Sunday, December 08, 2019

For Your Lamentations

Those were the words in the header of the email my older brother sent: "For your lamentations." He is my primary news source for things in my hometown. When something changes in Boulder, Colorado, invariably I hear it from him. The things that matter. Like the advent of the closing of Liquor Mart. If you did not grow up in Boulder, the announcement of a liquor store shuttering its doors might be met with a shrug of its shoulders.
I did, and I'm not.
Liquor Mart was an institution. For more than fifty years, it was the place to shop for beer, wine and spirits. Before 1968, Boulder was a dry county. With the exception of a few establishments sprinkled throughout the town, prohibition never ended. Until 1968, when a visionary named Tom Lacey applied for and received the county's first liquor license. In May of that year, he opened Liquor Mart.
If you are familiar with barns like Bev Mo, the notion of a grocery store for booze isn't a particularly new one. Pushing a shopping cart up and down the aisles does not seem peculiar. Back in the late sixties it sure did. The idea that you could pick up bottles and examine them rather than asking for them from behind a protected counter was a brand new one. More than anything else, Liquor Mart was a celebration of Boulder being "wet."
How many adventures of my youth began with a trip to Liquor Mart? Coincidentally, before it was a liquor store, the location where it has stood for most of its existence used to be a grocery store. Where my Aunt Peggy worked. I had become familiar with those aisles searching for jars of Goober 'n' Grape and rows of Clanky Chocolate syrup. Those were the aisles in which I eventually accompanied my father on a hunt foBeaujolais Nouveau, or bargains on the vodka that would mix with tonic for my parents' evening cocktail. 
But it was my introduction to the beer cooler, along with my older brother, that changed my life. He called it "The Disneyland of Beers." He was correct. Braving the cold was worth it when you discovered those odd off brands or imports that couldn't be found anywhere else. I was with my older brother when I first encountered "The Mystery Case," a sealed box filled with two dozen bottles and cans of various brews. Some of them were treats. Some of them were Coors. You never knew what you might get. 
But everyone knew what you got at Liquor Mart. This is where the kegs came from. This is where the Everclear was purchased for the "punch" we served. This is where we bought our DrMcGillicuddy's Mentholmint Schnapps. Okay. Most of the time we bought it. Liquor Mart was the beginning of every night that we started with the phrase, "I know: let's get real drunk and..."
Somewhere in there, my cousin got a job as manager there, continuing the odd family connection we had with the place. It was also, oddly enough, the place my father suggested we stop just after he had picked up the cremated remains of his mother. He offered to buy my friend and I a case of beer in some sideways wake-inspired gesture that left us grateful but a tad confused. For the record, we chose Moosehead. 
And so it went, even after my own personal prohibition went into place, Boulder's liquor needs were met by the Mart. Certainly it did not hurt business to be located just down the hill from one of the foremost party schools in America, the University of Colorado. Stumbling distance from so very much student housing, this was the place where wine tasting or binge drinking began and ended. 
Ended. The property has been sold to a real estate developer who specializes in retail and residential space. More condos for an ever-expanding student population. On the spot where all those parties started. There will be some powerful mojo going on there. 
But not just now. 
The lamentations have begun. 

Saturday, December 07, 2019

First Place Goes To...

I was reading an interview with Michael Nesmith on Al Gore's Internet the other day. I've been a fan of Mike's since he showed up on my television in that wool hat, singing songs with his bandmates, The Monkees. A couple of generations ago, I was given second pick in the "who is your favorite band" category. My older brother picked the Beatles. I picked the Monkees. Over the years I began to understand the differences not just in style but in the makeup of these two groups. But since I too had taken to wearing a knit cap when I was nine, it seemed like a pretty savvy choice. 
Back to the interview: Mister Nesmith was discussing the past and future of the Monkees, preparing to go out on tour with the other surviving member of the group, Mickey Dolenz. The Mickey and Mike tour will bring the pop music made famous by the remaining duo, along with a few of their solo tunes. This announcement did not take me aback. Mike had surrendered to the nostalgia machine a few years back, and was prepared to take it on the road one more time. What did surprise me was the way he talked about his old bandmates. The ones who had passed on. About Peter Tork: "We didn’t have too many civil words to say to each other, but we also didn’t fight all the time. We just didn’t say much. There wasn’t a lot to say. Peter would play me the songs that he thought were good and I didn’t. And I would play him the songs I thought were good and he wouldn’t. Then we just left it at that. Partners in silence." And Davy Jones: "We were all friends on some level, very casual work-space partners."
Immediately I was tossed back into the feelings I had after reading a similarly dated interview with Pete Townshend. Regarding the Who's departed bassist and drummer, “It’s not going to make Who fans very happy, but thank God they’re gone." Ouch. More pointedly about Keith Moon: "With Keith, my job was keeping time, because he didn’t do that. So when he passed away, it was like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to keep time anymore.’” Then there was this faint praise for the other survivor, lead singer Roger Daltrey: “I used to say that I love him, but with my fingers crossed,” Townshend said of Daltrey. “Now, I like him too. I like all his eccentricities, his foibles, his self-obsession, and his singer thing. Everything about him.”
All of which brought the focus back to those in the first choice band, the Beatles. Their in-fighting was legendary and was even documented in a film titled, amusingly enough, Let It Be. The acrimony that left the biggest band in the world in tatters swirled about for years after they stopped writing and recording together. The past fifty years for Paul and Ringo have been all about making amends, in little and big ways. It should be noted that the Fab Four never reunited as a band, nor did they tour in parts other than the occasional very special guest appearance. In the meantime, they have been happy to reminisce in respectful ways about one another, seeking common ground and happy memories. Those two seem very content to let the myth survive. 
Which probably has a lot to do with them being the Beatles. 

Friday, December 06, 2019

Living The Dream

My son is on the verge of becoming a college graduate. This is not a surprise as much as it is a celebration of his tenacity. Way back when, after a particularly arduous first day of kindergarten, announced that he had enough. All of those rigorous structures and expectations were weighing heavily on him, and he figured after dipping a toe in that he had a solid understanding of what might take place for the next eighteen years.
After some cajoling and a few tears, he was persuaded to give it another shot. One day became a week, a week became a month and pretty soon he had managed to string together a full school year. Complete with promotional exercises.
How could he have anticipated that this would continue for the better part of two decades? Each time he considered cutting and running, his parents were there to cajole him into giving it one more chance. This education thing was a very mixed bag. On the one hand, there was homework. On the other, there was a herd of new friends. With each passing year, new connections were made. Some were left behind, but this new feature of gathering associates and playdates kept him in the game. There were still struggles, but he found his way to that promotion at the end of high school, the one that felt like a leap into the abyss. Instead he landed in college, where he was surrounded by a number of his pals from high school. A considerable comfort compared to the experience of so many freshman entering that dorm room for the first time, not knowing what to expect.
It would be easy to say that the social aspect of school is what kept him going all these years. But it wouldn't be entirely true. At the end of each day, there were still those expectations and structures that kept him from running in the halls and leaving whenever he felt like it. He stuck with it, even when the struggles outweighed the successes. He took bits from each class he attended. Not that he would acknowledge it now, but he learned a lot. So much so that he felt the need to share his new learnings with his parents. We tried not to remind him, as he spoke at length about ideas he had collected as a result of sticking with this whole education nonsense, the times that he had wanted to cut and run.
But we didn't.
He didn't.
That's the really impressive part. He did not give up. He made friends. He kept them. He learned, as his university's motto reminded him, by doing. Over and over again. That sound you hear is that of the applause from his friends and family.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

View From The Top

Last week I was going to make some offhand joke about the "president" pardoning turkeys, wondering what war crimes they might have committed. And I suppose I have done just that, though in a much less emphatic way than I might had I used an entire entry up on that bit.
But it's scary to think this is the vein in which I found myself mining. The story of newly reinstated Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher opens a window into the parts of life that the "president" does not understand. Will not understand. The insulated life that he leads, and has led for all of his seventy-three years, causes him to act in what he may believe is everyone's best interest, but he has no real idea what that might be.
He tells us to congratulate him for making the stock market go higher and higher. Economists who have made a living studying such things know that such leaps and bounds eventually lead to a "correction." Simply put, what goes up, must come down. Much in the same way that the impact of Chief Petty Officer Gallagher's pardon opened up a can of worms that has a reach far beyond this one case, there is no sense of logical consequence. This is what a life of insulated privilege has created in this individual. A man who has skated free from most, if not all, of life's bouncy surface thanks to the cushion of money that has always been there. Even Richard Nixon, in his famous "Checkers Speech," recounted his humble beginnings: "I'll have to start early. I was born in 1913. Our family was one of modest circumstances, and most of my early life was spent in a store out in East Whittier. It was a grocery store, one of those family enterprises. The only reason we were able to make it go was because my mother and dad had five boys, and we all worked in the store. I worked my way through college, and, to a great extent, through law school. And then in 1940, probably the best thing that ever happened to me happened. I married Pat who's sitting over here. We had a rather difficult time after we were married, like so many of the young couples who may be listening to us. I practiced law. She continued to teach school."
And so on. 
Richard Nixon became a millionaire, but it is important to note that he did this after he had been President. After he had served in the United States Navy. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade. Our current "president" did not serve in the armed forces. He routinely ignores advice from those who are currently serving or those who have. This is how he feels his title "Commander in Chief" should be regarded. Top down. 
His view of the world is that from on high. He does not consider those who might have come from other circumstances or how his often surprising decisions might affect those of us down here. Looking up. Which doesn't seem right. Or fair. 
Or democratic. 
See how I did that? 

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Our Shot

We raised our son in Oakland. He heard his share of guns going off. Sometimes in the middle of the night. Sometimes on a holiday. Celebratory gunfire. Most of the time we consoled ourselves with the idea that it was probably firecrackers. Probably.
In the second or two after we heard the report, then the crack behind us, all those sounds played in my head. And while those moments from the past jangled about, the words that came out of my mouth were these: "Move. Now."
We weren't in Oakland. We were in San Luis Obispo. How could this be happening? My son reacted to my tone of voice as well as his own adrenaline from the noise we all heard. He went quickly around the back of the house. His house. The one we were visiting. He wanted to make sure that we could get inside.
I had a hand on my wife's back, herding her to the front door. I knew that the door was unlocked. I had been the last one out when I left to go pick my wife up at the train station, and my son from his Black Friday shift. Once we were  through the door, I considered turning off the porch light. I thought about locking the door. I wondered where my son was.
That's when he appeared. Seconds after we had separated on the driveway, we were reunited in the living room. All three of us were breathing like we had run a marathon. Then the questions started.
"What was that?"
"Was that a gun?"
"What did it hit?"
"Are you sure it was a gun?"
My son was sure. He dialed 911 and reported a shot fired. He gave them his name and  address. He hung up.
"They said someone else also called it in."
We stood in the center of the dark house, not wanting to move. Not wanting to turn on a light. A patrol car was coming.
Eventually we sat on  the couch and turned on the television. We waited.
My son answered the door to meet the officer who was there to make sure we were safe. My wife and I, emboldened by the presence of two police officers, walked outside to look at what may or may not have happened. As we looked around with the aid of our law enforcement flashlights. We were asked to point out where we heard the sounds. They wanted to reassure us that it probably wasn't a gunshot. There was no damage to the garage, the car, the driveway. There was no shell casing.
Maybe it was a pellet gun. Maybe an Airsoft rifle. We listened politely to the conjectures. We took some comfort in them. And when we went back inside, after thanking the officers for their help, we spend the next hour unjangling our collective nerves. It  didn't make a lot of sense that a gun would be fired in suburban San Luis Obispo on a Saturday night. By some drunk? A frat guy?  A teenager? Juvenile delinquent?
We wondered aloud. We doubted. Then we affirmed. Whatever it was, it got us all moving. Together. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2019


I would love to tell you that I had a hard time getting accepted into a university. Initially, I cast my bread upon the waters of academic institutions across the western United States. Eventually, I was rewarded with a pittance of a scholarship to the College of Santa Fe. I did not spend days waiting anxiously at my mailbox hoping for a school of some regal reputation to deign to grant me entrance. I was pretty sure that as a clever boy I would find my way to that next level.
Of course, after I accepted their kind offer, I bailed. Never attended one class. I was emotionally ill-equipped for such an adventure. So I enrolled in the school of hard knocks, fast food division one. After a year of slinging roast beef, I was ready to test the waters once again. This time I kept things a little closer to home. I wrote a doozy of an essay and got into Colorado College. First try. Turns out I was pretty good at this college acceptance thing. This time I stuck with it. For a year anyway. Then I skedaddled back up the highway to the University of Colorado, where I could walk home to my parents' house. If I needed to.
The thing is, I don't think my experience was all that common. Why else would these Hollywood types risk prison time to get their offspring into the college of their choice? Which brings me to the real point, our evil empire of a government chose to create a fake university in order to lure immigrants to our country, charge them fees and tuition, and then proceeded to arrest and deport them. Close to two hundred fifty wide-eyed and hopeful undergraduate candidates felt the sting of ICE as they played their ugly practical joke on those seeking higher education, and refuge. 
Why wouldn't they? A chance to better themselves, and maybe carve out the tiniest slice of the American Dream? 
Ha ha. Silly foreigners. So easy to fool. Prospective students paid around twelve thousand dollars per year in tuition and fees to attend the fake school, all entered the U.S. with legal student visas. Surprise! No school. No future. Do not pass Go. Do not collect a full refund from this illusory university. ICE officials have claimed that people who applied to the University of Farmington, that claimed to be a “nationally accredited business and STEM institution," should have quickly realized that the university was fake as no classes in a physical location were offered.
There is no free lunch. Or free education. Or freedom. Why hold out hope that someone would actually grant wishes to anyone. Ever? Right now there are millions of young men and women suffering over those college essays and hoping that someone will give them a chance, even if the have no classes in a physical location. I can assure you that both times I took it as my mission to be accepted by an institution of higher education, I never questioned their qualifications. They questioned mine. That was the game.
Am I smug because I managed to score both times I had the ball? No.
Well, maybe a little.
But now that I know our government was in the business of tricking folks into trying to gain admission to their pretend school? Only shame.

Monday, December 02, 2019

I Hadn't Heard

When I think about war and holidays, I tend to settle on the story of the soldiers in World War I who crawled form their trenches on Christmas Eve and met their foes in No Man's Land for some drinking and fraternization if only for a few hours. And that's the war on Christmas, right?
Or maybe it's the Fox News surreal suggestion that we liberal types are out to destroy the most ubiquitous holiday of all time. It used to be that there was a breath, a pause, a whisper that allowed us all to celebrate the giving of Thanks before the baby Jesus and reindeer began to appear on lawns and that music began to pour from every speaker connected to the central server. Holy silent jolly holly wonderland lyrics that get stuck in your head no matter what language you choose to sing them. I'm looking at you, Jose Feliciano. And all these angels we continue to hear on high for months at a time are now audible starting around Halloween and don't stop until sometime after the Super Bowl.
Please understand, I hold the Christmas season in the highest regard. I participate in all manner of festivities from the tree to the peanut brittle to the candles to the stars in the sky. I confess that I still sit out the church part, but my wife goes and sings for both of us. My son helps fill the stockings of those desirous of home theater for extra shift after extra shift at Best Buy.
I'm saying we're doing our part to make sure no one stamps out Christmas. Though I remain more than just a little ambivalent about the rather crowded calendar December brings, starting with Pearl Harbor Day and ending with New Year's Eve. Mumbling "Merry Christmas" seems to ignore all those other notable events in between.
Maybe it's just a hoax of some sort.
That suspicion got quite a jolt last week when the "president" was rambling, as is his custom, at a rally in Florida for some reason. He told the crowd, "You know, some people want to change the name Thanksgiving. They don't want to use the term Thanksgiving."
They? Whom? Us liberal pukes who know that there are plenty of folks from other countries who are confused by our need to gorge ourselves and watch football to celebrate what was essentially the beginning of the genocide of Native Americans?
No. We still call it "Thanksgiving." Because that's what it is. A time to reflect on those things for which we are grateful. Like how many shopping days left until Christmas. The real and true reason for all of this unnecessary chatter about "holidays." Back to the front with you!

Sunday, December 01, 2019


As the poet once said, "Don't call it a comeback, I been here for years."
In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, Toys R Us is back. Their first new store opened last Wednesday in Paramus, New Jersey. “Toys R Us is built into the fabric of childhood and for more than 70 years has been the most trusted source for toys and play,” said their chief merchant Richard Barry in a statement. “With the return of Toys R Us stores in the U.S., we are bringing a highly engaging, experience-driven retail destination that celebrates play and deepens the connection between the world’s best toy, play and entertainment brands and customers.”
Which sounds like gobbledygook until you remember the bottom line: There may soon be a toy store near you that you can walk through. And touch stuff. And play with things. 
Which may sound like gobbledygook to you if you have grown up in a world in which all of your toy purchases were made online, and the only way you could determine how fun something was to count the aggregate stars next to reviews from strangers. What if there was actually a place where you could go in and sample the wares before making that all important purchase? All those commercials with the tiny print at the bottom of the screen that reminds you that this is not the actual size or that it's not really a flying toy become academic in a place like this. A place where kids could play with toys. Where a kid can be a kid, pat pending. 
Of course, this also brings back that old sadness about the neighborhood toy store. Toys R Us was responsible for all those little shops that used to be ceasing to be. Those big giraffe-festooned boxes that anchored shopping malls yanked consumers off their quiet lanes and into their parking lots. This was the place in which I found myself and friends when I really needed a Nerf gun. Or that Lego set. I went to Toys R Us on a Christmas morning to buy a new toy box for my burgeoning consumer and toy vacuum of a son. 
And I remember passing by that store as it was liquidated. Even the fixtures were sold. My son, in college at the time of the bankruptcy, mused quietly about a late night raid on the front of the store to retrieve his very own backwards R. He truly was a Toys R Us kid. 
And now, he can be again.