Friday, November 30, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

Ever have one of those days? The kind of day that starts out with so much promise, but ends up being a nightmare of loose ends and unfulfilled expectations? I did. I do on a semi-regular basis. It is part of the nature of my profession. I have come to accept it, but it doesn't make it any smoother going down.
I was happy this morning to find my son awake at roughly the same time as I was, and he spent some time warming himself on the heating vent as I took my shower. It was a stolen moment of connection that most school days do not afford me. There were no ugly surprises awaiting me on my ride to work, and I had a pleasant guy-sports-moment on the way in with a couple of my fellow teachers. I felt rested and ready to take on the last day of the week.
I also felt confident that the looming report card conferences with the parents of my students would keep them on a more even keel for the day. Besides, it was going to be a day full of quiet test-taking culminating in a quick tie-up of loose ends before heading out for a little kickball in the brisk November afternoon.
We never made it out to kickball. The anticipation of report cards seemed to make them more antagonistic and unfocused. We limped on through to the end of the day with all of our "must-do's" completed, but the "may-do's" went untouched. That's when the fun really started.
I had made an appointment with the father of my biggest challenge to connect with him about his report card. The earliest he said he could come was after five thirty, so I set myself to work preparing for the next week. I filled about an hour before I heard the third grade teachers in the hallway, so I stepped out to see what the commotion was.
One of them had her purse stolen from her classroom. She had only walked out for a moment to go across the hall to use the bathroom. When she came back, the purse was gone. With her wallet. With her cell phone. With her keys. She became another one of those too-trusting souls who never would have imagined that someone would steal from an elementary school teacher. And so I spent the better part of the next hour trying to piece the puzzle together. Ironically, the finger initially pointed squarely in the direction of my biggest challenge. He was the one who had been lurking around after school, poking his head into my room long after all my other students had gone home.
The assistant principal and I drove up to their house and met up with the kid and his older brother, and it was pretty clear that they hadn't been involved, mostly since they didn't bother to rat one another out, as they are accustomed. As it turned out, their father was home at the time, and I asked if he wouldn't mind coming down to do the conference sooner rather than later. There was some discussion about mother being in the hospital, and that's when the aunt offered to walk down with the boys instead.
I waited at the school until six o'clock. When I called the house to see if anyone was coming down, they were still trying to get their collective ducks in a row for the rush visit to the hospital. The aunt was suddenly unavailable as well. I wished that I had just carried the report card with me and thrust it through the open door when I had the chance. Instead, I rescheduled for Monday evening.
I'm home now, and I can take off my teacher hat for a day or two. I know that it will start right up again bright and early, so I'm hoping to get some rest. I'm going out tonight with my son to get a cheeseburger. That should go down nice and smooth.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

One Man's Ceiling

I was fortunate most of my life to live on the top floor. While it is true that I spent a good deal of time in the basement of my parents' house, when I reflect back on the years I lived there, I think first of the corner bedroom that was first "my room". I learned to recognize most of the Beatles' songs by their bass lines after listening to them coming up through the floor when my brother played them on his stereo downstairs. When I took over his room, I learned to revel in the privacy, but was always acutely aware of exactly what was taking place above me: the dog jumping off the couch, the water running in the bathroom, my father walking to the kitchen. The world played out over my head, and I sometimes wished that I could move back upstairs.
I know that there are plenty of people who would shop for apartments that put them in a particular position. There are those who prefer to be close to the parking lot. Some prefer to be away from the stairs. Still others like to have a southern exposure. I was not one of those people. I took the apartment that was open, and moved in my stuff. It is only upon recent reflection that I have discovered this trend of upper floors.
In hindsight, I'm sure that I was generally a pretty good neighbor. The obvious exception to this rule would have been the somewhat regular occurrence of late-night debauchery in my college days, and in the years following my eventual graduation. Celebrating Bruce Springsteen's birthday with a keg on our porch in the middle of a work week seems like a bad idea now, but back then it was de rigeur. We made the lady downstairs cry. We used to tell people who threatened to call the cops on our loud parties that they wouldn't have to call loud, since on any given night there might be a few of them sitting on our couch, drinking beer or dodging flying darts. Maybe we weren't such terrific neighbors after all.
Maybe that's why I was mortified to discover that years after I quit drinking, I was still managing to upset the delicate balance of apartment dwelling. One morning as I was preparing to head out to work, I discovered a note that had been pushed under my door. It read, "I just thought you should know that I had to listen to every word of your phone conversation last night." I knew immediately what had happened. My trusty Spider-phone was in my bedroom, next to the wall, and I had been up late the night before having one of my late-night time zone bending chats. As I have confessed here previously, I was not blessed with what anyone would consider "an inside voice", hence the terse words from the lady next door. I spent the day ruminating on the things that I might say in apology or defense. I thought about all the things that I might do to make things better, or worse. In the end, I did nothing, with the possible exception of feeling extremely self-conscious every time my phone rang.
These days I wake up any time my son snuffles in his room, or my dog chases rabbits in her sleep. I hear the cars go boom as they roll down our urban street, and the sirens remind me of where I live. But upstairs is an empty attic, and downstairs the laundry room is quiet at night. When I do drift off, I'm glad to be back on top.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Go Ghoti

If Steven's mother had come up to the school this morning and demanded that her son be taken out and put in a place where he wouldn't be bullied and threatened, I would have handed her the appropriate forms and helped her with the process. I could not imagine an uglier scene than I saw today on our playground.
Let me begin again: I was in the office just before eight o'clock, preparing myself for another day of herding cats, metaphorically speaking, when Steven's little brother and sister ran in and told me that, "the boys are beating on Steven!" Past experience has informed my reactions, and so I hustled outside to see exactly what was going on. Sure enough, there was a mob of boys (if any number higher than ten can be considered a mob) chasing Steven across the yard. From a distance, it looked like it might have been a game of tag or keep away, but since there was no ball in sight and all the attention seemed to be focused on one kid, instead of one kid chasing a group, I moved to cut off the main pursuit.
When I yelled from across the yard with my best teacher voice, some of the less intense kids fell away, but it wasn't until I got between Steven and the gang of a dozen or so boys chasing him that the mob pulled up. I picked out the ones I recognized immediately as mine, and then started picking out the ringleaders. By this point, Steven was growling and snarling and was not listening to anyone. He ran away. I chose to stick with the mob.
Once the details began to filter through, one of my students had been pushed into fighting Steven, and when he turned out to be capable of defending himself against one, the instigators rallied the tiny brains and they set on him as a group. They jumped on his back. They pushed him. They kicked him. They beat on him.
Why? Part of me wishes for some practical explanation: the hyenas going after the wounded gazelle. Part of me wants some measure of frontier justice, where the idiot that shoved my student into the fight in the first place should have a chance to go mano a mano with Steven without all his minions around. Mostly I just wish it never would have happened. What happened to Steven was uncomfortably close to moments in my own childhood. For the first time in thirty years, I remembered a film I loved from The Children's Film Festival on CBS. It was called "Skinny and Fatty", and I spent many lonely afternoons recalling the swarms of elementary school bullies who made my life so much like a movie that I wanted to cry.
And that's how I felt this morning, but I remembered a moment from yesterday: Steven was answering a comprehension question in our after school tutoring program about fish. When I leaned over his shoulder to look at what he was writing, I saw "We have to clean ghoti before we eat them." I started to correct him, but then I realized that he had remembered the anecdotal lesson about the challenges in learning English. "Enough" gives us "gh" as "f", "women" gives is "o" as short "i", and "motion" gives us "ti" for "sh". That's why we spell "fish" g-h-o-t-i. Steven remembered. When I think about that, it makes some of the bad stuff from this morning go away. But not all of it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Making Sense

Doctor J. Robert Cade, who invented the sports drink Gatorade and launched a multi billion-dollar industry that the beverage continues to dominate, died Tuesday of kidney failure. He was eighty years old. The Washington Redskins' Sean Taylor died Tuesday after he was gunned down during a home invasion on Sunday night. Sean Taylor was not eighty. He was twenty-four.
Cade's researchers had determined a football player could lose as much as eighteen pounds, ninety to ninety-five percent of it water, during the three hours it takes to play a game. Lieutenant Nancy Perez with the Miami-Dade Police Department said investigators were looking for an "unknown suspect" for the murder of the Redskin's safety.
Doctor Cade had it easy. He was looking for a scientific solution to a physical problem. The Miami-Dade Police will probably find a suspect, but after the initial motive of "robbery" is used up, then there's still not a lot of sense left in it. The coincidence of these men dying on the same day is purely a construct of time. The fact that they are both connected to the sport of American football is additional kismet. Cade was a man of science, who worked until he was seventy-six before retiring from the University of Florida in 2004. Taylor was retired against his will. It would all make much more cosmic sense if Sean Taylor had played his college ball at the University of Florida. Instead he played down south at Miami, and was a high school star in Orlando. Somehow, any further connection might have strained credulity. It would have made as much sense as the violent deaths of all the other young men this past year. Gatorade replaces electrolytes. That makes sense.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Knew Math

This was the second morning in a row that I woke up feeling just a little frustrated. The problem was that I have been trying to figure out how to make something good out of the meeting that I have to attend today. Let me preface: I, along with the students in my class, have been off for the past week on an extended Thanksgiving holiday. One of the last things that we did as a class was to take a math test. Sixty-four per cent of my students did not pass this test. This morning's meeting is being held to discuss the progress of our new math program. While I have many adjectives to describe our progress, I am also acutely aware of one of the main challenges that my students face. I know that at the end of the three hours that I am at this district confab that there is every likelihood that I will return to my classroom to find elevated levels of stress on the part of my kids and/or the substitute left in charge.
My worry is based on sound data. It is the data that this math program has provided me, and the most interesting bit of irony in this interaction is that the fourth grade teachers will not return to their school sites until after the math lesson has begun. How am I to affect change if I am not in my classroom? On the morning after a week-long vacation? On the morning after a trimester test?
A lot of people, colleagues and well-meaning friends, have told me that I should embrace those moments when I am released from my daily grind. Cherish those jury summons as a reminder of all the things that live outside the walls of the school, they tell me. Take a sick day, they admonish me. Take a mental health day, they warn. They are right, of course, and I have tried to take some mild satisfaction out of sitting in a conference room this morning instead of rushing back to the same old place I rushed out of a week ago Friday.
But that's where my mind will be. That's where there is still work to be done.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

On The Level

I'm feeling a little woozy still. It may be the fact that I ran my once-yearly ten kilometer race, and my muscles are not as young and springy as they used to be. It may be that I have had a week's vacation with house guests in and out and lots of extra food and late nights. Whatever the reason, whatever the excuse, I am certain that part of the answer can be traced to my trip to The Mystery Spot yesterday afternoon.
What is The Mystery Spot? My first inclination is to suggest that any explanation or description would sound ridiculous and fantastical without any hard evidence to back it up. All I know for certain is that four grown-ups and a ten-year-old spent the majority of the past twenty-four hours trying to explain all the things we saw and experienced there. Gravity is askew there. Objects shrink and grow without explanation. Okay, there are lots of explanations, but none can account for the fact that my son's compass began to twist wildly as he walked up the hill toward the Spot. Redwood trees with limbs that grow on only one side, eucalyptus trees that lean at disconcerting angles away from the Spot. These are just some of the disconcerting observations we made as we wandered around this gravitational anomaly.
It could be that the light-headed sensation that I had this afternoon came as a result of running six-plus miles before having a proper breakfast, but I would like to think that it should remain more mysterious, or as Oscar Wilde put it, “The final mystery is oneself.”

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Aloha, Bill!

The holidays are upon us, and I can't help but feeling there is a little Dickens in this story, but maybe that's only because I spent three hours stringing Christmas lights in my front yard yesterday. That and celebrating a 65 to 51 beatdown of the hated Nebraska Cornhuskers by my alma mater, the University of Colorado Buffaloes. Today, Bill Callahan becomes the ex-coach of Nebraska. "As a former coach this is a role I really don't like. I hate to sit in judgment of other people. I never envisioned being in a situation where I would have to make a decision on somebody's employment opportunity, but that's the nature of this business." These were the words of former Cornhusker Coach, interim Athletic Director, and semi-major Nebraskan demigod Tom Osborne said at a news conference dismissing Coach Callahan. This was also coming from the man who won 255 games and three national championships in 25 seasons before retiring after the 1997 season. He retired. He was not retired.
Now I have some time to work up some sympathy for Bill. Even though he has been the coach of two of the great Satans in my sports world view, Nebraska and the Oakland Raiders, I can't help but feel bad when anybody loses a job in America. It reminds me of an old Bobcat Goldthwait bit: "I lost my job. Well, I know where my job is. It's just that when I get there, some other guy is doin' it." And that's the nature of the coaching biz, I suppose. But that doesn't keep me from feeling just a twinge of sadness as the Callahan era comes to a close. Just a twinge, mind you, since that decision will cost the University of Nebraska more than three million dollars to buy up his contract. Maybe things will work out after all. Maybe Bill can get a job coaching another dreaded red and white team, the Fairview High Knights.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Gobbled Up

There is a tradition as American as spilling just a dab of cranberry sauce on your mother's special white table cloth. I am referencing the annual Thanksgiving pardon of a turkey by the President of the United States. This year, according to most historians, celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of this fowl tradition. President Pinhead kept the string alive this week when May and her alternate Flower were spared at a photo opportunity on Tuesday. "May they live the rest of their lives in blissful gobbling. And may all Americans enjoy a holiday full of love and peace. God bless you all."
It's the love and peace part that sticks with me. As the leader of the last remaining super power, it makes me wonder how he can offer up such blithe commentary as he continues to wage war half a world away. May and Flower will be flown to Disney World, where guests will be able to visit these pardoned celebrities in the back yard of Mickey's country house.
For the record, Pinhead has pardoned one hundred and thirteen people during his stay in the White House. He has pardoned fourteen turkeys. The people have not been invited to Disney World. We hope they continue to live the rest their lives in blissful gobbling. That is if they can be heard of the seemingly endless gibberish spewing from the Pinhead in charge.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Danny Elfman once asked the musical question, "Now is that gratitude?" This is the thought that has been rolling around my head ever since I woke up this morning and my wife asked me, "What are you thankful for?" I winced and pulled the covers back over my head and mumbled something about being thankful for the fact that I don't have to wake up every morning with some platitude of thanks.
And then we had a little conversation about the nature of thanks. She suggested that saying thanks was the expression of happiness running over. Once you're stuffed full of happy, you're bound to burst if you don't tell someone how thankful you are. Otherwise, I suppose, one might just explode. And that wouldn't be so happy.
So I spent some time reflecting on what I was thankful for, and I started a thesaurus exercise that put me at gratitude. I believe that gratitude is a little different than thanks. Gratitude stems from relief, rather than pure joy. I am grateful for dinnertime, but I am thankful when it is pork chops glazed with orange juice and brown sugar. I am grateful for Bruce Springsteen, but I am thankful for "Cadillac Ranch". I am grateful for recess, but I am thankful for vacation. Gratitude comes from the Latin gratis, meaning "free". Thanks comes from Proto-Indo-European "tong-" to think, feel. It's that intersection between thinking and feeling that makes us say "thank you". I'm grateful on most any given day, but today I am full of thanks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Degeneres To A Fault

Happily, I've been kept very busy for the past few days with my mother's visit, and I have yet to plop down on the couch for some good old-fashioned TV time. It is precisely times like these that make me recall the marquee I saw in front of a Hooters in Boulder so many years ago. It read: Hard Choice - Go To Work Or Daytime TV. You might expect that in the intervening years with the advent of digital on demand high definition cable television that the choices would have evolved to such a point that a day or two of comfortable entertainment could be eked out while waiting for the working week to return in all its glory.
Not so. There is still a lot of barely watchable programming out there, and I will not be the one who stands, or sits, by and watches it unfold. Most of this is based solely on my limited attention span, but some of it comes from a sense of mild outrage with Ellen Degeneres. Ellen, who had to take a day off a month ago to cope with her feelings about her adopted dog who she gave up to her hairdresser and was subsequently taken back by the rescue organization that had a contract with Ms. Degeneres - Ooops! Did I say "contract"? That's exactly the reason that she uses for continuing to show up and produce her show, in spite of the fact that she is a Writers Guild member, who are currently on strike. Her representatives say, "Ellen is competing with other first-run syndicated shows that are delivering original programming like Dr. Phil, Regis and Kelly and Oprah during the competitive November sweeps period." None of these individuals, by the way, belong to the WGA except for Ms. Degeneres.
I understand that as work actions go, I'm no Jimmy Hoffa, but when a millionaire chooses not to make a stand for her fellow union members, then it makes me glad that I have something else to do besides watching her show. What time does "Judge Judy" start?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shining Moment

Somewhere in the first quarter of last night's Bronco game, I looked across the room and noticed that my mother, visiting me here from Colorado, was staring at the TV with her legs crossed and her arms folded tightly against her chest. I noticed this because it was the precise posture I found my own body in as I watched our team start out on Monday Night Football. It has been several years since my mother and I have shared this experience in the same room. I often call her after a game, or when things are going very well, or very poorly. We commiserate and rationalize, and remember when things were different.
But last night, we remembered how much the same things are. I remembered how much fun it is to root for a team with a room full of people who care as much as you do. Or at least, they pretend to. There was another four orange and blue clad Bronco Buds in the room for the second half, and try as they might to be ambivalent, when Andre Hall ran sixty-two yards to the end zone to put Denver ahead comfortably and for good there was a lot of whooping that did not emanate from my mother or myself. It was a giddy good time.
My wife got to have a themed party. My niece got to wear a John Elway jersey. My younger brother spent what could be considered quality time with his family and had some delicious pizza. Was it the Super Bowl? No, but my mother and I finally relaxed and enjoyed the events unfolding half a continent away, and it was good.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Stop Watch

It's just a clock on the wall
But it's ticking away - Tim McGraw, "Tickin' Away"
It's been about a year since I received my keychain clock, the one that keeps track of Pinhead's last day. Sometimes I use it for timing dinner, or it lets me know when I've spent too much time at my computer. It keeps track of time down to the hundredths of seconds. But I still don't know how accurate it is.
It feels like minutes and hours and entire days are being wedged back into the amount of time that the Pinhead regime remains in power. It's a little like the clock that tells you when school is going to be out. The big hand strains to make its way to straight up three o'clock, or the extra days that seem to crowd in before Christmas.
Over at the White House, it would seem that Christmas cannot come soon enough, at least for Fran Townsend. Ms. Townsend is ringing down the curtain on four and a half years of being the leading White House-based terrorism adviser. She has told colleagues she is looking for opportunities in the private sector. Does this mean that at long last terrorism has been defeated, and the only thing we have to fear are the next four hundred and twenty-seven days?
Not hardly. This is just another member of the Pinhead Club heading for the exit before the cops show up. Top aide and Satan Incarnate Karl Rove, along with press secretary Tony "You're Insulting Our Intelligence" Snow, Attorney General Alberto "I Don't Recall" Gonzales, Defense Secretary Donald "These are things we know that we know" Rumsfeld and senior presidential adviser Dan "it’s never been a stay-the-course strategy" Bartlett, have already left.
Quoth the Pinhead: "Fran always has provided wise counsel on how best to protect the American people from the threat of terrorism. She has been a steady leader in the effort to prevent and disrupt attacks and to better respond to natural disasters."
And the clock keeps ticking.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Straining The Limits Of Machine And Man

This morning started, as many Sunday mornings do, with my son sitting in front of his video game, jaw agape. I watched him play for a while, and found myself assuming a parental role in the play of the game. "Why don't you go back there and check out what's in the chest?" and "If you press the A button, you could probably turn that guy into a bridge." The truth is, he didn't really need my help. He was wandering in the surreal landscape of an imaginary world with his ice sword and drenching abilities without a care.
He was happy to be in a place where the consequences, though dire, were well within his abilities. He never questioned the reality of the game, he just moved matter of factly through the gates and valleys blowing things up and then trying to figure out what they were. It reminded me of the broad acceptance kids have for technology. They are much more instinctual users, pushing buttons that ought to work rather than fussing over what the manual might say.
It made me think of Rush. Listening to a song like "Red Barchetta", with its science fiction shell and its easily digested "oh wow" theme, is like a six minute ride into an alternate reality. A reality that is only threatening in the most vicarious way, and by the time the Neil Peart drum solo kicks in there is only a triumphant escape and a chance to play again.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Last night I sat at a table in our local food court as one of three generations of my family. We had a long discussion of weaknesses and strengths. We spoke of the challenges that we had faced, were presently facing, and were about to face. My mother spoke with wisdom. I spoke with wisdom. My niece spoke with curiosity. We did this on the eve of what would have been my father's seventy-third birthday.
It's an odd trick of time that keeps my father in center stage so many years after he left the family, first by choice and then by accident. But there he is, whenever we get together: when my son and I bought our cheeseburgers together, when we talked about the story of our lives, when I opened my wallet to show off pictures. He's everywhere, and we're still here.
This morning I stood in front of a shelf of LED Christmas lights, pondering a change for the environment. Aside from the practical concerns about actual savings and energy use, in the back of my mind was a voice that asked if I was somehow betraying the memory of my father's big bulbs. And so I chose to think about it some more. I have surrendered to the notion that I am a product of my upbringing, and I was lucky enough to have both parents' attention as well as their collective history. This weekend has already been an exercise in funneling all those stories into bite-size nuggets for my niece and my son. It's fun to see what they chew up and what they spit out. My son and I went up and got doughnuts this morning, like I used to do with my dad. When we returned with a box of various forms of fried dough, my niece turned up her nose. She recalled being oppressed at an early age by her father taking her to get her first doughnut. Then she and my mother went for a walk in the neighborhood to find a treat that was a little more heart-healthy. Some of it sticks, and some of it doesn't.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Can You Use It In A Sentence, Please?

For the second year in a row, the champion speller of Horace Mann Elementary School came from my class. My fourth grade class. The competition was heated, and my girl was up against four fifth graders, but she prevailed in the end. I should be so proud, but I'm not.
I spent more time consoling the losers than I did congratulating the winners. The frail egos of kids aged nine to eleven years are just barely up to the task of being on stage, let alone performing academic tasks that, in many cases, are beyond their grasp. This is not to say that I don't have a lot of good spellers in my class. I have a number of good spellers. I just don't have a lot of good spellers behind a microphone in front of a sea of their peers.
Ah, their peers. What a barely supportive gaggle of schadenfreude. One of my goals as their teacher is to try and instill a degree of empathy in their still burgeoning personalities. After today, I can see that I have a good deal of work ahead of me. Rather than seeing their classmate as a representative of their class as a whole, most of them looked on the spelling bee participants as reminders of their own limitations. They jeered as the first girl missed her word. They were admonished by the principal and myself to be "good sports". I'm not sure if they are familiar with the term.
And so, one by one, the contestants dropped away, until there was one. I confess that I took some pride in her accomplishment. But since my contribution to her spelling acumen is brief if not invisible, I chose to pass along the cheer to her second and third grade teachers, and her parents. And anyone who ever gave her a book to read.
Then I thought of something I hadn't before: Half of the kids on that stage were not born into English-speaking households. As a school, we must be doing something right if our spelling bee reflects the diversity in our population. The district competition is next month. That one takes place in front of teachers, parents and other spellers. I think our champion can expect a better ride next time. I'm glad to have her smile to go on the mantle next to all the other broken hearts.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


A favorite "Peanuts" cartoon has Sally jumping rope in the first panel, shouting to her brother, "Lookit! Lookit! Lookit!" Charlie Brown, in the next panel does a slow burn as he tries to carry on a conversation with Linus while his sister continues to scream, "Lookit!" At last, Charlie wheels and shouts at his sister, "I'm LOOKITING!" In the final panel, a stunned Linus is left pondering, "Lookiting?"
That's what this week is shaping up to be: Lookiting. I am very fond of showing off my home and family to any and all who want to stop by for a visit, and I will be having that opportunity in large doses over the upcoming ten or so days. It begins with my mother who, along with my niece, will be spending the pre-Thanksgiving weekend with us. All the things that my mother taught me about making a house a home come flooding back to me, like keeping the front porch clean and tidy since it's the first impression your guests will remember. I only hope that my son will remember to put the seat back down.
After that, our pals from Oregon are coming to help us consume mass quantities of tryptophan as we watch another flurry of floats and football announce the closing of the year. The trick with these folks is that they are our architectural gurus, the ones who first set us off on our quest to carve and slice and dice our house to our own specifications. It was through their tutelage that we first cut a hole in our floor to create a laundry chute. Now, many years and cordless power tools later, who knows what kind of trouble we could get ourselves into over a long holiday weekend.
Through it all, I hope to remain humble and relaxed. I do want them lookiting, but I hope that they don't lookit too close.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Emerging State Of Emergency

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, wears epulets like a duck, then it's probably a duck. This is essentially the feeling I got from hearing that President General Pervez Musharraf said Wednesday that he expects to quit as chief of Pakistan's army by the end of November, heralding a return to civilian rule. No word on whether or not he'll still get to keep that "General" in his title, but one expects that it might send the wrong message.
But really, what does this change? Yes, he has started appearing in public in a very sharp business suit rather than his traditional military uniform, but do clothes really make the dictator? My mind drifts to the many guises of one Saddam Hussein. Sure he favored his beret and fatigues, but when he wanted to, he could be quite the snappy dresser. How he dressed had very little to do with how and when he used nerve agents on his own people. That's just the kind of guy he was.
Since November third, when he declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution of his country, Musharraf has become increasingly isolated. "I take decisions in Pakistan's interest and I don't take ultimatums from anyone." Check. Roger on that whole ultimatum thing. Meanwhile, President Pinhead continues to count Musharraf as a trusted ally, with no end in sight to the military gravy train that has poured for years into Pakistan.
I suppose that if things don't work out for the President/General/Czar with his background in removing judges, suspending constitutions, and rigging elections that the Republican Party would be happy to have a replacement for Weasel for Life Karl Rove.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Making A List And Checking It Twice

There's another list out there. This one was made by the friendly folks at TV Land and Entertainment Weekly. They're very fond of this list-making activity. The top two-hundred this and the fifty greatest that, always making with the epitomes. A friend of mine insists that this is a very male thing to do. She suggests that it is a manly thing to rate things on the basis of barely objective criteria. I agree with her, but as a male, I feel compelled to subvert to the dominant paradigm.
That said, here goes: Number One Hundred All-Time Television Icon was Marcia Cross. If you are wondering just what it took to get Ms. Cross on the list, consider the fact that I have yet to memorize the cast list of "Desperate Housewives" (there's your hint). I can only wonder why Teri Hatcher, who I could name without having seen an episode, didn't make the cut.
Most of the people making the list are just that: people. Then there is another odd subgroup that are fictional characters: Charlie Brown, Lassie, Kermit. Pee Wee Herman found his way onto the list, and may help bridge that gap between fact and fiction. There is also a pair of casts, one from "In Living Color" and "The Not Ready For Prime Time Players". That sets up an interesting mathematical query: Blues Brothers are to Wayans Brothers as Jim Carrey is to What?
The list is also skewed somewhat by time. Bob Hope just missed the top fifty, while a relative newcomer like Jon Stewart appears ten spots higher. Even the top ten has a few surprises, such as the yellow-skinned Matt Groening creation Homer Simpson (sans family) coming in at number nine, just ahead of the no-longer ageless wonder Dick Clark. Four of the top ten are women, in ascending order: Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, Oprah Winfrey, and how could a list of television icons put Lucille Ball second?
Well, I suppose if they chose to put Johnny Carson at number one, then it all makes sense. And when you're finished fuming at the unfairness of it all, go ahead and construct one of your own.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Game Over, Man!

The future is taking shape in my living room. My son is drifting down the couch, with his chin on his chest, Wii remotes in hand, TV and speaker phone on. He is working his way through the next level of "Transformers - The Video Game" while his friends chime in with support and suggestions in the background. It's a virtual play date.
I'm the one who kept badgering my wife about when we could stop calling all of my son's social interactions "play dates". I wondered when he would grow past that, and now I am feeling a little nostalgic for those bygone days of constant supervision. His very first group of friends were the babies who were born to the parents who took the same birth class my wife and I did. We used to get together and watch our kids loll about on the rug together, and the grownups would have a chance to interact with other grownups for an hour or two, until it was nap time or the diapers ran out.
When our son entered co-op preschool, we arranged a comfortable series of "kid swaps". My wife continues to excel at finding places for our child to go as we periodically enjoy the company of one to four of his friends for an afternoon. Each of the households has its own character. Some parents are much more emphatic about getting their children outside. Others provide more sibling interaction, while one house in particular specializes in combat-related play.
We are the house with the video games. That's not to say that we have surrendered completely. On the contrary: we have time limits and rules, and send packs of grumbling boys out into the back yard to soak up their daily B vitamins and a little fresh air. But that doesn't keep them from asking. I'm of the opinion that we should send a fifth grader to negotiate a lasting peace in the Middle East, given the regular and oppressive conversations we get to have with pre-teens about how many more minutes they should be allowed "to beat this one level."
Don't get me wrong, I understand the lure of video games all too well, which is probably the reason I am careful about their pull. Before my son was born, it was my hope that I could defeat Warhead and finish Vectorman once and for all so that I could put my Sega Genesis away. My wife once had to give up playing Tetris for Lent, just to get the shape of those blocks out of her mind as she slept. Genetically speaking, our son didn't have a chance.
So I'm going to go in there, while there's still a few minutes left on the clock, to see if he wants to play a little virtual baseball with his old man.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Making Weight

My wrestling career ended more or less as it began: quietly. In junior high school it was unlikely that there wouldn't be a place for you if you "went out" for the team. That's what I did. I "went out" for wrestling. I didn't rush in blindly. I knew a little about it from watching my older brother go through it. Many of my decisions in life have been made this way: If it didn't kill my older brother, maybe I could do it.
It was a chance to deal with the chubby-kid syndrome that I had lived with for several years. My nickname around the neighborhood was "Tuba", and not just because it was the instrument that I chose to play in band. My peers had chosen this particular epithet carefully for my maximum displeasure and embarrassment. I knew that one of the main tenets of wrestling was "making weight". On the first day of practice, I dressed out in my gym uniform and headed to the downstairs gym. I was asked what weight I wanted to wrestle. In my mind, I had pictured myself as a lumbering heavyweight, but looking around the room, I suddenly became aware that I was not the biggest kid in the room. Not by a long shot. That distinction belonged to, and I am not making up this name because it is too perfect, Wilhelm Estes.
Seeing my indecision or bewilderment, the coach lead me to the scale and knocked the balance around with his pencil. "One twenty-eight. You wanna go up or down?" This was not a tough choice at all. "Down!" I declared, and hopped off the scale. That was the beginning of my slow odyssey to lose six pounds. Six pounds? How hard could that be?
As it turns out, the first three pounds were just a matter of showing up and living through the first week of practice in a gym that was kept at a sweltering eighty-five degrees. I was amazed by the sight of some of my team mates pulling on extra layers of sweat clothes, or even insulating themselves with trash bags. I was drenched in my T-shirt and shorts. What were these guys thinking?
They were making weight. I was hanging on a solid one hundred and twenty-five pounds, and imagined myself to be in the best physical condition of my life. Where would those other three pounds come from? I had two weeks before our first match, and it had been politely but directly suggested by my coach that if I really wanted to wrestle one twenty-two's that I should consider my diet.
Hadn't I already given up my afternoons to come and grunt and sweat? Now I was supposed to give up the Ding Dongs in my lunch? I looked at the big board where the coach had plastered pieces of tagboard with our last names next to the weights we hoped to wrestle. There was a logjam at one twenty-eight, and my best shot to make A or B mat was at one twenty-two, where there were only three of us.
Hostess would have to do without my support for a while. As it turned out, I didn't make weight for the first meet, but they let me dress out and watch from behind the row of folding chairs the rest of the team sat in to wait for their matches. The following week was a lot of celery and iced tea, along with a sweatshirt during practice. I made weight, but lost my wrestle-off for B match and watched another from the shadows. Before the third meet, the kid who had been on A mat dropped a weight class and there were two of us at one twenty-two. I made B mat by default. Determined not to waste this opportunity, I practiced hard, and learned as many of the moves that I could from both the right and left hand side. If I couldn't beat them with speed or strength, maybe I could out-clever my opponent.
I didn't win a match that year. I came close a few times, but succeeded primarily in getting my nose broken (in practice) and gaining a new understanding for exactly what harsh reality is. My parents came to watch and cheer me on, but I have no memory of it. I was focused on the moments that I was on the mat, grunting and sweating. For myself. For the team. For those idiots who called me "Tuba".
Around the neighborhood, I was going to be "Tuba" for a while longer, but in the gym I was one hundred and twenty-one pounds of mild fury. That was my victory.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

College Game Day

They're tearing down the Orange Bowl. Not right now, of course, they're going to wait until the University of Miami finishes their final game there. And then Florida International, the Golden Panthers, play their last three home games. Then it all comes tumbling down. All those , all those amazing finishes, classic moments, all those memories, about to be buried under a pile of rubble.
It's not the Florida football memories I have, but the memories I have of football in Florida. In 1991, the University of Colorado Golden Buffaloes won their first National Championship in college football in the Orange Bowl, 10-9. It was a fan's dream, I'm sure, to be there in person. I wasn't. I was there in 1990. I still have the souvenir cup from my three dollar coke. That was the year that the Buffaloes lost to the Fighting Irish, 21-6.
I flew down for the game with my father and his friend Leonard. We made the trip in Leonard's single engine Beechcraft Continental. I rode in the back seat, where I sat on the bags and stayed as bundled up as I could against the cold. We stopped in Little Rock, Arkansas for fuel, and I can still remember the landing we made in heavy fog. Leonard was cool as a cucumber, aeronautically speaking, having made dozens of more difficult landings in more severe conditions. My father and I were holding our collective breath as we dropped out of the low clouds on the runway soft as silk. We made one more stop before Miami, in Orlando for the day at Disney World before heading down to Miami.
On New Year's Eve I had the best seafood fettuccine I ever had in my life in an Italian restaurant that, if it wasn't run by the mob, should have been. The next morning came, and we started making our plans for the game. I wore my jersey, number sixty-nine, and made the slow trek through darkened neighborhoods into the cavernous construction that hosted the Big Eight Champions battling the traditional independent powerhouse Fighting Irish. Our seats were good, underneath the overhang near the twenty yard line. Sadly, it was Lou Holtz's team that kept passing by, as the best the Buffs could manage one trip across the goal line. Lou had a habit of kneeling down and grabbing grass to nibble on as he watched the game sidelines, and after an elephant left a very sizable deposit on the Notre Dame sideline during the halftime extravaganza I used my father's binoculars to see if the coach would inadvertently stumble on some of the newly fertilized turf as he grazed in the second half.
It didn't matter. The Buffs didn't put up much of a fight, and we went back to Leonard's sister's house in somber contemplation of what could have been. The flight home was made without incident or stop at major theme parks as we put a period on the 1989 college football season. There was some mild relief when we decided not to make the return trip the following year, even though the hype was much more ferocious. We watched the National Championship game in the comfort and relative safety of our basement. It was a much more exciting game, but my father and I agreed that it wasn't the same as being there.
The Federal Express Orange Bowl has been played in Pro Players Stadium since 1996, and the Bowl Championship Series has kept that elusive national championship more of a math exercise than an athletic competition. The Buffs have made created their own stumbling blocks on their way to repeat that experience. Doug Flutie's miracle toss, the great Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowls, and Broadway Joe Namath's guaranteed victory over the Colts will soon be another flat spot on the Miami skyline. But it will always be a high point for me.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Nihilism On Parade

"My comfortable existence is reduced to a shallow meaningless party" - Police, "Driven To Tears"
I rode my bike to school today after being told in a none-too-condescending way by the folks at NBC last night that this would help the environment. And save the planet. And get Al Gore elected to President of something, maybe NBC/Universal. I didn't ride my bike because I was told to, I did it in spite of being told. Like I have for the past ten years.
Now, before you start nominating me for that prize that Al Gore won, I have to say that I know that I am still not on the low end of the carbon footprint scale. I have plenty of friends who make me and my forty-two inch television and excessive trips to fast-food joints look bad. And of course there's my wife. And Al Gore. I don't want a medal, but I do wonder how much we can save the planet before we surrender to the notion that there is a limit to our natural resources.
I took my fourth grade class to the education center at our county's recycling transfer station. I've been doing this trip for the past five years, and it's always a big hit, except for the part where the kids realize they are looking at and smelling other people's garbage. Alameda County has moved from having just twelve percent of waste diverted from landfills in 1990 to fifty-four percent in 2004 to a whopping sixty percent in 2006. The goal for 2010 is seventy-five percent. I believe that we will be successful. And it still won't matter.
Why? Because of the little matter of twenty-five percent. We're slowing down, but there's still a vortex into which all of this waste goes. All those snappy-looking hybrid SUVs aren't running on sunshine, they're using fossil fuel which continues to be digested and spewed out into the atmosphere by the ton. Amazing to think that something that is lighter than air can still be measured in tons. But I digress, back to my bike ride: I came up behind a waste management truck, and while they were busy managing the waste in color-coded barrels at the curbside, the big diesel engine just kept running. All the paper and plastic and aluminum went into the left side, and all the non-recyclable garbage went into the right side, and when the barrels were empty, the truck pulled forward twelve feet, and the process started again.
We can still save our planet. For a while, anyway.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Trivia Vortex

I was never much of a Trekkie. At least I was never enough of a Trekkie to care if I was called a "Trekkie" or a "Trekker". That distinction would be left for those who cared enough to go to a convention or two. I did pay to hear William Shatner recite poetry and beg off showing the infamous blooper reel for two hours before finally "caving in to his fans' wishes". Then there are those who can name the three different characters Mark Lenard played in the series and in the movies. I had to look them up. There are a number of episodes that I know the name of, but I could never count them off in any kind of order. The exception to this rule would be "The Menagerie", also known as the original pilot for the show.
Did I mention what show? Perhaps I presume too much. I am referencing "Star Trek": beam me up, warp speed, the final frontier and all that. I was a tad too young to revel in the voyages of the Starship Enterprise on its first go-round, but I more than made the most of repeated viewings in syndication. It was, I suspect, what gave me a taste for multiple viewings of the "Star Wars" saga. I am sure that the first time I saw "The Menagerie" I was still quite young, since it sticks with me today as a creepy memory. More to the point, the scarred and crippled body of Captain Christopher Pike rolling around with his little blinking lights gave me nightmares.
And now the moment I've been waiting for: Be honest, how many of you are sitting there with furrowed brows, wondering who this Christopher Pike fellow is? It's my "go-to" Star Trek trivia. Captain Pike is played by none other than Jeffery Hunter, the man who played "the man", Jesus Christ in "King of Kings". I leave it to you to decide which part was more seminal in our culture.
Now Hollywood is getting ready to "re-boot" the Star Trek franchise. We are about to be treated to the origin stories of starfleet cadets James T. Kirk and all his crew. The casting for these iconic roles has been the subject of great Trekkish discussion, but I'm saving my furor for Bruce Greenwood as (you guessed right) Captain Christopher Pike. I'm not sure if it was his work as the distraught father in "Firehouse Dog" that got director J.J. Abrams interested, but the fact that this little slice of Trekktriv will now become big-time pop culture news means I've got to start watching more Sci-Fi Network or stock up on my quadro-triticale.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Is That All There Is My Friends?

And when it was all over I said to myself, "Is that all there is to a fire?" - Peggy Lee
I remember saying something like that to myself, many years ago. My older brother had some friends who inadvertently burned up a great portion of the empty field, Long's Gardens, above our house. The problem was pop bottle rockets and a large section of dry grass and weeds. This mixture created quite a stir on our sleepy lane. The biggest confusion was in getting fire trucks to the blaze. A number of different neighborhoods backed up on the field, but all of those streets ended in cul de sacs and fences kept anxious neighbors and firemen from getting direct access to battle the spreading flames. My childhood memories have been supplanted by endless stock footage of other fires, both in real life, and on TV and movies, but I can still recall the horrible fear I felt for the two boys who started it. In the end, there was a lot of shame and embarrassment, but no jail time was required, and any fines were limited to the loss of allowance.
I am guessing that the ten-year-old who started the fire in Santa Clarita, California, that scorched sixty square miles and destroyed twenty-one homes would like to hope investigators are that nice when it comes time to take responsibility for his experiments in pyromania. Legal experts say arson charges against him are unlikely, given that he may have been too young to understand how much damage his match-play could cause. Even The Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger said he did not think the child meant any harm (though he did say it with a funny accent). The scary part comes when one tries to imagine how he and his parents could possibly compensate all the families who lost their homes, not to mention the cost of fighting the fire in the first place. Is that all there is?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Building A Fighting Force Of Extraordinary Magnitude

With nearly two months left in the year, the annual death toll for U.S. troops is now 853, or three more than the previous worst of 850 in 2004. This news comes to us at a time when casualties are on the decline. I don't suppose that this will come as any sort of consolation for the families of the six new deaths announced Tuesday by the U.S. military. The sharp drop in roadside bombings, and growing security in Baghdad and other former militant strongholds don't mean a lot to the people standing around another flag-draped coffin.
Major Winfield Danielson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad suggested, "It's due to the troop surge, which allowed us to go into areas that were previously safe havens for insurgents. Having more soldiers, and having them out in the communities, certainly contributes to our casualties." More troops equals more casualties - well duh.
And just when you thought that things were looking up, the Pentagon is quietly looking for ways to make it easier for people with minor criminal records to join the military. Apparently this shift comes as recruiting goals are rising. The troops for the surge had to come from somewhere, right? Army recruiters like to tell the story of fifteen-year-old who was trying to smoke out bees in a hive and accidentally set the hive on fire. The flames spread to a nearby house and caused damage. Police charged the youth with arson as a juvenile. At age twenty-two, he tried to join the Army, and officials had to go through the waiver process to get him in. There was no additional discussion of the waivers necessary for a limited or diminished mental capacity.
With the potential for a fighting force of highly aggressive felons, it makes one wonder about the potential for cleaning up the mean streets of our own country. If we can just convince the kids with guns to go to some foreign country and shoot at the people we ask them to, then we are really solving two problems. Still, it makes you wonder what the standards are for joining up with Blackwater.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Who Writes All Those Clever Slogans?

We are nearing the end of day one of the crisis we call The Writer's Strike. I confess that I feel just a twinge of guilt as I sit down to pound out these words, knowing that my fellow scribes are out there, somewhere in the dark with their signs and their chants. Reports from the picket lines this morning suggested that only about half of the picketers wore their official red strike T-shirts."Writers aren't the easiest cats to corral," said Don McGill, a writer for the CBS series "Numb3rs."
Not easy to corral indeed. I reflect on my struggle to be part of the union I belong to, and I understand the difficulty in being part of a herd. The thought of being out of work for days, weeks or months is almost paralyzing to me, and the idea that I would be asked to stay away from my job for the good of my profession as a whole is a tough one for me to swallow. I agree with the writers who say that it is ridiculous to continue a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to DVD sales, since this is still an "emerging technology". So emerging in fact that I have two of these machines in my home. As for residuals for Internet play, the two words that come to my mind are "You" and "Tube". Shouldn't there be some acknowledgement of the way that the world has begun to watch movies and television? Prime-time is over. It's a world of Tivo and on-demand video.
Back in 1988, the last time writers went on strike, the show biz industry lost an estimated five hundred million dollars. This may seem like a lot of money (because it is), but when one considers the box office receipts for last weekend, a non-holiday weekend in the Fall, amounted to just over one hundred and eighteen million dollars, it's hard to figure just how fretful that number truly is.
If you want to feel real fear, just remember that it was the last writer's strike that spawned "Hard Copy". Does anybody really want that on their conscience? Please, for everyone's sake, settle fast.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

One More Round

Drink to me, drink to my health
You know I can't drink any more
Drink to me, drink to my health
You know I can't drink any more
-"Picasso's Last Words", Paul McCartney
I try to live my life free of regrets, but not unlike the Chairman of the Board, I confess I have a few. Chief among these are the fact that I did not have one last beer with my brothers on the day of my father's memorial service. I had given up professional drinking some years prior, and was very pleased with the results. I had maintained a relationship that became my marriage, and when I woke up with my head ringing and my eyes swollen shut it was the result of an undeserved beating or an errant virus - not a raging hangover.
Still, that day in November so many years ago, we sat at a table in Tom's Tavern, across the street from the Boulder Daily Camera where my father began his career in printing. The right thing to do was to have a burger and a draught, just like dad did. I had a burger and a Coke. The toast was made, but there was an asterisk. So many beers had passed between us, the Caven boys. I got to be very good at holding my liquor, so good in fact that I like to joke that Milwaukee finally sent me a nice note asking me to save some beer for everyone else. Please.
But that day, with the sun streaming in the windows above the pay phone, we crowded into that booth to say goodbye to the man who brought us into the world. He was the guy who taught us the silly songs we now sing to our children. He was the guy who wrestled with us on the living room floor. He was the guy who called us "honey" in front of our friends. He was the guy who brought our pet dachshund home underneath his sweater. He was the guy with the Wright power saw up on the hill, cutting down beetle trees until it got dark. He was the guy who was our dad. Would it have killed me to have one little beer?
I know that it wouldn't. I know that I'm better off keeping my string intact. I know that my dad respected my path. But I missed a chance to connect with all of them, the Caven men that bright day in November, so many years ago.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Just Like The Old Man In That Book By Nabakov

Every so often, we cross a line between inappropriate and icky. Kelsey Peterson, a twenty-five-year-old sixth-grade math teacher and basketball coach at Lexington Middle School, was turned over to the FBI early Saturday after being arrested the night before in the border city of Mexicali for allegedly running away with a thirteen-year-old boy, taking him across the border into Mexico. The twelve years between them isn't the awful part. It's the erosion of trust between teacher and student that gnaws at me. When it is not the subject of a tawdry Lifetime Network movie, pedophilia is a word that just sounds ugly.
"Young teacher, the subject of schoolgirl fantasy. She wants him so badly, knows what she wants to be," sings former school teacher Gordon Sumner (a.k.a. Mister Stingman). "Got it bad, got it bad, got it bad, I'm hot for teacher," moans David Lee Roth(man). Elton John and Rockpile have recorded odes to the unrequited love to or from teachers. It's an old story, and I know of at least one young lady who fell for her music teacher, in college. The age of consent seems to make that story somewhat less despicable, but it still smells a little around the edges to me. The idea that a student might have a crush on his or her teacher seems like a reasonable enough possibility. The notion of a teacher looking out into a sea of young faces and finding one staring back at him or her, well, teachers are still human beings after all.
But what we're talking about here is what Jimmy Carter used to call "lust in his heart". What happens in your mind is always hypothetical, but when the barrier between teacher and student is broken, everyone loses. The National Catholic Register’s reporter Wayne Laugesen points out, a federal report said 422,000 California public-school students would be victims before graduation — a number that dwarfs the state’s entire Catholic-school enrollment of 143,000. Certainly Mister Laugesen and his publication have a particular axe to grind, but it does give one pause.
And then go back to work rebuilding that trust.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Sunny Disposition

Sooner or later, no matter how much you pretend to love your children, they will hate you. Even if you are completely sincere in your affections, your children will hate you. My wife had a hard time with this notion, since she spends most of every waking day trying to be the best possible parent she can be, and my son does everything that he can to be a loving and devoted child. Today after the fifth grade track meet, she tried desperately to comfort him after he lost two different heats of the fifty meter dash. "You just don't understand!" he sobbed. She tried to connect by telling him about all the races she had lost when she was in elementary school. He didn't want to hear it. She didn't understand. She may, at one time, have been ten. But she isn't now.
I was relieved that I didn't have that particular duty, since my response would have been quite similar, choosing to describe the many and various ways in which I had come up short in my life - especially in my youth. Kids don't want to hear about that. They don't want to know that you can triumph over adversity. They want to revel in their own tragedy. The pain they feel is real first and foremost to them, and anybody else will never comprehend the full scope and seriousness of their torment. This is expressly true if it happens in front of your peers.
I have been blessed with one of the most compassionate and caring mothers of all time. I know this because she put up with me and my two brothers for our entire collective youth, and still entertains us periodically long enough to hear how we've suffered or achieved. But I know that I did everything I could to push her away for about ten years. All of the love in the world could not keep me from trying to break those bonds. I needed to be free, and if I was truly alone in the world, then I would no longer be tethered to her apron strings.
Instead, I find myself still connected to my mother some thirty years later. A couple of years ago, I saw a warning on the television advising me to watch only under parental supervision. I felt compelled to call my mother in another time zone to ask her if she thought I could handle it. She told me that she believed that I would be fine. Turns out, she was right. How did she turn out to know so very much, when I was convinced that she didn't understand me at all?
Tonight, my son is smiling again. There are plenty of hugs to go around. The storm has passed and I am proud to say that the forecast for the future is generally sunny. But that doesn't keep me from knowing where my galoshes are.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Aqua Schlafen

There used to be a TV ad for Big Sur Waterbeds that had a thoughtful voice over intoning: "You know, I always imagined myself as a flight attendant for a major airline, but I never dreamed I would be sleeping on a waterbed." For me, it was never exactly that way. It was, in fact, quite the opposite.
I never harbored any kind of desire to be a flight attendant, but I was an enthusiastic supporter of waterbeds. I can still remember the first one I ever saw. It was in the bedroom of one of the Mikes who lived in the cabin across the road from ours in the mountains above Boulder. As kids we were allowed to wander over into their hippie den with mild impunity, since our parents didn't seem like narcs. When I first sat on Mike's bed (or was it Michael's?), I made sure to keep my feet on the floor. I was unsure about just how much of my pre-teen weight this bag of water might support. What I remember most was the hollow sloshing sound it made with every movement.
This sound was echoed just a few years later in the basement room of my friend Doug, whose brother had bequeathed him his old waterbed. It was essentially a sandbox with a vinyl water balloon laying in the center. Like many beds of its era, it rested directly on the floor, with a special set of sheets that invariably ended up as a twisted knot over the course of a night's sleep. It was this box that gave me a direction. I would own my own waterbed.
This proved to be somewhat more daunting than I had initially suspected. Even though my parents were very hip (the listened to Odetta) and were most decidedly not narcs, they expressed some doubts about my sleeping on a waterbed. The edge of the envelope was being breached, and it was decided that if I was serious about this waterbed thing, that I should have to raise the money and buy it for myself.
After a long summer of mowing lawns in a trailer park (a horrifying story all on its own), I had raised the one hundred and eighty-nine dollars needed for the frame, the mattress, the heater, one set of sheets, heater, and in a flurry of advancements, a platform upon which the whole thing sat. I remember snaking the hose through the window in my bathroom and into my bedroom, listening to the rush of sweet dreams as they filled the mattress. I knew that the heater would never make it comfortable enough to sleep on the first night, but I couldn't resist. I convinced myself that I would be asleep in minutes as the flotation system rocked me into golden slumber. It was not the best night of sleep, but it was important for me to save face, and so I put a happy face on it.
Over the next several years, that bed moved with me to my first apartment, and then was replaced by a more "conventional" frame that had the bag of water sitting inside a foam frame, creating the illusion of a regular mattress. When all was said and done, I had spent a decade of my non-waking life on a waterbed. I learned to savor its warmth on cold winter nights. I learned to despise its wavy ways on those nights when I arrived home drunk. I learned to love the looks I got from girls when they heard that I had my own waterbed. I finally grew tired of all the maintenance: algae treatments, using a pool cue across the surface to chase the bubbles to the open nozzle.
I never imagined that I would be a fourth grade teacher, but I always dreamed that I would sleep on a real bed again.