Monday, August 19, 2019

In A Series

It took about four days.
Four days into the new school year before our public personae came out.
For the first three days, the biggest concern our staff had to deal with was the occasional kindergartner missing their mom. And a few first graders too. Mostly we were able to go about the business of starting a new school year. Reminding students that bathroom trips should be confined to recess and lunch, not scattered throughout the day as the notion came to them. Likewise, these periods of play, called recess and lunch, would be punctuated by the sound of a bell. The bell would signify the cessation of play and the resumption of the business of learning.
And for the first three days, business was good. Great, even.
Then, day four arrived. Along with it came the associations of friends who had forgotten that they were mortal enemies just a few months before. Into this mix came the new kids, some of whom determined that the best way to make a name for themselves was to strike out on their own and find a way to disrupt the pleasant order imposed over the playground and hallways. This brought on the following conversation with Mister Caven.
"So, at your old school, did you sometimes have trouble getting along?"
"Yeah."
"How did you deal with that?"
Silence.
"Well, I'll bet that if you got into a fight at your old school, you probably had to get a call home."
Shrug.
"You had a pretty good start this week. Did you make any friends?"
Shrug.
"Well, you don't have to be friends with everyone," I suggested, "but it would be nice."
Yet another shrug.
"So I'll let you know: If you have trouble getting along with anyone, I'm happy to help."
No shrug.
"Not just me. Any grownup here. They would much rather have you getting along than getting in fights."
"Yeah."
"So, if you need help, before it becomes a fight, you come and find me. Or any other grownup."
"Yeah."
"You promise." I looked for his eyes, and stuck out my hand.
He shook it. "Okay."
Day four.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Tao According To Steve

How is Steve King doing? Haven't heard from him in a while.
Not Stephen King, the master of the macabre and author of the Stephen King Book of the Week club. He's been busy churning out fiction as is his way.
Steve King, Representative from Iowa, Republican, and font of all things truly offensive is doing what he has been doing for as long as I have been aware of him: Spewing horrifying nonsense out to a populace who seems not to be able to get enough of it. Since 2003.
2003. Sixteen years of stuff like this: "I don't want to disparage anyone because of their race, their ethnicity, their name—whatever their religion their father might have been, I'll just say this: When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States – I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world? What does it look like to the world of Islam? I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11."
What has Congressman Steve done for the people of Iowa's fourth district lately? How about this one: “What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest?” King asked while speaking to a group of conservatives in Urbandale, Iowa. “Would there be any population of the world left if we did that? Considering all the wars and all the rape and pillage that’s taken place and whatever happened throughout culture and society, all these different nations,” the elected representative continued, “I know I can’t certify that I was not a part of a product of that.” This was his way of justifying his opposition to abortion even in the case of rape or incest. Even Congressman Steve might be a product of such a union. 
Important note: Steve King was not booed off the stage. Instead, these comments simply became yet another in a list of bizarre but somehow not offensive enough statements to have him removed from Congress. Representative? Is this what the fourth district of Iowa is made of? Up in Wyoming, Republican Representative Liz Cheney (daughter of "Dick" Cheney) called Steve's comments "appalling and bizarre." 
Now that's saying something. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Wretched



I thought I had heard it all, but then I read the comments of Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, about the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Mister Cuccinelli insisted in an interview with CNN that the poem referred to "people coming from Europe." The poem being referenced was written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 as part of a fundraising campaign to construct a pedestal upon which Lady Liberty might stand. It reads"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." It concludes, "Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Acting director Cuccinelli suggested that this was a direct reverence to European immigrants because, "people coming from Europe where they had class based societies where people were considered wretched if they weren't in the right class." Earlier in the day, in an interview with NPR, Acting director Cuccinelli was asked about the wretched being welcome on our shores to which he replied, "They certainly are. Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."
It doesn't scan very well as poetry, but it certainly gives a better picture of how our current administration feels about immigrants. The author of the original, Ms. Lazarus, might not have agreed. She was inspired not so much by the rush of immigrants from Europe, but from Russian Jews fleeing anti-Semitic violence in their homeland. "The New Colossus" extols "world-wide welcome." Poets are notoriously less conscientious about details than they are about images, and so she callously left out things like how to get a Green Card. 
You're welcome here if you can stand on your own two feet. You will not be welcome if you become a public charge. Which is a little confounding since there are plenty of Americans born and raised on these shores who become a public charge and we don't send them anywhere. Which may be the next phase of this administration's plan: Deport the Homeless. Send them to a third country where they can await processing while the rich get richer and the poor get cast aside. 
Anybody else interested in getting a bronze replica cast of the plaque that can be installed somewhere in the Oval Office? 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Grand Teacher

Math Problem:
If a young man leaves his home at 7:55 AM travelling with his five year old daughter at an average rate of five miles an hour on a one percent grade, and both of them have had breakfast and a full night's sleep, and the father is a former student of mine, does that make me old?
Extra credit: Does this question make me judgmental?
The young man who came up and introduced himself in that now very familiar way, "Hey Mister Caven, remember me?" Which is always a tough place for me to be, since the person asking that question already has me at a disadvantage because they remember my name and my size, shape and hairline has remained somewhat consistent over the years that I have been Mister Caven. These youngsters who show up with their facial hair and heights above three feet do not tend to look anything like their pre-adolescent selves. After a moment, I can see through the way-back filter the shorter, softer version of the person quizzing me about someone they were once upon a time.
In this example, the young man introduced himself as one of my former fourth grade students, which gave me more of a window, and more clues to our math problem. It has been about twelve years since I taught fourth grade, having returned to the computer lab in 2007. That would make our mystery guest twelve years older than when I was teaching him as a ten year old. That would make him approximately twenty-two. If he has a five year old daughter, which we can assume since she is starting kindergarten, then he became a father when he was seventeen.
Or so.
Which is that moment that my mind begins to stray from the mathematics and I find myself wondering how this came to pass. Just because I waited until I was thirty-five to become a father doesn't mean that is the absolute correct answer. Parents are a club of people who care for children. A father who takes his daughter to her first day in kindergarten with a full stomach and a smile on her face sounds like he fits that bill. Just because he found himself doing that job before he finished high school does not necessarily make him less qualified than someone who waited until he was middle aged. Like me.
And since I was this kid's teacher, that makes me partially responsible. And now I will see what I can do with my grand-student.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Test Of The First

A fourteen year old has had their YouTube channel taken down for violating the video site's hate speech policy. To wit:
 Hate speech is not allowed on YouTube. We remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on any of the following attributes:
  • Age
  • Caste
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender Identity
  • Nationality
  • Race
  • Immigration Status
  • Religion
  • Sex/Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Victims of a major violent event and their kin
  • Veteran Status
Not allowed. Like forbidden. The video that was the final nail in the teenager's YouTube coffin was titled “Pride and Prejudice,” and began with the young narrator saying that Pride month was “thirty days of AIDS-carrying paedophile victims patting themselves on the back for their lifestyle.” Which seems to have ticked off a couple of the items on that list. This is the same young woman, who goes by the tag "Soph," who produced an anti-Muslim video that included these lines:  “I get raped by my forty-year-old husband every so often and I have to worship a black cube to indirectly please an ancient Canaanite god — but at least I get to go to San Fran and stone the s*** out of some gays, and the cops can’t do anything about it because California is a crypto-caliphate.” And somewhere in there I think I lost track of the list. 
Soph's reaction to being cancelled by YouTube? She posted a picture of a gun on Twitter with the comment, “YouTube headquarters here I come.” This was, in the words of Soph, "a joke." 
All of which leads me to believe that I am old and horribly out of touch. 
Fourteen. 
Maybe they're too young.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Secondly

A twenty year old man was arrested at a Springfield, Missouri WalMart, not for shoplifting, but for wearing a ballistic vest and armed with a loaded rifle. He referred to his merry prank as "a social experiment, designed to test his Second Amendment rights. 
Dmitriy Andreychenko was taken into custody and charged with making a terrorist threat in the second degree. This lead me to the obvious question: What would be a terrorist threat in the first degree? How close to killing people would one have to be before that line was crossed? When does a threat stop being a threat and become action? 
“I wanted to know if that Walmart honored the Second Amendment.This is Missouri," he explained. “I understand if we were somewhere else like New York or California, people would freak out.” He was carrying an AR-style rifle and had a handgun attached to his hip, which was also loaded. While in the store, he appeared to be taking a video of himself with his cellphone as he pushed a shopping cart. An employee then pulled the fire alarm to alert customers to leave the building, and an off-duty firefighter took him into custody until police arrived. 
I am curious why he didn't start with his First Amendment prank, which would probably have consisted of walking into a crowded movie theater and shouting, "Fire." But making sense of this kind of thing really becomes pointless when you start to reel through all the clowns out there making a point of carrying their guns into shopping malls and fast food restaurants. Last time I checked, there is no "common sense" dictated by the United States Constitution. James Madison probably didn't think it was necessary to include the Right to Breathe Oxygen or ban scary circus clowns from daycare centers. Some things really ought to go without discussion. 
But, since Mister Andreychenko and some others may have missed it, our country is currently being plagued by young men with automatic weapons and Americans are dying while we fumble around in the metaphorical darkness looking for that metaphorical light switch that will make the message clear: No one needs an assault weapon to shop at WalMart. No one needs to wear body armor to shop at WalMart. 
I don't remember which amendment to our Constitution guarantees the right to act like a putz. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Occam's Razor

Quite often, in this space, I take note of those who have contributed so much to society and culture who have passed on. Today I will  not be doing that. I will be discussing the death of Jeffery Epstein. Contributions to society? Pretty much out of the question. Scourge to society? 
Yeah. That. Scourge.
If you have missed any of the scourge, know that Jeffery Epstein was an American financier and convicted sex offender. You can decide for yourself which of those was the most scourge-ish. I can tell you that he was in jail on federal charges for sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. This came in the wake of having already served thirteen months on a work release program for soliciting a prostitute and of procuring an under-eighteen girl for prostitution. It would seem that stint did little or nothing to discourage him from his predilection for underage girls. And his insistence on spreading that taste to those closest to him. And those who could  afford it. 
On August 10, 2019, Epstein was found dead in his cell. This was after being put on suicide watch three weeks earlier. Authorities reported the death as "an apparent suicide." Which is where all the excitement began. "Apparent?" Doesn't that just reek of conspiracy? Who would have anything to gain from the death of this grungy excuse for a human being? 
Donald Trump.
Bill Clinton.
Prince Andrew.
The rich and the famous. 
Why not conclude that someone had him killed?
That's what our "President" did. Which is horribly ironic, since he was busy pointing a finger at Bill Clinton that could just as easily be pointed at his orangeness. Which makes such a great story. A whole lot better than the story that says this horrifically flawed human being who was almost certainly going to be put away in prison for a very long time based on new allegations that were unsealed last Friday. Awful stuff about keeping teenage sex slaves and that one of them was instructed by and Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell to have sex with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and former US Senator George Mitchell, among others. The list of suspects continues to grow. 
Or maybe this was one of those rare occurrences in which the bad guy did everyone a favor before he could hurt anyone else. A year wait for a trial. All manner of ugly revelations could be made and more lives could be destroyed. Don't get me wrong. I am firm in the belief that there are still plenty of lives that could use a little ruining. But I'm pretty sure they'll get around to doing it all by themselves. 
Just like Jefferey did. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Top Of The Hill

Riding my bike up the hill next to our school to begin yet another in a series of school years, I reflected on all the times I have found myself on that particular incline. I have often wondered just how it came to pass that my ride to work would be downhill, aided and abetted by gravity. Coming home is somewhat less forgiving in terms of slope. If I had my way, I would be able to coast home. But that is not the way things turned out.
I figure there is probably some reason, cosmic or less important, for this bit of topography. One thing is certain, it tends to promote reflection. Which is what happens on days like the one to which I made reference. I've been up and down that hill more times than I can count. Sometimes I try to do just that: count. I've made an exercise out of it. One hundred eighty days, more or less, times the number of years I have been teaching. Minus a certain number of days that I drove, or got a ride. I was sick a few times. Had jury duty. And there were the years at the beginning of my career when we were a year-round school and I worked more than those one hundred eighty days in a row. And days like the one I am currently describing in which I wasn't actually teaching but I did attend a meeting or a training or some other obligation that put me on that hill.
It should be noted that at the top of that hill sits the house of a grandmother. More to the point, it's the grandmother of a number of kids who have at one time or another attended the school where I teach. Which is at the bottom of that hill. It is in front of that house that, on any given day, I have encountered the grandchildren out in front playing, sitting, chatting. Mostly they are waiting for their mothers, grandma's daughters, to come and pick them up. The grandkids don't all live there. They  use grandma's address to allow them to keep sending their kids to the same school they have all attended: the one at the bottom of the hill.
And on this particular day, one of those three daughters was getting out of her car. She waved. "Hey, Mister Caven."
I waved back. "How're you doing?"
"Great. I'm taking Demarius to college in two weeks."
I taught Demarius, his sisters, his cousins, some time back. Demarius's youngest cousin will be in fifth grade this year. "That is great. Thanks for sharing."
"No," she said, "Thank  you."
That's when I got it. I was at the top of the hill. "You're welcome."
I'm a teacher.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Write On

Sometimes I forget I'm a writer. That's because I am so busy being a teacher.
Or a husband.
Or a dad.
Or a handyman.
Or whatever.
When the Bay Area Writing Project showed up at our school last week to give all of us teachers and handymen a refresher course on how to teach writing, I had my writing nerve tweaked. Yes, I know that I sit down daily to hammer out these accounts of my reckless life and wayward ideas, but I don't always think of myself as a writer. I'm squeezing it in as an avocation. Which is fine and noble, but it doesn't make a lot of sense that I don't share that part of myself to kids who are still trying to discover what it means to be a reader, a writer, and so on. I could be some kind of inspiration.
One of the biggest impediments to this revelation is my reaction to most students when they are given a writing assignment. The very first question is, inevitably, "How long does it have to be?" And as the class proceeds, I see their tortured faces looking up at me asking, "Is this enough?"
This is the hardest part for me to rationalize. When I was a student, a blank page was there to be filled. Just as I sit here now, anxious to cover the screen in front of me with all the words and phrases I could manage to jam together. It's an opportunity to express myself. How often does that come around?
That was and continues to be my reality, but doesn't quite match up with the way things go in the minds of many ten year olds. That vast expanse of empty cannot be filled quickly enough, which is why I get so many kids who will park a finger on a key and attempt to cover their screen with the letter G as if I might be giving their work such a superficial once-over that I could be bamboozled by such a ruse. Nope. I'm looking for real thought, real expression.
But can I make this easier for them? Yes I can. There are definitely those students whose best effort will be to copy down the prompt from the board and then ask to be released from any further abuse. Which I was reminded by the friendly folks at BAWP is easier if the kids have some alternatives to the way they respond. If that first attempt happens to be the letter G, then I can hope that the next draft might include some vowels. Growing up without a fear of the blank page doesn't mean that it doesn't exist in others. As it turns out, there might be a few more of those with that phobia than I had originally imagined.
And it's my job to help mitigate that fear. And to open doors that may have been closed. And to encourage others to start at the upper left hand corner and see where they end up. I might be surprised. I hope they will be too.
We're building something here. We'll start by learning to use the tools we have. Someday they might build their own cathedral. Or explain why they couldn't.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Everyday Magic

When I get older,
losing my hair -
wait a minute -
When I get older,
and stop going on
about losing my hair
I will still be singing
your bountiful praises.
The way you can turn
a simple phrase
into one that isn't
so very simple.
The way you can
light up a room
by simply
flicking a switch.
It's magic
and you know it.
That's the part
that I forget
from time to time.
You're magic
and sometimes
you forget it.
Which is fun
because it means
you surprise yourself.
Sometimes in this world
we forget to pay
full attention
to those magical things.
Today I pay
full attention
to you,
and the magic
that you do.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Thank You, Now Please Sit Down

I suppose I should applaud the fact that it is a suggestion for a solution and not simply thoughts and prayers. Sean Hannity, America's Mouth, believes he has a way to keep everyone safe: Surround them. “Every school,” he said. “Secure the perimeter of those schools. Equip them with retired police and military, they should be on every floor of every school.” Sean suggests these folks could volunteer for fifteen hours a week in exchange for paying no federal or state income taxes. 
But Sean, what about shopping malls? Courthouses and the like? “We can do that with stores. We can do that in malls. We can do that pretty much anywhere the public is,” Hannity said. “Courthouses, we can expand that out everywhere and keep Americans safe.” 
And if you're wondering how many retired police and military that might take, the math turns out to be in the hundreds of thousands. Seven or eight hundred thousand. Approximately the number of sworn full-time law enforcement officers currently on duty. So, as soon as they retire, we've got the thing staffed. 
One thing though: Would you feel more safe, surrounded by armed guards. Or less? Me, I'm going to have to go with less. Like when I went for a stroll through Super Bowl City when it landed in San Francisco a few years ago. Like forty mass shootings ago. Heavily armed and armored presence did not instill me with Super Bowls full of confidence. What were they expecting to happen, with all those machine guns around? Was somebody trying to abscond with the Lombardi Trophy for goodness sake? 
Nope. Just there to keep us safe. Which is weird because the way people who are insecure about having their guns taken away react is almost always to suggest adding more guns to the equation. Guns in the hands of loyal agents of the government, but never mind that most Republicans are not usually gung-ho about having big government looking over our shoulder. Unless it means we don't have to give up our machine guns. 
So, to recap: Thanks Sean for your input. The chances of getting that many well-trained gunmen to deal with the gunmen who wish they had a job where they could be well-trained gunmen seem pretty slim, but we really appreciate you being so solution-oriented. Demented and sad, but solution-oriented. 
Sheesh. 

Thursday, August 08, 2019

This Word You Keep Using

Doris Day, God Rest Her Soul, once had a hit with a song titled, "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps."
In it, she asks someone we can only assume is a suitor of hers, if he loves her. The suitor responds, "Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps." She says she has asked him a million times, but all he ever answers is, "Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps." As the song progresses, Doris becomes more and more put off by the non-committal nature of this response. "If you can't make your mind up - We'll never, get started," she laments.
Perhaps. It's one of those words designed to put people off. "Possibly, but not certainly," if you're looking for guidance from Webster. Or "maybe." Which is probably okay if you're being asked if you want to the Orange Julius stand in the mall. "Perhaps." But it does not work as well in affairs of the heart, as Ms. Day so kindly points out. 
It is also a ridiculous response when it comes to gun violence. After a week that saw dozens of Americans shot and killed while going about their daily business, our "President" said "We've done actually a lot, but perhaps more has to be done." 
Many of us were left scratching our collective heads when it came to the "a lot" that has been done by this administration to stop mass killings. Universal background checks? Nope. Assault weapons ban? Nope. Closing gun show and Internet sale loopholes? Nope. Thoughts and prayers? By the tweetful. Should something be done now?
Perhaps.
Will there be chocolate cake at the party?
Perhaps.
Can you help me with my algebra?
Perhaps.
Could you please pass some sort of meaningful gun control legislation?
Perhaps.
See? It just doesn't work there. 
Not when you're slathering at the feet of the NRA, promising them that no one not ever will take their guns away. Not when you're using the Second Amendment as a shield to deflect, well, not bullets. Bad thoughts? Indecision? Fear of growing a spine?
Perhaps. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

There Ought To Be A Law

I have spent the last few days in a dark gray haze. Dozens of Americans have died as a result of mass shootings in the past week. What is perhaps most terrifying to me is the fact that by the time this blog reaches you, that total could be higher. My wife and I drove down highway 101 to visit our son, and passed by Gilroy, California. I mentioned that this city, renowned for its annual Garlic Festival, was now joining an ever-expanding map of towns in the United States that have experienced a mass shooting.
Then there was El Paso, Texas.
And Dayton, Ohio.
Assault weapons used to kill civilians.
I was angry. Which I reminded myself was a secondary emotion. Anger tends to fall quickly on the heels of something like fear or sadness. I was sad. I was afraid. That's how I became angry. And now that I was there, I wanted to do something. So I called my members of Congress. I told them I wanted them to ban assault weapons. You can do this too. I don't require you to do any such thing, but if you're sad and afraid, or angry you can avail yourself of this option. Your senators and representatives are the ones who make laws. They could be encouraged to do their job, specifically to make laws that might save American lives. Like the opioid crisis, which has a lot of pending state and federal legislation designed to keep Americans from dying.
Because that's what lawmakers ought to be doing. Making laws that keep Americans from dying. Because they are not currently doing that. At least as far as that assault weapons ban goes. This isn't about home protection or hunting. This is about keeping killing machines out of the hands of people who would use them for their expressed purpose. The assertion that has been made far too many times that somehow American's Constitutional Rights would be trampled because these weapons of war should be used for that purpose and that purpose only is tripe. Garbage. Rubbish.
There's that angry part again.
Because I'm terribly sad. And afraid. I would like some help. I would like your help. Before more Americans die.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

The Garden

"By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong." - Crosby, Stills and Nash
If you're planning on wandering on up to Yasgur's farm to join up in a rock and roll band a few days from now, make sure to buy your tickets online and to remember your essentials: Sunscreen, plenty of water, your photo ID, and a tarp of some kind. That last one may not seem necessary, but it kind of fills in the spot where "towel" sits for Galaxy Hitchhikers. Keep out the rain or sun. Wrap it around you. Lay down on it. Use it for a slip and slide. Trade it for drugs.
Sorry. Did I say that last one out loud? Fifty years after the fact, would it be worth bringing up the somewhat rampant use of drugs all that stardust and billion year old carbon? Illegal at the time, marijuana smoke filled the air while various versions of LSD was passed around as if it were not the Schedule One drug it had only recently become. In this sea of humanity over three days of peace and music, frequent announcements were made from the stage for all to hear: "To get back to the warning that I’ve received, you might take it with however many grains of salt you wish, that the brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good. It's suggested that you do stay away from that. Of course it’s your own trip, so be my guest. But please be advised that there’s a warning on that one, okay?"
Not specifically too good. That's the kind of warning that you could make to a throng of hippies and it would still be cool. The fact that the gates had long since been torn down and the anticipated crowd of two hundred thousand became that legendary half a million. Those tickets were eighteen dollars when purchased in advance, twenty-four at the site. Or free if you just wandered in barefoot. With or without your tarp. 
The good news is that someone will probably plug in and play somewhere in upstate New York on or around August 16. The bad news is that the big hullabaloo, Woodstock 50, was cancelled. Apparently there was not enough peace and music to make it worthwhile.
Or enough drugs. 
Or enough money. 
Mostly the money.
Which is pretty much everyone's drug of choice, these days. 
"We are caught in the devils bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden"

Monday, August 05, 2019

Aversion

My wife and I spent a few days away from our home this summer, inspiring her to make the delusional suggestion that we limit our screen time. When we were away from our habitual ruts and remote controls, we connected to one another more readily.
Okay, good point, but what about the dozen, if not dozens, of people anxiously awaiting my appearance on Al Gore's Internet? What about all that TV that needs watching? Does she think The Big Bang Theory reruns will watch themselves?
Here's the worst part: I'm an elementary school teacher, and one of the discussions we regularly have with our students is how much time they spend in front of a screen of any size or shape. Do you watch TV at night when you go home from school? I do. Do you play video games after dinner? I do. Do you use your phone to watch videos and send text messages? I do.
I'm the computer teacher. Am I supposed to tell my students that they should turn off the power and walk out into the bright sunshine, ignoring all those amazing web sited to which I have so carefully introduced them?
Some more confession: I used to spend summers in a cabin without electricity and no telephone. The screens that I paid attention to were the ones on our front door that let the breeze come in and kept hte flies out. I read a ton of books back in those days. It was part of what made me such a clever kid. So precocious that I read Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain before I entered the fourth grade. I exercised my imagination by listening to CBS's Radio Mystery Theater when the lights went out. Who needs TV?
Turns out, I did. That's where all the movies were. All the game shows. All the sitcoms. All the things that eventually filled my head with things other than literature and the theater of the mind. Yes, I still wax rhapsodic for those days when I would go for days without encountering a television. I did not own my own computer until I was over the age of thirty. There are still days that go by when I don't even turn my cell phone on. Maybe because I secretly yearn for those days when I didn't need an electronic leash or babysitter.
But now this is where I read. This is where I write. And while I'm here, I might stop and watch a video or two. There's so much to be found, all but leaping from this screen in front of me. So you'd like to make a commitment to limit the moments I spend in front of this machine, or any other device with words and pictures and sound?
It's almost too terrifying to contemplate. At least that's what I read online.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Forever And A Day

Looking east from the window of our motel room, I watched the fog burn off. It reminded me of all those years ago when I woke up in this bed which I slept as a child. I was no longer a child. I was a grownup, thirty-one years old. I was ready to head out into the world as an adult. By the end of the day I would be married.
By every logical measure, this was forever ago. I made that promise, so forever it will be. From time to time, I confront those ideas of always and never and they frighten me. They are the ones that put a crimp in this hose that goes on forever. They are the words that mean the brakes have come on, sharply.
There were no breaks back then. Full speed ahead, into the abyss. If I knew then what I know now, I might have whispered into my own ear: Listen. Those people surrounding you on this hillside are your support. There are examples of family and friendship and love and trust. Take them with you in your heart. Take them with you when things are tough. When it gets late at night remember that meadow full of people dancing. Glasses raised, toasts and pronouncements made. I live each day in the forever that those people imagined for us.
Me and my wife.
How could I have possibly known back then what forever was? When the morning came and the clouds sat there, so quiet and still. When I got dressed and drove to the mountains where I would make all kinds of promises that would lead me to the brink of eternity, what was going through my head?
I don't remember anymore. What I thought back then were the thoughts of a single man. A warehouse manager. Not a teacher. Not a father. Not a husband. Plenty of my friends had embarked on this voyage before me. How hard could it be?
As hard and as rewarding and as sad and joyful as anything I had ever endeavored to do. I had no way of knowing what that forever was going to feel like. But I wanted to find out. And now the fog has lifted, and another day begins. Heart full and eyes wide open. Happy to have taken that step into the mist.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Some Words I Can Dance To Or A Melody That Rhymes

I don't walk around with a lyrics sheet. I don't have a teleprompter at my feet too remind me when I miss a word or two.
Nonetheless, I tend to sing along. I am one of those people. This is especially true when I am in the car alone. And, as it happens, when I am in the car with my family.
Oh, how they wish that I was not one of those people.
They don't tend to call me on it very often. I was asked, at a local production of Fiddler on the Roof, by my wife to stop singing along. Which I understand, for the most part. The most being that no one in that amphitheater paid to hear me sing all the parts. The sliver that hurt was the part where I had the joy in my heart and wanted to share it with everyone in full voice.
Not my best choice.
The best place for me to exercise this character trait (I did not refer to it as a defect) is at a Bruce Springsteen concert. Not one of those acoustic deals where I might be heard above the hushed reverence he often requires during such shows, but the great big E Street Band blowouts that seem to engender such behavior. I know all those words, studio and live versions, and I look forward to showing off this knowledge base to those around me. This is, of course, keeping in mind that most everyone else's attention is captured by the trained professionals on the stage whose amplified and rehearsed voices are pouring out over the arena diminishing most any chance for me to be heard.
Except for those closest to me: My wife and son.
They have pretty much surrendered to the idea that part of the ticket price includes dad making a spectacle of himself. And it is precisely at this moment that I should point out that the last time my son and I went to see Green Day, I actually laid out for a song or two, while he proceeded to show me just how familiar he was with the words and music of his favorite band.
But what of my wife? Well, she has her own version of this show. It doesn't tend to show up as often as the rest of ours. She likes to croon along with show tunes and folk rock from her childhood. It's always a welcome surprise when she lets loose.
Because it means I can sing along. s





Friday, August 02, 2019

Things Change

"Today, I met with a 12-year-old who was shot while in a bounce house. A grandmother mourning the loss of her 6-year-old grandson. This is America today -- the shootings continue. Loved ones are buried. Children are gunned down. And Congress does nothing."
"A guy tries to light his shoe on fire & 18 yrs later we still all take our shoes off through security. In that time there have been 37 MASS SHOOTINGS. And nothing. Not a single regulation."
The first quote was from California's governor, Gavin Newsom. The second was from comedian Sarah Silverman. I chose these because I am quickly running out of words to describe the indifference that continues to be shown in the aftermath of Americans being shot. Stephen Romero, the six year old referenced by Governor Newsom, is the current face of the tragedy we call The Second Amendment. Stephen had just celebrated his sixth birthday. At Legoland. He won't be going back. He won't be in first grade when school starts. He won't wake up early on Christmas morning, much to the everlasting annoyance of his parents. He won't be waking up.
And while we continue to have a "President" who simultaneously endorses those who are "tough on crime" and "protects the Second Amendment" while urging those in the line of fire to "be careful out there!" we continue to wait patiently for everyone to die.
"Sorry, our hands are tied," says Congress. "If it weren't for that darn Second Amendment, we'd jump right on that assault weapons ban. See, it's the Constitution and it can't be changed."
Wrong.
That's why they're called "amendments." We used to keep black people as slaves. We didn't used to let women vote. We used to want people to stop drinking. Then we said they could again. Things change. The Constitution of the United States has changed.
It needs to change.
Children are dying.
And it's our fault.
Responding to questions about selling the assault weapon to the shooter in Gilroy, the owner of Big Mike's Guns and Ammo declared on Facebook, “When I did see him, he was acting happy and showed no reasons for concern,” the post said. “I would never ever sell any firearm to anyone who acted wrong or looks associated with any bad group like white power. Everyone is my brother and sister and I am mourning for the families. Mike.” To be clear: The killer purchased his killing machine via Al Gore's Internet. The same series of tubes that allowed the killer to post pictures of the Gilroy Garlic Festival moments before he opened fire. 
Things change. 
It's time. 
It's way past time. 

Thursday, August 01, 2019

A Very Special Episode

Part of the magic
is in the edit
We don't always see
or remember
What goes on
behind the scenes
Like any long-running
play or show
It helps to have a strong cast
of regulars
The ones you can depend on
when things begin to drag
But when things get tough
and smiles wear thin
It really helps to know
there's a backlog
All that good faith and love
stored up over the years
The details have become
trivia questions
"Do you remember the time?"
"Wasn't that they year when..."
Some of them are chestnuts
retold year after year
The pants were where?
The rings were where?
Cutting out those hiccups
shortchanges the story
We keep tuning in to see
how they get handled
Big problems become small
like the poet said
There is more laughter
than there are tears
That's part of the force
that makes it work
But most of all it's the story
that brings us back
That
and a really good editor.