Sunday, December 31, 2006

Re: Solutions

"A man's got to know his limitations."
- Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry in "Magnum Force"
Admittedly this quote isn't as eternal as "Go ahead, make my day," but it is definitely more suited to my purpose. My wife asked me last night if I had any New Year's Resolutions. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have said, "A man's got to know his limitations."
From this you might guess that I don't put much stock in resolutions, New Year's or otherwise. Making promises at the onset of an experience will almost automatically come back to haunt you. At the first slip, someone will undoubtedly pipe up with a cheery reminder: "Remember when you promised..."
No thanks. I'm not fond of setting myself up for those annoying confrontations with the aforementioned limitations. By contrast, I am very good at keeping my promises. In this I tend to favor another character, Horton the Elephant. "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent." Since I work on a planet that is comprised primarily of nine and ten year olds, I know that they hear any vague commitment as the word from on high and I will be held to whatever oath I may have absent-mindedly made. If I give away a pencil for a perfect score on a spelling test once, you can be sure that I will be doing it for the duration of the school year.
I understand that resolutions are primarily for the purpose of self-improvement, but that doesn't make me feel more open to their evil influence. In my mind they seem perfectly suited for some "Gift of the Magi/Monkey's Paw" whammy that would hound me for the rest of my days, or at least three hundred and sixty-five of them. Instead I prefer to continue to look at my life as a work in progress - an open book. To this end, I feel comfortable making the only resolution I can imagine for myself: "I resolve not to make any resolutions." After all, I know my limitations.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Montage Is Conflict

Many years ago I studied film. I studied the history and the techniques. I studied film makers and their work. I learned to speak knowingly of "mise en scene" (what is in front of the camera) and "montage" (the way images are put together). Aside from giving me a slightly larger French vocabulary, I was able to bore friends and family at parties with my discussions of Eisenstein and "dialectical montage."
This morning, I felt some quiet vindication for all my blathering on: Apparently the drones over at Fox News (We Report, You Submit To Our Will) went to the same classes I did. In Sergei Eisenstein's "Strike", a shot of striking workers being attacked cut with a shot of a bull being slaughtered creates a film metaphor suggesting that the workers are being treated like cattle. This meaning does not exist in the individual shots - it only arises when they are juxtaposed. Fast forward ninety years to this morning's report on Fox News (We Juxtapose, You Nod Dully): On one side of the screen, a talking head blathers on about the death of the vile dictator Saddam Hussein. On the other side of the screen is a series of graphics listing the past six month's activity of al Qaida. As the talking head continued his discussion of the potential for violence in Iraq following Saddam's execution he mentioned Shiites, Sunnis, and the four-day Eid al-Adha festival, the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar for Shiites. At no point was there an attempt to link the information on one side of the screen to the other.
We are supposed to do that. In "The Godfather", during Michael's nephew's baptism, the priest performs the sacrament of baptism while we see killings ordered by Michael take place elsewhere. The murders thus "baptize" Michael into a life of crime. I got that. I got the subtle inference in "North By Northwest" when Cary Grant pulls Eva Marie Saint into their bunk on a train just before we see that same train speed into a tunnel. At this point I feel compelled to rhapsodize about the "language of film." But I will spare you.
Instead, I wish for the new year that we can start to see things without the aid of green screens and news tickers. We are all in need of some good editing - but be fair and let us decide.

Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 In The Rear View Mirror

This morning, from the comfort of my nice warm bed, I watched one of those "sum up the year in two minutes of video footage" montages that played over a loop of solemn music. You know the kind of piece I mean - with periodic sound bites that creeped into the mix: "When we came in they were all dead," and "There were no survivors." Cue the swell of even more solemn music.
What was missing from all this (with apologies to Steve Martin) death and grief and sorrow and murder? Usually in the midst of the mining disasters and the war-torn regions and the children crying for their missing parents or food or both comes a few seconds of hope. That's when the music turns a little sprightly and we get a flurry of sports and other whimsical silliness that serves as a palate cleansing sorbet for the ugly mess that was the year we all lived through.
There was no sorbet this year. Or at least it was hard to cobble one together out of the news from 2006. Even Pluto got demoted this year. Sure, I could get a little smile from the Democrats sweep through Congress, and there was a Super Bowl and a World Series - but the Democrats have done little so far beyond dropping balloons and making many assertions that things will change, and the sports world is filled with steroids and ugly behavior. Where will our slow motion moment of triumph come from?
Instead, I propose a "Pollyanna" vision of the preceding year. Instead of focusing the ongoing strife and human suffering, let us take a moment to consider the up side. To quote another comic sage, Bill Murray, "Talk about massive potential for change!" 2006 was a struggle, and those of us who made it to the other side can look back and breathe a communal sigh of relief. And with that, the music slows to a triumphant chorus as we make our secret wishes for 2007. See you on the other side.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Looking Back

There's just something about "secret tapes" and Bob Woodward. In 2004, former President Gerald Ford submitted to an interview with Woodward under the conditions that it only be released after his death. "Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."
This is coming from a guy who gave "Rummy" and "Dick" their first big shots at White House politics. Jerry also gave interviews to the New York Daily News last May, saying "Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him," he observed to the Daily News. "But we shouldn't have put the basis on weapons of destruction. That was a bad mistake. Where does (Bush) get his advice?"
Well, sadly, he got his advice from some of the same guys who looked so spirited and young in file footage of the Ford Presidency. Asked why Cheney had tanked in public opinion polls, he smiled. "Dick's a classy guy, but he's not an electrified orator," Ford said. And not such a great shot, either, as it turns out.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, that much is certain. Gerald Ford is another American citizen hopping on a bandwagon that is getting very full these days. What public official outside of Pinhead's enclave is still leading the cheer for the war in Iraq? Timing is everything, but Ford gave his interview with Woodward two years ago, and more than six months ago to the News. The difference here is that he felt the need, as he almost always did, to do the right thing. "I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," Ford said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I'm Gerald Ford, And You're Not

For a couple of years, I forgot exactly what Gerald Ford looked like. For two years, when I thought of Mister Ford, I thought of Chevy Chase. I know now that these two men knew nothing alike, but Chevy became, for me, the embodiment of our thirty-eighth president. Whether he was falling over a podium or asserting that he was "told there would be no math" during a presidential debate, my world view was formed by late-night television.
Gerald Ford fell down a few times, smacked a spectator or two with a golf ball, and was shot at by a girl named Squeaky. His presidency had a certain Murphy's Law element to it. Of course, anyone who walked in to pick up the ball after Richard Nixon had dropped it near his opponent's goal line would have had a long road. Gerald Ford walked that road with his head up, so it was natural that it would bump into a few things on the way.
He was left with the wreckage of Watergate and Vietnam. He walked into the Oval Office without ever seeking it. By virtually all accounts, he was a nice man asked to do a nearly impossible job. Moments such as the time he asserted that "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe" as he mounted his campaign for re-election in 1976, or his ubiquitous "Whip Inflation Now" (WIN) buttons, he always seemed just a little overmatched by his circumstances.
Maybe that's why I appreciated him so much. He was so very obviously human, after the scary Shakespearean caricature of Tricky Dick. He had a golden retriever named Liberty. His wife speak her mind and periodically gave him fits, but he loved her fiercely. He was, perhaps, our first mensch president. He kept the ship of state afloat during an economic and constitutional crisis, and made the world safe for "Foul Play."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Time The Avenger

Seven hundred and fifty-five days, ten hours, and two minutes - give or take a second or two: That's how long President Pinhead has left in office as I sit down to write this. The good news is that the clock is ticking.
The bad news? Well, there seems to be plenty of that. The U.S. military announced the deaths of seven American soldiers, raising the death toll significantly in one of the bloodiest months for the military this year. Thank goodness that we had been warned by his Pointy-cranium-ness that we could "expect more casualties" as Operation Liberate Reason continues. These additional fatalities brought the number of U.S. military members killed since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 2,978 — five more than the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
I understand that we continue to compare apples and oranges here - dead apples and dead oranges - but when will the weight of common sense and decency cause the leadership to face up to the face that what we are doing is not working. We are not introducing liberty or democracy to Iraq. We are stirring up a civil war and our troops are caught in the crossfire.
Here are some thoughts from Emily Miller, a sister of a member of the Army National Guard, serving in Iraq: "Victory being out of the question at this point, the only democracy my brother is fighting for in Iraq is our democracy. The only constitution he is in Iraq fighting to defend is our Constitution. If my brother dies, it will not be for a mistake but rather because of his deeply held belief that the time it takes us as a people to figure out through democratic processes that we are wrong is more important than his own life." She closes her comments by reminding us, "My brother is doing his constitutional duty. Now it is time for us to do ours."
And now there are seven hundred fifty-five days, nine hours and forty-one minutes left in Pinhead's reign. The clock continues to run.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Papa's Got A Brand New Bag

A lot of people are going to remember James Brown as the Godfather of Soul. While I certainly understand his place as a giant in the music industry, this is not the way I will store his image. Instead, it is much more likely that I will remember him best as the pre-fight entertainment in "Rocky IV." It is during this scene that we are treated to the least of the pop singles generated by the Rocky series, "Living In America." The song reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and in 1986 the song was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song and James Brown won a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Aside from the fact that it sounds like somebody ran an old funk groove over a John Mellencamp song, it also serves as the "swan song" for Apollo Creed. If only Apollo would have taken his fight with Ivan Drago as seriously as Rocky would (eventually) - maybe he's be alive today to fight in sixty year old Sylvester Stallone's newest boxing opus.
But that's all water over the metaphorical dam. The other very vivid memory I have of the hardest working man in show business is the little dustup he had in 1988: He was arrested following a high-speed car chase down Interstate 20 in Augusta. He was imprisoned for threatening pedestrians with firearms and abuse of PCP. Work hard, play hard, leave a really embarrassing mug shot behind.
Still, without James Brown, there would be no Prince, no Al Sharpton, no eyebrow tattoos. It would be a smaller, less danceable world. "I Got You - I Feel Good."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

It Could Be

There is music coming from the meadow
It sounds like an echo at first
As you move closer it starts to change
You can hear so many different things
The wail of a siren
The howl of the wind
The roll of thunder
A plucky banjo
A dancing flute
A low brass tuba
Now you can almost see the sound
Of angels crying
Of children playing
Of songbirds soaring
In your ears
In your eyes
In your heart
The music of possibility, light, and hope
And You Can Sing Along

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Land Of Milk, Honey, And Rattling Windowpanes

"Now I don't like the sound of the ground movin' round
Or winds spinnin' out of control
California earthquakes only seem make me shake, rattle and roll"
Jimmy Buffett - "Treat Her Like A Lady"
I spend a good portion of my life here in California in deep denial. Every piece of science and prediction tells me that the house I am sitting in will be rubble at the worst possible moment, and yet here I sit. Waiting.
As my family and friends dig themselves out of the Blizzard of '06 out in Colorado, I look out my window at the green lawn and scattered leaves and wonder why we can't forecast tremors, tumblers, and aftershocks. My mother was clever enough to trust the local weatherman and she went out to get enough soup and crackers to get her through before the snow fell. Out here, we talk a lot about being prepared for "The Big One," but most of us have little or no idea about what or when that might be.
We have had three earthquakes in the past four days. They weren't furniture-tipping, appliance-rocking, or glassware-breaking. They felt more like some big -very big - guy taking a run at the side of the house and hitting it full force. They were big bumps, and they got our collective pulses going. They did not send us screaming out into the street. Their magnitudes, in order, were 3.7, 3.7, and 3.5. Probably the most troubling part isn't the size, but the frequency. There was a full day between the first two, and then only twelve before the third. At this rate, we should be having quakes on the half-hour soon.
We've got supplies in the basement. We have bottled water. We have a tent to pitch in the back yard if the house comes down in a heap. But would I really stick around? All those people who head back to the Gulf Coast to rebuild, or buy yet another trailer in Twister Alley - is there honor in confronting nature? If discretion is the better part of valor, why aren't there more people packing up their belongings and fleeing this nexus of fault lines?
This is our home. It doesn't have two feet of snow on it. Natural and cultural resources abound, and plenty of parking - if you know where to look. It takes away some of the stress associated with waiting for The Big One.

Friday, December 22, 2006

"We're not winning. We're not losing."

All the gang over at the Pentagon wants for Christmas is another ninety-nine point seven billion dollars to pursue that ever-elusive victory in the Middle East. It's that "point seven" that really bakes me. That's three hundred million dollars before we have to trot out to the warehouse for another zero. If President Pinhead gives this number his personal "Okey Doke" and it gets approved by Congress, that would boost this year's budget for those wars to about one hundred and seventy billion dollars.
Overall, the war in Iraq has cost about $350 billion. Combined with the conflict in Afghanistan and operations against terrorism elsewhere, the cost has topped $500 billion. This comes at a time when the Pinhead in Chief is preparing to send thousands more troops to try and finish whatever it is that he intends to finish. There is a plan for all this cash, right?
The cost of the war has risen dramatically "as the security situation has deteriorated and more equipment is destroyed or worn out in harsh conditions." I'm thinking the "destroyed" part is kind of hard for budgeting purposes.
All of this comes about at the moment when troop levels are increasing, and Pinhead is being (according to press reports) unusually candid: "I'm not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq except that it's going to require difficult choices and additional sacrifices because the enemy is merciless and violent." In his bizzaro logic, one might guess that he expects that the only way "win" is to tip the balance in sheer numbers - bodies and dollars. The mission remains a mystery to those both on the inside and out, but it's going to cost you another one hundred billion dollars next year. Give or take. And take. And take some more.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Breakin' The Law

This particular train of thought began the other night as I was walking down the chilly streets of San Francisco, and came to a culmination a few mornings later as I rode my bike to school. That night in San Francisco, a group of us were deciding - as rational adults - whether or not to jaywalk. The truth is, most stop lights have a period that roughly equates with the time it takes for a group of four individuals to make up their minds to cross against it. If you have to think about it, you probably won't do it. That particular law remained unbroken.
Contrast this with the ride I took on my bike. I have a very clear memory of the time, nine years ago, that I willfully rode straight through a stop sign on my way to my job at the school just over the hill. A motorcycle cop who happened to be in the neighborhood turned on his lights and siren and pulled me over. He gave me a ticket for failing to come to a complete stop. I had no argument. I had broken that law. It occurred to me only briefly to complain or moan about all the other things that this Oakland police officer might be doing with his morning, but I still had to face the reality of being caught breaking the law. I took the ticket. I paid my fine and my debt to society.
Nine years later, I stop at all signals and signs, and yield the right of way to pedestrians and water fowl whenever praticeable. It was at one of these stop signs that I looked up and saw the back window of a parked SUV that had been smashed in, probably overnight. That was a crime: vandalism at least, if not theft of some kind. Then I thought of Bonnie and Clyde, and what made them heroes to many, and of Ocean's 11 (and 12). Why is breaking the law so charming and exciting in some cases, and then so horrible and embarrassing in others?
I think it has to do with grace. Rolling through a stop sign is just sloppy. Smashing someone's car window is annoying and costly. Stealing diamonds from a laser protected vault has an element of the artistic to it. Robbing a bank with a vial of colored water you tell everyone is nitroglycerin is audacious enough to be applauded. Shooting somebody immediately puts you in the idjit category. And the real bottom line? If you've ever been the victim of a crime, big or small, the point becomes moot. It doesn't matter how cleanly they managed to get the tape deck out of your dashboard - all you see is the hole.
So, after careful consideration, I've decided to give up my life of crime, such as it was, and walk the straight and narrow. Look for me at a crosswalk near you.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ice Capades

I heard a sound this evening that gave me pause: a small engine, maybe two or three horsepower roaring away down the street. What could it be? Then it occurred to me that I had closed my mind to the most obvious source. It was a lawnmower. Five days before Christmas, some industrious lad was out cutting the grass in his family's front yard. How very nice. It's Christmastime in the city.
I know it's an old saw, but I still catch myself wondering where my snow shovel is. Fifteen years ago when I landed here in the land of milk and honey, I went to a friend's house in Sunnyvale for Thanksgiving. After dinner, we all piled into her great big convertible, and drove around with the top down as we watched the sun set. It was a California moment that let me know I wasn't in Kansas (or Colorado) anymore.
Flash forward to this week, and the relative cold spell that has gripped the bay area for nearly a week. No snow. No hail. Very little precipitation to speak of, but there was frost on the ground until the sun made short work of it. I watched the kids at my school find the slick patch on the playground padding, and carefully measured my reaction as they slid wildly from side to side. Grumpy old Mister Caven was ready to tell them to knock it off before somebody got really hurt, but the more thoughtful and child-like cortex of my brain told them to take turns and try to avoid any grievous bodily harm. For fifteen minutes, until the bell rang, it was a winter wonderland next to the play structure.
I watched one kid's legs shoot straight out from under him as he fell square on his backside. He looked up at me for that moment of kid/adult recognition. Was he in trouble? Would he cry? Nope. He just laughed, and so did I. It's Christmastime in Oaktown.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On The Outside

I got out of teaching for a few hours today. All I had to do was, in the words of a comrade of mine, "cross over to the dark side." What this entailed was essentially joining a group of administrative types as they observed the morning goings-on in several of our classrooms. I could feel the tug of the eight thirty bell as I sat across the room from the breakfast that was provided. Tempted though I was, I don't know if my digestive system would allow me to eat at six forty-five and at half past eight. I sat in front of my carefully collated folder and looked over the rooms that we would be visiting.
Then, suddenly, we were on the move. They wanted to see how our kids came into the room, and how prepared our teachers were when they got there. As we arrived at the bottom of the stairs, we followed a fifth grade teacher into his room and watched his class start the day. I watched the others scribble notes as they moved silently among the students, pausing to check an answer or to ask a quick question. I shifted nervously in my seat and tried to focus my attention on the question that we had been sent to investigate. It was an orderly group, and there seemed to be learning going on, so inwardly I cheered.
Our next stop was the classroom of my fourth grade partner. She had her group humming along, and the watchful eyes nodded their approval and noted all the clever ways that students had to participate. I breathed a sigh of relief and wondered how I would have fared under the same scrutiny.
By the time we went upstairs to our third and final room to visit, I was feeling proud and happy with the job that my fellow teachers were doing. Sure, there were plenty of ways that things could have been improved, or tweaked, or managed differently, but here in the week before Christmas, kids were in their seats learning. Teachers hadn't given up and put Rudolph on the VCR while they cut out snowflakes. Education proceeded apace.
Then, just as quick as it had began, the time had come for me to bid farewell to the world of three letter acronyms - TLAs - and to return to my own group of eager faces. Don't get me wrong, I'm still desperate to have those two weeks off, but I felt better about finishing out the calendar year after seeing our school from outside the fishbowl. It felt good to get back to work.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Exit, Stage Left

For many years I have had a bit of shtick about how our little finger is the only thing that separates us from Fred Flintsone. That goes along with a certain morbid fascination with the film adaptation of everyone's favorite stone-age family. Were you aware that Steven Spielberg was doing pre-production on the first live-action Flinstone film while he was up to his armpits in the making of "Schindler's List"? Make of this what you will. I already have.
And now, with the passing of Joseph Barbera, one half of the evil genius that was Hanna-Barbera, we can set this whole matter to rest. The Flinstones were to the Honeymooners what the Simpsons were to the Flinstones. Prime time comedies with big fat patriarchs - that list begins to swell like Fred's leopard spotted tunic after you add such luminaries as Kevin James, Jim Belushi, and Roseanne Barr. It would be more accurate to blame Jackie Gleason for this spate of family funnies, but Fred and Wilma kept the beast alive for a new generation.
Instead of laying blame on Hanna-Barbera for cheapening character animation and bringing Scooby-Doo to an unsuspecting planet, we should instead be celebrating their triumphs. Specifically, their creation of Tom and Jerry. And where do we find echoes today of our beloved cat and mouse throughout pop culture, but nowhere more plainly than on Bart Simpson's favorite cartoon: Itchy and Scratchy.
Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Magilla Gorilla, Touche Turtle, Top Cat, The Jetsons, Josie and The Pussycats, Johnny Quest, Huckleberry Hound, The Herculoids, and Space Ghost - if you don't get a mental image of one of these characters, you've lived in a cave for the past fifty years. That would be a legacy - especially that Space Ghost thing. If you've never witnessed the power of "Space Ghost - Coast to Coast", you have not seen one of the triumphs of post-modernism. Today we come not to bury Joseph Barbera, but to praise him: Yabba dabba doo.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Holiday Services

We went to church last night. The lights dimmed, and the organ began to play. We worshipped at the altar of the virgin Saint Sandy, and prayed for her deliverance from that very condition. It was an enthusiastic congregation that met at the intersection of Castro and Market streets in San Francisco. We did our recitations and sang with hearts full of joy. When the service was over, we were all hoarse and tired, but it was a good kind of tired.
Last night we went to the Sing Along Version of "Grease." To be more precise, we went to be a part of the Sing Along Version of "Grease." The people who surrounded us came to be a part of the show as well. Talking in this theatre was encouraged. Singing, and even dancing in the aisles was encouraged at this theatre. It truly was a joyful communal experience, cheering for Danny and the T-Birds and hissing at the Scorpions - especially that hussy Cha-Cha.
It was also an opportunity to acknowledge and revel in my movie-nerdness. I waited two-thirds of the way through the film to shout along with my favorite line, "C'mon Sandy, you can't walk out of a drive-in!" Couple that with karaoke subtitles for all the songs, and I had a chance to recall just how filthy the lyrics of "Greased Lightning" really are.
"In the beginning was the word and the word was with Grease and the word was Grease." (John Travolta 1:1).

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Only One

There was Bruce Springsteen on my TV this morning, talking about his song, "Jesus Was An Only Son." He was talking about how he hoped that his kids would be able to face the struggles of life, and that they wouldn't be surprised at how hard life could be once they got out there on their own. He said a friend told him not to worry, "Do your best and life will take care of itself." Just another refrain of the "give them roots and wings" ideal, but it caught me at a moment when I was reckoning one more time about having the one child as opposed to the house-bursting brood.
I have my wife convinced that I never think about this, and that my mind is set and I never have any doubts that the one son that we have is our gift to the world and any additional progeny would be risking a falloff from our extremely high standards. When she reads this, she will know that is not entirely true. Most likely, she will look at me sideways and not say a word since she knew this about me all along anyway.
But we did such an amazing job with the first one. He knows nothing of sibling rivalry and shines as the apple of our eye each and every day. When we buy Legos, we don't have to worry about "fair" - it just is. Decisions are made for the kid, with a focus that would not exist if there were facets to refract our laser-like parenting intensity.
He wakes up alone most mornings. He reads or watches TV. He excels at one-player video games. He is a solitary lad. That's not to say that he is a loner. He loves the company of friends and family, and looks forward to every new play date or gathering. But he doesn't handle random cruelty from other kids well. He expects the consideration and patience he gets from his parents in all interactions. This isn't a ridiculous expectation, but between the ages of nine and nineteen he can look forward to a lot more social injustice from his peers.
Brothers and sisters help cushion the blow. They don't always protect you from the looping right hooks of childhood, but they do teach you when to duck. Having an older brother to look out for you while at home introducing you to the phrase "wanna see something that really hurts?", or having a little sister to yell at for messing up the carefully layered levels of toys and comic books in your room - these are things for which siblings are created. If somebody is going to call you a name that makes you cry, it's always best to hear it from your brothers or sisters first.
These are my regrets. This is my reality. I know that I love my son with the length and breadth of the sky. I know that love comes back to me every day in ways I would never expect. And so I am content with the choices that we have made, and I feel lucky.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Some Pig

This is the time of year that I am reminded just what a softy I can be when all the pop culture chips are down. I get a little choked up every time I read the last few pages of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas". Go ahead, you try it:
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
Okay, so maybe your heart didn't grow three sizes just now, but that's because you're made of stronger stuff. So that would mean you're ready for a bigger test. Chapter 21 of "Charlotte's Web": "Last Day" is as heartbreaking as any work of fiction before or since, and took me an extra evening to get through when reading it aloud to my son. Wilbur's future is assured, just as Charlotte's is not. Ultimately, of course, Charlotte's progeny remain as echoes of their sainted mother, and Wilbur must content himself with the memories of his dearest friend and all that she has taught him. "Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."
I might go out and see the "live-action" version that opens on movie screens this weekend, but it seems like a pretty hard act to follow. Garth Williams' illustrations and my imagination have done such a nice job for so many years. Even a regrettable 1973 animated musical version couldn't kill this story. Debbie Reynolds and Henry Gibson? And those songs? I'll stick with the source material, thanks. It is, to quote the goose, "T double-E double-R double-R double-I double-F double-I double-C, C, C."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Girl Gone Wild

Let's take a break from trivial matters like war and education and family. Instead I would like to turn the spotlight of concern directly onto that which matters most: The conduct of current Miss USA, Tara Conner. For some time, rumors have been circulating regarding Ms. Conner's behavior in and around several New York City nightclubs. Those most excellent and hard-working reporters for have revealed that pageant officials expected to make "a big announcement Thursday."
If that announcement involves the lowering of the legal drinking age in New York State, then - as we say in Oakland - "it's all good." Tara is twenty years old, and while there are plenty of twenty year old girls falling off bar stools this very evening as they make the very best use of their older sister's ID, Tara ought not to be one of them. She is reigning royalty: Miss USA and the very embodiment of all things that suggests. Underage drinking, it seems, would not be part of that vision. Lark-Marie Anton, spokeswoman for the Miss Universe Organization, which produces the Miss USA pageant, said "Miss USA is considered a role model and must act accordingly." This lady's boss is Donald Trump, after all. We all know what happens when you disappoint "The Donald". In 2002, Russia's Oxana Fedorova won Miss Universe but was stripped of her title after violating her contract. "We had a Miss Universe from Russia that was a total disaster, and we fired her, and Miss Panama took over and she did great," Trump said.
Make no mistake, these women are "goal savvy" - as they are promoted on their web site. Many previous winners pursue careers in the entertainment industry. But unlike the Miss America pageant, there is no talent section at Miss USA. Ms. Connor may have missed her calling, if one considers "slamming Jello shots" a talent.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Silent Nights

President Pinhead said Wednesday he would "not be rushed" into a decision on a strategy change for Iraq. After all, with the holidays - the Christian holidays - fast approaching, he certainly wouldn't want to start up any of that radical deciding for which he has become so famous. That might eat into his time on the Ranch back in Crawford.
Still, I couldn't help but reflect on a pair of historical holiday items, connected with this time of war and strife. The first is the brief unofficial cessation of hostilities that occurred between German and British troops stationed on the Western Front of World War I during Christmas 1914. I've always enjoyed this story, primarily from the standpoint that the decision was not made by politicians or commanders, but by the guys in the trenches. They decided to take a day off killing one another, and bury their dead. They mourned their dead together in No Man's Land, and in some versions of the story, went on to play soccer against one another in the open field between the barbed wire. Without a common religion, this kind of spontaneous eruption of peace seems unlikely to occur in Baghdad later this month.
It is more likely that we could experience something more along the lines of The Tet Offensive. The North Vietnamese leadership decided that the time was ripe for a major conventional offensive. They believed that the South Vietnamese government and the U.S. presence were so unpopular in the South that a broad-based attack would spark a spontaneous uprising of the South Vietnamese population, which would enable the North to sweep to a quick, decisive victory. They chose the beginning of the Lunar New Year at the end of January, 1968 to launch this attack. North Vietnam had announced in October that it would observe a seven-day truce from January 27 to February 3, 1968, in honor of the Tet holiday, and the South Vietnamese army made plans to allow recreational leave for a large part of its force. Historically viewed as a strategic failure, the Tet Offensive is generally considered the straw that broke America's back in Vietnam. It was in March, 1968 that Lyndon Johnson decided not to seek another term in the White House. LBJ didn't want to be rushed, either.
Decades later, we approach another holiday season. Maybe we can hope that it will be the soldiers on the ground making the decisions this year, and not the "deciders".

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pictures Of You

My good friend and confidante on the right coast sent me an e-mail attachment that was his purported doppelganger for his high school yearbook photo. The picture was a tasteful black and white head shot of Adrian Zmed. It was an astonishing likeness, I confess, and it made me think about how much hair there used to be. I used to hang around with this guy. This was the guy who used to get all the girls. I used to get all the phone calls after he broke up with all the girls. "No, I don't know when he's coming back to the country. He said something about a five year mission to explore strange new worlds..."
In the meantime, I was the kid who was told by one female classmate in fourth grade, "You ruined the class picture. You look like a walrus." To be fair, she wasn't exaggerating too awfully much. I've never been too fond of having my picture taken, and it shows. There I was, in the second row, looking round and wan, glasses reflecting the photographer's lights. This indignity continued for all the years of my public education. When I was a senior in high school, I got a friend who had graduated the year before to take my picture for the yearbook. I did my best to mat down the unruly mass that was my hair, and selected a flannel shirt that seemed to suggest a certain - oh, I don't know - rustic outdoorsy feeling. We drove up into the mountains where I hopped across a rushing creek and perched myself on a rustic, outdoorsy boulder. My friend shot up most of a roll of film, trying to capture my essence. What we got instead looked a lot like a Coors Commercial.
And what is the punchline for all of this photoplay? Now that I am a teacher, once a year I get to stand in line with my students and wait for each of them to smooth or ruffle their hair, adjust their smiles, and turn their heads just slightly so they aren't staring directly into the camera. Then it's my turn. One of the perks of being a teacher is that I get a free eight by ten of my slowly aging self for - well - posterity. This year's photo isn't nearly as walrus like as last.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Casting A Stone

I hope that my son never realizes just how much I hope for his everyday safety and the ability to steer clear of life's random annoyances. I think the weight of that expectation might crush him. Yesterday it all came crashing down around his ears when he threw a rock at some lady. To be fair, he wasn't throwing the rock at her, but in a random trajectory that had the unfortunate happenstance of intersecting with the path of a woman who was out for a walk in the late fall afternoon.
Sadly for my son, she was not one of those "kids will be kids" kind of ladies. She was more of the "you kids get out of my yard" sort, and wasn't interested in hearing any lame excuses about how he had never intended to hit anyone and it would have to have been the most amazing ricochet shot in the world, since it was a carom caught her. She would have none of his apologies or attitudes - even if he had given her any.
To be clear: I don't think he should have been throwing rocks around in a residential neighborhood, and I would have been grouchy if I had been the one pegged by the errant missile - my kid or not. When the lady walked my son down the street - marched - to see his parents about all this, I could feel all the knots in his stomach and the tears welling up in his eyes. He's a good boy. He has a conscience as big as all of outdoors, and no real sense of aim. He stood by quietly as the riot act was read to him. I could see the wheels in his brain turning trying to make sense out of this random accident. What could he possibly be learning? My wife asked the woman if she was all right, and was told abruptly that it did not matter, since the important issue was that she had been violated in the extreme. In the calf. Leaving no discernible mark.
But it's the principle, isn't it? Unfortunately for my son, he was at a friend's house, and there were five other sets of parents ready to chime in with their opinions and visions of the correct and appropriate response. By the time I got to him, my lecture must have felt like the most warmed-over of all possible parental nonsense. I could say that I was disappointed in him, but anybody who lived through nine versions of the "good-choice/bad-choice" sermon without running screaming into the night has my vote for kid of the year.
And when all was finally said and done, I think he knew that. I told him how I once broke a window on accident and I was terrified that the lady who came screaming to the door was going to do me bodily harm, but she was more scared than angry. I told him that someday he would tell his son about how he once made a similar mistake. He said he hoped not. Upon further reflection, neither do I.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Grave And Disintegrating

Those were the words: "Grave And Disintegrating". They were carefully chosen by a bi-partisan committee to describe the situation in Iraq. They didn't ask me, but I believe that their collective thesauruses got quite a workout in the last few days of writing their report. President Pinhead has even seen fit to use one of the words, "grave" in his weekly radio defense of his crumbling administration.
The other one? "Disintegrating" immediately brings a mental image from a Daffy Duck cartoon to my mind. In "Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century", Daffy battles Marvin the Martian for control of Planet X, the last remaining deposit of the rare element Illudium Phosdex, "the shaving cream atom". As eager young space cadet Porky Pig stands by, Daffy is blown to smithereens by Marvin. Luckily for our hero, Porky has access to a "re-integrating" pistol. Only when the two powers, Earth and Mars have battled until Planet X is nothing more than a square foot of clay with a lone root hanging from beneath the victorious Daffy, who claims the dirt clod that is left in the name of Earth, and Duck Dodgers. To this, a less eager Porky stutters, "B-b-b-big deal."
Which brings us back around to the situation in Iraq. With no "re-integrating" ray at our immediate disposal, we are stuck with the recommendations of those who have taken the time to study the problem. That, and send Rummy on one last "Victory Lap" around the country. This is the guy who resigned his post just ahead of being hauled out by an angry mob of newly elected and vindictive Democrats. Now he's out shaking hands with the troops, wishing them godspeed and happy holidays. Don't be surprised if Pinhead loops a medal around his neck upon his return. "B-b-b-big deal."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Possible Retention

Today I am feeling a sense of relief. All but one of my report cards have been distributed. All the news upon which my fourth graders' holiday wishes hinge has been issued. Many parents came away proud and happy. An few left feeling that I had horribly misjudged their child and their accomplishments. Still others finished the encounter with the same sad, shameful face as their kid. Anyway you slice it, report card time is a stressful time. Even for teachers.
A few years ago, our principal introduced us all to the idea of doing parent conferences with every report card. I felt, as I often do, much like Lothar of the Hill People - saying "It is a good idea, but it is new, so naturally we fear it." Sitting on the stage in the "cafetorium" for a whole day, ushering parents and kids in and out, all the while speaking high-minded platitudes about the importance of fluency practice at home and the need for early intervention for children who have no discernible awareness of multiplication.
Now that I've been doing it for three years, I can't imagine another way to hand out the good and bad news that comes at the end of every trimester. For our school especially, it creates the unavoidable collision between school and home. It's always a satisfying moment when a mother sits down across the table from me, and we discover that we have a very similar chore. Fourth grade is a lot about gaining independence, and for many kids this translates to "ignoring responsibility." Suddenly confronted with a united front, a number of my students fell back on a response they might not have shared in the classroom: tears.
Friday afternoon, and I still had two report cards left. Two parents who had yet to make an appointment with me. Two parents who were probably as concerned about the contents of that secret envelope as their kids. Both of these were parents I had not met over the course of almost four months of school. I thought about going home and starting fresh on Monday, but something made me try the number one more time. I got the first mother at home, and decided, given her circumstances, to make the connection I could over the phone. We talked about her son's potential, and I felt sad that I seemed more interested in his progress than his own mother. When I hung up, I felt drained, but emboldened by the success. I called the other house, expecting to leave yet another message. After a moment of confusion, I heard a man's voice, "Mister Caven? Are you still down at the school?" I told him that I was just finishing things up, but (pause) I would be there for a few more minutes. "Great. I'll be right down."
To his credit, he showed up after only about a ten minute wait, with both of his young sons in tow. We took a few chairs down off desks, sat down and talked about ways we could improve fourth grade for his son. His son sat quietly and patiently nearby, nodding and wincing slightly at the specifics of the grades that he had earned. When it was all over, dad told me "There will be improvement," and with a look at the boy, "Isn't that right?"
We shook hands, and he walked off into the early evening. I went back to my room, filed all the copies and folders, got my jacket and a folder full of papers to grade over the weekend. A new trimester begins.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bye Bye Johnny

One of my earliest memories is the reflection on the tile of my parent's basement of the black and white images of John Kennedy's funeral procession. I was no more than a year and a half old at the time, but every time I see that footage, I think of that ghostly light flickering in the gloom. Then there was Martin Luther King, followed abruptly by Robert Kennedy. These were men who opened the door for my generation to make the world a better place, and they were gone before I got to know them.
There wasn't a lot for me to comprehend back in those days. Political assassination seemed almost matter of fact - our best and brightest would be taken from us tragically as a horrified nation looked on in stunned silence. "The Father, Son and The Holy Ghost" as Don McLean once suggested. In many ways, this set the stage for us to be numbed into a world that would give us Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Then came December 8, 1980. I remember who told me that John Lennon had been shot: Howard Cosell. "This, we have to say it, is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all of The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival." I was at the top of the stairs at my parents' house, headed to the basement. Now, at seventeen, I was finally ready to face the death of a dream.
"I can't remember if I cried
When I red about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ice Flow

I have memories of cold vinyl seats. I have memories of frost on the inside of a frigid station wagon. I have memories of just how special a treat it was to be allowed to go out in the morning and start up the car before we all got a ride into school. Blessed as we were with cars equipped with automatic transmissions, it was a fairly simple operation. I got the keys. I put on layers of clothes to the extreme, and footwear that could withstand the sub-freezing temperatures. Then, out the front door I went.
This was a privilege. Sometimes, there was even loud discussion about which of the boys would be allowed to venture out into the frozen tundra. I liked the responsibility. I liked the power. I liked to turn the defroster up on high and watch the ice disappear. And yes, there was a large portion of "pretending to drive" mixed in there, but I wasn't supposed to put it in gear. I could play the radio, once the engine was started and the battery was charging and I had no real interest in going back out into the snow. I sat there and waited for the world inside to warm past freezing. The seats no longer crackled beneath me, and the rear window defroster made a pattern that looked a little like loose leaf notebook paper.
Then it was time to go to school. Time to give up control of the mother ship. Time to renew my passenger status. Years later, when it was my own car, I had no one to send out to warm up the Vega. There was no thrill in starting my own vehicle. I sat there and shivered. I turned the radio up loud, and waited for the winter to be over.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Charlie don't surf! "

Back in 1941, December 6 was the day that diplomacy failed, and we found ourselves waking up the next morning to a world at war. Sixty-five years later, a blue ribbon panel has come to the conclusion that a world at war needs to return to diplomacy. The circles that we travel in are constant and amazing.
After four years, four hundred billion dollars and more than 2,900 U.S. deaths , violence is bad and getting worse, there is no guarantee of success and the consequences of failure are great, the panel of five Republicans and five Democrats said in a bleak accounting of U.S. and Iraqi shortcomings. The implications, they warned, are dire for terrorism, war in the Middle East and higher oil prices around the world.
Off in the distance, we hear the refrain, "We will stay until the mission is completed." Is there anybody left who can say, with a straight face, just what that mission is? "Because none of the operations conducted by U.S. and Iraqi military forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging the sectarian violence, U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end," the report said. Was that the mission to which we had been referring?
The panel suggests a "diplomatic offensive" starting by the end of this month, as well as including Iran and Syria in the stabilization of the region. At this point, the panel could have suggested installing a ouija board as the central ruling process for the Middle East and they would have been taken seriously.
Or at least as seriously as the Pinhead who keeps spouting off about "finishing the mission." Haven't any of these guys seen "Apocalypse Now"? Come to think of it, that would make a fine subtitle for this report.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Magic Of Christmas

A friend and constant reader sent me a link to a web site that really struck a chord with me. Of course kids are scared of Santa Claus. I'm afraid of him now. The very idea of this bearded old coot sliding down our chimney and rooting around in our house while we are asleep gives me the willies just sitting here with the lights on. If he came through a window and he was homeless, he wouldn't make it past the end of the block - not in my neighborhood.
The lurking isn't the hardest thing to take, either. It might be all that manic laughter with little or no provocation. "What is so darn funny about a Hot Wheels Supercharger Set? How about a little more focused attention instead of that patronizing 'Ho, ho, ho' all the time." And since he knows when I am sleeping and knows when I am awake, why do I have to make this itemized list anyway? Shouldn't his borderline psychic powers reveal all of my wants and needs along with my sleep habits?
Combine this with the mystical way that he gets around, flying reindeer and squeezing his ample frame up and down smokestacks, and you've got one creepy dude. Essentially this is one great big red clown. Kids are terrified of clowns. That beard and those rosy cheeks are just like a big red nose and blue hair. In your wildest imaginings, did you really think that any five year old would want to sit on the lap of a fat guy they never met and ask them for free stuff? What about that whole "Don't Talk To Strangers" lecture? I know, I know - it's a treasured memory for parents that they can stick in the album right next to the photo they have of their child up to their third knuckle rooting around for booger nuggets. America's Most Humiliating Portraits - coming this year to ABC, right after Personal Hygiene With The Stars.
Give the kids a break. Take them to see Santa when they ask to go see Santa, and don't get me started about a giant hopping rodent leaving unfertilized multi-colored chicken embryos laying around.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect 200 Dinar

I once wrote this in a notebook during my mildly angsty high school years: "Progress - or what you notice you're not making." I thought of this little aphorism today as I read the headline, "President says Iraq progress too slow." Now that Pinhead has made it clear that we are staying until the mission is complete, I guess it's important for us to know what that mission might be.
In a conference today with Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, prominent Shiite cleric, the Pinhead in charge said, "I told him that we're not satisfied with the pace of progress in Iraq, and that we want to continue to work with the sovereign government of Iraq." At this point, it should be noted that al-Hakim leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest Shiite bloc in Iraq's parliament. His party also is backed by the Badr Brigade militia blamed for sectarian killings. He lived in exile in Iran for years, and is considered by some a more powerful political figure than Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This is one of the "good guys." Last week it was suggested that the cleric was expecting to try to persuade Bush to enlist Iran's help in quelling violence in Iraq.
Are you dizzy yet? Iran is going to help quell violence in Iraq, specifically that sectarian violence such as that engaged in by the Badr Brigade. I think the whole thing would be much easier if there was a series of trading cards with vital statistics, affiliations and alliances printed on the back. They could be marketed to kids as "Iraqemon" - and peace in the Middle East could be brokered by children in our nation's school yards.
Now that's what I call progress.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Life Is A Movie, Write Your Own Ending

In Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five," when Billy Pilgrim praises the peacefulness of Tralfamadore, the aliens inform him that Tralfamadorians are at war sometimes and at peace at others. They add that they know how the universe will end: one of their pilots will accidentally blow it up. It always happens the same way and that is how the moment is structured. They state that war cannot be prevented on Tralfamadore any more than it can on Earth.
I read that book when I was a teenager. At that time, I was already up to my armpits in nihilism, and this turned out to be a little like throwing lighter fluid on a fire. Now I had my private joke with Kurt and the millions of other disgruntled adolescents who kept their dog-eared copy in their school backpacks. The end of the world is coming, but it doesn't matter since there's nothing we can do about it.
I thought about this again today, after decades, and found that I did care if the world ended, and I do care about how it ends, because now I am somebody's father. I want there to be another sunrise. I want the world to keep spinning after I'm sleeping in the dirt. For my son. But now I find myself watching President Pinhead continue to steer the country into the wall of Apocalypse, and it gives me a cold shiver. This is a guy who has seen how the world could end dozens of times, a guy who has looked into the abyss, and this is the guy who keeps accelerating as the darkness approaches. And still the story continues. We hope that we can pick the ending, but most of us continue reading along with our mouths agape.
I don't despair because now I remember the final chapter too: "There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time."
Thank you, Kurt. Hello. Goodbye.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Armageddon Time

I dug holes today. I planted Sticky Monkey and Goldenrod. I learned again about the importance of our wetlands. "Our" wetlands. That's the piece that stuck with me. As a teacher, when I go out and participate in these educational environmental experiences, I always come away with a good dose of civic pride, and a healthy bit of new information, plus more than just a smattering of guilt.
Did you know that ninety-three percent of the wetlands surrounding the Oakland Estuary have been paved over, filled in, or lost to the ages? Did you know that absent wetlands were one of the major causes for the catastrophic losses of Hurricane Katrina? Did you know that most of he world's oxygen comes from phyloplankton, not trees?
What were we thinking these past one hundred and fifty years? Didn't we know that the Clapper Rail would be nearly extinct if we kept encroaching on their habitat? Have you ever seen a Clapper Rail? I lived here in the Bay Area for fifteen years before I ever saw a Clapper Rail, but now I feel a tremendous responsibility to save these odd little birds and their homes.
And where are those homes? Just down the street from me, in the estuary that leads to the San Francisco Bay. When that hurricane comes, I'll be huddling in my basement, hoping that the wetlands break up the massive storm surge waves - or at least seven percent of them - breathing the last few breaths of phyloplankton oxygen as I feed another mussel to the Clapper Rail who is shivering in the corner of the converted dog carrier next to me. It's a terrifying existence.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Scotty, We Need More Power!

There's nothing really tasteful going on in my front yard right now. The sun has gone down, it's after Thanksgiving, and so that means the Holiday Magic has begun. I sit up here looking out the window, wondering just how many gallons of crude fossil fuel I am burning every hour with the display I insist on lighting up every night from the last week of November until we toss our old calendars into the recycling bin. If you listen carefully, you can hear the allosauruses squealing over the sound of sleigh bells jingling.
A lot of my hypocrisy is embedded deeply in my sense of tradition. The Cavens have a long and storied tradition of lighting up the winter nights. I can remember a number of evenings when the show outside combined with the lights on the tree would trip a circuit breaker, and we would all sit around in the dark for several minutes, trying to imagine what appliance we could do without in order to keep the twinkle lights from going dark again.
Still, I think there's something about living here in California that has made the obsession grow even stronger. I have a seven foot tall inflatable snowman on my front lawn. As a kid growing up in Colorado, we were a traditional big-bulb, single strand under the eaves family. Now that I'm in charge, I'm climbing up into trees, and experimenting with rope lights and four different extension cords. There really isn't much competition around. Our house is the most belighted in the entire neighborhood. In years past, there was a family that had a pair of those reindeer effigies, but it was hard to take them seriously, since they kept them on their roof year-round.
In another three hours, the show will be over for another night, and the people next door will be able to get some sleep - until tomorrow at sundown when the whole thing starts over again. In the words of the poet Dennis DeYoung:
Light up everybody
Join us in this celebration
Light up and be happy
Sweet, sweet sounds will fill the air

Thursday, November 30, 2006

This Too Shall Pass

Today I celebrated the nominal anniversary of the last time I had a sick day. Three years ago, on the Thursday after Thanksgiving, I passed a kidney stone. To celebrate this blessed event, I took a day off. That and because I couldn't escape the horrible burning pain that roared through my lower abdomen.
Let me back up and begin again. Three years ago, after I had done my annual ten kilometer run on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I neglected to hydrate myself properly. This combined with the excessive amount of Coca-Cola that I had to drink in the week preceding the event and the calcium supplements that I had been taking to help me sleep left me with an excessive amount of calcium in my system. Excessive to the point of ridiculous. When it all got dried out and run through my kidneys, there were some nasty large bits referred to politely as "stones" that would not go lightly into the good night. Or into anything. They were stuck there. Waiting for their chance to spring on their unsuspecting victim.
That victim would be me. The Thursday after we returned from Thanksgiving, I woke up feeling like I might be "coming down with something." I did my cautionary vitamin C, and took an extra few deep breaths before I climbed on my bike to pedal to school. Before morning recess, I had begun to sweat, and nausea was making me feel foolish for not calling for a substitute before I left the house. Still, I'm a good soldier, and I figured I could tough it out a few more hours and then go home and collapse.
That's when the cramps started. I consider my threshold for pain to be fairly high, but these pains were all but folding me in half. I excused myself and made it across the hall to the Teacher's Lounge (toilet). I tried in vain to imagine what alien creature might be trying to gnaw its way through me from the inside, recalling wistfully my previous experience with food poisoning. Did that hurt this much?
I pulled myself together enough to waddle back across the hall and send my kids out to recess, then headed back to the Lounge to try and turn inside out. The only solace I found was the cool tile floor, and I began to wonder if I might die there, and how long it would take for the paramedics to find me, since the downstairs Teacher's Lounge (toilet) was so rarely used. By this time, the pains had become most pronounced and specific in their aim and direction. I thought about how I had, in my youth, torn a number of Gumby dolls apart by pulling their legs apart.
Another pause allowed me to hobble up the stairs to the office to ask if someone could take my class until I came back from the brink of death. The looks on the faces of the office staff confirmed my suspicions. I had already died and hadn't taken the body's subtle hints. I was sweating profusely and could no longer feel my finger tips or my lips. Someone suggested that I sit down and wait, but I knew that recess had just ended and my class needed to be picked up off the yard. Another trip to the playground and back down the stairs to my classroom, and I vaguely remember pleading with my students for their sympathy. When at last my relief arrived, I headed back up the stairs to the office, where I was given a ride to the emergency room.
What I remember the most about that trip was how I left a sobbing message for my wife because I felt certain that I would never see her again. I also remember the story I heard about the guy who was driving me, and how his appendix ruptured because of George Bush I's motorcade. He was sure that I had a ruptured appendix. I had no reason to doubt him. Of course, if you had told me at that point that I was about to have kittens, I would have believed it.
There are those who will tell you that passing a kidney stone is a painful as childbirth. If that's true, then I must say that passing a kidney stone has to be worse. Giving birth has a wonderful side effect. When you pass a kidney stone, the doctor shows you a little grain of sand, "There it is." That's it? "That's what was causing all the trouble." For this I went into shock and was nearly sawed in half and got to jump to the front of the line in the emergency line and got a big old shot of morphine?
For the next few weeks there was a lot of interest by doctors and my wife about what went into and out of me. Samples were collected and disseminated. Every trip to the bathroom was an adventure and a possible collapse. I took a long weekend to recover. Since then, I have been healthy enough to make it to school every day. Head colds or a little cough just mean I move a little slower. After all, I lived through a kidney stone. When I give birth in my classroom, I'll take off another day.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hi, We're The Opening Band...

For the second time in my life, I bought an album by the opening band. To be more specific, I downloaded Mike Doughty's CD from iTunes after I got home from the Barenaked Ladies show last night. It was an impulse buy with the purest possible motives.
I've always had a soft spot for the opening act. They get to plug into the headliner's PA, but the mix is always just a little rough. There are always a group of well-wishers in the very front row cheering them on while the auditorium fills with people looking for their seats - or the nearest restroom, or both. They make the most out of the space they are given on the stage apron and the wild applause generated by the friends of the band. They've got thirty minutes to play their set while the roadies for the main attraction work out the kinks in the fog machines and lasers backstage.
If they're lucky, the crowd isn't openly hostile to them. For many opening acts, this is a fact of life on the road. The are the obstacle between the fans and the object of their adoration. "If I wanted to see Mike Doughty, I would have paid to see Mike Doughty." Much derisive applause erupts at the suggestion that they're "going to play just one more." I imagine that the self esteem of these burgeoning rock stars must be very durable indeed.
I remember seeing Ellen Foley open for The Electric Light Orchestra back in the early eighties. She was full of punk attitude, and she wasn't connecting with the ELO crowd at all. She was finally booed off the stage after just four songs. Jeff Lynne and company took the stage forty-five minutes later and played to a series of pre-recorded tracks and special effects that included a poor imitation of R2-D2. I was left wondering what the rest of Ellen's set was like.
Back to that impulse buy. I went to see Warren Zevon, God Rest His Soul, in 1991. Opening for him, and eventually joining him on stage, was a Canadian group called The Odds. They seemed to understand their place on the show business food chain better than most, and they played their set with confidence and their tongues firmly in cheek at all times. They knew that the guy in the twenty-second row hadn't paid to hear their new single, he was getting drunk in anticipation of singing "Werewolves of London" at the top of his tone-impaired voice. When they were through, I wanted to hear more, so the next day I went out and bought "Neopolitan." Their amusing power pop from north of the border was probably the reason I sought out Barenaked Ladies. Fifteen years later, I had a very enjoyable evening of music and comedy provided by this group of Canucks. And the bonus? I discovered Mike Doughty. Nice deal, eh?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Yada, Yada Yada

When I think about the times in my life that I couldn't get a word in edgewise, I think of conversations I had with my younger brother. These weren't conversations in the traditional sense, where one person speaks, the other listens and considers a response, then takes a turn speaking while the other listens. My younger brother has some zen-yogi master way of circular breathing that allows him to speak even while he is gathering air. Please understand, I find him fascinating, but sometimes I feel the need to take notes so that later I can respond to the often lyrical and amusing notions that pour out of his head.
The other thing that should be pointed out at this juncture is the fact that there were several years in which my younger brother said nothing. It wasn't like he took a vow of silence, he had one enforced on him by his older brothers. His "quiet time" came about primarily from the luck of the draw, being the youngest, and therefore he got stuck listening to his older brothers and his father hold court at the dinner table, and social gatherings, and antisocial gatherings. All of this stifling led, no doubt, to his rather profound ability to walk and talk in his sleep. It was the only time that was left for him to be interactive.
Then, suddenly, there were no more roadblocks to his train of thought. When my older brother and I left the house, suddenly his voice rang out. A decade and a half of sitting quietly while the same tired stories and heated objections were passed around in front of him, the way was cleared for him to spout forth. His monologue began slowly, but began to build steam as he went to college, and then to the free speech haven that is California.
And this brings me, at last, to my point. Dr Luan Brizendine of the University of California says the average woman works her way through 20,000 words per day, compared with just 7,000 for the average male. This "self-proclaimed feminist" psychiatrist has arrived at this conclusion after years of research (and plenty of discussion, no doubt), saying "women devote more brain cells to talking than men." I think it's even easier to figure out than that. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that we lived in a world where women were kept out of the "really big conversations" about politics and religion for thousands of years. Wouldn't they eventually find other avenues of expression? Constant elucidation on their own state of affairs and feelings with their female counterparts, while men sat in rooms, glumly mumbling to one another about stock prices or global thermonuclear war. If you can imagine a planet like this, it's no wonder women talk so much.
It's not so much a matter of brain chemistry as much as keeping a genie in a bottle. If you don't believe me, ask my younger brother - just make sure you have a few minutes to spare.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Big Pitch

Ed Begley Jr. wants you to buy an electric car. He wants you to buy an electric car now. What are you waiting for? Are you waiting until there is a truly versatile hybrid engine? Are you waiting for a wider selection of models and sizes? Are you waiting to find out who the heck Ed Begley Jr. is?
The easy answer would be that he is the son of Ed Begley, noted character actor. Ed Jr. is also a thespian (not that there's anything wrong with that), and is perhaps best known for his role as Doctor Victor Ehrlich on the NBC series "St. Elsewhere." One might have gotten a whiff of what he was to become watching the existential struggles of a California surf boy shoved through the intense regimen of becoming a surgeon in an urban Boston hospital. Truth is, Ed was busy with the whole "save the planet" thing while Woody Harrelson was weaving hemp hairpieces for Ted Danson. A vegetarian for many years, his home is completely solar powered and he usually rides bicycles or uses public transportation.
Did you know this? In 1990, the auto industry was forced into the electric car business when CaliforniaÂ’s Air Resources Board (CARB) took the audacious step of establishing a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program: 2% of the vehicles produced for sale in California had to be ZEVs, increasing to 5% in 2001 and 10 percent in 2003. So what happened to the fourthousandd battery-powered ZEVs placed in California by major automakers between 1998 and 2003? (Most of the cars were leased rather than sold.) Despite the overwhelming enthusiasm and advocacy of electric car drivers, Ford, GM, Honda, and Toyota have all scrapped their electric vehicle (EV) programs, saying there's just no market for the cars. Don't tell this to Ed. He's been driving an electric car since 1970 - sure it was essentially a golf cart with windshield wipers, but that was thirty-six years ago. There are many moreoptionss today.
Are you convinced yet? It wouldn't have to be one of those little nodule sized "cars of the future." How about if you could still drive an SUV? The truck that Ed wants you to buy can go one hundred miles on a charge, has a top speed of ninety miles an hour, and can be charged from a dryer outlet in about six hours. It's a truck, kids. It's made by Phoenix Motorcars, and you can get one next year. Now you're ready to whine about how fossil fuel burning power plants make the electricity for these vehicles. Put a solar panel on your garage and quit your whining. And make Ed happy.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Pick Up The Pace

Somewhere around the third mile, I lost Yellow Hat. He had been just off my left shoulder for some time, and I expected to use him to pace myself through the second half of the race. Then I looked up and saw him ten yards ahead, then twenty. Where was this kick coming from? Why wasn't I moving ahead with him?
It seemed like a good way to keep myself connected to my yearly physical exultation. Most of the time when I run, I go about three miles with the attendant potty stops for the dog. Once a year I sign myself up for a ten kilometer race, just to see how I stack up. I used to wear a watch to time myself, since I routinely had people asking me what my pace per mile was. I have often wondered how it could possibly matter, since the days of my competitive running have passed by decades ago. Now it's mostly about the exertion and the knowledge that I ran the whole way without stopping.
Today, however, was a little different. It was a cool morning and I was feeling good, even though I dragged myself and my family out of bed and across the Bay Bridge to run in San Francisco as the sun was beginning to peek through the morning fog. I left my wife and son at the start, where they took off on their own five kilometer odyssey. I turned to the right and picked up Yellow Hat's pace because it seemed about right and he had a way of navigating the crowded first mile that worked for me.
For two miles I took turns staying just ahead or just behind Yellow Hat. I have no way of knowing if he was aware of our connection. Mostly, we just picked it up and put it down. Over and over. Then came mile three. I could feel my left leg complaining about the knee that was repaired so many years ago. The ligaments were straining and turning my foot out, so I had to compensate to keep my stride straight. When I recovered my focus, Yellow Hat was gone. Going up the hill I looked for him, hoping to catch a glimpse aided by the angle of the course. I pushed on up the hill, swishing and gargling a cup full of cool water, but not swallowing any for fear of cramping.
By mile five I had resigned myself to never seeing Yellow Hat again. I saw Yellow Shirt ahead, and lengthened my stride to catch her. I caught her on the crest of the last hill on the course and never looked back. My mind did the simple math that told me I had less than a mile to go, and so I pushed still harder, hoping to catch Yellow Hat at the finish line.
That never happened. When all was said and done, I had run ten kilometers (6.2 miles) in just about an hour. I think I ran a little faster than I ran last year. I met my wife and son at the fountain as we had agreed, then we all went to grab our swag. I looked for Yellow Hat in the milling crowd, but I'm sure that he had already taken his bag of Power Bars and Propel Fitness Water and headed for home. Thanks for the race, see you next year.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

These Kids Came To Play

I can now acknowledge that the people that I watch each weekend and depend upon for my ongoing moods and hopes are all about half my age. These are kids, for the most part, and why I would choose to hang my dreams on the actions and efforts of a group of boys who have only recently begun driving legally.
The rational response would be to admit that I have a problem, and move on to step two. Instead, I use this opportunity to reflect on my own experience on the gridiron. When I was very young, we played football in the backyard. Not our backyard, since we had a dog and all the attendant challenges and messes that would allow. We played on my friend's lawn because we could play tackle. That was when I used to be called "Tank." I would not be stopped.
As we grew out of the backyard, we moved to the street. There was a good deal of incidental contact, but the rule was pretty solidly two hand touch - below the waist for the sticklers - and "all pass." This rendered the "Tank" obsolete. Street football is a game for the fleet of foot. Typical huddles included the instructions, "Buttonhook after the driveway" or "Go long past the station wagon." You were not allowed to rush the quarterback until after you had counted five Mississippi, or bananas. We would play until the streetlights came on, or until it got dark enough that someone caught a ball with their nose.
As a fourth grader, I joined Young America Football. My team was the Patriots. We practiced hard, got to wear pads, and played tackle. I learned that my size and speed would earn me a spot on the offensive line. I learned the difference between run blocking and pass protection was largely a matter of a few seconds. I learned that chewing on a mint-flavored mouthguard is a mildly reflective habit.
I waited until I was in eighth grade before I went out for the team again. This time I played on the middleweight team. I have a very vivid memory of my responsibility on punt coverage, as I recall my coach grabbing me by the facemask and screaming it at me after I had allowed a punt return for a touchdown.
It may have been at that precise moment that I decided to let somebody else take care of my football dreams. It's a whole lot easier to watch.

Friday, November 24, 2006

"When Black Friday comes. I'll collect everything I'm owed"

I remember when our President told us to go shopping to help the country through the trauma of the September 11 attacks. I understand the power of retail therapy, and I sometimes find myself standing in Best Buy with a glazed look on my face as I try to make sense of my life by purchasing consumer electronics.
Still, I have a hard time imagining why anyone would drag themselves out of a warm bed before five o'clock in the morning to participate in what has become affectionately known as "Black Friday." For many, this is the opening round in a month-long frenzy of high-stakes capitalism that ends with Christmas, or the cancellation of your Visa card, whichever comes first. Black Friday is typically the busiest shopping day of the year in terms of customer traffic, it is not typically the day with the highest sales volume. That is usually either Christmas Eve, the last Saturday before Christmas, or December 26th. Even so, the local news teams were out in force with on the spot coverage of people spending money on Black Friday.
That name. Where have I heard it before? As it happens, there are dozens of "Black Fridays" throughout history, beginning in 1869 and continuing right up until 2004. Many of them have to do with financial crisis, but many of them refer to civil and domestic unrest. Maybe that's where the connection is made. Armies of slack-jawed bargain hunters take to the street with their bodies still suffering the effects of tryptophan overdose, looking to finish their Christmas shopping in the six hours allotted them to sleep off those same symptoms.
I stayed close to home today. I heard the traffic helicopters churning overhead, getting a good look at the parking lot at Wal-Mart. I wanted no part of it. I'll be doing all my purchases on-line this year, just as soon as I get the new Archie McPhee catalog.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Prairie Home Companion

How was the drive? How were the roads? Can I take your coats? Did you bring the extra cooler? Do you want some help up the stairs? Who's watching the dog while you're away? Did you bring the grasshopper pie? How many rolls did you eat last year? Do you want to put that in the refrigerator? How's school? How's that nephew of mine? Want a pickle? Do you want to see pictures from our trip? What's new?
All of that before we had even gotten in the door. The Great Big Family Thanksgiving On The Farm. We tensed for it. We cooked for days in anticipation. We packed our play clothes for after dinner. We secretly wished that we could have Thanksgiving at our house so that we could see the whole Macy's parade. We all packed into the car with coolers and boxes full of food that would be effectively unnecessary but nonetheless required. We drove for hours until we reached the cousins' house.
A good year would give us clear weather and dry roads, but hefty drifts of snow to remind us of the season. The snow would provide us with the recreation to work up a hunger for a second helping of turkey, potatoes, yams, stuffing (aptly named), gravy, and another half dozen rolls. The danger was not usually in the extreme motor sports that our cousins would provide for us to enjoy, but that we might not have room for dessert afterward.
When the sun went down and we were back inside, the grownups would pass the bottle of Cold Duck around while the kids huddled around the television, anticipating one more pass at the bountiful leftovers. Eventually it would be time to pack up and leave, bellies full and coolers empty. Fat, happy, and thankful.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

In Loving Memory of Giff Eddy - Beloved CPK

I've done my time stuffing various toys and small parts of toys down toilet paper tubes. By the way, if you can fit any part of any toy through the circumference of an ordinary toilet paper tube, that means that you are a parent. The folks over at Mattel sure took their sweet time figuring this out, as they decided to recall 2.4 million Polly Pocket doll play sets after three children suffered serious injuries from swallowing small magnetic parts. They don't recall toys because they are incredibly lame (like Polly Pocket), those toys just end up on the Clearance shelf at your local Toys R Us. As if to prove my point, Mattel is suing competitor MGA Entertainment for allegedly stealing the concept for the popular Bratz doll by recruiting former Mattel employees and convincing them to surrender valuable trade secrets.
An urban encephalitic version of Barbie? Why aren't they recalling those? Bratz probably won't kill anybody, but they're not exactly adding to anybody's quality of life. Not like the TMX Elmo, which is already fetching one and a half times its retail price on Ebay. Supply and demand, baby, that's the name of the game. Every year some toy manufacturer wins the lottery because of labor shortages and hype and gets picked as the must-have item on every child's list.
I lived through the 1984 Cabbage Patch Kid Onslaught when I was working at Target. Happily, my contact with the rabid buying public was limited, as I was only unloading trucks at the time. Harried teenagers in red vests would come to us on the dock with a desperate look in their eyes, pleading with us to unload "those damn dolls" as quickly as possible. Sensing the fear in these poor souls, we pulled as many of the big headed (sensing a trend here?) creatures from the trailer as we could and piled them on a rolling cart. The red-vested victim would then wheel the cart slowly to the swinging doors, and out onto the killing floor. They were lucky to come back with all their limbs and eyes intact. It was capitalism at its most frenzied. Six months later, a thin layer of dust began to appear on the display as consumers walked past with vague indifference. It was during this lull that my room mate "adopted" his very own, Giff Eddy. He sat in a corner, mint in box (for the most part) until he moved away to New Jersey.
Here's what I noticed: Nobody every died from playing with a Cabbage Patch kid, but I don't know if the same can be said for those who were sent to their local toy retailer to purchase same. In this way, it would seem that the safer the toy is for kids, the more dangerous they are for adults.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanks For Listening

In a surprising bit of moral victory, Fox TV has cancelled plans to air O.J. Simpson's "hypothetical" account of the killings of his ex-wife and her good friend/waiter/lover Ronald Goldman. This really is a victory of morals, as it shows that perhaps as a nation, we may have finally been tweaked to the point of squealing "Enough!"
What about the central figures in this media circus? On the flying trapeze, we have Ms. Judith Regan: Under a barrage of criticism, she says she published O.J. Simpson's book "If I Did It" because she was a victim of domestic violence and thought the proceeds would go to Simpson's children. Meanwhile, in the lion cage, Rupert Murdoch held forth: "I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project," said Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp, which owns both FOX and the bookÂ’s publisher through HarperCollins, ReganBooks. "We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson." Piling out of the clown car in front of the grandstand is O.J.'s lawyer: The latest issue of Newsweek quotes Yale Galanter as saying he's "p*ssed" about Simpson's deal for the upcoming book "If I Did It," adding, "I definitely would not have approved this ... I wouldn't have done it for a gazillion dollars."
And in the center ring - well, the center ring is empty. As it should be. Innocent or guilty, the twisted soul of Orenthal James Simpson will not be on display anytime soon. The spotlight can be turned off, the tents can be rolled back up, and the show can move on. Now we can get back to using our public airwaves for what they were intended - watching football stars do the merengue, and survivors on desert islands both real and imagined.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Up And Down, In And Out

The options have been dubbed "Go Home," "Go Big" and "Go Longer." These were the choices suggested by a Pentagon panel to improve the situation in Iraq. If it all sounds a lot like sports metaphor, then maybe we should dig a little deeper.
Thirty-plus years ago, Chevy Chase reported on Weekend Update that "Marines are pulling out of Angola. A frustrated Angola couldn't be reached for comment." The Pentagon has already dismissed the "Go Home" option anyway, as they felt it was likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown civil war, as opposed to the trial version in which they are currently participating.
I get e-mail all the time suggesting that I should "Go Big." I tend to delete these as a matter of course, since even peeking at them suggests that I may lack a certain, ahem, confidence and maturity. For Iraqi purposes, "Go Big" would mean more troops from America, participating in that previously mentioned trial-size civil war.
"Go Long" is all about endurance. The song "Workin' In A Coal Mine" includes the marginally musical question: "How long can this go on?" Metaphysically speaking, it will go on as long as it needs to, and since the history of conflict in this region is approximately as long as history, we can only assume that the United States will do all that it can to satisfy the burgeoning democracy and the flowering of liberty.
If it's all the same to you, I'm just going to roll over and go back to sleep.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

TV Party

About fifteen years ago, I stopped reading Rolling Stone on a regular basis. This was primarily because I had to tear out half a dozen scented fragrance ads, and wade through twenty pages of ads for anorexic boys wearing underwear. The other reason was that culturally I was out of step. I would turn to the back page to see how many of the top one hundred albums I could imagine owning. Once that number dipped below zero, I felt more comfortable with my memories of Rolling Stone, rather than the corporate reality that it had become.
Last week when I was in the grocery store, I picked up a copy of TV Guide while I was waiting to check out. The most startling realization was the most obvious - it had swollen to twice the size. No longer "digest size," TV Guide now contains more stories, and fewer listings. In other words, they're dropping the "guide" part. This saddens me, as I can remember anxiously awaiting the arrival of each week's issue and planning my TV viewing for the upcoming week. This magazine was my lifestyle contouring guide.
I live in a Tivo world now. Why would I need a TV Guide to tell me which shows I have no intention of watching? A study conducted by Harris Interactive suggests that the television industry's obsession with youth is backfiring. Getting at the prized 18-49 year old demographic is vital for the evil geniuses who run TV. ABC and NBC conduct all of their business with advertisers in the 18-to-49 demo. From a financial standpoint, if you're 50 or over, you mean nothing to those networks' executives. For Fox, the CW, MTV, BET and countless other networks, even 40 is too old.
I haven't watched an episode of "Lost." Or "Grey's Anatomy." Or "Dancing With The Stars." ABC has become the place where I watch college football. I did try an episode of "Heros," but I have already lived through my otherworldly obtuse phase with "Twin Peaks." I no longer watch "ER" because all they killed all the people my age to make room for more airplane crashes. I have become that crabby old man. "You kids and your 'reality TV.' When I was a boy we had one reality show and the host was Walter Cronkite - and we liked it that way." Now that "Saturday Night Live" has become a punchline for two different NBC shows, I no longer feel any guilt for "missing" it.
It's not going to be long before my son finds himself in the sights of that target demographic. Nickelodeon already has their hooks in him, and he's already figured out how to program the Tivo. I'm a little bit afraid. And a little jealous.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Opportunity Knocks

Given my rather dark mood of yesterday, imagine my great relief when I opened my electronic mailbox this morning to find this message:
"I do recognised the surprise this letter will bring to you, most especially as it comes from a stranger. My name is Mr. Khalid Utman. I am from Dubai. I have been diagnosed with Esophageal cancer. It has defiled all forms of medical treatment, and right now I have only about a few months to live, according to medical experts. I have not particularly lived my life so well, as I never really cared for anyone (not even myself) but my business."
Okay - so maybe that in itself isn't such great news, but it turns out that Mr. Utman, in a change of heart almost Grinch-like in its three-sizes change, has decided to "close one of my accounts and distribute the money which I have there to charity organization in United States, Asia, Middle East & Europe." What a humanitarian! Sadly, even though he has already showered his immediate and extended family with riches, they are unwilling to help him carry out his most benevolent wishes. Can you imagine that?
This guy just wants to give something back - to the tune of eighty million U.S. dollars (which he kindly writes in both word and numerical form, with decimal point). He's looking for someone who is willing to help him in this endeavor. "Kindly note that 40% of this funds must go to victims of Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Wilma and South Asia Earthquake, 55% to other Charity Organizations around the World and 5% for your effort and time." Hey now! Five percent of eighty million is - well, it's a whole lot more than I was going to make this weekend.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Why not call this guy up and check him out to see if he is what he says he is. Sadly, "I cannot talk with you on the phone due to my health situation and reasons in regards to relatives, as I am using my Lap Top Computer to communicate with you. You should respond to this e-mail if you are interested in carrying out this assignment on my behalf." The poor soul has become so gravely ill that he can hardly type, let alone talk on the phone.
What better way to start the blessed holiday season than helping spread a little sunshine (and cash) to those less fortunate? And if I ended up with just a four million dollar slice of that pie for myself? Well, as Mr. Utman so eloquently quotes from the Qaran, "Thou wariest only him who followeth the reminder and fearieth the beneficent in secret to him bear tiding of forgiveness and a rich reward." Boy howdy. Maybe I should set about reading the Qaran...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Well It's Been Ten Years Or Maybe More...

I tried to sneak past this one, but it jumped up and bit me just the same. November's just not as easy as October yet. I had a lot of synergy pointing me at my father's memory in the past week, with a pair of trips past the airport in Oakland, where I had my last bear hug from the man who gave me my hairline. A lot of people will tell you that you get your receding hairline from your mother's side of the family. I'm here to tell you that's a lot of hooey.
Aside from the vast expanse of scalp that I have grown into, my father gave me an endless array of truly horrible jokes. I would like to confess that I have done nothing but add to that repertoire over the years, but some of my best knee-jerk responses came from my old man (emphasis on the "jerk"). I know that I learned the value of a hard day's work from him as well. He was the guy who chopped wood by the light of a Coleman lantern before we were old or crazy enough to do it.
I don't miss him so much as I miss the idea of him. I've got his smile in my head and a series of snapshots that give me scrapbook memories. That's not the whole, it's just a piece. Just like this date in November that snuck up on me while I was busy doing all my other dad and teacher and husband and citizen duties. It's a signpost up ahead. It's the Twilight Zone. It's the abyss and it's heaven and it's hell and it's another day. Today my father is more notably missing from my life. Today it feels like a horrible cheat that my son doesn't know the man that shares his name. He knows of him, and if I have my way, he'll get sick of hearing about him.
That's what I do. I'll wallow for a few more hours, then listen to Steve Goodman sing "My Old Man," and head on into the next day. And I'll remember then, too.