Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nine Hundred Ninety-Six Left To Go

When you teach elementary school, you always make a big deal about one hundred days. When you're a kid, especially one who isn't even two digits old, a three digit number is very impressive. It's also a way for the grown-ups to note that the school year is more than half over. It's a good place to stop and survey what has been learned.
Barack Obama has lived through a couple of trimesters himself now, and the report cards are starting to trickle in. It's hard for me to see this as anything more than a progress report, since one hundred days amounts to just a fraction of a fraction of his term in office, but in the spirit of assessment, I thought I should deliver my own clear-headed analysis.
Not George W. Bush: He gets very high marks in this area.
Presidential Pet: I would have liked to have seen a rescue dog in the White House, but he gets extra Dad points for delivering on his election night promise to his daughters.
First Lady: This one is kind of a no-brainer. Can you imagine Hilary or Laura hanging with the Jonas Brothers?
Presidential Gifts: I understand we're in a recession and all, but couldn't we have done better than a bunch of DVDs for the Prime Minister of England or an iPod for the Queen? At least it was engraved.
Presidential Humor: Nancy Reagan and seances? Bowling and Special Olympics? Shame, shame shame.
Regular Guy Humor: Still funnier than Leno.
Hoops: It's good to know that if the battle for world domination comes down to a game of one-on-one, he's got a pretty sweet baseline shot.
Music: Big points for bringing the Boss along, but he has yet to issue a presidential order banning Lady Gaga.
War And Peace: Still have too much of one and not enough of the other. Plenty of room to improve.
Extra Credit: Global Economic Crisis, two wars, swine flu epidemic, and Alex Rodriguez is on the DL. How can one man keep all these balls in the air? Oh, did I mention that he's not George W. Bush?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

One Flu Over The Pig Pen

Somewhere in Owl's Dung, Maine, Stephen King is perhaps the only person benefiting from the pending swine flu outbreak. The master of horror and author of "The Stand," a tale of the apocalypse brought on by a particularly nasty flu-like virus is currently preparing yet another "definitive version" of his heftiest volume. This one is a comic book. There are those who might suggest that Mister King has finally found his true calling, but that's a subject for another time. Currently, the best-case scenario is one in which we all get a little creeped out and end up buying more scary science fiction stories. The worst case scenario is just that: worst.
"I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection," said Richard Besser, acting director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Those expectations have already been met in Mexico, where more than one hundred and fifty people have already been killed by the disease. Doctor Besser was referring more specifically to the deaths of United States citizens. Perhaps to lend credence to the good doctor's ghoulish bedside manner, a child in Texas has died. There are currently sixty-eight confirmed cases of swine flu here in our country, and more are lining up outside the nurse's office even as we speak. In New York, there were growing signs that the virus was moving beyond St. Francis Preparatory school. The outbreak came just days after a group of students returned from spring break in Cancun. Hangover? Maybe a case of diarrhea or two, but you wouldn't guess that spring break would be deadly.
Unless, of course, it was being scripted by Stephen King. So far there hasn't been much in the way of a conspiracy theory being attached to all of this, but I were Barack Obama, I would be a little suspicious. After all, wasn't he just at a summit of Latin American countries? And hasn't he been doing surprisingly well in the polls? Has anybody seen Karl Rove recently? Keep popping that Vitamin C, kiddies.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Maybe Too Much Cadmium Yellow?

I knew when I hit the top of the stairs which one belonged to my brother. Last weekend we went out to get what amounted to a little culture. My younger brother was exhibiting his new neon sculpture as part of an open house at our local arts community, The Crucible. From across the vast warehouse filled with various objects d' art, I was able to correctly identify the piece that he created. More to the point, I was able to discern his from a number of other "illuminated gas sculptures." I confirmed it was his by checking out the card taped beneath, with the artist's name and the price. This one was for sale! When I told him about my little triumph, he was as surprised as I was. We had lived through a number of his other "periods."
I was quite fond of the time that he spent "freeing paint." He was a day-glo Jackson Pollock that churned out masterpieces of lines and dots on anything that would hold still long enough to be splattered. He was even kind enough to design a banner and matching T-shirts for my Trivia Bowl team, The Renegade Poodles From Hell. They were distinctive not just in appearance, but also by weight. So much paint was freed to make each shirt, they probably could have stopped a slug from a .45 at close range.
Then there were paintings of neon signs. And playground oddities. And silhouettes created from old baking sheets. I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end. Each time a new piece arrived at my house, it would usher in a new phase of creativity. I was pleased and happy to accept his first functional neon sculpture. Now I could see all that creative fury in three dimensions, and inside it glowed.
Today I can say that my younger brother is a professional artist. People pay him for the shapes that he makes in his head and forms with his hands. Today is my brother's birthday. Whaddya say we all go out and free some paint in tribute?

Monday, April 27, 2009

First Bass

Miss Colson didn't want me taking junior high band. She just couldn't imagine that one summer of private lessons on any instrument, let alone tuba, would be sufficient to prepare me for the relative rigor of seventh grade band. It may have had something to do with the fact that I had foregone the elementary school orchestra experience: the one that was under her direction. It may have been that she was sincerely concerned for my welfare and future happiness. Or not. Whatever the case, my parents decided that I was a good enough risk, after years of private piano lessons, to give the largest member of the brass family a shot.
What prompted me to choose the tuba? Part of my fascination came from watching the sousaphone players in the high school pep band when I went to a football game with my older brother. They seemed to be the most amusing and the most amused. There was something about them, one in particular: he seemed alternatingly ridiculous and charismatic. I found that combination appealing. Then there was the fact that I was a legacy, of sorts. My father had "played" tuba when he was in high school. More to the point, he had carried the marching version, a sousaphone because it was necessary to have at least seven to spell out "BOULDER" on the bells of the instrument high overhead. He didn't remember much, but one of the other guys showed him that if the first and third valve was pressed at the same time you could get a "C." Or an "F." If you blew at the same time. My dad wasn't that committed.
I was. I took weekly lessons on my parents back patio over the summer from the high school's band director. I understood from him and just about anyone who knew that I was an odd case. Tuba was an instrument that most people eventually came to after mastering other instruments. I knew that I would be playing primarily rhythm. I would be the part of the "oompah" section. That didn't keep me from dreaming of lovely bass melodies.
I grew up listening to the second side of my family's copy of the soundtrack to "Hans Christian Andersen." Side one was music from the film and it was fine and all, but I preferred to listen to Danny Kaye tell the tale of Tubby The Tuba. It told the tale of a tuba that dared to carry a tune. Tubby learns a melody from a frog who is as lonely as he is, and then returns to share it with his orchestra. At first, all the other brass, woodwinds and strings laugh and sneer. Then they hear this beautiful little song, and they are all transported.
And so was I. I spent years sitting in the next to last row, just in front of the percussion, on the conductor's left. I played what was on the page and counted hours of rests waiting for my turn. As I continued to take private lessons and practice at home, I learned songs written expressly for the tuba. I remember my older brother loaning me his copy of Maynard Ferguson's "The Big F" because it had a real boss tuba part on "Night Train." I learned Roger Bobo's name and worshiped at his low brass altar. And still I waited for my big moment.
It never came. There were some challenging parts. I was first chair, and so it fell to me when the other part-time tuba players couldn't cut the big bass mustard, I played those arpeggios and runs while the others were content to lay out until the oompah came back. When I graduated from high school, I was done with the tuba. The great brass relic that I had kept in my parents' house for six years was stuffed up into the crawlspace. When a friend of mine was selling off her childhood flute, it occurred to me that there was probably some money to be made on this great circular mass of tubing. I made seventy-five dollars. The guy told me that it was dinged up enough that he doubted that he could get it back into playing shape. He said he imagined it might end up like a few others he had seen over the years: turned into a whimsical lamp. What a conversation piece.
Every now and then I think about the tuba I don't own anymore. It really was my instrument much more than the piano ever was, even though there was a time when I was certain I wanted to be Elton John. Can you imagine "Candle in the Wind" being played on a tuba? I can.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Planting An Idea

Another weekend, another school. This time it was my school, and my son went with me. After we had spent the previous Saturday sweeping and hosing down his middle school, we headed on over to the elementary end of things. There was some tidying up to do, but mostly we focused on getting a hillside landscaped with brand new greenery.
We were met by a big crew, given our standards. There were a number of other teachers, parents and neighbors. And there were plenty of kids. When we signed in, I thought for a moment about explaining to the woman who was watching the lists that we didn't need to sign up for a chance to win baseball tickets. Then I remembered just how important those kinds of things are to my son, and since he had biked all the way over on a Saturday morning, I went ahead and put his name on my ticket as well as another for him. That's when I noticed that he was already busy taking care of himself. Now he had three chances to win the raffle.
But we weren't there for the baseball tickets. We were there to move some mulch around. I am always pleasantly surprised at just how easy it is for my son to connect with grown ups. He found a place on the hill and got straight to work digging and planting. At his age, I would have hung around like most of the other kids and waited for my mom or dad to find me something to do. He was into it. I went off in search of my own work.
We all worked hard for two hours, and by the end of it, there were a number of the younger kids who had done more than their share of hauling and digging and planting and sweeping. They were hovering around the snack table, expectantly. There were a few fifth grade boys, just a year younger than my son who had drifted off to ride their skateboards on the nearly empty playground.
"Hey guys," he called, "there's still work to do." Then, under his breath he whispered to me, "Slackers." I had a moment of supreme chagrin. My "Cool Hand Luke" work ethic had transferred fully to my son. When all ten yards of redwood mulch had been moved from the playground to the hillside, we put up our shovels and our brooms. He didn't get lucky on any of his three shots to win baseball tickets. He didn't care. He did make sure to tell our first grade teacher how lucky he was to score a pair. Then he grabbed a juice box and a Rice Krispie treat. It was break time. When he finished a second marshmellowy snack, it was time for the ride home. It was then that I remembered a morning, now almost twelve years ago, when I had strapped my infant son into our jogging stroller and ran through the streets in search of the place that I would eventually begin my teaching career. I wanted to be sure that I could find it on the day of my interview. A dozen years ago my son went with me to find the place where I got my first classroom position, and I'm still there. This time I didn't have to push him. I didn't need to.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Getting My Hair Done

As I was making my way up the hill the other day, I considered how much easier it is to get a shower in after my run. This is primarily due to the lack of time and effort it takes to deal with the hair on top of my head. No shampoo. No conditioner. No blow drying. Just soap, rinse and towel off. Why did I bother to hang on to my hair for so long?
When I think back to all the grief that my follicles gave me during my years as a self-conscious teen, and all the moments I spent fussing about getting what was left of my hair just right when I was in college, I wonder: Why didn't I shave my head back when I was sixteen and keep it that way? Maybe it was because like most adolescents, I couldn't imagine growing old and losing my hair. Or at least that's what I chose to believe, faced with my father's most pervasive forehead. No matter, it happened just the same, and all the care and product that I exhausted on my scalp just washed down the drain.
I became resigned to my fate about the same time that I was living with one of the all-time great heads of hair. I used to watch my roommate as he combed and sculpted his mane. It was an impressive sight to see. I can also remember finding hair on the bathroom door, blown there by thousands of watts of drying power. It was the periodic cleaning of this blast zone that began my resentment and eventual resignation to cleaning up other people's discarded hair.
These days I live in a world that reminds me regularly of my hairy past. Our bathtub and sink provide me with regular reminders of the thick, full tresses of my wife and son. Then there are the ever-present clumps of fur that could be used to clone an army of dogs to replace the one that sheds her weight each weed. I feel the advantage of my baldness is being undercut somewhat by the hair of others.
No matter. When I think of the money I have saved on styling gel over the past twenty years, I am comforted. Even if my skull gets chilly quicker than some of the other well-coiffed heads, I still know that it's raining before they do.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gentle On My Mind

"If you could read my mind, love
What a tale my thoughts could tell" - Gordon Lightfoot
To be honest, it makes me shiver to think what might become of any of my personal relationships if mind reading became a regular practice. I have a hard enough time sorting my thoughts for proper transmission on any given day, and the potential for something going horribly wrong with one of my idle notions or quirky ideas getting out before they had been properly edited is expressly intimidating. There are plenty of days when I feel that I may have mistakenly married Kreskin's little sister, but this is a condition created from years of carefully observed behavior. No real ESP is required, just a reliance on the creepy habitualness of my day to day existence.
Now we receive word that some very clever people at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a machine that will allow subjects to tweet through the power of their minds. No longer will we be constrained by that pesky keyboard or limited by the bulkiness of our thumbs. With the aid of an electrode-studded helmet and a computer, brainwaves can be translated into physical responses that can send "up to eight characters per minute." At that pace, you could get off a quick "OMG" in less than half a minute.
These science types are happy to point out the way that this technology could be used to open up communication for those suffering from ALS or a spinal cord injury. I remain cautiously optimistic, and look forward to the day when I can send random thoughts such as the ones you have just read out into the blogosphere by just staring at a keyboard. I just hope my brain decoder comes with a spell-check.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Naive Melody

Twelve years ago, I sat in a cramped room with my very pregnant wife and signed papers that would allow us to become homeowners. Eventually. Even after all the machinations of the real estate agents and quiet pleading with the former owners, we were still on the outside looking in as we anxiously awaited the birth of our son.
This is the day: Earth Day. My wife is expressly fond of pointing out that there is no better way to appreciate and commemorate the planet than by owning a chunk of it. Ours came with a front and a back yard. The very notion of having that much real estate in which my progeny could romp and play was thrilling to me back in 1997. The fact that it came at a price that we could afford was even more enticing, and so we sat there in our glassed-in cubicle and signed and initialed and checked and signed some more until our hands became sore and smoke began to rise from our pens. We had been living together for years, married for most of them, but this was the moment that we found our home.
And it was all in that great mound of paper. Did I fully understand the language of the deal that I was making? I want to believe that I did. Was I fluent in the math of mortgages to the extent that I could be certain that I was getting a good one? What a different world it would be if property changed hands via simple cash transactions. That sunny April day in 1997 would have amounted to a handshake and a suitcase full of money.
Then again, without all of the financial mumbo jumbo, I suspect that my son might still be sleeping in the drawer of our dresser, as he did for the first few weeks of his life. Since we bought our house, or at least started buying our house, we have refinanced and rejiggerd our accounts a number of times. Happily, we had good advice and even better luck. We managed to steer clear of the variable traps that were sprung on so many new homeowners. The way I look at it, we've just about got the basement and a good chunk of the floor on which we live paid for. It will be some time still before we take complete ownership of the attic. But I can wait for that.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes

One might expect that a buzzer would sound when a wrong answer is given, but that is not always the case. Take for example the situation young Carrie Prejean found herself in the other night when she was asked, by "openly gay pageant judge and celebrity blogger Perez Hilton" if the rest of the country should follow Vermont's lead and legalize gay marriage. Here's how she responded: "I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other, but in my country, and in my family, I think that I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised." There was no buzzer of air horn to sound the disapproval. though the gasps and boos from the crowd might have been a tip-off. However, it was roundly discussed and agreed that this answer was the difference between being first runner-up and being crowned the New Miss USA. Does the fact that they asked the eventual winner, Miss North Carolina USA Kristen Dalton, who her favorite character on "The Andy Griffith Show" was make any real difference?
So, here's the deal: She is Miss California. California passed Proposition Eight. This changed the state Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples and eliminated same-sex couples' right to marry. By mirroring this particular point of view, whether we agree with it or not, we have to acknowledge that it does in fact represent the current state of affairs in the Golden State. In this regard, there is no young woman perhaps better suited to represent California at the present time. She won't need to worry about being crowned Miss Politically Correct, since she maintains, "For me, it's about being biblically correct."
Praise the Lord and pass the Preparation H!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Go Dog Go

I've chased my share of dogs around the block. Happily, nothing much has ever occurred on these little jaunts. Just the initial taste of freedom for the dog, followed by the tired pursuit of its owner culminating in the eventual and obligatory return home. I confess I was a a bit envious of the neighbors across the street when I was little. Their dog was hyper obedient. By the time I met Mike, he was getting a little long in the tooth, but the kids who lived with him were full of stories about his daring exploits. Mike was a hunting dog, and we were told that he had run up against most of God's creatures and come away the victor. Mike was a lot like Lassie, if Lassie voted Republican.
Sadly, as all dogs do, Mike went to that big kennel in the sky. He was replaced almost immediately by Ringo. Given the very conservative nature of the family across the street, I can only assume they hoped to reference Johnny Ringo, the gunfighter, and not the funny Beatle. In breed and size, Ringo was a pretty good match for Mike, but Ringo was wiry where Mike was sturdy, and where Mike was calm and stoic, Ringo was - well, Ringo was nuts.
Ringo would not stay in the front yard as his predecessor had once done so naturally. They had a relatively difficult time keeping him in the back yard, even with the aid of a seven foot fence. Ringo wanted out, and when he got out, he flew up and down the street in brown and white streaks, ears and tongue flapping in the breeze. Because of his tendency to run through most any obstacle, it was not uncommon to hear the cry from the top of the street: "Look out! Here comes Ringo!" Upon hearing this, small children would run and hide, while the rest of us would look for a piece of rope or a corner to back him into. One little girl was so terrified of Ringo that her regular response was to climb up the trellis on their front porch and hang from the rain gutter until the danger had passed. I confess there was a few times when we announced Ringo's escape just to watch that particular reaction.
Ringo didn't last as long as Mike. His temperament made him less than an ideal hunting companion. I think he understood his lot, and he finally passed away primarily out of embarrassment. But still, every once in a while when the front gate gets left open just a moment too long, I look for that flurry of paws and ears, and tense for the call: "Ringo's loose!"

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Right To Bare Arms

I got the new "Guitar Hero: Metallica" this weekend. That meant a new flurry of songs that I can pretend to play on a plastic Fender, and a closed door to the bedroom where my wife retreated for her own sanity. It also meant that I needed to create a new avatar for the shows I would be virtually performing with the masters of speed metal. My son was disappointed to see that I had faithfully recreated the same character I had from previous versions: bald guy with glasses wearing jeans, sweatshirt, and Converse hi-tops. But it didn't have to be that way.
For just a few moments I considered going with the sleeveless T-shirt look. Then I remembered that I can't really pull off that look. The little patches of hair that adorn my biceps like furry insignias make me just self-conscious enough to keep from showing them off. My shoulders remain a mystery to all but my closest relations.
That wasn't the case for my roommate in college. There was a ritual of sorts that attended the purchase of each new concert souvenir. The sleeves came off as a matter of course. There were plenty of times when he had to take an extra moment or two to find something to cover his arms when the occasion or the cool mountain air demanded it. He even had a sweatshirt in the same manicured condition that became the object of several girls' adoration. Even when they were finished with him, they lusted after that sweatshirt.
And still I remained steadfast in my sleeves. I have drawers full of shirts from this show and that experience, and only one of them has been cropped. One night, in a fit of pique shortly before my thirtieth birthday, I tore the sleeves off my Iggy Pop shirt. What better artist to reflect this kind of fashionista anarchy than the godfather of punk? For a short time, this was my uniform at the local Goth/Industrial club, Ground Zero, where I used to thrash about wildly as I tried to exorcise the demons of my quickly fading youth.
When I moved to California, that shirt made the trip with me. On a stop in Phoenix to visit a friend, we decided to go out dancing, and I chose to break out my "Raw Power" shirt. We weren't allowed into the club, partly because of the expletive between "Raw" and "Power," but also because the dress code wouldn't allow me in without sleeves. I took my punk attitude and slunk off into the night.
I shared some of these reflections with a friend of mine, who was able to reflect on her husband's own collection of sleeve-free wardrobe. I wondered if she had considered making a quilt from all the cast off material he had amassed over the years. She assured me that they had all become useful allies in the fight against dirt and grime in the rag bucket. I admired her support of her husband's aesthetic as it nicely dovetailed with her own enthusiasm to keep her kitchen clean.
Instead of sending those sleeves to some landfill, maybe they could be kept around for occasional use as "sleeve dickies," or maybe sent to some sleeve-deprived-third-world-nation. And finally, it made me remember one of my favorite jokes: Where does the general keep his armies?
Up his sleevies.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What's My Line?

Yesterday I had a Van Morrison song in my head. This was notable for two reasons: It wasn't a Bruce Springsteen song, and it was a song to which I am more than a little vague about the lyrics. I do know the refrain: "What's my line? I'm happy cleaning windows. Take my time. I'll see you when my love grows. Baby don't let it slide. I'm a working man in my prime. Cleaning windows (number a hundred and thirty-six)."
It's that last little bit that has stuck with me over the years. All that other stuff about listening to the blues and love is nice, but the idea that this guy knows how many windows he's cleaned rings true to me. Yesterday I was using a high pressure hose to clean the steps and patios at my son's school. It was a pre-Earth Day event designed to get parents and kids up together to tidy up one little corner of the planet. I was pleased and happy to be using this machine with all of its hoses and two-stroke engine. At home I would be accused of polluting the atmosphere and wasting water. Here I was performing a valuable service.
The noise of the spray combined with that of the pump kept me fairly isolated, and so I had time to meditate on things like the age of the gum that was stuck to the concrete underneath my feet. I soon discovered that this machine was capable of removing ancient Juicy Fruit and Bubble Yum as well as years of accumulated middle school footprints. Number a hundred and thirty-six. And more.
Probably not for the first time, but I did have a distinct moment of clarity in which I realized that I was standing in a spot that my son has and will continue to walk past as part of his everyday routine. On his way to math. On his way back from lunch. This was the path he has taken for the past seven months, and for the next two years.
After a few hours of spraying and moving and spraying and moving, the machine died. It ran out of gas. That's when I looked around me and realized just how much concrete I hadn't hosed off yet. Number one hundred and thirty-seven.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Defence Against The Dark Arts

We are approaching an ugly milestone: On Monday it will have been ten years since the massacre at Columbine High School. It will be ten years since I played Doom on my computer. And my son will be nearly old enough to comprehend some of this.
The topic of bullies and how to deal with them has come up a number of times at our dinner table. My son has had a few run-ins with bigger kids, which means just about anyone else his age or older. He's become pretty well adjusted to being called "midget," and has become confident enough in his mental strength to rise above most of the day to day tumult that is middle school. Still, learning to deal with kids who didn't attend Peter Pan Nursery School and learned to "use their words" can be a challenge. That was the lesson my son was learning about the time that Dylan and Eric were shooting up their high school.
Now I live in a city where two kids, eight and ten, were arrested for trying to rob a convenience store with a BB gun. They wanted Push-Pops and the cash in the register. The night clerk was able to keep them occupied long enough for the police to arrive. I teach at a school where a fifth grade girl brought a hunting knife to school because "some girl was following her home." When her father came to pick her up, he said he had wondered where that knife had gotten to, after it had been missing for a week. My son is almost twelve. We wondered if now would be the time to talk with our son about what happened in Colorado in 1999.
Sometimes, as parents, we wonder if our son is playing too many video games. We fret over the kind of TV and movies he watches. We screen the songs that he puts on his iPod. We talk with him each evening about what happened at school that day. We know that he is growing up.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In My Life

I have long maintained that the same thing holds true for both funerals and weddings: The party isn't really for the ones in the box. The silver lining, such as it was, to the abrupt and unexpected passing of my father was the opportunity that it gave us to plan his memorial service. It opened with a guy playing "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes. It was one of dad's favorites, but the bagpipes were more for his sons who thought a little "Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan" in-joke would be amusing for anyone who noticed us giggling in the front pew. On the way out, we blasted "Stars And Stripes Forever." We played it partly because it always made my dad cry, and partly because it made most of those in attendance leave scratching their heads.
Still, none of this is as odd as AC/DC's "Highway To Hell" or Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust." These were named among some of the most popular funeral songs in a recent British poll. Frank Sinatra's "My Way" was voted most popular. Quite a nice bit of irony from the staid and reserved folks across the pond. Even Meat Loaf got a few votes for "Bat Out Of Hell." I'm guessing that must have been quite the wake.
All of this got me thinking about my own curtain call. About the time my son was born, my wife insisted that we create some sort of documentation in the eventuality of our demise. This may have been a reaction to the haphazard way my father left his affairs, or just a layer of proactive planning that gave us all peace of mind. I didn't spend much time on the fiscal end of things, preferring instead to plan for the way I wanted people to see, think, hear and feel at my memorial. I had thought about opening with Elton John's "Funeral For A Friend," in part because it is so obvious, but also because it was the theme to my first film, "Drac Comes Back." Other than the soundtrack to my sixth grade attempts at cinema, I was flummoxed by the sheer number of songs that I felt that I needed to sum up my existence. "Cadillac Ranch," and "Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request" were near the top of the list, but that list kept shifting and changing. And even now, when I think about the songs that I would add from the past ten years, I wonder if any of the effort that I have put in will matter when all is said and done. The truth is, I trust my son to do exactly the right thing when that time comes, and in the meantime I hope I get a lot more time to revise that playlist.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Am The Walrus

In fourth grade, I was accused by a girl, Janet, of ruining our class picture. She was referring to the dour expression I had on my face amidst the sea of fresh nine and ten-year-old smiles. For years, all the way through high school, Janet referred to me as "The Walrus." As for creating a pleasant reflection of her fourth grade experience, I can certainly understand why she was upset. But if photographs are documents of a specific place and time, then she got exactly what she paid for.
I have never been much for "saying cheese" when a camera is pointed at me. There are plenty of family snapshots and not just a few Christmas cards that bear witness to this phenomenon. One might imagine, with only these pictures for evidence, that I had a miserable childhood. That would not be accurate. The most miserable times in my young life were, apparently, those moments when the leering camera eye caught me in some highly posed and less-than-spontaneous moment. I never fully understood the need to stop having fun so that the fun could be documented.
Fast forward a few decades to a psychological study in which researchers looked at people's college yearbook photos, and rated their smile intensity from one to ten. None of the people who fell within the top ten percent of smile strength had divorced, while within the bottom ten percent of smilers, almost one in four had had a marriage that ended, the researchers say. It comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen any of the photos from my adolescence that high school didn't bring about a radical change in my public smile quotient. In a second trial, the research team asked people to provide photos from their childhood. The average age in the pictures was ten years old. The researchers scored each person's smile, and found that only eleven percent of the biggest smilers had been divorced, while thirty-one percent of the frowners had experienced a broken marriage.
And so, the cynical and skeptical me wonders how grinning like an idiot in the presence of flashbulbs predicts marital tranquility. What about the old aphorism about how it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile? Doesn't that make me a and my fellow frowners hard workers? Lazy people smile.
Or maybe it's like the connection between baby names and socio-economic stratification. You can make a connection if you choose to, but it may not be causal. I like to think that I'm saving up all my smiles for my wife and kid. And to Janet, all I can say with a twinkle in my eye, is "Goo Goo Ga Joob."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Pirate Looks At Forty To Life

"Cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder." Try telling that to Richard Phillips. And the sixty hostages that Somalian pirates have taken since the Navy Seals' daring rescue over the weekend. To the contrary: It's business as usual in the Gulf of Aden. The pirates say they are fighting illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters but have come to operate hundreds of miles from home. Meanwhile, U.S. officials are considering whether to bring the fourth pirate involved in the Alabama attack to the United States or turn him over to Kenya for prosecution, and President Obama promised that Washington was newly committed to halting "the rise of piracy," though he didn't say how.
Maritime experts say that there is very little we can do to stem the tide of pirate attacks. This is because the Somalian pirates are simply a reflection of the status quo in that country. Ruled by heavily armed rival clans, choked by famine, Somalia is like one big drive-by shooting. When we tried to settle things down long enough to get people fed back in 1992, we lost two helicopters and eighteen soldiers. Those events inspired a book and a movie, but little hope.
Seventeen years later, things aren't any better, and maybe a little worse. The addition of terrorists such as al-Qaida make an already volatile situation even more toxic. Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, managing director of Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service in Britain describes the challenge: "You have to be able to tell the difference between good guys and bad guys, and they all look very similar." The whole thing would be so much easier to deal with if they wore eye patches, or had hooks for hands. Or looked like Johnny Depp.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Bird And The Bees

It's been a while since I felt the need to do a celebrity obituary, and since baseball season has just begun, why not a double header?
Speaking of our national pastime, Mark Fidrych was one of the first baseball players I every really connected with. I was familiar with big names like Willie Mays and Johnny Bench, but their stars were far too lofty for me to relate to. Instead, I was drawn to this odd kid, nicknamed "The Bird," when he showed up on the Detroit Tigers in 1976. Mark was as talented as he was eccentric. During games, he would bend down and groom the mound with his hands, or talk to the baseball. All this odd behavior didn't keep him from winning Rookie of the Year, but injuries kept his career short. By 1980, he had pitched his last game in the majors, though he made a short comeback in the minors in 1982 and 1983. He was the first athlete to be featured on the cover of "Rolling Stone." That's how cool "The Bird" was.
Marilyn Chambers was never on the cover of "Rolling Stone," but she did appear along with the legend "99 & 44/100% pure" on Ivory Snow boxes in the early seventies. Marilyn was an "adult film actress," and she has the distinction of starring in the only adult feature that I ever watched all the way through. It was at my roommate's insistence that I watch "Up 'n' Coming," kind of a "Star Is Born" meets "Deep Throat." It was supposed to be her big break into "legitimate" acting. She did all her own singing. And other stuff. Marilyn did have another appearance in more mainstream cinema: David Cronenberg's "Rabid." In this one, she stars as a woman who acquires a thirst for blood, turning her victims into slavering wastes of deranged flesh. Come to think of it now, maybe that wasn't such a stretch after all.
Mark and Marilyn were both in their mid-fifties when they got the call. They both burned bright, back in the seventies, and now they're gone. This whole thing makes getting to second base get all jumbled up in my mind. Ah, memories.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring Broke

Last night, as I was unloading the dishwasher after our Easter feast of Welsh Rarebit and carrot soup, I sighed heavily. My wife, standing across the kitchen from me, asked why I was heaving around so many big breaths. It was Sunday night, and I knew that when morning came vacation would be over.
On any given weekend, I tend to tense up a little before the new week starts. I greet each Monday with a good deal of apprehension, in spite of the fact that I have lived through so very many of them. I can trace my earliest bouts of insomnia back to elementary school, when I used to lay awake catastrophizing the upcoming week. In spite of my best efforts, a certain amount of this anxiety has trickled down to my son, who now carries on that tradition, announcing after dinner yesterday that he was "dreading" going back to school.
We talked about it for a while, and we both agreed that it was important to get back on the metaphorical horse, even though the notion of an endless vacation held its own obvious appeal. Our problem, we decided, was that after a week of Spring Break we had finally achieved a comfort level with being away from our work. The question was no longer how we would fill those empty hours, but why we would want to. Sloth had made its presence felt in our lives and we liked it.
But we knew that it was too good to last. The thing that makes vacation such a treat is that it doesn't happen every day. After years of being a teacher, I still wonder how I used to manage with just two weeks a year along with the sundry state or federal holiday. I have adopted the rhythm of the school year, and when Easter slips back on the calendar, I feel that extra week. Then I start looking over the rise to Memorial Day.
Until then, I will be recalibrating for this next stretch, keeping in mind the words of David Addison: "Vacation never ends, it just changes location."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Thing With Feathers

There was talk this week about "glimmers of hope" and how "the economy has finally bottomed out." This was the good news. The silver lining to the clouds that seem to have been surrounding us for so long. Tornadoes making their traditional springtime path through the Midwest, accompanied this year by wildfires. Pirates terrorizing the open seas and spies wreaking havoc with our power grid. A twenty-two year old pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels was killed by a drunk driver just hours after his father had watched him throw six innings of scoreless baseball. A Sunday school teacher was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of an eight-year-old girl. If there was a way to turn up the glimmers or start down that road to recovery, now would be an excellent time.
Now is the time for us all to come together as a planet for a global version of "The Pollyanna Game." For example, the increase in military spending being asked for in this years budget is requested for things that keep soldiers alive and taking care of them after they stop being soldiers. That's happy news. No matter how you feel about gay marriage, you can rejoice in the effect it will have on our economy: more people getting married means more parties. More parties mean more catering jobs. More catering jobs means more leftovers. People are getting fed. Nobody is going to work that hard on a hydrogen fuel cell car until we're choking on the fumes of the oil that is running out and far too expensive anyway.
This is the time of year that we traditionally look for renewal and change. Learning from our past experience and mistakes make it possible for us to move ahead. If the recent flurry of murder and senseless violence causes the rest of us to pull together and value all of our relationships just a little more, then all is not lost. If every failure can be seen as a chance to get a fresh start, then being laid off is a gift from the economic vortex.
Or, as the great philosopher Opus the penguin once asked, is that a lot of hooey?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Economy Of Space

When the clock chimed seven o’clock, my wife rolled over and said in a voice thick with sleep, “I’ve already done this thing four times in my dreams.” The bad news, I told her, was that we had to do one more time for real in just two hours. We tumbled out of bed and made our way outside to prepare for our much-anticipated and often put-off yard sale.
About the time we rallied enough to get ourselves some juice, our son was ready to join us and we two boys went out into the neighborhood to post signs and walk the dog: promotion and evacuation in one motion.
By the time we made it back home, there was already a customer in the yard. The guy from the corner dropped by to pick up a few stray items for six dollars. It wasn’t even nine o’clock and we were already making a profit.
After an hour and a half of pacing around in the wake of the various friends and strangers who came through our gate, we had collected a few more dollars and raised a few eyebrows with what we thought were reasonable prices. Mostly we were looking for help carrying our stuff off our property, and if people were willing to pay for that honor, we were happy to oblige. I moved the laptop inside after a bird registered its opinion of our display on my lap. The computer was not for sale or target practice.
At noon we were doing as much weeding of the lawn as we were selling anything, and so I took the dog out for a walk around the block. She appreciated the opportunity to stretch her legs, as she had been stuck inside watching other kids and dogs in her territory. We also agreed to send a great portion of our hard-won cash up to Subway for our working lunch. We hoped that the next two hours would bring the windfall sale of our big ticket items.
At two o’clock, we started packing in the signs and began to reconsolidate the piles of merchandise that had begun the day so carefully sorted and categorized. We sold off our last few items to a pair of little girls and their mother who was very pleased to receive our going-out-of-business special. It took us another hour and a half to haul the remnants of our stuff back to the garage and into the basement. We won’t be heading to Cabo anytime soon on the money we made, but we are richer, and lighter, for the experience. My son, meanwhile, has already planned his trip to Target to buy new toys to replace the ones he sold. Supply and demand.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Random Acts Of Roast Beef

As fond as I am of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Entropy, I had never thought to apply it to my experience in the fast food business. Entropy is the measure of disorder in a system, and the Second Law tells us that things become less ordered over time. That reminds me of Arby's.
When I was first hired, a "fresh Tuna" as we were called, I was able to learn the menu in a matter of minutes. Part of my mastery came from my time spent on the other side of the counter, but even if I had arrived as a blank slate, I would have mastered it within the hour. It was simple by design. There were seven sandwiches:Regular, Super, and Junior Roast Beef, Beef 'n' Cheddar, the Turkey and Hamchy, as well as the Ham and Turkey Club. On the side, you could get an order of Potato Cakes, and for dessert there were Apple or Cherry Turnovers. Remembering our soft drink varieties and shake flavors was the only mild challenge. We were a Pepsi franchise with lemonade and orange drink as our non-carbonated alternatives. Jamocha and Black Cow were the exotic shakes in addition to the vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. These held significant enough intrigue that people would cross the Taco Bell parking lot to add a Black Cow to their tostada.
If you could remember to put three ounces of beef on the correct bun, or one and a half on a Junior, you could fly around behind the slicer and appear competent. Every so often you got a special order that asked for tomatoes to be added or subtracted, or cheddar cheese sauce substituted for the slice of Swiss that was microwaved on top of the Hamchy. But if you remembered to fold the wrapper back with that special stripe, even those orders wouldn't upset us. And this was the way it stayed for some time, until the geniuses in marketing came up with the notion of adding sub sandwiches to the menu. Immediately we increased our choices exponentially for the consumer. Good for them? Perhaps, but it played havoc with the speed and order of sandwich making. "Can I get cheddar cheese on my French Dip?" "Could you heat up the Italian sub?" Both at the counter and behind the slicer the expectations of our service, two to three customers in two to three minutes, never changed even though we had cranked up the sandwich entropy. Our "America's Roast Beef, Yes Sir!" buttons became relics of a bygone age.
Meanwhile, across town at our sister store, they had installed fryers. And a salad bar. We satisfied ourselves with the notion that we were still the essential meat and potato operation. Then one day the owners, Mike and Cowboy, appeared in the back room with two small Black and Decker deep fryers. Blessedly, they weren't big enough to make french fries, and we were told to continue to bake our Potato Cakes, but we were told that this was how we were going to be able to add the new Chicken Sandwich to our now overloaded menu.
To make matters worse, the Chicken Sandwich even came on a new bun: a poppy-seed roll. No matter how we swept and cleaned there were always tiny seeds in every crack and on every surface. The frozen chicken breasts were fried in the back room, and so the slicer operator had to trek back there to drop them in and fish them out with the same grace and ease that he or she had previously moved from refrigerator to bun toaster to sandwich board to warming table.
It would make a better story to say that I left Arby's because I had become so confounded by the relative complexity of their menu. I think it had more to do with coming home from a vacation and finding that the new district manager had removed all my cartoons from the bulletin board over the time clock, That and the fact that I had, after rising to the lofty status of Assistant Manager, reached the high end of my career track at Arby's. Unless I was willing to become a whole lot more invested in menu alternatives. I moved on to a job unloading trucks for Target. How that process involved bringing order to chaos will have to wait for another day. Right now I'm hungry for a Regular roast beef sandwich, with just a squirt of Super Sauce, for entropy's sake.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


Last night I was squinting from my bed at the TV. I had to ask my wife, who still had her glasses on, to tell me the score of the baseball game. "Three to six," she replied with the confidence of someone with assisted vision. This is a group of people that includes my immediate family. Wife and son both wear glasses. My brothers have both become optically enhanced over the past year or so. My niece wears her glasses when she has to. Ironically, my mother recently had a magic procedure preformed on her eyes to alleviate the need for spectacles, aside from the occasional up close and in tight reading experience.
It's nice to have the company, frankly. I can remember when I was barely old enough to start school and I was diagnosed with a "lazy eye." Part of this discovery came simply enough from the way I watched television from a foot away. I can remember being held down across the kitchen chairs to get the eye drops in that were supposed to help get my eyes to work together. My older brother and his friends were happy to have me bring home eye patches so they could play pirates. As a result of the popularity of the black patch with elastic, there was a switch to the flesh-colored adhesive type. This had the dual effect of cutting down on the number of pirates at our house and giving me the appearance, from a distance, of being a cyclops.
The patches and eye drops didn't cure me, and I was fitted for my first pair of glasses when I was five. I have been putting glasses on my face as part of my morning ritual for so long that I cannot imagine how to proceed without them. Unlike a lot of people I know, I don't ever lose my glasses. I know right where they are. If I'm awake, they're on my face. When I'm asleep, or swimming, I know right where they are.
And now my brothers' eyes are catching up to mine. Maybe someday there will be a surgical option that will get these glasses off my face once and for all, but I don't know how I could let that happen. I have looked at the world through four eyes for about as long as I can remember. I'm not sure if I'm ready to cut that in half.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Last One Out, Turn Out The Lights

In the middle of the great big noisy mess that was "Live Free Or Die Hard" was a cyber-terrorist who hoped to bring the United States to its knees by shutting down the country's infrastructure. That was two years ago. Now we get the news that, in fact, our power grid is vulnerable to potentially disabling computer attacks. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters this little tidbit, while declining to comment on reports that an intrusion had taken place.
The hacking in question was most likely the work of Chinese cyberspies, at least that's what the Wall Street Journal would like us to know. The Chinese, the Russians, and a few other smaller countries. And it's not just the power grid. How about the sewer system too?
So far, the bad guys haven't done any damage. They're just leaving behind software that can be switched on in the event of international crisis or war. So what are they waiting for?
Maybe it's because we've got just as many worms and bugs in the networks of companies and countries all over the world. The notion that the United States would be quietly minding their own cyber-business while other nations' geeks are hunting and pecking their way into our backyards seems a little ridiculous. No circuits are waterboarded, after all.
Frankly, I blame that Mac guy.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tour Update

In my mind, I have this vision of Barack Obama, our commander-in-chief, knocking on the door , and after being allowed into the cockpit he leans over the back of the captain's seat and says, "Whaddya say we drop in on the guys over in Iraq?"
"Are you sure, sir? Are they expecting you?"
"No, but wouldn't it be a gas just to drop this bucket right down into Baghdad, unannounced?"
"Well, sure it would, but what about security?"
"Are you kidding? We're landing in one of the most secure spots on the globe. I'll be surrounded by a hundred and forty thousand heavily armed Americans. What could go wrong?"
"All right sir, if you say so." And with that, Air Force One makes a big, banking turn south and heads on into Iraq.
Of course, that kind of crazy, spur-of-the-moment kind of thing only happens when Harrison Ford is on board, but it was still nice to hear what President Obama had to say when he got to Baghdad. "It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis," he said as an estimated six hundred troops cheered. "They need to take responsibility for their country."
"I love you," someone in the crowd shouted out. "I love you back," the President replied. Nobody threw any shoes. As long as he's got the plane out of the hangar, maybe he and the wife will pop on over to Tulsa to check out tonight's Bruce Springsteen show.

Monday, April 06, 2009


"As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act," Obama told a crowd of more than twenty thousand in Prague's historic Hradcany Square. "We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it." The endeavor of which he spoke is the reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons from the planet. The president also called for strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, meant to allow access to nuclear power for nonmilitary use and to secure nuclear weapons and ingredients from terrorists.
That's where things become increasingly ironic: We've already had our turn. Twice. We just don't want anybody else to join this very exclusive club.
Meanwhile back home, the gunman who shot three policemen in Pittsburgh had recently been upset about losing his job and feared the Obama administration was poised to ban guns. First of all, nothing tells a prospective employer that you're ready to jump back into the job market more than a shooting rampage, and second what makes him think that he will be able to keep his guns if he uses them to shoot cops?
Rational thought is at a premium right now. Here's one: The shooting in Pittsburgh occurred just two weeks after four police officers were fatally shot in Oakland, California, in the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since September 11, 2001. That was when terrorists used airplanes to blow up World Trade Center towers. They didn't use guns. Or nuclear weapons.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Hearts And Minds

There is an old joke about a guy who comes home to find his best friend in bed with his wife. Furious, he rushes to the closet and pulls out a gun. He points it at his head and turns to face the adulterous pair. "What are you laughing at?" he cries, "You two are next!" Timing is everything. That's why I'm not laughing much these days.
The flurry of recent murder-suicides is cause for great sadness. I can certainly understand that the pressures of the world we find ourselves in these days could cause someone to decide to leave it, but that is a choice for one person to make. Whether it is a father in Graham, Washington or Santa Clara, California, or a recently laid-off IBM employee in Binghamton, New York, the grief is exponentially compounded by the senseless carnage before their eventual desperate act. Perhaps, in some piece of twisted logic, these killers are trying to eliminate the suffering and grief that the survivors of a suicide might feel. Or maybe it's profoundly sicker than we can imagine. The words of a bygone era's movie gangsters, "You'll never take me alive!" come to mind. That's fine. That's not the point. Leaving the rest of the innocent victims alive is the issue.
A friend of mine suggested that since we are no longer fighting "The War On Terror" abroad, why not focus some of those efforts here at home? Let the "Overseas Contingency Operation" continue to track down the suicide bombers in other countries. Now let's see what kind of humanitarian efforts we can expend here: mental health screening, job counselling, parenting classes, programs that fill the cracks these people fall through. The inevitable response for the neighbors of these crimes is to say, "We never expected something like this to happen here." That's why it's called "terror."

Saturday, April 04, 2009

View From The Top

After I spent some quality time with workingman's hero, Mister Bruce Springsteen, a friend of mine asked how it was that the Boss could still get away with painting himself as anything but a millionaire rock star. My initial reaction was to say that you don't have to be an axe murderer to write about axe murderers. This, in turn, raised another question: Who is writing the songs about millionaire rock stars?
Bruce came close when he wrote "57 Channels (And Nothin's On), starting with: "I bought a bourgeois house in the Hollywood hills, With a truckload of hundred thousand dollar bills." Home entertainment doesn't save the narrator's relationship, and "So I bought a .44 magnum it was solid steel cast, And in the blessed name of Elvis well I just let it blast." He gets arrested for disturbing the peace, and in the end is knocked off his pedestal, down here with the rest of us.
The same can't be said of Randy Newman, who may have the best take on this particular vision of life in these United States. On "It's Money That I Love," he sings "They say that money Can't buy love in this world, But it'll get you a half-pound of cocaine, And a sixteen-year old girl, And a great big long limousine. On a hot September night, Now that may not be love, But it is all right." A few years later, he even invoked the Boss in his ode to the good life, "My Life Is Good" in which he describes a meeting with a certain young man at a Beverly Hills hotel: "I'll tell you what he said to me. He said, 'Rand, I'm tired. How would you like to be the Boss for awhile?'" His life, he reminds us, is good.
What makes a good life? Money. Pink Floyd wrote about it, somewhat definitively, as did Barrett Strong who believed, "Money don't get everything it's true, What it don't get I can't use. The Brains told us that "Money Changes Everything," so when Dire Straits sang about "Money For Nothing," we weren't surprised. Rock stars weren't working. The got their chicks for free. Joe Walsh had clued us in with the Eagles about "Life In The Fast Lane" before he confessed that "Life's Been Good" for him, so far.
So, maybe signing about the good life, even tongue in cheek isn't so rare after all. Even Cole Porter knew about the good life in songs like "Did You Evah?" So good in fact that Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry sang their own version decades later. And maybe that's what Iggy meant when he sang about a "Lust For Life."
All of that may be true for millionaire rock stars, but I'll have to agree with the Beatles: "Money can't buy me love." Unless it's by the hour.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Through The Eyes Of A Child

It was about halfway through the opening song when I got a tap on my elbow: "Dad, you're the only one singing - except Bruce." This wasn't entirely true. I was fairly certain that I could hear the majority of the rest of the crowd howling out their own private versions of "Badlands," but my perception was no doubt clouded by my enthusiasm.
My son was, in his own quiet and reserved way, just as excited to be there on the opening night of the "Working On A Dream" tour. He was bringing his eleven-year-old sensibility to the proceedings complete with the feeling of mortification at seeing his father singing along at the top of his lungs with one of his favorite Springsteen songs. To be fair, the show didn't start until right around his regular bedtime, so rather than having a quiet hour to read under the covers, he was treated to two hours and forty minutes of thunderous rock and roll.
Many good sport points were awarded to my son and wife, though my wife has long since passed the "casual fan" status. She swooned mightily as the Boss came up on the catwalk behind the stage to give all of us in the back a little attention: "We made eye contact!" she beamed. By this time, my son had started a little air guitar and even sang along on a few of the obvious "sing-along opportunities."
"When is he going to play 'Born To Run?'" This was a tired boy. I had no way to explain to him that each song that was stuck between the first song and the last was a bonus, and the fact that we heard "Seeds" live for the first time since 1996 was a milestone of sorts. By the time we were treated to "Thunder Road," my son was getting a little blurry around the edges. When the lights finally came up, I could sense his relief. He made it through, and left the arena with a bunch of songs in his head. He sacked out for a part of the ride home, but like his parents, the excitement of the night kept bringing him back to our conversation.
The conversation about the show we saw, and the show we hoped to see the next time.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Short Stop At The Concession Stand

Baseball season is here again, and a lot of people think this is the year that the West Michigan Whitecaps go all the way. At least that's what their promotions department would very much like us to believe. On May 8, for example, the first 1,000 fans can pick up your Sandy Pines RV Resort Magglio Ordonez Bobblehead. On June 6, legendary rockers Kansas will be performing at the ballpark, and parking will be just five dollars!
But I think the real reason people will be flocking to the Whitecaps' home field this year will be the Fifth Third Burger. Named for the ballpark, it is just about the same size as the right field bleachers. Sold exclusively at the stadium, it is five thirds (1.67) pounds of meat, smothered with chili, salsa, sour cream and cheese, topped with Fritos, lettuce, and tomato, all on a huge eight-inch sesame seed bun. And how much will a little treat like that cost you? Twenty bucks, but if you can choke the whole thing down over the course of a regulation game, you get a free T-shirt. You can get the shirt for sixteen dollars. You do the math.
None of this covers your medical expenses, and to that end, Susan Levin of the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sent a letter to the Grand Rapids minor-league team on Tuesday. She's asking that the four thousand eight hundred-calorie burger be labeled a "dietary disaster" that increases the risk of cancer and heart disease. Five beef patties. Five slices of cheese. Nearly a cup of chili. And Fritos.
No such warning was suggested for the barbecued pork chop, or the Deep Fried Caramel Apples. Or listening to "Dust In The Wind."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Man In Charge

I had no way of knowing, twenty-eight years ago, that the set list for the first Bruce Springsteen show I saw would be the one I would hope to hear again each time I went to see him. That was back on "The River" tour, and the options for songs to be played were limited by the length of his career. Nowadays, when I'm sitting there in my seat, hoping to get a blast from the past, that past is just a little longer than it was way back then.
I remember sitting out at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in the warm August sun. We had spread a blanket out to mark our territory, as seating was still general admission back in those days. The crowd was still sparse as I looked up to see a scruffy-looking bunch wander onstage. It was still mid-afternoon, so I assumed the roadies were coming out to tap on mikes and tune guitars. Instead, these guys counted off and ploughed into Bill Haley's "Rave On," and then went straight into John Fogerty's "Rockin' All Over The World." Then, with a little chuckle, the guy up front announced, "We'll be back in just a little bit to rock you all night long."
The guy was Bruce Springsteen, and he wasn't lying. I had already heard the legends about his shows, and I had high expectations. Those were only enhanced by the stories of the show he had played there the night before, in a downpour, and he wouldn't stop for lightning, rain, or plague of locusts. He introduced his sax man as "The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla," but it was obvious who the Boss was.
I've been to a lot of Springsteen shows since then, and I continue to pay the price and wait for that moment when the hair on the back of my neck stands up and I get that feeling I got when I first heard "Badlands" live. Or "Jungleland." Or "Rosalita." But when the band, the E Street Band, hit the stage for one last barn-burner of an encore, the audience had surrendered. When they finished up with their marathon version of "Twist and Shout," we didn't have anything left in the tank. He did. He won.
Three years later, when everyone wore a bandanna and owned a copy of "Born in the U.S.A." I heard a setlist that was very similar, but the show had become much larger. Now it was stadium-sized. Bruce and the band filled basketball arenas, and then football stadiums, but I never doubted that he was there to make sure that I rocked all night long.
And now it's been another twenty-five years, and the band has lost a few members and added a few more. The new stuff piles up next to the old stuff, and it makes for a great show night after night after night. And every song takes me back to that first sound check. I've got tickets for the show tonight, and I know I'm going to rock all night long.