Friday, July 31, 2009


It could be that I feel it more deeply because my younger brother was recognized as "a good shaver" by the folks he teaches art to up in Marin, but I blame Bryant Gumbel. He's the one who first suggested to me that shaving in the shower would be a great way to save time. This was way back in the days when Bryant was the host of the Today Show, and he was describing his morning ablutions in terms of the pre-dawn nature of his job. It made sense to me, and I've been doing it ever since.
Bryant probably had a more effective system than I have. For example, he probably had a mirror in the shower. I don't spend a lot of time examining my reflection when I am out of the steady stream of water, so I guess that's never been a priority. Even if I had a mirror, lighting would be an issue. Bryant probably had all kinds of high-intensity, camera-ready bulbs to help him maximize his shaving capacity. My bathroom has one of those fans that is connected to the light switch. Most days, I get up am up before anyone else in my family. Turning on the light and fan would bring far too much noise and attention to the space between our two bedrooms. Bryant probably has sound-dampening insulation to keep such disruptions to a minimum.
Truth is, shaving has never been that big a priority for me. I know that I can go a couple of days between the scraping of my face, but much longer than that gives me a derelict look that doesn't work well with teaching in a public school. The "shower-shave-by-Braille" technique often gives me a number of little nicks and cuts that the kids spend the first couple hours of the day pointing out to me. Just a little complication of my complication.
Bryant Gumbel no longer hosts the Today Show. For all I know, he has a team of barbers descending on him when he first arrives at the HBO studios, followed by a bevy of trained cosmetologists who paste, powder and sand down any possible imperfections in his visage. I do not. There are probably tens of thousands of people who would notice if Bryant Gumbel cut himself shaving. On a good day, I've got about thirty. And with all that time that I've saved, I can start coming up with some better replies to the question: "What's that red thing on your neck, Mister Caven?"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Where Are You, George Hamilton?

I am old enough that I can remember when getting a tan was a chore. It was a challenge, especially for those of us who grew up in a climate where staying covered was an important part of survival for at least six months out of the year. That meant that when it was time to come out from under layers of sweatshirts, mittens and other items of tundra-wear, it was important to maximize the rays of sun that we did receive.
First of all, I should point out that I am not genetically predisposed to "tanning." I am prone to turning lobster-red and just as abruptly sloughing off those layers of skin with any pigment at all. That puts me back at the beginning, where my quest for the perfect tan started. There were a couple of guys on my street who had the genes and the patience for engineering the perfect shade of brown by mid-June, and then maintained it right up until the first snow began to fly. They used tanning oil, usually Hawaiian Tropic, and kept themselves basted and turned evenly throughout the hours that the sun's rays did their best work.
I was never able to make this work. The stuff these guys used offered no protection from harmful ultraviolet rays, not that they wanted any, and for me it was like sitting under a magnifying glass. As I mentioned before, I just didn't have the patience to sit in the heat for hours and turn myself into a cinder. I caught endless abuse from these two bronze gods as I showed up to various neighborhood functions with my pale legs and shoulders. Shorts and tank tops were my enemy.
To this day I maintain a respectable "Farmer's Tan," and I take great solace in news reports such as the one I read yesterday about tanning beds: International cancer experts have moved tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation into the top cancer risk category deeming both to be definite causes of cancer. Health experts are now suggesting the use of bronzing or "self-tanning" creams instead. In other words, paint yourself. Had I known this when I was sixteen, I might have selected a more flattering shade of red.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Foreign Policy

Timing really is everything, isn't it? Nine months ago there was a segment of the populace that was convinced that Barack Obama was a Muslim. A Radical Muslim. That translates pretty quickly to "terrorist." This particular rumor got so wicked that it even got to John McCain, who defended his opponent as "a decent man, someone you don't have to be afraid of as President." That was in October.
Now that he has been President for six months, there is still a part of America that harbors some pretty significant fears about Barack Obama. Being a socialist got some traction for a while, but the fact that he is an alien is most terrifying. Not the ray-gun toting, eat-your-face kind. The kind who would be constitutionally barred from becoming President of the United States. From Article II, Section 1: "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States." The fact that state officials in Hawaii have twice issued official statements declaring Barack Obama a real and true American citizen, having been born in the Aloha State, hasn't slowed the jaws of many of the talking heads. Maybe we made a mistake all those years ago allowing a fiftieth state. And ten Republican members of Congress co-sponsored a bill that would require future presidential candidates to provide a copy of their original birth certificate. I'm looking forward to that new portion of the Inaugural Festivities that will include the Chief Justice asking for some I.D. before administering the oath of office.
What's curious to me is that no Republicans have seized this as an opportunity. Maybe being an American citizen isn't such a big deal after all. The Constitution is a living document, after all, and should be open to re-interpretation. If you weren't a born a citizen of the United States, at least you should live your life as the best possible example of that ideal, like a certain Austrian-born body-builder. Now that's what I call an alien hominid.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Higher Learning

It seems a little odd, these pre-season polls. School isn't even in session now, and yet they feel certain about their picks. Certainly past performance and reputation enters into it, but it is only July and the 2009 Princeton Review has named Penn State as the nation's number one party school. The school has been on the list the last seven years and ranked third in 2008, but this is the first time the Nittany Lions find themselves at the top of the heap.
And what a distinction it is. "These rankings are not more than popularity contests," said university spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz. "It's a badge of honor at this point. Nationwide, kids want to pump their schools in these surveys," she added. "It's not connected to reality." Mountz noted that groups on Facebook have urged members to make Penn State the top party school. Technology is changing the way we do all kinds of things these days.
It was just six years ago that my alma mater, the University of Colorado, held the number one spot. This came at a time when the powers that be had been working to stem a tide binge drinking that helped cement the "Rocky Mountain High" reputation of my school. Last year they had slipped to thirteen. How could this be?
The whole Facebook thing got me to thinking: how realistic are these numbers? If I'm truly committed to a raging-party-hearty-till-I'm-face-down lifestyle, do I really have time to check my profile? Probably not. I'll be the one making green-ice fish in jello molds to float in our Wapatootie Punch, and checking for sales on pony kegs. Remember kids, it's not whether you win or lose, it's whether you can make it to Denny's the next morning for breakfast.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Collision Theory

"Any crash you can walk away from is a good crash." This quote is perhaps most readily associated with Launchpad McQuack, aviator extraordinaire from the World of Disney Ducks. It was this motto that went through my mind as I viewed the photos my older brother sent me of his most recent automobile accident. It also made me think of the words of wisdom my younger brother offered to me as I drove with him through the streets of Los Angeles: "Avoid Impact." While both of these sentiments are both tried and true, it tends to negate the inevitability of someone or something running into you sooner or later.
This past Saturday morning, my wife and I were walking up the street with our son just ahead of us on his bike. We heard the roar of an engine and squealing tires, and the two of us held our breath and looked ahead to see that our child was safe. Imagine our relief when we saw him carefully crossing the street a block or so ahead of us, and how quickly that relief vanished as we saw a big white van stop short to allow him to reach the other curb. There he was, safe again on the sidewalk, but we weren't going to simply leave it at that? Did he even see the van? Why didn't he use a crosswalk? What was he thinking?
Well, chances are he wasn't thinking about collision. That's one of those things that you don't spend a lot of time pondering until it happens to you. It's the aftermath that gives you plenty of time to consider the forces and the myriad of possible outcomes. I've been hit by a car twice in my life. I have been a part of a great many car wrecks. Some of them were fender-benders. Some of them were my worse. Some of them were my fault. Some of them weren't. I suppose you could say that in my twenties I was most comfortable driving by Braille.
That seems like a long time ago. I don't feel nearly as indestructible as I did back then. Cars are much less disposable to me than they used to be. That "safe-driver discount" is something I work hard to maintain. But that doesn't keep strangers with less attention or luck from piling into me, or the people I care about. I'm very glad that my brother and sister-in-law walked away from their crash. It was a good one.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Knowing Is Half The Battle

No matter how bad things get, it's usually a pretty good idea to imagine how things could be worse. I learned this from my son, who uses this technique to help him cope with the stresses he feels about sleepovers. He calls it "catastrophizing."
As a nation, we got a healthy dose of catastrophizing when it was reported that, in 2002, the Pinhead administration considered sending U.S. troops into a Buffalo, New York suburb to arrest a group of terror suspects. Vice President Dick "Dick" Cheney and several other top advisers at the time strongly urged that the military be used to apprehend men who were suspected of plotting with al Qaida, who later became known as the Lackawanna Six. Pinhead ultimately nixed the proposal and told the FBI to make the arrests. They were subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.
That's just as well, since there's this little thing called "Posse Comitatus Act" that dates back to 1878 that prohibits military personnel under federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity. Congress can authorize exceptions to this act, not the President. It's one of those fancy-schmancy Constitutional thingies. Just the kind of thing that has to be read and understood. Hence my surprise at the restraint shown, especially way back in 2002.
And now, in the true spirit of catastrophization, I wonder what other actions and challenges to the Constitution were "mulled" and subsequently carried out while Pinhead was in office. I'm not sure if this will make it easier for my son to spend the night at his friends' house, but it's bound to keep me awake waiting for the call.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Summer Of Discontent

It started with those baggy jeans at the All-Star Game. I mean, the guy is generally a pretty snappy dresser, and if you happen to be leader of the free world, why not take a moment or two to go get some pants that fit? Or maybe send Rahm Emanuel out for a couple new pair of Dockers? We liked the White Sox jacket, though.
Then there was the pitch. I'd like to say that it was high and tight, but it was neither. It made it to the plate, more or less, and he was standing on the real and true pitcher's rubber (feel free to take a moment to snicker at the phrase), but that throw has been somewhat emblematic of the past few weeks for Barack Obama.
Health care reform has stalled, and it looks like a quick fix is nowhere on the horizon. Affordable health care has taken a back seat to affordable everything else. The economy keeps showing signs of life, but it's a little like saying that a coma patient just squeezed your hand. It will still be a while before that patient is going to be playing catch with the rest of us, let alone taking its place at the head of the other world economies. Did anybody tell him that July isn't over and it's already been the deadliest month for American soldiers in Afghanistan since the war began?
So what about social issues? Well, even Barack Obama puts his foot in it now and then, as he did when he said that Cambridge, Massachusetts police "acted stupidly" when they arrested black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. as he was trying to get into the house he rents near Harvard. The President's words didn't exactly fix things. If anything, it muddied the waters just a little more. What's a guy to do? Well, if you're Barack Obama, declare the white arresting officer a good man and invite him and the professor to the White House for a beer. The President would like to do it sooner, but it would seem that he's got Kim Jong Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some of the other guys in the Axis of Evil over for Poker this weekend.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Super Vision

Could you blame him? The title of the book is "Backyard Things That Are Fun To Build." Why then would my son be laying on the couch with a cushion over his head by the end of an afternoon attempting to recreate one of the "Backyard Things" illustrated? There were certainly more complex projects contained inside this volume. He didn't pick the floating submarine model with real periscope that you can stand up under. He didn't pick the Conestoga replica that you can build right on top of your old Radio Flyer wagon. He picked the camping tent.
How hard could it be? When you're twelve, and your formal construction training has been limited to helping dad hammer and nail on fences and the occasional clubhouse remodel, it can be quite intimidating. Add to this a very pronounced sense of "how things should be." The pictures in the book made it look so very simple. Take the scraps of lumber that you find around the back yard, and some bed sheets your mom lets you borrow. Add a little rope and before you know it, you've got a camp out tent just like the Boy Scouts use.
Or, in my son's case, you have a rickety assemblage that teeters and collapses when the dog runs into one of the posts. After a couple hours of organizing his own efforts with his two buddies, he had enough. It was not just like the pictures in the book. Nowhere in the book was a diagram of the family pet careening into a carefully balanced framework. This was not Backyard Fun.
I understood his pain. When I was a kid, I read "Three Boys and Space" and was consumed with the idea of erecting a model of the Saturn V in my back yard, in very much the same way the three boys in the book did. The illustrations made it all look so easy. Find an old radiator and a couple of wooden barrels for the lower stages, then a large tin cone for the capsule. It was so easy, even a child could do it. In a book. That particular book ruined a weekend way back when, and I knew what my son was feeling with his head buried under the upholstery.
Eventually, I talked him out from under that cushion, and back into the yard where his friends had put the tent back up, with some extra bracing in case of dog. He crawled inside and pulled an extra blanket up to his chin, where he commenced to taking a five-minute nap. When he opened up his eyes again, he was refreshed and ready to head back out into the world with a new, more elemental vision: fire pit. Now that sounds like a Backyard Thing that would be fun to build.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You Got Your Dirt In The Boss' Hole

I should have my head examined. After enjoying one full day of vacation, I was instinctively drawn to a corner of our property that "needed attention." For the past two years, we have lived with a pile of bricks that used to be our chimney. That particular escapade involved one long day of hauling and piling and inhaling dust and soot that used to live inside our house. Over the course of a day, what was once a three-story horizontal structure became a vertical pile behind our garage. On that day, I was aided by a neighbor who was more compulsive than I. He wanted to bring that thing down as quickly, and safely, as it could be done.
Now, two years later, none of the creative ideas that we had spawned for that pile of masonry had become reality. But that wonderful, terrible thing happened: I had some time off. My mind started ticking off the possible projects: double-pane windows, attic stairway, re-inventing our irrigation system. I asked my wife. She envisioned a gray water system that involved "learning how to weld." I found myself back at that pile of bricks.
How hard could it be to make a smooth surface and lay out a couple hundred bricks? Again, there was some consultation with my wife, and we found ourselves going down a five hundred dollar rabbit hole, buying gravel and moving tons of earth and sand. It had to be easier than that. As it turns out, it was easier than that, but not by much. I started digging on Tuesday just after noon. I got help from my wife and son, and by dinner time I had turned over seventy-some square feet of dirt.
The next morning, I got an early start and began hauling off some of the extra earth that was in the way of bricks that we wanted to place. Before noon, my wife and son had rejoined me, and the number of helping hands swelled to nearly a dozen as neighborhood kids dropped by to see what was going on. "Whatcha doin'?"
"Making a brick patio."
"Cool. Can we help?"
There was a little Tom Sawyer in the air as we used up the kids' attention span, and then there was still a lot of bare earth. My wife and I, emboldened by our progress, pressed on. There was a break for lunch, and we were able to coax a little more help from the short people with some Tombstone pizza and Otter Pops. With the sun now directly overhead, my lovely and patient bride gritted her teeth and realized that I meant to be done with this project before dark. To our collective credit, we worked harmoniously and efficiently. There was a new brick patio in our back yard before dinner on the second day.
My guess is that I will have a day or two to recover and bask in the glory that is our new living space. What worries me is what happens next Monday when I wake up with "nothing to do."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Good Old Days

I know that our new president would like us to look forward: forward to a new health-care plan, a balanced budget, a world free from war and fear. But it's still so easy to look back over our collective shoulders and see all the little bumps and swerves that made this road so challenging. Some of them are, to be honest, just a little petty. Forgive me as I wallow for old-time's sake.
Jackson Browne lawsuit was recently settled a lawsuit with John McCain and the Republican Party. Seems that Republicans in Ohio forgot to ask permission to use Browne's song "Running On Empty" in a Web ad mocking Democrat Barack Obama's proposed energy policies. Pretty ironic, coming from a guy who drove across the country in a bus called the "Straight Talk Express." For the record, McCain claimed no prior knowledge of the ad, and asked that it be pulled after Browne complained. "We apologize that a portion of the Jackson Browne song 'Running on Empty' was used without permission," the Grand Old Party's statement said. No word on what the financials were. No word either on when John Mellencamp, Heart, and the Foo Fighters would be getting their apologies, and the world awaits an explanation for the McCain campaign's use of Sam Moore's "Soul Man."
In other news, the previous administration would probably be happy if we just forgot that Pinhead had two daughters too. The twins recently sent a letter to Malia and Sasha Obama, offer advice on how to live in the "magical" White House. Perhaps what they meant was that when you live in in the White House, dreams come true. If those dreams include: Getting the Secret Service had to step in a break up a bar fight that your fiance got into, or get them to take him to Georgetown University Hospital because he got really drunk at a Halloween party, or maybe just purposely try to lose your protection by going through red lights or by jumping in your car without telling agents where you are going. Like they say,"Just go. Four years goes by so fast, so absorb it all, just enjoy it all! Have fun and enjoy your childhood in what is such a magical place to live and play." Just make sure to ask Jackson Browne before you use any of his music.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mandatory Overtime

I remember how those words used to strike fear and pain into me in my days as an hourly employee. Sure I wanted to make the money, but somehow those hours after five, and those days after Friday held special resonance for me. They were not working hours. When I became salaried, I reconciled myself to the idea that part of the job was going to be giving up a few hours here and there to keep the machine running. For the past month, those who look after California's budget have been working past their deadline.
Sunday night was going to be "it." The Big Five, the Governator, Assembly speaker, Senate leader and Republican leaders of both houses of the Legislature, were supposed to get together to pound out the last little differences in language that have been keeping the state of California without a budget for more than a month. According to the official budget process, "(t)he Constitution also requires that the Legislature pass the bill by June 15." And we all know what kind of trouble you can get into when you mess with the constitution, even if it's just the state constitution.
The meeting didn't happen Sunday night due to "scheduling conflicts." All parties agreed to get right back at it bright and early on Monday morning, or by eleven. Even legislators need to get an eye-opener, right? At stake is the twenty-six billion dollar shortfall that has to be made up before the budget can be signed and enacted. Meanwhile, California's bond rating continues to sink, and IOU's are being passed out while state workers continue to add furlough days to their calendars.
To borrow a budgeting term, that's the real bottom line. While the DMV is closing its doors three times a month, the powers that be in Sacramento meander toward their eventual conclusion. While teachers and policemen are laid off, legislators and the governor's staff make weak stabs at solving the problem. None of them are being furloughed. None of them have been laid off. They will not be paid with IOU's. I do not claim to have the answer to California's fiscal woes. I know that it will take more than a weekend meeting to unscramble the mess that has been made over the past thirty years. But where's the urgency? The budget has only been ready on time four times in the past twenty years. With that kind of track record, wouldn't you expect some all-nighters? Put a cot in the back room folks, it's going to be a late one.
Better yet: Start now. Making sense of an economy as complex as California's takes time. Lots of it. While the money keeps leaking out through the cracks, the clock is ticking.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Teacher Man

Another day, another departure. This one caught me a little closer than the past few celebrity deaths. Frank McCourt, author of "Angela's Ashes" joined the choir invisible on Sunday. He was seventy-eight years young.
Even though he was known primarily for the story of his impoverished youth in Ireland, my own McCourt fixation centered on his recollections of teaching public school, "Teacher Man." Four years ago, when I really needed a shove from behind to get out the door on most days, I read this memoir and felt instant relief. I wasn't the only one who routinely felt that they were making things up as they went along. I wasn't alone walking the tightrope between administrators and parents. I took great solace in the thirty-year career that Mister McCourt enjoyed before retiring and beginning his writing career.
Most of all, he was the one who made it okay for me to share myself as a human being to my students. My own youth and upbringing, though at times completely disparate from that of the kids in my class, could still inform my teaching. Having a kid of my own allowed me a window on their world that I was careful about opening when I started. He's also the one who wrote so eloquently of the terror and pleasure of taking a group of inner-city kids out into the world. Taking a busload into Times Square to see a movie? Read the book and you'll understand.
"F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives. I think I've proven him wrong," McCourt later explained. "And all because I refused to settle for a one-act existence, the thirty years I taught English in various New York City high schools." Bravo for acts one and two.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Voice Of America

If Walter Cronkite died in a forest, would anyone hear it? This is the irony of the passing of the man who was the news. He isn't here to report on his own demise. For so many years, his was the voice that told us when to be happy and when to be sad. If Edward R. Murrow was John the Baptist, then Walter Cronkite was certainly the voice of God.
It is an interesting quirk of my life that when I was very young, I used to confuse Walter Cronkite and Captain Kangaroo. They were both on CBS, and I made what I thought was the logical assumption that Walter had a day job running the Treasure House. I based my theory on the discovery I made that Captain Dooley, the kindly old salt who showed cartoons on Channel Two in the mornings was in reality the same guy as Blinky the Clown, who showed cartoons on Channel Two in the afternoons. Walter and the Captain just had a network gig. This association just made it easier to trust every word I heard on the evening news.
I know there were choices, even back then, but as long as there was a Space Race, my family tuned into Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra from countdown to splashdown. Ben Bradlee remembers this about Cronkite and Watergate: "The fact that Cronkite did Watergate at all (let alone at that length) gave the story a kind of blessing, which is exactly what we needed—and exactly what The Washington Post lacked." And somehow, he didn't make Nixon's infamous "enemies list."
And maybe that's because even Tricky Dick couldn't argue with The Voice of Reason. My memory of JFK's assassination are vague at best, but the footage of Cronkite at his desk, slowly taking off his glasses and telling us all the news we didn't want to hear is etched on my mind. I was old enough to remember his reports on and from Vietnam. They were a major factor in the public's opinion of that war. When he retired, and in his wake came wave after wave of talking heads creating a world of info-tainment, we still looked for a sign from Walter about how we should think and feel. He told us what to expect in the aftermath of September 11. He told us that the war in Iraq was a "disaster." Lyndon Johnson knew: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost America." Well, now we've all lost Cronkite.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Many Moons Ago

It's been forty years since we landed on the moon. My family's somewhat unique experience of this moment in history came during the Central City Opera's production of "Die Fliedermaus." In the second act, apropos of nothing whatsoever in the operetta, a cast member came bounding on stage shouting, "The Americans have beaten the Russians to the moon!" It broke what tenuous grasp I had on the goings-on in front of me and put my mind immediately on what must be happening at Tranquility Base.
I didn't see it on TV, but I believed that it happened with all my heart. It wasn't until I was in high school that I started hearing all the conspiracy theories surrounding the possibility that this event never occurred, save the extravagant creations on some Hollywood sound stage. Then I saw "Capricorn One," about a government-created hoax of a landing on Mars. It gave me pause. Richard Nixon was president during the first moon landing. The guy from Watergate. If there were dirty tricks going on with the space program, why wouldn't it be on his watch?
I quickly put this notion out of my mind. I was always a NASA fan, and the idea of anyone at Cape Canaveral being involved in anything shady was unthinkable. These men were our best and brightest. They were the future. Then again, O.J. Simpson played one of the astronauts in "Capricorn One." Maybe it wasn't un-thinkable. It was hard to think about.
It just got a little easier. Recently, NASA confessed that they didn't have the sense to keep the original video of the live TV transmission of the Apollo 11 moon landing. In what could only be construed as a cost-cutting measure, they must have erased the footage years ago so that it could reuse the videotape. That's what we did with my son's kindergarten promotion, after all. But in a twist of fate that could have been scripted in Tinseltown, studio wizards are are digitally sharpening and cleaning up the ghostly, grainy footage of the moon landing, making it even better than what TV viewers saw on July 20, 1969. They are doing it by working from four copies that NASA scrounged from around the world.
At least that's what they're telling us. I'll be looking for any telltale signs such as a moon rover that transforms into a robot, or Robert Pattinson playing the part of Neil Armstrong. And why has Buzz Aldrin picked this particular moment to start talking about going to Mars again? I guess as long as we don't send James Brolin and Sam Waterson, but maybe that wouldn't be such a bad gig for O.J. Simpson after all.

Friday, July 17, 2009

All Things Considered

My wife has an uncle that can get away with this: Anytime anyone asks him how he's doing he says "Fantastic!" There is a part of me that admires this kind of positive thought. He is the same fellow who used to walk around Lake Merritt most every morning, greeting every person whom he was able to make eye contact. This is a good soul. It should come as no surprise that he has, on occasion, dressed up as Santa Claus. But it's the "fantastic" part that sticks with me.
It reminds me of George Carlin's old bit about people telling him to "have a nice day." His reply was, essentially, "What if I don't want to?" That's a lot of pressure, isn't it? My back is sore and I got a parking ticket and the A's lost again and my dog threw up on the rug again and I'm supposed to have a nice day? How am I doing? "Fantastic!"
I have pressed him on this matter a few times, cynical twit that I am. He has taken my queries to heart, and replied thus: "I'm walking around and breathing. I have my wife, my health, and another day to get it right tomorrow." Or some other cheery words to that effect. It's enough to put a smile on my crabby face. Almost.
Truth is, most days when someone asks me how I am, I tend to parrot a response I once heard on a Bruce Springsteen video: "It's going okay. I'm alright." It' hits just the right tone of non-committal well-being that doesn't offer too much information but satisfies the minorly curious. Every so often, I feel tempted to ask if it is purely a rhetorical question, or if they are truly concerned with my emotional and physical health. If that's the case, don't ask me how I'm doing as we pass in a hallway, or across a crowded room. I haven't found the one-word response that sums up all the doubt, fear, anger and joy that I carry around in my head on any given day. The best I could hope for is a link to the Springsteen lyrics that he seems to have been cribbing when he made that video with John Sayles way back when. It's a sentiment that won't quite make it on a T shirt or cocktail napkin, but if somebody wants to know how I'm doing, I would tell them: "Well I'm a little down under, but I'm feeling O.K.
Got a little lost along the way
I'm just around the corner to the light of day"

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Need For Speed

Don't we live in interesting times? I mean, who would have thought back in 1975 that there would be a demographic called "NASCAR moms." These are the mothers of the young men and women who make all those left hand turns. Real fast. Generally considered to be a pretty conservative group, they are periodically targeted and courted with great vigor during political campaigns. Something about the speed and the smell of burning rubber brings out a certain amount of that pioneer spirit, I expect. They are probably just a notch more forgiving than their spouses, the elusive NASCAR dads.
Imagine then, their disappointment upon finding out that Jeremy Mayfield tested positive again for methamphetamine. The Mostorsports Toyota driver angrily accused the sanctioning body of paying his stepmother to lie about his alleged past drug use. It would be far too easy to allow this story to settle into a simple stereotype, so let's examine the facts, or better yet, let's examine the quotes: "Between 1998 and 2005, I am personally aware that Jeremy used methamphetamines often," Lisa Mayfield said in her affidavit. "I was concerned about his heavy use and talked to his father about it. I saw Jeremy use methamphetamine by snorting it up his nose at least thirty times during the seven years I was around him. Jeremy used methamphetamine not only in my presence, but also when we were both in the presence of others."
Jeremy? "She's tried everything she can do to get money out of me. I won't help her, so I guess she found a way to get money from NASCAR by giving them an affidavit full of lies," he said. "She don't deserve the Mayfield name," he continued. "She's hated me since my dad got killed because I won't give her any money. She goes on the Internet and blogs lies about me and Shana (his wife) and everything you can imagine."
I don't know about you, but right now I'm imagining a Burt Reynolds movie from the eighties, and Burt isn't playing Jeremy. I'm thinking that would be more a Jerry Reed type role. Burt would probably be Johnny Benson. And Loni Anderson would be terrific as Shana.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Am Terrorized Yellow

Ah, the Spring of 2002: the Good Old Days. It was in March of that year that Tom Ridge unveiled the color-coded terror alert system. Now a quick quiz: can you name all the levels and the colors associated with them? If you guessed that green equals good and red is bad, then give yourself two points and move on. For those interested in the continuum, it begins at a green "low," then a cool blue "guarded," followed by the ever-popular yellow "elevated," then a shocking orange for "high," and bringing it all home with a big red "severe."
Now, the Obama administration believes it could be time to rethink this system. Current Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a review of the process by which our government tells us how frightened we should be. The seventeen member panel that will look into this will include Democrats and Republicans, mayors, governors, police executives, and public and private security experts. Whatever happens, no one wants to give the appearance that we have somehow gone soft on terrorism.
But let's be honest for just a moment: It's not really the colors that are so ridiculous, is it? It's the semantics. I understand "low" means just a little, but those last three are all pretty much synonyms, aren't they? And what about "guarded?" Couldn't we just say blue is "paranoid," and why isn't there anything below "low?" This new administration has been calling for more transparency, why not have "none" be translucent?
If we have to keep the rainbow of panic, why not incorporate it into other realms outside of bombs and nerve gas. I think we all could have benefited from an orange alert a couple years ago on flexible mortgages, and I'm always feeling pretty yellow about Wednesday night TV. I guess what I'm suggesting is that if the idea is to cement in our minds a color with a condition, then it needs to be objective. Just ask Conan O'Brien: "Green means everything's okay. Red means we're in extreme danger. And champagne-fuchsia means we're being attacked by Martha Stewart."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hello Kitty!

I have always maintained that cats are evil. The whole black-cat-witchcraft thing doesn't bother me so much. The suggestion that cats creep into baby's cribs and steal their breath seems like an urban myth, but I wouldn't put it past any feline. No, instead I am constantly put off by the way cats give off this impression that they don't need anyone, when nothing could be farther from the truth. Cats may be related to the fiercest and most solitary creatures on the planet, but your common house cat is never going to be confused with the King of the Jungle. They rely on us in the most desperate ways.
According to the findings of a new study, household cats exercise control over us with a certain type of urgent-sounding, high-pitched meow. People usually think of cat purring as a sign of happiness. Some cats make this sound when they want to be fed. Some cats make this sound when they want money. The study showed that humans find these mixed calls annoying and difficult to ignore.
Previous studies have shown similarities between cat cries and human infant cries. Would you ignore your own child if they were begging you for tuna? For chicken? For liver? Please deliver. Scientists also tell us that the sound is "less harmonic and thus more difficult to habituate to." You can't tune it out and they know it. And it doesn't matter if you're a "cat person" or not. The study showed that even people who didn't own cats were bothered by the noise. But all cats don't make this sound. It's the ones who live close to people. They get close to us. They know us. They want to control us.
That's why the Egyptians worshipped them. They brought them inside, and that's when they started taking over. Eventually, cats were getting the same treatment as King Tut. Steve Martin knew. He knew the boy king and he knew what a threat his cat could be. And now, scientists have proof. I could go on and on, but right now my dog is whining at me to go out.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Alone In The Dark

For better or worse, I can put a finger on the moment when my father and I began to grow apart. I was fourteen in 1976, which is a pretty reasonable time in your life to begin making your own way in the world. Maybe not enough to move out of the house or start paying for your own school supplies, but perhaps this is where I could begin to make my stand.
It started innocently enough. My father took my younger brother to see "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson." At some point, my father decided that he'd seen enough and walked out. He came home and reported to us all that it was an awful movie and we should be glad that we didn't waste our time with such drivel. Ah, but it was summertime, and I had been spending my TV-free afternoons reading The New Yorker and Time magazine, becoming more and more convinced of the power of the cinema, and the genius of Robert Altman. I wondered aloud at dinner about the possibility that my father just didn't "get" what it was that Altman was trying to say.
It wasn't a comfortable moment. The leg that I might have to stand on would have been the one that had seen the film myself. Instead, I relied on the commentary of Pauline Kael and Richard Schickel. My father, a good soul at heart, suggested that maybe I should see if I could sit through it first before I called his judgement into question. It was my belief that he took my little brother to see a "funny western," in the same way he had taken us all to see "Blazing Saddles" two years before.
For the record, when I did see "Buffalo Bill," I thoroughly enjoyed it, in the same way I learned to enjoy all of Robert Altman's films. But I had already been told what to look for and what to appreciate by those movie snobs. I didn't go to the movies with my father much after that. I remember him taking my younger brother and I to "Slap Shot": Paul Newman again, but this time it was a "real comedy." Years passed. He took me to see "Field of Dreams" and we agreed it was a good movie to see with your dad. Or your son. More years passed. I remember a conversation with him about "Natural Born Killers": He said he couldn't understand why the movie had to be so violent. "It's called 'Natural Born Killers,' Dad. Were you expecting something cuter?"
And so it went. He seemed resigned to the idea that his middle son was a film snob, and I began to appreciate his more objective tastes. Now that I'm a father myself, I can hear him chuckling at the friction generated by my opinions about the new Indiana Jones, or the second Transformers. My dad would have loved going to the movies with my son.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Did You See That?

I'll admit it: I'm tired of waiting for football season to start. It doesn't help that our local baseball franchise has been playing so poorly this year that my family has passed up two separate opportunities to go see them for free. Currently they are much more useful to us as fodder for comedy. My son wants to rename them "The Oakland Anaesthetics," while my wife and I are trying to put together a roving band of critics to be called "The Oakland Aesthetics." And we're still a month away from the preseason.
What could fuel my need for spectator sports in the meantime? I can continue to check the standings in the Tour de France, but watching it is about as exciting as watching a bicycle race. By odd coincidence, I happened to see Michael Phelps set another World Record. Normally I wouldn't bother with swimming unless it was an Olympic event, but Michael kept his race under a minute, so I appreciated that. Will I end up watching Mixed Martial Arts bouts soon?
No, instead I believe that I will dedicate myself to getting a peek at the video of the alleged monster dunk that was slammed over the head of LeBron James. "Alleged" because currently all video evidence of this "facial" being applied to King James was confiscated by Nike, his royal highness' major sponsor.
Xavier sophomore Jordan Crawford dunked on LeBron James during a pick-up game at a basketball camp. Nike swallowed up all video evidence of the embarrassment. Abruptly debate ensued about whether the tapes were taken because they were humiliating to LeBron or because of a long-standing Nike policy. Just exactly what that policy might be should keep me entertained for at least as long as it takes for Michael Phelps to pound out a few more laps. Don't you want to see some high school kid tag a Barry Zito pitch into McCovey Cove? How about some twelve-year-old out-putting Tiger Woods on the back nine at Augusta? Maybe even some little girl in water wings edging Mister Phelps at the wall in the hundred meter butterfly?
Or maybe I'll just have to wait for training camp to open and hope for some video of Terrell Owens getting knocked off his route by a ball boy.
Nike: Just Don't.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Speak Directly Into The Lamp, Please

"Can you hear me now?"
Remember when the Verizon guy wasn't just a smirking, lurking presence? He was wandering around this great country of ours making certain that we could receive cellular telephone calls at any point in these United States. From California to the New York Island. Well, as it turns out, that guy might have been working for the Bush administration.
According to a new government report that questions the legal basis for the unprecedented anti-terrorism program, the Pinhead administration authorized secret surveillance activities that still have not been made public. It describes the entire program as the "President's Surveillance Program. "The report describes the program as unprecedented and raises questions about the legal grounding used for its creation. Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!
The incredible irony of this program is that an administration that was roundly criticized for being out of touch was busily listening in on any and all communications that might have been considered "dangerous." The report generated by five inspectors general said an unnamed White House official inserted a paragraph into the first threat assessment prepared by the CIA after the September 11 attacks, which was used to justify the extraordinary intelligence measures. The paragraph stated that the "individuals and organizations involved in global terrorism possessed the capability and intention to undertake further terrorist attacks within the United States," according to the report. It also said that the president should authorize the NSA to conduct the surveillance activities. And that's just what he did.
And now, to add an extra dollop of ironic frosting on the top, five former Pinhead administration officials refused to be interviewed for this report: including former CIA Director George Tenet and former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Yes, that's right, the ones who were so very interested in hearing what we had to say when we didn't want them to now don't want to talk about it. I guess timing is everything. And if you're still out there, listening: I've got a special non-verbal message just for you.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Middle Of The Road

My wife has a sense of humor. She proved it a couple of years ago by giving me a "funny shirt." It's a blue T shirt with a big red and yellow "M" just below the words "Mediocre Man." I have worn it a few times, always in her company, just to prove that I too have a sense of humor.
All of this cleverness aside, this shirt has given me pause over the past few days as I consider the continuing saga of Brett Favre and Lance Armstrong. Part of the reason that I don't wear my "funny shirt" is that I don't want to be reminded of the obvious. I'm forty-seven. Whatever greatness I might have once aspired too is now diminished, however slightly, by the onset of middle age.
That being said, I was feeling mired in my mediocrity on Sunday as I hobbled around on a bruised heel. I thought of Brett Favre, on the cusp of turning forty, on the horns of the dilemma: Should I choose to put myself once more in harm's way, or should I retire comfortably, and look forward to the next mountain to climb? Do I really need another football season's worth of physical punishment to prove that I am the Cal Ripken of the NFL? Will I be content to walk away from the game while I still can?
Many of the guys that could be chasing Brett this Fall are roughly half his age. The same thing could be said for Lance Armstrong. He's still got a couple years to go before he turns forty, but he does have that whole cancer thing to add a degree of difficulty. He's just a fraction of a second behind a guy who is ten years his junior. That's ten pedaling-a-bicycle-for-hundreds-of-miles-up-and-down-the-Alps years. Seven of those would be years in which Monsieur Armstrong won the Tour de France.
So what do these guys have left to prove? Well, I guess that's simple enough: They don't want to wear the shirt. Fine. Maybe the next time they're both in town they'd like to try their hand at Guitar Hero - Medium.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Norman, Coordinate

If you are a North Korean spy reading this, could you please help me find the correct encryption key so that I can get my laptop back on the network? South Korea's spies named you as a suspect in the cyber attacks targeting government and other Web sites in the U.S. and South Korea. It's a slim chance that you'll find much of interest here, but if you poke around a little you might find some funny pictures or some insight on the state of public education in the western United States. Sadly, none of this is classified.
But I am serious about that encryption stuff. I spent two hours trying to get myself back online yesterday afternoon. That's what I did with what would have been my "spare time." It made me curious about the nature of the labor-saving potential of a laptop computer and a wireless Internet connection.
Sure, I could imagine myself sitting out on my back deck with a glass of iced tea within easy reach, and the picnic umbrella keeping the glare off my screen. I would type away about the things that found their way into my head, perhaps offering my informed opinion about the affairs of the day. All the while, a cool breeze would blow and birds would sing.
That didn't happen. Over the past few weeks, my laptop had gone feral, after far too many days of being left alone. It wouldn't connect to the Internet, at least not from the comfort of anyplace I would consider comfortable, and when I did manage a connection, it was some unsecured insecure network that I didn't recognize. My vision of lolling around on the back porch went up in a snap of static electricity.
Hours later I had re-established my foothold on the twenty-first century and I was free to roam about my house with a computer the size of my son's World History textbook. By this point, however, I had already started up my clunky old desktop machine and used it to determine the cause of all my network dysfunction. I set the laptop aside and sat down in front of my desk where all of this came pouring out. Maybe once the battery is fully charged again, I'll head for the couch to do a little research for my fantasy football team. I wonder if the North Koreans could use any of that?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Light And Run Away

According to Oakland Police spokesperson and the department's arson and explosives expert Barry Donelan, we all experienced a decline in the number of illegal fireworks over this past Fourth of July weekend. You could try telling my dog, who is still shy about going outside after dark, as our neighborhood continues to finish off whatever stores of rockets, flares, and other incendiary devices they may have stored in their houses, apartments or car trunks.
It may be true, as my family felt that the days leading up to the weekend were relatively calm, that there were fewer bombs bursting in the air. But that would contrast mightily with the barrage we experienced on the night of the Fourth and the days since. A friend of ours, visiting from Los Angeles, took a walk with my wife and son around nine thirty on the Fourth of July. This is a guy who has spent some time in Beirut, and he came back impressed. For about two hours, it was a steady barrage. The sky was ablaze and thundering as my dog looked to me for some kind of reassurance. Even now, days later, there are still sporadic pops and booms as things return to normal. Or whatever amounts to that 'round here.
On my way out of the house Tuesday morning, I found a cardboard tube in my driveway. The label on it read, "Warning: Extremely Dangerous. If found do not handle - contact local fire or police department...Point rocket away from people or any flammable material. Misuse may result in serious injury or death. It is your responsibility to use it safely and correctly." That would have been the round that went off over our house Monday night around ten. The rest of the street is relatively free of spent munitions, and all we hear now is the occasional stray pop bottle rocket.
I am reminded of the pyrotechnics of my youth. I can only assume that this is some karmic payback for the "Festival Ball" mortar shells that my roommate and I set off over the course of a summer back in Colorado. We found that we got a more impressive and random display if we didn't bother to use the launching tube. One exploded under a parked car and we waited for the whole thing to go up, Hollywood style. It never happened. We shot pop bottle rockets inside our apartment. This same apartment is where we lit a sparkler fountain on our deck that shot fifteen feet into the air, but the roof of the deck was only ten feet high. What I'm suggesting is that the concept of morons with fireworks is not new to me, but dogs weren't allowed in our building. Needless to say, when we moved out, residents experienced a decline in the number of illegal fireworks going off in their vicinity.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Pop Goes The King

Millions of people went on-line to request tickets to Michael Jackson's memorial. Only about ten percent of those will be allowed entry to the Staples Center. What will the other nine hundred and ninety thousand zealots do? Surely they will show restraint and common sense by staying home and watching events unfold on television.
Or not. Flights from London to Los Angeles were sold out on Monday, and British Jackson-ophiles are booking up flights to San Francisco and Denver in hopes of grabbing a connection to the City of Angels in time for the Big Event. Who knows how many planes, trains and automobiles full of Michael-maniacs loaded up in the past seventy-two hours from the continental United States in hopes of arriving in close proximity to the arena with or without a ticket?
Thirty-two years ago, Elvis died. Thirty-thousand fans poured through the gates of Graceland on the day before the funeral to pay their respects to the King of Rock and Roll. President Jimmy Carter ordered three hundred U.S. National Guard troops to maintain peace at the event. That was in Memphis in 1977. Things in Los Angeles might be just a little different in 2009.
What happens next? They had to move Elvis' remains to Graceland to keep people from trying to make off with them. One can only imagine the shrine that will be prepared for Michael Jackson. No word yet on whether Bubbles the chimp and Emmanuel Lewis will have to be entombed with him.
Stay tuned.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A Man's Got To Know His Limitations

There I was, shredding away as one-third of the triple guitar attack that was Lynyrd Skynyrd, as the accelerando kicked in and sent me into a solo frenzy. Then, abruptly, the song was over. Not that we had finished, but our bass player had drifted into the red, and before we could complete "Freebird," we were booed off the stage. I sighed and realized that I was only a reset button away from making good on the monster of all encores. I also knew that I probably wouldn't get the nine more minutes of southern rock intensity out of my bandmates to make this a reality.
Jimmy Page doesn't care for Guitar Hero. Guitar God Page said he can't imagine that people are really learning anything significant about playing instruments by playing video games. I don't know how to answer that criticism exactly. I often find myself wondering if the decade I spent studying piano, low brass, and associated music theory makes any impact on my "play." I know what a triplet is, and I know syncopation when I hear it, and all of this still begs the question: Am I learning anything about playing instruments by playing video games?
A friend of mine, after spending an hour or so peeking into the Guitar Hero universe, wondered why I didn't move on up to the "Hard" level. I explained that I had found my comfort zone with "Medium," and I enjoyed the level of confidence I feel when I know that I can make it all the way through most any song at that stage. He asked me what the difference was between the two, and I told him, "The orange button. You have to move your fingers."
"Wouldn't that be more like playing guitar?"
He had me dead to rights. It would be a lot more like playing guitar. But I guess that's not why I'm doing it. I'm playing a video game. I'm not playing an instrument. Playing an instrument requires practice. With a fairly shallow learning curve, I have mastered Medium. Now I can play along with Brian May and Joe Perry and Mike Ness. I know that I am not recreating the music. I am doing electronic pantomime.
And that's okay. My wife has periodically wondered aloud how much it has cost us to get my son to play "Under The Sea." How many lessons did that take? I haven't asked her if we need to break it down by note, but I understand the quandary. Now I wonder if my parents would have paid for all those years of lessons if they knew that I would be using them to strap a toy guitar on my chest and flick away while on the TV Ozzy Osbourne roars away. On Medium.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Tragic Kingdom Mark VI

My family and I have spent many of our vacation hours and dollars making regular trips to "the happiest place on Earth," Disneyland. These pilgrimages have been pleasant reminders of the simple joys of theme parks. For me, it is the comfort of being in that controlled Disney environment that makes waiting an hour for a two-minute ride worthwhile. It is a distinction I have made over the years between a "theme park" and an "amusement park."
When I was a kid growing up in Colorado, I had access to a pair of well-established amusement parks: Lakeside and Elitch Gardens. It was widely discussed and generally agreed that Elitch's was the "safe alternative," since there was always something a little shady about the folks who found themselves at Lakeside. Bad things happened there. Scary things. It could just as easily have been Urban Legend Land. That's not to say that Elitch Gardens didn't have its own ugly secrets. Anyone who spent any time waiting in line for Mister Twister would at some point be reminded of how local sportscaster Star Yelland's son had died while standing up in the back car. Or was it the front?
Speaking of "Waiting In Line To Die," I remember taking guilty pleasure in walking around Disneyland on one of my early "grown-up" visits, reading a booklet of that title as we wandered from this attraction to that. It felt naughty, but it was all in good ironic fun. Or was it simply good press management and a vast conspiracy to keep the truth from reaching all those mouse-eared tourists?
There was no hiding last night's bad news. Two monorail trains crashed early Sunday morning in the Magic Kingdom section of Walt Disney World, killing one train's operator. Five guests were treated at the scene. Those of us in the know recognize that Disney World is still running the Mark VI trains on their system, compared to the newer, flashier Mark VII trains in Disneyland. We even made a point of asking about the new trains when we were there. The driver grumbled, and made some un-Disney remarks about the way the new machines handled. It seemed strange that the accident occurred with the time-tested and dependable Mark VI. My family and I have made special effort to sit in the nose of all those trains, up there with the driver. Seeing the wreckage gave me pause. Like twenty-two-year-old Danielle Williams, of London who witnessed last night's tragedy. "It's a bit shocking," she said. "Disney seems so perfect." Perfectly deadly.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Running On Empty

Sarah Palin, once dubbed the country's "hottest" governor, will soon have to give up that title. Not the "hot" part necessarily, but definitely the "governor" part. Ms. Palin will be celebrating Independence Day by declaring her freedom from the office she took in 2006. She's decided that since she is not running for re-election in Alaska, she wants to avoid "conventional Lame Duck status in this particular climate." As a hunting aficionado, she must certainly be familiar with Lame Ducks.
And so, in the spirit of Lame, we present the "hottest former governor" and her latest ploy to make herself a viable candidate in 2012. She has challenged Barack Obama to a foot race. "I betcha I'd have more endurance," she told Runner's World magazine. She backs up her claim with a sub-four hour time in a marathon in 2005. Not world-class time, but anyone who can run twenty-six miles in four hours is a force to be reckoned with. On the race course.
"When I run, I'm totally incognito because I'm not wearing a trough full of makeup. I can go running through a mob of tourists and they don't recognize me," Palin said. On her iPod, she likes to crank up classic rock n' roll, usually Van Halen and AC/DC, then cools down with a little country music. She wraps up with Amy Grant songs.
Barack Obama, meanwhile, is playing golf or shooting hoops, not ducks. He's probably a little nervous since he still hasn't managed to kick his cigarette habit, and the fact that he's been busy running the country for the past six months. Once she resigns at the end of the month, Sarah's going to have all kinds of time to train.
Maybe Obama could work out a deal where he could get Ms. Palin, Kim Jong Il, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad out to the track this summer and settle things the old-fashioned way. Like DEVO used to sing: "Take all the leaders from around the world, Put them together in a great big ring."
Now that's what I call governance!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Aikido Kid

My son bows deeply at the waist and his sensei returns his gesture of respect. They sit back down on the mat and face the rest of the class as his accomplishments are announced to the class. He now has a purple belt to replace the white that he began his training with. The class shares their appreciation of his confidence and skill. They marvel at his concentration, and his sensei speaks glowingly of his discipline and focus.
And then the daydream stops. We have only been sitting on the edge of the mat today. We didn't take off our shoes or do much but watch. We haven't even filled out the application yet. Still, in my mind, I have already seen my son as a student of Aikido. I have seen him progress from an insecure newcomer to a confident and assertive martial arts apprentice. Maybe it was the sound of the fountain in the background. Maybe it was the smell of bleach from the white mat. Whatever the spell was, it was intoxicating.
It's just too good a story. My son, who has become all too accustomed to making light of his size, and waiting for bigger kids to test him, would find inner peace from the philosophy and training from the East. It shouldn't end in tournaments and trophies. It should end in him living past the "midget" and "shrimp" and facing the world with an enlightened mind. He's not going to take on the kids from the evil dojo across town, I just want him to feel as proud of himself as I did while I was imagining during the class we observed.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Who Do You Trust?

I'm feeling a trace of relief along with my sadness as I note the passing of Karl Malden. Karl was ninety-seven years young when he died. I had begun to feel the icy fingers of the reaper on my neck as Michael "The King of Pop" Jackson and Billy "The King of Infomercials" Mays went to their final reward last week. They were both fifty. Fifty is what I am currently pushing, as are many of the people with whom I associate. The idea that my age is more like "middle" comes as a nice bit of reassurance from Mister Malden.
Karl was always good at that. "You're away from home, you lose your checks. What will you do? What will you do?" Karl let us know that we shouldn't leave home without our American Express traveler's checks. His was a voice of quiet trust. I took his advice. He won an Emmy and an Oscar, after all.
Before I ever saw "Streetcar Named Desire," he was Lieutenant Mike Stone on "The Streets of San Francisco." In his gray fedora and trench coat, he always managed to solve the crime with his partner Inspector Steve Keller before the Epilogue. Karl was happy to give all the tough stuff to Michael Douglas, including letting him drive after he was shot.
The other role I will remember him most for was his portrayal of General Omar Bradley in "Patton." Like his work with Brando, Karl was happy to let George C. Scott chew on the scenery while he created a believable, grounded character we could relate to. He wasn't going to win the war all by himself, but he was the guy you would turn to when you were ready to try.
Karl was fifty-eight when he starred in "Patton." He was sixty when he started his six year run on "The Streets of San Francisco." By that yardstick, I've got a lot to look forward to, and a lot to look back on.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

He's Good Enough, He's Smart Enough...

Chin up, little buffaloes! I have news that will make you glad to be living in a country plagued by a recession and reality TV: The 2008 election has finally come to a close. It ended with a bang, but not gunfire. There were no mass protests or baton-wielding policemen on motorcycles. Al Franken was named the winner of the highly contested Senate seat in Minnesota. After eight months of counting and recounting, Mister Franken won by just three hundred and twelve votes, and a trip to the state Supreme Court.
Yes, we live in a pretty rare place. Since November, both sides have managed to contain their hostility, for the most part, and to patiently wait for the outcome. No one took up arms, and any bricks that were thrown were probably launched by sports fans at the prospect of having Brett Favre becoming quarterback of the Vikings. This would be the orderly transition of power that makes our process somewhat unique.
Contrast that to what's happening in Iran. State television reports that Guardian Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati presented Minister of the Interior Sadegh Mahsouli a letter Monday saying the council has approved the election after a recount of ten percent of the ballots. How does one Senate seat stack up to the presidency of Iran? Well, with sixty senators on the Democratic side of the aisle, they will have a majority not reached on either side in three decades. The president of Iran still has to deal with the real power in that country, the clerics. The guy who rose to fame calling Rush Limbaugh a big fat idiot is on his way to being the second senator from the land of ten thousand lakes. Perhaps things would move more expeditiously for Mir Hossein Mousavi if he started calling Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a grouchy old fusspot.