Thursday, January 31, 2008

Just A Few More Words About Britney - Really

Never fear, Britney is going to "get help". It may not be the kind of help she was expecting, but in a world of "Celebrity Rehab", we can only assume that all of this will turn out to be a great career move on her part. Jeff Conaway? He's fifty-seven and seven or eight years removed from his most recent significant role (Babylon 5). He's milking this thing for all it's worth in order to keep himself viable. But Brit? She's all of twenty-six, and only a few months past what was supposed to be her return to greatness. Oops, she did it again.
It's hard to recall a more twisted version of the celebrity mosh pit. I can't say that I was ever a big fan, but I recall when Britney, Christina and Madonna all got together at the 2003 Video Music Awards in an attempt to pass some sort of metaphorical torch. It was as if the Queen of Image was leaning down from her throne and laid a big wet one on her heirs apparent. When a reporter on Entertainment Tonight asked Britney after the show "What does it feel like to be kissed by Madonna?" Spears responded that "this is something I've dreamt about since I was a little girl. I cannot believe this just like freakin' happened. I am on a major high right now. I feel very cool."
It would be easy to point to that moment as the literal "kiss of death" for Britney's career, but Christina Aguilera shared the same intimate (unless you count the millions watching at home) exchange and has yet to come apart at the seams. On the contrary, since that time the two ex-Mousketeers have followed very different trajectories. Conventional wisdom has always had Britney on the "pop" side, with Christina holding all the talent cards. I confess that they were all but indistinguishable to me until my wife began to take notice of the video for "Candyman". That's from the past year or so, and I've only been able to wince lightly at Ms. Spear's scattershot warblings that have accompanied her deranged personal appearances.
Britney's marriages have been punch lines. Her kids have been pawns in an ugly chess match called celebrity custody. Christina may never be forgiven for dating Carson Daly, but her marriage to music marketing executive Jordan Bratman has officially lapped her competition's, culminating in the birth of her son, Max.
To be fair: It would be nothing short of impossible to grow up in the public's view. I'm happy that most of my vocal performances have been stored away for the ages, with only a chorus or two of "Happy Birthday" when I am truly inspired. My point, and I promise I'm almost there, is that the help that Britney really needs is to be left alone. Not every ugly duckling turns out to be a swan, and even some of those swans can get a little mangy after a few tough winters. It's one thing to make bad choices, but it's something very different to do it in front of TV cameras. Turn them off and go home. The show is over and we're not helping anymore. The future may hold an album of railroad songs by B. Spears, back from an extended sabbatical and fresh from the hell created for her here on earth, but not now. Turn them off and let her go home.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Guliani dropped out. Edwards dropped out. Rudy endorses McCain. Edwards has yet to anoint anyone. One wonders what the Schwarzenegger household is like, as he prepares to endorse McCain while his wife's family is lining up behind Obama. Presidential politics appear to be getting more and more streamlined, even if they aren't exactly simple yet. If the idea is to see who survives the months before the conventions, then one wonders what will be left to finish off the campaign.
Meanwhile, out in Detroit, there's a very ugly bit of local business on everybody's mind. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded for forgiveness from his family and his constituents Wednesday in an emotional televised speech. This was his response to recently revealed text messages that contradict his sworn testimony that he did not have a physical relationship with a key aide. He apologized, but he wasn't specific about what he was apologizing. As Bill Clinton can attest, extra-marital affairs aren't illegal, they're just bad press. That is, unless you start lying under oath.
The story gets messier since the messages call into question testimony Kilpatrick and chief of staff Christine Beatty gave in a lawsuit filed by two police officers who alleged they were fired for investigating claims that the mayor used his security unit to cover up extramarital affairs. Keeping your pants on is one thing. Paying your security people to keep it quiet is quite another.
This isn't the first time Kilpatrick has been in this sort of trouble. His first four years were marred by use of his city-issued credit card for expensive travel, the city's lease of a luxury Lincoln Navigator for his wife and unsubstantiated allegations of a wild party involving his security team and strippers at the mayor's mansion.
You'll understand why I am presently more interested in what's happening in Detroit than what's happening on the national front. For me, this is precisely what has been missing from the presidential campaign this year. Call me when Romney gets tossed out of a leather bar, or Hillary confesses her love for collies.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Start 'Em Young

When I'm wrong, I like to admit it. This keeps things from getting all out of proportion when I finally wind my way back to whatever topic or thread I may have been on when I made my misstep. I get stuck on items about guns and schools and I try my best to keep my facts straight, but I heard from a friend and loyal reader that I made an error: Kip Kinkel is still very much alive. He was not among those who I listed as being confused enough about their purpose on the planet that they first decided to kill a great many innocent victims before taking their own lives. Kip is alive and well, and anxiously awaiting a new trial as he serves a life sentence without hope of parole for the murder of his parents and two students at his high school in Oregon. His crimes took place in May of 1998.
Mitchell Johnson was, until earlier today, wandering around free. Mitchell was thirteen years old when he got it into his head to lay in wait while his eleven year old buddy Andrew Golden pulled the fire alarm to provide him with a schoolyard full of teachers and students. He shot and killed a teacher and four students. That was back in March of 1998.
Mitchell didn't kill himself either. He was sentenced to the maximum sentence allowed by Arkansas law, and with an additional Federal firearm count, he was kept locked up until his twenty-first birthday. Under the provisions of his release, he was allowed to own guns. And guess what? He did. On New Year's Day, 2007 he was arrested on misdemeanor charges of carrying a weapon (a loaded 9 mm pistol) and possession of just over twenty grams of marijuana. He faces up to ten years in prison and a two hundred fifty thousand dollar fine when he is sentenced. That would be two more years than he spent in jail for killing five people. An employee of Wal-Mart, Johnson said he said he needed the gun because "people were after him." He didn't mention why he needed the pot, but I suppose convicted murderers working at Wal-Mart generally feel the need to self-medicate. Mitchell Johnson is alive and well and awaiting sentencing for his second felony. He can be out again before he turns forty.
In an otherwise unrelated story, British and U.S. researchers found that happiness for people ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe follows a U-shaped curve where life begins cheerful before turning tough during middle age and then returning to the joys of youth in the golden years. I wonder how Mitchell will cope with that.

Monday, January 28, 2008

West Coast White House

On the eve of President Pinhead's last State of the Union Address (who says the writer's strike isn't providing us with quality television?), I woke up flush with the feeling that we are on the verge of picking a new president, and all the variety we have at our disposal.
Okay, so the candidates themselves may have backed themselves into a corner of commonality, and even though we all say that we crave "change", there is a large part of our lizard brains that hopes for dramatic sameness as we continue our trudge into the twenty-first century. This coupled with the pending Kennedy endorsement of Barack Obama got me to thinking about all the presidents that we will never have: The Hollywood Presidents.
I'm not talking Reagan Renaissance here. Ronnie played football heroes and befuddled college professors. I'm addressing our long-standing fascination with the president as he (or she) could be. My first stop came from my most recent encounter with this person, Bruce Greenwood. He played the U.S. President in "National Treasure: Book of Secrets (The Search For Nicolas Cage's Acting Career)". He played our chief executive as an easy-going fan of early American history, a guy who was just as comfortable at a state dinner as he was being kidnapped by a conspiracy fueled archaeologist. Top that off with the fact that he's starring in the new Star Trek movie as the Enterprise's proto-captain, Christopher Pike, and you've got a resume that screams "leadership".
If you add up all the actors who have played the role, you have quite a list. You might gloss over Donald Pleasance, the bumbler who got himself hijacked and abused in "Escape From New York", or Peter Sellers well-intentioned Merkin Muffley in "Doctor Strangelove". You might be tempted to cast your ballot for the lovable widower Michael Douglas in "The American President" or even James Earl Jones who played the first black man to become The Man in "The Man" way back in 1972.
But most likely, you'll settle for the comfortable TV version, Martin Sheen. After seven seasons as President Bartlet on "The West Wing", and years before that he honed his liberal chops by playing first Bobby then John Kennedy. He was even hanging around the Oval Office while Michael Douglas tried to figure out how he was going to get Annette Benning into the Lincoln Bedroom, even though he was only Chief of Staff. Sounds like a good choice, right? Well, not if you'd also seen "The Dead Zone", in which he plays monomaniacal Greg Stillson who, in one possible future, is the guy who pushes "the button" to bring on the Rapture. Given his war record ("The Execution of Private Slovik" and "Apocalypse Now"), I'm not sure how much we can really trust him.
So I guess since Henry Fonda's dead, Harrison Ford would rather be Indiana Jones than president, and until they straighten out that whole Constitution thing Schwarzenegger's out, we're stuck with Jack Nicholson or Kevin Kline. My money's on the guy who played "Dave".

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Super Hype

Sometimes it's hard to know the players without a program. Eli Manning loves his "Seinfeld" almost as much as Tom Brady loves his Gisele. We are becoming ever more aware of the odds of a road team winning a Super Bowl played on a composite surface when the temperature is between ten and forty degrees Celsius. Will this be Michael Strahan's last game? Will Tom Petty rock the house? Will he keep his clothes on?
If you haven't started to fret about any of these questions, never fear, because you have another full week to contemplate all the possible permutations of the events that will unfold on Super Sunday. And when you've had just about enough of that, you can take what fraction of attention you have left and apply it to the events of Super Tuesday.
Yes, it's true. A scant forty-eight hours after the biggest event in sports takes place, we'll be eagerly anticipating the outcome of the biggest event in democracy. At least that's what our media would like us to believe. The same machine that cranks up our interest in the "World Championship" of American Football is getting us all worked up about the World Championship of Democratic and Republican Primaries. While most of us are chasing the people who owe us money for drunken Super Bowl bets, twenty-four states will hold caucuses or primaries to decide who they would like to be the nominee of their respective party to run for President of the United States.
Everyone wins, right? Not Dennis Kucinich or the people who have already voted for him on absentee or mail-in ballots. Or grumpy old Fred Thompson, who hopes that the writer's strike ends soon so he can pitch his pilot for "Law and Order: Special Elections Unit". And if you read or watched the news today, you'd be certain that Hillary might as well start to pull up her tent stakes in the wake of Obama's "rout" in South Carolina. Barack is certainly glad that he missed the news last week when the momentum was in Senator Clinton's corner. It's all just too exciting, and nobody knows who will win.
That's why we have elections. And conventions. And a process. All the polls in the world continue to show conclusively that polls are flawed, and that the best reports are the actual votes taken on the day of the contest. The rest is media frenzy. If you want to see the game, it starts at six o'clock eastern, three o'clock pacific, on Sunday. If you want to catch the results of the election, tune in on Tuesday night. That's why they play the game.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Voice Of Reason

There's so much going on in the world of celebrity these days, it's hard to keep track of all the details: Were Mary-Kate and Heath really an item, and if that doesn't speak to his state of mind, I'm not sure what does. Did the stars who made the perilous journey to Sundance this winter get all the attention that they couldn't get at the Golden Globes this year? Just what is Amy Winehouse's problem, or is it merely an audition to replace Jeff Conaway on "Celebrity Rehab"? And what about the writer's strike? American Gladiators? Haven't we suffered enough?
Then there's this: "HGH (human growth hormone) is nothing," Sylvester Stallone tells Time magazine in its February fourth issue. "Anyone who calls it a steroid is grossly misinformed." Gee, Sly, I don't suppose you'd like to inform all of us, would you? "Testosterone to me is so important for a sense of well-being when you get older," he says. "Everyone over forty years old would be wise to investigate it because it increases the quality of your life. Mark my words. In ten years it will be over the counter." Well, some silly folks who practice medicine for a living, who have never starred in a movie about professional arm-wrestling, have suggested that side effects of injecting human growth hormone may include acromegaly, fluid retention, carpal tunnel syndrome, painful joints, gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in males), and liver damage. To be sure, there are plenty of preparations available over the counter presently that offer just as many or more, but it makes you think: Do you suppose that he knows what he's talking about? The effects listed were found on a web site the promotes HGH use.
I'm surprised that they didn't include "rampant occurrence of sequels". The fourth Rambo movie opens this weekend. You can find the Italian Stallion grazing at a theater near you.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Weapons Of Mass Confusion

Get this: Saddam Hussein initially didn't think the U.S. would invade Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction, so he kept the fact that he had none a secret to prevent an Iranian invasion he believed could happen. As it turns out, his insanity was not quite on a par with that of the leader of the invading Americans. He had been hoping for more "shock and awe" aerial assault, not an occupying force of thousands. He had not counted on the resolve of the Coalition of the Willing, or the enduring patience of the citizens of the countries represented.
Near the end, he said that he hoped that his generals could hold off the invaders for two weeks, in order to give time for "the secret war" to begin. It's doubtful that Saddam would have encouraged the present insurgency, but at the time of his capture, he probably thought it was a swell idea.
Speaking of swell ideas, the Pinhead administration is willing to send a small number of U.S. combat troops to Pakistan to help fight the insurgency there if Pakistani authorities ask for such help. There's that word again: "willing". Are we really "willing" to send troops into yet another middle eastern state in hopes of putting down what is essentially a revolutionary movement? The good news is that we already know where Pakistan is keeping their weapons of mass destruction, so it should make the inspection process go a little quicker. Defense Secretary Robert "Stack" Gates said, "This is clearly an evolving issue. And what we have tried to communicate to the Pakistanis and essentially what we are saying here is we are prepared to look at a range of cooperation with them in a number of different areas, but at this point it's their nickel, and we await proposals or suggestions from them." If only Saddam Hussein had the foresight to ask the United States to help him rid his country of terrorists.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Free Money

The best things in life, they tell us, are free. But you can keep them for the birds and bees. Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today. For the love of money, people will steal from their mother. For the love of money people will rob their own brother. Money makes the world go around. It makes the world go 'round.
And that is why your government is getting ready to part with a great big, steaming wad of it. Congress has just approved a "stimulus package" that should pump one hundred and fifty billion dollars (think nine zeroes) into our lagging economy. Tax rebates of six hundred to one thousand two hundred (think two zeroes) dollars will be winging their way beginning as early as May. Those with children will receive an additional three hundred dollars per child. Families who make at least three thousand dollars a year but don't pay taxes would get three hundred dollar rebates. Everybody wins!
Have you already started thinking about how you're going to spend your check? Maybe a big-screen TV for the bathroom, or perhaps one of those new-fangled dog polishers? How about trapeze lessons for the whole family? If we want to save our economy, we've got to get out there and spend, spend, spend!
Or not. Instead, we could endorse our checks back over to the architects of this plan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican leader John Boehner and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. We might include a nice note asking them to put it back into paying off our monstrous deficit, which at last peek was sitting somewhere around nine trillion (twelve zeroes) dollars. Each citizen's share of that debt is now about thirty thousand (four zeroes) dollars, or approximately one hundred times more than the amount of the rebate for each child.
Gee, on second thought, maybe we should all invest in the stock market.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Questions Sixty-Seven And Sixty-Eight

That song by Chicago, where the nearest I can tell questions sixty-seven and sixty-eight are: "Can this lovin' we have found within us (Oooh) suddenly exist between? Did we somehow try to make it happen ? (Oooh) was it just a natural thing?" That last one might be question seventy, but it might just be a rhetorical rejoinder.
If you stay in one place long enough, things fall apart. This is inevitable and it is described by second law of thermodynamics. The pessimist in me looks at the car we've been driving for ten years and sees the carpet turning gray and the chunk of molding that is taped on next to the fuse box. Then I stop and think about the amazing dependability of the vehicle we call "Ralphie", our Golden Buffalo of a Saturn station wagon. It's too easy to discard things that need work, but the satisfaction gained in keeping them running is far more impressive.
The biggest challenge of maintaining a relationship of more than six weeks is keeping it fresh. So many of the things that used to be magic are now well rehearsed, or simply refrains. I wonder what it took to make me stop our car, the one that came before the one that came before the one we drive today, on the side of the road and waltz with my wife-to-be. I wonder what tricks I might still have carefully hidden up my sleeve. It's all so very familiar.
And then I remember: Familiarity doesn't have to breed contempt. It can buy you freedom, and the forgiveness of missing a few wide right, just as long as when the game is on the line you knock it straight through the goalposts. It allows you to use sports metaphors to describe the romantic missteps of a man who sometimes forgets just how happy he really is. The real trick, it seems, is to remember those questions, and don't forget the parenthetical "oooh"s that go in between.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oh No She Di-Unt!

Hey, America! Did you see how much Hillary and Barack hate each other? Did you see them shouting at each other? Over and over on all your best cable TV news outlets, there was footage of these two Democratic presidential candidates hissing and snarling at each other, at least in the form of concisely edited sound-bites.
"I know you think it's crazy, but I kind of like to see Barack and Hillary fight," said one Bill Clinton, husband of one of the candidates.
Crazy? How about completely unnecessary? Who stands to gain anything from this bickering? John Edwards? Maybe, but someone like John McCain or even Mike Huckabee would probably be just as happy to have these two slug it out until June or July, and then spend the last few months of what has already been a ridiculously long campaign trying to rebuild the support of the center of the party as the bottom starts to fall out. There's no way the Democrats can lose this year, right?
Well, while all of this squabbling was going on in South Carolina, a study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The study counted nine hundred thirty-five false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least five hundred thirty-two occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.
"The cumulative effect of these false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts — was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war," the study concluded.
And now you can get back to watching that scathing hot video of Hillary and Barack gnawing on one another's skulls. Eat up, America! Enjoy your spoon-fed media today!

Monday, January 21, 2008

In Dreams

When asked, rhetorically I assume, by Yahoo "What do we know about Martin Luther King Jr.?" I chose to accept the challenge more or less literally. Little things such as the date of his birth being January fifteenth, not the twenty-first, and the fact in spite of the best intent of Bono and U2 to remind us, he was assassinated in the afternoon of April 4, 1968, not "early morning." I know that he had a dream. I know that the Golden State Warriors are giving away Baron Davis backpacks today on their special MLK afternoon game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Happily, it would seem, they will not be giving away MLK bobbleheads.
As our most recently adopted national holiday, it is sad comfort to find that the three-day weekend that now arrives around the date of Doctor King's birth has already become more of a celebration of consumerism than the dream he once shared with us. When afforded an extra day, Americans head to the malls, right? Many do, but there is still an air of hope. Across the country, there are thousands joining in marches and community service inspired by the work of of the late Reverend. This is as it should be. A man who reminded us that "We are not makers of history. We are made by history."
It is also important to remember that forty years ago, an unpopular war raged in a foreign country, and the country seemed divided in ways we had only begun to acknowledge. Martin Luther King was a very unpopular voice at the time. Though his life ended in violence, the violence did not end. He did not die for our sins. He died while making an appearance on behalf of striking Memphis sanitation workers. He spoke of justice and equality, holding us all accountable for the words in the Declaration of Independence: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"
Enjoy the day, and remember the dream.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

As Magic As Ever

As a father, I spend a good deal of time attempting to recreate my youth for my son's entertainment. Sometimes this is very successful, such as the trips to Disneyland: early and often. On the flip-side, there is the subscription to Spider-man. This lasted a year, but my son' sensibilities and the comic book never completely meshed and he lost interest. I was probably rushing him, forgetting that my initial brushes with superheros came from the racks at the supermarket (ironic?). It was the thrill of discovery that made my web-head obsession stick.
These and many other examples swirled through my head as I chose to buy tickets for my family to go see the Harlem Globetrotters. When I was a kid, the Globetrotters were experiencing what few would argue was their Golden Age: Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, Marcus Haynes, Goose Tatum. They had their own cartoon show. They played in China. They played on Gilligan's Island. ABC's Wide World of Sports kept them in our consciousness and when the Globetrotters came to Denver, my parents knew it was a special night that we couldn't miss. Did I see them more than once? To tell you the truth, it's hard for me to distinguish the many television appearances from seeing them live because they delivered the goods: The rubber band ball, the water bucket full of confetti, and of course, Sweet Georgia Brown.
How would this all translate over thirty-five years? Would my son find any of this amusing? He did. He ate it up, as they say, with a spoon. I bought him a red, white and blue ball and a pennant, and when the "game" was over, he went down on the floor and braved the crowds to get an autograph from "Hi-Lite" Bruton, and then stood in line on the way out to get his ball signed by Showman "Special K" Daley. On the way out of the arena, he couldn't stop tossing, spinning, and dribbling. With a great big smile on is face. Ah, youth.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Eyes Right

I can sit still with the best of them. I used to win stare-down contests when I was in elementary school. I am, or at least I have been told that I am, a good patient. That is why I knew that my Saturday morning appointment at the eye doctor would be a fairly low-stress affair.
Still, I had a twinge of anxiety as I walked up the street to the office. If it were up to me, I would keep the same doctor, dentist, parking space, breakfast food, address, furniture polish, and so on for all eternity. I'm not a huge fan of change. My wife doesn't share this same commitment to stability. She changes phone companies, insurance carriers, peanut butters, and even eye doctors to suit our family's changing needs. The fact that I could walk to my appointment did seem like an advance, to be sure, but it was still something new.
In my mind, I distracted myself by trying to remember the difference between ophthalmology and optometry. Optometrists are not medical doctors. Ophthalmologists are "real" doctors. It did not occur to me to ask my wife before I left which I was going to see. I tried not to let the nagging doubt cloud my mind.
When I arrived there was some relief in finding that I was the first appointment of the day, which meant that I didn't have to spend any time searching for a magazine from this decade to read. I was also spared the onerous chore of filling out a new medical history, one of my chief gripes about changing doctors. I would eventually have to answer all those questions, but I went straight back to the examination room by Doctor Thornton himself.
I sat back in the big chair and began my standard patient patter. I'm a teacher. I have worn glasses since I was five. I have a "lazy eye". I started wearing progressive lenses two and a half years ago. All of this pleasant interaction took place on the surface, and all the while I was wondering if there are people who try and cheat on their eye tests.
I have a certain amount of test anxiety, and it has only been somewhat recently that I was able to be completely open with my ever-changing optometrists. When the whole "number one, number two, which is better?" stuff begins, I used to get nervous. What if I got it wrong? What if I was stuck with a prescription that would eventually lead my eventual, and excruciatingly permanent, blindness? I found that confessing this to my health care professional allowed me to get even better care. But when the big black mask came down over my face, I had to consciously set aside my fears and read the line from left to right.
And then came the surprise: On the left eye, on the fourth or fifth trip through the E's and
Z's and L's, he asked me to read the line backward, "In case you've started to memorize them after all of this." He told me to relax and stare at the light as he put drops in my eyes, and I told him I could relax as long as he didn't start to play Beethoven. There was a pause, and I felt the need to explain my "Clockwork Orange" reference. "Oh, Kubrick," he said, "I love Kubrick." That's when I did start to loosen up.
When it was done, the lights came back up and I wiped the yellow residue of the eye drops from my eyes. I thanked the doctor for the exam and the conversation and headed to the lobby to pick out my new frames. By strange coincidence, my wife had arrived and was there to help me pick out a new set of frames. Another change.

Friday, January 18, 2008

One Of Those Days

Tarzan comes swinging through the jungle, his last vine dropping him with a thump on the porch of his treehouse. He pushes through the beaded curtain with a grunt, and stomps into his living room where he drops his considerable bulk into a chair that strains to hold him. Jane comes in from the kitchen to see Tarzan staring at a fixed point off in the distance. She asks demurely, "Tarzan, are you alright?"
Without breaking his gaze, Tarzan replies, "Jane fix Tarzan martini."
"But Tarzan, you don't drink."
"Jane fix martini now."
Hearing the intensity in his voice, Jane hurries back to the kitchen where she finds most of a bottle of gin, and behind a pair of coconut shell salt shakers a few drops of vermouth. She mixes the drink in a tall bamboo cup, garnishing it with a tropical flower, then hurries the concoction back to her mate.
Tarzan flicks the flower aside and tosses the drink down in one gargantuan gulp. His eyes return to the spot he was fixed on. "Jane fix Tarzan martini."
Jane starts, "But Tarzan..." She can see that her words are not being heard, so she scoops up the cup and goes back to the kitchen where she mixes him a double, this time without the garnish. When she returns, Tarzan grabs the cup and pours it down, the effect of the alcohol barely evident as he winces only slightly when the drink hits the bottom.
There is a great pause, and suddenly Tarzan's broad shoulders slump as he leans back into his chair. Now the King of the Jungle is finally at peace. Eyes closed, he gestures wildly with the cup still in his hand. "Jane?"
"Yes, Tarzan?"
"Yes, Tarzan?" Jane waits for more, then asks, "Tarzan, are you alright?"
Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, sighs and leans forward to look once again out the door and into the evening sky. "Jane, is jungle out there."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Home Team

As we creep closer to the Super Bowl, I submit the following item (with an emphasis on "creep"): Upset that his seven-year-old son wouldn't wear a Green Bay Packers jersey during the team's playoff victory Saturday, a man restrained the boy for an hour with tape and taped the jersey onto him. Police said the incident sounded strange when reported at first, but the mother took pictures with her cell phone and that type of evidence is difficult to dispute. The father was taken to the county jail and held until Wednesday, when he pleaded no contest, paid a fine of one hundred eighty-six dollars, and was released.
It's easy for me to sneer my disapproval. I have been fortunate to have a son who has followed easily in the wake of all of my obsessions. It may have helped that he was born into a world that hosted its first Bronco Super Bowl win, and the jersey we pulled over his head could just as easily have had Bob the Builder or Green Day on it, for all he cared at the time. But now it's ten years later, and I find myself whistling in the dark. When we're watching sports on TV, my son will always ask, "Who are we rooting for?" He instinctively wants to be on dad's team. He's a good kid that way.
But I know that there is a reckoning coming. I know that his blind allegiance to all things Dad will soon go the way of, well, Bob the Builder. There will come a day when he will have to carefully consider just how much grief he wants to bring on himself as a Denver Broncos fan living in the heart of the Oakland Raider Nation. Given his personality, I expect that he will still steer clear of the dominant paradigm. He might just decide that he wants a Packers jersey next Christmas.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Book Nook

A lot of people keep dismembered bodies of their victims under their stairs. Okay, not a lot, but a few. Okay, maybe that's just what I want to believe, but it wasn't what we had underneath the stairs of my parents' house. Behind a door that stuck just the tiniest bit was one of the planet's largest deposits of comic books. They came from various epochs, many of them dating back to my mother's youth, when she lived with her parents behind their drug store in Granby, Colorado. Her position allowed a certain amount of cherry-picking the best of the lot that came through. The best, that is, for her. This amounted to a great many Little Lulus, and an even greater number of Donald Ducks. My mother was not a big fan of superheros, but there were a number of Classics Illustrated to break up some of the more saccharine elements.
These old comics formed the initial layer of what would become an archaeological expedition whenever we ventured inside the ever-narrowing space. We always took a flashlight, since there was no light inside, and we were loathe to take comics out into the wide open spaces of the basement. There was always something more intense about reading page after page in the dim light supplied by two "D" batteries. On top of my mother's magazines, piled mostly in old fruit crates, were the Mad magazines and Spider-man and Archies that came from the next generation. There was always a mix going on, with old books being pulled up to the surface while the newer ones drifted back to the bottom. Months or years might pass before you saw that issue of The Avengers again, but it was always a satisfying find.
Over the years some Life magazines got added to the flurry, and that meant a potential trip in the way-back machine with pictures of the Kennedy assassination to go along with your Sub-Mariner. It made for hours of what felt like guilty pleasure, but the only thing we were ruining was our eyesight. One or two of us could sit in there for hours at a stretch, re-reading the same comics that we read two years ago, just like they were new. Sometimes when we played hide and seek, we would close ourselves off in the dark, holding our breath, but then wishing that we had the time to do a little reading before someone found us. If we had stayed there as long as we had wanted, maybe there would have been a few corpses underneath those stairs.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Suspension of Disbelief

It is a pity to say that there are days that can be summed up in a moment, but today was one of them. This morning, before all the kids had cleared out of the breakfast line in the cafeteria, one of my students was on his way home. He got the day off before it had officially begun.
Abner has an impulse problem, and today that impulse problem had him kicking another student. For No Good Reason. I'm not sure exactly what the good reasons for kicking someone might be, but he didn't have one. Not being able to control one's impulses does not count in the big book of Reasons. Stack that on top of being disrespectful and defiant to the assistant principal, and you have a solid case for a one day suspension.
Normally this would have weighed heavily on my conscience, as I tend to make my kids' problems my own, and I feel responsible for their actions as a reflection of my teaching methods and classroom management. This was different. All the ugliness had taken place before I had even seen him this morning. Perhaps at some deeper level, he was commenting on the efficacy in my classroom, but that may be giving him a little too much credit.
In his absence, the rest of the day sailed by. That's not to say that every student in the room operated at the highest level, or I didn't have to raise an eyebrow here and there, but the ones that were left made it through without major incident. It wouldn't be fair to say that Abner is the sole cause for the discontent in my class, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that there was a little fear in the kids who remained. Blood in the water, and all that.
Today there was one less voice, one less needy whine, one less bell to answer. It might be too much to ask for another outburst tomorrow morning. That would be wrong, but I've seen what we can do without Abner. Now we need to see what we can do with him.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Leave My Monkey Alone

Last week, in response to the swarming Iranian patrol boats threatening a U.S. destroyer, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said: "Be prepared, first, to put your sights on the American vessel. And then be prepared that the next thing you see will be the gates of Hell, because that is exactly what you will see after that."
Not to be outdone by someone whose name brings Smurfs to mind, onetime Law and Order star Fred Thompson added, "I think one more step and they would have been introduced to those virgins that they're looking forward to seeing."
Witty repartee aside, it would seem that Mister Thompson forgot that Islam provides virgins for all those who reach heaven, but the Koran suggests that a martyr's death in Jihad would get him there. This seems to run somewhat contrary to Mister Huckabee's mention of the gates of Hell, unless he's referring to the film by legendary Italian director Lucio Fulci.
No matter, since anyone who has seen the video of the "attack" and the film "Caddyshack" will be instantly reminded of the image of Al Czervik's yacht plowing through the water, it's wake tossing all other craft aside like - well - tiny Iranian patrol boats.
Now comes the news that the heavily accented warning that can be heard at in the video ("I am coming to you. ... You will explode after ... minutes.") may have been the work of Filipino Monkey, a name used by mariners around the globe for someone who uses his radio for unnecessary or inappropriate transmissions. Navy officials have said they were unsure where the transmission that issued the "warning" came from.
No doubt Governor Huckabee and Senator Thompson would like "the Monkey" to moderate the next debate.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Family Exercise

These are the words that bring a chill to my Sunday morning: "Family Exercise". I enjoy both elements of the phrase, being with my family, and getting some exercise. This is especially true on the weekend, when there is time for both. But I have to say, putting the two together doesn't fill me with the kind of joy that the two might bring separately.
Maybe I should be more clear: Exercise is, for me, a solitary activity. I've never been much of a team sports kind of guy. I tend to leave the house with my headphones on and one thing on my mind: working up a sweat. I have never understood the need to travel to a place to start a workout. I gathered a bit of wisdom in my late teens from John Irving, who wrote about sports like wrestling, weight lifting, and running. The need for a lot of equipment and distractions, for me, just diminish the time spent exerting yourself. My daily bike rides to and from work provide me with a few minutes of "alone" time, and it is always a mild relief when I get a little more time to get (in the words of Strother Martin) "my mind right."
Family exercise is not a compact thing. It is an event that requires planning and coordination. The conversations that begin, sometimes days in advance, and eventually become as much a workout as the activity that we choose. I don't often run very far, or bike very fast, because it's not a competition, it's only and exhibition. I slow down to let my wife and son keep up with me. Our dog dodges back and forth, trying to figure out the pace. It's on these days that I sometimes try and sneak in a run before we all pack into the car and roar off to wherever and whatever it is that we have all decided to do.
Here's the truth: I wouldn't trade it, not for anything. I moan and complain, and wish that I could be doing things my way on my time, but I wouldn't trade it. When we all finally get to where we are headed, and the bikes are unloaded, and the dog is on her leash and my family is doing something together, then it's time to stop whining. It's different than running four miles and coming home sweaty. I don't often break a sweat when we're all together, but it's still an exercise, an exercise in family.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fallen Giants

"And the trees are all kept equal By hatchet, axe, and saw." -Rush, "The Trees"
The past week has brought a great deal of broken branches and fallen trees. The winter storms that buffeted our region knocked out power and cut phone lines, most of which was caused by leaning trunks or falling limbs. My wife and I rushed out of our basement last Saturday morning when we heard the crack and rush of leaves associated with impending doom. We had already had, some years back, a eucalyptus tree from the grove behind us, crash down across our fence and miss landing on our back deck by just a few degrees. Last week we were lucky when the tired giant leaned north and south instead of east and west, and landed in a neighbor's yard, not ours.
We have had a love/hate relationship with the trees behind us for as long as we have lived here. My wife fell in love with the sounds of the birds in their nests when she first came to look at the place almost eleven years ago. At the same time, we have sneered at the non-native eucalyptus, and worried that they might eventually leave their limited root system and become lumber in need of removal. The sound of the wind rustling through their leaves, and the creaking sound their trunks made as they rubbed together on blustery days was part of the music of our back yard. All the while, however, the trees and plants in our yard had to wait until past noon to get the sun that the eucalyptus had been soaking up since dawn.
This morning, we woke to the sound of chain saws. The landlord behind us was taking down the stand of eucalyptus trees, working proactively to limit the damage that might be caused by another storm, or just a stiff breeze. It made my wife cry. It might be fair to note that my wife has also been known to cry at the weddings and births of fictional characters on television shows, but this one cut deep. Her memories of the birds and their songs was replaced by the angry buzz of the saw cutting through wood. They went from vertical to horizontal abruptly. She could only shout over the fence for explanation, but she already knew the answer. That didn't soothe the hurt of losing the forest behind her house.
I remembered the summers I spent in Colorado, helping my father bring down pine-beetle infested trees on our property in the mountains. When we were done, an entire hillside was nothing but stumps and plastic-covered stacks of poisoned wood. I remember my father telling me that aspen trees would grow back quickly to take their place, and in a few years, their white and black trunks had risen up to prove him right.
It's a cycle. The shadows we used to have on our back yard have been replaced by sunshine. For now, we're celebrating the light, and remembering fondly our cabin in the woods.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Observer Effect

My good friend and assistant principal made a great suggestion to me the other day. She said that getting a handle on classroom management is a lot like a twelve-step program. The first step is to admit that I have a problem. It's easy to blame the school, the kids, the parents, but when the smoke clears, I know that I am still in charge in my classroom. The rest is cleverly layered denial.
And so this morning I went about changing the way kids act in my class. I decided to follow a thread established by my assistant princi-pal. On a number of visits to my room over the past month, she has taken out her camera phone and walked around taking "video" (actually a large number of still shots) of the kids. She has loudly announced that she hoped that she would have nice footage to show any and all interested viewers: other teachers, the principal, parents. I was initially amazed at just how the kids snapped to when they saw her come into the room. They were quiet. They did their work. They acted like they were being watched.
The problem was, after she left, they would tend to drift back to the behaviors that had brought the assistant principal down to my room in the first place. Somehow, the fact that I was watching them was not having the same effect, so this morning I hauled in my own camera setup. When my kids came into the room, the first thing they noticed was the wall-mounted TV was showing their favorite show: them. Some of them started to dance and play. Some made faces. Others tried to duck out of the way. When I explained that what I hoped I would get was a tape of good behavior "to show to whoever wants to see it," I was gratified to see how abruptly the antics ceased.
It would be a lie to say that having the camera in the room made them angels all day. I have a couple of amazing shots: one that we showed back in slow motion to confirm that one of the boys had, in full view of the camera's gaze, thrown a broken pencil at one of his "friends", and another where a rather round little girl stood up on her chair to shake her backside while her teacher was busy attending to something at the board. Kids, as they say, will be kids.
The other thing that I realized was a benefit of having a video record of a large portion of my day was that I was able to watch and listen to myself in the classroom. Watching myself was every bit as helpful as watching my students. I could hear my patience rise and fall. I could see how I moved through the room. Was I giving every kid the attention they needed or deserved? It was a relief when, by the end of the day, there were no major incidents to highlight or edit out, and even though everything didn't change, some things did.
I've already burned a DVD of Day One for posterity. The camera is going back to school with me on Monday. Where's Allen Funt when you need him?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Worst Comic Book Ever

Spider-man and Mary Jane are breaking up. More to the point, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are splitsville. I'm pretty sure that when you break up with one, you pretty much lose the other, this being the way with secret identities. To be even more precise, Peter and Mary Jane made a deal with Mephisto: In exchange for saving Aunt May's life, Mephisto erases all traces of the Peter-Mary Jane marriage from memory.
I know that this was a decision made from on high. It was an attempt to turn back the clock, something that all comic books have to do on a regular basis to keep things "fresh". Marvel big shot Joe Quesada knew that what he was doing would be controversial. "I remember editors and editors in chief lamenting that a married Spider-Man was not where we want to be," Quesada says. "A married Peter Parker makes for a less interesting soap opera than a single Peter Parker going about his nerdy kind of life."
Okay, granted, but undoing twenty-one years of webbed wedded bliss should cause some tumult. Especially if you have spent any amount of time trying to emulate or soak up some of that magic in your real life. We have a copy of the wedding issue next to a photo of our own nuptials. Or, say, maybe you tried to propose to your wife in the same way that Peter popped the question (hiding the ring in a box of Cracker Jacks). Or perhaps you have a secret yen for being called "Tiger". I am pretty much past the swinging from webs and wearing tights stage, but I did always hope for some of that romance to creep off the page like some sort of alien symbiote and - well - maybe that's too dangerous. It was something to aspire to, and now it's over.
In time I'm sure that Gwen Stacy will reappear, and the whole ugly cycle will begin again, but for now I'll grieve just a little for what has passed. Lois Lane and Clark Kent are still together, but in Metropolis, things have a way of getting stuck and staying stuck. God, how I hate Superman.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


The piece of plastic I found wasn't much bigger than a standard envelope. I found it months after the crash, on one of my periodic returns to the scene. Reflecting back, I have no way of knowing if the chunk of car that I picked up was from Darren's car. It is quite possible that in the same way that Charlie Brown was constantly menaced by a kite-eating tree, this particular set of jagged boulders was expressly fond of Toyota Celicas. It is much more likely that the black and silver patch of wreckage came from Darren's car. That's why I took it home and kept it.
I kept if for more than twenty years. It became a kind of shrine to my fallen friend, along with another bit of broken plastic, his red wraparound shades that he had worn as part of his disguise as a deliveryman for "Hungry Drunkboy Pizza". These two artifacts have followed me around for two decades, reminding me of the Okie From Muskogee (Darren was terrifically peeved by the fact that Merle Haggard had never set foot in his hometown before writing that song).
Last night, as my son and I were recounting our days, he told me how dismayed he was that his pal had missed seeing "a really cool Toyota Celica". I have surrendered to the fact that my son is becoming a gear-head, with an intimate knowledge of a vast array of models and makes, but this one caught me.
"You really like Toyota Celicas?" I asked.
"Well, not as much as Camaros, or Corvettes, but they're pretty cool."
"Wait right here," I climbed down from his bed and went to my room to retrieve my object d'Darren. "Here you go," I said as I handed him the sliver of plastic.
"Celica. Cool." He ran his fingers over the raised silver letters. "It looks kind of beat up."
"I know. This came from my friend Darren's car. He had a Celica." I assumed that my son would forgive my overlooking the obvious.
"What happened to it?" My son has heard, in bits and pieces, the legend of my friend Darren, but never the end.
"He wrecked his car." I replied as simply as I could.
"Were you in the car?"
"No. But he had another friend who was. He didn't get hurt very bad, but Darren and the car did."
"Oh." Then there was a long pause that might have been a lot of details, but I kept quiet, watching him turn the name plate over in his hands. "Thanks, Dad."
With that, he put the relic up on his headboard, and turned out his light. It was time to go to sleep. When I was almost out of his room, he called me back, "Dad?"
"Yes, son?"
"I think I'll keep this and give it to my son."
"From generation to generation?"
"Yeah. Generation to generation. Good night, dad."
"Good night, son."
I knew I kept that thing for a reason.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Citizen Dave

It’s ten minutes past eight o’clock in the morning, and I have been in the Jury Corral for the past five minutes. Already I am feeling a surge of public service running through me, and so I took a moment to check out the “juror only” facilities located on the south end of the great big room filled with maroon chairs and grey modular furniture.
The anticipation of what comes next is the part that makes me crazy. I already know that there is no substitute assigned to my class today, so I am worried about the day stretching out in front of me. Maybe I should go check out the “workslips”.
At nine, we got a lot of important information, including the reminder for my that school district employees are also government employees and are therefore exempt from receiving the fifteen dollar stipend for reporting to jury duty. I reminded myself that this is because my government job will still pay me for days I miss, but that piece of information still weighs on my already mildly burdened sense of duty. What if there was a way to make jury duty pleasant? So far it hasn’t been unpleasant, with the lady making the orientation announcements doing her best zen-friendly to keep things positive. There is a regular chorus of “you won’t have to do this again for a year.” This, for now, will be my solace.
By ten o’clock, the natives were becoming restless, especially after the initial roll call had cleared out half the room. Those of us who were left in our seats made small talk before returning to our books or cell phones. I decided to keep writing, since I don’t know if I want to read of the continuing disintegration of Charles Schulz’s marriage, or calling the school to find out what havoc may or may not be taking place in my classroom. We have been told that we can have a “break” of twenty minutes, if we want to leave the jury room. A break from what? My breaks are generally sitting in front of my computer, or reading. These airport-style chairs are at least a couple notches higher on the comfort scale than the wooden seat I only rarely find myself upon in my classroom. For now, it’s splendid isolation.
At ten thirty, those of us who remained were told that we were no longer needed and that our service was complete for “a whole year”. I had constructed all these worst-case scenarios in my mind about how I would be sequestered for months in a civil case that would stretch on and on and consume my life. I could see my students withering on the vine without a proper guiding force to steer them to their ultimate fourth grade success. I imagined my family missing me as I spent weeks holed up in a downtown hotel, eating room service and steadily growing to hate my fellow jurors. But none of that happened. They set us free. Now I only have memories of the stirring documentary on jury duty they showed us before the first roll call.
I called my boss and asked her what I should do, and she told me to take the rest of the day, since they found someone to cover my class. I give myself a pat on the back for the public service portion of my life, and tell the persistent voice of responsibility to take a hike. I’ll be taking the rest of the day off, thank you very much.
Now what am I going to do with all this time?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sleep Less

"How am I going to get to sleep? I know, I'll count the bars on the window: One, Two, Three - Sleep!" - Max Headroom with Art of Noise "Paranomia"
There I was, laying in bed, wondering when I would stop being completely aware of not being asleep. I thought of all the things that I could do if I went ahead and got up at four in the morning. The list was fairly short.
"To sleep, perchance to dream - ay, there's the rub." Hamlet (III, i, 65-68)
So there I stayed, trying hard to keep my eyes closed and not count the ticks of the clock in the living room. It is times like these that I wonder about the wisdom of having two analog clocks, a clanging Regulator and a cuckoo, with just one room separating them. Try as we might, they are never synchronized, and the ding-dong and the cuckoo never coincide for long. Especially late at night, or very early in the morning.
"Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." Harry Lime in "The Third Man"
In my head, I started to take a drive. I left my parents' house and drove east to 19th Street, then down to Balsam. I did a turn for turn route to our family's cabin in the mountains, stopping here and there to consider the options: fewer stop lights one way, easier left turns another. It took me a few tries to get all the way to Magnolia Road, but once I turned on to the dirt road, I followed it steadily up, switchbacks and steep climbs, all the way to Pine Glade Road, where I stopped to admire the row of mailboxes before I turned. Then the clock reminded me that I was still creeping toward time for my now completely superfluous alarm to go off.
"Well it’s all in your mind" Beck "All In Your Mind"
I sighed, and my wife told me she was awake too. That was some comfort. We talked in hushed tones, even though we knew our son would never wake up for our conversation. We whispered to keep our own illusion of sleep. We took some deep breaths, and we started to relax. Soon there was enough calm to feel drowsy, and I knew the heater would be firing up in just a few moments. I savored those minutes, and once I knew the bathroom floor would be warm under my feet, I dragged myself from under the covers and started my day.
"Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head." Beatles "A Day In The Life"

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Smartest Monkeys

As I sit here typing on my laptop computer in front of my digital cable-enabled television while my son and his friend play interactive video games with wireless remotes in the next room, I take heart in the spirited defense of evolution issued this week from the National Academy of Sciences, stating that it is the bedrock principle of modern biology, arguing that it, not creationism, must be taught in public school science classes.
The year is 2008, if you haven't taken the time to update your calendars. "We seem to have continuing challenges to the teaching of evolution in schools. That's something that doesn't seem to go away," said Barbara Schaal, an evolutionary biologist at Washington University in St. Louis and vice president of National Academy of Sciences, "We need a citizenry that's trained in real science."
A lot has changed since 1925, when John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution to his high school class in Tennessee. We're still very smart monkeys, and humans seem to have an edge over most of the other species in terms of managing our planet. This doesn't mean we're doing the best job, it just means we're using our opposable thumbs to manage an move things in ways that make us more comfortable.
But couldn't God create a Costco? Commerce and technology seem to be excluded from the creationism debate. Evolution is change in living organisms over the eons due to genetic mutations, and I know that my son's thumbs are much more flexible and strong than mine after being born into a world that values mad gaming skills. My joystick abilities are outdated and useless in this day and age.
President Pinhead said in 2005 American students should be instructed about "intelligent design" alongside evolution as competing theories. "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," he said. A 2006 Gallup poll showed that almost half of Americans believe that humans did not evolve but were created by God in their present form within the last ten thousand years. Looking at these bits from a purely scientific point of view, maybe Darwin was wrong.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

They've Got A Word For That

Every year the American Dialect Society choose a word that typifies the previous year. For 2007, they chose "subprime". "`Subprime' has been around with bankers for awhile, but now everyone is talking about `subprime,'" said Wayne Glowka, a spokesman for the group.
Okay Wayne, but you had so many words to choose from: "Facebook," "green," "Googleganger" and "waterboarding" didn't make the cut. The one that intrigues me on that list would be "Googleganger", or "a person with your name who shows up when you Google yourself." I would have voted for it, probably because I haven't had to worry about my mortgage for a few years now, but I do spend what might be considered by many an inordinate amount of time Googling myself. And I know that the previous phrase is amusing enough to keep it in my lexicon for a while longer.
As for "subprime," Glowka said it is an odd word as far as linguists are concerned. The prefix "sub" translates roughly to "below the standard," while "prime" means something close to "the best." The word really means "far below the best."
"People were saying that students were referring to their tests, `I'm going to subprime this. I'm going to mess it up,'" he said.
Who has been doing this? Are these the same people who are watching "Lost" and buying all those Hannah Montana tickets? It's those meddling kids again. I just know it. They're always messing up a perfectly understandable language with their clever catchphrases and "mettyphors". Last year, these clever kids chose "plutoed," which means "to be demoted or devalued." They say the society began choosing words of the year in 1990 for fun, not in an official capacity to induct words into the English language. Oh sure. That's what they say now. I think they're plutoing their value, not really intending to subprime their efforts. I guess I'll never be one of those cunning linguists.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Into Each Life, A Little Rain Must Fall

Yes, into each life a little rain must fall, and that's why we are constantly surrounded by drips. This little bon mot came to me as I stared out into what the weather forecasters have been assuring us, for days leading up to and including today, is the Storm of the Century. This may or may not turn out to be true, but since the Century is only a few years old, I suppose we can have our fun while the sun remains obscured by clouds.
All of this inside time has given me a chance to reflect on what I have learned over vacation. A couple of nights ago, my wife registered shock at the funny bit that I had just shared with her. Again, she felt moderate surprise at the fact that something I said wasn't stolen from some other funny person, or quoted as homage to someone more clever than I. After a brief bit of reassurance on my part, she suggested (as she does every few years) that this should be the year that I go ahead and take a chance at getting up on stage to do comedy.
Here's where this idea falls apart: I have been reading a lot of books over the past couple of weeks, and while this alone would not keep me from launching a standup career, the subjects of two of the books that I have read would. "Born Standing Up", by Steve Martin, details his childhood and early jobs as a magician before hitting the big time for what amounted to a five year stay at the top of standup comedy. He was a rock star and all he really wanted eventually was out.
Equally engrossing but still oppressive was "Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography" by David Michaelis. This man who gave me such joy as a child and laughter shared with my family and friends was such a misanthrope, that it made me rethink some my own reactions to the cartoons I read in my youth. "Sparky" Schulz had a lot of demons to work out, and he seemed quite content to use his daily newspaper comic strip to exorcise them.
And so, as I watch the rain continue to fall, I am grateful for a sense of humor that provides me with a few chuckles now and then, along with the various individuals I tend to drag along for the ride. I am also grateful to know where the "off" switch is.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Here There Be Tigers

When I was very young, my mother would take me to doctor appointments at our nearby Medical Center. The waiting area for pediatrics had a very large (probably even larger in my memory) aquarium at the center. There were no fewer than four signs to remind the young patients and their caregivers "Do Not Tap On The Glass". I could sense the allure of the big, smooth panes that made up the outer walls of the fish's world, but I was also very keen on following rules. As my mother rightly pointed out, "Think of having some giant come along and banging on the side of your house." She didn't have to tell me twice, and I could only roll my eyes in disapproval at those kids who were either too dim or illiterate to get the message.
And that's where I find myself, nine days after a tiger killed a teenager at San Francisco's zoo. The zoo reopened today, along with new signs warning people not to pester animals. It reminds me of the warnings that McDonald's had to print on their coffee cups after they were sued by a woman who was burned by their piping hot java, calling it “gross negligence” for selling coffee that was “unreasonably dangerous” and “defectively manufactured.” Would she have sued if the coffee was ice cold? Maybe that's what led to McDonald's new Iced Coffee drink.
Back to tigers: These are wild animals, just ask Roy Horn (of Siegfried and Roy) about the relative temperaments of jungle cats. I have learned valuable lessons about such things while riding on Disneyland's Jungle Cruise. The guide will invariably point out the lurking dangers in the brush, and will remind all of us that that "when fully grown, a Bengal tiger can jump over fifty feet - luckily we're just twenty feet away." That's how I like my tigers: twenty feet away, attached to a complicated series of electric and hydraulic cables, and I still won't be pestering them any time soon.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What Is Normal?

Okay kiddies, time to wake up and get back to work. All the Christmas lights have been carefully pulled down from their lofty perches and coiled neatly in their bin for the next year. This is the beginning of the beginning, since the beginning of the end came yesterday during the bowl game frenzy. That was the contemplation of all things "normal" returning.
Sure, I could linger on the last few days of Winter Break, but I know that lethargy has begun to set in, and I will need all the forward momentum I can muster for the return to business as usual. Jay Leno and David Letterman are no doubt hard at work, pounding out the final pieces of their return to television after a long winter's nap. Dave used his time to negotiate a deal for his writers to return with him, while Jay was busy landing Mike Huckabee for a guest shot on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.
Speaking of Iowa, Republicans and Democrats are hard at it in anticipation of the first official vote of the presidential race that has been going on for the past year and a half. John Edwards won't be making an appearance on Leno or Letterman, but he will show up at a John (Cougar) Mellencamp concert tonight in hopes of appearing a little more earthy and Midwestern than his haircut would allow. Now that sounds like work.
President Clinton, campaigned separately from his wife yesterday, joking at one event that he was missing out on a day of football games and being "the quintessential indolent American male on New Year's Day." For me, this comes as some relief. Not knowing what day it is because the mail doesn't come or the trash pickup is delayed makes me a little edgy. I'm happy to get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Prestige

The sheer number of bowl games has begun to wear on me. Don't get me wrong, I'll be doing my very best to watch every moment of the best and most most exciting, but I'm still feeling like there is no way for me to keep up.
I should preface this by acknowledging that the two college football teams that I follow most closely, Cal and Colorado, finished their seasons with the same record: six wins and six losses. Cal's year ended as a major letdown to what had once been hopes for a national championship. Colorado exceeded expectations, and even managed to pull off a couple of impressive upsets, beating the dreaded red teams of Oklahoma and Nebraska. Meanwhile, Cal finished with a loss to their arch rival and red-clad Stanford. They won as many as they lost. Pretty good, right?
Okay, they did pretty good. But did they deserve a bowl game? The discussion at the end of the season is all about becoming "bowl eligible". What about "bowl worthy"? There are thirty-two college bowl games this year, and there are one hundred and twenty Division 1 FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) teams. That means that sixty-four (more than half) of the teams in Division 1 FBS will play in a bowl game. This nominal reward has become more of an obligatory extra game for all but the lowest of the low. The prestige is on a par of getting an invitation to the class Valentine's Day party. Didn't everybody?
It's not a playoff system, though many would love to see this wrinkle added to the computer-based and still mostly objective Bowl Championship Series. The rewards for playing pretty well can be great big checks for your university, plus national television exposure for some teams who can usually only be found on your AM radio dial. That and a nice patch on your jersey that says "Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl". Again, for the record, Colorado lost the Petro Sun Independence Bowl to Alabama 24-30, and Cal won Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl defeating Air Force (the team, not the actual armed service) 42-36. That was a couple of days ago. the last bowl game will take place on Monday night, featuring two teams, with three losses between them, for the elusive and speculative National Championship. Will I be watching? I'm not sure I could look away.