Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bang, Bang, Shoot, Shoot

... always keep it loaded... - "Glorified G" Pearl Jam
At three thirty this morning I was awakened by seven gunshots. The first broke me out of sleep, and then I counted them, wishing for them to be less regular, and perhaps just a leftover Chinese New Year noise maker. Somewhere within a block or two from my house, someone was firing a weapon.
How you gonna come? With your hands on your head Or on the trigger of your gun? "Guns of Brixton" The Clash
I remembered something my older brother had told me about the sound of gunfire. He said it sounds more like fireworks than most fireworks. It's more of a popping sound. I tried to imagine the firework that could make such a methodical rhythm. Whatever made this sound didn't have a fuse. It had a trigger.
Nothing touched the trigger but the devil's right hand ... "The Devil's Right Hand" Steve Earle
I got out of bed and listened for the roar of engines and the squeal of tires. I listened for voices crying out into the night. There was only the hum of the refrigerator and the sleeping sounds of my family. I walked into our front room and looked out on the street. Nothing moved.
Little people, with tiny brains Little bullets flowing, in their veins... "Little Guns" Oingo Boingo
As I stood shivering in the dark, the mental image of myself in underwear staring out into the dark came to me from the street. If someone was outside with a gun, and I'm standing there as a great big pasty target, would I be worth a shot? I took a step back into the shadows and soothed my own paranoia.
Check out my new weapon, weapon of choice... "Weapon of Choice" Fatboy Slim
I live in Oakland, where one hundred and fifty people were shot last year. This year, that trend is down slightly, but the sound of a gun in the middle of the night is still something short of a novelty in my world. The odd coincidence is that the five songs that are excerpted above were all selected by me as part of a themed set played earlier in the day, based in part on my son's fascination with guns and ammo. As I went back to bed in the wee hours of the night, I wondered about my own feelings. Was I out of bed hoping for some vicarious thrill, or was I merely the concerned citizen? What had I hoped to see? If a gun shot in a forest doesn't hit anything, does it make a sound? It took me some time to get back to sleep.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Right Man For The Job

It's been a long time since I had to interview for a job. Last summer I came close when I wandered around Boulder and its outlying suburban areas in search for a job that my niece would be willing to do during her senior year in high school. That was easy enough, since I had little or no worries about approaching the management of this novelty store or that beauty shop asking for an application. "It's for my seventeen year old niece," I would assure them as they gave me a courteous smile. I even stood behind her while she dutifully filled out an on-line form inside a Target store that once employed me. I felt that she was a legacy, and destined to follow in my footsteps.
In the end, she got her own job, and good for her. As for me, I have remained conveniently and, for the most part, happily employed at the same school for ten years. There was a moment, a few years back when the district began shaking its employment tree in hopes of getting more staff cohesion (or something like that). I had to interview for the job that I had been doing for the previous six years. Many of my fellow teachers viewed this as an insult and chose to change schools rather than go through the indignity. I chose to see it as an opportunity to sharpen my interpersonal skills. At some level, I suppose that anyone who would submit themselves to the interviewing process willingly for a job that didn't have a line forming behind it was already looking like a good candidate for the position. Still, I gave it my all. I remembered all the interviews that I had conducted as a warehouse manager and tried to appear as the person that I would want to hire. I am very good at the "team player" concept and make a very snappy impression. Only on the way out of the interview did it occur to me that I was essentially stuck being that person for the duration of my stay at Horace Mann Elementary school.
Now it's been another three years, and I'm staring at a form that asks if I am interested in an inter-district transfer. I have this vision of "Mister Caven's Opus" in which I am ceremoniously carted out of the building after thirty years of dedicated service, having served my entire teaching career at one location. Students who were once wide-eyed elementary schoolers are now parents sending their children to me to learn the magic of algebra and homophones. The auditorium is full of former colleagues and teacher's pets. I say a few choice remarks, and off I ride into the sunset, ready to spend my remaining years basking in reflective glory.
Of course, it never hurts to sharpen those interview skills.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Follically Challenged

When I think of bald heads, I think of classics like Yul Brynner, or Michael Jordan. Just this past week I saw an old picture of Mike when he was playing at the University of North Carolina. It got me to thinking about how fortunate I am to have a skull that allows exhibition to the rest of the world. The husband of one of my dear friends decided to shave his head a year or so ago and it turned out that his cabeza was not ready for prime time. This meant an uncomfortable period of weeks during which all the bumps and scars that were once kept quietly shrouded in a protective envelope of fur were on display for all to see.
Early in my adolescence I began to subscribe to my father's assertion that "God made a lot of good heads, and the ones he messed up he covered with hair." My forehead was high even back in kindergarten, so I had resigned myself to a life of hair challenges. In high school I gave one last shot at tonsorial splendour by growing a shaggy little afro that managed to hold off the inevitable for a few more years. By the time I was a junior in college, no one was checking my I.D. Still, when the drunken bets started up - "I'll give you fifty bucks to shave your head," - I passed. I was still vainly attached to my vanity. "Hair makes the man," right?
Imagine Donald Trump without his signature comb-over. On April 1, Vince McMahon and Donald Trump will have a wrestler compete on each's behalf in the "Battle of the Billionaires" at WrestleMania 23 in Detroit. If Umaga beats Bobby Lashley, McMahon will give Trump a buzzcut. If Lashley, Trump's rep, wins, McMahon will sport a new look. No word on exactly what look McMahon might end up with, but anything would be an improvement. If the Donald's scalp is as terrifying as the follicles that currently surround it, then we could be in for a very ugly revelation.
In the end, any transaction that takes place on a pay-per-view event that features fake wrestling on April Fool's Day is suspect in the extreme, and I can only hope that both men give their wager the honor and respect that it so richly deserves. And now, Yul Brynner with hair.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Thank You For Your Support

I am a registered Democrat. That doesn't have nearly the sting it had just two short years ago, but I feel as though I still have a lot left to live down before the next two years are through. Someone has to step up and grab that brass ring, and the sad fact of our process is that Democrats are going to have to beat each other silly through a series of contentious primaries before we have a chance to see how our candidate stacks up against "theirs."
Now, as a point of further confession, I will admit to being a fan of John Edwards. This is based almost exclusively on the fact that he declared his 2004 candidacy for president on "The Daily Show." Back in 2003, Jon Stewart asked Senator Edwards why he was announcing his candidacy when it was clear he was already running. Edwards replied, "I don't know if you've been following the polls, but I think it will actually be news to most people that I'm running for president of the United States."
That was one ugly election ago, and now John is back in the race, and this time there is plenty of fanfare accompanying his campaign. In case you missed it, his wife's diagnosis of terminal cancer has done nothing but energize their effort. Since last Thursday, Edwards has collected about $540,000 online. That's Hillary-type money. That's Obama-type money. This is the part where it starts to feel a little like a telethon. Are we supporting John Edwards' agenda, or the courage of his valiant wife?
And now the third part of the confession: I'm not so sure I'm a John Edwards fan anymore. As a husband, I can't imagine what a career-affirming moment if must have been for John to get the world's greatest "attaboy" from his wife. I also can't imagine that becoming leader of the free world would replace a single moment that I could have shared with my wife. Yes, I understand that she is completely invested in her husband's vision for the country. Yes, I understand that they must have spent many sleepless nights discussing their possible futures. Yes, I understand that they are consenting adults. Sorry, the whole thing makes me feel buckets of creepy. In the meantime, I wish them both well, and I think I'll wait for Jon Stewart to introduce me to my next dark horse.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Perfect Storm

The assistant principal and I had a big laugh together this morning. Somebody had broken into the school, kicked in the door to the office, then did an even better job of booting the door of our principal - to the point of knocking the door jam off the wall and halfway across the room. There was a muddy footprint on both doors when we came in this morning. The police had already been there - including the K-9 unit. We looked around, but we couldn't discover anything missing. This is probably about the time we busted out laughing. The intruder hadn't even bothered to disturb our principal's cache of granola bars.
The other reason we were yukking it up was that we could remember a decade of break-ins and vandalism. The fact that we weren't immediately faced with moving classrooms to another part of the building while repairs were done, or that we weren't out in front of the school doing our best to shield whatever innocence might be left in our kids by distracting them as they walked past three-foot (often misspelled) expletives. This was pretty low on the scale of violations.
This past summer, our school was "modernized." There are some bits and pieces left to be finished - we haven't had clocks or bells yet this school year - but the building as a whole looks quite nice. All the more reason to flinch when some fifth grader takes his orange Sharpie to the new tile in the stairway, or some of the local miscreants spend the weekend doing stress tests on our new tempered glass windows. It used to make me mad. Now it just seems inevitable, and I end up feeling tired.
Again, we were lucky. Last night at Peralta Elementary, they weren't as fortunate. An arson fire tore through their courtyard, damaging parts of the office, library and adjacent classrooms and canceling school for at least two days. The chaos that erupts when a school is closed for just one day unexpectedly is awesome enough, without figuring in the one-half million dollars in damage done by the fire itself. Schools are supposed to be safe places, after all, havens in the midst of the world's unpredictability. A school should be an island in the middle of that storm.
Maybe that's why we were laughing: We are mates on a ship sailing into that Perfect Storm.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Inquiring Minds

Here's what is missing from your regular "CSI" episode: Anna Nicole Smith accidentally overdosed on at least nine prescription drugs — including a powerful sleep syrup she was known to swig right out of the bottle — after a miserable last few days in which she endured stomach flu, a 105-degree fever, pungent sweating and an infection on her buttocks from repeated injections. I was okay until it got to the part about "pungent sweating." This, I can only assume, is part of the public's right to know. I'm not sure I'll be sleeping any more soundly with the mental image of Ms. Smith's infected buttocks now firmly ensconced in that catalog of visions that are best kept under lock and key.
And now comes the punch line: "She refused to go to the hospital because she wanted to avoid media," attorney Lilly Ann Sanchez said in a news release. "Anna called the shots in Anna's life and everyone close to her knows that." This comes from the attorneys representing Anna's attorney, "husband" and periodic Svengali, Howard K. Stern. You may remember the calm reason that she exhibited as a high school dropout, married at seventeen. Or the cool, calculating Anna from her days as a Playboy Playmate. Or her stint as a reality TV star, the tagline was most likely her ingenious notion: "It's not supposed to be funny. It just is." The only shots Anna called were the ones that were jabbed into her infected buttock.
I want to believe that Horatio Caine might have spared us some of the ugly details.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Modestly Indecent Proposal

"Any president who says, I don't care, or I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else, or I don't care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed — if a president really believes that, then there are — what I was pointing out, there are ways to deal with that."
The "way" that Senator Chuck Hagel was searching for was impeachment. You remember impeachment, don't you? That's the one where a member of the executive branch has committed "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors". It is not removal from office. It is similar to being indicted in criminal law. Nixon resigned before he could be impeached. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 for violating the Tenure of Office Act, and the Senate acquitted him with a single vote. Bill Clinton weathered two articles of impeachment in 1998, one for obstruction of justice and another for perjury. Two additional articles of impeachment failed: one for an additional count of perjury, and another for abuse of power. President Clinton was not removed from office, but Hillary did vote to send him to the couch for the remainder of his term in office.
Here's something to consider: shortly after Clinton's December 1998 impeachment, his popularity attained its highest level ever with a seventy-three percent approval rating. Pinhead's job approval hovers in the low thirties. Would it be too ridiculous to suggest that impeachment at this point would only improve things, martyr-wise? Are you listening, Karl Rove?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Career On Hold

This past week, my son wrote an essay for his fourth grade teacher about communication. It started out earnest enough, "If we didn't have communication, we wouldn't know what each other wanted." After that, it quickly evolved into something more post-modern: "Communication is essential in life. I wouldn't be able to write this essay. You wouldn't even be able to read this." I give the boy his props. He was able to keep that ball in the air for the page that he was required to write - nice bit of work.
Today my wife is off at a "Writer's Conference". She is spending the day trying to convince agents and the like of essentially the same idea that my son wrote about. She wants to share her ideas with the world, and what better way than the written word? Creating a "candid" video for "America's Funniest Videos" (what happened to the "Home" in that title?) might be an easier way into the popular zeitgeist, but certainly not as elegant.
I have found, Creative Writing Degree in hand from the University of Colorado, that the written word is a solitary experience for the most part, and its rewards are difficult to track and often no more tangible than the "author's copies" that reward years of effort. I remember vividly the day that the letter came for me from "The Strain". After years of being rejected by everyone from "The New Yorker" to the local paper, someone had finally taken notice of my work. They were going to publish three of my poems in their Spring Issue. I turned up the stereo and danced around my living room. I never got my complimentary copies. I never saw my work in print. Due to the very sketchy distribution of this literary magazine, I don't know if anyone ever saw my work in print.
Since then, it has been my good fortune to have one of my essays included in "Where The Heart Is: A Celebration of Home". This time I assured my readership by purchasing a great many of these collections to send as gifts to those closest to me. This assured that I would be read and, with some cajoling, I would receive feedback on my creative genius. From there I drifted off into the vortex of screenwriting. I have two "finished" scripts on a disc drive somewhere, and a couple of episodes for TV shows that have since been cancelled that never made it past the "spitballing" phase.
The past few years have allowed me the treat of having my work performed on stage. For those of you patient enough to sit through the various productions of the Sequoia Dads' Club Variety Show, I thank you and look forward to next year's extravaganza with great anticipation - a musical comedy version of "Death of a Salesman". Or, in the words of my son, "Communication makes our life better and easier. Thanks to communication, we can read, write, and talk to people far and near." Thanks, communication.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I Scare Myself

Suze Orman scares me. A lot of people will say that's because I am just afraid of strong women who assert themselves. That's true. I'm generally afraid of strong people, men or women, who assert themselves. I'm generally afraid of women. Still, Suze is special.
I think it all starts with the wide-eyed leer coming from the cover of her new book, "Women and Money." In it, she claims, "I want you and every woman you know to take control of your lives by taking control of your finances." Do I feel excluded because I won't be part of the great solution? You bet. It also seems to imply that I may be part of the problem. I feel threatened by her assertion that her streamlined plan will: "Create a healthy relationship with your money,
Make more out of the money you have for yourself and those you love, Gain the freedom to make your own choices." I am horrified to imagine just how unhealthy my relationship with money must be, and I wouldn't know how to make more out of the money I have (unless you mean folding it into those neat little paper cranes). As for having the freedom to make my own choices, I already have that. My wife said I did, anyway.
Finally, the what really sticks with me about Suze are two images from her most recent foray onto public television. The first was the group of women packed into the theater, hanging on her every word and taking notes. Wouldn't it have been nice if someone could have mentioned to these nice ladies that the whole show would be available on broadcast (in high definition in most markets) and they would have the freedom to make the choice of writing down salient points a their leisure? The other moment came when the PBS broadcast broke for one of their non-commercial plead-a-thons. Suze was there, all wild-eyed and ready to go, as a phalanx of telephone operators, all of whom were women, were standing by to take your pledge to keep quality programming like "Women and Money" on the air. I thought about the women staring off into the middle distance as they accepted credit card numbers from strangers who were hoping to make a better relationship with their money, or at least their public television station.
I guess it could be worse. It's not Doctor Laura.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Living Proof

I was in fourth grade when I first became aware of Houdini. I suppose I might have heard the name in passing or been aware of the idea of magic and magicians, but I know that I was in fourth grade when I first saw the film, "Houdini" starring Tony Curtis. It was a revelation to me because I had previously imagined all magic to be simply sleight of hand or clever constructions that allowed a mannequins toes to wiggle as the lovely assistant was sawed in half. Houdini's act was most certainly based on such misdirection, but he also brought an athlete's zeal to his performance - specifically in his many daring escapes.
I read several biographies about Houdini after this, and discovered that he was able to accomplish many of his most infamous escapes relatively easily, but let the audience fear the worst before revealing himself safe, unharmed, and free. Later in his life, he became obsessed with the supernatural, searching simultaneously to make a connection with his dead mother and to debunk any fake seance artists who preyed on those who shared his hopes for link with the afterlife. When he died in 1926, Houdini told his wife that he would try to contact her "from beyond" - that was on Halloween. (cue theremin)
Since that time, there has been a great deal of speculation about the circumstances of Houdini's death. The generally accepted theory is that he died from a punch to the stomach from an overzealous college boy that ruptured his appendix. George Hardeen, his great-nephew, wants the escape artist's body exhumed to determine if enemies poisoned him for debunking their bogus claims of contact with the dead. It gets even more comic book from here: The likeliest murder suspects were members of a group known as the Spiritualists. Houdini devoted large portions of his stage show in later years to exposing the group's fraudulent seances. The movement's devotees included Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle. In a November 1924 letter, Doyle said Houdini would "get his just desserts very exactly meted out ... I think there is a general payday coming soon."
The skeptic magician killed by the creator of Sherlock Holmes - coming soon to a theater near you. Alas, it probably won't star Tony Curtis.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Farewell To Everyman

There are times when this blog becomes a monument to pop culture icons that have passed, and there is an attendant tongue in cheek sentiment that comes along with it. After all, the number of interesting individuals who die every day without an eight by ten glossy is unfathomable. Just because you had the opportunity in life to have your name in lights or achieved some measure of infamy in your worldly existence shouldn't make you any more important than the guy down the street who passed on after quietly finishing his last day on the job as a bus driver.
For this I make my apologies, and offer up this: Larry "Bud" Melman died Monday. Actually, "Larry" died fourteen years ago when David Letterman moved to CBS. NBC, with all the alacrity and guile that one might expect from a major television network, claimed that "Larry 'Bud' Melman" was part of the "intellectual property" that Letterman was required to leave behind - along with his Peacock emblazoned coffee mug. In 1993, Larry reverted to being just regular old Calvert DeForest, oblivious everyman and comic foil to a world he never quite seemed to understand. I have a favorite Melman/DeForest moment, when he appeared via remote, handing out hot towels to arrivals at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
He was a celebrity only because someone put a camera on him and let him go. His dazed look was always good for a laugh, and though he was often the butt of jokes, he could just as easily show up as the cynical tough guy at the end of a bit. It was always funny because he just never quite fit. He got to go to the Winter Olympics and the twenty-fifth anniversary of Woodstock. He got to be on TV. He got to be famous because he was the antithesis of everything that we associate with being famous. And that laugh - probably best showcased in his bit part in the film "Heaven Help Us" - it echoes in my mind even though I haven't heard it for more than five years. Aloha, Calvert. Adios, Larry.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Looney Tunes

Pinhead is trying on his Yosemite Sam face again. This time he's telling Democrats Tuesday to accept his offer to have top aides testify about the firings of federal prosecutors only privately and not under oath or risk a constitutional showdown from which he would not back down. It is probably worth mentioning that he did not refer to any of the Democrats as "varmints" or "galloots". He may have muttered something under his breath as he walked away from the microphone, and some reporters said that they heard him hollering "Tarnation!" on the way down the hall, but for the most part, he kept his composure.
Playing the part of Bugs Bunny, Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said, "Testimony should be on the record and under oath. That's the formula for true accountability." Mister Leahy made this admonition as he leaned against a tree and munched on a carrot. It is only a matter of time before someone ends up with a faceful of TNT, or gets launched into geosynchronous orbit via a giant ACME rubber band.
Pinhead gave his embattled attorney general, Alberto "Speedy" Gonzales, a boost during an early morning call and ended the day with a public statement repeating it. "He's got support with me." Furthermore, lawmakers were told they could interview presidential counselor Karl "Elmer" Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet "Witch Hazel" Miers and their deputies — but only on the president's terms: in private, "without the need for an oath" and without a transcript. I know what you're thinking. Something along the lines of "Sufferin' Succotash."
How could this administration put its collective foot in yet another major boondoggle, especially fast on the heels of the fourth anniversary of their most infamous hokum? I guess the only way to find out the answer to that one would be to ask General David "Private Snafu" Petraeus.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Whirled Peace

I learned what a "FOOSH" was after I attended my last "formal" peace protest. For those of you who do not frequent emergency rooms and are behind on your medical terminology, this is an acronym for "fell on outstretched hand". To be fair, the injury didn't actually occur at the protest proper. This was way back in 1991, when the United States stood at the brink of invading Iraq the first time.
I stood in the parking lot of the local Army recruitment station, in a shopping center that also housed a Mexican restaurant and a number of other less-strategic businesses, and I listened to speaker after speaker announce their agenda. There was agreement on just what a bad idea it was to invade Iraq, but not much else. One group wanted to strike down the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Another was advocating veganism as a response to America's preoccupation with death. There were signs announcing all the points of view that could be heard from the hastily erected platform through a crackling PA system. "The Oil Companies are to blame!" "The Republicans are to blame!" "The Men are to blame!" There was some serious spleen being vented on that winter's night.
I stood and listened until the sun went down. Then the mob started to become unruly (as mobs will). The problem was they couldn't decide on just what and where to take all their frustration. The limits of civil disobedience were not being pressed as long as we were confined to that parking lot. A number of suggestions were tossed about and it sounded as if there might be a march to - somewhere.
And that's when I bailed. I had enough of the good intents and lack of focus. I walked home. As I was crossing the street just a few blocks from my apartment, a car blew the stop sign as I was making my way across. I managed to get my hands out and roll across the hood and fall on those same outstretched hands to give my bones a solid jarring, and the heels of my hands a good scraping. The thought of confronting the driver seemed vaguely hypocritical, having just come from a peace protest and all, so I limped on home and watched the news to see where everyone else ended up.
Tonight, sixteen years later and four years into the new and improved Gulf War, I stood with my family on a corner a few blocks from our house, holding a candle in one hand and the corner of a "PACE" flag in the other. My wife and son watched a couple dozen peace vigilantes wave their signs and listened to the horns honking in support. As the sun went down and the fog rolled in, we counted the times the light turned green until we felt that we had done our part. When we walked home, I was careful to watch for oncoming traffic.
Thus begins year five.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Casual Radio Gods

I'm not a huge fan of the mystical. I tend instead to sneer skeptically at anything that borders on the otherworldly, and I will generally point out that all unidentified flying objects are just that until they have been identified. Microwave ovens are no magical to me than the spirits in the material world.
This is not to say that I don't subscribe to my own personal mythology. A good example of this is the Radio Pixies. These mischievous little sprites live in the receivers of most commercially available AM and FM radios. They tend to be most active when the humans listening to said devices are emotionally agitated in some way or another. A specific case of this can be seen in Albert Brooks' film, "Modern Romance." After breaking up with his girlfriend, Robert Cole is driving through the streets of Los Angeles, punching buttons on his car radio unable to find a song that doesn't immediately reference a lost love or love gone sour. This happens to all of us at one time or another.
You can imagine my surprise when I found that these same wicked creatures are bent on interfering with my peaceful enjoyment of my MP3 player. There is a direct cause and effect relationship between the contents of this machine and the owner. The chance operation of "shuffle songs" would seem to take some of the edge off of the fact that all the songs were chosen my me, the user - but the sequence and segues are at times a revelation.
All of this leads me to the comforting notion that there are still balls of energy pinballing around our world that create coincidence, and that souls don't disappear. We carry them around with us to keep in touch with the people and ideas that we hold dear. Hearing a song that makes you cry is a gift from the world that we live in, not from beyond. That doesn't mean it's not magic.
"If I live to be a hundred and two
I just don't think that I'll get over you."
- Colin Hay

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Just For One Day

"We could be heroes."
These were the words that went through my head last night as I watched my son bash away at a cardboard guitar to the strains of Green Day's "Holiday". Saying that I was proud seems too simple for the feeling I had as I watched his act unfold. He and three of his friends were performing as an "air band" - a kind of exaggerated lip-synch routine that included special effects that included a fog machine and a strobe light. When the guitar solo came, and he stepped to the front of the stage, my mind reeled.
I could remember how he didn't want to be anywhere near a stage just three years ago. The fact that his father was in charge of his school's variety show seemed to burden him. He's always been a fairly introverted kid, building Legos and reading books. At that time he probably would have rather cleaned his own room than be dragged on stage.
That started to change last year when he decided that maybe standing up in the spotlight next to his dad wouldn't be too hard. After all, if his dad could do it, why not him? In the intervening year, there was some talk about putting together his own act: a skit, or even jamming on keyboards with his guitar playing buddy on "Smoke on the Water," or "The song from the second Bionicle movie" - something that really rocked. When February came around, it was time to settle in on an act or wait until next year. He got his buddies together and decided on the Green Day tune.
They spent an afternoon in our living room watching the video and learning the words and the moves. Over the following weeks they each practiced their parts and waited for the first full rehearsal. I confess that part of the fun for me was being able to blast a Green Day song through the school's auditorium sound system. The boys had practiced, and they seemed to know their bits, especially their lead singer who had obviously spent a good deal of time in front of a mirror getting his vibe just right.
The night of the big show, my son wore his new black velvet jacket with his tie-dyed t-shirt and helped me introduce all the acts. All of them except one - "Green Air". When the curtain opened and the smoke and lights poured out on the stage, the crowd went wild. The screams, whistles, stomps and cheers were for him and his band. And yes, I was very proud.

Friday, March 16, 2007

More Than A Feeling

When I was in high school, my friends and I had a curious set of parameters to judge our relative coolness. I say "relative" since we were in band together - not "a band", mind you, that would have been pretty cool. Nope. I mean we were in marching band together - as in "One time at band camp..." This is why we made special effort to keep our macho moments and peak experiences carefully catalogued for easy reference, as our manhood was regularly questioned. For this reason, the Hollywood depiction of "nerd sex" seems utterly appropriate. The guys I hung out with were semi-major horndogs, primarily for their own self-esteem. Come to think of it, there aren't too many other things on the minds of high school boys of any stripe, but it seemed particularly important for us to assert ourselves as males to help cut down some of the noise about "guys in band."
That aside, we also took our music seriously too. When we weren't marching to rigid tempos and formations attached to "Send in the Clowns" and "Star Wars", we liked to rock. Back in 1979, there wasn't much that rocked harder than Boston's second album, "Don't Look Back." Van Halen, AC/DC and their late seventies brethren were a font of testosterone for us. This was hard rock - a precursor to "hair metal" that flourished in the early eighties. We all read about what a perfectionist Tom Scholz was, and we told ourselves that this was what made them so special - it was all about the music. When they hit Denver in 1979, we had to be there to see if they could pull it off live. "I saw Boston LIVE," we repeated as a mantra for weeks after the show, our tour shirts faded quickly due to frequent wear. When they came back through Colorado, they landed in Boulder's Folsom Field we were there. "I saw Boston LIVE - TWICE!" For a short while, sophomore girls slipped to second place on our list of priorities.
I've been thinking of those shows a lot since Brad Delp took off for that flying guitar in the sky. I don't think about sophomore girls quite as much, and it's been such a long time since I marched in a line - but,
I can tell there's no more time left to criticize
I've seen what I could not recognize
Everything in my life was leading me on
But I can be strong, oh yes I can

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Start Spreadin' The News

On March 4 in New York City, some guy beat up a 101-year-old woman in a walker and took off with her purse. Rose Morat was trying to leave her apartment building to go to church. The mugger, was holding onto a bicycle, pretended to help her get through the vestibule. Then, he turned to grab Morat's head and delivered three hard punches to her face, and swiped her purse. Rose tried to reach for her purse but the mugger hit her again, pushing her and her walker to the ground.
The good news? It was caught on tape, and in a flurry of the kind of vigilante justice that makes New York the city so vengeful they named it twice. "My mom is 95, and if someone ever raised a hand to her ... they'd be dead," said Anthony Riccardelli, 58, who works near the crime scene. Police believe the same man also attacked 85-year-old Solange Elizee, another neighborhood resident, shortly after robbing Morat. Elizee suffered facial cuts and bruises. The mugger took off with thirty-two dollars and her wedding band. Crime of the century, right?
The happy ending will be the television movie that gets made and pays Rose a hundred thousand dollars. And her audience with Donald Trump. And free subway tokens for life. And an appearance on MTV Total Request Live. It has been said that you don't mess with Texas, but I'm guessing that it's best not to look sideways at New York - or her mom, anyway.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

March Mildness

I have tried to be mad about March, honest I have. It just never captured my interest the way college bowl season does, or a great many professional sporting events. To me, March is dealing with the sudden void of football, with the attendant discussions of the upcoming draft and free agency. Ultimately this is unfulfilling as it strains to be anything but hypothetical, and it is only useful the following January if you can remember how you were the one who said that this would be Peyton's year after all.
March is also about Spring Training. It's that weird portion of the baseball season that takes place in distant, exotic locales such as Mesa, Arizona and Coral Gables, Florida. I was reminded of the almost absurd intimacy of these contests last night as I watched the Oakland A's battle the San Francisco Giants. Maybe "battle" is a little strong, since most of the stars were absent from the lineup or only played sparingly. But as I watched the local broadcast of the game, what intrigued me was this: you could hear individual voices shouting out from the stands. Not just a periodic outburst from behind the plate, but distant echoing bellows of great concrete slabs of a park designed to hold forty-some sections of die-hard types who make annual, whimsical or annual whimsical pilgrimages to the cactus or grapefruit leagues to see the up and comer, the has been and the never was. It's baseball, and you can see it from the parking lot if you don't feel like lugging your picnic all the way into the stadium. You can sit just off the left field line, ten rows from the field for ten bucks. This leaves plenty of extra cash for the giant foam finger you'll need to buy so that come playoff time, you can say that you had it way back during spring training.
For me, March isn't about endings, it's all about beginnings.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

It's Wet And It's Dry

The passing of Ernest Gallo last week gave me a moment to reflect on the wine that I have consumed before, during and after its time. I certainly had my moments of wine snobbery, and was heard on several occasions to speak of the "woodiness" of a particular chardonnay. The truth is, my palate was never particularly sophisticated. Just as my beer tastes ran to that which was on sale, I was generally more concerned with the buzz than the bouquet.
For this reason, the wines of Ernest and Julio Gallo held a particular fascination for me. I knew that Beringer would be an overall more pleasant ride, but a bottle of Boone's Farm would get me there and back again for a fraction of the price. And if you thought you might fool somebody by showing up with a bottle of wine and passing it off as some modicum of culture, it came with a screw-top cap, not a cork.
Long before Ben and Jerry began filling the freezer section with such outlandish concoctions as Phish Food, Chunky Monkey, and Rainforest Crunch, Boones Farm (lovingly bottled - and capped by Ernest and Julio Gallo) shared their own bizarre array of taste sensations: Country Kwencher, Strawberry Hill, Sun Peak Peach, and Blue Hawaiian. For the lowdown on the relative savoriness of each of these fine wines, be sure to visit the "flavor review" section of, the Internet fan club for what they refer to as "the best selection of drinks in the world." Included is the testimonial of a drinker from Bloomington, Indiana named Liz who raves: “I love Wild Island! It tastes like alcoholic bubble gum!”
And in my mind, Tyrolia is inexorably linked with Otter Pops.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Living In The Fourth Dimension

In today's news: Scientists say that time travel is impossible. Well, how about that. Brian Greene, author of the bestseller, “The Elegant Universe” and a physicist at Columbia University says that there are a goodly number of notions about how we might travel into the past, “and almost all of them, if you look at them closely, brush up right at the edge of physics as we understand it. Most of us think that almost all of them can be ruled out.”
Great. No Time Tunnel. No Terminator (1, 2, or 3). No Twelve Monkeys. Maybe it's only the titles that start with "T". Would "Somewhere in Time" be plausible, if not intensely sappy? What about that episode of Star Trek where Bones gets all whacked out and then Kirk and Spock have to go chasing after him through a time portal and Kirk ends up snogging with Joan Collins? Come to think of it, the only thing that makes snogging with Joan Collins plausible is time travel.
Okay, so brushing up to the edge of physics makes Mister Greene (sorry) Doctor Greene uncomfortable. I can accept that. As long as he can accept the fact that just ten years ago no one would have guessed that we would have parents able to carry on conversations on tiny mobile "phones" that allow them to ignore their children entirely as they squeal and race up and down the aisles of the supermarket. For that matter, who would have predicted the rise of the modern "supermarket" just fifty years ago? That one may not have been quite as big a stretch, but how about The Magic Bullet Blender?
Is there hope? If there is, then it lies in wormholes. To punch a hole into the fabric of space-time, Michio Kaku, author of “Hyperspace” and “Parallel Worlds” and a physicist at the City University of New York explained, would require the energy of a star or negative energy, an exotic entity with an energy of less than nothing. Right. Now we're heading in the right direction (dimensionally speaking). What does our good friend Doctor "Buzzkill" Greene say? “Many people who study the subject doubt that that approach has any chance of working, but the basic idea if you’re very, very optimistic is that if you fiddle with the wormhole openings, you can make it not only a shortcut from a point in space to another point in space, but a shortcut from one moment in time to another moment in time.”
Fair enough, I choose to be very, very, very optimistic. I for one believe in the manipulation of time - I own a Tivo.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Elvis, Jim Morrison, Osama bin Laden

On their web site, CNN is reporting that Osama bin Laden turned fifty this Saturday "if he's alive." His most recent public appearance was back in 2004, and that was on videotape. There have been subsequent audio tapes, but those have not been authenticated for date and time. In spite of a twenty-five million dollar reward for information leading to the death or arrest (dead or alive, right Pinhead?) of Public Enemy number one.
After five years of scouring the mountains, caves and deserts of Afghanistan, twelve thousand U.S. troops have discovered exactly bupkiss. How is his possible? A country with an area slightly smaller than Texas is providing safe haven for the world's most wanted man. It can't be that our soldiers aren't doing everything they can to bring Osama to justice, but when you start to consider some of the math, it becomes a little more apparent: Pinhead has requested an additional ten thousand troops be sent to Iraq (with an area twice the size of Idaho) to bring the total to somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred and fifty thousand. Exact numbers aren't really necessary, but powers of ten are. As we struggle to determine a possible extrication strategy from Iraq, we have a tenth of that force in Afghanistan, alternately battling Taliban and al-Qaida while turning over rocks to find the evil mastermind of September 11.
I see this as a tremendous opportunity missed. One hundred thousand men, equipped with night vision goggles and heat seeking weapons could easily have tracked down one man with fifty candles on his birthday cake. Alas.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I went to bed last night feeling somewhat a loss for "kids these days." Imagine my delight, upon awakening this morning, to find a group of fresh-faced youngsters grinning off the screen telling about their powerful experiences with Battlecry. The youth of America can be saved from a future of back of the shop class sex and enraged peer conflicts sponsored by parents. According to one of the youths, they planned to "worship their brains out" this weekend here in the Bay Area.
More to the point, they plan to "worship their brains out" in the heart of what is considered by many (including those who choose to live there) as a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. The kickoff this morning hit a snag because the San Francisco authorities would not allow them to crank up their Public Address system before ten o'clock in the morning. These young warriors would not be hindered. They used portable radios to hear the Word. And they raised their voices - aided by an Internet broadcast, and the Lord's gift of double A batteries. Though it does occur to me the the Sermon on the Mount was given sans amplification.
Battlecry is the product of Christian brainchild Ron Luce, founder and CEO of TeenMania Ministries. If it sounds a little confrontational compared to other ministries, consider these words from the founder: "This is war. And Jesus invites us to get into the action, telling us that the violent—the ‘forceful’ ones—will lay hold of the kingdom." Can I have an amen and pass the ammunition? Their web site includes banners announcing, "This is the generation without morality," and "This is a generation without truth." It makes me sad because as a parent and a teacher I have the same reactions to the things I see on the news and read on the Internet. I wish there was a place for young people, all people, to get morality and truth free of an agenda. Just like Jimmys Swaggart and Bakker, you can hear the hypocrisy stopwatch ticking from the moment that they open their mouths. It would be a beautiful thing if there was a place to go for salvation that didn't come without a price.

And the sign says "Everybody welcome Come in Kneel down and pray"
But then they passed around a plate at the end of it all
And I didn't have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and paper And I made up my own little sign
I said Thank you Lord for thinking about me I'm alive and doing fine
- Five Man Electrical Band

Friday, March 09, 2007

It's Armageddon Time Again

Here's one version:
"...during school hours in a classroom with an experienced teacher present, two sixth graders completed the act of least ten students were witnesses. No disciplinary actions were taken against the teacher... All teachers were told to keep quiet."
Here's another:
"Two students were involved in inappropriate conduct in a lab class last semester. We have investigated the matter and taken appropriate action. The school corporation considers the matter closed and will have no further comment."
Guess which one is the official statement, and which is the account of a "disturbed resident". Okay, I'm not even a resident of Warren Township, Indiana and I'm feeling a little disturbed by this. Still, I know that the notion of this kind of thing happening without any disciplinary action is extremely unlikely. The problem is getting through the layers of reality to get to the crunchy center that has thirteen year-olds having sex anywhere, let alone in the back of their shop class. A certain first move by a compassionate school district would be to restrict males to shop classes and females to home economics.
Moving from the midwest to the far west, we find news of a Folsom, California mother who drove her son to a fight with another boy, then cheered him on as he struck his smaller opponent. Police say the mother shouted down another woman who tried to break up the fight across from Sutter Middle School on Monday. A student caught the scene on video. Thus far, we have no video of the Indiana incident, but keep your browser pointed at Youtube - it's only a matter of time.
I have a standard line I use when people ask me why I don't teach middle school. I say that the kids in elementary school can shoot pretty straight, but they have trouble reloading. This gives me time to look for cover. After this pair of stories, I think I'll just hang on to these clippings as reason enough.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

We Got Live If You Want It

A couple days ago, the morning radio people were dismissing live albums, for the most part, out of hand. I can understand this attitude, since I have been known to do the very same thing as part of a clever little bit where I pretend to be every live album recorded in the 1970's. I begin by making a low, rumbling noise like surf crashing on the shore, then a few lobbed whistles from the back, and a "whoo" here and there. It's funnier in person, trust me.
Here's the deal though: Live albums are not intended to be any sort of groundbreaking artistic endeavor, they're merely historical artifacts. Listening to any of the the three CDs of Bruce Springsteen's "Live 1975-1985" will not help you understand the Boss any better as a songwriter, nor will it properly convey his charisma as a performer. What it will do is give you a good set of Cliff''s Notes to the performances as recorded. After years of resistance, Bruce put this collection out at the end of his watershed "Born in the USA" tour, to capitalize on the rabid enthusiasm he had generated after a decade on the road. Since then, he has released a number of different live recordings, and a goodly number of DVDs - all documenting Springsteen "Live".
Contrastingly, the Grateful Dead were the band that existed primarily as a source for endless hours of live bootleg recordings. Sure, there are a great many bootleg recordings of all your favorite artists (including Mister Springsteen), but the Dead encouraged the practice. It could be argued that their studio work was secondary to their work on stage. Go ahead. Argue. I never really cared for them myself, though I admire their songwriting (isn't that ironic?).
The final category of live album would be the "contractual obligation recording." Throughout history, when acts have run short of material and are finishing up a contract with a label, the "deluxe double live album" appears. This allows the band to play a flurry of shows, then toss the tapes at their label on the way out the door, waving their wads of hundred dollar bills. The most egregious example of this in my mind would be "Boingo Alive." Even I, a rabid Oingo Boingo fan, cringed at the notion of this farewell to MCA. This was a "greatest hits" re-recorded "live" in a studio, then unleashed on the buying public. It's like a tree falling in a forest - if a band makes a live album without an audience, does anybody want to hear it?
I have some favorite moments, like the Kinks' "One For The Road" when Ray Davies starts to noodle around the opening of "Lola", then tells the crowd, "We're not gonna play that one tonight," before acquiescing, "All right, but only if you all sing along." Or maybe when David Byrne strolls out to the middle of an empty stage with a boombox and tells us, "I have a tape I want to play for you," before slamming into an unplugged version of "Psycho Killer". Still, I confess my favorite "live" moment would have to be from the show I saw at Red Rocks. I had no way of knowing that they were taping the show, but you can hear me calling out over the crowd. It wasn't Dave Matthews, or U2, or even The Moody Blues - I was there to hear Steve Martin. You can hear me on track nine of "Wild and Crazy Guy". I'm the one shouting "whoooooo!"

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

O Captain, My Captain

The first comic book I remember was an issue of The Avengers in which the frozen body of Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, was found floating in the North Atlantic. It was an epic tale that included the Sub-Mariner, and Cap filling the Hulk sized hole in the Avengers. It was the first Jack Kirby comic I had ever seen, and all those big faces and square fingers really made an impression on me. So much so that I started buying every issue of the "New" Captain America. Superman may have been fighting for "truth, justice, and the American way," but he didn't have "America" in his name. And he didn't have that shield.
The shield: It had been radically redesigned since Cap's origin. When he first appeared, the shield was more of a red, white and blue badge. According to retroactive continuity (as Captain America has existed through many publishers), the original triangular shield was given by Captain America to King T’Chaka (father of T’Challa, the Black Panther) of the fictional isolated African country Wakanda as a pledge that the nation would remain uninvolved in the rest of the war. The original shield still resides in Wakanda as a national treasure. The circular shield, a jumbo-metal Frisbee, was presented to Steve Rogers by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The shield was created by an American metallurgist named Dr. Myron MacLain, who had been commissioned by the United States government to create an indestructible armor material to aid the war effort. MacLain experimented with vibranium, an alien metal found only in Wakanda that had unique vibration absorption properties. I know this now, but back then I was very keen on the way it made sounds like "spang!" as it bounced off of bad guy's heads.
Captain America was my guy until I hit puberty. Then it just seemed to make more sense to read Spiderman. I still picked up an issue now and then, but Steve Rogers didn't translate as well into the seventies as Peter Parker in bell bottoms. Imagine my surprise, thirty years later, when I find out that Captain America is dead. He was shot several times, according to eyewitness accounts, by a lone sniper. Conspiracy theorists, start your search engines. Marvel's President and Publisher Dan Buckley: "Captain America will continue to be published despite the very real death of Steve Rogers. Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing a number of books that deal with the fall-out of this turn of events in Captain America #25. In May, Captain America #26 is where the aftermath of his death must be faced, beginning with the autopsy of his body. So, yes, Captain America, Steve Rogers, is dead."
As for me, I'm sorry to see him go. I know that in the comics world, nobody's really gone. Even Superman was dead for a few issues back in the 1990's. Still, I can't help but think that this is exactly the time that America needs its Captain. Back in 1969, about the time I started to devote myself to all things Captain America, a movie called "Easy Rider" hit the theaters. The hero, played by Peter Fonda, gets blown off his chopper by rednecks in a pickup. The bike blows apart and the camera pans up to the sky - Captain America is dead by the side of the road. That was thirty-eight years ago. Since then he's teamed up with the Falcon, and even gone in to semi-retirement, only to return as Nomad (with a cape? please!). Others have carried the shield and worn the uniform, but Steve Rogers kept bouncing back. He even led the Anti-Registration faction that stood against the the Registration Acts—the Mutant Registration Act (or MRA) and Superhuman Registration Act (SRA or sometimes SHRA) — controversial legislative bills which, when passed into law, enforce the mandatory registration of superpowered individuals with the government. Steve Rogers was killed as he was surrendering to U.S. Marshals. Now he's gone. For now.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Taking A Leak

The wheels are really coming off now - of course, if the vehicle in question turns out to be a "Scooter", it really doesn't take more than one before it becomes an issue. Still, a guilty verdict in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is a clear sign that the end, or something very much like it, is near for the Pinhead regime.
Dennis Collins, a juror on the case, said he was intrigued when defense lawyer Theodore Wells raised the idea the Libby was being made a scapegoat for White House political strategist Karl Rove. "There was a tremendous amount of sympathy for Mister Libby on the jury. It was said a number of times, 'What are we doing with this guy here? Where's Rove? Where are these other guys?'" Collins said. "I'm not saying we didn't think Mister Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of. It seemed like he was, as Mister Wells put it, he was the fall guy." And Mister Wells, defender of poor Scooter, suggested the only way he would lose the case was if they allowed their feelings about the Iraq war and the Bush administration to influence their decision. In the end, a jury decided that there was a difference between having a bad memory and lying. And Scooter was on the wrong end of that equation.
Here's something to ponder: Libby could face up to twenty-five years in prison when sentenced June 5, but federal sentencing guidelines will probably prescribe far less, perhaps one to three years. In other words, about two years - just about the same amount of time we have left with Pinhead. The clock continues to tick.

Monday, March 05, 2007


What would a reasonable person expect? If you sent out personal invitations to parents a week in advance, left options for them to pick an alternative time and date, and made calls to remind them of their commitment - wouldn't you expect them to show up for a fifteen minute conference with their child's teacher to receive their report card? Perhaps I am being unreasonable, but I growled and grimaced as I made my way up and down the steps from the library to my classroom, trying to gather students and their wayward parents.
Schools are being closed, teachers are being fired, administrators are being shuffled, and no child will be left behind. Now, please understand that I should be grateful for the sixteen of twenty-five parents who did manage to make their appointments. I should be, and I am. The most frustrating part of this equation is that the sixteen students whose parents came for the conferences were those who are already very aware of their child's educational experience. These parents have already made the necessary connection - the one that we are trying to promote by having them in to sit across the table from me and listen to my appraisal of their child's fourth grade skills.
In a couple of instances, I spent almost as much time praising the mothers as I did the kids. I know how difficult it is to get a kid out of bed to school with a full stomach and a ready mind. It all starts at home. I wish I could say that I was such a fantastic teacher that I could stir up enthusiasm for the volume of prisms on any given day, but I know that it helps to have an audience that is there for the same purpose that I am. That's where the missing nine come in: These are the kids who show up late, unprepared, and uninspired. I can work around two out of the three of those on any given day, but every day becomes a battle. Now, in March, I find myself making hard choices. I have to decide how to move the sixteen I have ahead, and let the rest sort themselves out. Many of these kids have already been retained or are receiving some assistance or program that keeps me from being able to hold them back for another tour of fourth grade. I had one mother announce this to me at the beginning of the year - almost as a dare. "You can't hold him back again." Well, I suppose that's true, but in my mind I hear myself say, "But you can."
There is no moral or shiny truth to this one. It's simple percentages and the reality of the surroundings. You get back what you put in, and the sixteen who showed today will get to have the satisfaction of knowing they did what they could for their kid, and so did I.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I Hear Dat...Train

When he was just a few years old, my son would cock his head to the side and gaze off into the distance. He was listening for the sound of a train, far off in the distance. In just about two months, I will be the father of a ten-year old, a ten-year old train fanatic. There was some question, as the years began to pile up, just when he might grow out of this "phase." These days we aren't thinking about it as much as a phase but rather as a series of opportunities.
When I was a kid, there were some trains in the house: My older brother had an O gauge set that was put away before I got officially interested. My younger brother caught the HO gauge bug big time - for a couple of years. Eventually, all the Caven trains fell into disrepair and eventual storage in cardboard boxes. I didn't give them much of a thought. Not until I became the father of a GERF - a Glassy-Eyed Rail Freak.
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. My wife grew up learning the names of different engines and lines as her father poured out his obsession on his daughter. I blame DNA - and B&O. My son would spend hours creating freight yards with his Brio trains. This was age three. There were birthday cakes in the shape of trains, trips to the Sacramento Train Museum (more than I can count), and any location that offered a train ride as part of the experience was sought out by devoted parents.
We bought train t-shirts and hats. We own HO, O, Hot Wheel, Brio, Garden, and Lego gauge train sets. Our living room is regularly part of a vast switch yard with locomotives and dozens of cars of all sorts. I have had to do reading on the side to keep up with my son's encyclopedic knowledge of rolling stock. A few weeks back as we drove into the night toward Reno, my son announced that he saw two BR-54s (or something like that) on the tracks up the hill from us. I have no way of knowing if he knew what he was talking about, but I know from experience that it is useless to disagree with him. He knows his stuff.
It has been my great relief that over the past few years, toy trains have returned to vogue. "The Polar Express" and Harry Potter's Hogwarts Express have made it easier to find fuel to feed the beast. When I discovered that Neil Young had purchased a fifth of the Lionel Train Company, I felt a kindred spirit. After a photo shoot with Rolling Stone, Niel said, "I wish I was on the cover of Lionel Trains magazine. My kids would be so impressed if I showed them a copy of that." I know how he feels.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Noble Rot

There's always a lot of math to do when considering history. Last night I was reminded that Monday will be the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Belushi's death. That would have been 1982. I was nineteen. John was thirty-three. As with all those who die young, tragically foolishly and too soon, he will always be a mile marker on the road of life.
In the spring of 1982, I was finishing up my freshman year in college. It wasn't a lot like "Animal House", but the guys on One North in Slocum hall liked to think that we were a pretty rowdy bunch. We had fire extinguisher fights, and jousting with ski poles, and by February the carpet in the hallway no longer absorbed the beer that we spilled on it. We weren't a fraternity, but that was the point: The Deltas were the anti-fraternity. We all imagined ourselves as Bluto, but we were just a bunch of Pintos and Flounders.
The summer before I had gone to Red Rocks amphitheater to see the Blues Brothers. As the band blasted out "Can't Turn You Loose," Jake Blues meandered up to the mike and yelled, "Hello Colorado! I'll bet you guys get high on everything but life!" Jake/John was, no doubt, already a mile high and falling fast.
I paid to see all of his movies - even "Continental Divide". If Belushi could be a romantic lead, maybe I could too. I wasn't suave enough to pull off Steve Martin or Chevy Chase, and I wasn't hairy enough to be Robin Williams, but this guy made it look possible. He growled, he roared, he stomped on the terra and he got the girl.
Then, on the night of March 4, 1982, his luck ran out. I bought the Rolling Stone with his picture on the cover - a black and white shot that makes him look a little tired, and worried. As it turns out, he probably should have been. That issue included Hunter Thompson's farewell to his good friend, he said that John was more fun in twenty minutes than most people were in twenty years. If that math holds up, he would have been thirty million years old when he died. Then maybe I don't feel so bad that he's gone.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Rescue Renaissance

These were names from the past: Billy Blazes, Rocky Canyon, Wendy Waters, Jake Justice, Areil Flyer. They once occupied a large portion of my son's heart and mind, back in the days before Nintendo, and Star Wars. They were the Rescue Heroes. They were the backbone of our toy collection for a good three years. The most important thing, in my wife's mind about the Rescue Heroes was the positive images they projected for my son to play with. They didn't carry weapons (except for that axe) and their mission in life was helping others and teaching them important life lessons: "Being safe is half the battle." The most important thing, in my mind, about the Rescue Heroes was their extra-wide feet. This meant fewer tears of frustration as little hands attempted to recreate intricate scenarios they had seen on television.
The tears of frustration came from the parents. There were dozens of Heroes to collect. If you managed to purchase all the major characters, there were still minor characters as well as animal "helpers" to acquire. But, to have truly exciting adventures, you couldn't do without the myriad of vehicles and command centers. Six months later, the whole collection would be in turmoil because a new version of Billy or Wendy would appear at Toys R Us and a new cycle of purchasing would begin. And every single one of them required some new battery or tiny set of stickers that needed to be inserted or applied by a helpful adult.
Then one day, it was over. He decided to donate his Rescue Heroes to his old preschool. This made him something of a legend there, and it opened up hundreds of cubic feet of storage in our house. This allowed video games and Legos - more "grown up" toys to find their way in. It was fun to see our boy grow up, but sometimes mom and dad missed the old crew. Last week, so did he. After a few minor earth tremors, and a meeting at his school about emergency preparedness, he started pining for his pals. Wednesday, after school, he and his mom went by the preschool and re-borrowed the lot of them for a visit of undetermined length. It's nice to have them back, but to be honest, I'm not sure where the kid's going to sleep tonight.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Laura Says...

Our first lady, Laura Pinhead, had Larry King chat her up this past Monday. She had a lot on her mind. Things like the unveiling of the Red Dress Collection at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley in California. It's not just fashion, it's fashion for a cause: apparently, the red dress has become the symbol that people wear to remind women about heart disease. It just makes me think of Natalie Wood in "West Side Story." Poor, poor Maria.
Larry also wanted to know how Laura felt about the reports that were surfacing about the care of wounded servicemen at Walter Reed hospital. "We've had many of the soldiers who are there recovering from their wounds come here to the White House, as well. And we did not see anything like that, obviously." She is referring to the Washington Post article that brought about the firing of Major General George W. Weightman, the two-star general in charge of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I suppose we can look forward to the parade honoring his service to the country sometime in the very near future.
Then Larry cut to the heart of the matter: "Has the war - I don't know if it's a good term - worn you down?"
Laura, wife of Pinhead, former elementary school teacher and librarian said, "Well, of course, it's wearing, wearying. There's no doubt about it. And I understand how the American people feel and that they feel like things aren't going like we want them to there."
And now we all breathe a sigh of relief, acknowledging the potential for something resembling compassion within the walls of 1600 Pinnsylvania Avenue. For a moment. Then she went on: "This is their opportunity to seize the moment, to build a really good and stable country. And many parts of Iraq are stable now. But, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everybody."
How true. Why just the other day the U.S. command said that two U.S. Marines were "discouraged" by fighting in western Anbar province, which includes Fallujah. Four Iraqi civilians were "discouraged" and ten others were "let down" in a mortar attack Thursday in Iskandariyah. Maybe someone should tell them about the Red Dress collection. That should keep them from getting too discouraged, or at least deflect a little of the shrapnel.