual tragedy.
Which is why we had to shoot Zira and Cornelius.
I'm just hoping we can show just a little more forbearance when it comes to blowing up our galactic neighbors. Or get a much bigger wall.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Promise

I was gearing up for a New Year's Resolution that would keep me from going out to see any more remakes or reboots. You'll notice that I did not mention in that run up to a promise that I would not be going to any sequels. I can do that still. Which would leave me free to find out what happened to all those wispy piles of ash in the last Avengers movie.
Maybe I should preface all this promising and resolving with an explanation: Over the course of my winter break, my wife and I spent a lot of time going to the movies. There was a flurry of seven days where we were in a theater each of those days, catching up on all those films that we had missed or ignored in the days and weeks leading up to my two week vacation. And all those big holiday releases. We couldn't miss those. Which is how I found myself in a seat, watching Disney's new iteration of Mary Poppins. But before this redux filled the screen, I was treated to not one, not two, but three separate previews of Disney live-action remakes of their animated classics. Lion King, Aladdin, and Dumbo. So the whole time I sat there, taking in all the musical wonderment that everyone's favorite nanny had to offer, I contemplated the need for all those computer generated images. Why not just dust off a print of the original and toss it up on the screen for a new generation to view? All the while, Mary was singing with lamplighters instead of chimney sweeps, going to visit her wacky cousin instead of her laughing uncle, and floating away on balloons. Perfectly lovely images, hummable tunes, and plenty of star power. That was Hamilton riding that bike, after all. Who  wouldn't pay to see that?
And who wouldn't pay to see Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga on that silver screen together? I did. This wasn't Disney, but it didn't actually matter. Making A Star Is Born one more time didn't exactly advance the art of motion pictures. It probably reminded many of the history of motion pictures, which already included three previous iterations of the story of one star going up and one going down. But it's been forty years since Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand brought their standard to bear. Yeah, but this one has Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga!
So there's always a "reason" to go back to the heap. I have watched more versions of Frankenstein than I care to recall. I will line up for any movie that includes a giant ape. And in spite of all better instincts, I still show up for super hero movies like they're going out of style. They aren't.
So I surrender to my weakness, which is that insatiable need to be in touch with the zeitgeist, even if that means endless retreads, repeats and reruns.
I promise.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

You Say You Want A Revelation?

It was an epiphany for me to have Epiphany explained to me by my wife. She is much better than I at keeping the faith in a literal sense. Apparently she was paying attention at all those Christian youth group meetings she attended. Good on her, since she will probably ascend to Heaven much more quickly than her husband. And she can explain the whole "Twelve Days Of Christmas" hoo-hah to her lapsed Methodist husband.
This is why she likes to keep Christmas going on past the first of the new year. The nativity set, lovingly arranged by her in the days leading up to Jesus's birthday, needs to stay out as a reminder that it wasn't until the sixth of January that the wise men showed up to have their eyes filled by the miracle of virgin birth. At this point, I have to say that I am easily convinced of this extra duration, as I have some experience with travel during Christmas. And I can only imagine how much more difficult the timing would be to work out when traveling by camel. As you may recall, Mary and Joseph had some trouble of their own booking a room, and wound up in a manger. "I'm sorry. I understand you three are all kings, but we're all booked up through the weekend. May I suggest the B&B down the road in Jerusalem?"
Meanwhile, some two thousand years later, I am all about taking down and boxing up all those things that might remind me of elves and snowflakes and so on as soon as I wake up on the second of January. The lights outside, the tree inside and every bit of tinsel in between gets put back in a box and we start preparing for Valentine's Day. Which is all well and good, since I do most of the work myself, but it still gives my wife a twinge when all that magic is put away for another year. This may also have something to do with the Pre-Epiphany experience I had a few years back when, as I was climbing into our plum tree to free it of the strings of light that had kept it bound, a hail storm erupted. As I was pelted by ice from the sky, it did not occur to me to stop and leave the lights up for a few more days. I kept at it until I was cold and wet and miserable, but our front yard was free of Christmas.
Ever since then, I have been a much better sport about leaving that nativity set out on the mantle. Until my wife is ready to put it away.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Futures

It's a chance to start fresh. This is where we put all those cares and doubts behind us and come together to solve the world's problems. This is, after all, what makes us such a delightful species. In the movie Starman, Jeff Bridges plays a visitor from beyond who comes to earth to observe us and before he ascends back into the heavens, he says this: "Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst."
And this is what I want to believe. Science fiction informs me on this. If we could just get far enough away from our day to day fuss and grumblings, we would see the amazing things that humans are capable of doing. When they aren't fussing and grumbling. 
Sometimes we see this as the earthers coming together and fighting off the invading hordes of aliens with their pointy teeth and disintegrator ray guns. Instead of turning our military might on the inhabitants of our own planet, we team up to send the creatures back to their planet where they belong. Until the sequel, of course. 
Yes, there have been some less than successful attempts at bringing about peace and harmony through science fiction. Charlton Heston knows this all too well. When he was working on that vaccine and accidentally turned most of the planet into vampires. Or when he was off to visit a distant star and ended up back on earth, only to find that intelligent apes have taken over. Then there was that other time when he found out that the solution to feeding the hungry world wasn't farming plankton, but grinding up people and turning them into crackers. Chuck didn't have a lot of luck with the future. Which may have been what turned him to the NRA.
Then I am reminded that I have an older brother who is working diligently every day to keep my mother warm and safe, and also keeping his county safe whenever floods, fire or other natural disasters threaten. I have a younger brother who has twice traveled to Greece, bringing warmth and comfort to Syrian refugees. This is not science fiction. This is my family and the miracles they perform. Continue to perform. I'm pretty sure that if they were confronted with a race of vampires or super-intelligent apes, they would do the right thing. Just keep them away from those crackers. 

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Misdirection

I am a skeptic. I doubt a lot of things. This bothers my wife, who is a proud and firm believer in things less-explained. From time to time I am asked to pray to the goddess Asphaltia with her in hopes of finding a parking place. When a spot opens up, all praise to the goddess and I tend not to bring up the potential of an algorithm that would explain the time between cars entering and exiting any particular block. But in those moments of quiet desperation when it seemed as though we might just drive around in circles endlessly, seeing reverse lights come on in front of us allowing us escape from our torment. Hail Asphaltia.
I am also somebody's younger brother, which meant that I was ever vigilant for the scam or prank brought on by my older brother. If things went missing, or defied explanation, I would assume that things had been altered or skewed in his favor, and it had nothing to do with altered reality. It had everything to do with my older brother maintaining the reality we shared. In his favor. I learned my lessons well, and went on to torment my younger brother in many of the same ways without ever doing any magic.
The kid down the street from us was the one doing magic. Or what he was buying and performing in the awed presence of the rest of the neighborhood. I knew that what he was doing wasn't really magic. It was misdirection. It was manipulation. It was a trick. It could be that my burgeoning sense of doubt was what he saw in me as his initial shill. He would sit me down as an audience of one, and demonstrate his new trick on me. He wanted to see if I could "pick" his trick. With a basic understanding of some of the flips and twists used in close-up magic, I watched for fake thumbs and distracting flourishes that hid the obvious. I wasn't fooled very often. I learned how things could collapse and fold and for just a moment they could disappear. Only to reappear again, moments later.
Just like a parking space.
It's not like those scenes from Inception where sidewalks and buildings fold in on themselves and geography changed. That's magic.
Or CGI.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Where You Find It

Maybe I've been looking in the wrong place. Maybe wisdom comes from places I have not recognized.
Crazy, but that's how it goes
Millions of people living as foes
Maybe it's not too late
To learn how to love
And forget how to hate

Indeed, it may not be too late. This past week I had a discussion about glasses being half full or half empty. We decided this was definitely a first world problem. Look, you've got a glass. You're ahead of the game. And there's something in it. What are we complaining about? 
The poet continues:
I've listened to preachers
I've listened to fools
I've watched all the dropouts
Who make their own rules
One person conditioned to rule and control
The media sells it and you live the role

It has occurred to me recently that if I were to spend a week ignoring Twitter and the twenty-four hour news vortex, I might be able to shake the lethargy that drags on me as I try to keep up. Red or blue, conservative or liberal? Human.
Again we return to our text:
Heirs of a cold war
That's what we've become
Inheriting troubles I'm mentally numb
Crazy, I just cannot bear
I'm living with something' that just isn't fair

A colleague once wrote on his board for his students to read: "Fair is when everyone gets what they need." If you've got a glass with anything in it, be happy. If you are familiar with the works of Ozzy Osbourne, be glad. 

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Looking Ahead

What do I want to see in the New Year?
I want to see through
as in transparent
I want the truth
because I can handle it
I want to see the world
take a collective breath
and think for just a moment
before we strike
I want to see walls
not erected, but tumbled
an unobstructed view
for miles and miles
I want to see the sky
and just the sky
not all those things
we put into it
I want to see money
going where it's needed
not into pockets of those
who don't need it at all
I want to see a year
that I can hold onto
and not be embarrassed
to be seen in
I want to see the ends
of so very many things
to make room for
things that need to be
I want to see the stars
and know that my son
will be able to show
his kids the same sky
I want to see something new
I want to see sanity
I want to see clarity
I want to see the future.