Monday, February 06, 2023

Needs Assessment

 I am stuck with this vision of Spider Man flitting all over Manhattan in search of people and cats to save. Like it was his job. because ultimately it is. Which has to wear on him sometimes. I know: That whole Uncle Ben's dying guilt trip about great power and great responsibility, but come on. Santa Claus gets three hundred and sixty-four days off a year and we treat him like a saint. 

Tina Turner may have said it best when she sang "We don't need another hero." At the time, she was referencing Max, who was still a little bit Mad after dealing with all that road rage. Tina may have been suggesting that what we really needed was to be heroes ourselves. 

What if, when Superman came streaking down from the sky, the neighborhood had pulled together and put sand bags out to keep floodwaters from ravaging the town? "Thanks Supes. We got it. You can head on back to the Fortress of Solitude. Better yet, why not go see what that girl reporter is up to?"

When heroes exist, it's hard to imagine life without them. What's more, it seems to drive the expectation that whatever the calamity that comes there will be a costumed avenger or two around to keep it from happening. Like the way New York City was saved from an alien invasion by a team of super-powered individuals who came together to stave off the attack. 

Except the aliens wouldn't be there trying to wreak all that havoc if Mister Captain America hadn't forced the issue with that blue cube in the first place. Again, we might forgive Cap for his oversized sense of duty, since he tends to show up as pretty oversized in most ways. All those other dogfaces in Europe fighting against the Axis were doing a similar job without the aid of a shield and super-soldier serum. Were they any less super? 

My wife and I talked a little about this the other morning, and we were wondering if there wasn't a better supper hero out there: De-Escalator, able to calm down every situation before it becomes a conflict. How about Community Organizer, who harnesses the powers around him to create a larger force that only seeks to defend, protect and nurture their own neighborhoods in positive ways. Maybe Mind Your Own Business Gal, ready to leap in and remind us that sometimes it's better to let things run its course. 

There are so many opportunities to save the world, but I believe that maybe we could start by trying to do the job ourselves. 

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Early Returns

 I do not have the opportunity to vote for DEVO this year. Try as I might, I was not able to singlehandedly drag the Spudboys from Akron over the finish line to the Promised Land of Cleveland. I am reasonably certain that the egos of these Beautiful Mutants were only vaguely affected by being passed over once again for a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The group that David Letterman once referred to as "The Fisher-Price of rock and roll" will sit this election cycle out while I cast my votes for nearly forgotten luminaries like Warren Zevon and Kate Bush. 

Such is the nature of online voting. I could attempt some sort of write-in frenzy to see if I could generate a groundswell of popular opinion, but I am imagining that there are still plenty of enraged and bitter fans of other artists who have been left off the list one too many times. Still, even though it took what could scientifically be observed as forever, Rush managed to find their way into the Hall. KISS made it. Dolly Parton? 

I have learned that it is probably best not to apply strict logic when it comes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Each year as I type my misgivings about those who deserve the recognition and the criteria by which this band or that artist is elevated to those lofty heights, I begin to see other infuriated writers scribbling their issues about who was "snubbed" and who was "overlooked." 

And as a matter of course I am drawn back to my own world, in which I have to console boys and girls ever Friday: There can only be one student of the week from each class. There will be another chance next week. Start preparing yourself for your next chance to impress. No more tears. 

And yet, somehow I can't hide the feeling I have about George Michael being elevated more abruptly than New Wave pioneers like DEVO. It's not like I am expecting The Suburban Lawns to get their plaque ahead of Mister Michael. I am that clever. Or at least I have surrendered to the business end of the music business. But only to the degree that I feel the need to cite the influence of that first album, produced by Brian Eno and championed by none other than David Bowie. Both of these men have already been ensconced in those hallowed halls, why not their progeny? 

Well, there I go again trying to make a math problem out of it, when the reality is that the whole enterprise is a bit of a sham designed to keep us fans fanaticized. I allow myself to be swept up in the moment, and I forget that what really matters is the music. So you'll excuse me now while I go and drown my sorrows in a little bit of Duty Now For The Future. 

Saturday, February 04, 2023


 I cannot lie. I do not understand cryptocurrency. I have tried to wrap my head around it. I have had my son walk me through it. He once made a couple hundred dollars in an exchange that I still can't comprehend. 

Which is fine, because it lives in a world that I do not enter often, if I enter it at all. I have retirement accounts. Periodically I have people who ask me if they could manage them. Then they ask me what I would like to do. Which is just a little disingenuous from my point of view, since I figured they would be managing this mystery fund that sits out there, just over the horizon with all sorts of restrictions and qualifications that require me to have someone managing this sadly small wad of cash in the first place. Manage it, I say. Make it into a slightly larger small wad of cash, please. And please don't let any of these transactions harm a polar bear or hasten the end of life as we know it on this planet. 

Sounds simple enough. Which is why the allure of pretend currency seems so attractive to those people who spent the end of the last century doing something called "day trading" from the comfort of their basement office/bunker. Making money with a few clicks of the mouse and then waiting for the precise second when an additional click would catapult you forward into vast riches seems more like a game played with a speedy blue hedgehog than high finance. Go from left to right as quickly as possible gathering as many golden rings as possible without running into spikes or vines or a cliff. Or another greedy hedgehog. 

While we're on the subject of hedgehogs, I confess that I do not have a working knowledge of hedge funds. What I do know can be encapsulated in the phrase "hedge fund bad." This simple rule is based entirely on the number of headlines I have read that include words like "indicted" or "arrested." I am supposing that whatever rules and guidelines I am afraid of in my personal finances are magnified in the world of funds that are hidden just out of sight from people like Robert Plant

And me. I continue to live in a world that rewards me with a monthly paycheck for services rendered. The more I work, the more I get paid. I understand how antiquated this notion is, and I have tried at times to imagine how I might buck this trend, but it has served me well for six decades, and best of all, it makes sense to me. 

So forgive me if you're calling to ask if you can manage my finances. I'm pretty straight on how direct deposit works, and I'm sticking with that. For now. 

Friday, February 03, 2023

Nostalgic For Nostalgia

 Cindy Williams gets my vote. If I was voting for a likely source of prepubescent fascination of a certain generation. Not mine, of course. That was Elizabeth Montgomery for me. 

But that's a tale for another time.

Cindy "Shirley" Williams passed away this week at the age of seventy-five. If you have a picture fixed in your head of Ms. Williams, it might be difficult to imagine that. Seventy-five? For a generation, she was twenty-something, rushing out of the door grabbing her coat on the way to the brewery where she worked with her erstwhile friend and roommate Laverne Defazio. Shirley was the sweet to Laverne's savory. She dreamed of something more than being a bottle capper for Shotz Beer. 

Shirley did escape Milwaukee. In season six, Laverne and Shirley moved to Burbank, California. In search of dreams and guys. The rest of the gang found work on the left coast where fake snow only had to look like fake snow because they were in Hollywood. 

In real life, Cindy was able to hold down a steady TV-based acting career, never fully realizing the heights her roomie Laverne experienced, or that Cunningham kid she dated that one time. They won Oscars, for goodness sake. 

Speaking of Opie Cunningham, it was Cindy's starring role opposite Ron Howard in American Graffiti that will always be my fondest memory of her. With her boyfriend's letterman sweater draped over her, she clings to Ron in their spotlight dance at the hop. All her tough talk disappears as the weight of his imminent departure sinks in and a tear falls. "What's wrong?" he asks. Pulling him just a little closer, she replies, "Go to hell."

A couple of years later, Cindy and Ron were reunited when Fonzie set up a double date for him and Richie with Laverne and Shirley. The events of that night set the wheels in motion for a new nostalgic look back at the fifties starring a moderately sanitized version of everyone's favorite brewery gals. 

And now I find myself looking back fondly on the late seventies, when we were all looking back fondly on the late fifties. Cindy follows her pal Penny to the great beyond, where they will Schlemiel, schlimazel into eternity. Cindy Williams slipped and slid across the Terra for our amusement. She will be missed. 

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Super What?

Hello and welcome to the non-competitive phase of the National Football League season. 

I could be talking about the flag football distraction that will be taking place during the "Pro Bowl," the NFL equivalent of an all-star game. Not that this contest was ever particularly contested. It was a chance to see all your favorite stars on the same field, and maybe run the old Fumblerooski just for show. The grim intensity that tends to exist on the sidelines of most of these exhibitions is missing. This is partly because it takes place at the end of the season, after the playoffs, and the participants are playing for the fun of it. Not for seeding, or home field advantage. These are professional athletes playing a game for the chance to be seen one more time, without the aid of any of the players who still have a game left to play: The Super Bowl.

"I only watch for the commercials." This is the refrain heard most often over the next couple weeks as rooting interests are shuffled and combined and forgotten. Certainly the hometown fans of the cities represented by the franchises lucky and talented enough to land themselves a spot in the "world championship game" are pleased. And excited. And, in my experience, resigned. 

One team will win. And they will get to keep the T-shirts and caps printed up special for them. The other team will go home without ever seeing what might have been their championship swag. Second place is absolutely no place to be on Super Bowl Sunday. 

"I'm just hoping it will be a good game." This is another frequently uttered phrase in the days leading up to the hype which none greater can be imagined. This allows the average fan a chance to take in the spectacle while remaining impartial. Appreciation for a good catch or a nice run, masking the inner turmoil that wishes that it was their team that was playing on Super Sunday. What could have, might have been. I guess your team wasn't so super, after all. 

Ultimately, it is just that: the last game. Unlike other sports which allow several opportunities for teams to get a shot in a series, alternating arenas, best of seven, one more chance to stretch the inevitable end date of the season by one more game. 

Not in the NFL. This is sudden death, and you'll forgive me if I don't buy in completely on the idea that this is the best possible game under the best possible conditions. It's not flag football, true, but is it really Super? 

And as a fan of a team whose chances at playing in the Big Game were done back in September, I can assure you that those grapes have been sour this whole time. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Dream Gig

 In my dream I was trying to play the sousaphone that was wrapped around me. It seemed like a reasonable enough request: play along with this group of current and former band members as we marched through the middle of town. 

What town? A hybrid of Oakland and my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. The reference points were made available from the times I have spent over the past year or so walking through the streets of this city by the bay in protest. But in my dream there was no protest. This was a celebration of some sort, perhaps one that recognized the turnaround from a year ago when we were marching to keep the schools open. Now we were marching because we were staying open. 

In my dreams. 

Because there are still plenty of potholes out there to overcome. My impacted embouchure not being the least of them. All those schools that had been preparing to welcome students from schools like mine that were going to be closed now have to give money back to the district to create budgets for the those schools that have recently been brought back to life. The county trustee who oversees such matters will have to look into the economic feasibility of all of this before the parade can truly commence. 

And why would it also seem like I was hanging around in Boulder? Could be that in my mind I was fishing around for some sort of retirement plan as well, where I would return to the streets of my youth. The ones I marched with a sousaphone as part of a high school band. Long before I considered a career in education, I was a consumer. I learned about reading and writing and music from teachers in schools that are still standing. Still open. Columbine. Centennial. Boulder High. 

Here in Oakland, four elementary schools were closed back in 2012. A middle school was closed in 2019. At the end of last year, another school, Parker Elementary was closed. It was deemed "unsustainable." The word "revenue" gets tossed around a lot in these moments, and one wonders if public education is really the profit center that so many have hoped it would turn out to be. 

Meanwhile, back at the parade, unable to blow my own horn, I felt like it might be a good idea to wake up because if I wasn't going to be able to fully participate, I wanted to clear out of the street. It felt dangerous, as if maybe someone had neglected to get the proper permits for this event. Traffic could commence at any moment. 

When I awoke, the uncertainty still hung in the air. I wasn't going to need my tuba playing skills right now. I will need patience moving forward, with an eye toward the future and whatever it brings. Maybe a parade. Maybe a move to somewhere else. 


Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Opposite Of Understanding

 Continuing in his special purpose to all mankind as the perfect reverse barometer, Young Tucker Carlson declared that it was Antifa that we should be worried about in the coming days after the release of the Memphis Police video that showed the beating death of Tyre Nichols. "Unleash the wackos. Somebody has unleashed the wackos. There's always a pretext for this. There's always a story. They tell you to pretend it's spontaneous. 'It just happened. They just got so mad that they flew in from all over the country to stage a riot.'" 

First of all, let's keep in mind that changing the footwear of an anthropomorphic candy is enough to get Young Tuck's knickers in a twist. Secondly, maybe we should remember that Tyre Nichols took place on January 7. The public has been aware of this killing for nearly three weeks. The outrage generated by this traffic stop-turned murder has been brewing all that time. Each fresh report brought more individuals who, having seen the evidence, could find only savagery on display. The beating death of a young man pulled over for reckless driving (speeding) initially brought out the question: what must Tyre Nichols have been doing to warrant such a response?"

Pepper sprayed, tasered and beaten well past any kind of submission. Near the end he was calling for his mother. "All he needed to do was comply." Trying to wipe the pepper spray from his eyes, ward off blows, and try to imagine how this could be happening to him, he was supposed to offer up his hands to his assailants. 

 His assailants were Memphis Police officers. These men have been charged with Tyre Nichols' murder. Those who have been sworn to protect and serve the public beat an unarmed citizen to death. There are wags who would like to make a point out of these five men being black, and Tyre Nichols being black, so how could it be racist? 

The simple answer is that this kind of "policing" is inherently racist. As the weeks and months roll steadily by and the trials for these former officers begins, attempts will be made to understand their motivations. Their anger. Their fear. Their training. Their collective decision, though unspoken, to rend and torture a suspect and then make him wait more than twenty minutes for EMTs to show up to offer any sort of first aid. 

Meanwhile, Young Tucker Carlson would like us all to be frightened of the "Antifa" that are causing the outbreaks of violence in response to What Happened. "It's always the same script," he whines. Not for a moment does he consider that the script for people of color in the United States continues to be the same. Not after Rodney King. Not after George Floyd. Now it's Tyre Nichols. How is this still happening in our country. Why is this still happening after "police reform" like body cams and bystander video? How can this continue to happen when they know everyone is watching? 

Not questions that Young Tucker will ask. Or answer. Now back to those M&Ms.