Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Why Be Normal?

I used to ask myself that question a lot. By allowing myself to become labeled as a band geek in junior high, I was all but assured of a big flashing arrow following me around that read "Nerd" for six years. After that it was a simple enough leap to the school of arts and sciences with the rest of the oddballs and misfits. I even spent a semester-long creative writing workshop with a girl who refused to have class outside because she said, "I work a long time on my pale."
I thought of this as I took off my shirt in my doctor's office, preparing for my fifty thousand mile checkup. The pasty skin was neatly covered by my Jimmy Buffett t-shirt, while my forearms and forehead had a healthy glow. Then the normal part began to resonate for me. I knew the reason to be normal: Being abnormal costs more. Try and relax while having your blood pressure taken, knowing the cost of the medication it would take to keep you "normal."
I found myself flinching at the doctor's opening salvo of questions: Any changes to your general health? Any allergies? When did you last have a blood test? How are those bifocals working for you? Nope. No. No problem. Everything's the same. No changes. All is well. I promise.
Yes, I know: What if everything wasn't okay? Wouldn't you want to know how to early on, for your own peace of mind? I have always felt that just starts the clock ticking, like a very boring episode of "24". "That guy's colon is a time bomb, and the only way we're going to save these people is to run a series of invasive tests that will most likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and if whatever disease or parasite that lurks within him doesn't kill him - embarrassment probably will!"
So, for the time being, I'm fine. Thanks for asking. Quite within the normal range.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Face Time

Evon Long just sent me e-mail. In the header, it said "Just In Case I Missed You". Well, shucks, Evon, that's extraordinarily nice of you to think of me, but I have no idea who you are. In real life, I am certain that there is no actual human named Evon Long, but a quick Googling turned up his daughter, or maybe someone who happened to have the same name as the computer generated name of a spam machine.
These aren't the people I want to know. They don't do anything aside from tipping me to investment opportunities or the chance to buy Cialis at below market prices without the embarassment of asking for it at my local drug store. The people I want to know are the ones who help me out in real life.
Who are the people in my neighborhood? Well, there's Robert. He's our UPS guy. He likes our dog and she likes him. Then there's Melissa. She's our mail lady. Our dog scares her. These are people who walk in and out of our lives on a regular basis, and we always have a smile and a wave for them, even when they don't have anything for us. I have tried, albeit briefly, to imagine what their lives might be like for the other twenty-three hours and fifty-seven minutes of the day. They don't sleep in those trucks, do they?
Then there's the guy who works at the store on the corner up the street from my school. Actually, I don't know if he even works inside the store. He may just sweep up the sidewalk in front before it opens. He might own the place. What I do know is that most mornings when I make the big turn to go up the hill before I go back down the hill to work, he's out there with a broom. He always gives me a big wave, and I toss him a quick salute as I clear the intersection. Sometimes we add in a nod as I pass. It's how I start my day. I don't know his name, but he's part of my day and on the odd occasion that I am early or late and miss our minute interaction, it gives me pause. He's the welcoming face of the neighborhood, and it helps me feel at home.
Now that I think of it, I guess I'll have to do a more careful screening of my e-mail from now on. That guy just could be Evon Long.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Collect And Trade With Your Friends!

I wince every time my son asks if he can buy more Pokemon cards. This is probably due to the fact that we were initially so very proud of the fact that he showed little or no interest in such things, and even went so far as to ask us if we could call the police on McDonald's for putting a Yu-Gi-Oh "prize" in his Happy Meal that told him to buy more Yu-Gi-Oh cards. For a moment, we imagined a future in which our son would carve his own toys from pieces of wood or create them from scraps of plastic and metal that he rescued from our recycling bin. We were mistaken.

He is, as his father was before him, a consumer. He collects and obsesses on the things that appear on the television: the commercials and the commercials disguised as programming. I could blame the company he keeps, but I don't need to look much further than my past. In my youth I collected Odd Rods. The neighborhood would, in a pack, hop on their bikes (mostly Schwinn Sting Rays) and head off down the street to the nearest 7-11. With ten kids all buying multiple packages of three cards apiece, we were bound to have many duplicates and, on occasion, the appearance of a brand new card. When the card was highly sought after, it was best to play it cool, especially if your little brother had it. You didn't want him to know just how important it was for you to own "Fords Breakfast of Chevys". When we got home, we packed them away in shoe boxes, until we saved up our nickels and dimes for another trip to the convenience store.

And I know my parents shook their heads. They wondered what we must be thinking, to throw away our allowance on some stickers that we never bothered to stick on anything, and a piece of gum with only slightly more flavor than the waxed paper they were wrapped in. Now that I think of it, maybe that Happy Meal was a pretty good deal after all.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Paint By Numbers

Secret messages are being sent to us in Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper". Slavisa Pesci, an information technologist and amateur scholar, says superimposing the "Last Supper" with its mirror-image creates another picture containing a figure who looks like a Templar knight and another holding a small baby. Renewed speculation as to whether or not this new image suggests that, a la "The Da Vinci Code", that Jesus married his follower, Mary Magdelene, and fathered a child.
There is a Monty Python skit in which they suggest that it was Michelangelo who painted "the Penultimate Supper". In his masterwork, he includes a kangaroo, twenty-eight disciples, and three Christs. The Pope's insistence on an accurate depiction of the scene from the Bible causes Michelangelo to sneer, "You want a bloody photographer! That's you want." If only somebody could get some juicy footage of Jesus and Mary Magdelene in put it up on YouTube, then we'd all be convinced.
Still, this puts me in mind of one of the other great experiments in the manipulation of art. That would be the synchronous playing of "The Wizard of Oz" and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon". The coincidences abound, giving the viewer the impression that Pink Floyd had created their album as an alternative soundtrack to the 1939 MGM classic. After we tried this with some friends, we then set about looking for other synchronicities, including a mash-up of Disney's "Fantasia" and songs by Martin Denny. The results were never quite as awe-inspiring, but it turns out that watching hippos in tutus is pretty amusing no matter what is playing in the background.
So, what can we make of this? Later today I plan to get out my copy of Janson's "History of Art", a mirror, and Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother" to see what I can come up with.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ground Control To Major Tom

Okay, I'm just going to have to accept that the heroes that I have in the world of sports are probably addicts, criminals, or fast on their way to becoming one or the other or both. I will become comfortable betting on the substances used to perform rather than the point spread. It's just a matter of perspective.
But now the astronauts have started up again. I can appreciate that you'd probably have to be drunk or crazy to strap yourself to the top of a giant series of high explosives to be sent out into the vacuum of space. I can understand that the stresses of such activity as an occupation must be overwhelming at times, but come on, wasn't the whole kidnapping/adult diaper story enough? Now NASA is telling us that after drinking heavily, an astronaut flew on a Russian spacecraft and another was cleared to launch on a space shuttle.
What am I so worried about? It's not like they're going to run into anything out there. I feel a whole lot safer launching Lindsay Lohan into space instead of turning her loose on the highways of California. The Mercury astronauts were certainly as hard-living a bunch of test pilots as could be imagined or chronicled by Tom Wolfe, but I want to believe that they saved their binges for after their liftoffs.
Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we shouldn't hold our heroes up to the light, lest they appear all too flawed - too human. "There's certainly no intent to impugn the entire astronaut corps," Colonel Richard Bachmann Junior said. "We don't have enough data to call it alcohol abuse. We have no way of knowing if these are the only two incidents that have ever occurred in the history of the astronaut corps or if they're the tip of a very large iceberg." The good news? Iceberg tips are barely visible from space.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pale Kitty

There are dog people, and there are cat people. I believe that I have spent my entire life in the dog camp. Plenty of people will line up to testify that my personality is more suited to those doggie characteristics, and even more who would scoff loudly about such associations. The truth is that I have never had any sort of lasting relationship with a cat. I have known a great many noble and clever felines, but my family has never owned one. No litter boxes or scratching posts here.
My older brother had a pair of cats. I liked them. They seemed to like me. I say this because, just like people, once you leave their house you never know what they say about you behind your back. I had the same experience with the couple of cats my son's godparents owned. We got along fine, and we managed to maintain a very cordial and functional relationship. My wife grew up in a world that allowed cats and dogs in the same household, so she often wishes that we could experiment with some of that same cohabitation, but the thought still boggles me. Can't we all just get along? It puts me in mind of Geraldo Rivera brawling with neo-Nazis: too terrible to contemplate.
Finally, the argument every cat owner I have ever had contact with will try to convince me that my feelings about cats are fundamentally correct, "But my cat is different. You'll love my cat." So far, this hasn't turned out to be true. I have liked many of the cats that I have met. I have even taken care of the cats for friends and relatives while they are away. I always treat them with care and affection, as all creatures are due. But I'm going to have to draw the line at Oscar. Oscar the cat has an uncanny ability for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. Oscar's different, but I don't think I'll love Oscar.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sports Legislated

Go ahead. Try and be a sports fan this summer. I dare you. To say that you are a sports fan these days is to say that you are also a fan of litigation and overt drama that has little or nothing to do with the game. Baseball, Cycling, Basketball, Football - they are all mired in the questionable practices of the stars and those who maintain them.
Barry Bonds finds himself in a race not just to see if he can set the all-time record for hitting home runs in a career, but to be able to do it before the truth about his performance enhancing drug use catches up to him. Did anyone bother to tell commissioner Bud Selig that when he shows up to watch a team that is thirteen and a half games out of first place he is giving tacit approval of a scene that is at best objectionable, if not illegal?
At the end of the sixteenth stage of the Tour de France today, police were seen leading Cristian Moreni away from the Cofidis team bus. He failed a blood test, and French authorities have very strict laws against trafficking in doping products. Yesterday, Alexandre Vinokourov and his entire Astana team were sent home after he tested positive for a banned blood transfusion. The Cofidis team has subsequently pulled out of the Tour as well.
Back across the pond, David Stern is wincing in anticipation of further revelations of betting among NBA referees. He may be thankful that his organization is not facing the public relations nightmare that is the NFL. Three high profile players have been arrested, indicted or simply under direct suspicion for all manner of vile activity. Michael Vick is just he most recent and high profile example, but then there's the Cincinnati Bengals who led the league in courtroom appearances.
If professional athletics are a mirror of our own society, in the same way that movies and television reflect the world in which we live, then who do we have left to root for? I suppose for the time being, we'll have to start making a list of of fantasy litigators.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pop Goes Your Culture

Last night I felt like a kid again. I finished reading all seven hundred and fifty-nine pages of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows". I carefully avoided all the possible spoilers and distractions that could have kept my experience from being anything but a focused one. I was a man on a mission. Now I wait patiently to find those people who have also accomplished this literary feat so that I can have a polite discussion with them about what's inside.
But this will not be a review or rehash of my Harry Potter experience. Instead I found myself remembering that I have a life of "first-nighter" to reflect back upon, and that is the feeling that came over me last night when I snapped the book shut. I believe that pop culture is best when it is fresh, not unlike its namesake, when the lid has been off too long, it tends to go flat and lose its fizz.
That's why I love to go movies on opening weekend. I feel the whirl of the zeitgeist pull me along as I walk into the movie theater or book store. I'm not a big fan of events, but I've always been big on that opening day thing. One line for ticket holders, one for those who need to purchase theirs. Did you reserve a copy? Here's your receipt and you can pick your book up at the mound of cardboard boxes to the left. It's a silly little thrill that you get for standing in line. I sat on the concrete out in front of a theater for three hours for a chance to sit for another two hours to be the first in my zip code to see "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" with the hope of finally seeing how Darth Vader became such an awful guy. Turns out I had another two episodes' worth of lines to stand in before I got the news. Back in college, I used to get a phone call from my local bookstore when a new Stephen King novel was coming out. I would get to read it first, and therefore be the first to swear that I would never read another - until the next one arrived six months later. I'm saying there are pitfalls to this lifestyle.
Then it's over, and you have to wait for someone else to share the experience. Or you can start looking for the next chance to stay up late and stand in line.

Monday, July 23, 2007

No Longer Being Kept Down By The Man

Please don't tell me that there is never any good news. Starting next month, airline passengers will be allowed to bring most cigarette lighters on board again freeing airport screeners to spend more time searching for explosives. They're putting the "free" back in freedom, or is that the other way 'round? Now, along with my fellow passengers, I will be able to light a cigarette - well, not on board a plane, or anywhere near most of the major terminals, but if I had a mind to walk the half-mile to the nearest designated smoking section, I would be certain to have my trusty Bic with me (the lighter, not the pen).
Or maybe I could set off some fireworks. That brings back memories of the pop bottle rocket fights we used to have in college. But wait: fireworks are still illegal in most states, and are explosives anyway, so there goes that fun idea too.
Unless the Transportation Security Administration is hoping that we will be better equipped to call for an encore of "Freebird", I'm not exactly sure what problem they were attempting to solve. Since the ban is still in place for torch-style lighters that burn much hotter, MacGyver type pranks will be limited to the low end of the flame spectrum. The bonus comes in the savings for our government that was confiscating more than 22,000 a day. It costs TSA four million dollars a year to dispose of them because they contain hazardous materials.Lighting up one's shoes will still be highly discouraged.
If that's not good enough for you, why not take advantage of the other rule change that takes place on August 4: Mothers (or anyone) wanting to bring more than three ounces of breast milk onto an airplane will no longer have to be accompanied by an infant. The milk is still subject to inspection by screeners, but now you can bring along the breast milk to put out any small fires that might be started by your non-confiscated lighter. Didn't life just get a whole lot easier?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lights Out

Summertime, and the living is easy. Well, it's easier, at any rate. I stay up later than usual and get up later than usual. This time shift is mediated by living in a household with a dog and a ten-year-old boy, but I felt very smug last night when I was able to stay up long enough to get halfway through the new "Harry Potter" book. I felt the same sense of mild triumph when I lived through our whirlwind trip to Los Angeles earlier this month. In the middle of this flurry of activity and late nights, a friend of mine who is also a parent asked how I was coping. I told him that I had finally found a reason to be glad for my prior substance use. I figured that if I could get out of bed and just be exhausted without the hangover, survival was pretty much assured.
This is why I was mighty chagrined at the sight of cots being rolled into the back rooms of the U.S. Senate last week. Don't these people know what an all-nighter is supposed to be? I saw the pizzas being delivered, but where were the cases of Jolt Cola, and industrial sized tubs of Vivarin? I'm pretty sure that Claude Rains wasn't curled up on a roll-away bed while Jimmy Stewart was working himself up into a lather in "Mister Smith Goes To Washington." On the contrary, I'm reasonably sure that as soon as he was finished with his big cigar, he met with his cronies to work up some nefarious scheme to bring down our idealistic junior senator. There was no lying down. When it was all over, there were no bushels of telegrams telling either side to throw in the towel, just a meaningless fifty-two to forty-seven vote that allowed everyone to feel like they gave it their all.
Wow. Now I do feel tired. I think I'll go grab a nap.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

"How years ago in days of old, When magic filled the air"

Determined not to have another night of drama like we had two years ago, we conscientiously went ahead, months in advance, and reserved our copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" at our local bookstore. Our local bookstore. Our local, independently owned small bookstore. I emphasize the small because the hundred or so bodies that filled the place in the hours before midnight put us all in peril of asphyxiation, but it was worth it.
Not that I have finished the book. I still have several hundred pages left to read, and since this one will be read round-robin style by all three of us, I suspect I may have to get up early or stay up late to get my turn in. What made last night so worthwhile was, of all things, part of the patter delivered by the magician who was there to entertain us in the moments leading up to the official release of the book, redefining the term "captive audience". This didn't bother our performer, Blake Maxam (billed as the Wizard of “Aahhhhs"), who worked from a cramped corner near the back of the store to a group that ranged in age from eight to eighty. Early in his show, he stopped to deflect a certain level of pre-teen heckling he was getting from down in front. "I know what you're thinking," he said with hands on hips, "You're thinking 'I know how he did that.' Well, let me make a suggestion: Tomorrow while you're watching television, maybe during a commercial, take a moment and say, 'Oh, that's how he did that!' But for now, sit back, relax and be amazed." And to his credit, and to those kids who were down in front, the show proceeded to enthrall right up until the stroke of midnight, when the boxes opened and the books made their way into feverish hands.
That suspension of disbelief is so hard to come by these days, and we all sat there mildly amazed for fifty-some minutes. We took our copy of the new Harry Potter book home and read the first chapter aloud as a family. I got out of bed before anyone else this morning to get a head start. My wife and son are in the living room even now, working to catch up. There's magic in the air.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Active Culture

We went to the Symphony last night. My mother-in-law got us tickets "for an evening with Tchaikovsky". We drove across the bridge into San Francisco, and it occurred to me that I hadn't been to see an orchestra play live for many years. It also reminded me of the experience I had when I first moved to Oakland, and I was told that we were "going into the city." Wait a minute, I thought I lived in a city. Apparently not. Even though Oakland has its own Symphony Orchestra, it was made clear to me that San Francisco is where they keep all the culture.
My wife will take most any opportunity to get dressed up, but her boys are another matter. It was apparent that we were in for a special evening, not only because both my son and I were wearing jackets (mine was cashmere, his was velvet), but because his hair was washed and combed. This was significant because this summer has seen clean and combed hair, but never exactly at the same time. It was, however, our unspoken understanding that we would still be wearing our tennis shoes.
The performance was very nice, and to my son's credit, he shifted in his seat quite a bit, but never became unruly. He actually seemed to enjoy it. I credit this to a certain amount of music in his DNA. My mother would have been very proud of how intent he seemed at times. He was able to come up with all the members of the string family, and was patient while he listened to his father wax rhapsodic about the rotary valve tuba. Not once did he ask, "Is it over yet?" He's a good kid, and he knows his Tchaikovsky.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Broad Strokes

I'm painting, I'm painting again.
I'm painting, I'm painting again.
I'm cleaning, I'm cleaning again.
I'm cleaning, I'm cleaning my brain. - "Artists Only" by Talking Heads
Painting is a job that I don't mind doing. I confess that the anticipation of such a task always makes me cringe. The hours of discussion that can be had about a finite series of paint chips can be mind-numbing, but once I'm actually up on the ladder, brush in hand, I feel a whole lot better. Why? Probably because I can see immediate results. This morning, our bedroom was dingy white. Now it's a happy new shade of blue.
When I was a renter, I never had the satisfaction of altering my surroundings. Unless I moved out, or the owners of the building decided to put in new carpeting, what I saw was what I got (and vice versa). To crawl down the evolutionary scale another notch or two, I tried living in furnished apartments. The idea now seems completely foreign to me. I remember one landlord who seemed more than a little put off by the idea of me bringing my own bed into his building. The single that was shoved into one corner of the bedroom just gave me too much of a "dorm" vibe. As fate would have it, this became my friend's crash pad when he slowly began moving in with me. Two guys in a one bedroom apartment - a one bedroom cinder block bunker decorated exclusively in colors not found in nature.
That was a long time ago. I have enough stuff that I need a garage and a basement to store it all. Well, my family does, anyway. And every so often, we get this wild hair to change the color of our surroundings. We can do that. It's our house.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Boom Goes London, Boom Paris...

I've seen some movies this summer about the end of the world. "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" and "Transfomers" were great big comic books that went boom and when the smoke cleared, the world was safe again, and the good guys won. In "Live Free Or Die Hard," it wasn't the world that needed saving as much as our infrastructure, but John McClane (not to be confused with John McCain, who reminds us that "defeat is not an option") gets beat up and battered around just long enough to come back and do away with the bad guys who want to disrupt your cell phone service.
They were fun rides, but it left me thinking of a movie from my video store days: "Def-Con 4". It tells the story of what happens to the survivors of the Third World War. No matter that Defense Condition 1 is actually the maximum level of readiness, and is reserved for imminent or ongoing attack on U.S. military forces or U.S. territory by a foreign military power and Def-Con 4 refers "to normal, increased intelligence and strengthened security measures". Def-Con just sounds scary. Back when Matthew Broderick was playing global thermonuclear war with the defense department's "W.O.P.R." central processor, we all lived on the edge of annihilation. That movie prepared us for the daily virtual Armageddons that take place in our living rooms every day. There is a video game called "Defcon" in which players are invited to blow up as much of the world as possible, the ultimate goal being to incur as many "megadeaths" as possible. Doctor Strangelove would be so proud (so would Dave Mustaine, for that matter).
I guess it's just nostalgia for the good old days, when it didn't take a bunch of giant robots or "planet eaters" to doom us all. Back then it just took one crazy guy with access to the button. Come to think of it, maybe things haven't changed that much after all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I Am Terrified...Yellow

Good morning, America! How did you sleep last night? Were the sirens loud? How about the helicopters overhead? Did they keep you awake? No? Well, we're pretty much sleeping through most everything these days anyway. I don't remember the last time I heard a car alarm and wondered who was stealing a car. Instead I just grumbled about the noise.
Speaking of sirens and noise, did the sound of Japan's malfunctions at the Kashiwazaki power plant after a powerful earthquake shook northern end of the archipelago disturb anybody here? There is a lot of fuss and bother right now over there about the relative safety of Japan's fifty-five nuclear reactors, which supply thirty percent of the quake-prone country's electricity and have suffered a long string of accidents and cover-ups.
Accidents and cover-ups? That can't happen here in the good old United States of America. "Diablo Canyon Power Plant is one the strongest structures on the face of the earth; built to withstand the largest earthquake deemed credible from the nearest earthquake fault." That's what Pacific Gas and Electric tells us on their own web site. Of course, the Environmental Protection Agency has also announced "The Coast Guard has established a security zone in the waters adjacent to Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near Avila Beach, California." No worries about that earthquake. Just terrorists.
Today, July 17, 2007 the Department of Homeland Security tells us that the current threat level is Elevated (yellow). The DHS web site suggests "All Americans should continue to be vigilant, take notice of their surroundings, and report suspicious items or activities to local authorities immediately." Our friends in Great Britain are also currently experiencing an elevated level of threat (they call it "saffron") and they are just as cautious, if not a little more polite: "While it’s important that we all go about our daily business normally, it’s also sensible to remain alert to danger and to report any suspicious activity you see or hear."
According to a new National Intelligence Estimate on threats to the United States, the terrorist network Al-Qaida will likely leverage its contacts and capabilities in Iraq to mount an attack on U.S. soil. Maybe those terrorists are behind all the recent seismic activity too. Come to think of it, car alarms go off when there's an earthquake too. Every time the earth shakes, the terrorists win.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Time Sink of Epic Proportions

One of the things I am doing with my vacation is indulging in of my favorite time sinks. Sitting on the couch with a tall glass of iced tea is still a pretty good bet, as is sitting on the couch with a tall glass of iced tea watching television, but sometimes I need a notch more intereaction. For this I generally find myself in front of another screen - the one attached to my computer. Solitaire is an easy way to throw away half an hour, but when I really need to dig deep and get rid of hours at a time, I turn to Civilization III (The Gold Edition).
If you are unfamiliar with this game, it allows you to begin at the dawn of history, inventing the wheel and an alphabet and follows your tribe wherever you take them, even if that means thermonuclear war. As you might suspect, it takes a good long time to build cities and direct commodities. After a playing the game a number of different times, bringing different cultures through the painful birth of nations, I have discovered a few things.
Starting wars drains resources. After an initial bump of popularity, the folks back home are generally anxious to have an end to the fighting so they can get back to their normal lives. They are not happy to have their money and food going to an enterprise that usually ends up with sons and daughters dying - even if they are merely figments of my CPU.
Extending yourself outside your borders with trade and defense agreements can be just as costly as an actual conflict. The Monroe Doctrine turns out to be pretty good advice, at least in the world inside my computer.
I have also learned the terrors and pleasure of communism, and the dangers of unlimited scientific progress. When you start the game, you have a choice of chieftain: Zulu, Ottoman, Mayan, Egyptian, Iroquois, Celtic, or even American. Here's the truth, at some point in every game I've played, I have the urge to do something crazy or aggressive of both. If nothing happens, the game gets boring. So why not send a bunch of cavalry across the border and raid the nearest town for their gold? If a city overthrows their governor and switches cultures, there's a great temptation to send the navy over and bomb them back to the stone age, just to teach them a lesson.
But the name of the game, after all, is Civilization. When I turn it off and return to the couch to watch the news, I wonder if I shouldn't send a copy out to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next time our President has a few minutes to kill.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Vactaion Never Ends, It Just Changes Location

The Ron Howard opus, "Night Shift" (more work for his mutant brother Clint!) contains one of my favorite bits of etymology in film. There is a scene in which Billy Blaze, played by Michael Keaton, derives the meaning of the word "prostitution". "TION of course, from the Latin to shun... to say uh-uh no thank you anyway I don't want it, to push away... it doesn't even belong in this word really." I believe that the "shun" in "vacation" most definitely belongs in the word, as in "uh-uh no thank you anyway I don't want it, to push away..." the must do's and gotta's that surround us during the rest of the year. And "vacate" is simple enough - to flee, or run away. This is the way I always imagine the month or two that I get between the end of school in June and the return in August. Somewhere in my mind is a vision of a hammock and a glass of lemonade. I imagine the quiet and calm. I dream of sleeping in.
But there is a set of realities that keep me from sleeping for six weeks. I'm a husband. I'm a father. I'm a dog owner. These other creatures in my life have their own views of how time can be spent, and they are anxious to share those ideas with me. Did I mention that I am also a home owner? I can hear the mute cries of my property and the various surfaces that need to be painted, pounded and finessed back into place. And to be completely fair, I have never been any good at sitting still. I would love to figure out a good place to hang a hammock, and then move on to another project that would move me further away from actually falling down into it. The trees need pruning, and the fruit will rot on the ground if we don't bother to pick it off the branches. My son would like to have me play a few hours of video games when I'm done with that and there are dozens of hikes in the hills that my wife would love to share with me. My dog begins her ambivalence about being out or in just before seven in the morning. We all have places we want to go, things we want to do, and people we want to see.
The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of other things: of shoes, and ships and enamel paint, of cabbages and water guns. Vacation time is here at last, and one thing is certain: there will be more time to discuss how we spend our time together, even if we can't all agree on what it is that we end up doing.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I've Got The Chocolate Covered

Back in the days that I used to run a video store, I knew that I had a problem. I had the long shift in the day, by myself, and sometimes I was stuck there without sustenance - or any sort of tasty treats. When my older brother dropped by, I saw my opening. He asked if he could bring me anything from the Food Mart across the parking lot. "A Coke," I said, then added quickly, "and anything else that looks excessively chocolaty."
When I wrote about breakfast cereals, I callously glossed over my fixation on chocolate. Count Chocula was only the tip of the big brown iceberg. Cocoa Krispies were a boon to me because they made the milk in your bowl turn into chocolate milk. If you had two bowls full in the same milk, you got twice as much chocolate goodness. It was important to follow a timetable to make certain that the cereal itself did not become too limp while still maximizing the cocoa dispersal. It's a science, after all. Cocoa Puffs, on the other hand, never fully delivered on the chocolate milk, perhaps because they were encased in glistening hard sugary coated shells. Both of these cereals were extremely nasty when completely soggy, but the milky syrup they left behind made it all worthwhile.
Back at the video store, my older brother returned with a large bottle of Coke, and a Chocodile. For those of you who have spent your lives eschewing such pleasures, a Chocodile is a chocolate covered Twinkie. While I confess I was never a big fan of Twinkies, the waxy chocolate covering made all the difference in the world. As I sat behind the counter, appreciating my brother's kindness, I could swear that I could hear my dentist's soul being torn apart - kind of an end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" kind of thing.
Now that I'm grown up, I don't keep that kind of thing in the house. Or at least, when I bring it into the house, it doesn't last long. I have discovered that frozen Ho-Hos are infinitely superior to their room temperature brethren, and I no longer name the animal that is the mascot for Cocoa Krispies. These kind of epicurean experiences are generally limited to special occasions. I have eaten a Ho-Ho dipped in cheese fondue, and a bowl of Cocoa Puffs floating in Coca Cola. As a semi-professional stunt eater, I can let you in on a little secret. To paraphrase "The Graduate": Chocolate.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I got one of those e-mail surveys from a friend yesterday - the kind that asks what book you're currently reading, or the flavor of ice cream you prefer. One of the questions stuck with me: What is your favorite cereal? I gave a flip reply. I said "oats" not because I am so very fond of oats, but because I thought it would be good for a laugh.
This morning when I got out of bed, I started ruminating on just exactly what cereal I would be happy to find in my cupboard. My first impulse was King Vitamin, probably because there was never a less aptly named cereal in all creation. It reminded me of the apocryphal tale about how eating the cardboard of a box of Kix had more nutritional value than eating the contents. King Vitamin was for those of us who didn't find Cap'n Crunch sugary enough. I had a brief dalliance with Freakies, but that was mostly for the chance to collect all seven rubbery freaks before any other kid in my neighborhood. It was also remarkably similar to another childhood favorite, Quake. Unfortunately, Quake was always a poor second to Quisp, to whose fate Quake was inexorably fixed. Quisp was lighter and puffier, and shaped like flying saucers. Quake, on the other hand, were nuggets of super-sugary fried oats and corn. When it came time to pick cereals, my older brother got dibs on Quisp, so I took Quake - much in the same manner that he got Hot Wheels and I got Johnny Lightning, or when he chose the Beatles and I was stuck with the Monkees. I could complain more, but I know that when my younger brother came along, I got Count Chocula, and he had to make do with Frankenberry. I'm pretty sure he ended up making the dog eat Boo-berry.
As a grown-up, I keep my breakfasts simple: a glass of orange juice and a bowl of granola. Every so often, a novelty cereal will sneak its way into the cupboard, and I'll have a bowl or two - just to experience the raw feeling on my gums afterward, and the eventual sugar dip. On weekends or vacations I rarely have breakfast at all, preferring instead to build to hypoglycemic fever pitch by noon. That works for now, but if I ever need a little pick-me-up, I know it's just a bowlful away.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Pinhead By Any Other Name...

...would sound as dim.
A lot of you have been stopping me on the street and asking me, "Why do you insist on referring to our President as 'Pinhead'? The man has a name, after all."
That's true, but until he returns to mangling shrubs with a chainsaw full-time, I feel this particualr epithet is (to borrow a phrase) fair and balanced. Let's take a look at just what makes the leader of the Free World a Pinhead:
He's smug. I took the time this morning to watch an entire news conference. This is something I tend to avoid since it stirs my bile and gall at the same time and while it is important to keep one's humours vital, I would rather read a transcript instead of looking into those beady eyes and wincing in anticipation of that ever-present smirk. He was asked about U.S. Intelligence reports show that the Al-Qaida network that launched the most devastating terror attack on U.S. soil has been able to regroup despite nearly six years of bombings, war and other tactics aimed at dismantling it. Pinhead responded, "Because of the actions we've taken, Al-Qaida is weaker today than they would have been," he said. "They are still a threat. They are still dangerous. And that is why it is important that we succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq and anywhere else we find them."
He's patronizing. The Yosemite Sam chuckle that accompanies most of the answers that he gives to any question imply that he knows better than you. Even though the people he works for (us) have loudly expressed our disapproval, he assures us (us) that he knows best. "When we start drawing down our forces in Iraq, it will (be) because our military commanders say the conditions on the ground are right, not because pollsters say it'll be good politics." He is the President, after all. They wouldn't let a Pinhead do this job, would they?
He's condescending. The rules say that reporters have to address him as "Mister President" and he gets to call them by their first names. It gives the impression of intimacy that is clearly nonexistent. He's doing us all a favor by making time to come out and answer a few questions. Smirking, chuckling and shaking his head all the while.
The report issued today credited the Iraqi government with satisfactory progress on eight benchmarks, unsatisfactory progress on another eight and mixed results on the other two. The war that has taken the lives of more than three thousand U.S. troops is costing the United States an estimated ten billion dollars a month. You don't have to be a Pinhead to make sense out of that, but it seems to help.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

White House Whitewash

The Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace is now under federal control. It used to be a privately operated enterprise, but today that all changed with a simple ceremony with just a little bit of cake and champagne. "This is a great day for history. The hallmark of this new institution will be true acceptance and love for history — the good, the bad and the ugly," said Timothy Naftali, the museum's new federal director. "We are moving past the tribal squabble."
The "tribal squabble" Mr. Naftali refers to is the library's view of the Watergate era. For the past two decades, visitors were told the Watergate scandal was really a "coup" by Nixon's rivals and the investigative reporting team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein offered bribes for their nation-shaking scoops.
Now, it would seem, the Watergate break-in and subsequent coverup was an orchestrated attempt to control the outcome of the 1972 presidential election, and to centralize power in the executive branch. The museum used to tell visitors that the infamous eighteen and a half minute gap in one important White House tape — a conversation three days after the break-in — was because of a mechanical malfunction. "No serious historian believes in that," said David Greenberg, a Nixon scholar and professor at Rutgers University. "It's not only not true, it's the opposite of truth. There was a lot along those lines in the library, which was not a matter of interpretation, but was flat wrong, a lie."
The lies at the Richard M. Nixon library in Yorba Linda, California are being stripped away after thirty-five years. Meanwhile, across the continent, Pinhead and Dick continue to fabricate their own elaborate house of cards. I wonder how many years theirs will be allowed to stand.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Green Genes

When I first arrived in California, I was indoctrinated into the ways of recycling. My wife-to-be frowned and scowled at my poor habits. I thought I was doing very well. Having grown up in the foothills of Colorado, I felt proud of my environmental consciousness. I knew that a litterbug was the lowest form of life, and that I was extremely proficient at putting litter in its place.
Well, as it turns out, there are many places for litter. Glass, plastic, paper, aluminum, steel - these can all be turned back into glass, plastic, paper, aluminum and steel. I learned shame for my wasteful ways, and became somewhat of a recycling zealot myself.
And now I have seen the light. I am converted. The kids in my class know where paper goes, and we all anticipate a day when pencil shavings can be successfully reclaimed for mulch. I'm the one separating the packaging of my son's toys into what can truly be discarded and what can be reused or recycled.
Alameda County Waste Management made it even easier for us all when they started doing weekly pickups of garbage, green waste (compost!) and recycling. This, in part, was the reason Oakland was named one of the greenest cities in the country back in April. Nothing throws a wrench into sustainability like a garbage strike. Now the green, brown and gray bins stand by the curb, waiting for replacement workers to empty their contents into the proper trucks and take them away to the proper facilities to make the whole cycle to begin again. It's not like the pictures you may have seen of other big cities with Hefty bags piled chest-high along the street, but I did see a cardboard sign taped to a compost can that pleaded: "I am garbage too - please pick me up!"
And now that we are all so very well trained, how long will it take us to start to slip back to our sloppy old habits? It's not easy being green.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Crosstown Traffic

I felt fear last night as I drove across Los Angeles to the calm suburban oasis of Thousand Oaks. I thought of my younger brother's description of how he used to get from place to place when he lived in the City of Angels. Rule number one, he insisted, was "Avoid Impact." As for how he was able to navigate the vast maze of freeways and connectors that make up the streets of LA, he said that he simply stayed "in my ruts." He was able to get to all the places he needed (coffee, movie theaters, work) and the rest was just excess. All those highways were someone else's headache, not his.
Last night they became mine. Armed with a Google map and a passing familiarity with the general locations of my destinations, I set out. The daylight hours provided some comfort, since the direction of the sun gave me constant verification of the credibility of the signs on the road and the map in my hand. From the back seat, my son looked up periodically to offer his encouragement. He didn't know that I was driving through a massive flashback.
Many years ago, I went on what was to be my last bender in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. Phoenix and Los Angeles have a great deal in common when it comes to sprawl, and a working knowledge of the placement of suburbs and county lines makes navigation much easier. Driving a rental car from one side to the other with an addled brain and impaired judgement made this a nearly impossible chore. I remember parking in the lot of the hotel in Mesa, Arizona with the fan on high, the interior lights on, the stereo blaring and my Avis local area map draped across the steering wheel. I sat for a moment or two, imagining just how fortunate I had been.
Last night,driving through the valley, I thought again of that night. Then it had been survival. Now it was a simple matter of negotiating a few turns here and there, and keeping my eyes out for the right exit. My son didn't know anything about this. He was too busy drifting off to sleep. Dad will get us home.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Comfort Zone

I can remember standing at home plate, watching the long, lingering descent of the ball on its path toward me. I knew right where to swing to make contact and send the ball sailing down the first base line, into a clum of aspen trees across the road. I cannont say that I was truly that much of an athlete, but I was able to find what they call "my wheelhouse" and put my best swing into the ball. It helped that it was usually one of my parents who was pitching, and we generally didn't worry too much about balls and strikes. That's how I used to hit home runs on the softball diamond that was in the meadow at my family's cabin, oh so many years ago.
I thought of this because I was thinking about what it means to be both comfortable and successful. I don't like to feel uncomfortable, and I prefer success to failure. What do I need to make this happen? Mostly I've found that keeping things familiar will make it possible for me to do my very best, just like that long lob of a pitch my mother used to toss me: I could see the stitches on the ball as it traveled the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate. Away from home, I don't do as well, since I don't have a sense of my immediate surroundings. I try and pad my nest with things that look familiar, like my iPod or a magazine, I might even bring my running togs to go out and make myself familiar with the territory. I want it to feel like home.
But it isn't. For this reason I have complete sympathy for my son an the challenges he faces in his quest to be able to spend the night away from home. I know that it gets harder once it gets dark, and that intellectually nothing has changed, but there are in fact monsters waiting under the bed.
This sometimes makes it difficult for me to be a good father. I want to present an adventuresome face to the world and create an example for my son to follow. That would make me an adult with one less neurosis, and we could all use a little more of that. So I push myself. Not hard, but I go out into the world like the little engine that could be a notch less neurotic, and I take my shot at the big round ball that is coming straight at me. What's the worst that can happen? I could miss. And then, if I'm lucky, I'll bet another pitch, at which time I intend to swing for that grove of aspen trees.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Luck of the Irish

It's my lucky day. I woke up at seven minutes past seven on the seventh day of the seventh month in the year two-thousand seven. I woke up to the sound of my dog throwing up on the rug in our entry way. How much more fortunate can one man be? I went to see if perhaps she had been yakking up gold coins, or maybe simply announcing the arrival of my lottery winnings.
Wait a minute. I don't play the lottery. I don't tend to go in for games of chance ever since the kid down the street from me opened "Little Vegas" way back when I was about eleven years old. His casino opened in his parents garage, and came complete with rigged roulette wheel and a number of other fixed games. I watched as he bilked the younger kids in the neighborhood for their lunch money. Even now I am amazed at how easily people hand over their money for a chance to get rich quick.
A teacher friend of mine started his vacation by playing the ponies. When I saw him at a pub the other night, he was celebrating the five hundred dollars he had won on horse racing. It occurred to me only briefly to ask him how much he had invested prior to his big payoff, but that seemed like a definite buzzkill. The idea that you could get something for nothing is still awfully appealing.
Many years ago, my father was flying in a friend's small plane to the west coast to visit me, and they stopped in Tahoe, for gas and a little wager. He put five dollars down on the Colorado Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup. This was the kind of thing my father was prone to do, betting with his heart, since the Colorado Avalanche was essentially a brand new franchise, and no NHL team had ever won the Stanley Cup the year after relocating. By the end of the season, my father's dream had come true, and his parlay paid off at fifteen to one. He didn't get to pick that one up. I did. He died on the trip back to Colorado, and never had a chance to see it. I sent the ticket off to Nevada and they mailed me back seventy-five dollars. It only cost me the price of a stamp - and the opportunity to share it with my father. Lucky me.

Friday, July 06, 2007

School Bored

The headline read: "Oakland school district to regain some powers." My mind immediately began to make a list: heat vision, invisibility, spider-sense, and invulnerability. Alas, this was not to be the case. On July 9 state Superintendent Jack O'Connell is expected to meet with board members and state lawmakers to announce an agreement: the return of board control over an area named "community relations and governance."
For those of you who, like myself, are scratching your heads and asking what exactly is meant by "community relations and governance," the state department of education still will manage the areas of student achievement, staffing, finances and facilities but the board sees symbolic importance in the power transfer. Symbols can be very powerful. The swastika, the smiley face, Hello Kitty. David Kakishiba, president of the school board says, "As opposed to us just sitting on the sidelines, we're going to be articulating what the goals are for the entire district." Again, articulation is very important too. Try saying "rubber baby buggy bumpers" without articulating. The effects can be devastating.
I confess. I'm not really impressed. Oakland Unified still owes about eighty-six million dollars on the state loan that spared the district from bankruptcy. According to its chief financial officer, Javetta Robinson, about thirty million of that amount is in a reserve, collecting interest. There is a pending Assembly bill that would force the state to gradually restore democracy to the Oakland school district, based on periodic progress reports. We could call these benchmarks, and we all know that handing over control to the local government based on progress toward benchmarks is not the kind of accountability we all feel comfortable with. And when I say "we", I mean the Royal We, and I'm referring to his Pinheadness - the man who will let no child be left behind. Sometimes I find it hard to relate to governance, community-wise.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Are You Smarter Than A Fourth Grader?

"The price of gasoline dropped nationwide by an average of nearly four cents over the last two weeks, to $1.58 per gallon of self-serve regular, a survey of nearly 7,000 gas stations concluded Sunday."
Test yourself. Before I tell you when this survey was taken, you take a shot at what year this survey was taken. I'll wait here while you ponder this.
Did you guess? Not yet? Did you open up another browser window and ask Al Gore's Internet to give you the answer? It's okay if you did, since that's how I found this report from CNN dated 2003. I wouldn't have imagined that a gallon of gasoline would double in price over four years. Four years before that, the price hovered at $1.20.
A lot has happened in eight years. Even more has happened in the past four. It causes me to reflect on the microcosm of my classroom. Every day, the kids in my class get paid one dollar (classroom currency) for showing up on time, and another for bringing in their homework. Students who don't miss a day and have their homework can bank three hundred and sixty dollars over the course of a school year. What can they use their money for, if they don't want to simply save it? They can buy pencils and erasers for a dollar apiece, but every year the big money maker for Mister Caven is water and trips to the bathroom. At the beginning of the year, "comfort stops" cost the same as a pencil or eraser. As soon as the kids have a few dollars in their pockets, or desks, they feel the urge to spend it. By mid-September, as the demand for trips to the boys' and girls' room increase, so does the price: simple supply and demand. The idea is to try and discourage kids from leaving class for "emergencies" that could have been prevented by taking care of business during recess. By the end of this year, water cost fifteen dollars, and trips to the bathroom were twenty. There were those students who made the connection, and started to rein themselves in, but still others who insisted on living close to the edge. A few kids in my class ended the year owing me money.
What does that mean? First of all, it meant that they weren't eligible for the class store, where we sold giant paper clips, kaleidoscopes, CDs of "Multiplication Rock" and other treasures for ten year olds. It also meant that they spent a year without getting the point. In his State of the Union address in 2006, Pinhead said, "Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil." That was way back when gasoline was lurching past two dollars a gallon. As a nation, are we limiting our "comfort stops"? Not yet. We're just relieved that we don't have to pay seven dollars a gallon like they do in England. The smart kids in my class figure out early that a trip to the drinking fountain costs fifteen dollars, and then usually ends up creating a twenty dollar trip to the bathroom. They'll wait for recess, when it's free.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Codependence Day

"Just say goodbye it's Independence Day
It's Independence Day this time" - Bruce Springsteen
Say goodbye to high expectations. Welcome to a country where the dreams are mediated by the people in charge. There is an old saw about "We get the government we deserve" and that thought has been knocking around my head for the past few days. A lot can be made of the results of the past two presidential elections, but the simple truth is, it never should have been that close - not unless a mighty large portion of the voters who are both registered and drag themselves to the polls didn't want a Pinhead to be the leader of the free world.
Today we have five hundred and sixty-five days left of the Cheney regime, and I confess that by acknowledging that I have fallen into the same pit I am complaining about. This government no longer serves the majority of the people that it represents. We live in an oligarchy, maintained by a group of wealthy white men. As we approach another presidential election (and since the violent overthrow of oppressive governments is something that we thrust on other countries), I find it odd that we are now getting regular updates from the campaign trail not about the new ideas that are being put forth by the candidates, but by the amount of money that each of our lucky contestants has been able to raise. Is this the leading indicator of potential political success?
We can express outrage and frustration, but there is no tea in the harbor. The reason we hear all those shots is because they're being heard around the world. The solutions don't rest on the shoulders of the politicians, they rest on the shoulders of the people (we) who elect them. Celebrate your independence and exercise your first amendment right to ask for something more - something better.
"This land is your land" - Woody Guthrie

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Morning Commute

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
You remember those words, don't you? They show up right after the introduction to that breakaway best-seller, "The Declaration of Independence". It was some of Tom Jefferson's best work. It was probably what was swirling around the space between Pinhead's ears on Monday when he decided to commute Scooter "Lewis" Libby's sentence in the CIA leak case. As a result, none of the thirty months (two and a half years) will be served by the former chief of staff for Dick "Dick" Cheney. "I respect the jury's verdict," Pinhead said in a written statement (probably in crayon). "But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend 30 months in prison." The Pinhead-In-Chief left intact a 250,000 dollar fine and two years probation for his conviction of lying and obstructing justice in a probe into the leak of a CIA operative's identity. Libby's Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness were also left profoundly intact.
Be honest. You expected this, right? How much lower in the public opinion well could Pinhead go? Why not keep digging? They sent Paris Hilton back to jail. She violated her parole. Scooter obstructed justice. On the bright side, we can all look on this as a test of our nation's strength and resolve to hold itself together as some of the tiniest brains on the planet continue to drive the ship of state downriver toward the obligatory waterfall. Hold on tight!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sense Of Purpose

This past week I've been teaching my kids about Louis Braille. This always elicits questions about how blind people do certain things. I have been asked twice how blind people drive. This might not seem like such a bright question, but I suppose I should expect it since I have gone out of my way to explain to my students how blind people can do anything that you and I can do, they just have different ways of making it work.
Inevitably, the discussion turns to all the senses, and which ones could we do without. I have had about four times longer to think about this than my students, so here is what I think:
Sight - I have watched "The Miracle Worker" and I've always been impressed by the work that Anne Sullivan was able to do with Helen Keller, but here's the kicker: I watched those movies (both versions). With both eyes, albeit through prescription eyeglasses. The idea that I couldn't see whatever it is my son is excited about when he says, "Look at this," makes me shiver.
Hearing - Certainly there are a number of sounds that I could go without hearing for the rest of my life, but Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony is not one of them. The sounds of my family laughing, snoring, joking. And the list just goes on and on. No thanks, I'll keep my ears.
Touch - At first, it seems like a pretty simple thing to let go, but the feeling of my wife's hand in mine or my son's forehead when he might have a fever aren't trivial bits at all. I don't need my sense of touch as much as I revel in it.
Smell - My mother has not smelled anything for decades. The way she has adapted and survived in a world full of odors has always been mildly inspirational to me. Like sounds, there are plenty of stinky things out there that I could be happy to avoid automatically, but then the smell of a wood fire, or an ocean breeze, or melting chocolate - well, it's that list thing again.
Taste - Now I'm at the end of the traditional list, and I guess I have to pick something, so I'll have to let flavors go. This would be painful for me because there are so many things out there that I have enjoyed tasting for all these years. But this one is more practical. I could still smell them, so I wouldn't be able to relish them in my mouth. Considering the number of foods that I avoid because of my finicky tastes, my family would be happy to be able to move me past this. I would probably eat better as a result.
This is a decision I have not come to lightly. I fully expect the Sense Police (Senses Takers?) to be at my door later this evening - hopefully after I have finished my dinner.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Canine Conspiracies

A guy rode up behind me this morning and said, "That's the original 'Little Rascals' dog." It took me a moment to come back from my own personal reverie to realize that the was talking about my dog, the one at the end of the leash I was carrying. "They really messed them up." Then I waited for the punch line: "There ain't nothing wrong with pit bulls, really."
I'm used to my dog being seen as everyone's favorite, or least favorite, breed. In many ways, she's a mirror of the society we live in. Little kids want to waddle right up to her and pet the doggie. Some of the older kids start to wonder if she's "a good dog." I suppose that all depends on what your world view is. If your world view extends to the end of your arm and will she bite it, then yes, she is a good dog and she will not bite your hand. Has she rescued blind children from a burning church? No, she's not quite Rin Tin Tin. She protects us from those vile mail carriers who are always trying to give us bills, and she always lets us know that someone is at our door, usually just after they have finished ringing the doorbell. Just recently, she saved me from the dangers of half of my birthday chocolate cake that we foolishly left sitting on the counter under a metal cover. That was the second time my family has been saved from eating some or all of a chocolate cake. Considering what I have been told all my life about the dangers of dogs consuming chocolate, this makes my dog very brave.
Aside from a little German Shepard, Dalmatian, and Cattle Dog, maybe there's a little Lassie in her after all.