Tuesday, November 19, 2019

It Took Seconds

Sixteen seconds.
That was my takeaway from the most recent school shooting. That was how long it took for a student at Saugus High in Santa Clarita, California to kill two of his classmates, wound three others, and then turned the gun on himself. The shooter had just turned sixteen.
Maybe there's something there. More likely it's just a terrible coincidence.
Sixteen seconds.
You will spend more time reading this blog than it took for that teenager to end three lives and change those of hundreds more. It takes thirty seconds to order a meal online. Texting your mom takes longer than sixteen seconds, if you go beyond just the emojis. There were plenty of students at Saugus High who took the time to do just that as they waited for the all clear, long after the shots had all been fired. Three off-duty officers from local law enforcement were first to respond to the incident. Because they were at the school dropping off their kids. These brave individuals did not hesitate. They rushed back into the school right after the shooting began.
"Don't Walk" signs count you down from fifteen seconds to get you across the street safely.
Go ahead. Count off "sixteen Mississippi" in your head. It would take anyone that long just to figure out where the shots were coming from.
And here's another thing that takes more than sixteen seconds: Conducting a lockdown drill. Many of the students who escaped had stories to relate, many of them included their relief that they had prepared for such an event. Practice makes perfect. It could be that lives were saved because of that preparation. Or maybe not, since the killer saved the last bullet in his gun for himself. When he ran out of ammo, he was done. Sixteen seconds is how long it takes to change a community forever.
Santa Clarita joins a seemingly never-ending list of cities that bear the hurt of being the site of a mass shooting. It took less than half a minute. It took just over a quarter of a minute. Usain Bolt can run one hundred meters in less time, but not the rest of us. We would still be standing in the doorway, looking back at the carnage that just erupted before the school day had even begun.
It's just not enough time.
Or maybe it's too much.
It's all too much.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Glitz

Pizzazz: an attractive combination of vitality and glamour.
I looked it up. Just to be certain. This was the element that NBC and Reuters said was missing from the first days of the impeachment hearings. Perhaps because we have become accustomed to pizzazz. This could be due to the evolution of paparazzi, or the elevation of news celebrities. We expect that the only good news is breaking news. If it bleeds it leads. No bores or snores. We need action. We need revelations.
The trouble here is that there is no revelation. All of this, the scandal John Oliver has taken to referring to as "Stupid WatergateII," has been played out in front of us in such a way as to numb us to the details. "So what if there was a quid pro quo?" "Hoax." "Witch Hunt.
Let me just pause here to suggest the following scenario: If, in 1692, any of the accused Salem witches had insisted that everyone read a transcript of a conversation they had that included the phrase, "I could turn your husband into a newt,  but I would like you to do us a favor though,” then it wouldn't have been much of a trial and all this shade being thrown on those unfortunate events way back when wouldn't carry such a stigma. The difference here is that the transcript released by the White House includes just exactly that. "I would like you to do us a favor though." Page Three. 
Yes. I understand that in the midst of a presidency that includes so many horrible moments and obnoxious statements this little "favor" doesn't match up to the pomposity and hyperbole to which we have become accustomed. It's kind of delicate by comparison. Business as usual includes the stripping of civil rights from previously protected groups, overturning government regulations meant to save the environment, and caging children. So what's the big deal about asking a foreign leader to do "us" a little favor? It's against the law. Big time
And though it may seem a little like passing out speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500, this is the place where the rubber meets the road. It is the moment at which hiding those tax returns and his business dealings in the past become a tapestry of deceit. As one former employee of his said, “He ignores the law when he doesn’t like it, he uses the law to get his way.”
So there isn't enough pizzazz for the folks at NBC? I understand that this may not be anything like their old Thursday Night lineup. No Friends. No Seinfeld. But make no mistake this is "must-see TV." With or without pizzazz. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pressure Drop

"The sunny optimism that likely propelled them into the field is rapidly fading as the result of low salaries, insufficient funding, and the often complicated social-emotional needs of their students." That's how the article by Reggie Wade for Yahoo(!) Finance began. I read on with interest, being a teacher. I got to the part that described the measuring stick used to define this drop in confidence, which suggested that in just a year that mark has moved from fifty percent to thirty-four. My first thought: Wow. We were only at fifty percent last year, and now we've dropped another sixteen percent. Those numbers are positively Trumpian.
All of this sad information came from The Educator Confidence Report, a document composed in conjunction with You.Gov, a survey site that crunches numbers of this sort. "Job satisfaction," how about "optimism?" How about reading the blog I've been writing for the past fifteen years? Probably not the most scientific way to gather data, but it might give a picture of what working in urban education is all about. The highs. The lows. The in-between days. There are a lot of those. Those are the ones with an asterisk next to them. The ones with a small victory mixed into the pudding, leaving a sweet taste of success that brings us rushing back for just that little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. 
Low salaries? I signed up for that. Insufficient funding? I'm ready for the battle. The often complicated social-emotional needs of our students? Okay. You got me there. That's a nut I have been trying to crack for nearly a quarter century. Using the template of my own experience in school and childhood does very little to prepare me for the Escape Room. That's where the confidence comes in. Can I figure out a way to invest my young charges with the enthusiasm that brought me to this job in the first place? Can I give them a little of that sweetness that gets me coming back the next day? That's my job, after all. Just like Mary Poppins, I'm looking for that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. In the most delightful way. 
And that little connection there is enough to get me through to Thanksgiving break. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Beliefs

On what do I base my feelings about Donald Trump? It could be the angry mob of sycophants that surround him. I would happily pick the other side of any argument that had Sean Hannity in it. Much in the same way I would do for just about any current administration official. The angry, darting eyes of a hunted animal are the giveaways. I have even opened my acceptance of these individuals to the exception of "just a job." They work for a man who made "You're Fired" a catchphrase. This is the kind of boss from whom you would shrink, find excuses to stay in the bathroom, hide under the desk. And when the lights come on and the cameras are rolling, you mindlessly repeat the talking points generated out of desperation and hope that you can find someone else to throw under the bus while surviving to the next list of meandering talking points.
That cult of borderline personality reeks of fear and desperation. Anything that runs on the souls of the individuals that are grist for the mill must require a sacrifice. The turnover rate for the "president's" A-Team stands at eighty percent. The message being thrown around from the top of that stack of turtles is that the fault lies in the dismissed, the fired, the resigned. And once their eyes stop spinning counter-clockwise, they will write their book describing life on the inside of that dryer full of rocks. The problem is all that stuff at the bottom, we are told. Not the howling windbag way up high. Looking down.
The hypocrisy in thought and deed, the never-ending greed, the hate and fear is terrifying, but this is a man who once tried to talk a kid out of believing in Santa. On Christmas Eve last year, the "president" and his wife were taking calls from kids, and this is what he said to a seven year old: "Are you still a believer in Santa? Because at seven, it's marginal, right?" 
Marginal? Really? This is the same man who suggested that the problem between Syria and Turkey should be solved with the following metaphor: "Sometimes you have to let them fight. It’s like two kids in a lot, you’ve got to let them fight and then you pull them apart." I give him a point for consistency, since that seems to be the way he runs his meetings. 
With those nuggets in place, I cannot find any reason to doubt any of the other scandalous, horrible moments attributed to our wispy-haired head of state. Those that are part of the record, video and audio recordings, stand on their own merits. Or faults. But when you tell kids they are "marginal" for calling the Santa Hotline and professing their belief in Santa Claus? 
Impeachment's too good for him. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

I'm Watching

Here is where it starts: You're out in the front yard, playing catch with your dad, and when you make an errant throw or the ball glances off your mitt and falls to the ground, the first words out of your mouth is, "I'm sorry." We are conditioned to apologize for not keeping the ball in the air. It is for this reason I believe all professional sports are fixed.
Come now. Don't stare at me with those unforgiving eyes. It happened in the 1919 World Series. Why wouldn't it be possible a hundred years later? Please understand that I enjoyed watching the spectacle as much as anyone without a specific rooting interest in what would be the least-watched World Series in the past five years. A Series in which the home team never won a game, which meant that every out had to be played. Home runs leaped out of each park, and a stolen base was recorded in game one, assuring a hungry nation that Taco Bell would make good on its offer of a free Doritos Locos Taco to anyone who could stumble into one of their restaurants between the hours of two and six on October 30.
Exciting? Sure. Fixed? Why not?
Bear with me for a moment as I point out that there are a great many adult Americans who continue to believe that Professional Wrestling is real. Considering there is a considerable overlap between this fan base and those that consider the eternal left hand turns of NASCAR high entertainment, and that so many of our great institutions have now become sullied by slow motion instant replay booth reviews, who would argue the point?
Okay. You're not convinced. How about the potential for these highly trained athletes to perform at such a high degree that they are throwing balls faster than I have ever driven my Prius and tapping their toes on the sideline even as they are careening toward the opponents' bench while all manner of chaos goes on around them? We are often reminded by announcer-types of the impossibility of what we have just witnessed and the improbability of a rookie kicker coming in at the last minute to push a ball through the uprights in the last seconds to pull off a victory. Except that's his job, and he's been practicing since at least mid-July for just such an opportunity. If he makes it, he's a hero. If he misses it, he will be replaced.
Then there's this: There was no television in 1919. Major League Baseball earns billions of dollars each year via its TV contracts with various outlets. The National Football League makes more than six billion annually. It is in their best interests to keep the ball in the air. All those enormous contracts given to players assure they continue to train for those moments of high drama and to keep the ball off the ground.
And for their silence.
Convinced? No? Just keep watching for proof. I know I will. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Ever

Time is fast approaching when I will have been alive the same number of years as my father when he stopped being alive. My older brother passed that mark this past year. Another trick of math tells me that I have now lived nearly another half of my life since dad passed on. Kicked the bucket. My personal favorite: Joined the choir invisible. A phrase I attribute to John Cleese, but was originally from a poem by George Eliot. Aside from the hairline that endure as a gift and tribute from my old man, I continue to keep alive many of his worst jokes and stories.
And the peanut brittle.
And the clock on the wall.
And the walls that surround me. By managing the insurance money I was given as a parting gift from dear old dad, my wife and I could afford the down-payment on the house in which we now reside.
So, no, there aren't many days that I don't think about him. A quarter of a century ago, there were plenty of other things on my mind. Starting a new life in a new state and striking out on my own. All those strings attaching me to being "Davy" and lashing me to a future that was only what happened in Boulder, Colorado had been cut.
And it all changed in an instant. There was a flash of time during which I began to imagine a life that brought me back to my hometown, to be the caretaker for my horribly injured father. It was long enough to imagine the scenarios in which everything would play out just fine. The relative comfort and safety of going back to my hometown came as a mild relief at that time. I was terrified at the prospect, but it seemed like the next logical chapter in my story. But first my brothers and I were going to have to sort out what was really happening.
My father died in the burn ward. He didn't make it home. Not until we carried his ashes up to the cabin he built and sprinkled him there, as he had often pontificated: "Scatter me here." Suddenly, I was released from that binding commitment of looking after an invalid. I was returned to my regularly scheduled programming. But nothing was regular about it. I had been pushed through a door into adulthood like I had never imagined. It was my older brother who carefully sifted through all the paper and accounts and did the heavy lifting. I returned to the relative safety of the west coast, where things eventually returned to normal. But a new normal. This was the one where a parking space for Donald Caven had just opened up, and one of the best things I ever helped create was someone to take it over.
Now it's his lifetime that dates this whole process. There's a burgeoning adult who has been indoctrinated in many of the same ways I was to the ways of the world. He knows many of the same songs and stories I do. And though it seems like forever ago, I know it is just ever.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Masonry

Hey, history buffs: Where were you thirty years ago?
It could be that you were still trying to put your life back together after the Loma Prieta earthquake that rocked the Bay Area even as the local baseball franchises went head to head in a World Series that had to be put on hold while both cities dug out and cleaned up. Batman had just been brought back to the big screen, setting up what would eventually become a burr underneath Martin Scorsese's saddle after a few more decades. George H.W. Bush was President of the United States. I mention most of this because I didn't have a blog yet and many of these events seem important to me.
Like the fact that it was thirty years ago that construction began on the first McDonald's In Russia. This was the kind of thing that led to the Scorpions recording their Glasnost hit, "Wind Of Change." And for those of you who may be too young to remember the Scorpions, they rocked like a hurricane, even though they were saddled with some pretty severe accents. But because they were from a country that chose to build a wall down the middle of what used to be their capital, we give them a pass here. And because it was thirty years ago that the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.
It wasn't an earthquake, or a stampede to be first in line for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. They use the metric system over there. After years of pressure from within and without, the edifice which had been the most outward symbol of divisions created by the Cold War was toppled.
I wasn't there. I watched it on TV. And it is just now occurring to me what a terrible shame it is that we weren't more equipped to deal with that groundswell of democracy. As those protesters leaped into the vacuum created by all those years of Soviet oppression, we gave them our best: blue jeans, MTV, and a chance to be "free." In 2019, walls are back in fashion, and the freedom that was chased for all those years is being turned back on itself. Those open borders are closing down as the European Union begins to crack under the strain of Nationalism. Boris Johnson has improbably turned Britain on itself to collapse under the weight of its inability to do those things that make a country truly free.
And now, just down the road, a new wall is being built. Because, we are told, "Walls work." If the goal is to build frustration and anti-government hysteria, then I would have to agree. I just don't see it as a step forward.
There's a new Batman movie being made.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

My Eyes Are Open

I listened with interest to my son's podcast, as he and his co-host stopped every so briefly on the topic of making a peanut and jelly sandwich. It was his assertion that the correct way to go about this process was to put peanut butter on both slices of bread and then put the jelly in between. This, in his experience, would keep the jelly from seeping into the bread. The peanut butter creates a pocket to cradle the jelly.
My son's reaction? It blew his mind. He said as much, to his listening audience. Which included me. And I shared in his wonder. I have thirty-five years on this kid, a spend it never occurred to me to line the inside of my sandwich with peanut butter. All my previous attempts had focused on keeping those two ingredients separated until the last possible moment. I had also been concerned with keeping the knife clean between spreading the sweet and then the savory. The jelly went first, I came to understand and then wiped the knife on the lip of the crust. The now moderately sterile knife could then be stuck into the peanut butter without worry of generating an accidental goober and grape fusion. Only when all the spreading had been done could the two faces be mashed together and the sandwich accompli.
What if I could have been doing this all along?
My initial take was that it would be a revelation of sorts. A PBJ was always a bit of a comfort food, and the idea that there was an even more comforting version of this favorite gave me pause. Would I have been predisposed to making even more of them for myself over the years? And my family? They would have enjoyed this special treat with regularity. My son: "Dad, will you make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"
That never happened. There was a lot more turkey with mayo and mustard slung around our kitchen. And with that extra layer of peanut butter, we would have had to buy twice as much. Could we have supported that kind of deluxe lifestyle? Difficult to imagine.
But I know what the future holds for me. And it blows my mind.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Steve

I went to junior high with a kid named Steve Easilymocked. That is not his real name, but it is true. It was especially true for other junior high kids. And it didn't help that he was in band. So was I. It didn't help that he was kind of short and round. So was I. It didn't help that he wore glasses. So did I. And lest you worry that I am secretly describing myself in an attempt to put psychological distance between my reality and my remembrances, fear not. Steve Easilymocked was a real person. Even if that's not his real name.
Steve was the way that I kept myself in the game. Specifically a game called "Bombardment," a peculiarly sadistic form of dodgeball that used flattened soccer balls as projectiles and the preternaturally aggressive instincts of adolescent boys to terrorize the short round, glasses wearing victims on the back row. Please God, just don't let me get hit in the face. But if I could stay in the fray one round longer than Steve, then I was going to be okay. Steve was the slow gazelle. He was going to be thinned from any herd in which he found himself running. And the lions in junior high were especially unforgiving.
I told myself, "Yes, you're in band, but at least you're playing tuba. Not the wimpy old clarinet like Steve."
I told myself, "Yes, you carry a lunch box, but at least it's not some nondescript brown paper bag with your name written on it by your mom."
I told myself, "Yes, you're one of the last ones picked, but at least you're not the last one picked."
I told myself all these things as an ongoing reminder that even if I was near the bottom of the pecking order, I wasn't the bottom of the pecking order.
Which is why I feel so awful about not going to Steve's birthday party. About halfway through our seventh grade year, Steve and I had struck up an acquaintance. The kind of acquaintance fostered by sitting outside the band room waiting for it to be unlocked in the morning. Or milling about fearfully near the back of the gymnasium as the flattened soccer balls whizzed past our heads. We were going to live through this. But when I was handed that little envelope, I could feel a gulf opening up between us. If I went to Steve's birthday party, I would need to invite him to mine. Even though it was months away, I imagined all the forced conversations we would necessarily have about this and that. I would be stuck with Steve Easilymocked as my friend. Forever.
I didn't RSVP. I didn't tell my mom that I had been invited, because I knew what the right thing to do was and I didn't want her reminding me. I "lost" the invitation, and though I remembered the following Monday to ask how it was, I knew that it was probably just him and his mom and maybe a relative or two, sitting around having the kind of forced fun that feels like torture when you're in seventh grade.
By ninth grade, Steve was no longer in band. He had slipped into a group of nascent cowboys, having found his way through the somewhat traditional channels of buying a hat and boots. And raising a goat in 4H. It didn't make him any more popular, but he had a caste. When we got to high school, we had stopped even nodding at one another in the hallway. That moment was gone.
And I feel awful about it today.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Welcome Back

Jerry came back last week.
In November.
It would be kind to say that he was missed. He's been gone a year and these past few months, but his special brand of havoc would not have made our meal of primary education any easier to digest. I make a practice out of saying that there are not bad kids, just bad behavior. In Jerry's case, I would continue to stress this point, but the behavior with him came in great big vats.
And now, those vats of behavior are back.
A lot has changed since he left. We have a new principal. We have a different culture. We are stressing our Horace Mann Expectations. When he left, he was a second grader. He returns as a third grader. It would be incredible if the year he spent away would translate into maturity and a shared vision with those attempting to steer him in a direction that would bring success.
Or maybe just a relief from the constant flurry of calls to the office.
Jerry just hit someone.
Jerry just stole something from another student's desk.
Jerry kicked a ball on the roof.
Jerry is wandering the halls.
And maybe Jerry won't do any of those things anymore, having been given this new start. A clean slate, with the possible exception of the flinch that his name induces in staff and students alike. When his dad took him out of our school at the beginning of last year, there was a collective sigh of relief. We had weathered that storm.
And now Hurricane Jerry was coming back.
I hope that Jerry is ready for what is ahead of him. I don't expect us to break. I don't imagine that exceptions will be made for him. I also expect that he'll be checking to see if there are any of the old cracks or holes in the fence. Not literally, of course. Jerry wouldn't miss a day or skip from school. He knew that would be far too easy.
And nobody said it was going to be easy. Our dreams are our ticket out.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

For Which It Stands - Or Whom

I wrote recently about how Oklahoma Republicans got together and released a big ol' group of low-level prisoners from their prisons. I suggested then that maybe there were some things that were just the right thing to do.
And some things, red or blue, are just the wrong things to do.
Like digging up a September 11 Conspiracy Theory to get yourself back into the fading spotlight of a twenty-four hour news cycle. Tulsi Gabbard, one of more than a dozen remaining candidates for the Democratic Nomination for President, had this to say on her website: “The American people still don’t have access to the truth about Saudi Arabia and who helped Al Qaeda carry out these deadly attacks … It is absolutely unacceptable that our government’s investigation into Saudi ties has been kept from these 9/11 families and from the American people.”
Not ridiculous in its own flash of light. There continues to be a ton of potential questions out there about Saudi Arabia and all the ways our foreign policy seems to skip around the edges of Saudi Arabia. But it also smells deeply of the terror or terror agenda that hangs over a more conservative agenda. It fits in well with a number of Ms. Gabbard's other talking points: She has voted to make it harder for refugees from Syria to enter the United States. She has had praise for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi as he’s directed a crackdown by painting much of his population as Muslim extremists. She has worked closely with supporters of Hindu nationalists in India who see the country’s millions-strong Muslim minority as a major problem. It dovetails part of the same narrative Gabbard’s used to attract fringe supporters on the left and right and to peddle debunked ideas with serious stakes for millions of vulnerable people, like repeatedly claiming that most Syrians fighting the country’s dictator Bashar Assad are tied to al Qaeda and other terror groups. 
It's a tough road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There are still miles to go. Not everyone will make it. But maybe we don't have to stir the mud quite so furiously along the way. 

Friday, November 08, 2019

OK

The headline, "More than 450 Oklahoma inmates walking out of prison doors," left a lot to the imagination. Does this mean there was lax security on a particular day? Were the doors themselves of poor construction, allowing this mass breach? Maybe four hundred fifty walked out of prison doors, but they were all summarily rounded up and put back where they belong. Whew.
Or maybe this is part of criminal just ice reform. 
Oklahoma has had the highest incarceration rate in the United States for years. To avoid this injustice and embarrassment, lawmakers have sought to commute the sentences for many simple drug possession and low-level property crimes. According to the Oklahoma governor's office, this will save the state nearly twelve million dollars over continuing to keep those folks locked up. To be clear, there were more than eight hundred cases reviewed, and just over half of them were commuted. Like Tess Harjo, a twenty-eight year old who was released Monday from the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, Oklahoma who had been serving a fifteen year sentence for possession of methamphetamines. Ms. Harjo said, "I have met many women in here who came from a medium- or maximum-security prison who have already served eighteen or more years. It's ridiculous."
So maybe this is the hopeful part, in which the real bad people are put behind bars and those who make poor choices are given the chance to put things right. 
This is somewhat confounding, given that a good deal of this criminal justice reform is being led by conservative Republicans, like Kevin Stitt, the Governor of Oklahoma. Which makes me glad, because good thoughts and ideas are not the exclusive purvey of one party or ideology. Back when Barack Obama pardoned three hundred thirty federal prisoners on his last day in office, it may not have been an affront to the incoming administration. It may have simply been the right thing to do. Which is how it should be. 
Keep it up, people. 

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Achievables

My wife and I are currently on a path to limit the possibility that neither one of us will suffocate under the weight of their tongues of a certain age in our sleep. We are doing this with the aid of machines that inflate us not unlike Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. Each night, we kiss each other goodnight and then strap these ersatz Alien face hugger masks onto the front of our faces and wait for the rush of oxygen. Maybe there's some nitrous in there, or maybe once my sinuses are properly inflated and my mouth's soft tissue is flattened properly, I have been sleeping more deeply. Which was the suggested outcome for this particular therapy.
Success, right?
Well, there is the struggle to keep a plastic cone affixed to your face while the rest of your skull is politely compressed by a series of straps that were obviously designed with comfort in mind, but the mild bondage aspect and the potential for suffocation sits just off camera, pointing and laughing. And there is one thing that makes that anxiety disappear: The chance to be rewarded by your air app the following morning. A month into my CPAP experience, I earned a Gold Badge. How does one measure up to such a lofty standard? By using the machine as recommended by your physician. I am nothing if not good at surrendering to a routine, so I was set up for success. Even though I find the periodic hissing or intermittent whisper of air shooting up onto my eyebrow from an improper seal distracting, I am now dedicated to getting a good score every single morning.
You might think that it is overtly compulsive to continue, after a month, to check the results from the prior night's sleep on my phone. And you would be right. I am hopelessly devoted to watching that little dial spring from zero blue to the deep orange of the nineties and the ever-elusive one hundred. My wife and I compared scores, initially, but my over-commitment to holding still for an entire night while being injected with what I hope is oxygen fits a little too precisely into my "good patient" model. I need that ridiculous level of approval.
For now.
Eventually I hope to be freed from the app and enjoy the results of a good night's sleep without this video game enticement.
Eventually.
For now, I'll just have to sleep on it.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Fencing

I've built a few fences. I have built them primarily with the goal to keep people, animals and the like out, and to keep a different subset of those same elements inside. Creating a perimeter is something that homeowners do. Sometimes it's as simple as planting a hedge out near the sidewalk. When we moved into our house, our baby did not present a flight risk, but the neighborhood kids who had been using our front and back yards as their playground needed some sort of impediment to slow their entrance and egress. Situated as we are between two apartment buildings, there was talk with both landlords about defining property lines. There was some discussion regarding the old saw, "Strong fences make good neighbors," So I took my old saw and I cut up some lumber, hammered and screwed it into place and there it was: the limits of our  domain were defined.
Once we got a dog, and our son became ambulatory, there was a need to shore up our defenses, and a gate was installed. The bane of my existence. Over the two decades of shoring up our defenses, I finally arrived at a version of our portal that worked to keep the dog in and the interlopers out. Not that in her prime that slowed her down much. If she really wanted out, she could clear those four feet with strength, grit and determination. So if we left the house, we left her inside. When the folks in the apartment building to the north made poor choices in their late night parking attempts, occasionally they would knock out a slat or two. That meant our dog was gifted with an easy out if we were dull enough to let her into the front yard without noticing the gap. Which meant that somewhat abruptly after retrieving the hound from a tour of the dumpsters around the block, I needed to shore up the defenses one more time. Impenetrable? Hardly.
Which is why I had such a good chuckle when I heard that smugglers were cutting holes in the vaunted wall erected as a monument to Donald Trump's hatred and  fear. An eight year old girl scaled a replica of that same wall in just a few seconds. These breaches of our southern border will of course send the carpenters and engineers in charge of such things scurrying about, looking for ways to make it more  difficult to get past that barrier. But as I learned about neighborhood kids getting in and dogs getting out, any fence is just a challenge to those on either side.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Dreams Die Hard

The crushing sound  you heard at the end of last week was that of my son's heart breaking. Not via an  ill-fated romance. Or maybe it was. Not the cancellation of his favorite show. Or maybe it was. Not the breakup for his best-loved band. Or maybe it was.
It was something much, much worse.
Beto O'Rourke dropped out of the presidential race. 
Feel free at this moment, if you don't know who Mister O'Rourke is, to breeze through the rest of this entry, stopping only long enough to ask yourself, "Why don't I know who Beto O'Rourke is?" He's the guy who the "president" referred to as a "poor bastard" who quit the race "like a dog." He's the guy who took on Ted Cruz for a Texas Senate seat. He's the guy who said, "Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47." He's the guy my son wanted to become the next President of the United States. 
And now that's not going to happen. 
Beto O'Rourke suspended his campaign late last week, vowing to stay active in the fight to defeat the presumptive Republican nominee in 2020. Just not that active. Which puts my son in the awkward position of trying to find someone who can take the place of the one person who he felt could save this country. His hopes and dreams were all stacked up on that one guy to win, and  now he's not even in the race.
Perhaps I'm overstating. I know that it was next to impossible four short years ago to get him interested in voting in his first election. We got him a ballot so that he could mail it in, and we did what we could to instruct him in the ways of the Force, but ultimately the midi-chlorians never coalesced and his enthusiasms did not translate into action. We cannot blame my son for the current state of affairs, since Hillary Clinton easily held the deep blue state of California, but it did nothing to instill democratic/Democratic fervor in him. 
So you can imagine how proud we were when he picked a candidate heading into the coming fray. A highly principled man who was not afraid to take on the establishment. Running on the wind behind the slogan, "A campaign by all of us, for all of us," he was ready to speak his mind, kick ass and take names. My son followed him on Twitter. 
He'll get over it. In time. And so will we, the American People. As the homogenization of the political process continues and we winnow down our choices to the safest possible alternatives. Does it sound like I'm hurt by Beto's departure too? I am. I have my son to thank for that. 

Monday, November 04, 2019

Bye Bye Bye

"1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House, is the place I have come to love and will stay for, hopefully, another 5 years as we MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, but my family and I will be making Palm Beach, Florida, our Permanent Residence. I cherish New York, and the people of New York, and always will, but unfortunately, despite the fact that I pay millions of dollars in city, state and local taxes each year, I have been treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state. Few have been treated worse. I hated having to make this decision, but in the end it will be best for all concerned. As President, I will always be there to help New York and the great people of New York. It will always have a special place in my heart!"
These were the words that the "president" used to announce his departure from the city that never sleeps, the Big Apple, Gotham, the City So Nice They Named It Twice. Another funny nickname for New York City might be "The City That Pays Millions In Overtime To Its Police Force To Provide Security For The Potted Plant POTUS." There won't be a lot of tears shed over this in Manhattan. “Good riddance,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted. “It’s not like Mr. Trump paid taxes here anyway. He’s all yours, Florida.”
Seeking a cocoon where he can crawl, where no one will talk back to him, this slug who will never turn into a butterfly hopes to find refuge. Near a golf course, of course. Far away from baseball stadiums. And about that "millions of dollars in city, state, and local taxes," well, we probably won't ever really know because there seems to be some sort of holdup on viewing his tax returns. Speaking of taxation, Florida does not have a state income tax or inheritance tax, which has the Trump offspring salivating. More than usual. 
So, if you were hoping to spend a weekend in the Empire City, reading all the books in the Trump Library, you may need to rethink your plans. Instead, you could take a tour of all the businesses the "president" rode into bankruptcy. Fun for the whole family!

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Reportage

The folks over at Deadspin have left the building. They quit, rather than being subject to the oppressive agenda set by their corporate overlords: "Stick to sports." While it is quite true that Deadspin is predominately a web site filled with sports content, including Major League Soccer updates, and has a masthead that reads, "Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion."
I write about sports, even though my masthead says something about short attention span theater. My audience will, from time to time, weigh in on the subject matter upon which I choose to prattle. "We like the funny stuff," say many. Others like to remind me that they prefer it when I tell stories in which they themselves appear. It is not very often that I get a request for "more sports." Of course, none of these folks are paying for the privilege of reading my prattlings. Which may explain why the Deadspin staff started feeling the heat after one of their writers, Laura Wagner, decided to write an article biting the hand that nominally fed them. The upshot being that it seems as though the content-makers were less than satisfied with the new CEO laying off a number of employees all the while filling executive positions with cronies from his previous stints at Forbes and Playboy. For those of you unfamiliar with those two publications, they do not feature sports as their bread and butter.
Which doesn't mean that the line gets blurred from time to time. Sports paints a pretty wide stripe down the middle of our country, sometimes we find ourselves on one side or the other and on those happy rare occasions we find common ground smack on that stripe.
Last week, when the "president" decided to pop by Game Five of the World Series, the crowd turned more or less as one and booed. For that moment, the wide world of sports and the not quite as wide world of politics coalesced. Baseball fans resented the insinuation of this great orange distraction into their national pastime. The fact that their derisive cheers were louder than that for the opposing team suggested that we, as a nation, care about a number of things all at the same time. We don't need to have our news, weather and sports separated in the manner we find in TV dinners. And maybe we don't need the corporate pinheads from Forbes silencing editorial viewpoints that may make it difficult to get a tee time at Mar-A-Lago. And for those who quit Deadspin in solidarity, I offer this cribbed version of the Olympic Motto: "The most important thing in the journalism is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
Keep fighting the good fight. 
The Nationals won the World Series, four games to three. And even though he wasn't in attendance, the "president" was still booed during the video presentation of the game in Washington D.C. 

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Gotta Catch 'Em All

It's 2019.
Why am I still concerned with kids and their Pokemon cards? It feels like I've been doing this forever. And if you consider that I have been teaching at this school forever, at least that's what the kids tell me, then it makes sense. Back in 1996, Pokemon cards first became available in Japan. A few years later, they were picked up here in the United States and this fad has continued more or less unabated for the past two decades.
For the uninitiated, Pokemon (pocket monsters) are a shred of Japanese culture that has become a fixture in the hearts and minds of children across the planet. While some trends come and go, this one stuck. World of Warcraft, Legend of the Five Rings, even a Star Wars version of this collectible card game have come and gone while Pokemon reigns supreme.
So?
Kids bring their collections, sometimes in neatly organized binders but mostly in loose stacks that are shoved into jacket pockets or held under desks by the fist full when anyone is looking. They are fetish objects for the elementary set. The power these colorfully painted pieces of paper hold over their holders is frightening. The tears that erupt when cards are lost or ruined, the distractions generated by their mere presence, and the Gollum-esque fixation that comes over kids as they attempt to collect the most obscure and rare is confounding. This past week we had to shut down a black market sales ring that was convening behind our portable classrooms. Boys were selling them to their classmates for a dollar apiece. Considering you can buy a box of one hundred for twenty dollars, that's a pretty steep markup. Which also brings parents down to school to find out why their child's after school snack money has "disappeared" over the past few weeks. It hasn't disappeared so much as been redistributed. Now some of the more entrepreneurial kids will be getting more afternoon snacks. And laughing all the way to the metaphorical bank.
So while the weeping will continue until we round up every last one and stick them in ziploc bags to be picked up at the end of school, it will be the job of every adult to keep an eye out for those furtive glances and fists stuck inside pockets. Because we weren't busy doing anything else.

Friday, November 01, 2019

With Whom

Remember Al Franken? 
If you answered, "Yeah. He was that writer and sometimes performer on the old Saturday Night Live," then bravo for you because you watch a lot of old television. 
If you answered, "Yeah. He's the former senator from Minnesota who resigned in disgrace after allegations of sexual misconduct, then bravo for you because you watch a lot of current television.
How about Katie Hill? Perhaps you're not as familiar with Ms. Hill, but she is a recently-resigned member of the United States Congress from California. She shares something with Mister Franken in that they are both Democrats. And they both quit rather than accept the white hot lights of television and other media shining into their personal lives. 
What is different is that Ms. Hill was involved in a consensual sexual relationship with a campaign staffer. The problem may come from that word, "consensual" which just sounds dirty. Or maybe it's because she is a woman. Currently mired in a rather ugly divorce from her husband, Representative Hill was separated from her husband at the time of the affair. But explicit pictures appeared online of her with the campaign worker. Interestingly, one of Hill's congressional colleagues, Representative Duncan Hunter of California, is running for reelection despite being charged with using campaign funds to finance romantic flings with lobbyists and congressional aides. Did I mention that Mister Hunter is a Republican? And did I mention that the staffer with whom Ms. Hill was involved is a woman?
And now we find ourselves in the middle of a quandary: What part of this scandal is sex and what part of it is the sex of those involved? In 2019, is the outing of a member of Congress a bigger deal than using funds to buy  ski trips, nights out in Washington, D.C., and Uber rides between his office and women’s homes? 
What does Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi have to say? "We must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces." That was for Katie Hill, whom Ms. Pelosi had been grooming a leadership position. Feel free now to make your own joke about "grooming" and "leadership position." 
I can't. 
It's just not funny anymore.