Friday, August 31, 2007

Riding With The King

As the curtain rings down on yet another summer full of frolic and fun, I find myself reflecting back on a summer long ago. We were all younger then, as custom would have it. We were more reckless, or at least a little less careful, not by custom but by choice. This was a time when there was a choice for admission to the amusement park in Denver called Elitch's. You could buy an unlimited ride pass, which seemed like the right choice if you were dedicated to the advertising suggestion that you should "come out and play, plan to spend the the day". Or you could buy individual coupons that had to be doled out in increments described by the thrill quotient of the ride. The easy conversion rate was to imagine that the longer the wait in line, the more tickets you would have to pony up to climb aboard once you reached the front of that line.
All of this is preface to the strategy my older brother and I worked out in those bygone days of yore. On any particular evening in late summer, I might get a call asking if I wanted to head down to Elitch's to "chug some nachos and do a little Twister". As I said, these were the salad days, back when bedtime was just prior to collapse. When we arrived, we would buy the unlimited ride ticket, then commence to do laps on the big coaster, with a few slammin' trips on the Tilt-A-Whirl to add spin to the sense of disorientation we were building. Before it got too late, we made a point to stop by the ticket booth to buy more individual ride coupons, discretely covering our unlimited ride passes as we did. We knew from experience that after closing time, our "unlimited" pass would be invalid, but the kind hearts and summer employees would be happy to let us take a few extra spins on Mister Twister to use up our extra tickets.
It was on one of these nights, weighed down by a gut full of the best of amusement park cuisine, that we were taking what would be one of our final rides of the night, but the thrill of being in the park after closing was that it almost guaranteed you any seat you wanted on the coaster. For us, there was no other seat but the front, and that is where I found myself, oh so many years ago, as the clank of the chain dragged us up to the top of the first hill, and a thunderstorm approached in the distance.
"Put your hands up," urged my brother.
I did as I was told.
"Close your eyes."
Why not?
As the car reached the apex of the hill and began its wicked descent, a flash of lightning came just a fraction of a second before a clap of thunder, and my brother grabbed my hands, holding them over my head. Eyes closed, unable to hold on to anything but my breath, we plunged into the darkness. When it was over, I was shaking. When I finally opened my eyes, I checked to be sure that we had more tickets. More fun.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"If I Wrote This"

As if you needed one more reason to patronize your small, neighborhood bookstore: After saying it would not stock copies of "If I Did It" in its stores, citing lack of customer demand, Barnes and Noble told The Associated Press on Thursday that it would indeed carry the book. In case you've forgotten this little gem, "If I Did It" portends to tell a "hypothetical" account of how "O.J." Simpson might have "murdered" his ex-wife and her "friend" Ronald Goldman. Harper Collins, showing a trace of shame, decided to pull the book before its release last November.
Now, "If I Did It" will be published September 13 by Beaufort Books on behalf of the Goldman family, which considers the book Simpson's confession. Over the summer, a federal bankruptcy judge awarded rights to the book to Goldman's family to help satisfy a thirty-eight million dollar wrongful death judgment against Simpson. Oops, sorry: "wrongful death judgement" against Simpson.
To paraphrase the Beach Boys, wouldn't it be nice if this was all being done with the truest, altruistic intentions? If that were the case, wouldn't Barnes and Noble be quick to laud this point, citing it in their publicity. The chain's spokeswoman, Mary Ellen Keating said: "We've been monitoring the pre-orders and customer requests and have concluded that enough customers have expressed interest in buying the book to warrant stocking it in our stores. We do not intend to promote the book but we will stock it in our stores because our customers are asking for it." Come on, lady - if you issue a press release saying that you aren't going to promote something, haven't you already promoted it?
Meanwhile, "The Juice" continues to work on his golf game somewhere in South Florida, having all but disowned the book himself, saying that it is largely the work of his ghostwriter, Pablo Fenjves. Maybe all this "lack" of attention will help "not" promote Pablo Fenjves' other books, including "A Million Little Lies".

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Good For The Soul

What does it mean to be contrite? According to Merriam Webster, who makes a living from knowing such things, the etymology: Middle English contrit, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin contritus, from Latin, past participle of conterere to grind, bruise, from com- + terere to rub. There seems to be something in that last bit for our good friend and openly homophobic Senator (for now) Larry Craig from Idaho.
Here are some choice bits from Larry's statement: "In June, I overreacted and made a poor decision. While I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct at the Minneapolis airport or anywhere else, I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in the hope of making it go away. I did not seek any counsel, either from an attorney, staff, friends, or family. That was a mistake, and I deeply regret it.
"For a moment, I want to put my state of mind into context on June 11. For eight months leading up to June, my family and I had been relentlessly and viciously harassed by the Idaho Statesman. If you've seen today's paper, you know why. Let me be clear: I am not gay and never have been."
Perhaps best known for their coverage of the Boise State Broncos, The Idaho Statesman hardly seems like the kind of newspaper, with its daily circulation of approximately sixty-five thousand, that would be consumed with political sabotage. The truth is, bringing down your average Republican powerlord these days is about as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, and just a little less satisfying.
Larry continues: "As an elected official, I fully realize that my life is open for public criticism and scrutiny, and I take full responsibility for the mistake in judgment I made in attempting to handle this matter myself." Admitting guilt to disorderly conduct rather than confessing to making a sexual advance toward an undercover police officer would probably be considered good judgement. Would this really be the kind of thing a sixty-two year old married (to a woman, okay?) public official want to go to trial? "At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions," opines the Senator For The Time Being.
It took a pretty damning set of allegations and some pretty solid finger-pointing by associates to get Michael Vick to confess to his outrageous behavior. After a strident pre-emptive denial, he finally put his metaphorical tail between his legs and whimpered his confession. Faced with losing everything, he chose to come (more or less) clean.
Maybe if Larry Craig stood at the edge of the abyss and looked down, he might notice that his career as a public official is all but over. By admitting to his conduct with any other man or woman over the age of consent, he could send a breath of fresh air into the Republican beast. For better or worse, that doesn't seem likely. Becoming the first openly bisexual swinger from the State of Idaho might not be his best career move. Perhaps he is better off simply getting out of the way of a pendulum that is swinging back, and gaining momentum. Watch out Larry!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Have It Your Way

The Zen master steps up to the hot dog cart and says: "Make me one with everything." The hot dog vendor fixes a hot dog and hands it to the Zen master, who pays with a twenty dollar bill. The hot dog vendor puts the bill in the cash drawer and closes the drawer. "Where's my change?" asks the Zen master. The hot dog vendor responds: "Change must come from within."
This is the corollary to the joke that asks: What did the Zen Buddhist say to the Hot Dog vendor? "Make me one with everything".
These clever bits of zen comedy came to me as I stood in line waiting for my Subway sandwich to be completed. There was a time when I liked my sandwiches, hamburgers, and hot dogs in the same very elemental way that my son now prefers them: One or two condiments, cheese. There should be no vegetable matter of any sort (unless you cling to the Reagan definition). I enjoyed the meat and cheese sandwich for many years. More specifically, I enjoyed them for the time frame described by the period that someone else was buying my sandwiches.
Around the time that I went off to college, it became abundantly clear that the best thing about buying anything (pizzas, burritos, ice cream sundaes) "with everything" simply allowed you to have more food. To this day I am not overtly fond of jalapeno peppers, but I will happily bite into a number of them if I can get them "for nothing". It just makes good fiscal sense when your diet consists primarily of dishes such as Top Ramen and Hamburger Helper (remembered best for cousin Eddie's assessment in "National Lampoon's Vacation" - "I don't know why they call this stuff hamburger helper. It does just fine by itself, huh?"). My wife harbors some of the latent tendencies of this period of her life, witnessed every time she brings home a fistful of soy sauce packets from the takeout Chinese place.
Buying a sandwich "with everything" is also an exercise in trust. Some places will post just exactly what they mean by that phrase. Others play it closer to the vest. "Oh, didn't you want carpet tacks on that? Why didn't you say so?" Still, I find that this experience is one I equate with being a grownup. I am ready to commit, and if that means I have to flick a few extra olives onto the floor, so be it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Day One

Nobody cried today. Nobody threw up. There was some flopping and twitching as they got their summer vacationed bodies back into sitting-in-their-seats-shape. I make a big show on the first day of class of how many days we have to learn everything there is to learn in fourth grade. I tell my freshly minted fourth graders that we have only one hundred and eighty days to gain clarity on fractions. We have only one hundred and eighty one days to fully comprehend narrative writing, while at the same time digesting some thirty different stories with a variety of different voices and styles. There will be weekly tests and quizzes, and more vocabulary and spelling than I can begin to describe in just one day.
Because the truth is, all of that really has to take place in one hundred and seventy-nine days. All the kids in my room had a pretty good sense that their first day was going to be all about paperwork. We send home a stack of paper to be read, signed and returned by their caregivers. I tell the kids that it is the one day that they get to watch their parents do homework. I know that when I get home, I will have the same stack of paper sitting on my kitchen table awaiting my signature. My son's teacher has announced that "regular homework packets" would start coming home in the third week of school.
I told my students that they wouldn't be so lucky. Once the train leaves the station, they can count on a steady stream of homework that doesn't let up until June. I brought math tests home on my first night to grade. It's a marathon, and we hit the ground running. Maybe this is the year we finish all our work before time runs out. Maybe then we'll have a couple weeks at the end of the year for quiet reflection. But for now, the race is on. See you at Thanksgiving.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Zero Void

"Hope is the thing with feathers" - Emily Dickinson
It was this quote that gave Woody Allen the inspiration to title a collection of his short stories "Without Feathers". I learned about the poem by Emily Dickinson by reading Woody Allen. This says a great deal about my view of the world. I present the world with a fairly nihilistic vision, but somewhere inside is a twisted swirl of optimism. Another quote springs to mind: "It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." That one comes from Anne Frank.
These were the ideas that competed for space in my brain as I looked at a picture of a sign posted next to the road leading to the Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington, Utah. The wind had taken the starch out of the yellow ribbons hanging off the side, but the "HOPE" was still there. For three weeks, there have been ongoing, heroic efforts to rescue six miners trapped after a collapse on August 6. Ten days after the initial cave-in, three rescue workers died as the tunnel they were digging in the direction of the original shaft fell down on top of them.
Another ten days have passed, and now federal officials and mine managers struggle with their decision about whether or not to suspend rescue operations. The cynic in me wonders how the families of the three dead rescue workers feel. The cynic in me wonders how much money this whole thing is going to cost. Then I wonder what I would do. How would I feel to stand up there, waiting for some word? How would I feel fifteen hundred feet below the surface of the earth, waiting for an hour, a day, a month?
I don't have the answer. I know that this is only one small, tragic example of the frailty of human existence. And I also have one more quote: "We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

You Don't Know Where That Thumb's Been

Here is something I found ironic: Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun Times has made a career out of his minimalist school of commentary, his thumb. He has been unable to use his voice for a year to offer his opinions on the current releases at your local superfaplex. He was silenced as a result of a tracheostomy and a number of surgeries he has endured while battling cancer. The ironic part is that if he was ever going to supply his view with a simple gesture, it would seem that now would be the time.
Now it seems that the trademark for ThumbsTM has become a bargaining chip in the ongoing negotiations between Ebert and his employer, the Domestic Television arm of the Disney Company. Along with the family of his late partner, Gene Siskel (the bald guy), Roger (the fat guy) owns the copyright on the whole "Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down" school of film criticism. This will no doubt sent Hollywood into a frenzy as they attempt to find another way to describe films in the same manner that gladiators were dispatched in the Coliseum. Here in the Bay Area we have "the little man". The movie is rated by the position of the "little man" in his seat. In a recent radio interview, Pat Oswalt was told that the review for "Ratatouille" (for which he voiced the epicurious rat) had the little man jumping out of his seat applauding. He expressed his relief, saying that he was just glad that "the little man didn't have a gun in his mouth."
When I was a kid, I used to read Pauline Kael's reviews in the New Yorker. It's part of the reason that I loved film so much, and eventually studied it in college. Film criticism has become almost completely a tool for marketing. What possible coincidence can be found in the fact that "Ratatouille", made by DisneyPixarABCGeneralMills, received "Two Thumbs Up"? Film commentary used to be an art in itself, and the earliest reviews of Roger Ebert show a keen observational sense that has been dulled by too many years "in the balcony". In 1975, he won the first Pulitzer Prize awarded for film criticism. I once attended a lecture he gave at the University of Colorado, where he dissected "Casablanca" scene by scene. His love for that film, and for all film, was obvious to anyone there. My wish is that negotiations with the House of Mouse break down entirely, and he has to return to writing about films the way he once did, and maybe we can go back to having discussions about the relative merits of a particular piece of art, not just the number of hats, stars, or direction a digit is extended.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Keeping Up Appearances

It only occurred to me today that the kid's name was probably Nathaniel. Everyone just called him "Nat". I saw his name hundreds of times as we went through junior and senior high together, but it is has taken me more than thirty years to piece that little puzzle together. There wasn't a lot of discussion about it, mind you, but it doesn't seem nearly as odd as it did back in seventh grade.
Nat played trumpet. He wasn't very good. He was comfortably ensconced in third chair with no real designs on moving up. He played the notes and kept the beat. Whatever talent he had he kept to himself. He approached athletics in much the same way. He wrestled "B" mat, and never looked to jump up or down a weight class, or to wrestle for a chance on "A" mat. He came, he practiced, he won a match or two, and the season was over. He may have had the same motivation a lot of us did: Get your picture in the yearbook.
They don't pass out letters for participating in extracurricular activities in junior high. Sometimes you got a certificate. They were fancier in the days before desktop publishing. Sometimes there was an end of season pizza party, but mostly the currency was the number of times you got your name and picture in the yearbook.
Nat and I were both on the eighth grade middleweight football team. We were too big and slow for the lightweights, and had none of the muscle necessary to work out with the heavyweights. That year there was enough of us to put together our own division. I didn't go out for football in seventh grade, preferring instead to be overwhelmed by all things adolescent. I'm pretty sure that was true for Nat as well. I suspected this was the case as we were walking back to the locker room after the second day of practice, he wondered aloud about "when will we be getting our costumes?"
By the time ninth grade rolled around, Nat had drifted away from athletics, preferring the company of the burgeoning stoner crowd. He stuck with band, and held down third chair for one more year before giving it up completely. I didn't see him often in high school, but we were always borderline friendly. He had his buddies on Cancer Hill, and I was hanging out in the Band Room. In my junior year, I was on four separate pages of the yearbook. Nat was only pictured once. As a senior I appeared in five different places. Nat had disappeared completely. Maybe he missed picture day. Or maybe his costume hadn't come yet.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What's The Good News?

The new National Intelligence Estimate predicted that the Iraqi government "will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months" because of criticism from various Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions. "To date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively," it said. The report also maintained that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will continue to benefit from the belief among other Shiite leaders that "searching for a replacement could paralyze the government."
The obvious irony being that President Pinhead managed to hold on to his place on Pennsylvania Avenue in much the same way. Change is a difficult and terrifying thing. Roller coasters are scary too, but we aren't nearly as resistant to them. When will the status quo be more frightening than any other alternative?
The report also suggested that Iraq's security will continue to "improve modestly" over the next six to twelve months, provided that coalition forces mount strong counterinsurgency operations and mentor Iraqi forces. You can almost hear the refrain ringing across Capitol Hill: "See? The Troop Surge is working!"
But not everyone is buying it, including Senator John Warner, who called for the withdrawal of troops to begin by Christmas. The countdown to the September report from General Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Crocker continues. What can change in a month? Can a civil war be quelled in a week? Can democracy flower in just a few days? Can order be brought from chaos? Don't we all expect them to ask for just a little more time?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

No Teacher Left Behind

The new school year got a notch more real today as I spent the day reviewing data. We went over test scores and looked at them as a school, then as a grade level, then by class, and finally we inspected each child's progress. To my credit, I left none of mine behind. That isn't because some of them might have benefited from and extra shot at fourth grade, but for some it was purely a matter of moving on in order to survive - like that shark described by Woody Allen in "Annie Hall".
As I sat there, reminded of the previous ten years that I have sat in that same cafeteria, perusing statistics about the year that was, I made a conscious effort to connect the names and numbers to the faces of the kids who lived through the fourth grade with me. That first year, while I was still and intern and was preparing to be the computer teacher for the whole school, there was an extra nine third graders who hadn't been assigned to a class and were waiting for a real third grade teacher to be hired. But since I wasn't set to start the technology program until after the first two weeks of school, I was told to be a third grade teacher for these lucky kids. They got to have class in the computer lab, and we didn't do a lot of the state mandated curriculum since it was still on order, along with the experienced and properly credentialed teacher to guide them. I remember that in that class I had two girls named Amber, setting a precedent for future years that would require me to have two girls with the same first name in every class I taught: "Not you Jennifer, the other one." My first third grade class did a lot of creative writing, and a lot of practice on their multiplication facts. I read to them, and they drew pictures to illustrate the stories they heard. I was making it up as I went along. I never let on just how terrified I was, but by the middle of the second week, I had started to find my stride.
That's when they came and told me the bad news. The new lady would be there Monday morning, and they should look forward to having the opportunity to be in a combination class with a group of wayward second graders. Whether they really missed me or just missed the chance to play on the computers as a reward, I received a number of heartfelt best wishes and a hug from each of my Ambers.
As the years passed, I tried to keep track of their progress, but the incredibly transient nature of the students in my school made it almost impossible. I know that one of the Ambers became a very bright fifth grader before she vanished over the horizon, and a couple of the boys stayed in the neighborhood long enough for me to hear their voices change. They all moved on, and tomorrow I'm headed back for more. I want the students in my class this year to do just a notch better than those from last year because it's how I mark the time. Moving up and moving out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Time And Tide Wait For No Man

Time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time. - T.S. Eliot
I recently wrote about all the ways one might go about wasting time on the job, and this quote from the author of "The Waste Land" makes all of that slacker behavior seem justified. My real problem is that I tend to obsess on filling my waking moments with activities that are more tangible and results-driven. It sometimes keeps me up at night. It tends to drive my blood pressure into less than favorable strata as well.
That is why reading about a new time travel device gave me pause. If we really could go back into the past, I could fill all those wasted moments, even those I spent reading the article about the time travel device and find some practical tasks to fill those voids. Time travel research is based on bending space-time so far that time lines actually turn back on themselves to form a loop. If you start to recognize the sounds and sensations of Doc Brown and his Flux Capacitor or Doctor Hasslein's Observed Time Line, then you have a sense of where this is headed. All we need to do is start manipulating gravitational fields, something akin to the way a black hole does.
What does that mean to the compulsive personality of August 21, 2007? Since there is presently no way to move gravity around in the way these scientists have described, we will all still have to wait. But until then, we can plot our trajectory. Since it is only possible to return to a place in time before the machine is built, you might consider starting your list with going back to the time it took you to make up the list of all the times you want to go back to - at least for now.
Stay tuned.

Monday, August 20, 2007

My Professional Development

I was paying attention. I was sitting close to the front of the room, facing the presenter. I was making frequent eye contact with the speaker and the material being presented. I was pausing frequently to make short, meaningful notes on post-its or in the margins of my handbook. I made murmurs of ascent when I agreed with something, or raised a quizzical eyebrow at those moments that caused me to pose a question. I was being a good student.
Perhaps more to the point, I was giving the appearance of being a good student. As a fourth grade teacher, I know what to look for and for the purposes of today's lesson, I was paying strict attention. There was no doodling. There were a few side conversations, but most of the silly or bizarre subjects were saved for our break times. I understood my role as a participant. I was not the star of the show.
That's the challenge for me, and others in my profession, to sit back and soak it in. When you are a teacher, the temptation is to show just how smart you already are, and just why you don't need to attend the workshop you're at in the first place, since what you do in your classroom works so very well. We're all experts. We generally come in with a great big chip on our shoulders inscribed with this motto: "What could these people possibly have to tell me that I don't already know?"
The truth is, a lot of the time we are mightily justified in our antagonism. I have sat through day-long orientations that amounted to having a manual read to us, page by page. So many of the things that we expect of ourselves as teachers fly out the window once we start teaching teachers. Keep it fun. Keep it focused. Don't just read from the book.
There was a little of that today, but I made a promise to myself to sit in my chair and stay on task until the bell rang at last at three o'clock. I did it as an exercise in understanding the experience of my students. The sun is out, and I've got thirty pages of homework to read. I can do it. I just don't know what kind of promises I can make about tomorrow.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Meaningful Discourse

I could tell you that I got up early just so that I could watch the Democratic Presidential Debate in Iowa live as it happened. I could tell you that I was fortunate to turn on the television as the tape delay telecast was beginning for us out here on the left coast. Or I could tell you the truth, which is that when I turned on the television this Sunday morning, my choices were limited to infomercials and bad cartoons or the Democratic Presidential Debate in Iowa. I know that there was another option: getting out of bed and going to face the day, but since this was essentially the last day of my summer vacation, I decided to let the furtive whimsy of George Stephanopoulos and the cast of dozens who would like to become the Democratic candidate for an election that is still more than a year away.
Of course I stayed in bed surrounded by my family and watched, rapt with interest. The nice thing about the range of candidates is the way that they have something for everyone. My son said,"It's about time we had a woman president." He also said, "It's about time we had a black president." This was followed up by the eventual, "Why isn't there a black woman running for president?" Maybe that "something for everyone" notion is working against us here.
We sat there on the bed, trying to recall the rules for debate, attempting to divine the winner. When it became apparent that it wasn't a debate in the strictest sense, but rather political theater, we resigned ourselves to watching for the person who emerged with the most clever answers. Dennis Kucinich, the best bet for the Leprechaun vote, stood patiently behind his podium on the far left of the stage, waiting to get his moment to shine. When asked about his personal belief in God, and if prayer could change world events, Senator Kucinich replied, "George, I've been standing here, praying that you would call on me." It didn't exactly change world events, but at least it brought a chuckle from the crowd, and that is why I see him as the clear front-runner until the next debate, which should be kicking over somewhere outside of Ames, Iowa even as you read this. Stay Tuned!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Work Ethics

The local news tipped me to the new craze developed by cubicle dwellers: Faceball. It's not any more complex than the name implies. The object is to throw a ball at your co-workers face, and you score points for hitting them. The rule I found interesting was that if you hit your buddy, then you get to go again. Created to relieve workplace stress and channel aggression, Faceball made me think of all the ways there are to waste time at work.
I am guilty of playing the occasional game of computer solitaire during my lunch break, but being a fourth grade teacher doesn't allow much downtime. I suppose that my occasional tangents on subjects beyond the comprehension of ten-year-old minds would count as time wasted on the job, but once the bell rings it's essentially a race against the clock to get everything in each day.
But that doesn't mean that in previous occupations I didn't find the empty spots and fill them in with time fillers. I've ridden pallet jacks and four-wheel dollies but I have not operated any machinery after consuming large amounts of cough syrup. I have created "stress tests" for Smurf and My Little Pony plush toys. I have engaged co-workers in lengthy discussions about their favorite Monkee, even though everyone knows the correct answer is Mike.
Mostly, however, I don't tend to waste a lot of time at work, preferring instead to focus all my energy on the task at hand. This has routinely given me a reputation as a brown-noser, but the work ethic I derived from watching "Cool Hand Luke" was this: Why goof off for minutes at a time when you can finish up your job and go home where you can play Calvinball for hours at a stretch.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Artists Only

Last night, as I sat at a table in a restaurant in downtown Berkeley (aptly named "downtown"), I considered the nature of art. I didn't have a long time, so I tried to limit the discussion to the reason that I was there in the first place: My Younger Brother.
When we were both younger, I was going to be the artist. I began drawing in the inside covers of coloring books. I didn't care much for the coloring part, but those blank pages were very enticing. I could have any picture I wanted there, not just the stiff black outlines offered up by the rest of the book. And when I was finished with the inside covers, I was pretty much finished with the whole deal. Happily, my father worked in the publishing business, so he regularly brought home reams of paper for me to practice my cartooning. I took it as my mission to fill all the notepads and poster sized pieces of paper that came into the house.
At the time, I never considered the potential for sibling rivalry. I had initially taken up drawing after watching the doodles and cartoons of my older brother, and I didn't imagine that my younger brother might be looking over my shoulder. The day the three of us decorated our fold-down bunks for the loft of our cabin, I painted bright psychedelic slogans of love and peace, and a goofy dragon next to a flower with a peace symbol in the center. Just behind me, my younger brother had chosen red for his background, and in one corner he painted "an army man" and scrawled the word "War".
When I went to college, I was going to be a studio art major. When my younger brother moved on to the university, he was preparing to be a business major. By the end of each of our freshman years, our paths had shifted. I failed a basic drawing class because I stopped going. He stopped going to school entirely, choosing to go on the road with some friends of his who had a band. I still like to draw, but he has made an avocation of "liberating paint" and learning new ways to express his creativity. He is currently exploring neon and sculpture.
Last night I picked the table at the restaurant because it was underneath one of the two pieces that my brother had on exhibit there. There was an opening gala for the show, and I took my place with my wife and son, waiting for my brother the artist to appear. Such is the nature of art.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's Good To Be King

Don't tell me Elvis is dead. Elvis is alive and well. He presided over the renewal of our wedding vows just a few weeks ago. He was looking fit and not nearly as bloated as I had heard. I suspect that it's the outfit that gives him that look. Who doesn't look a little chubby when they're wearing a white jumpsuit with a collar as big as all outdoors?
As Mojo Nixon has made so very clear, Elvis is everywhere. He's a lot like Santa Claus that way. Sometimes we see lots of Elvises in one place, but we shouldn't worry since those are just his helpers. The real Elvis exists in the hearts, minds and peanut butter and banana sandwiches of each and every one of us. The folks in Tupelo, Mississippi are depending on this. So are the friendly denizens of Memphis, Tennessee. Even though this week marks the anniversary of the "death" of Elvis Aaron Presley, a world of fans have taken it upon themselves to prove just how very much alive the King of Rock and Roll continues to be. Forbes magazine will tell you that Kurt Cobain places second in earnings for dead rock stars, but they've obviously missed the point: Kurt is worth more because he's dead. Elvis is worth more alive.
That's why he is the King of Rock and Roll. Nobody had to vote for him, he just ascended to the throne. John Lennon once said, "Before there was Elvis, there was nothing." Try to imagine any pop music star without a significant chunk of Presley DNA. Even the assertion that he was the white guy who made black music safe supports this. Eminem and Michael Jackson know that. Way back on August 16, 1977, Elvis became one with the world and everyone from the Ramones to John Travolta soaked up the essence. The King isn't dead, Long Live The King.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Waiting Room

I spent five hours today working in my classroom. I recalled the words of a colleague of mine who once suggested that teaching would be a much easier profession if it didn't involve all those children. I put books in nice, orderly stacks, made copies of the week's first tests, and generally created order from the mild chaos that was left in my room after it was "cleaned". I know how many pencils I have, and how many folders. My extra erasers are all in a zip-lock bag in anticipation of that students who make more mistakes than their pencils will allow. The fluency readers are all grouped and rubber-banded together by unit for easy access. Every student has their language arts books on the left, and their math on the right. If I had to start teaching tomorrow morning, I would be ready.
That doesn't mean that I want to get started, and not because I don't enjoy my job. I am forever in love with this moment in the year, when everything is still possible, and all my kids are still potential. I am not yet overwhelmed by circumstances or events. The school year stretches out in front of me in the same neat rows that I placed the desks. And if things start to get a little loose around the edges, that's okay, because I have the wisdom and patience to rein it back in.
The ironic coincidence to all of this is that today is also the day that the state test results are released to the public. Last year's class didn't mess up the curve, but they didn't embarrass themselves either. A year ago, they were all waiting in the wings of fourth grade. Now another group is gathering for their shot at Mister Caven's class. I think they'll do just fine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Toys In The Attic

Remember when the words "Made In China" meant quality? Actually, I don't either, but at least they didn't translate to "deadly", as they seem to in the past few weeks. Now Mattel is recalling millions of Chinese-made toys that contain magnets that can be swallowed by children or could have lead paint. For me, it begs the question: Are there other smaller toy manufacturers without the exposure of a giant like Mattel that are still selling dangerous toys?
I can remember some dangerous toys. My little pal Gumby wasn't really made of clay, as he was purported to be in his theme song, but green rubber molded over wire. As long as he wasn't asked to bend back and forth abruptly, his limbs stayed intact. It was only after a furious flapping of his spindly arms that one of the interior wires would tend to find it's way to the surface, a kind of claymation compound fracture. Those were very pointy wires, and it took about two tries to figure out that Gumby would hereafter have to reside on the "Physically Unable to Perform" list. The same condition could be found in Major Matt Mason after several voyages beyond the rim of our galaxy. It was almost as difficult to avoid gnawing on the limbs of these bendy folk, with their satisfyingly rubbery texture, always with the potential of introducing one's lip or tongue to the endoskeleton of their favorite playfriend.
Dangerous toys never really frightened me, as I have mentioned before. And the label "non-toxic" was more of a challenge than a caution. Kids in my neighborhood who ate too much lead paint were following a Darwinian path that would culminate in the accidental swallowing of any number of quarters during their adolescent beer-drinking games. Still, as a parent, I understand the fear of anything that will fit through a toilet paper tube (of course, we know that a lot of things will, if you push hard enough) and I don't want my child to lose a limb or one of his five senses because of faulty engineering.
The toys may be Chinese, but takes good old American know-how to hotwire an Easy Bake Oven.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Lame Duck's Brain

I was first struck by this image: A magician stands on a stage while his assistant hangs in the air in front of him, supported by just three brooms. One by one, the brooms are knocked away until it becomes obvious to all that the assistant is levitating - the physical impossibility of balancing a human being on top of three brooms is forgotten, replaced by the impossibility of a human being floating in air. Then there is some fuss made with hoops and hands to prove that there are no hooks or wires keeping the assistant aloft, simply the power of magic.
This is kind of how I feel about Karl Rove leaving the White House with five hundred and twenty-five days left in the Pinhead Regime. One by one, the brooms are being knocked out from under the floating Pinhead, yet he doesn't plummet to the ground. The resignations keep piling up, and with the notable exception of Dick "Dick" Cheney, there aren't many familiar faces left to play out the string. Speaking of "Dick", I was chagrined to be reminded that the reason Rove has refused to testify before Congress about the firing of U.S. attorneys was executive privilege. At least Karl Rove seems to know what branch of the government he works for - pardon me - worked for.
"There's always something that can keep you here, and as much as I'd like to be here, I've got to do this for the sake of my family," said Rove. Like rats hurrying home to leave a sinking ship, or vampires scurrying to pull the lid of their coffins over their heads before the sunrise. Maybe a more effective image for the departure of Karl Rove would be that of a hand suddenly being pulled out of a sock puppet. Now we're left with just a sock with eyes sewn into the toe as leader of the free world.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I'd Like To Buy A Vowel

This entertainer got his start as a vocalist for KFRC radio in San Francisco in the 1940's.
"Who is Merv Griffin?"
The news of Merv Griffin's passing came as little shock to me, since I was aware that he had been ailing for some time. I wasn't exactly on the mailing list, but I knew that a man of eighty-two years would have a hard time beating prostate cancer. He had a full life, full of show-biz intrigue and excitement, but he will be missed.
To tell the truth, I used to have a hard time keeping Merv Griffin separate in my head from Mike Douglas. They were both very earnest talk show hosts who leaned in when their guests were on a roll. When I was home sick from school as a kid I knew that there would be two hours of chat generated from sets made primarily from man made materials. Long before I had a subscription to Entertainment Weekly, I kept up with the happenings in Hollywood via Mike and Merv.
It wasn't until high school, when I started watching SCTV, that Rick Moranis gave me an insight into what made Merv so unique. The impression was like a cross between Floyd the Barber and Perry Como, and it had the effect of relaxing a viewer so completely that it was hard to look away. Merv was the king, and Mike was just a pretender.
Then there's the game show legacy. Whether he actually concocted both "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy" straight out of his own head is a topic for future generations to discuss, but the fact that he made them both available as an hour long block of viewing is a landmark achievement in broadcasting. In a sixty minute span, you can move from feeling like the best Hangman player in the world to being the dumb kid on the College Bowl stage. All of his real estate dealings and friendship with the Reagans pales by comparison. Merv was the guy who tested the limits of the public, high and low.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Escape From The Everyday

For some reason, I have retained this phrase from my youth: "It's kind of like putting a porcupine in charge of a balloon factory." I'm not sure from whence this little gem came, but it finally has a home as I read that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is visiting Iraq. Perhaps he thought that actual gunfire might be easier to dodge than the allegations that he lied, forgot, or is just plain bad at his job. Now he is over in Iraq to meet with department officials who have been there to help fashion the country's legal system.
Gonzales also was an author of U.S. policy on the treatment of prisoners abroad and a 2002 memo saying the president had the right to waive laws and treaties that protect war prisoners. Maybe this guy is best suited for a job in the Middle East. His vision of the world is somewhat different from what shows up on the nightly news. Gonzales said, "I am pleased to see firsthand ... the progress that the men and women of the Justice Department have made to rebuild Iraq's legal system and law enforcement infrastructure." This was his assessment of a country in the midst of sectarian lawlessness that would make Tombstone, Arizona jealous. Like most things happening in Iraq these days, I guess we just don't understand it the same way that the pinheads in charge do. From here it looks a lot like anarchy. Welcome to the Balloon Factory, Mister Porcupine.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I believe that the Barenaked Ladies' song "If I Had A Million Dollars" is the best way to describe the challenge of my wife's birthday. I have built a tree house in our yard. I didn't buy her a nice green dress (that would be cruel), but I did get her a nice pink dress. I bought her some art, but not a Picasso or Garfunkel. I bought her a house, and some nice furniture for her house. We have a pet, but she's a dog and not exotic like a llama or an emu. But we do eat a lot of macaroni and cheese, so I suppose the checklist is more or less complete, with the possible exception of a K-car (a nice reliant automobile).
I know that until I deliver a pony, I'm still coming up short. My wife has enjoyed many personas over the years: Tangerine, Miss Art Deco, Ubermom, and Queen of the Three-Fold Brochure. But I know that way down deep, she's a cowgirl at heart. When we were constructing my son's bed, raising it high enough off the floor to allow the massive number of Legos to be stored safely beneath it, there was a moment where we paused. Before we put the bed frame on top, she noticed that we had built a tiny corral. She nearly cried.
So once again, I've let her down. I know the Sweetheart of the Rodeo will go another year without riding the range. I know she won't complain, but maybe she'll believe the old Loudon Wainwright line about the pet store being all out ponies.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

What Becomes Of A Legend Most?

There are stars in every city, In every house and on every street,
And if you walk down Hollywood Boulevard
Their names are written in concrete! -"Celluloid Heroes" by The Kinks
Nothing is permanent. Sixty-one stars are being removed from Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame. Charlton Heston, Cary Grant, Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra, along with fifty-seven others have had their stars taken away and put into storage while construction takes place on Vine street. Eight of the stars crumbled to dust when they were taken up, but the brass was saved. The sidewalk needed reconstruction because it was improperly sloped and didn't meet federal requirements for providing access for wheelchairs, said Ken Summers, project director for Webcor Builders. The new sidewalk will be flatter, he said. "Closing down sidewalks for years at a time like they do here would never happen in New York City," said John Walsh, a longtime Hollywood activist. I found the discussion of sidewalks in Los Angeles ironic since, as Missing Persons would remind us, "only a nobody walks in L.A."
What intrigues me more is the somewhat egalitarian way in which stars are handed out. Anyone can nominate a celebrity (someone "active in the world of entertainment") to get a star, they just have to be willing to show up for the ceremony. Dead people have to be dead for five years before they can get a star. There has to be some way to keep the riff-raff out. That and the twenty-five thousand dollar fee for the ceremony.
Fame is fleeting, at least when you get your full fifteen minutes, and it behooves us all to remember that a shopping center is all that stands between all of us and immortality.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Friends, sports fans, and countrymen, lend me your ears. Today we come not to praise the home run king, but to Barry him. Last night as I watched the seventy-third video replay of number seven hundred and fifty-six go sailing into the night, illuminated by thousands of cameras flashing and the expectant glow of the fans in right field, I made a mental note: I have known three Sultans of Swat in my lifetime. Babe Ruth was the first with his seven hundred and fourteen. Hammerin' Hank Aaron left with seven hundred and fifty-five. Now we have Barry Bonds, who has assorted nicknames depending on your proximity to the Bay Area, has his seven hundred and fifty-sixth home run.
I know how hard it is to hit a home run on my son's Wii video game, so I have a deep and abiding respect for anyone who can knock one out of the park. All of this physical effort is sadly diminished by the personality defects ascribed to Barry Bonds. I watched him round the bases and was struck by the image of his son, a batboy for the Giants, running out to meet him at home plate. Caught up in the moment, Barry was looking to the night sky or heaven, and seemed not to notice his son's attempt at an embrace. When the moment ended, he reached out to his teammates first. That is when I realized that I was taking moments out of this man's life and putting it under my judgemental microscope. I was reminded of the way that Denver residents used to sneer at articles about John Elway's marital infidelities and the kind of candy he passed out on Halloween. It was a short hop from there to the "celebreality" of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. What we see on TV is the tiniest portion of a life that is flavored by the surreal nature of fame. I shudder to think about the pressure of playing professional baseball in the same town, for the same team as my father. Oh, and your godfather is Willie Mays. A highly evolved human would rise above the hype and succeed in spite of all these distractions, or maybe a lesser one would be driven because of this.
Baseball is a sport that is filled with asterisks. Roger Maris hit sixty-one home runs in 1961, but his record carries an asterisk because he didn't do it in the one hundred fifty-four game season that Babe Ruth played. For many people, their lasting image of Mark McGwire will be the sad, battered face that appeared in front of Congress. Records were made to be broken, and so, it would appear, are the men who make them.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What's On?

Cable TV is a lot like heroin. Okay, maybe that's a little strong, especially since I am not an expert on heroin, but it's my metaphor and I beg your indulgence. For a limited time you can receive more channels than you could possibly hope to have time to enjoy for the low, low introductory price of just $29.95 a month. That's less than a dollar a day, and that seems like a bargain in a world that expects you to pay ten dollars for a ticket to see "The Simpsons Movie". And that's when you start to notice that the introductory period has passed and you find yourself craving a peek at the endless variety that is offered: A channel devoted to high school football, another for news from Korea. Bruce Springsteen was aiming low when he wrote a song called "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)".
Freedom of choice is what I've got, as DEVO would point out. And that goes for paying the bill too. Now my cable company, Comca$t, wants me to pay more for the channels that I was getting when I signed up. I was expecting to pay more after my initial dalliance with the heady world of digital cable, and I had tensed myself for this eventuality. What I hadn't expected was that the NFL Network would become an additional fee on top of what I had already been paying. Suddenly I was not only paying more for what I was watching, but I was watching less.
There are plenty of alternatives, Direct TV was happy to take my call and tell me about all the free and inexpensive ways that they could aid me in watching television. As I listened, rapt with attention, a little voice in my head said, "Ask about what happens in four months." I did. And it turns out that they would end up charging me almost exactly what Comca$t is charging me now, and if I really loved all the cool stuff that I had been watching for "free" for those first four months - let's just say there is no free TV.
I could buy a pair of rabbit ear antennae and try to pull down some of that juicy new high definition video for the cost of a bunch of extra tin foil and the time it would take to get my son to stand just so the picture would be perfect when his right hand is on the window sill and his left is on the tip of the antenna. Or I could go read a book.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On

I should have seen it coming. Instead, I ended up hearing it. This morning at six-thirty the heat came on. This is how I know that summer is winding down. That's not to say that there won't be a lot of hot weather in my near future. I fully expect that October will be a very cozy time here in Alameda County. We get used to the "summer weather pattern" of fog in the morning, clearing by the afternoon. But the past few days haven't allowed much in the way of sunshine. I am sure the is only coincidence connecting my gradual return to the classroom and the weather, but I take it as an omen.
Not a scary or bad omen, but an omen nonetheless. A wake up call or a polite alarm with a snooze alarm that lasts a few days. Whatever it is, Fall is in the air and I don't expect to dodge it. Come to think of it, yesterday "American Graffiti" was on cable, and while I watched most of it, it didn't occur to me that this remembrance of summer's passing was another link to the big picture that was forming over my head.
It used to be Jerry's Kids that signaled me to put away my deck shoes and white trousers, but ever since school started before Labor Day and it became my job to get a classroom ready for twenty-five odd short strangers, summer is over almost before it started. This is not despair, just surprise. I used to take the passage of time much more personally. Now I can revel in the changing seasons, or at least the appearance.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Lessons From The Playground

From the Associated Press: "BAGHDAD - U.S. troops killed the al-Qaida in Iraq mastermind of the bombing that destroyed the golden dome of a famed sacred Shiite shrine last year and set in motion an unrelenting cycle of sectarian bloodletting, the military said Sunday."
And now, at long last, the cycle of sectarian bloodletting can come to an end. If history has taught us anything, it is that one death will inevitably cause the two sides of a conflict to lay down their arms and realize the futility of murder. In the past twenty-eight hours, five people have been gunned down in the streets of my town. No one here is expecting an end to the unrelenting cycle of sectarian bloodletting to let up anytime soon. Such is the nature of violence. Such is the nature of a country who maintains a "defense department" for the purposes of blowing things up.
When I'm on yard duty at my elementary school, I will inevitably run into a couple of kids who decide not to resolve their conflict on the four-square court with our patented system of Roshambo. They would rather puff their chests out at one another and bump into each other until one of them takes the first swing. Their reasoning is always the same: "My mom told me that I should always hit back." While I make a point not to disparage the advice given to them by their parents, I point out that they are in a safe place where they are rewarded, even encouraged, to solve problems with their words and not their fists. Then I usually have to spend some time running through the series of events that would take place if everyone's mom told them to hit back. These kids live in Oakland, so it's not long before they get my allegory. They also live in a country where the President (and not just the Pinhead who is in there now) tells us to hit back. They cycle continues.
Do I believe that turning the other cheek will always work? Nope. Quite often it will end up getting your other cheek slapped. In the meantime, I suggest Roshambo.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Sounds Good

Out in the living room, my son is listening to music. He is listening to what he calls his "Saturday Morning Music". He used to watch cartoons. I suspect this is a reaction to the new family edict about screen time (video and computer) for those of us under thirty years old. He is busy creating a birthday card for one of his friends while the stereo pounds out the same four songs over and over. I could complain, but it turns out that I have absolutely no leg to stand on.
I made this CD for him. He is listening to music that I compiled and previewed: songs from the Simpsons movie and Transformers. It is, along with the theme to Harry Potter (which doesn't rock quite as hard) the soundtrack of his summer. Now he's creating art without me having to harass him, and before that, he was playing the piano along with the Linkin Park track. These are tunes I steered him to, and now I get to hear them dozens of times.
As far as the rock thing goes, I can't be surprised by that either. When he was very small, just sitting up on his own, I went for a run with him in our jogging stroller. Returning home hot and sweaty, I decided to take a shower. As was the custom in those days when my wife was out of the house, I tended to turn the volume of the stereo (the same one that is thumping away right now) up to hear it in the shower. When I got out and started toweling myself off, I found my baby boy in the center of our bed where I had left him, bobbing his head mightily to the strains of Bachman Turner Overdrive. Not Fragile, indeed.
Then there is the repetition. I am relieved that he has a four-song suite, since he is capable of fixating on just one for weeks at a time. It could be that all kids are prone to this kind of single-mania, but I know that I wore out my 45 of Elvis doing "In The Ghetto" to the point where I have no recollection of what the flip side was. It never occurred to me to ask my brothers or parents if I was driving them slowly insane.
And now comes that part where I am relived for the invention of the iPod, and headphones. I'm not sure if they're for him or for me just yet.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Getting To Know You

For most people who know me, it comes as no revelation that I am a bit of a misanthrope. I tend to keep my head down, moving from one necessary interaction to the next with the notion of streamlining my existence and limiting my human contact. This may be a result of being the son of one of the most gregarious people ever to grace this planet. My father knew most everyone in Boulder and the adjacent metro areas, and as a result I spent many long hours over the course of my youth waiting for my dad to finish saying hello to all of his sundry acquaintances. And he was always glad to introduce himself to strangers as well. He took Will Rogers' advice strictly to heart.
When I got older and had more control over my comings and goings, I made it a point to keep things on a "need to know" basis, as in "do you really need to know me?" When traveling, I tended to use the tips from "The Accidental Tourist", such as bringing a book along on any plane or other conveyance where there might be a chance for social interaction. Taking the window seat provides another distraction from any possible connection with fellow travelers.
When I got married, that ended. My son insists on the window seat, and if my wife can't nudge me into conversation, she's just as happy to chat up the stranger across the aisle. On our most recent trip, she managed to find two other ten-year-olds for my son to share a row with, while she ended up a row ahead, with the father of the girl who moved back to fill out the trio. They sat in front of me, like Harry, Ron and Hermoine on their way to their first year at Hogwarts, and I watched these little strangers become friends. And every so often, when I looked up from my Rolling Stone, I felt a little pang of jealousy. I guess it comes with the territory.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Viva Las Vegas

The old adage about how what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas makes more sense to me now. It puts me in mind of those misguided state assembly members in New Jersey who had a mind to make "Born To Run" the official state song. " Maybe the place really does "rip the bones from your back", and it is perhaps best described as a "death trap", but it still doesn't come across as much of a promotional anthem. This is also true of the brain trust that decided on Oklahoma's state motto, "Oklahoma's OK". That would seem to imply that it is the generic equivalent of a state: Color and consistency may vary, but should be suitable for everyday use.
Now back to this Las Vegas thing. What isn't being said must be the truly regrettable things, the drunken escapades with transvestite hookers and the liquidation of your children's college fund for the sure thing you've got going at the blackjack table in the back. That stuff should stay in Vegas. In fact, it might be nice if it never happened at all, but that seems to be the nature of the beast. Maybe keeping things in Vegas helps to explain the Wayne Newton phenomenon, now known in its twenty-first century form, the Danny Gans phenomenon. Drinking, smoking and, of course, gambling seem to be happening at every moment of every day out there in the middle of the desert. Comparisons to Sodom and Gomorrah may be just a little too simple since I don't recall any reference in the Bible to ninety-nine cent shrimp cocktail.
All that being said, I can say it is possible for a family to have a good time visiting the county seat of Clark County, Nevada. Part of the trick, it seems, is to avoid those things that make it America's number one obfuscation destination. I don't drink, smoke, or gamble, so that gave me plenty of time to lounge by the pool and enjoy some very nice meals. I just missed seeing Rush in concert (though my friends were lucky enough to go and get a tour shirt to prove it). I did get to see Penn and Teller, who were gracious enough to hang out in the lobby of their theater at the Rio shaking hands and signing bits of paper. And I got married. Well, technically my wife and I got our vows renewed by Elvis at the Garden of Love chapel "just seconds off the strip". These were all happy events that I am proud to share with anyone outside the city limits of Las Vegas. I suppose when it's all said and done, it's just another place where you make choices and deal with the consequences, good or bad, but I don't know if the could fit that on a billboard.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

An Acceptable Level Of Ecstacy

The fact that I was not wearing my own pants would, in some counties and jurisdictions, make the wedding between my wife and me null and void. Even more likely, the fact that we had to borrow rings from my brother and sister-in-law to consecrate the bonds of holy matrimony could be construed as some sort of evil hex or hoo-doo on our union. I suppose the fact that the two most important props, the bride and groom, arrived at roughly the same spot at roughly the same time is enough to cinch the deal.
Fourteen years ago, I knew very little about being married. It certainly felt like the appropriate next step, and the opportunity to tell our grandchildren that "yes, we did meet in high school but waited another decade before we ever dated," seemed like plenty of justification. The events of that day show up in my mind like the souvenir photos that were taken of us from so many angles. I remember coming over the hill, crashing through the trees very much like the great ape Kong I invoked in my vows. After all the fits and starts, the ceremony actually passed without any ugly incident or scene. My wife to be arrived with her bridesmaids in a convertible instead of the horse that she had hoped for, but it didn't really matter. Behind the scenes, friends and family worked feverishly to shore up the cake that didn't handle the trip as well as it might, and when it was all said and done, I cannot remember much more than the piece of cake that was ceremoniously smeared across my face by my new wife. Please don't ask me what the guests ate, since all I remember was a vast bowl of peanut M&Ms that I was never able to take full advantage.
When the sun set that day, we were married, and we have been ever since. Funny how things work out that way. Not funny, "Ha-Ha", but funny "happy".