Sunday, September 30, 2007

Naughty Bits

I would expect that free speech might run into a little trouble in China. This is what we have come to expect from repressive Communist regimes. However, this week's crackdown was enough to raise a giggle from this correspondent. China has banned television and radio ads for push-up bras, figure-enhancing underwear and sex toys in the government's latest move to purge the nation's airwaves of what it calls social pollution. I don't know about you, but the very idea of a push-up bra being sold, much less worn, behind the Bamboo Curtain sounds like the cheesiest possible victory for capitalism. This comes in addition to a ban on advertisements for sexual aids such as tonics that claim to boost performance in bed. "They not only seriously mislead consumers, harm the people's health, pollute the social environment, and corrupt social mores, but also directly harm the credibility of public broadcasting and affect the image of the Communist Party and the government," the notice said.
Okay. Enough about those terrifyingly repressed Chinese. How about those terrifyingly repressed Americans? Some public TV stations are reluctant to air Ken Burns' World War II documentary, The War, because of a handful of profanities. From what I read in an article in Broadcasting & Cable, the main profanity might be that the term SNAFU is defined. The FCC has said that it was okay to air "Saving Private Ryan" (despite its profanity being in a fiction story), but the profanities in Martin Scorcese's documentary on the Blues. Stations broadcasting "Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues" were fined by the agency over the expletives contained in the interviews with the bluesmen. Maybe he should have stuck with his original plan to interview Burt Bacharach, but heaven knows that Burt can get a little randy himself from time to time.
The lesson? Indecency is everywhere, and the government will always try to protect us. Do we really need to be protected from the coarse vocabulary of Bleeding Gums Murphy? Maybe not as much as we need to be protected from naughty underwear.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Teach The Childrens Well

Last night my wife and I were going through a neglected ritual: sorting last year's Christmas cards in an attempt to reconcile our list for this year. We do this primarily for the one last shot at finding a lost friend who slipped through the cracks, but also to check for any treasures that may have come in under the radar. This year we didn't find much of either, but we did find something quite disturbing. We were horrified by the number of cards and letters that we received from friends and family (who shall remain nameless) with an apostrophe before the "s" in the plural spelling of their name. Maybe it's because I am a fourth grade teacher and I have my very own eighteen inch tall "apostrophe s", but I know that it should only be used to show possession. What I found even more disturbing was that most of these infractions occurred not in the flurry of signing the card by hand, but when they were composed, proofread, and sent to a printer. The amount of higher education and advanced degrees among our circle of friends would seem to limit this transgression, if not eliminate it, but alas, this was not the case last year.
I know that the spelling of plurals is a tricky business. It is one of the reasons I announce early in each school year to my class that one of the unforgivable sins in my room is to use an apostrophe to denote a plural. Apostrophes have two jobs: contractions and possessives. After November, if you make that mistake in my class, you get a smack in the head. I give them a few months' grace period to master it, since there are so many irregular plurals to learn and that apostrophe has to move outside the "s" if you are showing possession by a group, and the number of second language learners I have means that I have to be forgiving for a while. Then it's just a matter of being in fourth grade and taking the consequence of your actions.
Why then, should a native speaker of English have such a difficult time with this concept? Last Wednesday, President Pinhead urged Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, asserting that "As yesterday's positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured." If those results include the use of improper plural forms, then we are doomed, especially since our schools continue to struggle with the vagaries of the AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) Reports versus the API (Academic Performance Index). The truth is, many of the same very clever and well-educated people that struggled with the use of an apostrophe tend to glaze over when confronted with just what it means to have our public education monitored by these dueling measures. Success in one does not assure success in the other, with the Federal program (AYP) being the more rigid and difficult to surmount. Many schools that achieve success on a state level continue to struggle on the national level.
And what is it all about, after all? The performance by a group of children over the course of a week in April. When test scores go up, the school is doing well. When they stay steady, or slip back, the school is in trouble. This determination is made in a snapshot. If it is fair to take this moment in time and grade our schools, then it is fair to label our President a hypocritical Pinhead.
And please remember to proofread those Christmas cards.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dress Code

MSNBC took a poll back in 2005 to find out who had the ugliest uniforms in the National Football League. The winner, by a fairly wide margin, were the Cleveland Browns. It is likely that the only competition that they might have had would have come from the college ranks, and yes Penn State, I'm looking squarely at you. And I'm wincing.
Interestingly enough, the uniforms that most fans said they liked were those worn by the Dallas Cowboys. Interesting because I am no longer sure just exactly what the uniform of the Dallas Cowboys looks like. They have so very many varieties and alternatives, that I wonder if Tom Landry would know which sideline to stand on if he happened to wander into Texas Stadium these days. This is, after all, the hip thing to do. There is a home jersey, an away jersey, an alternate home jersey, a holiday jersey, and any number of pants and socks and - well, you get the picture. The very idea of having anything "uniform" (as in "not varying or variable"). Add to this the nauseating trend of including "throwback" uniforms (as in "Gee, these things are so ugly, we should throw them back"), and you could spend weeks and several thousand dollars trying to keep up with your favorite team's new (or old) look.
Because that's the idea, after all. The NFL is all about merchandising. I am curious to know how many Michael Vick jerseys were sold earlier this year simply so they could be fed to hungry pit bulls. No matter, since the color that matters most is green, and not that odd astro-turfish green of the Philadelphia Eagles. I'm talking about cash money, but not the newly designed alternative bills that are currently all the rage.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

News From The Ivy

I don't like to talk about it, but the opportunity to win a World Series is edging ever closer to the Chicago Cubs once again. This is a team that has yanked defeat from the jaws of victory more times than I can count, and my father was just a boy living in Kansas when they made their last Series appearance. That would be, as Steve Goodman so succinctly put it, "the year we dropped the bomb on Japan."
There must be a connection between one's self-esteem and the team that one chooses to root for, as witnessed by the nickname Chicago wears proudly: The Second City. We might be just as comfortable calling them "The Also Rans", but that may be putting too fine a point on it. In the seventies and eighties, a new wave of Cub fans jumped on the creaky bandwagon, thanks to the "Superstation" WGN. You could watch the action at Wrigley Field from the comfort of your grass hut or igloo, your penthouse or homeless shelter. Cable TV gave an audience to a team that made the 1984 season worth watching. Rick Sutcliffe, Ryne Sandberg and Ron Cey became stars, as the Cubbies won ninety-six games that year, arriving in the postseason for the first time in nearly forty years. They lost to the Padres.
In 1989, many of the same players achieved essentially the same result. This time they lost the pennant to the San Francisco Giants, who went on to survive the Loma Prieta earthquake, only to be swallowed up by the Oakland A's. Then the lights went out on the North Side for a decade or so, until 2003, when the "curse" (because putting it in quotation marks makes it less believable) was seemingly about to be lifted. Thanks to alert fan, Steve Bartman, the Cubs rediscovered their bumbling ways and shuffled off to an early vacation, just one win shy of the World Series.
And now, it's 2007. They started the year by throwing things at each other (aside from the regulation approved baseballs) and looking like a team that would make more of the same history for the past ninety-nine years. Lou Pinella turned them around and made them winners. Could they win it all? The Cubs have one of the only historical aberrations left in baseball, so waiting for the hundredth year before celebrating another World Series win might just be overkill. That being said, I will close my mouth and wait patiently for news from the Windy City. Some say the Cubs wouldn't be the same lovable team if they won the World Series, a notion Bill Murray dismissed."I don't accept that," he said. "That's sick thinking. You've got to watch out for people like that." And now I really will stop talking about it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mister Sensitivity

Let me be the umpteenth person to hop on the "Bill O'Reilly is a twisted nutjob" bandwagon this week. To be fair, I've never really left that particular point of view, I just don't make it my life's work as some folks do. Instead I prefer to let my distaste for the man and all he stands for to lay dormant, until such time as he uncorks another truly insidious remark. This week's winner came from a reflection on his dinner with Al Sharpton. He told his radio audience that he dined with civil rights activist at Sylvia's recently and "couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference" between the black-run restaurant and others in New York City. "There wasn't any kind of craziness at all," he added.
I'm sure that the Woods family, who own and run the restaurant, would be happy to include that notice in their next flurry of print advertisements, and would almost certainly be looking to get some sort of video clip to add to their television campaign. Or maybe they could stick to talking about the ribs, or something like "People come by the busload to owner Sylvia Woods' Harlem institution, where they tuck into huge portions of soul food and soak up the down-home atmosphere." Perhaps what Bill meant by no "kind of craziness at all" was "down-home." Words, after all, can be very slippery things.
That is probably why he needed to whine at the Associated Press about how his idiotic ramblings were "cherry picked" out of a broader conversation about racial attitudes. He had told listeners that his grandmother — and many other white Americans — feared blacks because they didn't know any and were swayed by violent images in black culture. "We didn't call him a racist," Karl Frisch, spokesman for Media Matters said. "We said his comments were ignorant and racially charged and we stand by that."
"This isn't about a racially insensitive remark," he said. "Anybody can listen to the unedited version of the conversation on You want to think I'm insensitive to race, you go right ahead."
I did. I do. Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Souvenir T-Shirt

I got the shirt when my family took another one of its many trips to the southwest. To be more precise, I bought it at a T-shirt shop in Scottsdale, Arizona. This was yet another lengthy discussion with my parents about what a proper souvenir should be. Both of my brothers were happy to use the opportunity to add to their collection of Kachina dolls, but I was looking for something a little more unique.
I had my heart set on getting a personalized T-shirt from one of the dozens of T-shirt shops that dot all tourist-type towns like Scottsdale. I didn't know this going in, having bypassed any number of authentic Hopi or Zuni artifacts to wait for just the right thing. When I saw the rainbow-glitter stencil that read "Punk Rock", I knew that I was getting close. It was the spring before I was to enter high school, and I had already committed myself to continue down the instrumental music path, so I decided that I should get another iron-on transfer for the back: "It's Okay, I'm With The Band". I picked a horrible beige shirt as the backdrop, and used almost all of my trip money on it. With the extra few dollars I had left over, I bought a life-size cardboard cutout of Spiderman. My parents shook their heads, but let the transaction occur.
My "Punk Rock" shirt lived on past the end of disco, well into the early eighties, after my graduation from high school. I wore that shirt underneath my band uniform for most every parade and field competition. It was my way of "sticking it to the man" while still staying in lock step with the other hundred and fifty members marching around me. I wore that shirt for years before I ever bought any records that could be considered punk. The glitter rainbow effect of the letters was almost a non-sequitur in themselves, but I was sending a message of the edge on which I chose to live. I suppose if I was serious about it, I would have ripped the sleeves off, or maybe stuck a few safety pins in it - or myself.
But for me, "Punk Rock" was the cliff I would always look out from, and never leap. When I was meeting the people who would become my friends, in some cases forever, they met me as the guy in the "Punk Rock" shirt. That shirt is long gone. I have a Ramones shirt that I bought when I went to see them years later, and an Iggy Pop shirt that did get the sleeve treatment. These are badges of a different sort. They say that I went to a show and picked up on the merchandise. My "Punk Rock" shirt was all about the choices I was making as an adolescent. I wore it proud, and I wore it out. I miss it today.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Mouth That Roared

If you were concerned that our president might be the only leader in the world worthy of shame and derision, take heart. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended Holocaust revisionists and raised questions about who carried out the September 11 attacks in a speech he gave today at Columbia University. Care for a sample? How about: "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country ... I don't know who's told you that we have this." This was in response to a question about the alleged execution of homosexuals in Iran. In the past, Ahmadinejad has called for Israel's elimination. But his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," but others say that would be better translated as "vanish from the pages of time". Maybe if they ignore them long enough, the Israelis will just go away.
Speaking of going away, President Ahmadinejad would probably be just as happy if the questions about his feelings on the Holocaust would disappear. "In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as the fabricated legend," Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, told Ahmadinejad as part of his opening remarks. "One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers." To this, the president replied, "Granted this happened, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people?" It is precisely that lack of world view that no doubt makes him such a force. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this is the same mouth that uttered these words: “Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury.”
So much fury, and so very little time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"It's not my fault, but it is my problem."

There is a polite way to answer this question: "What time is the three o'clock parade?" The notion that this inquiry doesn't open that person up to a wall of sarcasm and a life of sad regret thereafter is initially surprising to me. Then again, when you discover that it is one of the most frequently asked questions at the Walt Disney World theme park, it makes more fiscal sense to find a way to steer clear from outright ridicule.
Disney Institute, a Florida-based unit of the Walt Disney Company has coached thousands of executives and front-line workers from other companies that have included Delta Air Lines, IBM, General Motors, Chrysler and even the Internal Revenue Service and cigarette maker Phillip Morris Inc. At Disney, from actors in Goofy outfits to laundry workers, are all called "cast members" to make them feel part of the show. There is a garbage can every twenty-five steps, so litter will be tossed not dropped. My favorite ride in all of Disneyland is the moment of entry. Right after you push through that turnstile, you know that you are in the happiest place on earth. The fact that people are trained and paid to make it that way does not matter to me in the least. I'm just pleased to be somewhere that makes my personal needs a priority. If I want fudge, point me in the right direction, please. If it starts to rain, get those ponchos out. If I have to stand in line for an hour, send a dixieland band out to lighten the mood. I have never asked a cast member to read USA Today to me as I ate breakfast, but I suspect they would do it in a thrice.
By the way, "The parade will start on time at 3 p.m. in Frontierland, but it will be at Main Street U.S.A. at about 3:20. You can line up right here under the shade if you want to. Thanks."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Let's Dance

I have done the "Time Warp". It's just a jump to the left, and then a step to the right with a pelvic thrust that really drives you insane. The instructions are so easy that I was able to perform without multiple viewings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". This is what amounts to a dance craze for my generation. I have always been a little jealous of folks who grew up in the fifties and sixties, new step-by-step dance instruction records came out once a week back then.
This was part of the creative impetus behind John Water's "Hairspray", and it is what makes America strong. The Watusi. The Twist. The Mashed Potato. Even Brad's favorite, The Madison gave us all hope that our barely coordinated bodies might become unified in a groove as one, even if it was just for two and a half minutes. The Hullly Gully. The Frug. The list seems endless, and it brings to mind a simpler time when we lived in fear of communists and the bombs that the would never use, instead of terrorists and the bombs that they continue to use with alarming frequency.
Of course there are the sad exceptions to this view: The Lambada, The Electric Slide, The Dreaded Macarena. All of these only served to point out the desperation of our culture. The appeal of those dances from forty years ago was their disposable nature. A craze isn't just calculated marketing, there has to be some soul to begin with. Like the Geeb. Way back in the early 1980's, my friend Darren started doing a weird wobbly version of the twist to a Little Feat song, "Old Folks Boogie". He would totter back on his heels, hands moving in very deliberate, measured arcs around his waist. He used to invite people passing by his dorm room to join him. After a few weeks, he became a little more gregarious, calling out to everyone, "Come on everybody, do the Geeb!"
All year long, and into he summer, we did the Geeb. And when Darren passed away much too early, we did the Geeb at his wake. Since then, my wife has encouraged me to learn to waltz, and she suggests that salsa dancing might enliven some of our old married couple evenings. But I'm still waiting for the next big wave. Until then, let's Geeb!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hangin' On The Telephone

The other night, as I was staring at my computer and trying to determine this week's optimal lineup with my co-conspirator, I heard a beep. This is the sound that tells me that another call is coming in, and reminds me that no matter how important the discussion of Matt Leinart versus Phillip Rivers may be, I should remember there are other things that may require my attention.
For instance, it could be a call from one of my wife's clients, in need of some quick fix on a web page or a rush order of some new business cards. It could be news from one of our far-flung relatives, or friends calling to tell us they are at the airport and waiting for a ride to our house. But most likely, it could be one of my students. At the beginning of each school year I give the students and parents my home phone number, much to the chagrin of most of my colleagues. On very rare occasions will students ask for help on their homework. When the phone rings at my house between the hours of four and seven in the evening, it is almost always one of this kids in my class who wants to know what page in the Math workbook he was supposed to do, or sometimes a question about when the Scholastic book orders will be coming in.
When I looked at the caller ID on my phone, it was a number that I didn't recognize from "Unknown Caller". I confess that I have a weakness for accepting phone calls. I want to know who is reaching out to touch me, to paraphrase the old phone company ad. I could quickly solve my student's dilemma, then return abruptly to the pressing matter of picking a quarterback for this weekend's fantasy slate. But it wasn't a student. It was a tele-beggar. I understand that fundraising is an onerous duty, and non-profit organizations such as the one that the gentleman who called me was representing exist only as long as the donations continue. Since I made the first move, I felt I should be polite and said, "I'm sorry, but I'm on the other line right now."
The tele-slave countered with, "This will only take a minute."
"I'm sorry, but I need to get back to my other call."
At this moment, I had expected that the polite end would come, but it was followed by the tele-twit asserting, "This is very important -"
And then I decided that we were no longer being polite, since tele-noid had no way of knowing or appreciating what conversation was taking place on my other line. Yes, I was talking about fantasy football, but I could have been discussing matters of foreign intrigue or affairs of the heart so complex that his tiny tele-brain might just explode.
It crossed my mind to say something crass or crude, and then it occurred to me that I had no reason to be concerned about any sort of ongoing relationship with this tele-jerk. Too often I fall into a trap of feeling responsible for every interaction I have, and have spent endless minutes, hours and days on the phone with this survey or that political action. I am, it would seem, a soft touch.
But not that night. I hung up and returned to the issue at hand. We chose to sit Philip Rivers this week in favor of Matt Leinart. All of this comes as a reminder that in 2008, the first "do not call" list for tele-weasels expires, and you can register your home and cell phone numbers or file complaints at or by calling 1-888-382-1222. Or you can just start calling random 800 numbers and asking them advice about your fantasy football team.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'd Buy That For A Dollar

They guys from South Park may have to rethink things. As it turns out, Canada may be a real country after all. For the first time since Gerald Ford was president, the Canadian dollar can buy as much as our standard greenback. This means that there is no longer a reason to import Molson, Labatt's or Moosehead. The exchange rate on everything north and south of the border has become simply one to one.
That means that Peter Jennings is now just as important as Edward R. Murrow. Roly-poly comics John Candy and Chris Farley now stand on the same step of the comedy pantheon. And the comparisons don't stop at famous dead guys. Canadian bacon and ham are now the same thing, and it won't be very long until Snoop Dogg starts pulling a Tuque down over his eyes. Geddy Lee will release an album of duets with Bruce Springsteen. Hockey will be played throughout the United States until well into the spring. Okay, maybe that last one will continue, but just without the stigma that has always been attached to hockey being played well into the spring.
Mostly, however, things will continue about the same. We'll try not to be bitter about that whole "coalition of the willing" thing. We'll still snicker at the way they say "aboot", and we'll still wonder how they could give first place on their dollar coin to Queen Elizabeth II and second place to a loon. Everybody knows that the right way to go would be to have a guy with wooden teeth on one side, and an endangered species on the other. That's how we roll in America, United States, leader of the free world. For now.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What'd I Say?

What a scary place this would be if you actually had to be careful about everything that you did and said. Take for example the Reverend Jesse Jackson's recent difficulty getting the world to understand exactly what he meant. He was was quoted as saying Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was "acting like he's white" for not speaking out more forcefully about a racially charged schoolyard beating in Louisiana. Jackson later told the South Carolina newspaper he did not remember making the "acting like he's white" comment about Obama, who is, by the way, black. It's an interesting place to be, since Jesse says that he is supporting Senator Obama's run for the presidency.
In the world of sports, or the world that surrounds sports, Barry Bonds probably won't be backing off his assessment of the guy who bought his 756th home run ball anytime soon. Fashion designer Marc Ecko has set up a web site that lets visitors vote on three options for the ball: give it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, brand it with an asterisk before sending it to Cooperstown or blast it into space on a rocket ship. "He's stupid. He's an idiot," Barry said. "He spent $750,000 on the ball and that's what he's doing with it? What he's doing is stupid." Please Mister Bonds, couldn't you have exercised your word power just a little more? What about "moronic" or "foolhardy" or maybe even "frivolous"? As long as you have a microphone in front of you, why not make those words count?
After that, who would have guessed that Justin Timberlake would come off as a class act when asked about his former paramour and fellow Mousketeer, Britney Spears? In an interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired Wednesday, he mused aloud about his relationship with Kevin Federline's ex-wife: "We were teenagers," he said.
"Famous teenagers," Winfrey added.
"And I think that's basically the best way to describe what happened to us," Timberlake said. "I think she's a great person. And I don't know her as well as I did."
You know what? I think he means it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Advance Masked

My son is anxious to for us to purchase an Optimus Prime Voice Changer helmet before Halloween. I very much respect the fact that he is more than willing to create, from scraps of cardboard, the rest of the exo-skeleton that will help him transform into the leader of the Autobots. He worked the same angle last year when he decided, much in advance of October to trick or treat as the galactic bounty hunter, Jango Fett. Even though he was weighed down by his blaster rifle and (ironically enough) his jet pack, he managed to keep up with his pals for most of the night.
I have a soft spot for the whole mask-makes-the-costume idea. When I was in fourth grade, my family took a trip to Disneyland. For my souvenir I eschewed the traditional mouse ears, or any of the outwardly Disney branded items. Instead, I found myself staring with my jaw agape at a heavy latex mask of Frankenstein's monster in Merlin's Magic Shoppe. There was some mild negotiation with my parents, who already understood my fixation on all things monster-related, and so the purchase was made. I remember carrying my bag out to a bench on Main Street, sitting down, and pulling the mask over my head. I sat there for several minutes before a very small child, probably no more than three or four, pulled on her mother's arm to get her attention then pointed right at me. "Look mama," she cried, "Mickey Mouse!"
From that ignominious beginning, I began a collection, of sorts, of rubber masks. Some were more realistic or grotesque, but they all filled my momentary urge to change my identity: Uncle Ooze, C-3PO, Gorilla, Darth Vader, Werewolf, Chewbacca, Hooded Ghoul, Batman. If two heads were better than one, I was in pretty good shape. Amazing disguises, and even better cures for claustrophobia. My son, who has never been a fan of costumes, is thrilled by the idea of engineering a new appearance. When he was in preschool, it was his idea to show up for Halloween not as a truck driver, but as a truck. The only surprise is that it has taken him another six years to transform into a robot that used to be a truck. Complete with voice changing technology.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Runner Stumbles

The article I read this afternoon suggested that O.J. Simpson was "getting no celebrity breaks" during his most recent brush with the law. Then again, maybe the break he's getting is just the attention that a celebrity such as "The Juice" might get anytime a felony is alleged. I suppose it depends largely on which side of the fence you line up for discussion of the criminal justice system. If you think that penalties are too harsh, or if you believe that people are getting away with murder (literally or figuratively) then the debate continues. Would the average perp be photographed, aside from a mug shot, as he walked to and from a holding cell? Probably not, but it isn't everyday that someone of Mister Simpson's stature graces the Clark County Detention Center. Actually, it would be my guess that a great many jails in southern California as well as Las Vegas have the distinction of catering to celebrities primarily due to the fact that there is a greater number of them per capita in those locales.
Does that mean that those cities should steel themselves to the odd burden of playing host to a certain number of high-profile crime stories? Should Lindsay, Paris, Mel, or any of the laundry list of pop idols who fought the law be treated differently than the average citizen? To me, it's a moot point. The genie is already out of the bottle. If we have already made a point of paying attention to an individual's actions, for good or ill, then we will probably continue doing so until they pass on to the next plane.
In some ways, Carl Douglas, who was co-counsel with Johnnie L. Cochran in Simpson's 1995 criminal trial, seems to agree with me. "O.J. has always been able to satisfy his obligations to the court. He cooperated with the authorities in this case. He is not a flight risk. And he certainly can't hide anywhere." Which makes this story all the more a case for head-scratching. According to one account, "The door burst open and they came in almost commando style, O.J. Simpson and some of his people, I guess you would call it, with guns drawn," sports collector Bruce Fromong told ABC's "Good Morning America" Monday. "O.J. at that time was saying, 'I want my stuff. I want my stuff.' The thing in my mind as soon as I saw him, I'm thinking, 'O.J., how can you be this dumb? You're in enough trouble."'
Just what constitutes "enough trouble"? How about six felonies, including two counts of robbery with use of a deadly weapon. As for being a flight risk, O.J. has already made low speed pursuits in a white Ford Bronco part of pop culture, add that to the footage we have of him running through airports, an you can see why they decided to lock him up.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Milton Nacht Schlemiel

Metaphors are very tricky things. Sometimes they lead to a deeper understanding of a subject or idea. Other times they become a roadblock to any kind of interest or concern about whatever it is that you hope to express. Metaphors can be good or bad - not unlike the movies of M. Night Shyamalan.
Let me say at the outset that I have, for the most part, been a supporter of M.'s work. This is in spite of the fact that I had "Sixth Sense" figured out in the first act, then waited for everyone else in the theater to figure out what was happening. That may be why I didn't bother to race out to see "Unbreakable", but I was happy to hear that the storytelling was somewhat left of center, a superhero movie made without tights.
I became a little tired by the time "Signs" came out. I watched Mel Gibson wrestle with his inner demons while the monsters from outer space scratched on the door just outside. Was this a monster movie or a relationship movie? Were the aliens part of the paranoid ravings of a lunatic mind, or were they the externalized fears of a single father who had lost all his faith? I was being asked to care about things at two levels at once, and as an American that just seemed like too much work.
I waited to catch "The Village" on cable and was relieved to find that I had guessed the ending from the blurb I read in "Entertainment Weekly" six months prior. The families of this community represented the United States in the early twenty-first century. Or they were a bunch of scared idiots living in the woods when they should have been teaching abnormal psychology at an Amish university. I was just about done with Mister Night.
This morning I watched the last hour of "Lady in the Water" and I felt as though I might drown in all the symbolic imagery and clever goings-on. Had he chopped and minced his metaphors more carefully, I might not have gagged on them.
But I watched until the end, didn't I? I had to make sure that what I thought was going on really was going on. And that's a lot like life - metaphorically speaking.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Whiteness Of The Gate

Someday, this job will be finished. As the sun was setting this evening, I stopped working and put my tools away, but I know that I will soon hear the siren call again, and I will be back at it, trying to make the gate on our fence as functional as possible. This one little section of my house has become my white whale.
What started as a simple construction project more than ten years ago has become a decade long obsession. When we first moved into our house, my brother-in-law and I spent a weekend rebuilding the fence that runs around our front yard. If we didn't need to get in and out, we would have been done in a day, but engineering a ten foot swinging gate took both of us and our college degrees to their limit. When we were done, we had achieved something that would have fit right in at Jurassic Park. Entering and exiting our driveway had the feel of entering the compound, always with an eye for roaming wild things.
The absurdity of this was that, at the time, there were no wild things to contain. However, once we did acquire our dog, we discovered that our gate was no match for her leaping ability. The lovely scallop effect was the first thing to go. After our first rainy season, it became apparent that ten feet of wet wood soaks up an awful lot of water. I put a coat of varathane on when we got a break in the rain, but to no avail. I ran a cable from the post to the far corner to give it some support, but this just gave me more moving parts to tend to.
By the third year of near constant maintenance, It occurred to me that I might be better off with two smaller gates, so I put another set of hinges on the opposite side, then ran a circular saw right down the middle. Then I spent a couple more years trying to find just the right mechanism for keeping the gate closed: latches and loops and handles and levers. Just about every trip to the hardware store found me dragging home some new method of securing the portal. For a short while, there was even a wheel on the bottom to minimize the sagging.
Today was the long overdue restoration of the gate. New lumber was brought in, and I started over from scratch. Five hours and a few near misses later, we had a gate again. It's new and improved. Everything I know about building gates went into this one, so for now, you can call me Ishmael.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Put The Phone Down And Back Away

Overheard Thursday in Sacramento: Listen up you flabby teenage girlymen! You will no longer be talking on your wimpy little cell phones when you are trying to park your daddy's Hummer in the parking lot down at the mall. While you are trying to call your girlfriend to tell her that you are unable to make the proper corrections even with power steering we will be making sure that all of the fun that you thought you would be having now will not be happening because you are so pitiful and weak.
Or something like that - This week the Governator made the decision that may turn out to be the turning point of his political career. A law signed by Arnold on Thursday will require those crazy teens to put down all cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. No doubt this will allow them to keep their hands free for all manner of other things, but that's really the problem in the first place.
I can remember the first few months with a driver's license were full of plenty of white knuckles, but that initial phase of terror was quickly replaced by a feeling of complete control and mastery. The first time I realized that I could reach the glove compartment, grab a new cassette, eject the old one and replace it with one hand it was like taking off the training wheels. The introduction of open containers and/or a girlfriend pushed the level of mastery to near zen levels. Or so I believed.
I had a number of moving violations in my first few years of driving. I was, to paraphrase Ralph Nader, unsafe at any speed. I am sure that if I was a teenager in California at the opening of this Draconian era, I would be beside myself. Never mind that a 2001 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that sixteen-year-old drivers have a crash rate three times higher than that of seventeen-year-olds, five times greater than eighteen-year-olds and almost ten times greater than drivers ages thirty to fifty-nine. Those are just numbers, and numbers are just a way to keep us down, man. I don't need my personal freedoms, party head, or texting privileges harshed on by Governor Gropenagger. How would he like it if there was a law passed that said you had to be able to correctly pronounce the name of the state you were governor of to be able to drive?
Well, I'm old now and I see the wisdom of having two hands on the wheel and both hemispheres of the brain engaged in the operation of any kind of heavy equipment. Grown-ups in California will soon be restricted to using only hands-free devices while driving. This leaves your hands free for gesturing wildly, fumbling for that open container, or massaging the passenger of your choice. I, for one, am excited by the possibilities.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rules? We Don't Need No Stinking Rules

All the fuss about Bill Belichick being fined for stealing signals from the New York Jets gives me pause. I can remember a time and place when bending the rules was de rigeur. That would be my years on the front lawn league. There was a group of us bandie-types who used to hang out on in front of the high school during lunch, racing up and back across that sparsely sodded expanse, chasing each other, knocking each other silly, and occasionally breaking a rule or two.
The fact that all of us who played out there over the course of our three years at Boulder High were not jocks in the most profound way provided a tinge of irony for every game we played. This was, in part, what necessitated the cheating. None of us were out there to showcase our athletic skills. We were playing for the love of the game. That and the potential humiliation of the other team. Because we spent a good deal of time being ridiculed for our lack of manliness, it made our "two hand touch" rule one of the first things to fall by the wayside. If somebody got stiff-armed or clotheslined, it was pretty much expected that you would suck it up and get back in the huddle, waiting for your own chance to dole out incidental punishment.
The teachers and administration must not have been too concerned, since I cannot recall a single game that was disrupted by concern for our safety. If they had been watching more closely, they might have had their doubts. Take for example the frequent use of the two large trees on the lawn as extra blockers. You could always tell who was new to the lawn when you could get them backing up on pass coverage and run them smack into the trunk of one of the beastly elms that crowded either side. If you were real good, you could get away with it a couple of times.
One of my favorite ruses was to race downfield and come up behind the person who caught the ball and scream, "Lateral! Lateral!" And on more occasions than I can be proud to admit, the guy would toss the ball back to me and I would step into then end zone. Our playbook started with the Statue of Liberty and ended with the Fumblerooski, and if it all sounds just a little silly, remember that it was all deadly serious to us.
Cheating? I'd like to think of it more as advantageous competition. See you on the lawn.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Piano Man

Picture this: A piano recital is taking place in a nursing home. Most of the students are very young and nervous about being around such a large crowd of octogenarians. They tend to hang just around the corner form the day room, waiting until the last possible moment before they have to play. The program is mostly light classical, heavy on the Mozart. Near the end of the show, there are a couple of students who are set to play their accordions. One of them sits down and performs a spirited rendition of the theme from MASH, "Suicide Is Painless". It is a moment that lives on in my memory as the quintessential music lesson moment. The only thing that makes it any sweeter was that it was my younger brother playing the accordion.
I never made the transition to accordion myself, I dodged that instrumental bullet, but I do remember the struggle to make meaningful music. Early on, I resigned myself to learning "Hot Cross Buns" and "Little River Flowing" as rungs on the ladder to becoming an accomplished pianist. After I had been playing a few years, I started to yearn for something a little more hip than Beethoven's Sonatinas. I knew that there were racks bursting with "E-Z" keyboard of the day's popular hits. I negotiated with my piano teacher until he allowed me to, as part of my lesson, start to learn Don McLean's "American Pie". This would be only a segment of my week's practice, along with more traditional pieces, and a heavy dose of music theory.
My initial attempts were less than gratifying, and after many weeks of limited success, I was finally able to pick out most of the melody, but the bridge and the left hand chords continued to elude me. I gave up and returned to the Mozart. Until the day that I saw Elton John playing "Pinball Wizard" in the film version of "Tommy". Now I had a new goal. This time I was determined. I practiced harder than ever. I worked on the opening for weeks, trying to recreate the pounding fusillade that Elton was able to unleash from high atop his platform boots. "How do you think he does it?"
In the end, I was no Elton John. I was no Billy Joel. I was no Randy Newman. I wanted to play the hits, but I was stuck with my misses. It was shortly after this that I gave up my piano studies. I haven't had to think about this for many years. Until today, when my son returned from his piano lesson, anxious to find the sheet music for a song by Linkin Park. Already his ability to play music by ear has outstripped mine, so I have little doubt that he will be successful in his endeavor. Am I a little jealous? We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reflections On A Day In History

That day I had two things in common with our President: We both spent the morning in an elementary school, and we both were outraged by the murder of innocent civilians. I remember the way the world responded to our grief in kind, and the way our leaders rallied around that singular moment, gathered together on the Capitol steps. It wasn't until a few days later that I began to wonder how long this unity of spirit and vision could last.
The sign on the front door of my son's preschool read, "Let's keep the world outside today." Six years ago, as the events of what was taking place on the right edge of our country was just coming to light for us out here on the left edge, the choice was made by the parents of the co-op to try and keep things as normal as possible for a group of three-to-five-year-olds who probably had no idea why mom and dad couldn't tear themselves away from CNN.
We couldn't stop watching because we had never seen anything like it. We were watching the United States of America being attacked. Over and over. In slow motion. And no matter how many times we saw it, the images never quite made sense. It was a better idea to play in the block room. Or read a book by Richard Scarry. Or sit on the floor, surrounded by the sounds of life going on.
Because that's the thing that I remember the most: the silence. There was no traffic. Even though schools stayed open, the calm was unsettling. Living in the vicinity of two major airports, the sudden lack of planes overhead only added to the feeling of dread. When the sun went down, all the grownups returned to their places in front of the glow of the television, still waiting for that one angle that would make everything sensible again. We're still waiting.

Monday, September 10, 2007


This past Friday, I was out for Happy Hour with many of the other teachers from my school. As we concluded our second week of school, I listened as others made their assessments of their classes so far. When it became my turn, I flinched a little, hoping that I could duck the question. I didn't feel like I had a good handle on my group, and so I commented that I felt as though I was starting to put kids into roles. This one will be my smart girl. This one will be with me during recess a lot. I was using models that seemed accurate from ten years of teaching experience. It was suggested that I was becoming jaded.
That suggestion was the reason that I had hoped to duck the question. Sometimes my professional judgement keeps me from looking at my students as children. Sometimes I see them as dots on a graph, or scores in a grade book. After all, that's what I am expected to deliver at the end of the day. It is a moment such as this that I must stop and reflect on the collaborative nature of education. I'm going to do my part. The kids will do their part. The parents will do their part.
That's when I have to remember that education is a story that hopefully has no end. I know that the kids in my class are already weighing me against all their previous teachers. "My third grade teacher never gave me homework on the weekends." "He never lets us go out to P.E." "Why doesn't he have a car?" I would guess that there have been a few gatherings of students and parents discussing my relative merits. And that's as it should be. I'm looking to hit one out of the park every day, metaphorically speaking. That doesn't sound too jaded, does it? I'm hoping to find that winning combination of curriculum and motivation that makes being in Mister Caven's fourth grade class a worthwhile experience. It's time for me to recall all those students who left their mark with me, and it's time for me to remember that it's going to happen again.
I've got to remember this for next Happy Hour.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Restoring Our Family Dignity

As miserably embarrassed as I was yesterday with my own deplorable conduct, there is a light on the horizon: My son. While I know that it is potentially dangerous to put undue pressure on your children with expectations of behavior that make you proud, it was a happy moment when I heard him recount the story from his Thursday at school.
In the second week of school, it became my son's responsibility to help shepherd a kindergarten boy to school each day. As a fifth grader, he is more than capable of showing this kid around, and making sure that he gets where he needs to go. What's more, he didn't flinch or moan or whine about "having to do" this chore. Instead, he took it on with the same straight-faced determination that we have become familiar in the case of things such as practicing the piano or cleaning his room. He knows it's his job.
Thursday morning came, and the routine was becoming fairly clear, except at the moment that this little boy was trying to negotiate the big front door at the school with an extra-wide backpack, and he got a little tangled up. My son helped get him through, but not before a voice from behind complained, "Geez, what kind of stupid kid doesn't know how to open a door?" Had he thought about it for a second, my son might not have chosen to close the door on the foot of the owner of the sneering voice, but that's what he did. The fourth grade girl wasn't hurt, but made plenty of noise when she sensed danger, and it was, unfortunately right next to the Principal's office. The school's secretary came right out to see what all the fuss was about, and my son was already contrite to the point of tears. He apologized and went immediately to the row of chairs in the office where he awaited dispensation from the principal.
In the end, he was deemed to be properly remorseful for his actions, and since there was no actual injury, he returned to his class with a warning about setting a good example for younger students and to think before he acts. What they couldn't tell him was that they were proud of him for sticking up for his kindergarten buddy. As a teacher, I know that it would have been impossible for them to cheer on the schoolyard justice that had just been handed out. The girl is a pest and fussbudget of quantum proportions and would probably benefit greatly from a job just like the one my son has. She should be the one making sure that kindergarten kids get where they need to be. I also know why she won't be asked. She's not the responsible one. My son is.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

My Wrinkle In Time

I am currently resting quietly, but that wasn't necessarily the case a few hours ago. My hours of discomfort made me think of the work of Madeleine L’Engle, specifically "A Wrinkle In Time." It was her character, Mrs. Whatsit, who made the matter-of-fact description of a tesseract appear in my fourth grade world. Suddenly, faster than light travel not only seemed possible, but also quite simple. It made so much more sense than the discussion I have just read about a four-dimensional cube, also referred to as a tesseract. An older and wiser version of myself knows that the thing that Mrs. Whatsit described is more like a wormhole than a tesseract, but it opened my eyes to extra-dimensional travel.
But why today, of all days? The thought of moving freely in space and time is appealing on any given day, but today is special. Would I use this tool to create a meeting with Ms. L'Engle, to discuss the effect her books had on me as a child? Or maybe I could use it as an opportunity to return to a time when I could hear Luciano Pavoratti sing one last aria? Perhaps the chance to influence world events, shape a political landscape that could provide a safer future for us all.
All of that sounds very high-minded and nice, but I have a more pressing need for inter-dimensional travel. I would like to go back to a simpler, quieter time. A time with fewer pains and less distress. A time before everything went so horribly wrong. I would like to return to the time and place just before I accepted the bet to eat twenty-some ounces of jalapeno relish. This was not one of my finest moments - a moment I am now regretting. All of those pickled peppers weren't so pleasant being packed in. The end result is causing me regrets beyond the twelve dollars I collected as a result of my vaunted skills as a stunt eater. What I wouldn't give to be able to travel back in time and just say "no." I suppose it's just a little more than twelve dollars worth. Or maybe I could go back and renegotiate for fifteen.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sound The Alarm

President Pinhead said Osama bin Laden's mention of the Iraq war in his video message is a reminder of al-Qaida's long-term objectives in Iraq and of the "dangerous world in which we live." The following is an extensive, but by no means complete, list of other reminders of the dangerous world in which we live:
Drinking cough syrup and operating heavy machinery.
Running with scissors.
NC-17 rated movies.
Loose lug nuts.
Shipping toxic waste across state lines.
Running with toxic waste across state lines.
Human growth hormone.
Corked bats.
Aluminum bats.
Vampire bats.
Smoking in bed.
Genetically engineered food.
Eating genetically engineered food in bed.
Sofa beds.
Inappropriate content in on-line blogs.
The alcohol content of hand sanitizer.
The alcohol content of on-line blogs.
Binge and Purge episodes.
Operating without the blade guard firmly in place.
Driving with a load not properly strapped down.
Leaving the lid up.
Leaving the lid down.
Falling rock.
Severe weather.
Ultraviolet rays.
Rip tide.
Undercooked meat.
Overcooked meat.
Dangerous Minds.
Dangerous Liaisons.
Dangerous Toys.
And the list goes on. The only thing we have to fear is what we have neglected to put on this list. The nation's threat level remains the same, elevated for the nation and high for the aviation sector. Celebrate the anniversary today by living in fear.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Fear Itself

I admit it, there is a rather large streak of liberal thought running through here. At the conclusion of those seemingly interminable telephone surveys, when the droid at the other end of the line asks which direction I lean, I will always say to the left. I once almost went so far as to joining the ACLU strictly for the purposes of identifying myself as being a "card-carrying" liberal. I find it highly ironic that, apropos of absolutely nothing, this blog bears the same title as the web page of a rather arch conservative. It is also the name of an album of electronic music by Douglas Leedy. It is also the name of a site that collects digital photos.
But I digress. All of these links can be established via a quick Google search, but the virtual real estate on which I squat is not really my concern. I was struck today at my rather knee-jerk reaction to the announcement that Osama bin Laden will release a new video in the coming days ahead of the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. This is a guy who can still ring my jingoistic buzzer pretty good. I have no shame for the days that followed the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, as I felt my national pride and patriotism swelling. It was a gift, of sorts, to be given a real and true villain. After so many years of hating and fearing an enemy that we never fully identified, we finally had somebody to put on dartboards and toilet paper. The image of Colonel Kilgore's Air Cavalry screaming out of the morning sun to the strains of "The Ride of the Valkyries" somewhere in Afghanistan kept me going in those early days. I'm usually a pretty big proponent of turning the other cheek, but in this case I would have been quite happy to see both of his cheeks forcibly removed.
Six years later, we have spent four of them attempting to flower a democracy in another country, while the frontier justice promised by Pinhead has netted a few big fish, but mostly threats and taunts from Osama. It has become somewhat of a symbiotic relationship, with the last video featuring bin Laden coming in 2004, just before the election. Now, as the strains of a war that has no focus or end in sight wear on Americans and just before the report on the troop surge, we have a new message. Will he be defiant? Will he instill fear? Will he deny that he is gay? At this point, just having his face in the news again will certainly jog the memories of those horrible weeks in the fall of 2001. For a few days, at least, the terror level will burn a little brighter for all of us because that nut is still out there. And yes, this time I am talking about Osama bin Laden.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tales Of The Unexpected - Yeah, Right

Sometimes the best kind of surprise is no surprise at all. For example, did anyone really believe that three would be a single objective assessment of the U.S. involvement in Iraq as the September deadline for reportage approaches. From a newly released independent study: Iraq's security forces will be unable to take control of the country in the next eighteen months, and Baghdad's national police force is so rife with corruption it should be scrapped entirely. Again, please raise your hand if any of this news struck you with shock and/or awe.
This review is one of several studies that Congress commissioned in May, when it agreed to fund the war for several more months but demanded that the Pinhead administration and outside groups assess U.S. progress in the four-year war. As yet, none of these reviews could be described as "glowing". On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative and auditing arm, reported that Iraq has failed to meet eleven of its eighteen political and security goals. When a student of mine misses eleven out of eighteen anything, it's time for some serious intervention. I would be sending home different work, and suggesting a limit on that student's free time. The Iraqi Parliament took off the entire month of August. The GAO maintained that only three of those eighteen goals had been met fully. Sounds like a case for remediation, maybe some after-school tutoring.
In spite of this, Pinhead's senior advisers on Iraq have recommended he stand by his current war strategy, and he is unlikely to order more than a symbolic cut in troops before the end of the year. A good teacher knows that simply making students work harder doesn't fix the problem. If a student doesn't understand multiplication, that student will continue to struggle with division, fractions, and decimals. Democracy requires higher level thinking. Getting the lights turned on and the water running is probably a more current concern. A day without undue carnage would probably be a welcome sign as well.
Still, when the White House report crawls out its drawer and into the daylight next week, will it come as a shock that Pinhead will tell us all to stay the course? Don't be surprised.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Money Talks

From high atop the mound we call showbiz comes the very jumbled perspectives of those who we revere primarily for their value as entertainers. Why should we be shocked by anything that someone on TV says? Would anyone watch if the same boring platitudes were spilled, day after day, without a wink in the direction of controversy?
Can we blame Jerry Lewis for using the "F" word - no, not that one, the one that is a derogatory term for homosexual - in the eighteenth hour of his annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon? The man is eighty-one years old, and he has been babbling away for forty-two years every Labor Day to encourage us all to donate money to find a cure for his kids. He was quick to apologize: "I apologize to anyone who was offended. I obviously made a poor choice of words. Everyone who knows me understands that I hold no prejudices in this regard. In the family atmosphere of the telethon, I forget that not everyone knows me that well."
That's a pretty safe bet, apologizing to "anyone who was offended." Everyone who wasn't offended apparently doesn't need an apology. As far as the "family atmosphere" of his telethon, it makes me wonder what a Sunday dinner is like at the Lewis house. "Hey, c'mon in you f-" Well, you get the idea.
Speaking of family, over on the View, new host Whoopi Goldberg suggested that we shouldn't rush to judgement where Michael Vick is concerned. She said, "from where he comes from" in the South, dogfighting isn't that unusual. "It's like cockfighting in Puerto Rico. There are certain things that are indicative to certain parts of the country." I didn't see the show myself, but I suspect that she may have gone on to apologize for Ed Gein, since "folks from Wisconsin are just a little kooky like that."
It reminds me that there really are no people like show people. And maybe that's best.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Feeling A Draft

We held our fantasy football draft this morning. It had been suggested that we might have to spend as long as four hours completing this process, so we placed an order to our local Pizza Hut for sustenance while we sat in front of the computer, watching the picks start to pile up. We had spent weeks leading up to today refining our selections, hoping to put together just the right combination of talent and heart.
Fantasy football may allow the most purely vicarious sports experience I have allowed myself to have. This will let me watch virtually all National Football League games with a sense of purpose: My team is spread out across the country, in both conferences. I tried to keep an open mind and remember that we wanted the best available athletes, but we all agreed that we wanted to avoid drafting any crybabies. Or we hoped that we wouldn't end up with any crybabies at the end of the day.
When we were halfway through our fifteen picks, we had only been on the clock for about forty-five minutes. When it was done, we were still waiting for our corporate sponsor to deliver our food. That's when the phone rang. It wasn't the commissioner telling us that our last two picks had been voided. It was Pizza Hut, calling to tell us that they wouldn't have any drivers to deliver our cheesy goodness for another two hours. There was a moment when, gripped by indecision, we almost succumbed to our baser instincts and started to whine. We held tough, and pushed away from the computer, having survived all fifteen rounds in just over an hour, with a group of players that we hope will become a force in fantasy football, statistically speaking. Then it was time to return to reality: Somebody had to make the sandwiches.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Where Did I Leave That Heart?

When people ask me where I'm from, they try to figure out why I chose to leave the bucolic mountain paradise that is Boulder, Colorado. "You left Boulder to come here?" Here is Oakland, California. I reply that it wasn't as if I had an atlas out and carefully picked a place to put down roots. Where I live is largely based on circumstance and rent-to-own furniture.
As I approached my thirtieth birthday, I had been living in Boulder for all but nine months of my life. The exception being my freshman year at Colorado College, where I spent most of the week gearing up for the hundred mile drive home for the weekend. I was then, and remain, hopelessly in love with the city of my youth. I moved to California because my girlfriend, the woman who would become my wife, had a number of nice pieces of antique furniture while I had a few slabs of particle board with subdued earth tone cushions stapled to them. She lived in Oakland because she had graduated from Mills College. I lived in Boulder because I was born there. The suggestion that I try anything new seemed as logical as anything I could come up with, and so with a heart filled with a mixture of anticipation and sorrow, I packed up my other worldly belongings and left that furniture behind.
Periodically, I take a little grief about my hometown. After all, I own a home in Oakland, shouldn't that be my hometown? On any given day I am never sure where my heart is. I am definitely not ready to adopt the Oakland Raiders as "My Team", but I have found room in my heart for the American League with the Oakland A's. From time to time, the artistic and cultural merits of Boulder are run under my nose, such as the recent sentencing of former child star Brian Bonsall for third degree assault. Why Alex P. Keaton's little brother picked Boulder to make his home after his fifteen minutes was up and his life took a dive is beyond me. Maybe it was the same bad ju-ju that brought the Ramseys to the foot of the Rocky Mountains to start their daughter off on her ill-fated journey to become the most famous Little Miss Colorado of all time. Maybe it's no coincidence that, in Stephen King's novel "The Shining", the Torrance family begin their odyssey from that same sleepy little college town.
Not that evil pervades there. Scott Carpenter, the fourth American in space, was born and raised in Boulder. He graduated from the same high school as I did, only thirty-seven years apart. Mork and Mindy lived there in the late seventies, which may be more of a curse than a blessing, but Stephen King did get around to making Boulder the home of the good guys after the superflu wiped out most of the rest of the world in "The Stand".
Oakland has Tower of Power, but Boulder has Firefall. Oakland has the Hell's Angels, but Boulder has Alan Ginsberg. Since life is a chance operation, full of opportunities and disappointments, I choose to be happy where I am for now. We've got a lot more furniture to move now.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

With A Little Help From My Friends

The tagline on the poster read, "A splendid time is guaranteed for all." Lies, lies, lies. Just this morning I was treated to a viewing of "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". Not the album, the movie. In a continuing series of films that have made me rethink my subscription to cable television, this one was a little like watching a train wreck in slow motion, starring the Brothers Gibb and Peter Frampton.
As an historical document, it was informative for my son to see that moment when the last nail was pounded squarely into the coffin of the disco age. Not content to wallow endlessly in the vats of money that had been generated by "Saturday Night Fever", the greedy twits at the Robert Stigwood Organization concocted this satin and polyester beast as a follow-up vehicle for the Bee Gees, even though they had no acting experience, and pretty boy guitarist Peter Frampton. With a soundtrack comprised entirely of Beatles songs and a voice-over narration by God (George Burns) himself, how could it miss?
Steve Martin, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Earth, Wind and Fire, Billy Preston: If you need more proof of how bad cocaine is, try to imagine the piles of blow that had to be poured into this production just to get these folks up off the couch and in front of the camera. In the same year that he gave his career-defining turn as Doctor Loomis in "Halloween", even Donald Pleasance allowed himself to be debased in ways peculiar to the late 1970's.
Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh. I have watched "Xanadu" and "Grease" (released just a month before the Sergeant Pepper abomination) and had a kitschy good time. Even the Beatles themselves found out that their music wasn't a sure-fire ticket to a hit movie, as witnessed by "Magical Mystery Tour". Maybe what they needed was more Olivia Newton John.