Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sir Yuksalot

Dying is easy. Comedy is hard. Those are the words most often attributed to Edmund Kean. Mister Kean was a Shakespearean actor in the nineteenth century.  My son, who is a studying theater in college, might agree except that he has disdain for most things Shakespearean. Which, as an undergraduate, is pretty much his job. Poking holes in things that are supposed to be good for you is what students should do. However, having grown up in my house, I don't know if he would argue the sentiment too long. He grew up with a heaping bushel of comic influences. In his early teens, he discovered that the word "pants" has a magical quality to it, and he has used it to his advantage over the years, most memorably when it came time to name our family's Guitar Hero Band: Fiendish Pants.
Meanwhile, tragedy occurs around us every day. Plane crashes. Floods. The lingering presence of Donald J. Trumpf. Finding something funny to say or do while the world continues to disintegrate gets harder and harder. If Shakespeare were writing today, I wonder if he could have maintained his ratio of comedy to tragedy. Lumping the history plays into the tragedy camp, the Bard wrote just about one comedy for every tragedy. For each drama where everyone dies at the end, he wrote one where everyone gets married. Nice job, Will!
Which brings us to the twenty-first century for the sake of this discussion, wherein Peter Farrelly won an Oscar for his movie Green Book. While not a tragedy in the traditional sense, its themes of racism and homophobia seem much more serious than the rest of Mister Farrelly's work. Starting with Dumb and Dumber, he and his brother mined the silly side of the road trip until he decided that would never get him an Academy Award. That being said, I wonder if there is a drawer full of terribly sad screenplays that came roiling out of the minds of Peter and his brother Bob as they struggled to create the giggles found in all those Jim Carrey haircuts. And I wonder if Hamlet would have been funnier if he had a broken front tooth.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

As The World Turns

“Unlike some of my colleagues, I am not immediately afraid of what carbon emissions, unaddressed, might do to our environment, in the near-term future, or our civilization or our planet in the next few years. Unlike others, I am not immediately afraid of what the Green New Deal would do to our economy and our government. After all, this isn’t going to pass.” These were the words of Senator Mike Lee from Utah. 
Contrasted to those of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “This is not an elitist issue; this is a quality-of-life issue. You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist? Tell that to the kids in the South Bronx, which are suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. Tell that to the families in Flint whose kids have their blood ascending in lead levels, their brains are damaged for the rest of their lives. Call them elitist.”
Senator Mike went on to reply to "AOC" thus“The solution to climate change is not this unserious resolution, but the serious business of human flourishing – the solution to so many of our problems, at all times and in all places: fall in love, get married, and have some kids.”
Or, roughly translated, "Don't worry your pretty little head about this. Leave law-making to the big boys in the Senate." 
If you have spent any time reading about the ideas and ideals of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, they invariably mention her age and her gender. As if these were the measure of her competency. Which may have something to do with the fact that not one senator voted for her resolution, the one called the Green New Deal. Meanwhile, the "emergency" on our southern border continues and the Pentagon just signed over one billion dollars of their ample budget to build a wall to keep drugs out. But no one is going to bully the United States Senate into making any rash decisions about our planet.
Like the way Franklin Roosevelt bullied the country into pushing this country out of the Great Depression and putting millions back to work and providing us with a return to prosperity and the capacity to fight a second world war. Or the way John Kennedy got it into his head that we could send a man to the moon before the end of the sixties, after coming in second to the Russians for pretty much all of the Space Race. Those were some of the things that made America great. 
Maybe it's best for the rest of us that Senator Mike wasn't telling FDR and JFK to stay at home and have babies. Some people don't get Armageddon unless it's raining fire from the skies. Keep your eye on that weather report kiddies.  

Friday, March 29, 2019

Pre-Post-Mortem

My wife and I began this project a few weeks ago: compiling all the breakup songs we could recall an putting them on a Spotify playlist. What began as a simple exercise in "hey, do you remember?" became a mild obsession. For me, it became an exploration of the unrequited love I felt, or believed I felt, for decades as a young man. It became clear to me that I was subject to the pains of love lost before I ever found it. Growing up in the late sixties and early seventies, there was no dearth of heartbreak found on the radio. If only Gilbert O'Sullivan's Alone Again, Naturally  hadn't proved to be the gateway drug for my own self-absorbed moping.
In a little while from now
If I'm not feeling any less sour
I promise myself to treat myself
And visit a nearby tower
And climbing to the top
Will throw myself off
In an effort to
Make it clear to whoever
Wants to know what it's like When you're shattered

What could a ten-year old have to relate to in those lyrics? A few years later, I found myself singing along with Eric Carmen
All by myself
Don't wanna be, all by myself anymore
All by myself
Don't wanna live, all by myself anymore
And don't think that I didn't notice that comma after "be" and "live" was lost on my dark moods as an adolescent with access to headphones and the patience to listen to a song dozens of times in a row. Welcome to my Pit of Despair. Somewhere in there, I began to believe, deeply and with conviction, that that all love ended in despondency and grief. It was about this time that I watched Casablanca for the first time. If that didn't tip me over the edge, the collected works of Pink Floyd certainly did culminating in Comfortably Numb. The dream is gone

It does occur to me that if I had been born a decade later, I might have been one of those goth kids, plumbing the depths of my sadness with all my like-minded friends. Instead, I grew up and got married to a girl who was listening to the same songs, and turned this obsession into a craft project. Or, as Carly Simon sang, "That's the way I always heard it should be."

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Affirmative Action

One student at my school fancies himself a potential slot at Hogwarts Academy. Over the years I have learned never to diminish the hopes and aspirations of my young charges. There is plenty in their lives to discourage them already, and about the time I feel that "the truth" might set them free it turns out that the "truth" is not known to me alone. Desire and dreams can make all manner of things possible. If Richard truly believes that it is his destiny to study potions and charms, casting spells and learning about his own personal Patronus, why would I want to fiddle with those dreams?
There is an ideological point at which I do jump off this moral high ground: As near as I can reckon it, Hogwarts is a charter school, funded by someone or someones with a large bank account with the intent of separating the haves with the have nots. Having, as in magical abilities. Support from the wizarding community is of course essential. If you happen to be a Muggle, a person with little or no access to the metaphysical side of life, you are pretty much left out. While it is worth noting that the lady in charge of such things, J.K. Rowling, has stated, "There's no tuition fee! The Ministry of Magic covers the cost of all magical education!" Which I'm sure looks great on the front of the catalog, but that magical education is still a stretch if you have never made anything disappear save for the lunch in front of you. 
Of course, once a student is admitted to this august institution, there is the additional cultural stress of being forced through the Sorting Hat Ritual. Will you be Hufflepuff or Slytherin? I know some kids who say they would rather die than not be chosen to be in Gryffindor, and I don't believe I have ever heard any child squeal with delight at being picked to be in Ravenclaw. Kids between the ages of eleven and twelve are a pretty moody lot, and I wonder just how many cases of severe depression are seen in Poppy Pomfrey's office in the days after lives have been altered forever by this process. 
Which makes me wonder just how much money is really involved in the administration of this school for wizards. If parents would throw millions of dollars at the University of Southern California to ensure their little ones had the opportunity to appear as if they were on the crew team, I wonder what kind of bribe would be necessary to get your kid off the bench and into that Seeker spot on the Quidditch pitch. 
Instead I will do what is essential: Guard those dreams and encourage where I can, but keep my eye out for ways to make Richard's path a little easier. It's a pretty tough walk for a Muggle. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Shell Game

Last Saturday, nineteen year old Sydney Aiello committed suicide. One day later, a classmate of Sydney's followed her down that long dark hall. Both of these teenagers were survivors of the shooting last year at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Authorities connected both deaths to "survivor's guilt" and post-traumatic stress. More than a year later, the death toll continues to rise.
You want a national emergency? Well, it seems we have one.
Since December 2014, when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook, Elementary killing twenty children and six adults, seven thousand more have died by gunfire. The exact number is hard to determine. A much more defined total can be gained from the Department of Defense, which totals the number of soldiers killed overseas in combat since September 11, 2001, puts that figure at six thousand, nine hundred twenty-nine. A similar number, but the army got an twelve year head start. One might suggest that our children would be safer in a war zone.
An American Academy of Pediatrics report, which said about thirteen hundred children are killed by guns every year. In 2015, a Washington Post article gave us another creepy statistic. During that year, more Americans were shot by toddlers with guns than by foreign terrorists. Whether they were shooting on accident or on purpose, with intent or not, that just shouldn't be. The number of lives torn apart by gun violence that don't end in murder or suicide cannot be calculated. 
Or maybe it can. Each year, kids in California participate in a survey reflecting their social and emotional learning skills and the challenges they face. Here in Oakland, when asked if they knew any friends or family who have died by violence, more than forty percent of last year's fifth graders answered in the affirmative. 
Hello. 
Is this real enough yet? How many children do we need to sacrifice to our cherished Second Amendment before we look at it as a survival issue? 
No more. 
Please. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Quick Word

A quick word: benign.
That was the first word in the diagnosis given to me by the emergency room doctor. Which was nice, since I had assumed that like the nearly departed Luke Perry, I was having a stroke and this would be the first stage of my downward spiral. I imagined calling frightened relatives and reassuring them. Gathering my friends around for one more chuckle for the road. I would be brave. I would be inspirational.
"Actually," I was reassured, "it's pretty common."
What I had not fully acquiesced was feeling dizzy to the point of falling down was "common." Not for this high-speed roller coaster-type rider. I have committed a large portion of my life to spinning myself or paying others to do just that in order to disturb the workings of my inner ear. I walked the upper rail of the wooden fence around my parents' back yard when I was ten. Balance was something in which I took a great deal of pride. Now, here I was on my hands and knees, with my cookies ready to be tossed at a complete loss of how to make things hold still.
Even when I used to drink, I was labeled by my associates The Thing That Would Not Heave. I might stumble, I might babble incoherently, but I would not fall down. I was a drunk Weeble. Even when I tore up my knee and was forced to hobble around on crutches, I maintained my balance if not my dignity.
But here I was, clinging to the carpet, assuring my wife and son, "It's okay. You can't fall off the floor."
The challenge with my head, aside from the obvious gravity storms, is that I tend to race to the worst possible scenario. I tried to imagine what my life would be like if I was never able to stand up on my own. I wondered if I would be able to ride a bike, go for a run. Sit at a table without an extensive network of rigging and pulleys. Would I ever play the violin again?
Not that I ever had, but it worried me nonetheless.
So yes, "benign" was a big deal to me.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Rest On The Seventh Day

Six days.
That's how long it took New Zealand to ban assault weapons.
It is also the amount of time it took God to create the heavens and the earth.
Six days.
Some unbalanced cretin with access to automatic weapons shoots up two mosques and the government takes action.
Did I mention six days?
No "appropriate period of mourning before we take up the question."
Six days.
I know. There will be plenty of discussion about just how effective a ban will be on items that can be acquired illegally or through other means. There is no perfect solution. But people were killed by the dozens by these weapons that have no other purpose. Why not take a stand?
Are we, meaning us or US or U.S., so afraid of what will happen if we tried anything along this line that we continue to be unwilling to do that?
It took us more than a month to figure out a way to get our government restarted after somebody decided to take the keys home with them and hold on to them until he felt darn good and ready to stop throwing his hissy fit and declare a national emergency.
A national emergency is when people are dying and there is a way to save them by declaring an emergency. Rather than spending billions of dollars on a wall, why not take some time to make common sense gun laws.
Six days.
Am I getting through to anyone out there? Am I just preaching to the choir? How many more Americans have to die because we need guns with high capacity magazines and the ability to fire forty-five rounds a minute? That's not in the Constitution. I checked.
It's not like New Zealand has the only clever legislators and administration types. We have a lot of them too. Sitting down and figuring out how to come together and stop something like heart disease makes sense. How about helping those with severe bullet allergies?
Six days.
Come on. I'm not asking for the universe here.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Wishful

There were many people who believed that at the moment that Robert Mueller released his report the skies would open and a thousand angels would sing on high: "Guilty!"
I confess that I was among those who held out hope that there would be a clear line between the "President" and wrongdoing. I wished for a bright red arrow, drawn in permanent marker, connecting the criminal with the crime. Now it seems that all those mantra-like chants of "no collusion, no collusion" have produced a new set of questions rather than a group of answers. If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. If you repeat a lie long enough, it becomes truth. At least that's what Joseph Goebbels would have us believe. 
And how does the "President" feel about the public finding out what details remain hidden within Mueller's report? "I don't mind," he told anyone who would listen on Friday. Because this is what he does. He screeches and wails and complains about how unfairly he is treated and then goes to this odd zen-like moment where he seems to rise above it all. And goes to play golf. 
It was just about a month ago that Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, suggested that it would "not be worth it" to try and impeach this "President." She worried that it could divide the country still further and mire us all still further in the muck that has pervaded the past two and a half years. 
Still, around here, there is a yearning for action of some sort. All those things that sit on the edge of illegal and especially those pompous ravings about driving a bus that just happened to be headed in the right direction when he sat down behind the wheel rattle around my head and make me wonder why we can't just convict this guy for being a truly horrible human being.
Alas, last time I checked, that was not a crime, and so we will have to sit still and wait for another shoe to fall, as if the aftermath of an earthquake at the Nike outlet store wasn't already enough. All the more reason to start vetting those candidates for 2020. What is past is past, and we can only affect our future. Until that last piece of evidence sneaks its way in. 
Oh please. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Big Laughs

The doctor took a look at my chart, or rather the computer screen that referenced what might at one time been paper on a clipboard, "You're a pretty healthy guy."
And at this moment I tasted bitter irony, or perhaps it was the lingering aftertaste of the breakfast I had yakked up earlier, part of the chain of events that brought me to this emergency room bed. That and the somewhat persistent vertigo that had brought on the trip to the hospital. 
Hospital? That's not where they keep the healthy people.
Nope. Instead, I found myself adrift on this gurney as a team of medical professionals poked and prodded me in hopes of discovering why this pretty healthy guy was lying here without his god given ability to move about without my head spinning and dropping to my hands and knees in a swoon. Once it was determined that what I had was a case of BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), I was subjected to a number of exercises and manipulations designed to put my head right again. While I was being jostled about, I felt unwell once again, and was happy to find myself once again in the care of the aforementioned medical professionals. With newfangled barf bags to take my mind off the fact that I was sitting there on a hospital bed, until that moment passed and  I realized that my son was sitting next to me, taking it all in. 
This is the kid who had watched his dad flop about on the floor of the family bathroom due to a kidney stone, another blotch on my otherwise stellar health history. We laughed about that, eventually. Just like we got around to making light of the vertigo. Because that is what we do. We laugh when things get grody. When the going gets grody, we get giddy. We laughed about the barf bags. We snickered about the name of the gurney: the Stryker Zoom. We giggled about the way I was managing my time. 
A pretty healthy guy, according to a group of medical professionals, was laying around while others were doing my job. Which is about the time the laughing stopped. I wasn't at work. I was being poked and prodded by medical professionals. Because I couldn't stand up very well. Diagnosed by that group of medical professionals with a condition exacerbated by my age. Pretty good health for a man of my age. 
Very funny. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

A Must Read

People are recommending me books to read all the time. My wife gifts me volumes she believes I will eventually get around to reading. And I do, but it sometimes takes me a while. A good long while. It's probably that whole "should" thing. I will not go willingly unto that good read. It's a stubborn thing. Which eventually leads to this conversation:
"You know that book you wanted me to read?"
"Which one?"
"You know, with the essays and the guy."
"Yes?"
"Well, it turns out that you were right. It's a really good book."
"Uh huh."
"Thanks for telling me about it."
Then another long period of silence before new topics are introduced.
I will say this, however: I have no interest in reading the New Zealand shooter's "manifesto." There are not many manifestos written by anyone that I would find compelling enough to sit through, and one written by a terrorist seems like it would find its way to the bottom of that untouched pile. Even if Kellyanne Conway wasn't insisting that I should.
“People should read it the entire — in its entirety,” said Conway of the white nationalist manifesto, speaking on Fox & Friends Monday morning. “I guess everybody scoured it, searched for Donald Trump’s name, and there it is one time,” she said, “but he also said he aligns closely with the ideology of China, he said he’s not a conservative, he’s not a Nazi. I think he refers to himself as an ‘eco-naturalist’ or an ‘eco-fascist.’”
She thinks. 
The reason Ms. Conway is shilling for us to read the words of a nutjob killer is because she is once again dutifully defending her boss who is mentioned in the manifesto. The shooter wrote he was a supporter of the president as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” but not “as a policy maker and leader ... Dear god no.”
Who is not mentioned in the manifesto? Bernie Sanders. Elanor Roosevelt. TV funnyman Norman Fell, god rest his soul. And me. I am not mentioned by name in the scurrilous scribblings of a terrorist. 
Actually. I'm not sure about that last one. Maybe I should read it.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

It's Not The Only Thing We Have To Fear

Do you remember when our "President" proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States? You might remember it better as Executive Order 13769, formally titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. 13769 lowered the number of refugees to be admitted into the United States in 2017 to fifty thousand, suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for one hundred twenty days, suspended the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely, directed some cabinet secretaries to suspend entry of those whose countries do not meet adjudication standards under U.S. immigration law for ninety days, and included exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Homeland Security lists these countries as IranIraqLibyaSomaliaSudanSyria, and Yemen. The public was unhappy. So much so that it was only in place for a month and a half before Executive Order 13780 suspended it. 13780,  titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, is an executive order signed by United States the "President"  on March 6, 2017. It places limits on travel to the U.S. from certain countries, and bars entry for all refugees who do not possess either a visa or valid travel documentstravel is banned on tourist or business visas for nationals of Libya and Yemen, as well as some government officials of Venezuela; on all, except student and exchange visitor visas, for nationals of Iran; on immigrant visas for nationals of Somalia; and for all travel for nationals of North Korea and Syria.
If you were from New Zealand and wanted to pop on over to the United States to see the sights or to shoot up a mosque or two, there would be no restrictions. Or if you wanted to march through the streets of Charlottesville carrying torches, shouting slogans of hate you could make the trip. All the way from Santa Clara, California. Or if it came into your head to open fire at a Pittsburgh area and kill eleven, you wouldn't have to worry about having your travel inhibited. Because you already live here. 
Where is the travel ban on our homegrown terrorists? Why aren't we paying attention to the actual threat? If you guessed that it has something to do with the color of your skin, you may be onto something. Executive Order 13790? Protecting the Nation from Homegrown Idjits. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

How It Should End

There was a very funny YouTube bit that suggested an expedited version of Lord of the Rings. Instead of wandering through forests and mountains and encountering all manner of treachery and danger, it was suggested that one of those great big eagles could have been used to carry Frodo over Mount Doom where the Ring could have been dropped in a thrice. Evil thwarted and all those books and movies could have been skipped.
This is what I thought of when I heard that New Zealand's Prime Minister was calling for changes in her country's gun laws. This came within hours of the massacre of fifty people at two different mosques in Christchurch. Not that thoughts and prayers were ignored, but what came directly in the wake of the murder of innocents was action. It could be that a breaking point was reached, but it should also be noted that the last mass shooting in New Zealand was nearly thirty years ago when thirteen people were shot "indiscriminately" by a neighbor with a grudge and a rifle. That shooting resulted in a change to New Zealand's firearms policy.
And now this.
Rather than making social media posts and wringing their collective hands, the government of New Zealand is taking steps to see that "this" never happens again. Never again. Already comparatively low on the scale of gun violence, with one gun death per 100,000 people per year compared to twelve per 100,000 in the United States, there was still room to move. How about zero?
The change will not come easy, as there are a great many guns there. More than a million in a country of four and a half million citizens. Which sounds a little like every third person has a gun, but like the United States, there is a smaller group owning multiple weapons. And they aren't keen to give them up without an argument.
I hesitate to say a fight, since that would be a gun fight, and I don't imagine that would be in anyone's interest.
Or maybe they could get Landroval to gather up all the pistols and rifles and semi-automatics and drop them into a volcano. The end.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Mafioso Braggadocio

I have heard that there are a number of people out there who are still thrilled that they have a "President" who says whatever it is that is on his mind. No matter that it is often ill-conceived or less than thought out and sometimes just straight up lies, it still makes a certain faction of our populace happy to hear him spout off. Like when he's yukking it up about needing some of that so-called global warming while portions of the country are experiencing blizzard conditions and subzero temperatures or complaining about how poorly he is treated by the press when he has a whole television network devoted to slavishly defending his every utterance. Except Chris Wallace. Get with it, man!
Then there are the folks at Breitbart News. You may remember them as the folks who rank somewhere to the right of Glenn Beck's horror show. The "President" told these folks, “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.” And if you're not familiar with this particular version of the veiled threat, think cellophane. If he doesn't get his way, he's not saying that there would be "trouble," but you know, hey, some people, you know, you just don't wanna push 'em too hard, you know?
"You got a nice country here," says the "President" as he wanders through, fingering the delicate items just short of tipping them over to make them come crashing to the ground. "It would be a shame if anything were to happen to it." A big flourish to straighten his overly long red tie then, "I'm just saying some people, you know, they've got a temper. And when they don't like the way things are going they might want to step in and make sure that things go, you know, a certain way."
The "President" is one of the very few people who watch the movie Road House and think that Ben Gazzara's character is the hero. In so many ways, Brad Wesley is currently residing in the White House. If you are unfamiliar with the film and its lasting contribution to American cinema, please take a couple hours to take in what will perhaps prepare you for living in the Trump regime. From maintaining his Cabinet to his deal-making capacity.
Now if only Dalton were here to tell us when it was time to stop being nice.

Monday, March 18, 2019

As I Do

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

Sunday, March 17, 2019

How We Did It

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

Saturday, March 16, 2019

What Would Sully Say?

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

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Tangled Web

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Straw Poll

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Road

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Listening

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

Monday, March 11, 2019

What Was The Question Again?

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

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Hippie Man

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

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Not

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

Friday, March 08, 2019

Excuses, Excuses

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

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Missed

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

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Hits And Misses

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

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Unison

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

Monday, March 04, 2019

On Demand

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

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Outside Looking In

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

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

Saturday, March 02, 2019

The Burden Of Proof

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

Friday, March 01, 2019

I Love A Parade

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