Saturday, February 28, 2009

Everything's Archie

A few nights ago, I awoke from a sound sleep plagued by visions of Archie. If you have had similar nightmares, my apologies. If you have no prior knowledge of Archie Andrews and his pals, you have my everlasting envy.
There was a time when Archie comics filled a void in my life. After Superman and his DC Justice League friends and before Spiderman and the folks at the Merry Marching Society of Marvel comics. My entreaty to the world of boy-girl relationships occurred during this phase of my young life. It helped Archie's cause that he had a Saturday morning cartoon show and a hit single to cement their place in my pop culture firmament, but I was always left with a sense of ennui as I watched the gang from Riverdale High negotiate their adolescent courtships.
Much in the same way that I was troubled by Charlie Brown's obsession with that little red-headed girl while Peppermint Patty stood by waiting for the tiniest sign from lovestruck Chuck, I never understood why Archie was so devoted to Veronica. Why couldn't he see that Betty was always the one for him, as she waited for him with patience and devotion. And a little bit of venomous jealousy.
In my mind, it worked out so neatly: Reggie belonged with Veronica, Jughead had his Big Ethel, and Archie was destined to be with Betty. All of the machinations and torment experienced by these proto-teens were useless in the face of the color-coded destiny. Reggie and Veronica had black hair, and in lieu of another orange-haired character, Archie should pair up with a complimentary blond. It really was just that neat in my mind. But instead, there was a monthly scheme to gain Veronica's affections, while the rest of the crew watched in morbid fascination. When will he learn? It may have been that Archie's over-developed frontal lobes didn't allow him to see his obvious course, or was that just his hair-style?
I didn't stick around to see how it turned out. I was soon back to the super-heroes, this time with an emphasis on character rather than feats of derring-do. I settled into a nice comfortable world where Peter Parker pined for his high school sweetheart, Gwen Stacy. His choice was primarily one of great responsibility conflicting with those more primitive urges. And that's when Mary Jane Watson showed up. I began to despair again, until the Amazing editors at Spiderman dropped Gwen from the George Washington Bridge. Problem solved, right?
Maybe somebody should have dropped Veronica from the overpass in Riverdale.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Black And White And Dead All Over

I didn't read a lot of the Rocky Mountain News. It wasn't our local paper. It was news from the big city down the road. My family read the Boulder Daily Camera. Given the fact that one of my father's first jobs was Daily Camera newspaper boy, it probably couldn't have gone any other way. He eventually worked his way up into the pressroom, and began what would become his lifelong love affair with all things printed. Even for a while when we did get two papers, we chose a subscription to the Denver Post. There was just something a little troubling about that tabloid design that left us all feeling just a little nervous.
After all, your standard newspaper is meant to be shared: Your Sports section here, the Comics there, and the Entertainment section for when you've finished everything else. The Rocky Mountain News wasn't made to be shared. It was a chore to read and to handle. I became familiar with the News on my visits to our barber, where there was always a copy sitting on the bench along with a great many magazines about hunting and hairstyles, neither of which captured my interest. I learned to attack the News from the back pages. That was where the comics were. It always seemed to me that there were more comics than our newspaper at home, perhaps just by the layout, and they had Peanuts.
Continuing my backward read of any particular issue of the Rocky Mountain News would land me in the Sports section. As I grew older, I learned to savor these tastes of the grown up world: Sitting in the barber shop, waiting for my turn, reading the Sports section. At twelve years old, it gave me something to talk about in the chair besides school.
It has been years since I have had to think much about the Rocky Mountain News. Only recently did I get talked into buying a year's worth of newspaper delivery for my family here in California. I don't look at it much. Most of my news comes from Al Gore's Internet. That's where I learned that Friday the last edition of the News will be published. Like so many newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, business is drying up. Who wants to lug around a couple of pounds of newsprint just to read the headlines? The Rocky Mountain News is closing up shop just two months shy of its sesquicentennial. Though I never had a subscription, my father's inky blood still runs through my veins, and I feel the loss. Aloha, Rocky Mountain News.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Swamp Logic

Now, when I was a boy, I couldn't wait to get me one of them levitatin' trains. Now this young buck of a governor tells me that this is one of them there liberal elitist ideas that will cost hard-working Americans like you and I to lose our jobs and sell our homes to pay for tourists to ride from Las Vegas to Disneyland. What we've got here is a failure to communicate.
At least that's the way I felt on Tuesday night as I sat, entranced by the youthful visage of Louisiana's Bobby Jindal. Maybe I should have taken a clue from that first name. When I hear somebody calling themselves "Bobby" I expect one of two things: A middle name that is always spoken in the same breath, or that the person in question will be doing three shows nightly in the Stardust Lounge at the local Holiday Inn. I don't know if Governor Jindal is keeping his middle name under wraps (Piyush?) to avoid appearing "too southern," and I've got doubts about his ability to carry a tune outside of a bucket, but I'm guessing that he could sing "Misty" a better than he was able to convey a coherent response to President Obama's address to Congress.
Jindal is one of those southern governors that are turning their very selective noses up at the idea of receiving any of the federal government's stimulus money. Not that his state isn't in desperate need. Less government and more tax cuts is a refrain that has been heard for the past eight years with ever-diminishing response. Wrap that up in a folksy bayou drawl, and you still have stale gumbo.
"Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington," Jindal said. Nice bit of homespun wisdom, coming from a guy who doesn't have any active volcanoes in his state. Folks in Alaska and Washington state aren't as amused. Jindal's suggestion was that we need to grow jobs, not government. Monitoring volcanoes is a job. It takes equipment. Equipment that periodically gets blown up, not unlike the dikes in New Orleans. There was no mention of the funding for further study of hurricane tracking.
No matter. Governor Jindal wasn't available for comment after his speech. He was on his way to Disney World with his family for a much needed vacation. And you can be sure that he didn't take a ride on any fanciful high-speed train, unless you're counting the Monorail.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sometimes A Great Notion

How easy would it be to make jokes about California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's announcement that he has introduced legislation to legalize and tax marijuana in the state of California? About as easy as making a bong out of Coke can. Maybe Michael Phelps can become our spokesman. Cheech and Chong could get jobs in high places. Sales of Doritos will skyrocket. Oh, I'm just getting started.
Truth is, it's not all that ridiculous. California's largest cash crop, estimated at fourteen billion dollars a year, continues to be bought and sold without the government getting its piece of the action. On the contrary, since we spend our tax dollars fighting a losing war on this particular drug. Why not reverse the cash flow and start spraying some of that money we are currently throwing away on enforcement and imprisonment back into our state's bottom line?
Some of the features of Ammiano's proposal: Adults over the age of twenty-one would be allowed to buy pot, and driving under the influence of marijuana would be prohibited. It would be taxed at a rate of fifty dollars per ounce and bring an estimated one billion dollars into state coffers. We could all take comfort in having full coffers for a change. And isn't this the next logical step after California legalized medical marijuana back in 1996? How many people do you know who have one of those cards to help them with their chronic psoriasis?
What is the down side? Smoking dope won't be scary fun anymore. You won't get paranoid until after you light up. We'll have to brace for a whole new wave of advertising in magazines and TV, and worst of all, it probably won't be that cool anymore. Maybe people will stop smoking marijuana altogether.
Hey - wait a minute...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What Will The Market Bear?

I have, on several occasions, used this space to wax rhapsodic about my experiences buying tickets to various concerts at venues from here to there and back again. I have already made a fuss about the relative nobility of standing, and when necessary, sleeping in line for those shows that I considered the most significant and important. The sense of community and camaraderie engendered by lying down with a group of like-minded strangers is, or was, powerful and inspiring. We were all in it together.
I can remember being huddled in my sleeping bag late into the night and hearing the jaded voices of those who ridiculed our efforts: "What are you guys sleeping out for?" Back in those days, we would invariably answer "Zeppelin." It was the group that we figured would get the best response. Every so often, one of the passersby would stop and goggle, "Really?" And we would all chuckle our private line chuckle and go back to the task of trying to stay comfortable and warm.
As recent as my move to California, way back in the Clinton years (Bill, not Hillary), it was of vital importance to me to know where my local ticket outlet was. When I was going to be out town and tickets were going on sale, I phoned ahead to find the closest record store or box office. That was about the time they started selling tickets over the phone. This offended my hunter-gatherer instincts. I wanted to see them print my tickets and hand them to me on the spot. If it was a toll-free number, what would keep morons in other states from calling up and snagging my tickets out from under me? Then Al Gore got into the act.
Al Gore's Internet made it possible for me to sleep in my own bed, wake up at a reasonable hour and wander in to my computer just before ten o'clock and be just a click away from the best seats in the house. Only that has never happened for me. Even when I used to subject myself to the indignities of standing in line for days at a time, I have never managed to score the tickets that are worth all that fuss.
So imagine my chagrin when Ticketmaster made a "voluntary agreement" with the attorney general of New Jersey to stop redirecting customers from their main site to TicketsNow, a subsidiary that resells those same tickets at exponentially inflated prices. I have never purchased a "scalped" ticket, nor would I "scalp" tickets that I bought myself. I have sold them at face value, and accepted anyone's generous offer to buy their unused tickets at face value. This is a code of honor that I have taken on ever since the time I was fourth in line to buy DEVO tickets back in 1982. A guy came by in the early morning hours before the box office opened and offered the first three guys in line a piece of the wad of cash he was carrying to buy their tickets. When he got to me, I was tired, sore, and grumpy enough to tell him where to put his roll of bills. I had earned these seats, after all.
Sure enough, when the window went up, two of the first three guys turned right around and handed their hard-won gems right over to the evil scalper. I got seats in the tenth row, on the side for me and my friends. We went and had a great time. Ticketmaster has agreed to pay three hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the state of New Jersey, without admitting any wrongdoing. For them it's all a part of the business. Maybe if we were all still camping out in front of the arena there would be more outrage. TicketsNow was selling some of those Springsteen tickets for fifty times their face value. I wouldn't pay that much to see Zeppelin.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Drive Me To Drink

Did you know that there are still several states that won't sell alcohol on Sundays? Georgia, Connecticut, Texas, Alabama and Minnesota continue the long-standing tradition of upholding the "blue laws" of some bygone era. These little reminders of prohibition have been in existence for so many years, most people see them as a kind of tradition, rather than moral code.
This was certainly the case for me when I was growing up. The sale of alcohol was prohibited statewide in Colorado on Sundays until July of 2008. That is why I have a very fond memory of driving north, with my older brother, to the badlands of Wyoming to purchase fireworks. Once across the border, we realized that we had arrived on a Sunday, and that our neighbors to the north had the same laissez faire attitude about liquor that they had about pop bottle rockets. Seeing this as an obvious invitation, we stopped by the nearest liquor store and bought a couple of beers because, we reasoned, it was our right.
Welcome to 2009 when all of this well-intentioned legislation may soon disappear. As the recession continues to drag on, the suggestion has been made that an extra day of sales would include an extra day's tax revenue. When blue laws were first introduced back in colonial times, they prohibited shopping of any kind on Sundays. Car sales remain prohibited in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Utah. I suppose if you've ever wanted to get drunk on a Sunday and tried to buy a car, you would have to rethink your plans. Or better yet, head on up to Spradley Motors in Cheyenne, where I'm sure you can discuss your financing over a nice, cold beer.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Advance Your Career Today

Along with a series of very urgent requests for me to become involved in the transferring of funds from various Nigerian bank accounts and pleas from the enigmatic Michael Vincent to take the New Job that he has carefully selected for me, I also found this in my e-mail: "Teachers Needed." It's a simple enough sentiment, and the offer inside seems much more likely to pay off in some way compared to the fund transfers and make-money-with-your-own-website schemes. So what is it doing in my spam folder?
The most obvious answer is that I have already earned my teaching credential. Not only that, I have successfully renewed it and and am currently the holder of a multiple-subject credential from the State of California. This is the most important part of being a "highly qualified" teacher in the eyes of the No Child Left Behind act. That and an ongoing series of professional development opportunities that both broaden and focus my abilities as a teacher. If you ever wondered what teachers do during those "retreats" or "work days," instead of jetting off to Acapulco. They are sitting in libraries, cafeterias, or classrooms developing professionally. It's part of the plan.
Then there's the part about how I received my credential in the first place. My wife had heard of a program that allowed working stiffs such as myself to get their teaching degree as they worked in their own classroom. It was an intern program, and it came with the same nervous insistence that my e-mail asserted: Teachers Needed. I went from running a warehouse to working in an elementary school in four short months. This wasn't student teaching, where a master teacher could slowly hand the reins off to me as I got my bearings. It was just me and the kids, from day one. It's not like I didn't have any support. All the veteran teachers were there to give me tips and point to the curriculum and even make copies from time to time. But when the bell rang and the door closed, it was just me and the kids.
If I had it to do over again, I would find a way to take a full-blown credential program, one that allowed me to practice my skills with the safety net of another experienced teacher in the room. I would have liked to have experience in a few different settings before choosing the school where I wanted to teach. That's not the way it happened for me. Hindsight tells me these things. In reality, I am grateful that I have been able to create a relationship with the community where I teach. This is a place where teachers are needed.
When I started, I was one of ten new teachers in a staff of twenty. As the experienced teachers retired, changed schools, or moved out of teaching altogether, most of us interns stuck it out. It is always satisfying to see the number of faces I recognize from my credentialing classes when I attend those professional development opportunities. We stuck with it. Now I'm the only one left at my school, but I still see those friendly faces from time to time. The ones who got that call, before e-mail.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Acceptance Speech

Suppose they gave an Academy Awards show and nobody came? If an Oscar falls in the forest and nobody is there to see it, does it really fall? What if all this hoopla for the past eighty-one years was all just shameless self-promotion?
There are so many existential quandaries surrounding this year's Oscar celebration. But there is little that could keep this gala occasion from taking place. In eighty years, the ceremony has taken place, and has been delayed only three times during that stretch: In 1938, floods in the Los Angeles area put the show off for a week. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. moved the big night back two days, out of respect, and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan held things up for twenty-four hours until everyone was sure he would be fine. Other than that, the show has gone on. And on. And on.
Wars have been fought and won. Wars have been fought and lost. The crash of the stock market in October 1929 couldn't dampen the spirits of the Hollywood crowd for the next year, though that may have had something to do with the number of awards handed out being reduced from twelve to just seven.
But cost-cutting measures have never been at the heart and soul of this enterprise. Throughout the Great Depression, movies and their stars continued to shine bright and bring hope to dark times. American films continue to be one of our greatest exports. All those limousines, gowns, tuxedos and jewels have become an integral part of our American Life. It is, after all, what we do.
This year is the first in my adult life that I can not claim to have any particular interest in the ceremony because I have not made the effort to see any of the nominated films. I feel a little like Bill Murray, in his old Saturday Night Live bit, predicting the Oscar winners based primarily on whims and rumors: "Best Supporting Actor and Actress? Who cares?" Truth is, I still do. I'll watch all three to twelve hours of coverage, and even make a stab at filling out my own "official" Oscar ballot. Like the Super Bowl, I'm not sure I can claim to have a favorite, but I'll be on the couch. Because that's what we do.

Friday, February 20, 2009

All Things Must Pass

If you spend five or six hours with somebody in a car, you're bound to have one or two decent conversations. As much as I eschew the task of driving, it does allow for a certain amount of philosophical leeway. For example: I have not had many straightforward discussions about death since I was in college. So imagine my chagrin when, in the midst of our little family's sojourn into the snowy mountains of California, my wife asked me if I was afraid of dying.
"Yes," I replied without hesitation. the answer was quick enough, but the explanation took some time to ascertain. Jerry Seinfeld got a big laugh when he joked about a survey that found that the fear of public speaking ranks higher in most people's minds than the fear of death. "In other words, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy." That's not me.
You might guess that the relative ease with which I put myself in front of microphones or onstage that I am without fear. This is not true. The man without fear is Daredevil, and I am no Matt Murdock. My fear of death is at once specific and pervasive. I believe it stems from the simple notion that I don't want to miss anything. I don't want to have to leave this party, even though it can be tedious and we occasionally run out of Coca-Cola. I have a very pointed need to see how things turn out.
Armed with this insight, my wife asked how I felt about growing old. Again, I didn't have to search for an answer: "I love it." I kept hearing John Denver singing in my head, "It turns me on to think of growing old." A hippie sentiment, but one that feels quite natural to me. Every gray hair and wrinkle serves as a reminder that I am still here. Sure, I make "old man" noises now when I have to bend over to pick up a stray Lego before it becomes embedded into my foot, but it seems like a pretty fair price to pay for the chance to hang around for a few more days. Weeks. Years.
When I was twenty, I had the luxury of being much more nihilistic. Live fast, die young and live a good looking corpse. It is only through the haze of many more years that I feel their value. Feeling the void left by those who went before me, I get anxious. Fearful.
That's why it was nice to hear my son call from the back seat: "How much longer til we get there?" Soon, but hopefully not too soon.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Because They Don't Know The Words

The old joke asks, "Why does a hummingbird hum?" After many desperate attempts at arriving at some quality scientific explanation, you are supposed to say the punch line: "Because he doesn't know the words." Today, we can begin the creation of a new joke: "Why did General Motors stop making Hummers?" Perhaps the answer is this: "They couldn't speak Chinese."
A Chinese automaker, the Sichuan Automobile Industry Group, denied Wednesday it was planning to buy General Motors' Hummer-brand sports utility vehicle unit. Bloomberg News reported Monday that Sichuan Auto, a small car firm based in Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan Province, was considering a five hundred million-dollar bid for GM's Hummer line. Or not.
In reality, it seems as though a good portion of the American automobile industry is circling the drain, with little hope of rising from the muck and mire. Even the door-busting deals from this past weekend's Presidents' Day Sale-A-Bration wasn't enough to put a dent in the red ink that continues to flood the ledgers at General Motors. If no one buys the trailing bits of the company, such as Saturn, Saab, and the misunderstood behemoth that is Hummer, these brands could go the way of the Porter, the Tucker, and the DeLorean. Where is Michael Moore on this one? "President-Elect Obama has to say to them, yes, we're going to use this money to save these jobs, but we're not going to build these gas-guzzling, unsafe vehicles any longer. We're going to put the companies into some sort of receivership and we, the government, are going to hold the reigns on these companies. They're to build mass transit. They're to build hybrid cars. They're to build cars that use little or no gasoline."
Sounds like a pretty good idea, unless the R&D guys at Chrysler have completed their work on the flux capacitor.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Are You Feeling Stimulated Yet?

It seems like we should all hear the dull roar of an oncoming train, or a dam bursting with seven hundred and eighty-seven billion dollars rushing toward us. Given the great, sucking vacuum we have created over the past several years, it seems like we should all get a bit of stimulation sooner rather than later.
I'm in the education biz, and I was pleased and happy to hear that the education budget will be double what it was under the regime of our president's pointy-headed predecessor. With those dollars, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan want schools to do better. Over the past eight years, there were plenty of Children Left Behind, in spite of legislation to the contrary. With all this money headed our way, Secretary Duncan sees a chance to put lasting reforms into place. "It's also an opportunity to redefine the federal role in education, something we're thinking a whole lot about. How can we move from being (about) compliance with bureaucracy to really the engine of innovation and change?"
Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about working for innovation and change. But that's not exactly the world I've been living in for some time now, so I have become more than a little skeptical. For example, I know that millions of dollars were spent "modernizing" the school where I work. I don't know exactly what your vision of a "modernized school" is, but I confess I was a little let down by the very twentieth century feeling we were left with as we began to teach our children in the twenty-first. I appreciate all the fresh paint and new tile that went in, and the fact that there are actual architectural details in our very public building. Are teachers using interactive technology to teach their classes? Not unless you count white boards and dry erase markers as interactive technology. Desks that include a pop-up screen and keyboard for every student? Wireless access for students and staff? Not yet, anyway. I'm the tech guy at my school, so maybe my idea of what "modern" looks like is different. I am glad that every one of our classrooms has access to the Internet. I am pleased and happy to be in charge of a working computer lab. Now I wait for the big infusion.
The big bucks only stop here on condition. To get the money, states will have to show they are making good progress in four areas: Boosting teacher effectiveness and getting more good teachers into high-poverty, high-minority schools. Setting up data systems to track how much a student has learned from one year to the next. Improving academic standards and tests. Supporting struggling schools. But wasn't that what we were doing all along? And don't we need money to make those things happen in the first place?
It's not Christmas morning. I didn't wake up today with a great big raise and a truck full of laptops for every student outside our school. It's not going to happen fast, but I have my fingers crossed that it will happen at all. For a few billion more, I could definitely help create an engine of innovation and change. Or at least we can put a coat of paint on the old one.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Snow Job

The best part of the trip, for me, was being seen as a hero in the eyes of my son. It was our annual vacation in the snow, and it began with the news that Interstate Eighty was closed. It looked like it might be over before it even started, but a few breaks in the clouds as well as tenacious snow removal efforts in the higher altitudes made it possible for us to continue on our journey. Continue until we got to Colfax, that is.
We had been heading into the mountains for a few hours, and as we climbed the rain turned to snow, and when my wife suggested that she take over behind the wheel and get a bite to eat, we looked for the next exit. The first fast food we spotted through the persistent snowfall was Subway, where the sidewalks were already covered with white and the parking lot was filling up with slush. While my wife took my son and his friend inside to order our sandwiches, I drove around the corner to top off our gas tank "just in case." By the time we were gassed up and ready to roll again, sandwiches in hand, we looked over and saw a most distressing sight: A California Highway Patrolman pulled his SUV across the on-ramp, lights flashing, and got out long enough to put up a barricade. The highway was closed.
What could we do now? My wife and I, along with two eleven year-olds, were trapped in what was now a legitimate blizzard. We were closer to the cabin we were heading toward than our home, but we didn't have the option of heading in either direction. We sat there, in the parking lot staring down at the "Stop" sign on the barrier, trying to create a plan. We rolled down the window and asked the people sitting in the car next to us if they had any idea what was going on. They were trying to get news from their cell phone and were told that the highway was still open. The people at the gas station were only a tiny bit more help. They suggested that it could be all night, and the local motel was probably already full up. We tuned in the AM frequency that was supposed to update road conditions and listened to the robotic voice drone on about snow removal machinery and following distance, but no mention of highway closure.
Then, just as quickly as he had put up the barricade, the Highway Patrolman picked up his barricade and moved out of the way. We were not the only ones who noticed. Suddenly the adjacent parking lots were alive like the start of Le Mans, with cars streaming toward the on ramp in no particular order, all with the hope of making it up the mountain before the gate came down again. We worked our way into the line, and after a bit of negotiation, my wife had us pointed back into the teeth of the storm.
It wasn't long before the asphalt was covered as neatly as the sidewalks at the Subway shop. This made for more and more treacherous driving conditions, and soon my wife announced that she thought we should stop and put on our chains. I used to do this with regular frequency, when snow and ice were a more regular part of my driving experience, but this was on the side of a highway on which we had already seen one rollover accident, it was getting dark, and the snow was now coming down in great pelting fistfuls. I used some of my best snarling epithets on the tire on my side, while my wife struggled with hers and the boys sat quietly in the back seat. When I had finally wrestled mine into place, I went over and assisted my wife. After I secured her side, we finished off the job with the band that held the chains snug on the outside. When we got back in the car, wet and shivering, that was when my son announced that I was his hero.
I tried to be cool about it, and told him the truth, which was that I couldn't have done it without his mother.
We drove on into the night that was starting to resemble some sort of frigid screensaver. We had to pull over several times to clear the ice and snow that was building up on our windshield in spite of our wipers and defroster working overtime. Each time I got back in, my son and his friend renewed their praise for me. When we finally made it to our exit, we were relieved to find that the cacophonous roar from the chains was dulled by the deeper snow on the road leading to our cabin. We felt even more relief when we pulled, at last, into the driveway. All four of us were still feeling the adrenaline of what had become, over the years, a pretty routine drive. But not this time. This one was special. It was an adventure, and my son sang my praises into the night as we unloaded the car and got ourselves prepared to spend the long weekend in our wintry wonderland. Now the snow didn't look so threatening. It just kept falling.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Did You Remember To Send A Card?

If you were wondering, four presidents of the United States were born in February: George Washington, William Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan. By contrast, six were born in October: Carter, Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Arthur, Hayes, and John Adams. Our current president shares a birthday month with four others: August. I would say that picking February for "Presidents' Day" is statistically myopic.
As a matter of fact, the only month that should be excluded outright would be September. None of our chief executives were born in September. Or maybe that's the reason we should use the ninth month to honor all of the men who have held this high office. Even if Hilary would have won, she was born in October, and John McCain continues to age each August. There must be some statistical or astrological way to explain this anomaly, and I can only hope that someone with much more free time than I have will eventually explain it. But for now, we're stuck with February.
And secretly we all know that it's not about the numbers anyway. It's about favorites. It would be nice to say that overwhelming support of William Henry Harrision's death one month into his administration, or even acknowledgement of the Republican Revolution led by Ronald Reagan created this groundswell of interest in the shortest month of the year. We know that's not the real reason. The two guys who show up on both a coin and a bill, the ones who could not tell lies, the ones who held the nation together when it looked like it might fall apart: George and Abe.
We won't be getting a three day weekend twice in one month, so make the best of it. Buy a mattress. Shop for that new car. Stimulate the economy. It's what the fathers of our country would want you to do.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I Feel Funny

The first time it happened, I didn't flinch: "You know that guy who does the anti-smoking puppet show? He reminded me of you." I can understand that. For two years running, "Plumkin's Choice" had my students rolling in the aisles. I took it as a compliment. Five minutes later, another teacher came into the lunchroom and said, "That guy with the puppet? He reminded me a lot of you." Now I began to feel self-conscious.
What was it, in particular, that I had in common with this purple puppet wrangler? "Oh, I don't know. Just the way you say things."
"My delivery?"
"Yeah, sure." And with that, I could tell that I was making them uncomfortable with the intensity of my response. I'm sure they meant it as a compliment. There was no hidden suggestion that I may have somehow missed my calling. They were in no way intimating that I should get myself a sock and start practicing with hopes of someday hitting the big time.
I have, in my past been compared to other funny people. I rather liked that, for a time, my sister-in-law used to point at the TV anytime Bill Murray was on and say to my niece, "Look, it's your uncle!" Of course, these things don't happen merely by chance.
I have spent years cultivating my comedic persona. I am that person who waits for the low-hanging fruit of bad puns, and double entendre is the only entendre with which I am familiar. I have mimicked the cadence and tones of Steve Martin, Robin Williams, all the members of Monty Python, and even Bill Murray, to name but a few. Sometimes it's easier just to sound funny, and so this has become my solace. And my shame.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Your Song

Sting, master lutist and former lead singer of The Police, likes to tell a story about how people will occasionally gush at him about how much they love his song "Every Breath You Take" and how it meant so much to them that they played it at their wedding. "All I could say to them was, 'Good luck then.'"
Mister Sting's standard arrogance aside, it is a kind of creepy song to play at the union of two healthy and sane individuals: Every single day, Every word you say,Every game you play,Every night you stay,Ill be watching you." Much in the same way that Charlie Brown may have gazed longingly at that little red-headed girl just a little too long, there is a line between love and obsession, sweetness and stalking.
I was introduced to the concept of couples having a song by my high school sweetheart. It was her belief that "our song" was the one that we heard at that moment she and I became we. By that measure, I was fairly certain that "our song" was the news on Q103. As the days turned to months and finally years, we renegotiated several times, trying to find a tune that adequately summed up our feelings for one another, but remained just this side of sappy. I filled dozens of ninety minute cassettes attempting to create just the right tone. Songs by Jimmy Buffett, Led Zeppelin, and Dire Straits all had their rotation, but none of them seemed to stick. Consequently, there is a good deal of music that causes me to reflect on that time, even now.
Lugging around that kind of musical legacy made it a bit of a challenge to find a song for my wife and I. She had a vision of having our first dance at our wedding to Etta James singing, "At Last." In a lovely bit of spontaneity, my older brother hijacked the boom box and played Ren and Stimpy's "Happy Happy, Joy Joy" in its place. He got it exactly right.

Friday, February 13, 2009


I know that as a parent I still have a number of thundering reckonings ahead of me. Not the least of these will be when my son learns how to drive. Given the time and fascination that he lavishes on all things automotive in the years before he becomes "legal," I can only assume that he will be even more auto-inclined in his late teens. For a guy who rarely opens the hood of his own car unless he's giving someone else's battery a jump. I wonder how I will respond.
It's not like I'm automotively illiterate. It's just that my understanding is outstripped by my lack of technical abilities. I can explain the operation of an internal combustion engine more easily than I can change my own oil. This wasn't always the case. When I drove my Vega, I learned to change spark plugs, air filters and check all manner of fluid levels and pressures on a regular basis. This was out of necessity. If I didn't take an active role in the maintenance of my car, it might not have lasted as long as it did. That, coupled with the ridiculous things I forced that car to do, kept me intimately involved with the workings of my main mode of transportation.
The same could be said for the Volkswagen that replaced it. Like many Beetle owners, I jury-rigged my own accelerator cable when the original snapped. If only I had been clever enough to understand that "air cooled engine" didn't mean that you just needed to keep driving when your car starts to overheat. You have to add oil.
I tend to avoid driving these days. My wife has looks over the care and feeding of our family vehicle. My son is profoundly interested in seeing us get the best possible mileage for the best possible performance, as reported in the latest issue of "Road and Track" and "Car and Driver." Over the next few weeks, my son and I will be undertaking a new project: We will be constructing a see-through model of a V-8 engine. I'm looking forward to a unique learning experience. Maybe he can explain the difference between "car and driver" and "road and track."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do

Last week I got an e-mail from the alumni group at my high school. They were pleased and happy to announce the start of their big fundraising push for the new year: paving bricks. The construction of a new gymnasium allowed for a great deal of excavation, leaving a vast new expanse that needs to be filled back in, and you can buy your own personalized paving brick for as low as one hundred and fifty dollars. As tempted as I might have been to immortalize myself as a Boulder High supporter in stone, or something like it, I stopped short. I found out that the bricks would be "ruby red with white lettering." While this makes sense from a brick-making standpoint, it falls short on the school spirit side of things. Short to the point of being on the opposite side of things. Boulder High School's colors are purple and gold. Our most detested and derided crosstown-rival Fairview High's colors are red and white.
While I suppose I could sense some poetic justice or irony in buying something that would be stepped on by countless students, alumni and staff of Boulder High that reminded me of Fairview, why not create the optimum purple and gold environment? One that would surely overwhelm and intimidate all who enter as casual visitors?
Or maybe it's just because I've been an alumni for so many years, and I was only at the school for three. My niece, who only recently made that big jump, alerted me to another round of silliness occurring at our alma mater: A group of current BHS students want to change the name of the school to "Barack Obama High School." It reminded me of "The Wonder Years," in which Kevin Arnold's junior high school is abruptly renamed, in 1968, "Robert F. Kennedy Junior High." It seemed like the right thing to do, at the time. It is a chance to commemorate history, and at some level I feel compelled to salute the youthful idealism of the "Student Worker" club at Boulder High who spearheaded this movement. Then I feel the weight of history pulling me back: Boulder High is Colorado's oldest high school. Three generations of my family have prowled those halls. It is older, by a year, than the state of Colorado itself.
Acknowledging Barack Obama's historic achievement at this point seems a little hasty. Might I suggest we start with a nice paving brick?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Parental Advisory

My son has been reading a lot of Mad magazine lately. My wife and I discovered a "bathroom reader" collection of vintage cartoons and parodies on one of our last Christmas shopping excursions. It was one of those things that we ended up enjoying so much, we decided to give it to ourselves. Now my son is learning the joys of Don Martin's situation-specific sound effects, the "lighter side" of Dave Berg," and just how funny the word "blecch" can be.
This got me thinking: I started reading Mad when I was younger than my son is now. It helped to shape/warp my vision of the world, and taught me the broad strokes of satire. It also taught me that even a magazine created by "the usual gang of idiots" could have standards. Mad was always better than its poor cousin, Cracked.
And I knew that it was a fairly short trip down the news stand from Mad to National Lampoon. This was quite a quick transition, considering I spent a good many years believing with all my heart that "Family Circus" was edgy because they had a dog named "Barfy." Of course during this time I was also a regular reader of the cartoons in "The New Yorker," so my tastes were constantly evolving.
Now my son has taken to reading Matt Groening's "Life In Hell" comics. Much like his father's experience with George Booth and Charles Addams, there are some jokes that fly harmlessly over his head. We have yet to have any embarrassing heart-to-heart discussions about topics neither one of us is comfortable. Much in the same way that we watch "The Simpsons" together. There are things he laughs at, things I laugh at, and things we laugh at together. That gulf is shrinking. Maybe it's time to get him a subscription to "The New Yorker."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Too Much Is Never Enough

Okay, is there anybody else out there who is becoming numb to all this talk about economic stimulus and bailout? I will assume that the lack of hands just means that you are, in fact, so numbed by all this that you have lost the will to even respond with a simple gesture. Or perhaps there are a number of other gestures that you have in mind, but common decency precludes mentioning them here.
The latest number, the one that I assume the powers-that-be would like us to respond to is three trillion. A quick check of my basic math facts tell me that one million times one million is one trillion. A trillion is a million squared. Today the Federal Reserve and the Senate started tossing around the figure of three trillion dollars more in government and private funds to fight against frozen credit markets and rising joblessness. If you're keeping score at home, we don't even have a trillion people on the planet. Not yet, anyway, so the idea that this sum would be somehow more manageable to consider in those terms doesn't quite wash.
The population of the United States is somewhere around three hundred million people. That works out to be about ten thousand dollars for every man, woman and child. Does this make sense? I've gone past the point of trying to make it make sense. The Lotto Machine is broken, and there will no more tickets purchased from this outlet. If it will take leventy-seben gredullion dollars to fix whatever it is that is wrong with our economy, go ahead and do it. I have stopped caring. Don't try to impress me with big numbers anymore. I am no longer worried. I'm just tired.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Yard Duty

Barry came to me with wide eyes. "They're going to beat him up, Mister Caven."
I had just stepped outside, and even though it was only eight fifteen, I could tell it was going to be one of those days. "Who is going to get beat up, Barry?"
Barry was a second grader, and a kid who generally avoids trouble, so I figured that I had better take him seriously. "Over there," he said, pointing to the boys' restroom, "Craig."
I started to follow him, but was cut off by Sharon, a fourth grader. "He hit me with a rock." This sounded important too, but the lack of tears and a proper noun kept me moving toward the boys' room. I motioned for her to follow along. "Who hit you with a rock?"
Now things were starting to come together. At the door to the bathroom, I stopped and told Barry and Sharon, "Wait here."
Fortunately for me, when I walked in, the scene could not have been more clear: Four fourth grade boys had cornered Craig next to the trash can. A couple of them even did me the favor of making it even more cartoon-like by making menacing gestures with their fists. "Hello Kevin. Hello Curtis. Hello Jerry. Hello Edward." They turned around, surprised and embarrassed. A wave of relief crept across Craig's face. "Hello Craig." I turned to the others, "Will you excuse us for a moment? I need talk to Craig." The fourth graders seemed unsure about their next move. "Alone." And with that, they made for the exit, not looking back.
When I was alone with Craig and the green tile, I asked him, "Why'd you throw that rock at Sharon?"
There was a moment's hesitation, then a wave of stammering.
I rephrased, "You really shouldn't throw rocks at Sharon."
This time there was no noise, just a sad nod of the head.
I walked him out the door to where Sharon stood waiting, arms crossed. "You need to apologize to Sharon."
"I'm sorry."
I reminded him that apologies are complete sentences.
"I'm sorry I threw that rock at you."
"Craig, you've just lost your morning recess, understand?" Sharon smiled smugly. Then I asked her, "Why did you send those guys after Craig?"
The smile disappeared, and then it was her turn to stammer.
"I appreciate that you didn't chase him into the boys' room, but you could have come and told me, or any other adult."
"But he was," her voice trailed off.
"Who was it?" I remembered the ones that I had seen, but was curious if the conspiracy went any deeper.
"Curtis, Kevin, Jerry, Edward," this was not shaping up to be the revenge she had hoped for.
"Thank you. Now why don't you two go and get ready to line up. The bell is going to ring in five minutes."
It was easy to find the Gang of Four. They stood in a row on the bridge of the playstructure, almost like they were waiting for me. "Come on down guys." I was relieved that it took them just a few seconds to meander over to the edge of the mat. I went down the line: "Curtis, no morning recess and you owe me a discipline paragraph. Kevin, no morning recess and you owe me a discipline paragraph. Jerry, no morning recess and you owe me a discipline paragraph. Edward, no morning recess and you owe me a discipline paragraph."
Edward started to whine, "I didn't do nothin'."
I looked at the other three, who weren't backing their buddy on this one. I looked back at Edward. "Nothin'?"
He shook his head. He knew the jig was up.
"Bell's gonna ring in a minute or two. Be in line."
Sure enough, the bell rang at eight thirty, and we all went into our classrooms. The boys all did their time on the bench, and I had three of the four paragraphs handed to me before the end of the day. Edward still owes me his. I'll get it tomorrow.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A Mild And Lazy Guy

I have been accused, from time to time, of not seeing the cracks in the facade of my personal semi-major-demigods. I have made excuses for Bruce Springsteen's Super Bowl appearance, or explained away the hundred dollar ticket price to see this hero of the working man at a venue near me. He did apologize for the "Wal-Mart Greatest Hits" snafu. But I'm not ready to tear down that monument just yet.
The same cannot be said of Steve Martin's recent career choices. I say this with love in my heart, as I found some of the biggest laughs in Tina Fey's "Baby Mama" to be the character he played, fitness guru Barry. But with every giggle, snort, and guffaw, came a twinge of resentment for the same guy opening "Pink Panther 2" this same weekend. A sequel of a remake? Just how diluted do you want your comedy before it comes to you?
A friend of mine and I have had a long-standing bit about the Flintstones movie. We try to envision the pitch meeting for this monstrosity, where someone had to sell the idea that making a live-action film of a cartoon that was based on a TV show that was in turn spawned from a series of sketches originally appearing on a variety show. How many laughs are left per million after that journey? What purpose does this serve, beyond the obvious motivation of greed?
I understand that it's called "show business" for a reason, but is it really necessary to tap dance directly on the grave of Peter Sellers and the legacy of Blake Edwards. Are there no more original ideas in Hollywood? Please forgive that last outburst, as I am already familiar with the answer, but I do think it's fair to point out that Steve Martin is a repeat offender: "Father of the Bride" and "Father of the Bride 2." You can add Spencer Tracy and Liz Taylor to the list of offended parties for those two. Then again, Liz showed up in that Flinstones movie, so maybe that one's a wash.
Will I forgive Steve? Yes, but this one left a mark. A big, pink bruise. I just hope when the time comes he has the strength to turn down the role of George Jetson.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Eight Is Enough

When I first heard the story of the octuplets being born to a Southern California woman, I winced. Then I heard that she already had six kids. I winced again. Fourteen kids. She's got enough for first string, second string, and still got enough to come in off the bench. Fourteen. And not spread out over the years. She has a house full of kids all under the age of eight. The more we find out, the less it sounds like a sit-com and more like something from the mind of David Lynch.
Nadya Suleman was interviewed Friday on the Today show. She explained that six embryos were implanted for each of her pregnancies. When asked why so many embryos were implanted, Suleman said: "Those are my children, and that's what was available and I used them. So, I took a risk. It's a gamble. It always is."
What, exactly, is the risk she is referring to? Does she mean that this thirty-three year-old unemployed single mother is taking a chance on being able to properly care, clothe and feed that many children? Does she mean that she wants to set some sort of dubious record? Did somebody bet her that she couldn't hold that many embryos in her womb at once?
"All I wanted was children. I wanted to be a mom. That's all I ever wanted in my life," Suleman said in Friday's interview. Even though there is no law in the United States dictating the number of embryos that can be placed in a mother's womb, doctors say the norm is to implant two or three embryos, at most, in women Suleman's age. Now the California Medical Board is left scratching their collective head, trying to determine just how ethical this particular treatment was. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, it certainly puts an interesting twist on any further discussion about "pro-choice."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Up In Smoke

Nobody asked if he inhaled. Michael Phelps' picture holding a pipe was enough. That he was shown smoking marijuana from that pipe was more than enough. Now, the greatest athlete of our time is considering packing it in for good. The man who would be Superman, or at least Aquaman, appeared to be a completely ordinary twenty-three year old. He no longer lives in that rarefied air of "winner of eight gold medals." He now belongs to the group of twenty-somethings who smoke pot with their friends.
The immediate reaction was correct: Polite contrition for this desperate act. “You know, it happens,” he said. “When stupid things are (done), bad judgment is made and mistakes are made, it happens.” Phelps said the attention the photograph attracted has forced him to consider retiring but he will talk with his family and his coach, Bob Bowman, before making a final decision. Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year is ready to call it a career.
It's not the first time Michael Phelps has been in trouble. After the 2004 Athens Games, he was arrested for drunken driving, pleaded guilty and apologized to his fans. Remarkable physical feats aside, he's still a kid finding his way. The United States Olympic Committee’s code of conduct doesn’t apply to athletes once the games are over. The penalty may be more severe in the real world, with massive endorsement deals with Speedo and Visa that could disappear in a puff of smoke.
So far, his sponsors are standing by him, but what will happen to Michael Phelps if he decides not to swim professionally anymore. Mark Spitz showed up on the Sonny and Cher Show, and did a guest spot on "Emergency," and then he drifted from view. We're a fickle bunch, and now that we have a superhero for a president, Michael Phelps can start counting the days until we anoint the next "greatest athlete."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Warning: Sign Ahead

Barack Obama wants to stimulate the economy by rebuilding our infrastructure. The stimulus package contains billions of dollars to spend on our highways and interstates, but I think it would be great if he would earmark just a few bucks to control the zombies.
In truth, now that Dick "Dick" Cheney has slithered off into the mist, we Americans have little to fear when it comes to the undead. Such is not the case with practical jokers. Pranksters in several different states are re-jiggering electronic road signs, alerting drivers of potential hazards: "DAILY LANE CLOSURES DUE TO ZOMBIES," "RAPTORS AHEAD — CAUTION," and the delightful hybrid "NAZI ZOMBIES! RUN!!!" Even in Illinois, these were not the problems that the signs were meant to point out. Not everyone was amused. "We understood it was a hoax, but at the same time those boards are there for a reason," said Joe Gasaway, an Illinois Department of Transportation supervisory field engineer. "We don't want people being distracted by a funny sign." I assume he means the same way that I was just distracted by his silly last name.
But isn't this kind of thing really a boon to the average commuter? If you drive the thirty miles of gray asphalt every day to and from your job, wouldn't it be nice to have a story to tell about how you narrowly avoided being torn to bits by prehistoric creatures, or maybe fled the scene of the latest George Romero opus? For the average motorists, those blinking signs just mean more bad news of the inconvenient type. What a happy gift it would be to see something clever on the side of the road.
Like mom said, "It's always funny until someone gets hurt," and so far it's still pretty funny.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Maybe There's Kryptonite In The Water Supply

It has been a tough two weeks. Even for a guy who was not supposed to have much of a honeymoon, fourteen days seems like a short time for our new president to get comfortable in that big chair. Nothing is getting fixed fast, and discussion about how to fix things has slowed to a crawl. It's back to business as usual in our nation's capital.
Or is it? President Barack Obama to CBS: "I screwed up."
Obama to CNN: "I think I screwed up, and I take responsibility for it."
Obama to NBC: "Did I screw up in this situation? Absolutely. And I'm willing to take my lumps."
This is our president's response to, by his own admission, mishandling the confirmation of some of his cabinet appointees. Where is the plausible deniability? Where is the obfuscation? Where is the chest thumping rhetoric? After eight years of Bizarro-World President. This feels like a breath of fresh air.
But even too much fresh air can give one pneumonia. We are approaching the thirtieth anniversary of Jimmy Carter's infamous "National Malaise" speech. This was the straightest talk our country may have ever received from its chief executive, and most historians point to that moment as the end of any hope Carter had at a second term: "I began to ask myself the same question that I now know has been troubling many of you. Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy problem?" This was thirty years ago. Many of the problems that were left unsolved back then are the same ones that have only become worse with age: The economy, the environment, the situation in the Middle East.
I appreciate the candor, and I can only hope that our president's straight talk rebuilds the trust that has all but disappeared in the past three decades. That is my hope. Now I'm waiting for the change.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What Do You Get When You Cross A Snail With A Shark?

I had never heard the word "snarky" before I worked in a book warehouse. I would like to say that this is because, being ever-so-literate, I was able to find time to peruse the nonsense poetry of Lewis Carroll. "The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony In Eight Fits)" owes much to his shorter piece, "Jabberwocky" in tone and silliness. But I've never read it. I was introduced to snark by the head of our order department.
For her, snarky was a an adjective used to describe the relative pleasantness of an interaction with a customer. Depending on the level of snark, one could be labelled "really snarky" to "not snarky at all." She preferred the ones who were less snarky, but she was able to deal with large doses of snark over the phone. That's how she got her job: her ablilty to deescalate snark.
Over the years since then, I have received a number of odd looks when I have used this term to describe unpleasant interactions. Imagine my chagrin when David Denby, film critic for The New Yorker, chose to write a book about snark, titled "Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation." It is his assertion that dismissive, superior, jaded discourse is becoming all too prevalent in a world that spawned and its antecedents. "We are in a shaky moment," Denby writes, "a moment of transition, and I think it’s reasonable to ask: What are we doing to ourselves? What kind of journalistic culture do we want? ... What kind of national conversation?"
In the past few months, we have been as fascinated by our new president's washboard abs as we have been with his policies. We have twenty-four hour news networks that feed us the same twenty-four second news bites in endless loops. It's easy to be snarky in this world. The challenge, as I learned way back when, is how we choose to deal with it.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Punxsutawney Phil popped out of his hole on Gobbler's Knob and saw his shadow, letting us know that winter will continue to drag on. Barack Obama stuck his head out of the Oval Office and saw the media, letting us know that the current recession will linger on for several more months. Meanwhile, we who are neither President nor groundhog continue to find ways to divert ourselves from the obvious.
For example: I saw a car parked on the street as I rode my bike home this evening. It had a "For Sale" sign taped in the back window. I did a double-take, because the price was $1,300. Some mental math told me that it was only $420 more than my first car. Both of them were used, and this one had the distinction of being some thirty years newer than the Vega I bought back in 1979. Did I mention the car for sale was a Mercedes Benz?
This is where my reverie began to unfurl. My younger brother bought a Mercedes when he was building his initial empire as a grocery checker back in high school. It was a beautiful thing, with leather interior and real wood on the dash. He even gave it a name: Cecilia. The car I saw would never be mistaken for Cecilia, but it was a four-door Mercedes.
What could possibly be so very wrong with any car that it would cost that much? You wouldn't need to drive it that much. You could live in the back seat to avoid the hassle of refinancing your mortgage, and just move it twice a month on street-sweeping days. Cars for a thousand dollars and gas for two dollars a gallon? How could I afford not to own it?
Then reality clicked back on. We just spent three hundred dollars making our other car work. I get plenty of exercise riding back and forth to school. Fuel for me is somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty cents a gallon. And if I had a car, how would I spend my time wondering when Spring will finally come?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

You've Got To Play To Win

I'll bet you I can tell you the score of this year's Super Bowl before it starts: I don't care. Get it? Okay, maybe that's not exactly how it's supposed to go, but it's all a part of what has become the most vicarious of all possible sporting events. I have friends who would like me to commit to one team or the other, but I remain firm in my convictions that I just want to see a really good game. Currently there is no line to bet on "a really good game" versus one that merely separates the commercials.
When I was a kid, my neighbor down the street saw every event and occurrence as an opportunity to wager. "I'll bet you I can make that shot left-handed." He had, of course, spent the previous six hours perfecting his left-hand technique. "I'll bet you we're gonna have pizza this week." Some of us had yet to realize that the school lunch menu was an item that could be read and memorized up to a week in advance. Who knew?
I lost a lot of milk money to that guy, until I realized that he only bet on things that he could control. The most impressive example of this trait was the casino he built in his parent's garage. Using episodes of "McHale's Navy" as his inspiration, he called it, "Little Vegas." It featured Roulette, Blackjack, and Craps. He had painstakingly rigged all of these games for the house to win. No matter that the odds for all of them are already tipped heavily in that direction, he wanted to be sure. By this time, I had learned my lesson from too many hard looks from my parents. But that didn't keep him from rounding up the other kids in the neighborhood to fleece them. Maybe I should have warned them, but that's why they call it "gambling."
So when you feel compelled to put your money down on a square, or bet the spread or who wins the coin toss, just remember all those ten-year-olds who learned that it's impossible to make eight the hard way with loaded dice. Me? I'm just hoping for a good game. And I've got twenty bucks that says Bruce is going to play "Badlands." And you can take that to the bank.