Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick Or - What Were My Options Again?

I'm getting ready to send my son out trick-or-treating for what could be his last time. He took this Halloween as seriously this year as he ever has, working with his mother for a solid month on his Optimus Prime costume. He also insisted that we drag up all of our cobwebs and black garlands and scary caution tape. He wanted us all to have our own pumpkin to carve. Our dog is wearing her pumpkin-colored collar. We are trying to cram as much Halloween into one night as we possibly can. The hangover will be horrifying.
That made me think of the years I spent living in various apartments around Boulder, Colorado. This was a time and place where Halloween was a much more grown-up enterprise. For many years, the place to be on that night was on the downtown Boulder Mall. Crowd estimates from the mid to late eighties put the number of costumed revelers in the neighborhood of thirty-five thousand. Most of these folks were found in a two-to-three block area, near a very large number of bars and restaurants that were at first pleased and happy with the massive surge of business on the night before All Saints Day.
I confess that I rarely made my way down to the mall in those days, preferring instead to host one of our date-specific parties (as opposed to our more casual "Hey, it's Thursday" gatherings). But that didn't mean I wasn't interested. I would always make a point to dispatch an emissary or fact-finding group to bring back a report on the debauchery. Boys dressed as Clockwork Orange Droogs dangled from streetlights. People passed out and never hit the ground because they was no way for them to reach the ground. I was always pleased when our party offered as much bad behavior and high concept costumes as could be found at the Mall Crawl. The hangovers back then were horrifying.
At the dawn of the nineties, Boulder had had enough. They blocked off the Interstate exits to keep hungry drunk boys from driving in from out of town. They asked bars and restaurants to close early and after a decade of excess, happily complied. They closed parking garages and made the fun go away. By the time I left Boulder in 1992, there was no more craziness on the Pearl Street Mall on Halloween. At least by the standard they had set themselves. Tonight the powers that be will attempt to burst the fun-bubble in San Francisco's Castro district. BART trains won't stop there. Everyone will go home early because the place is closing at dark. All of those giddy good times will have to take place somewhere else.
It's almost like Halloween wasn't for grownups anymore.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dennis The Menace

We knew that he was a pinhead, but is our President's tiny little brain diseased as well? This is the assertion being made by Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. Perhaps best known for his seriously liberal views and majorly hot wife, Kucinich had this to say in Tuesday's Philadelphia Inquirer: "I seriously believe we have to start asking questions about his mental health. There's something wrong. He does not seem to understand his words have real impact."
The words that the Ohio congressman was referencing specifically were remarks from a news conference earlier this month. Our President said: "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
"You cannot be a president of the United States who's wanton in his expression of violence," Kucinich said. "There's a lot of people who need care. He might be one of them. If there isn't something wrong with him, then there's something wrong with us. This, to me, is a very serious question." In response, Republican National Committee spokesman Dan Ronayne said it was hard to take Kucinich seriously.
And just what does it mean to be "mentally ill"? From the National Institute of Mental Health: "Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year." Why, that makes it sound positively likely that a portion of our executive branch may be suffering from some disorder or other. But just what malady and who is afflicted remains a mystery. The Surgeon General writes "Yet, despite unprecedented knowledge gained in just the past three decades about the brain and human behavior, mental health is often an afterthought and illnesses of the mind remain shrouded in fear and misunderstanding."
Fear and misunderstanding? Now that sounds like Dennis might be on to something. At the very least, our President suffers from some sort of stress-related disability to correctly pronounce the word "nuclear" (nook-you-ler).

Monday, October 29, 2007

From The Cheap Seats

My older brother sent me a nice e-mail today. We were both licking our wounds from the abrupt and somewhat ignominious defeat of the Colorado Rockies at the hands of the newly curse-free Boston Red Sox. He reminded me of the legacy of our high school basketball team, who won a few state championships back in the day. We were blessed with a coach who motivated kids to play hard-nosed defense, and far beyond their abilities.
The last time Boulder High School won a state championship in basketball was in 1979. I went to every home game as a member of the pep band, and when the playoffs began, the expectations were ridiculously high. They had won the championship two years previously, and there was more than a little talk about "dynasty".
And now, as we approach thirty years from that last big game, I find myself thinking about how that was a group of high school kids playing for a science teacher. They played hard and won. Since then, I have followed the fortunes of many different teams in many different sports. The thing that has remained essentially the same is the relative ages of the participants in these games. I watched the "old man" of the Colorado Rockies finally get his shot at a World Championship. He recently celebrated his thirty-fourth birthday.
Sports is a young man's world. Tonight I am watching thirty-eight year old Brett Favre continue his seemingly endless streak of starts at quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. There is a lot of talk about the "old men" playing this year. Vinny Testaverde is forty-four. He's almost as old as I am. Almost.
I've got a family history of high blood pressure. Why would I put any kind of extra stress in my life based on the performance of a bunch of athletes? The PGA has a Seniors tour, where players have to be at least fifty years old. If I'm going to get all worked up about anything, maybe it's time to start thinking about a more pastoral setting, and the comparative drama of the thirty foot putt.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Daddy Day Care

"Now I work down at the carwash
Where all it ever does is rain"
- Bruce Springsteen, "Downbound Train"
I got up early yesterday morning and walked up to my son's school. I got up there just in time to meet another dad who was there to set up for the annual fifth grade car wash. It's something that I do. Maybe I got it from my father, who loved to be part of things, especially when I was in high school. Maybe I stay involved to ward off any possible hypocrisy on my part when I start to grumble about parental involvement at the school where I teach. Maybe I do it because I'm a nice guy.
Whatever the reason, I stood there in a puddle of dirty water, staring at the hoods of a seemingly endless stream of cars, spraying off the soapy water that a mass of enthusiastic but periodically attention-challenged fifth graders had scrubbed onto the surfaces they could reach. There was a pause, and a mother of three (two of which had moved on to middle and high school) stepped up to me and asked, "Feeling a little wistful?"
I told her that I was feeling a little waterlogged, but not necessarily wistful. It wasn't until much later in the day, as I was coiling up the hoses and stacking orange road cones that I really was approaching the point of no return. This was my swan song, my one and only fifth grade car wash. The Harvest Festival was winding down on the playground behind me, and I had missed all but the load-out. One of the other dads offered me a shot at bobbing for one last apple. Already soaked through, I figured I had nothing to lose. I stuck my head in the bucket, bit down hard, and applied just the right amount of suction. When I came up for air, apple in my mouth, it was time to carry tables back into the auditorium. And I felt a little wistful.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Is There Anybody Alive Out There?

It's an interesting thing, this question that Mister Springsteen continues to ask, since after thirty years in the business and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame there aren't that many more mountains to climb. Yet he does it every night, as if his life depended on it. And I suppose in a way, it does. Making records is more of a secondary concern. Playing in front of an audience is his highest priority. If it isn't, then he certainly makes a good show of how much he cares. At the end of a show, there is little doubt of the man's sincerity.
Most of the negative comments I have heard about the current tour have centered around the relative length of the concerts themselves. Coming in at around two and a half hours, a lot of old-timers are complaining that they don't match up to the three and four hour marathons of years gone by, and he played almost the whole new album. If that's the worst you can say about the experience, then be satisfied with a twenty song set, and then a prolonged encore that included songs both old and new. This is the man that set the bar, and you can forgive him, as he enters his fifties, if he doesn't play every song he ever wrote in the course of an evening.
Does this sound like I'm excusing him? Does this sound like a fan letter? It should, since that was my intent. For twenty-five years now, I have been going to see Bruce Springsteen perform, and I know that when he's asking if anybody's alive out there it's because he wants you to know that it's not a free ride. He wants something from his audience in return. He wants to hear them, and at the end of the night when the house lights come up for the last encore, he wants to see them too. Last night, for the first time, when Bruce looked out at the crowd he saw me with my son. Some of the first sounds that my son heard when he was brought into this world were those of the E Street Band playing "Born To Run", and last night he saw it, heard it, and sang along with his father.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Wednesday evening, I went pawing through a bin of my old T-shirts. I have now lived long enough that the number of T-shirts that I own has swollen past the confines of my dresser drawers. That would be four of them. Four drawers stuffed full of T-shirts of various whimsical designs and colors. One of these drawers is devoted exclusively to those shirts bought at various music venues to commemorate the shows that I have seen. Some of them are the only links to evenings that I did my best to forget, and others that I cling to desperately. For me, it's not a concert until I have bought the shirt.
I know that I'm not the only one. They can see me coming. They've got tables set up right at the front of the arena with telephone lines open, ready to take my credit card numbers to pay whatever ridiculous sum they see fit to attach to a Beefy-T with some rock star's face on one side, and a list of cities that I won't be visiting on the other. Once I've purchased my overpriced merchandise, I purchase my overpriced souvenir cup of Coca-Cola and head on up to my overpriced seat.
And I've been doing this for some thirty-odd years. If it sounds like I'm a little jaded, that's probably just because of the inflation, and the Internet. It used to be that having that concert T-shirt was a badge of recognition. Of course I was at the show. I've got the shirt, don't I? Nowadays you can go on-line and grab memorabilia from the hottest tours without leaving the comfort of your little home. Why stand in line with all those sweaty heathens and their drunken friends, when you can have UPS deliver your merchandise while you listen to streaming audio of last night's show? Judging from the piles of cotton shirts lingering in my house, I'd have to say it's because I'm old school. That's why.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Take Me Out Of The Ballgame

I've always liked the way my mother selects her rooting interests when it comes to the World Series. For so many years, she hasn't had to worry about any particular local franchise, so she watches as the playoffs begin to unfold, and she makes her determination based on a combination of gut instinct and a fondness for a good story. She'll do the same thing when the Super Bowl rolls around, providing that the Broncos are not a part of the mix. She feels it's important to take a stand, no matter how obscure that stand might be.
Which brings me to this year's World Series. I have chosen to be part of the crowd that cheers for the underdog Colorado Rockies. These expansion upstarts who shouldn't have been in the playoffs at all, save a furious September surge that put them right on the edge of elimination, and then San Diego opened the door just a crack and let them in. The Rockies didn't exist when I lived in Colorado. But since I brought the rest of my Colorado sports mojo out here to California, I might as well wallow in it while I can.
The problem is, it's already more than a little reminiscent of the first few trips the Broncos made to the Super Bowl. With each successive try, they set new records for futility, culminating in the most lopsided score in Super Bowl history, losing 55 to 10 to the San Francisco 49ers. Don't you guess that I heard all about that one for the years, living here in the Bay area, before John Elway finally notched a win in the big game. Now the Rockies have created their own version of the statistical hall of shame. Last night looked a lot like batting practice, for one team anyway. I kept wishing that I could just ignore it, but from my spot on the bandwagon I just couldn't tear my eyes away.
Tonight it looks more like the competitive game that we all might have hoped. And if it all goes south, well there's always Major League Soccer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Days Of Future Passed

Yes friends, it's gut-check time once again. I continue to live my life with a series of dates that follow me around and plague me in spite of the years spent between them. These include the birthdays of friends past and present, Tax Day (which happens to coincide with one of those birthdays), major holidays (including Flag Day), as well as the dates of some of the tragedies that have cropped up in my life both big ans small.
This wasn't always the case. I used to be able to live from my birthday in June to Christmas without having to flinch. Someone else was watching the calendar, and if I needed to be somewhere or buy a gift for mom or dad or one of my brothers, I would be pointed in the correct direction at that time. I suppose it might have helped that growing up in Boulder, Colorado allowed me the ebb and flow of seasons. Much in the same way that the mountains kept me firmly anchored in my sense of direction, when the snow began to fly I knew that the year was coming to a close.
Now I live in sunny California, and I am reminded periodically of my spot on the globe by the ocean to my left. The seasons are more subtle, but I have become more sensitive to them. I know that the days are getting shorter, and the rains will come before too long. But in my head I keep the date front and center. It isn't very often that things sneak up on me because I have all of these little alarms going off in my mind. It's one of the things that give me the reputation of being responsible. If being responsible means keeping the voice inside my head from getting to loud or insistent, then I'm guilty.
I keep moving to the beat, and I pass the speed bumps I set for myself so many years ago. I hardly slow down anymore. The happy times get filed next to the sad, and the slide show that is my life continues to grow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dictators Say The Darndest Things

"The danger of a massive world famine is aggravated by Mr. Bush's recent initiative to transform foods into fuel," Fidel Castro wrote in his brief essay titled "Bush, Hunger and Death". He was referring to U.S. support for using corn and other food crops to produce gasoline substitutes. It does raise an interesting question: Why should we continue to produce food so that we can run our lawnmowers and Hummers while great portions of the world starve? At least he didn't use his first idea for a title: "A Nation of Pinheads".
Yes, it would seem that no matter how many times we try and bury him, Fidel keeps popping back up, like some sort of twisted version of "Whack-A-Mole" - "Bash-A-Bolshevik". He also alleged that President Pinhead "threatens humanity with World War III, this time using atomic weapons." A nice touch, as we approach the forty-fifth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This time, however, he doesn't have Nikita Khrushchev to back him up. That seems to make this latest outburst all the more impressive, since our efforts to destabilize Cuba for the past fifty years have been about as successful as our attempts to get that little flower of Democracy to bloom in the Middle East.
Castro predicted that Pinhead "will adopt new measures to accelerate the 'transition period' in our country, equivalent to a new conquest of Cuba by force." White House press secretary Dana Perino responded, saying, "Dictators say a lot of things, and most of them can be discounted, including that." Pretty tough talk for somebody who wants to push around an eighty-one year old man recovering from massive intestinal failure. And besides, if we were serious about Cuba becoming a democracy, why haven't we invaded them yet?
Oh, right. Never mind.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Get Obsessed And Stay Obsessed

"I wonder what it would be like if we all became what we wanted to be when we grew up? I mean, imagine a world filled with nothing but firemen, cowboys, nurses and ballerinas."
- Lily Tomlin
This bit came to mind as I was remembering going to see "Rocky" for the first time. I was fourteen years old, and I had been flirting with the notion of becoming an athlete of some sort for a while then. I had been on the football, track and wrestling teams, and I felt that my physical condition was something that I could manipulate. Watching the training montage, set to the blaring horns of Bill Conti's "Gonna Fly Now", something inside me stirred. When we got home that night, I went downstairs and started hefting my older brother's barbells. I started to imagine my new training regimen, and even if I never set foot in the ring, I was going to become a lean, mean fighting machine. I was going to run and lift and push and pull and do everything that I saw the Italian Stallion did, with the notable exception of the raw eggs. I didn't see the connection between raw eggs and anything but throwing up.
And so it went. For about three weeks. I even managed to talked my parents into getting me a speed bag. By the time we got it put up out in the garage, the magic was gone. I had moved on to the next thing. In the summer of 1979, I saw "Breaking Away". This coupled with my interest in the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic spurred another flurry of athletic endeavor. I went for long (five to ten miles) training rides wearing my Campagnolo biker's cap, with the strains of Rossini whistling through my head. My bicycle fever broke long before the snows came, and I was once again left without an avocation.
It wasn't until my freshman year in college, after a repeat viewing of "Marathon Man" that I caught the bug again. Dustin Hoffman's character obsesses on legendary Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila, and that footage from the Tokyo Olympics that plays in his head still shows up in mine around the time I hit mile five. I guess the best thing is that I've stuck with this particular fixation for twenty-five years now - even though I did just recently see "Rollerball" again.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

J.K. Rowling stunned her fans at Carnegie Hall on Friday night when she answered one young reader's question about Dumbledore by saying that he was gay and had been in love with Grindelwald, whom he had defeated years ago in a bitter fight. Upon further reflection, the idea that the headmaster of a boarding school for exceptional children turned out to be gay isn't really much of a head-scratcher at all. If anything, it makes complete sense. Ms. Rowling has already acknowledged that there are those on the Christian right who have already had objections to her fantasy world of wizards and witchcraft, and now those are probably the same people who will continue to object to having a gay character in a children's book. I'm sure Larry Craig won't be anxiously awaiting the paperback release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."
But maybe he should. I can remember having friends of mine sneering at me in eighth grade (since that was when such things became most important) that my musical hero, Elton John, was gay. Only that's not what they said, exactly. They were much more severe in their epithets because they were so much more afraid. Oddly enough, these same friends were much more oblivious or forgiving when it came to Freddie Mercury. Maybe they felt that Fred rocked hard enough that his sexuality wasn't an impediment, but the name of group was Queen, after all. Maybe that was too subtle?
Albus Dumbledore was a kind and gentle soul, loved and respected by those who studied at Hogwarts and beyond. He was a man who lived past his painful youth to provide guidance and stability to a group of students who needed just that. It is an interesting thing to watch fans of Harry Potter attempt to reckon with this revelation. I suppose finding out something like this when one's own sexuality is still unfolding makes it a potential threat - or maybe just the most polite form of reassurance.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I'm In Love With My Car

This morning in a 7-11 parking lot, I saw the first car that I ever really wanted: a 1974 Sun Bug. It may have been a vestige of my fondness for my father's red convertible bug, but when I first saw the ad campaign, I knew that I would have one someday.
I never did get a Sun Bug. I had a metallic blue Super Beetle for a good long while through college, but it didn't quite fill the bill. I yearned for the sun roof and the special hubcaps. I know that if I had been more adept at pimping my ride, or even more willing to pay somebody to spray the thing gold, I would have been closer to my goal. I wasn't and I didn't, and consequently I carry this pang of regret.
Then there was the Plymouth Arrow. This was the car that appeared on the advent of my getting a driver's licence. Sure it was stylish and sporty, but the fact that Chrysler ponied up the money to use Harry Nilsson's song "Me and My Arrow" to sell it to the masses was enough to hook me. My problem was that these were new cars, and therefore were approximately ten times more expensive than the money I had saved to buy my first car. I bought a Vega. On the plus side, the Vega was named Motor Trend's Car of the Year in 1971. On the downside, it had an aluminum block and burned oil.
But the vehicle I wanted most in the world was a black Chevy van. In the summer before I entered high school, I made elaborate sketches of the artwork I wanted to paint on the side. This was 1977, and so I vacillated wildly between a very Frank Frazetta kind of thing and a detailed vision of the Rebels' attack on the Death Star. I think it made my parents nervous to think that their teenage son would be driving around in "one of those vans", but I saw it more as a moving canvas. Many years later, I married a woman who painted on her car.
Now my son has set his sights on the 2009 Camaro. He picked it for its connection to his favorite Transformer, Bumblebee. He had a brief thought about saving up for a Maserati, but once he saw this Camaro, he made up his mind. The car won't be available for another year, and he is still six years away from a driver's license, and depending on the car's relative Blue Book value after that time, he might have a shot. In the meantime, I'll keep riding my bike and dreaming of a sun roof.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Have you ever seen "Dr. Strangelove"? If you haven't, please stop reading this blog at this very moment, go out and rent it, or borrow it from me. After you have watched it, come on back and finish up. The rest of us will wait here patiently while you take care of this radical oversight in your pop culture acumen.
May I continue? Good.
Today I found myself thinking of the scene in "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" where President Merkin Muffley calls Soviet Premier Kissoff to tell him about the "inadvertent" launching of a bomber wing attack on his country: "Now then, Dmitri, you know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb... The *Bomb*, Dmitri... The *hydrogen* bomb!... Well now, what happened is... ahm... one of our base commanders, he had a sort of... well, he went a little funny in the head... you know... just a little... funny. And, ah... he went and did a silly thing... Well, I'll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes... to attack your country." This was a comedy, remember, a very black comedy, but a comedy. The country these planes were flying over was the former Soviet Union.
Imagine how funny that would be if the country they were flying over was the former and present United States of America. The Air Force said Friday it would punish seventy airmen involved in the accidental, cross-country flight of a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber. The "country" in question, by the way, is the United States of America. A couple of months ago, these knuckleheads inadvertently armed a B-52 with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flew it from Minot in North Dakota to Barksdale in Louisiana. Funny? Hi-larious.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Biting The Bears

Some days the bears bite you, other days you bite the bears. This was wisdom that I was handed by my older brother while I was still in high school. It always sounded good, but it didn't immediately make sense in my world. Now, in the past week or so, I have a solid connection with this whole bear-biting-business.
The world of fourth grade had become just a little stressful in the first month and a half of school. I was coming home with my shoulder blades lodged in my ears and a ringing in my ears from the combined noise of my students and my teeth grinding together. It was not going well. Then there was the mob-bullying scene with Steven. The thought of spending another seven months with this crew seemed like a very bad idea.
Yesterday morning, however, things started to turn. One of my colleagues needed my help to "turn his monitor right side up". I stopped by his room on my prep period, and made a quick look at his control panel, and adjusted his display rotation form 180 degrees to None. Problem solved. A simple enough interchange, but I counted it as a victory.
Today I noticed that Steven was, for the first time this year, actively taking notes during our math lesson. When it came time to pick students to present problems at the board, I winced just a little when I pulled Steven's popsicle stick to come on up. And that's when the magic happened. His numbers were hard to see from the back of the class, and he didn't turn around to talk through his steps, preferring to address the white board, but he got through it and had the correct product. I made sure that the class gave him a special round of applause as he went back to his seat.
At our after-school reading program, Steven was very enthusiastic about the story that he was reading with his partner about rescue dogs. "Their sense of smell is one to ten thousand times more powerful than a human being's." I must have looked a little dumbfounded, because he took the time to explain what that meant. "They can pick up a scent underground, like in a tunnel." I got it.
I would love to take credit for the renaissance in Steven's education, but I know that it has a lot to do with luck. He felt comfortable enough to take a chance, and that is something I can be proud of . Today I bit the bears.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


There's a lot of hate in the world these days. Take this one, for example: "You Nazi, scum-sucking pigs. You're gonna pay dearly for stealing this dog from those little girls." This was the sound of a voice mail received by Mutts and Moms, a nonprofit dog-rescue organization. Okay, so maybe they're not just any nonprofit dog-rescue organization. These are the folks who gave a black Brussels Griffon mix terrier to Ellen DeGeneres and her partner, actress Portia de Rossi. The giving part was not what made them Nazis, nor did it cause them to spontaneously suck scum. It was taking the dog back when the was the part that got Marina Batkis and her partner, Vanessa Chekroun, into trouble.
When Iggy, the terrier in question, wasn't able to get along with DeGeneres' cats, the couple gave the dog to DeGeneres' hairdresser. That, Batkis pointed out, violated a written agreement de Rossi signed in which she agreed to return the dog to Mutts and Moms if the adoption didn't work out. I had my own experience with a dog rescue group, and after months of waiting and being observed and inspected, we were told that we might expect to have a bull terrier as they became available, but we really ought to consider whether or not we were ready for the responsibility of "bullie" ownership. We decided to get out of line at their window and head down to the local animal shelter where we auditioned a number of very lovely canines before settling on our most noble of pets, Madd. E. Gascar Caven.
I guess that having your own television show gives you a certain amount of leverage, and that can be used for causes good, evil, important, and trivial. It does seem to me that the folks at Mutts and Moms might be wound a little tight, but that's part of the deal. Looking up their phone number or e-mailing them to express your disappointment on Ellen's behalf seems a little excessive, considering that Ms. DeGeneres might be able to solve the problem in a more proactive way. I suspect that a trip to the Pasadena animal shelter would offer a great many furry solutions, if they were given a chance. Iggy, by all reports, has already found a new home, and now there is a chance for someone to make a mature and evolved choice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I snickered a little today at an outdated sports column that was titled: "Who Can Beat The Red Sox?" Perhaps at the time that it was written, it seemed like a very timely question, and one that might have defied a simple answer. Today, the answer is simple: Cleveland. And that has been true for the past three games. The once-vaunted powerhouse of the American League is feeling just a little more human as the month of October wears on and time begins to run out.
The same cannot be said of the Colorado Rockies. Much has been made of the Rockies' improbable streak of twenty-one wins in twenty-two games, but perhaps the more amazing figure comes from the past two weeks: The Rockies, after being summarily swept out of the playoffs back in 1995 by the Atlanta Braves in four games, they have returned twelve years later to crush first the eastern division champion Philadelphia Phillies, and then the western champs, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Suddenly the hot ticket in Denver is not a seat in Mile High Stadium to watch the Broncos attempt to grab a little of the bygone mystique of John Elway. Nowadays the place to be seen, for even Mister Elway himself, is Coors Field where a goofy mix of young and old players have come together to win a National League pennant.
It would be a big stretch for me to try and claim the Rockies as "my team". After all, they burst onto the scene the year after I moved to California. One of the last things I did as a Colorado resident was to attend the Denver Zephyr's Fourth of July game. For years before that I used to listen to the Denver Bears on KOA radio. Major league baseball wasn't a Rocky Mountain High. Every so often, the big boys (Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers) would stop by at the end of spring training to play a tune-up before the games started to count. Colorado sports fans are a rabid bunch, and we would invariably buy the tickets and eat it up with a fork.
And now, at last, Denver has its very own Championship Season. The Rockies have not lost since they made it into the playoffs, after winning a one-game qualifier against San Diego. I dug up my tacky black, purple and silver polo shirt from the back of my closet and wore it to school today. Sure I'm jumping on a bandwagon, but since I lived through all those years in a baseball vacuum, I think I'll enjoy the ride.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I'll Dismember You

It's just about here. Halloween time is near. It's time to start carving up pumpkins and picking out costumes. At least twice a day now I have kids coming up and asking me, "What are you going to be for Halloween, Mister Caven?"
I tell them I am going to be something really scary: A fourth grade teacher. But that's not really scary, after all. Annoying, maybe, but not terrifying in the traditional sense of the word. For that, I ask you to listen to a story from our friends down south, Mexico way. Forensics experts said Monday that chunks of flesh found in the apartment of an aspiring horror novelist, Jose Luis Calva, were human, and that DNA tests were planned to confirm whether it came from the body of his girlfriend. Now that's what I call creepy.
Police said that a search uncovered an unfinished novel by Calva titled "Cannibalistic Instincts." One witness, whose name was withheld by officials, said Calva was fascinated by witchcraft and explicit and sadistic literature. Here's where it gets really nasty: A surviving girlfriend, whose name was withheld, told police that Calva was initially charming, winning her trust with poetry. But he soon turned jealous, controlling and obsessive, and once attempted suicide, the woman said. Isn't that always the way with those cannibals? Initially very charming, then they become, well, hungry I guess.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Crunch Time

As I watched the last minute and a half of the Cal/Oregon State game unwind in all of its drama and suspense, I felt myself sliding to the edge of my seat. Knowing that they were playing from behind with a second string quarterback with a chance to move into first place in the national rankings, they willed themselves down the field, and without a timeout, they found themselves twelve yards away from the winning touchdown with just seconds left to play. And then it happened: After playing well over his head for most of the game, Kevin Riley the red-shirt freshman quarterback for Cal, made what he thought would be the game-winning run. Scrambling across the middle of the field, he came up two yards short of the goal line. The problem was there was no time left to get the field goal team on the field, The Bears lost by three points as the clock expired. Kevin Riley went from hero to goat over the course of twelve seconds.
You may not remember the game between Centennial and Nevin Platte Junior High back in 1976. I do. I was there. I was playing guard for the Cyclones of Centennial, and we were ahead in the fourth quarter. With just minutes to go, and our offense bogged down near mid-field, our coach elected to punt. Since I also played on the punt coverage team, I lined up, ready to finish up the game. At the snap, I waited for the sound of our kicker's foot making contact with the ball, and then I ran, straight down the field as hard as I could. That's when I looked up and say the guy in orange and black moving past me on the left, headed in the opposite direction. Ahead of him was open sideline. He scored a touchdown, and with only a few minutes left, we were unable to score again. Platte won by three points. When I reached the bench, my coach grabbed me by the face mask and asked me if I knew what my responsibility was for punt coverage. I thought for a moment and recalled the drills that we had run for weeks leading up to this game. "To watch the sideline?"
"Exactly!" he spit, and released my face mask with flourish.
I didn't cry, but I felt like it. My teammates gave me a wide berth in the locker room, and I walked home alone that night. The following week I was moved to tackle, and removed from the punt coverage team. When the season was over, I hung up my cleats for good.
Here's what coach Jeff Tedford had to say about the last play of the Cal game: "It's not his fault whatsoever. He played his heart out down the stretch to get us in that situation. We didn't lose the game because of that play." I think I would have liked to play for coach Tedford.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cool Clear Water

I was watching my son brush his teeth last night. At ten years old, it's already become enough of a ritual that it was apparent from his movements that he was barely thinking about what he was doing. Dental hygiene has become automatic. Because we have a Sonicare toothbrush, he wanders about the house as he shifts the brush from side to side, front to back. When at last the buzzing stops, he steps up to sink, spits, and rinses. Then he did something that made me know that he is still a child: He took the blue plastic mug from the side of the sink, filled it with water, and proceeded to gulp it all the way down before he turned out the light and scrambled up the ladder to his bed.
I remembered that feeling. That was always the most satisfying drink of water. When I was ten, in the bathroom at my parents' house, we didn't have a blue plastic mug. Instead we had a Dixie Cup dispenser. Pulling down a new cup right after brushing was a simple enough joy, but my mother taught me another trick. In a world of water shortages and a state that lives on the edge of drought at all times, it's not one I would want my son to do, but my mother taught me to flush the toilet right before I got my drink of water. This ensures you of getting the chilliest possible refreshment. I drank with gusto, maybe even stopping to refill my fist-sized cup a couple of times. I remember the way the water sloshed in my belly as I made my way back to my bedroom.
Last night, or very early this morning, I woke up and stumbled sleepily into our bathroom. I poured myself a big blue mug and chugged it down. I went back to bed feeling fat and happy.

Friday, October 12, 2007

But Is He Happy?

Way back in the day when I regularly attended football games at the University of Colorado, we used to flinch in anticipation of the perennial powerhouse from the plains, Nebraska. All too often the team and their crimson and cream fans came roaring into Boulder on a head of steam, and summarily squashed any hopes the Buffaloes had of winning what was (so many years ago) the Big Eight Conference Title. As fans of a team that routinely finished second, we were forced to rely on the only advantage we had left. As the last few seconds ticked off, we began to chant, "You have to go back to Lincoln, you have to go back to Lincoln!"
This is kind of how it sounded when I heard that President Pinhead was "happy" to hear that Al Gore had won a Nobel Prize. Not that Mister Pointy Noggin made the call himself. White House spokesman Tony Fratto, said, "Of course he's happy for Vice President Gore and happy for the international panel on climate change scientists who also shared the peace prize." Of course he's happy. Why wouldn't he be happy? In spite of the fact that he is currently muddling through the death throes of an administration that may go down as one of the most ineffective and disrespected in modern history, he can still recognize good work when he sees it, can't he? As the man who rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that sets limits on industrial nations' greenhouse gas emissions, and instead favors voluntary targets to curb emissions, why wouldn't he be thrilled for Tipper's husband. While Al has been keeping busy hobnobbing with the stars and attending the Academy Awards, Pinhead has been hanging out with Alberto Gonzalez and watching video of his dad and Bill Clinton palling around on the golf course and at natural disasters across the globe. Of course he's "happy" for the Vice President.
But Al has to go back to Nashville... He has to go back to Nashville... But maybe that's not so bad after all.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Barack Obama says he no longer wears an American flag lapel pin because it has become a substitute for "true patriotism" since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. I would say that anyone willing to subject themselves to the rigors of a presidential campaign in this country shouldn't have to worry about having additional patriotic credentials. Participating in the democratic process in a way that very few people every have the opportunity ought to count for something.
Here's how the Senator explained it: "My attitude is that I'm less concerned about what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart. You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who serve. You show your patriotism by being true to our values and ideals. That's what we have to lead with is our values and our ideals." He would rather show his feelings about his country in words, or actions, and not in costume jewelery.
There are those, such as Virgil Reed, who would disagree: "Wearing the Flag pin also shows you are proud to be an American. Obama gives poor reasons for not wearing the pin."
Aside from the random comment left by Virgil on an Internet news story, who else believes that "the pin makes the man"? The folks at Fox News, of course! Fox legal analyst Andrew Napolitano accused Obama of "disrespecting the American flag." His co-host on Fox News Radio's Brian & the Judge, Brian Kilmeade, said that Obama was "anti-Betsy Ross" and that Obama should "apologize to the people ... who are working the fields, that were Marines, who were in the Army." Maybe there's a little pin-envy going on here.
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King Jr.
I have a dream as well. I dream of a day when we will live in a nation where political candidates will not be judged by the color of their skin, or by the pins they choose to wear on their lapels.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Code Blue

Sometimes when people ask me if I like teaching fourth grade, I have a cynical answer at the ready. I tell them that I prefer teaching them to upper grades, since their little fingers don't allow them to reload as readily as their older siblings. If I stay low for eight or nine shots, I stand a chance as they struggle to get in a new clip. And just about every time that I say that, I feel a little chill.
That chill comes from the time that I did have to confront a kid in my class because the word on the street was that he was packing heat. This was a boy who had spent hours in my class drawing guns and knives, and he had come to our school as a result of a disciplinary hearing. His moods could be as black as the ink that he once colored his palm with a permanent marker. When I heard from my assistant principal that he might have a pistol in his backpack, I believed it.
In the two minutes it took to clear the rest of my students out of the room for "early dismissal", I had little time to reflect on the options that I had at my disposal. Which side should I favor: act fast and avoid the confrontation, or try to defuse the incident with calm and rational discourse. I took the direct route. I asked him if he had a gun.
He said nothing.
"Can I look in your backpack?"
He said nothing.
It was a good ten steps across the room, and if he had the inclination, I would have been shot before I made it to his desk.
He didn't move. When I reached for his backpack, he put his hand out, more out of reflex than to keep me from picking up it up. I know that I flinched, but I didn't care. I opened the backpack and found a gun.
Yes, there was an orange plastic dart gun. The prickly sensation I had been feeling on the back of my neck subsided. "Do you have all your homework?" I asked.
He looked at me, and then back at his desk, from which he pulled a spelling worksheet and his math workbook. I held his pack open and he dropped them in on top of the dart gun. I handed him his book bag, "See you tomorrow then?"
He said nothing, and walked out of the room.
Today in Cleveland, a fourteen-year-old suspended student, dressed in black, opened fire in his downtown high school, wounding four people as terrified schoolmates hid in closets and bathrooms and huddled under laboratory desks. He then killed himself.
I think it's time to find another way to describe my fondness for teaching the fourth grade.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Re: Action

Steven is a little slow. He's on medication to help him focus better in class, but it doesn't seem to be having the desired effect. Most days he is only available for minutes at a time, then he is gone again, head on his desk or endlessly arranging his pencils. At the end of the day, when my other students have left, he will stop and ask me about the book order, or could I please write down the homework on a post-it so he won't forget. Even though I know he will.
There have been a couple of days that Steve has come back to my classroom after school to tell me that other kids are bothering him and his little sister. I finish up what I'm doing and then walk with them to the corner, where I keep an eye on them as they head on down the street to their house. Steve sometimes stops and looks at things in the gutter, or stares at himself in the sideview mirror of a car parked on the street. There's no danger there, just a protracted walk home. Until today.
I sensed more immediacy in his little sister's voice when she rushed into my room. "Mister Caven, they're trying to beat up my brother!" This was no lurking threat, but an actual event. I hustled out into the hall, and followed her out to the sidewalk, where I saw Steve being chased by six other kids up the street. I used my biggest outdoor voice, "Everybody stop right there."
To my great relief, every one of them stopped in their tracks. I was fortunate to have my fourth grade colleague behind me, and she helped herd the whole group back down the sidewalk and up the front steps of the school, into the Principal's office.
There was a lot of denial and finger-pointing at first. Once the older sister of one of my students spilled the whole story, then they all wanted to get in their limited confessions. And as I listened, my stomach turned. The mob mentality, hunting the slowest gazelle, moving in a pack. I knew that I needed to stay, and see that justice was meted out, but I wanted to leave. I wanted to turn my back on the ugliness that had witnessed. Could it have been worse? Of course. It was the quintessential elementary school bully moment.
Maybe it was the guilt I felt for the times I felt my own patience for Steve disappearing. Maybe it was a flashback to my own encounters with foul-tempered punks in grade school. Maybe it was just the end of a very long day. When the sentences were handed down - no recess for a month, and a letter of apology from each of the participants - they were on their way. I know that some of their parents would back us up. I know that some of their parents will probably be upset with us for being too harsh. And I know that some of their parents won't care one way or another. Those are the ones I expect to see again.
And what about Steve? Will this make it hard for him to come back to class and participate fully? My guess is that he won't remember it past the first week of recesses missed by his tormentors. He'll be back to scooting his pencils around his desk tomorrow morning. It might take me a little longer to get back to normal.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Pop Quiz On The Second Amendment

I ride my bike past a car every day that has a bumper sticker that reads: "Gun Control Means Use Both Hands". I find this sadly ironic, since that car is parked across the street from the spot where one of Oakland's many shrines for teenagers shot dead has been recently been refreshed with new mylar balloons and candles stuck in Remy Martin bottles. It is here where I wonder if the framers of the Constitution had this place in mind when they came up with that whole right to bear arms idea.
I know that any discussion about gun control will necessarily include the argument of protection. When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns - or so goes the old saw. Last time I checked, however, the outlaws have guns now and guns are still legal. By this line of reasoning, making rocket launchers legal should be an excellent deterrent for terrorism.
Okay, maybe that's being too flippant. What is there to say about Shirley Katz? As a high school English teacher, Shirley insists she needs to take her pistol with her to work because she fears her ex-husband could show up and try to harm her. She's also worried about a Columbine-style attack. This would make her a viable first response if there was any trouble. In Oregon, a sheriff can grant a concealed-weapons permit to anyone whose criminal record is clean and who completes a gun-safety course. Shirley's got one of those, but her school district is more than a little bit concerned. They believe that employees and students are safer without guns on campus. Some South Medford students, where Ms. Katz teaches, say they are uncomfortable with the idea of a teacher carrying a gun, especially since they cannot bring even scissors to school.
Even if she wins her lawsuit, Katz said, she may not bring the gun to school. "The whole point of carrying concealed is no one should know you're carrying," she said. "So I feel like my carrying concealed on campus now sets me up as a target." Pity the poor freshman who uncorks a spitwad at Ms. Katz.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


God is alive. Yaweh or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Buddha or whatever name or visage you feel comfortable hanging on it, it is alive. Or maybe "alive" isn't the best way to describe it, since that immediately starts creating anthropomorphic handles for easy manipulation. God is hanging around, dripping off of things, filling a vacuum that would exist without a God.
My proof comes from the number of football players I see each week, dropping to one knee, genuflecting and pointing to the sky. It comes from the monks in Myanmar, as they fight for freedom. It comes from the breeze off the bay that reminds me of the edge of the continent. It comes from my wife and son climbing into the car to go off to church for the first time in months.
I took just enough philosophy classes in college to make having this discussion with me an annoying prospect. At any given moment, I would happily pick up whatever side of the argument you would like as to the existence of God. The fact that I cling to the convention of capitalizing that three letter word suggests that my apathy may be more of a show than I am letting on. I grew up as a Methodist, but was pleased to hear, around the age of ten, that I could be an agnostic. This fit well with my need to ask those annoying Sunday School questions, like "did Adam and Eve have belly-buttons?" I liked the idea that I might be one of the clever ones who was already in on the joke. By the time I was in high school, the idea of a guy with a big white beard and light shining from behind him seemed like just a souped-up version of Santa Claus. I had no real interest in sitting in his lap. In college I worked hard to find flesh and blood answers to every question that I could imagine. During those years I took comfort in my ability to raise a question for every new answer I received.
But I still wish. I wish for things to happen. I wish for things to work out. I wish for people to get along. Sometimes it even works out. So many miracles occur out of tragedy, it makes me think of the third law of thermodynamics. It makes me think of Voltaire. It makes me think that I haven't read enough. It sometimes makes me wish that I did believe in something that had a nice sturdy floor beneath it, and a spire pointing up to the sky. I suppose the truth is I don't want to count myself out completely, just in case Zeus turns out to be real after all.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


I know it's a knee-jerk reaction, but that's what a fan does, I suppose. When I heard that Bruce Springsteen's marriage was in trouble, I remained quietly optimistic that it would all blow over. I tried very hard to forget that this was a man who left his first wife for a backup singer. Instead I worked the angle that he had written a song about his "Red-Headed Woman", and as he is "The Boss", he was allowed a do-over on that whole marriage thing.
Then there's Jimmy Buffett. He's suing Six Flags' twenty theme parks, charging that its 10,000-member "Carrothead Club" for kids who are fans of Bugs Bunny is a copyright infringement. Six Flags rep Wendy Goldberg says: "I'm not sure how the concept of children in foam carrot hats is going to be confused with significantly older Hawaiian shirt-wearing, margarita-swilling Parrotheads. Clearly imitation wasn't what we had in mind!" Must I really choose sides here? Margaritaville or Roller Coasters? Cheeseburger in Paradise or Bugs Bunny?
And now Bruce is back in the news, a year later, accused of backing out of a contract to buy a horse worth $850,000 for his teenage daughter. While not as tawdry as the alleged affair with the widow of a 9/11 widow, it's still a blot on the Boss' otherwise sterling image. I started to grumble about opportunistic litigators who chose the moment of a new album's release to grease their slimy rail, and I'm sure that it was all a simple misunderstanding.
Then it occurred to me: The reason I elevated Buffett and Springsteen to Semi-Major-Demigod status in the first place was because of their connection to the common folk. I suspect this is true for Britney Spears' fans, though I find it hard to imagine. Maybe it's even the case for supporters of Oral Roberts. I don't know, but I do know that if you have as much money as God, your problems are different than mine, and I probably won't relate at the end of the day. Why nobody just wrote a check for the horse, or why Carrotheads and Parrotheads can't live in peace is beyond me. Will I be burning my Hawaiian shirts or giving away my tickets to the E Street Band show anytime soon? Nope. And that's showbiz.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Curb Your Enthusiasm

It was in Muskogee, Oklahoma that I attended my first "Curb Party". This celebration involves three to twelve young men and a case of beer. The first thing you do is go out and buy the beer, the cheaper the better. My first time on the curb, we drank Busch. Aside from the fact that it was just about ten bucks a case, it also had the amusing double entendre name that only became more amusing as the evening wore on. After the beer was selected, then the proper curb had to be chosen.
How do you know when you find a good curb? First of all, it needs to be a proper curb, with ninety degree angles - not one of those shallow sloping deals that might be mistaken for a driveway. Then one must consider the neighborhood. A quiet residential spot would do nicely, unless the neighbors are the uppity sort who discourage gatherings of post-adolescent males swilling cheap beer. Another thing to keep in mind is lighting. Camping out directly beneath a streetlight is just asking for trouble, but trying to find your keys in the glare of headlights can also cause unnecessary stress.
Back in the neolithic times when I was hanging out on the curb, we were all creeping toward our junior year in college. This gave us carte blanche to be sophomoric. We thought of a dozen different places we could go instead of the curb, but the gravity only increased as the night wore on. We had big plans about checking out the Batfish submarine, or driving over to see if any of the girls came back from Norman that weekend. But mostly we sat there and made drunken promises to each other and told the same bad joke half a dozen different ways. The only movement we managed was to stumble far enough away, always downhill, to relieve ourselves (another intentional feature of the ninety degree curb: no splashback).
The party was over when the beer was gone. We packed up our empties and headed home, some of us walking and others taking the riskier trip in the Dyno-Buick. We went home and slept it off. The next night, we might do it all over again. We were young then, and there were plenty of curbs.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Old black water, Keep on rollin'

The official Iraqi investigation into the shooting by Blackwater security last month recommends that the guards face trial in Iraqi courts and that the company compensate the victims. The three-member panel determined that Blackwater guards sprayed western Baghdad's Nisoor Square with gunfire September 16 without provocation. It really says this on the Blackwater website: "Innovation Begins with Experience". Maybe this is part of that Innovation. Or, as they say, "Our leadership and dedicated family of exceptional employees adhere to an essential system of core corporate values chief among them are integrity, innovation, excellence, respect, accountability, and teamwork." That and indiscriminate gunfire.
Presently, the guards are immune from prosecution in Iraq under a 2004 decree by L. Paul Bremer, a U.S. administrator in Iraq after the war. He issued the decree shortly before leaving Baghdad when political sovereignty was turned over to a provisional government. Now that they have a government, and democracy is beginning to take root, why not start dispensing justice? Or at least what amounts to it in Baghdad these days. Surely it will be a little like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500, but shooting first usually sends the wrong message, at least when it comes to "Hearts and Minds." We are in Iraq, ostensibly, to help that delicate flower of liberty to bloom in the desert. A difficult task when accompanied by the anarchy of grenade launchers.
Recent statistics have suggested that Iraqi deaths have fallen more than fifty percent. This may be simply because there are fewer and fewer targets. I leave you with the motto from Blackwater Global Stability Solutions: "When failure is not an option and hope is not enough."
A nice bit of hyperbole, but not quite "Let Freedom Ring".

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Back To The Grind

There I stood, for a record-breaking (my own) eleventh consecutive year, preaching to the choir. Whenever I find myself speaking to a room full of parents, I get murmurs of assent and plenty of nodding. That's because what I am saying to these folks is nothing that they could possibly disagree with: Get your kids to school on time, feed them breakfast, turn off the TV and video games during the week, and every so often ask them what they learned in school that day. These are no-brainers for the parents that manage to get themselves into their child's classroom for Back To School Night. I do not offer any sort of revelations, only the promise of a chance for everyone to achieve if they do their best. More nods and murmurs.
The contrast is seen abruptly by those who didn't make the effort to attend. It's a pretty simple equation, where indifference equals apathy. The parents who get the phone calls from my classroom during the day were not, for the most part, the ones represented by the crowd in my room this evening. Many have jobs or small children or dinner or sports or any number of excuses that roughly parallel those made by the student for missing homework. This is the piece of the puzzle that goes missing. While more and more pressure and scrutiny is piled on student achievement and teacher effectiveness, parents will send their children to school in various shades of readiness, fed or not, clean or not, prepared or not. They go to school because they "have to". I know that I have a certain number of students in my class every year that have a clock attached to them that says as soon as they can stop going to school, they will.
But that's not what tonight was about. I know that the majority of the students in my class have families who value the education they are sent to me to receive. I know that most of the kids in my class will learn more each day than I can teach them by myself. I know that fourth grade is just one stop on the way to someplace better. I know that when they get where they are going their parents will be proud of them, and I'll be happy to have them drop by Back To School Night to brag on themselves one more time.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


The new Bruce Springsteen album arrived today. It had been kind of a rough day in the fourth grade, so I was glad to have some sugar to sprinkle on top of my shredded cardboard. I'm glad to have the E Street Band back, which is not to diminish the Seger Sessions or his solo work, just to say that I am fond of the big sound. The guitars. The drums. The saxophone. The Boss has been with me for many interesting turns on this dusty road.
It was a million years ago when I laid on the floor of the condominium in Muskogee, Oklahoma. It was a model home, and we were only staying there for a couple of days. Long enough to bury my friend. It was the morning of the funeral, and as I looked up through the glass of the coffee table, I tried to count the black marbles that filled the decorative bowl above my head. I wanted to focus on anything that didn't feel like death, and then through the headphones of my Walkman roared: "Well buddy when I die, throw my body in the back, drive me on down to that Cadillac Ranch." It was a song of last chances, but a song filled with hope. I pulled myself up off the floor and went out to face the day.
Years later, I was making plans to get my tickets to "The Ghost of Tom Joad" tour. My strategizing was complicated by my father's visit and subsequent trip to Auburn. Where do they sell tickets in Auburn, California? Early that Saturday morning I found myself in line with six other hard-core Bruce fans who knew Gottschalks was an outlet. My father was a good sport, and he understood my mania. Getting those seats made the rest of the weekend just a little more special.
I didn't make it to the show. I was back in Boulder, attending my father's funeral. Sometimes I wonder if the hours I spent waiting in line for tickets would have made a difference in the life that we shared. I know that the lyrics for "My Best Was Never Good Enough" could have been written by my dad. When I finally did see another show, months later, I cried.
The new album, "Magic", ends with a track that isn't listed on the liner notes. "Terry's Song" is a tribute to Bruce's good friend and confidante, Terry Magovern. In it, he reflects: "But love is a power greater than death, just like the songs and stories told, And when she built you, brother, she broke the mold". I know just what he means. When you get the new CD, remember to listen all the way to the end.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Everybody's Got An Opinion

An elementary-school teacher who was dismissed after telling her class on the eve of the Iraq war that "I honk for peace" lost a U.S. Supreme Court appeal today. I suppose this tells me that I should be careful about what I say to the kids in my classroom. I don't want to lose my job. The most recent ruling, by a federal appeals court in Chicago, said teachers in public schools have no constitutional right to express personal opinions in the classroom. A teacher's speech is "the commodity she sells to an employer in exchange for her salary," the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 3-0 ruling in January."The Constitution does not enable teachers to present personal views to captive audiences against the instructions of elected officials."
I confess that I don't tend to make a big show of my personal opinions or politics to my students. I much prefer to hear what they think, and ask them questions to back up their ideals. I know enough to flinch when a student turns the tables on me and asks, "What do you think, Mister Caven?" I think a lot of things, and from time to time I have been known to sit down and write some of them down for others to reflect upon.
But not my students. That slope is just too slippery. I believe it is quite possible that Deborah Mayer, the woman whose contract was not renewed, lost her job for airing her views. I believe it is just as likely that she lost her job for any one of a dozen or two different reasons, all of which could be considered just as picayune as telling your class that you "honk for peace." This unwillingness to blindly take up the side of my fellow teachers is one of the things that keeps me from being considered a truly loyal union member. I'll just have to ask my fourth graders what they think. I don't have an opinion - not in my classroom anyway.