Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Long, Strange Trip

In the past couple days, the Grateful Dead have been back in the news. First, a nonprofit group hopes to raise more than $100,000 when it auctions a subzero degree freezer, stereo cabinets and other home appliances that once belonged to Jerry Garcia. Easy enough to get the correlation between the freezer and the Ben and Jerry's "Cherry Garcia" ice cream that you could store in it, but I wonder a little bit about the "other home appliances." What sort of labor saving devices do you suppose Jerry had in his inner sanctum? Was he the kind of guy who would have a juicer? How about a trash compactor? Maybe Jerry's esspresso maker is just the thing for those Deadheads who have moved on from grass and acid to caffeine. Henry Koltys, the chairman of the Sophia Foundation (a San Francisco Bay area nonprofit that aids children and families during marital separations and divorces) said, “There’s a lot of Deadheads out there with money, and they want a piece of Jerry somehow.”
That being said, the other item making Dead News is the surviving members of the group requesting that the Internet Archive to stop making recordings of the group's concerts available for download. This is an interesting position change from a group that once promoted the taping of live shows and the trading of these tapes became a way for fans to share their concert experienceThethe arrival of Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes online music store, and its competitors, means free downloads can be seen as competition, said Marc Schiller, chief executive of Electricartists, which helps musicians market themselves online. "When the music was given away for free to trade, the band was making so much money touring that the music was not as valuable to them," Schiller said. "Apple iTunes has made digital downloads a business." There are a lot of Deadheads out there with money and they (the group) want a piece of that somehow.
I own a Grateful Dead CD - a greatest hits package. I have listened to countless hours of "live Dead" courtesy of numerous Deadheads I was lucky enough to work with over the years. "You've gotta hear this version of 'Dark Star' - Jerry must've been tripping that night, it's like forty-five minutes long." Upon repeated requests to listen to anything but the Grateful Dead, they would respond with something like, "Hey, how about a little Bobby and the Midnites, or the Jerry Garcia Band?" So, here's my proposition: I'll pay you not to play the Grateful Dead, and that will be my contribution to the cause. Whaddya think?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Holiday Display

There was a certain pride and honor associated with being the one chosen to go plug in the Christmas lights at our house. We never had a truly gaudy display - just a string that ran along the roof line - and only in the front. When they came on though, they cast a most impressive glow. Our neighbors on either side weren't particularly disposed to holiday decorations, so we managed to be the bright spot at the end of the street. I remember standing in the garage as the lights came on (the plug ran to the outlet just outside the garage door). The best effect was always achieved after a snow, with the light bouncing off the icy driveway.
Putting up the lights was a production in itself. It always began with the same drill: My father would bring the lights down from the attic, and then take them out to the front lawn where he could stretch each string out to inspect them. Helping meant avoiding carelessly stepping on a bulb, or tangling the yards of wire draped across the yard. These were the big bulbs, not the "twinkle lights" we have all become accustomed to. Then it was time to take them up on the roof. If you were old enough, and willing to spend plenty of time waiting, you could crawl up with dad and help him hand the lights from the series of hooks just below the eaves. You might even get to replace bulbs on a string - always being careful not to put the same color bulb next to the one that needed replacing.
Up on the roof, you would get endless warnings about safety, and the need to walk carefully so as not to make cracks in the roof. Sometimes we would spend a few minutes peering down the chimney, trying to imagine what trick of physics would possibly get a big fat man with a sack full of toys down that tiny opening. One year there had been a tremendous blizzard the week before the lights went up, and there was a three foot deep drift in the back yard. I don't recall who figured out that it was possible, but it turned out that you could toss yourself off the roof into the drift and land with a pretty satisfying but safe thud in a pile of snow. As my father continued to string lights, we took turns plummeting to earth and climbing back up the ladder, until the drift became compacted enough to create serious injury.
After we were done, and the sun went down, we would stand out on the sidewalk and admire our work. It was always the same display, but it always looked brand new each holiday season. When I went to bed that night, I could see the lights shining through the curtains of my bedroom. I used to imagine that the red one that blinked might be Rudolph. I went to sleep with a smile on my face.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Trash-Talking (and Throwing)

I grew up believing that the football fans from Nebraska were boorish hicks with little but their team's history of beating up on other schools to bolster their questionable self-esteem. Win or lose (and back in the olden days it was more often the latter) we at the University of Colorado would take solace in the fact that at least we didn't have to live in Lincoln - and we weren't above reminding visiting Husker fans of this fact as they left our stadium. Loudly.
Times, it would seem, have changed. Now the boorish-ness appears to have jumped the prairie and landed squarely in Boulder, Colorado. Officials ordered two sections filled with students emptied in the fourth quarter of Colorado's 30-3 loss to Nebraska on Friday after water bottles and other debris were thrown onto the field. That was pretty bad - made worse only by the fact that the game was being nationally televised. Oops.
CU coach Gary Barnett said he went over to the sections in an attempt to calm down fans, but they couldn't hear him. "The students were just frustrated with the game and the way it was going," Barnett said. "They expressed that. I don't have much else to say. I bear the responsibility for the way our team played."
Okay Gary, fair enough - but about the time you staple this together with the recent "troubles" experienced by the University of Colorado Buffaloes (they lead the conference in fostering an environment hostile to female students and using a school cell phone to set up sexual liaisons), you start to feel like maybe losing a few games and maintaining a certain moral high ground might not be so bad.
We used to mock the Cornhuskers and their fans with our notions of life beyond the gridiron. Now we are mired in the same muck that used to follow those "elite" teams. Big-Time College Football has come to Boulder. Lincoln doesn't look so bad after all.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Run to the Far Side

A guy walks into a doctor's office, punching himself in the head. The doctor looks up and asks him,"Hey, why are you doing that?" The guy replies, "Because it feels so good when I stop."
That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about running a 10 kilometer race. I ran one this morning, and I'm still feeling a little wobbly. Still, the best part about it was crossing the finish line. There's always a moment, usually in the first half of the race when I start thinking about walking. Who's it going to hurt, after all?
This year in mile one I started out with a friend of mine who had a much faster pace than I, and I fell quickly into the pack as he sped away. Left with the sound of the thundering herd of Sunday runners, I returned to the solace of my MP3 player. As the up-tempo beat of Oingo Boingo filled my ears, I felt my own pace quicken and began to wonder what everyone else was listening to - Ipods to the left of me, Ipods to the right of me - were the faster people listening to better music?
In mile two I started to feel the sweat building under my second layer and I considered pulling off my sweat shirt (as the term was by then completely applicable). That was about the time a very rude person decided that he needed to move his car off the race course just as my group was coming past. Happily he managed only to rouse the ire of the crowd and did not crush anyone underneath his vehicle.
Mile three was all about the math of ten kilometers. Ten kilometers is 6.2 miles, therefore each kilometer is .62 miles. How many kilometer is three miles? That would be 9.6. If I ran that far in under thirty minutes, could I still manage to finish the race in less than an hour. Happily, there was a water station and I concentrated on the fluids rather than mathematics for a few hundred yards.
By the time I reached the fourth mile, I began imagining my wife and son finishing their own five kilometer race. Would they be waiting for me at the finish line, or could I get there before them? The sun was out now and I felt good about moving past people younger than me who had every right to be faster than me, but I was ahead of them. This was mitigated by the jogging strollers that rolled past me on the left.
I was able to push myself a little harder in mile five, since I rationalized that I was now only running two more miles, and what was I going to do with all that energy the rest of the day anyway? It was about this time that I noticed a stream of runners walking back from the finish line. They were done. I was still on the course. How much longer?
When I passed the mile five marker, I looked up and saw the clock hanging over the finish line. I tried to imagine just how far I still had to run, even though the end was in sight. There was a big loop still ahead, a full mile and two-tenths taking me back to the finish. I saw the guy who was dressed as a bottle of ketchup who had passed me in mile one just ahead of me. I could still beat a bottle of ketchup.
When I passed under the finish line, the clock read one hour, three minutes. I didn't manage to beat my one hour goal, but I was close. I lost track of the ketchup bottle, but I noticed there was at least one jogging stroller behind me. I wandered off into the crowd to find my family.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

First Amendment

"The ones that are over here whining and crying, all they're doing is proving they're not winners, they're whiners," Gary Qualls said. "Most of everybody over there has never had anything to do with the military service."
Gary Qualls is the father of a twenty-year old son who died in the battle of Fallujah. The "whiners" he was referring to are the group who were also in Crawford, Texas this week to protest the war in Iraq. This group is nominally led by Cindy Sheehan, who also lost her son to the war in Iraq. Qualls and his group gathered on a corner in Crawford to accuse the protesters of "dishonoring and disrespecting" the fallen.
This uniquely American tableau is being played out, effectively, on George W. Bush's front lawn. Voices of dissent are being raised while supporters of the President rally to make their point heard. Before there is any discussion of who is right and who is wrong, let us take a moment to respect a country and its workings that allows such a thing to happen. The challenge to free speech is generally that most speech is just that - free. Free of convictions and stress and meaning and pain. When speech starts getting loaded up like the stuff going on down in Texas, then it becomes even more important that it remains free.
It's also very hard to listen to free speech. You tend to hear things that you don't agree with, and then you kind of wish that whole first amendment thing didn't apply to everyone. Bill O'Reilly, who makes his living off this very notion, has a lot of concerns about people who blog. He is worried that these bloggers can just write anything they want and never worry about checking facts. Here's what he had to say about Dallas Morning News columnist Macarena Hernandez (who has been openly critical of Bill's views): "I mean, the woman is an incompetent all day long. I mean, she shouldn't be writing for anything. She doesn't know what she's doing. She's not a journalist. She's just a Latina ideologue who spits out stuff that she gets off the internet. But The Dallas Morning News printed it. Now The Dallas Morning News is big enough that I gotta take them on. And then her partner in arms, Cindy Rodriguez over at The Denver Post, says the same nonsense. And just lies, flat-out lies."
Opinions are tricky things, aren't they? Still, one thing is certain: Both Cindy Sheehan and Gary Qualls are knee-deep in processing the grief of the death of their sons. They seem uniquely qualified to have the debate that is taking place on street corners in Crawford. "Many of our servicemen and women have endured long deployments and separations from home. ... Those they leave behind must deal with the burden of raising families while praying for the safe return of their loved ones." That may be the one thing that Cindy and Gary can agree on, and you'll never guess who said it. Those were the words of George W. Bush. Free speech is an amazing thing.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Smile For Posterity

The day after Thanksgiving. I still twitch just at the sound of it. Certainly the notion of spending any time or wads of money in the retail hell that is the Friday after Turkey day is enough to make most Americans flinch, but the one I'm talking about now is perhaps more personal. This was the day for the family Christmas card picture. Some years we were lucky and the photo would be done in advance - my two bothers and me caught in some mildly staged moment, suitable for framing (or printing on a massive scale).
Our family had a lengthy Christmas card list. Every one of them waiting anxiously for a picture of "those three boys of yours." For us it was a forced march. We knew that we were going to have to sit through endless poses and grimaces until we all decided to "just behave" so the picture could be taken. One of us would move. The next one someone had their eyes closed. Somebody fell over. Somebody hit their head. Somebody started crying. Everybody got on everybody else's nerves. Could you please not make that face? The longer it went, the less Christmas-y we got, until everyone (parents included) simply gave up. I remember one year the photo that was finally selected was by no means us "at our best." I think it was a form of retaliation on my parents' part: "If you can't stand up straight and smile, this is what everyone is going to see." It was shortly after that when we stopped sending out photo cards. Something about three boys and puberty just didn't make for such a happy image.
A few years back, a relative sent a bundle of those cards back to me as a remembrance of years gone by. I heard my mother's words about "someday you'll be able to look back on these and think about the way things were." She was right, of course. I saw a series that began in front of our fireplace - all of us in our pajamas. Then we expanded our horizons and moved outdoors. There we were for the sake of history. Looking back at them, it made me smile. I wish somebody would have thought to take a picture then.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Thanks for listening. Thanks for finishing the dishes. Thanks for letting the dog out. Thanks for making my dreams come true. Thanks for lettin' me be mice elf again. Thanks for being a friend. Thanks for the gumball, Popeye. Thanks for giving me your feedback. Thanks for cleaning your room. Thanks for letting me into your living room for all these years. Thanks for letting me get that. Thanks for getting that. Thanks for working it out. Thanks for the workout. Thanks for staying behind. Thanks for going ahead. Thanks for coming in on a weekend. Thanks for all the little things. Thanks for folding the laundry. Thanks for making dinner. Thanks for the ride. Thanks for the gift. Thanks for letting me share your last piece. Thanks for being quiet in the morning. Thanks for making the sandwiches. Thanks for the lovely bouquet. Thanks for the compliment. Thanks for not saying anything. Thanks for your support. Thanks for showing me the way. Thanks for taking care of me. Thanks for leaving the light on. Thanks for bringing us along. Thanks for just being you. Thanks for watering the lawn. Thanks for waiting. Thanks for the help. Thanks for letting me help. Thanks for believing in me. Thanks for your trust. Thanks for letting me sleep in. Thanks for waking me up. Thanks for noticing. Thanks for calling. Thanks for being so quick to reply. Thanks for making the bed. Thanks for leaving that one alone. Thanks for the song. Thanks for stopping by the store on your way home. Thanks for caring enough to send your very best. Thanks for shining your light on me. Thanks for touching me with your noodly appendage. Thanks for reaching out. Thanks for knowing when to quit. Thanks for not giving up. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Why am I such a fan of the war on terror? Probably because I want to win it and get back to the airports the way they used to be. Up until September 11, 2001 it was easy to gauge your relationship based on the proximity of your friends, relatives or loved ones to your departure or arrival at the airport. Now we're stuck outside. Dropped at the curb - call me from baggage claim.
Many years ago, I flew into Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona. I was there to spend some time with friends in Scottsdale. When I got off the plane, I recognized something was different. There were no crowds of anxious faces facing the jetway as we walked onto the concourse. There was just lonely streams of people pouring out into empty gates. Where were the greeters? Where were the limo drivers with their tagboard signs? Where was my friend?
The news spread quickly through the passengers: No one was being allowed on the concourse because Nancy Reagan was flying in at the same time and no one was being allowed down to any of the gates because of heightened security. I wandered out to baggage claim, feeling lost and dejected. The measuring stick of any relationship used to be whether or not you were there to meet the plane at the gate. Now, suddenly I was awash with doubt. What if she's not there at baggage claim? Keep in mind, this was before the advent of cellular telephones - we relied almost exclusively on the arcane system of "White Paging Telephones." What if I didn't even get a page?
The good news is I did meet my friend at baggage claim and there was effusive apologies for the near miss (even though it was all the fault of our federal government - or at least the First Lady). Today I went to the airport to meet our friends coming in from Portland. We tried to work our new magic with short-term parking and cell phones, but we still ended up walking up to the terminal and watching the sea of people moving toward baggage claim. We made our connection. We met them on the way to baggage claim - which I believe makes us pretty good friends. I'll be glad when we win this war on terror so I can get back to waiting for my loved ones at the gate - where good Americans belong.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Good Night, Ted

Twenty-five years ago (and a few months), Ted Koppel started reporting on the Iranian Hostage Crisis on a show that became known later as "Nightline." In my senior year in high school, I felt at odds with the mounting terror in the Middle East and the mounting drama in my own life. I was at the top of my game, band-geek wise, and I was actually going out on dates with girls. My connection to responsible classwork began to slip away as I fell into classes like Ceramics and Selected Topics in Math. There was a lot to joke about, but we could all smell a change in the air.
Ted Koppel was there each night, after the local news, to remind us of what was happening on the other side of the planet - the other side of the planet that the class of 1980 was getting ready to inherit. A friend of mine was growing a pea garden in a milk box as a symbol of - well, I guess I'm not sure what the symbolism was - but he took good care of his "Hostage Peas," and we all kept an eye on them for him when he brought them to Pop Lit.
When we used to write a "Weekday Update" column on the blackboard in the band room during lunch. Each day we included, tongue in cheek, the day of the hostage crisis: "Hostage Crisis, Day 117." We were doing it to be clever. Ted Koppel was doing it to keep us connected to events on the other side of the globe. He took that "America Held Hostage" gig and made it last for 444 days, then twenty-four more years as Nightline. On April 30, 2004, Koppel read the names of the members of the United States Armed Forces who were killed in Iraq. He reminded me again of the world outside my window. Tonight, Ted calls it a night. Thank you for helping me keep my eyes open - now go get some rest.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Democracy by the Pound

The other night at dinner, I made the following proposal: Stop spending money on the war in Iraq. Instead, use that money (or the illusion of money - what's a little deficit between friends?) to provide massive subsidies for inner city families on hybrid cars. The direct impact on the environment and dependence on foreign oil would be overwhelming. Even if a plan could not be worked out for individuals to get hybrid vehicles, then use the money to fund production of alternative energy transportation produced here in the United States. Create jobs and stimulate the economy while doing something marginally responsible.
Or not. It seems that we have returned to the rock-solid rhetoric of "if you don't support the war, you don't support your country." Those who advocate a sudden withdrawal should ask themselves, vice- president Cheney said: "Would the United States and other free nations be better off or worse off with Zarqawi, bin Laden and Zawahri in control of Iraq?"
Better or worse? Interesting suggestion, since it could be argued that the United States' continued presence in Iraq has done nothing but embolden Zarqawi - to say nothing of the non-event of "Where's Osama?" There was a clock in Times Square during the Republican National Convention that kept a running total of the cost of the war. At the time (August 2004), the folks at Center for American Progress calculated the war's cost as of Wednesday at $134.5 billion and are adding $177 million per day, which comes to $7.4 million per hour or $122,820 per minute. We've spent a couple million dollars since I sat down to write this.
If we're not "nation-building," then what are spending all this money and blood on? Don't get me wrong, I think Democracy is a pretty swell idea. I'm quite fond of it. I don't think we should be spending $177 million dollars a day on a war for somebody else's Democracy. But that's just my two cents worth (or $3,000,000 if I type really fast).

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Play Ground Zero

When I was a kid, our school didn't have a big chain link fence around it. Quite the contrary, it was set back across a sprawling field of grass on one side, and a vast sea of gravel and rutted turf where the children spent their recesses. We didn't spend time on the nice green grass, our recesses were on the scruffy side.
That meant if you had a mind to go and romp on the nicely mowed lawn, you had to show up on the weekends or after school. Nobody was anxious to hang around much after school, so it was on the occasional weekend that we got it into our heads to walk or ride our bikes the four blocks down to the school that we had full use of the open space.
Still, we didn't tend to go to the school when we didn't have to. This was true even though the playground was equipped with three sets of monkey bars, a pair of slides, teeter-totters,a basketball court with six hoops, a merry-go-round, and a couple of swingsets (one for the short set, and one for the fans of extra height). We tended to find our own fun on those Saturdays, leaving the playground for Monday morning and the enforced regimen of recess.
Contrastingly, there was always a strange allure to visiting another kid's school playground. I remember discovering this amazing merry-go-round at an elementary school a full half mile from our house. It had this bizarre crank mechanism that could be run with two kids facing one another, using their arms and legs in a rowing motion. It made me wonder if I wasn't enrolled in the wrong school after all. Another school still farther away had a series of tunnels built with concrete tubes for climbing and hiding and general mischief. At our school we had four kickball diamonds (not that we ever needed that many).
Yesterday I was planting daffodil bulbs at the school where I work. The kids have a play structure and a couple of basketball hoops. There are no backstops. There are no swings. There are no slides. There is no grass - just a vast stretch of asphalt. I picked up a lot of broken glass and saw a lot of graffiti. There are a lot of angry kids at our school. I guess I know one of the reasons why.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Home Is Where The Part Is

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
I heard water running in the bathroom this evening. I went to investigate. The sound was coming from the toilet. I had a moment when I thought I could just head back to the kitchen and let the sound fade into the background and feign ignorance if someone pointed it out to me.
Instead, I decided to do the tiniest possible thing: I jiggled the handle. The handle stayed in the "jiggled" position as water continued to run into the tank. I moved the assortment of knick-knacks, our Sonicare toothbrush charger, and miscellaneous magazines that had been crammed into the rack hanging off the side of the toilet tank. When I took off the lid, I could see the water running into the overflow pipe, and the float continued to rise as the tank filled past the water line.
I lifted the float, hoping that the valve would shut off the water flow, and I could return to the living room and safety. Alas, the end of the float arm had snapped off and was hanging on to the pivot without the capacity to push the valve down to stop the water. I did not panic. I turned the water off to the toilet and drained the tank. I removed the four screws from the top of the arm assembly and took out the valve, arm, and float.
Now I had a handful of broken plumbing and a toilet that was no more fixed than when I first wandered into the bathroom. I tried the quick fix with Krazy Glue. No success. At 8:45 on a Saturday night, the options for purchasing new plumbing fixtures were extremely limited. I looked back at the pieced I had taken out, then at the toilet that was now sitting quietly without any trace of running water. Problem solved. Well, almost solved. That's when my son showed up with his carefully lettered sign: "Out of Order" in blue marking pen.
We'll figure the rest of this out in the morning. For now, we are thankful for that second bathroom.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Empty Chair

"What a great party." I've heard that at my house for decades now. It always rings in my ears as I walk around finding half-full glasses of this and that, hidden plates of food, and putting chairs back in the rooms from whence they came. I even remember a party guest in the distant past who spent the evening eating one half of a bag of Oreos, sticking the other side to various pieces of furniture with the creamy filling. It was a great party. Now it's a great mess.
For some time I have been circling these issues of mortality without confronting that which is most central: surviving. That's cleaning up after a party - that's what surviving is like. I have long maintained that weddings and funerals have a lot in common. Neither occasion is truly dedicated to the ones in the box. The party is for those outside the box. To that end, it's time to come clean about this whole deal about grief and loss: the people left standing at the graveside are the heroes. They are the ones who get up the next day and move on with their lives and try to move ahead.
Where do we go after we die? I'm not sure it matters as much as where we go after someone we love dies. My mother is a survivor. She taught me what it means to make peace with tragedy and loss. When Darren died, she had to make the calls. When my father died, we all landed at her house to make sense of the next steps. I remember one particular October 24, when I was desperately in need of someone to wallow in my grief over Darren's passing (at that point some years in the past), I called up my friend Clark. As we drove around Boulder that night, I found myself making grand gestures of angst and sorrow. In the middle of this pity reverie, I was struck by the realization that Clark was no stranger to loss himself and I here I was acting as if there was no one else on the planet who could possibly understand my pain.
Turns out, Clark had a very good understanding of sorrow. The older I get, the bigger that club seems to get. There are parties going on every day, all over the world, where the guest of honor is no longer able to attend. Still - there's almost always a laugh to share, or a moment of triumph in being alive. Clark spoke at my father's funeral. He said some amazing things. He's a hero. My mother had us all over to her house afterward, and even though her sons came back late because they insisted on having a cheeseburger together, she opened the doors of her house to the survivors.
Sometimes I lose sight of the crowded room around me when I focus on the one empty chair.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Old Man

This would be the second in a series of milestones. It was ten years ago today that I helped celebrate my father's sixty-first birthday. He had flown out to visit my wife and I - still somewhat freshly married. He came with his friend Leonard, a pilot of a small plane and one of the heartiest handshakes on the planet. We drove up to Auburn to meet them, and stayed the weekend at a friend's house.
The year before, on a similar trip, we had attended the Mandarin Orange festival, beginning with the traditional Pancake Breakfast. This time I was completely preoccupied with the notion of getting Bruce Springsteen tickets. I had figured that buying tickets in a small town like Auburn would almost assure me of getting first choice at the local outlet. We left my father at the house and went out to the only place in town that sold concert tickets: Gottschalks department store.
To make a trivial story short, we ended up being third in line and managed to get some decent seats for both shows at the Berkeley Community Theater. When we got back to the house, my dad was as enthusiastic as he needed to be about our purchase, and we bid farewell to my wife who had a prior engagement for Saturday evening. I spent the rest of the day with my father. I showed him the script that I had written. We went for a run. We watched the CU Buffaloes beat the Kansas State Wildcats. We had a nice dinner.
As it got later, my father was sitting in front of the television, waiting for the weather to come on. Watching the weather made sense out of his day. Anyone who knew my father knows that he very rarely watched the weather. He was usually sound asleep, sawing logs before the local forecast. On this particular evening, I decided against trying to keep him up. Instead, when he was sound asleep, I switched the channel to a Korean news broadcast and went off to bed myself. About an hour later, I heard some rumbling and snorting from the other room as my father came awake to the foreign sounds of the weather - in Korean.
The next morning we had a way-too-much-food breakfast and then went to the airport with Leonard, where we got into his plane and made the short hop from Auburn to Oakland. I told my father goodbye there, at the Oakland Airport. I gave him a hug. I'm glad about that. He gave great hugs. I drove home with my wife and he and Leonard got back in the plane to fly back to Colorado, with a stop in Reno.
The next night when I came home from work, my wife was sitting on the front steps of our apartment building, waiting for me. She told me there had been an accident. Leonard's plane had caught a phone line on the way into the airport in Colorado. They were almost home. There was a fire and my father was burned very badly. He never recovered. I'm starting to.
Donald Caven gave me his love and his hairline, his warmth and his smile, and some of the worst jokes you'd ever care to hear. Donald Caven was my father and I miss him very much. Happy Birthday, Dad.

Remember When?

Hello - what's this?
September 16, 2005: "...He told me once that he would never haunt me when he died. He had just arrived for Christmas break. We were riding home from the airport in our Buick wagon and I was sitting in my favorite spot: front and center between Dad and Darren. It was dark and foggy, but the fog wasn't very dense. It was the type of fog that looks like fluffy clouds flying by. Darren started telling me about a scary book he had read about the ghosts of pirates coming out of the fog. He said that it didn't seem like any fun to scare people and that if he were a ghost he would rather just hang out and watch "The Three Stooges" instead. Anytime I catch "The Three Stooges" while channel surfing, I stop, chuckle to myself, and spend a few moments with Darren's ghost."
For you fans of comment-reading out there, this is one that came in late - over the transom, if you will. Darren's sister reaching out into cyberspace to give me a little psychic tweak. It reminds me of the essential nature of memories - they are best when they are shared. I remember that station wagon too. It was the vehicle that ferried Darren and all his most important possessions to Colorado College when we were both freshman. My father watched as Darren and his dad loaded his stuff into his dorm room, including a wide variety of Tupperware containers. My father referred to Darren for several months as "that Tupperware kid." I still have one of the big plastic tumblers that he showed up with - it holds Peter Parker, the amazing Spider plant.
That same station wagon brought me back from Muskogee when I learned that Volkswagen Super Beetles are oil-cooled, and if you didn't check the oil for a thousand miles or so, you might just throw a rod and the engine would be null and void. Darren's dad drove us back to Colorado: Matt and I in the back seat, Darren up front riding shotgun. It was on this ride that Matt unspooled his lengthy monologue on the border town of Kanarado, entitled "Festival of the Wretched." Time and space would not allow me to do it justice here - perhaps another day.
Sometimes we forget how much shared reality we have. I get periodic reminders when boys who were once in fourth grade come up behind me with deep voices and facial hair saying, "Mister Caven - remember me?" It takes a moment, then I hit on the name - "Danny! How's school? What grade are you in?" I confess it's easier with the girls, they look more like stretched out versions of their previous selves - and the voices don't change that much.
My niece is going to be seventeen in a few months. She's starting to think about what college she wants to attend. I'm feeling pretty old, but I have my memories that I insist on sharing. Maybe I'll even send that big tumbler on to live in her dorm room.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Coming Soon

A poster for the classic German 1920s film "Metropolis" has been sold for a world record $690,000 to a private collector from the United States. That's great. That means my "Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan" poster is probably worth almost ten dollars now. Truth is, for the collector (which I periodically refer to myself as) the Jason poster could go for as high as one hundred dollars, since it was a preview sheet and Paramount was supposed to destroy all of them since the studio failed to get clearance for the "I (heart) N.Y." logo from the folks in the Big Apple.
The problem with my collection is that it is almost entirely anecdotal, with very few pieces that have any real collectible value beyond their meaning to me. I've got posters for just about every Terry Gilliam movie (even "Jabberwocky"). I've got posters for movies that never got released (Roger Corman's version of "The Fantastic Four"). I've got a whole slew of posters for horror films that my wife won't let me put up (they're more for the bachelor pad, I suppose). I do have a poster for "Revenge of the Jedi." That one is actually worth something, since it is not only rare, but has a collector's cachet to it - especially now that George Lucas has finished the second trilogy with "Revenge of the Sith."
Still - there isn't enough wall space in three houses to mount all the art that I've collected over the years. Why do I bother keeping it around? I could sell it all in an afternoon on Ebay.
But that would be wrong. Each one has a story. I've got a pair of Marlene Dietrich reprints for my wife. My son has "Dumbo" because at the very bottom of the poster you can see his favorite train from his infancy: Casey Junior. The horror movies remind me of the apartments I trashed throughout college. It's a great big scrapbook that I'm not ready to part with.
Maybe someday someone will offer me a thousand dollars for the Jason poster. Until then, I'm hanging onto them.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Spin This

Has Bill O'Reilly been smoking the same stuff that Pat Robertson has? Last week, Bill had this to say about San Francisco: "Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead."
Fair enough - the folks here in Northern California have always envisioned themselves as their own republic anyway, so what's all the fuss about? "And if al-Qaida comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead."
That's heading into Robertson territory. You may recall in previous episodes of "Spot the Pinhead" when Pat Robertson suggested that the Almighty was actually a vindictive sort who would probably bring down some natural disaster or plague if you didn't happen to agree with the somewhat whimsical notion of "Intelligent Design" (what about the platypus, huh Pat?).
A check on Bill's website tells us that "tonight on 'The Factor,' Bill O'Reilly takes on the orchestrated campaign organized by left wing critics who have whipped up controversy about his satirical riff on the city of San Francisco."
Gee, that sounds a little like spin control, coming from a guy who describes his show this way: "'The O'Reilly Factor' is driven by me. I will not stand for 'spin.' I look for guests who will stand up and verbally battle for what they believe in."
Maybe - but what about his comments from February 2004 about San Francisco's refusal to halt issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples? "The situation's now much bigger than just gay marriage. It's clear the authorities in California are not going to enforce the law, even though it is clearly stated. This is a massive breakdown in social policy. That's the fundamental problem. The combination of a frightened governor, a sympathetic press, and activist judges have nullified California's legal definition of marriage. And now full-blown anarchy is underway in the city by the Bay."
How about the time that the San Francisco Chronicle reported that O'Reilly's program had been dropped by a local radio station (June 2003)? "Today's example comes from Web sites that picked up a false report from The San Francisco Chronicle that said a San Francisco radio station dropped The Radio Factor. If anyone had bothered to make even one phone call, they would have learned that Westwood One made a deal with another San Francisco radio station, weeks ago to move The Radio Factor. Thus the word "dropped" is obviously inaccurate and dishonest. We'll see if The Chronicle runs a correction, but you can bet you won't be seeing many corrections on the net." Ironically, again, this was taken from Bill's Internet web site.
Okay, so maybe we should let Bill have a chance to clarify his position on San Francisco's "Hot Talk" AM 560 (also home to Rush Limbaugh): "What I said isnÂ’t controversial. What I said needed to be said. IÂ’m sitting here and IÂ’m looking at a city that has absolutely no clue about what the world is. None. You know, if you had been hit on 9/11 instead of New York, believe me, you would not have voted against military recruitinging. Yet the left-wing, selfish, Land of Oz philosophy that the media and the city politicians have embraced out there is an absolute intellectual disgrace."
Thank you for those kind words, and now I've got to get back to paving that Yellow Brick Road. See you in the funny papers, Bill.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Ridin' The Storm Out

As I sat in the warm sun of the east side of the Raider's stadium this afternoon, my mind drifted back to a time when I found myself at stadiums on a regular basis. I attended my share of sporting events, primarily college football, but I also found myself in the stands for a whole lot of rock and roll. The kids, they love the rock and roll.
Growing up in Colorado, there was a series of summer concerts with a list of big name acts - heavy hitters like Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and the Doobie Brothers. These headliners were usually supported by two or three acts of somewhat lesser stature, but still featured performers: Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Sammy Hagar, Steve Miller. Then there was the opening act. These guys had to go on stage sometime just after noon and warm up a crowd that came to see the headliner, and the booze and drugs had yet to kick in. John Sebastian, of Loving Spoonful and "Welcome Back" fame, started the day for a throng awaiting Fleetwood Mac. His ebullient presence rubbed us all pretty raw anyway, but he kept asking a crowd standing on the field of the university of Colorado at Boulder, "How ya doin', Denver?" Not just once, but a dozen times.
These "Colorado Sun Days" were generally organized around a theme or at least a sound - country rock, pop, surf. Then there was the bill of hard rock put together that opened with Richie Blackmore's Rainbow, followed by Ted Nugent, The Scorpions, and capping off the day of head-banging was REO Speedwagon. Huh? What was that about? It was at this show that my sense of community at rock shows was cemented forever. About halfway through Ted Nugent's set, the crowd had surged to the stage, leaving a large section of the field exposed. From my seat, I noticed that there was a guy sitting on another guy's chest, beating the living crap out of him. People wandered back and forth, carrying beer or heading to the Porta-Potties while the assault continued. Maybe it was the frenzy of the music, or the heat of the day, but when a cop finally made it over to pull the two guys apart they staggered to their feet and made like they were best friends.
I guess they must have been really big Speedwagon fans.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hazy Shade of Autumn

Looking out my window, I'm reminded of a piece of movie trivia. Back in 1978 when John Carpenter's "Halloween" first came out, October had come to Haddonfield, Illinois and bushels of dead foliage swirled down the dark and lonely streets as night fell. I was way too busy peeking between my fingers, wincing in anticipation of each new shock, to notice that all the trees were full of leaves and the lawns were an emerald green.
Movie magic - the dead leaves that rustled underfoot in Haddonfield were bought from a craft store and painted autumn colors. To save money, they were swept up after each shot and recycled throughout the rest of the film. The lawns are green and lush because it's the middle of spring.
I mention all of this because this is my experience of Fall in Northern California. When I look outside, I can see a tree across the street in full blaze Autumn glory. If I lean forward just a bit, the palm tree right behind it is visible. I will be mowing the lawn through the Christmas holidays. I usually have to unplug the inflatable snowman to get power to the weed whacker. The seasons are regulated by the newsletter at my son's school. I can tell that it's Fall because there are pumpkins and leaves in the clip art.
It does get dark much earlier now. Maybe that's so the prop guys can get the leaves up before morning.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Dear God

I suppose I should be a little concerned. After yesterday's blog in which I poked fun at Intelligent Design and vowed allegiance (or amusement at the very least) to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I now feel a sense of dread looming on the horizon.
Pat Robertson is going to sick God on me.
I'm on that list right after the residents of Dover, Pennsylvania. "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city," Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club." Why? Because they chose to dump a school board that favored teaching intelligent design. God's little elf continued: "God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in his eye forever," Robertson said. "If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."
The cartoon that creates in my mind is almost too hysterical too imagine. What pictures dance in Pat Robertson's tiny head? That big white haired guy with the flowing beard and robes isn't Gandalf - or Dumbledore, and that speck crawling into the corner of His eye must be Chuck Darwin. "I'll show you 'Origin of the Species,'" growls an angry God as he pinches Darwin like a flea between his enormous fingers. "Please! I did not mean to offend!" squeals the twisting Evilutionist.
Near the end of his life, Darwin continued to give support to the local church and help with parish work, but on Sundays would go for a walk while his family attended church - possibly avoiding potential smiting for his beliefs. If disaster comes to Dover, do we have Darwin to blame? And if Dover is swallowed up and consumed in fire, am I next?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Jocko Homo

Don't get me wrong, I think the notion that there is a plan to the way things have been placed in our world is a very comforting one. My wife, bless her, is exceptional in her willingness to see the best in all things and people (her husband included) and she wanted to know why this whole Intelligent Design thing was bad and wrong.
At its core, I maintain that the suggestion that someone smarter than us (humans, not dolphins) is presently or has in the past slapped together this Rube Goldberg machine of a universe. There are plenty of coincidences and parallels that make the smartest apes stop and ponder: Must be something bigger than us.
Or not. Here's where I fall of the ID bandwagon: It's not science. It's rationale, justification, philosophy, comforting notion, but not science. The State of Kansas just approved an Intelligent Design curriculum for its schools. The new standards say high school students must understand major evolutionary concepts. But they also declare that the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology. In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena. Here I will cite an open letter to the Kansas School Board from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster: "If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith." The COFSM goes on to say that we have been tricked into believing that our world is older than it truly is - "For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage."
Now, don't you feel better about this whole uncertainty about evolution? One Kansas ID proponent wondered, "I have a question: if man comes from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? Why do you waste time teaching something in science class that is not scientific?"
To which I can only reply with the words of the prophets from Akron, Ohio:
"God made man
but he used the monkey to do it
apes in the plan
we're all here to prove it
I can walk like an ape
talk like an ape
I can do what a monkey can do
God made man
but a monkey supplied the glue"

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

We'll Be Back

"He's at it again
And he's gonna win
Gonna take it for a hell ride anyway
He's on your side
Gonna throw you aside
And let the vultures pick apart what's left
Seems like everything was just a fraction of a second from being okay"
- "Governator" by Green Day
The slow turn back to democracy began yesterday as the forces of liberation begin their march on California. Senator Dianne Feinstein suggested that Arnold had some reckoning to do, "The election results should send a strong message that the voters are tired of having issues that should be solved by their elected representatives placed before them on the ballot." The vote he called shaved 20 points off Schwarzenegger's popularity rating in polls over the year and cost $300 million in campaign spending, including $7 million of his own money.
Arnold was betting that "the people" would give him the reform that he believes the state of California so desperately needs. Those "people" turned out to be nurses, firefighters and teachers. Oops. These folks don't want their unions dismantled, and the notion that teachers should serve a longer probation period before becoming tenured ought to be justified in some way - if you want public support for such a measure.
The Democrats won gubenitorial races New Jersey and Virginia. There's a new wind blowing. Freedom is on the march again.
"All across the alien nation
Where everything isn't meant to be okay
Television dreams of tomorrow
We're not the ones meant to follow
For that's enough to argue"
- "American Idiot" by Green Day

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Back in the day, I used to annoy my father with what I believed was a very incisive question: "What are you running from, Dad?" As the guy who set me to running in the first place, I figured I would be probing his inner psyche and deepest torments. What demons were pursuing him as he rambled up and down the hills near his cabin in the woods? What voices did he hear as he worked to exorcise the pain from his life?
He gave me a pained look and tried to imagine what I could possibly mean. To him, life seemed pretty straight-forward, even though there had been a divorce and estrangement from his family. Dad wasn't interested in deeper meanings. He wondered aloud what I hoped that he would answer.
I hoped I would find an answer to why things had gotten so horribly messed up. He had to know what that answer was - maybe not on the surface, but certainly at his core. That answer was certain to appear as his head cleared and the endorphins began to surge. "What are you running from, Dad?" If he did know, he never said.
Last night when I got home, the rain was just starting, and I was being as non-committal as the precipitation about going out for a run. I sat down at my desk, ready to give the day a miss. I promised myself that I would catch up later. I told my wife that a younger me would have been out in the rain, stomping through puddles and dragging the dog along behind. There was a moment of absolute quiet - rare in my house - and I pushed back from my desk and went to go strap on my running shoes.
I know what he was running from: He was running from the moment when he can no longer run. It's not as dire or oppressive as it sounds. It's a matter of momentum. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. My father's motion, chaotic as it was in those later years was constant. That makes sense to me.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Athletic Supporters

Ah, the Sports Page. You can get lost in it and continue to avoid anything resembling real news. Just this past week there was a ton of drama to be found in the behavior of the spoiled millionaire, Terrell Owens. While visiting his official web site, you can make a bid on his NFC championship ring. He hopes to raise funds for hurricane relief this way. What an unselfish fellow. "I urge each one of you to place a bid, as much as you can afford for this worthwhile cause. All proceeds from the auction will go directly to hurricane relief. If you don't win this auction I ask you to consider donating the value you were willing to bid directly to the relief effort. Although you didn't win my ring, I believe you will find your generosity just as rewarding."
Thanks T.O. Now that the Philadelphia Eagles have had their fill of his superstar antics, they have decided to cut him loose. Owens is scheduled to earn $3.25 million this season, meaning the four-game suspension he received would cost him almost $800,000. The Eagles will have to pay Owens nearly $1 million to stay home the final five games. I hope he considers donating some of his spare time to worthy causes in and around his suburban New Jersey estate.
All that being said, this is still not the most scintillating bit of sports news. Two Carolina Panthers' cheerleaders were charged after their arrest at a bar where witnesses told police the women had sex in a restroom. Witnesses said the women were having sex in a stall with each other, angering patrons waiting in line to get into the restroom. I'm not guessing that these ladies will be asked back for the next home game. Meanwhile, if you keep in mind that the cheerleaders are making about $50 per game, my guess is that neither of these two young ladies had the cash to make bail.
Here's hoping that Mr. Owens' sense of charity extends to all of those in need.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


They've started hunting bison outside Yellowstone National Park. This evokes a lot of images for me - chief among them are the engravings of railroad passengers in the 1800's shooting out of the windows of a moving train.
Then there's this one: Two cowboys come over a rise and look down into a valley where they spy a couple of bison. One of the cowboys says to the other, "Have you ever seen a more mangy, flea-bitten, ugly, foul-smellin' creature in all your born days?" Down in the valley, one buffalo turns to the other and says, "Now there's a discouragin' word."
I grew up appreciating the totem of the bison (sometimes referred to as "buffalo"). The University of Colorado has one of the best mascots in all of organized sports: a real-life, full-grown female buffalo. I can remember days when Ralphie (the name each bison was given upon assuming the mantle of mascot) would start her charge down the sideline, and before the big turn to head back to her trailer, she would be dragging at least one of her handlers behind, while the rest held on for dear life. I can remember an Oklahoma Sooner team (nice mascot there - a little wagon, right?) that decided to show their moxie by running out onto the field just as Ralphie was making that big turn. Let's just say that some of those young men were having to wipe the moxie out of their drawers after they saw the business end of a buffalo heading their way.
Finally, the one that stays with me is "Bless the Beasts and the Children." Released in 1971, it tells the tale of a group of misfits - kids who were bounced out of their cabins at summer camp who band together to form a support group for one another. Their counselor, "Wheaties," barely tolerates their insecurities and decides to show them a slice of manhood up-close and personal. He takes them out to a range where buffalo are being "hunted." The very docile beasts are lead into a pen where they are shot down in their tracks. The rest of the film details the boys' attempt to free the beasts from the next impending slaughter. "Wheaties" called the kids in his cabin "Dings - just like those buffalo. You don't belong." My nine year old brain made the easy symbolic connection and I felt for the kids just like I felt for the bison. I remember crying at the end.
Now there are apparently enough buffalo to get back to the slaughter. One perspective hunter summed up his feelings this way: "To be able to hunt something that was almost extinct, what a great honor and a thrill. Just THINK about it," he said, as he waited to buy his hunting license.
Yeah. Just THINK about it.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Hey - what's happening in Iraq these days, now that the constitutional democracy seems to be taking hold (more or less)?
The Army is now searching for IEDs. Don't feel bad if you don't know what an IED is. I had to look it up. They aren't WMDs. They are "Improvised Explosive Devices." "Sometimes we have a bad day and they find us," quipped Sgt. Roland Galvan of Holcomb, Miss. It would seem that the insurgents are using remotely detonated bombs to inflict death and injury without actually having to engage their enemy in a more traditional "firefight" with small arms and lots of potential for losses on both sides.
It puts me in mind of the beginning of the film "Brazil." The Head of Information Retrieval, Mr. Helpmann, is seen on television decrying the latest wave of terrorist bombings: "Bad sportsmanship. A ruthless minority of people seem to have forgotten good old-fashioned virtues. They just can't stand seeing the other fellow win. If these people would just play the game..." The scene continues:
T.V. Interviewer: How do you account for the fact that the bombing campaign has been going on for thirteen years?
Mr. Helpmann: Beginners' luck.
Back in Iraq, the hunt for IEDs helps the military learn about what has become a relatively cheap and risk-free way to inflict casualties on a more powerful foe. Death and dismemberment for the cost-conscious insurgent on a budget.
Isn't anyone getting this? This is not news. This is what the Colonial Army did to the British two hundred thirty years ago. This is what the Boers did to the British in the late 19th century. This is what the Vietnamese have done to anybody foolish enough to try and engage them in a land war. It's guerilla warfare. Che Guevara wrote a book about it - from chapter 1:
1. Popular forces can win a war against the army.
2. It is not necessary to wait until all conditions for making revolution exist; the insurrection can create them.
3. In underdeveloped America the countryside is the basic area for armed fighting.
And that's the news. Now back to our scheduled program of dance music.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Cul De Sac

I've always been a neighborhood kind of guy. I was fortunate enough to grow up at the end of a dead end street, surrounded by houses filled with kids at or near my own age. There was always something happening out on the street. Or in somebody's driveway. Or somebody's back yard. Or in the backyards and driveways of several of the houses on the street.
There were marathon games of Capture the Flag that would go on for hours, sometimes with a time-out for dinner, but would resume again as soon as that night's casserole had been shoveled in and a windbreaker pulled on to ward off whatever elements might loom in the darkening sky. At the height of "the good old days," there were nine households sending their children out into the fray. If you didn't have anything to do, you could step outside and see what was happening down the street.
These days I feel like my neighborhood extends from the streets around the school where I teach, winding past my house, then up the hill to the school where my son attends third grade. It's no dead-end - it's a continuum. From the flatlands where old ladies without teeth push shopping carts into the street and you can hear the family arguments above the televisions, to the strategically placed speed bumps installed to discourage speeding, to the quiet lanes where trees grow to maturity - not out of desperation.
I was asked the other night as I was leaving work if I wanted a ride home, as it had gotten quite dark. I considered this with some mild bravado, but in the end decided that I was going for a ride in my neighborhood. If anything bad was going to happen to me, it probably wouldn't matter whether it was midnight or noon. That's where I live.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Can I quit now?"

"Out of Touch." Are there better words to describe the current state of affairs in the Bush administration? The Harriet Meiers "Why not pick someone without any experience to sit on the highest court of the land?" experience continues a string of deadly misfires for a group of college chums that are showing their true and despicable colors.
A case in point: The FEMA e-mails of Michael "Brownie" Brown. First things first - as nicknames go, "Brownie" is as lame as they come. It makes "Scooter" look positively arcane by comparison. Maybe it has to do with the color of his nose. That aside, it behooves us all to pause a moment and gasp as a nation united at the unmitigated gall of this former (gee, what do you have to do to get fired around this place?) director of FEMA. Last month at a Senate hearing, Marty Bahamonde, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's only employee in New Orleans when Katrina struck Aug. 29, said he e-mailed Brown on Aug. 31, "Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical ... many will die." Brown replied, "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?" Hey Brownie, tweak this.
Aug. 29, 7:19 a.m., Cindy Taylor, FEMA deputy director of public affairs to Brown, about his shirt as he appeared on NBC's Today: "My eyes must certainly be deceiving me. You look fabulous - and I'm not talking the makeup." Brown, 7:52 a.m.: "I got it at Nordsstroms ... Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?" I'm only guessing that he looked better than he did when he was sitting in front of the Senate inquiry, whining and squirming in his chair. That wasn't makeup either.
Brown's press secretary sent him this advice: "Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt, all shirts. Even the president rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow. In this [crisis] and on TV you just need to look more hard-working." A triumph of form over function!
And now, the kicker: Brown is still on the federal payroll at his $148,000 annual salary. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, saying Brown's expertise was needed as he investigated what went wrong, agreed to a 30-day extension when Brown resigned. Chertoff renewed that extension in mid-October. So, don't shed any tears for Brownie - he won't have to be buying any suits off the Nordsstrom's Rack anytime soon.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Super Friends

When I was a kid, there was a full afternoon's entertainment to be found in tying a dish towel around your neck and spending the rest of the day bounding around the house. Leaping from couch to easy chair and flying down the hall, this was a magical time. There was almost as much concern about what your costume looked like as what your super powers might be. We all understood that deciding on Superman was kind of cop-out, since that meant that you had just about any power you had a mind for: super speed, super strength, super hearing, super vision, super this and super that. Superman was just a little too super to be truly interesting.
Instead, we began to fabricate our own super-amalgams. This guy could fly and shoot lightning from his fingers, while another could run as fast as light and control other people's minds. It was always a good idea to have at least two super powers, in case the bad guys found a way to foil one or the other. Once the powers had been established, then you needed a snappy moniker (a term I gleaned from reading Marvel Comics). I had a period where I was "Zip" no matter what my powers were, because I liked the logo of our local dairy's new skim milk: Zip. I cut up a few milk cartons and used them to adorn my uniform.
Finally, it was time to get the dish towels. If we were lucky, the number of kids waiting to be super heroes didn't outnumber that of clean dish towels. Every so often one of us would have to make do with one that was slightly damp from drying the day's dishes. Still, nothing airs out a damp dish towel better than a few single bounds over a nearby skyscraper.
These days, capes get kind of a bad rap. Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, and most of the Marvel Universe eschew capes. Capes are considered "old school." Batman wears a cape, Daredevil doesn't. There is a whole sequence in "The Incredibles" that outlines the explicit dangers of wearing a cape. Still, I was happy to see my son stomping around the house the week before Halloween with his Darth Vader cape flowing out behind him. Maybe there's hope for this younger generation yet.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Just a Moment

I read the novelization for "Battle for the Planet of the Apes" before I saw it at the Boulder Theater (way back when it was a movie theater). This was true of many of the summer movies that came our way back in the 1970's. When we headed into the big city (there was no movie theaters in Nederland), we might be fortunate enough to catch a film - if the whole family was interested.
This was my challenge: generating enough interest to make the pilgrimage to the cinema. The problem was, even though I was a devout follower of the Planet of the Apes saga, I knew that the end was in sight for the series when this one came chugging around the bend. Still, I'm a completist and I knew that I must see it. The posters urged me on: "The final chapter in the incredible Apes saga. The most suspenseful showdown ever filmed as two civilizations battle for the right to inherit what's left of the earth!"
Then I started checking out the credits: Roddy McDowall was back as Caesar, as was Severn Darden as Governor Kolp - but Paul Williams as an orangutan? Where was the Charlton Heston - even the James Franciscus? The knowledge that Natalie Trundy, the producer's wife, had been cast as Caeser's wife seemed less like clever casting than nepotism. I tried to keep a good face on the thing.
When I read it, I imagined the epic struggle to bring the human and ape races together in peace and harmony - complete with devastated ruins of the forbidden zone complete with radiation scarred mutants. Instead I got the back lot of Twentieth Century Fox (later the home of the exterior shots for MASH) and a lot of poorly dressed humans with a seeming minority of super-intelligent apes (budget-minded executives suggested fewer lengthy and expensive makeup jobs). The "mutants" were pale folks with mild acne and a penchant for black turtlenecks. Even John Huston as The Lawgiver wasn't enough to put it over the top.
Still, one scene stays with me today, from the page to the screen to my memory. Caeser's son is sitting in the makeshift school room where human and ape children are learning side by side. A surly group of barely literate adult gorillas sit in the back, waiting for class to end. The teacher, a human, presides over a writing lesson as the students copy part of the new law, handed down from Caeser: "Ape Shall Not Kill Ape." One by one, the children and chimps hand their slates over to "Teacher" as he examines them and makes suggestions. The gorillas are not interested in reading or writing, but would rather be off riding. In spite of the distractions, "Teacher" takes the slate of young Cornelius (son of Caeser). He praises the work, but suggests that he be more careful with his Ps, "You wrote 'Ape shall not kill Abe.'" A surprised Cornelius replies, "Teacher, has it been so long that you have forgotten your own name?" The teacher pauses for a moment and reflects. "It has been a long time since anyone has called me by my name - 'Ape shall not kill Abe' - thank you, Cornelius."
I grew up into that moment. It's filed away, just a little gem in a fistful of gravel.