Tuesday, August 31, 2010


For a few moments, I felt that I was making the worst parenting decision of my life. Sending my son off into that throng of people, armed with only his best intentions and a cell phone, I winced in anticipation of all the things that could happen at the moment he disappeared into the crowd. He was carrying cash. He is still quite small for his age, and he is eternally trusting. I figured he would probably get mugged or, more likely, sold a handful of magic beans.
Then I refocused: This is a thirteen year old boy who walks to and from school in Oakland. I was not putting him out on the trackless wastes of the Australian outback. I was turning him loose on the mean streets of Disneyland. Sure, he had to leave the friendly confines of the Magic Kingdom to walk all the way upstream to the Lego store, but he would be within shouting distance of an obsequious cast member virtually the entire distance. His confident look gave me some solace, and the fact that it was usually me that adopted the laissez faire attitude while my wife was the one who tended to cling more tenaciously knocked me out of my reverie.
I wished him good luck and encouraged him to call us once he had made his purchase and then once again when he returned to the main gate. His initial plan was to take the Monorail for at least half of the journey, but when it broke down, he went ahead and hoofed it for the entire trip. After thirty minutes, I began to relax, just enough flinch mightily when my cell phone began vibrating and when I heard that he was not under lock and key in some Disney detention center but rather on the horns of a dilemma over which Lego set to choose, I unclenched. He was fine. He was doing precisely what we had asked of him. He was taking care of himself.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, on the Sunday before the start of school, he set his own alarm for six thirty and got up on his own. He got dressed and headed out the door in rehearsal for his upcoming daily routine of walking up the hill to school. I heard the door close. I drifted back to sleep. I heard the door open again. He had made the circuit in about forty-five minutes. I called him into our room, and I asked him why he had taken so long. He shrugged and suggested that maybe it was because he was reading "on some of the less-busy streets." This wasn't Fantasyland or Tomorrowland, it was Realityland. And he was fine.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Day One

On Friday afternoon, when all the teachers were dashing around our school, preparing for this day that we thought might never come, I had a moment of quiet reflection. It came in a first grade classroom. I looked at the empty desks and chairs, and then looked at the name tags carefully taped there by their incipient teacher. I thought about all the years that I have been in that building, waiting for the first day of school, knowing that those chairs would soon be filled, and those desks would soon contain books and papers until they were full and overflowing. On Friday there were no kids. Monday would be different.
The first day of school has a Christmas morning feel to me now. Kids running from group to group, asking each other, "Who'd you get?" "Is she new?" "What room are you in?" Weeks or hours or just minutes of anticipation have paid off in the knowledge of where they will be spending the next nine months, and with whom they will be spending them. There are some sad faces. Some are scared. But most of them are happy. They are glad to have a place to be five days out of every week. They know when recess will be, and where the lunch room is. Except for the kindergartners. They cling to their parents' hands and look anxiously around at the building with so much room and so many new faces. I know that it will only be a few days before they are running from the water fountain to the play structure and listening for the bell that calls us all back to work.
There will be some tears, and not just from the youngest ones. Fourth grade boys will be confounded by the sudden maturity of the girls that used to play four square with them. Second grade girls will seek to curry favor with their teacher by helping in any way possible. Fifth grade boys will hang around under the basketball hoops, trying to take in the fact that they are now the rulers of the roost. Then it will be time to go inside and find your seat: the one with your name so neatly written and taped to your very own desk. And so it begins anew.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fave Rave

Who is your favorite Beatle? If you picked Pete Best or Stu Sutcliffe, I congratulate you on your ability to cling to the margins, but I will encourage you purely for the sake of argument to stay within the rigidly drawn parameters of this exercise. There are four Beatles: John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Naming Murray the K or Billy Preston only continues to stir muddy waters, and no, even Muddy Waters would not be a sufficient answer here.
Brian Epstein shows a nice sense of history, but Clarence gets you obscure eighties points. Neil Aspinall or Mal Evans show that you read a lot or have access to Al Gore's Internet. If someone told me that their favorite Beatle was George Martin, I probably wouldn't slap them. At least he was in the studio when all that mania was taking place. But we're still postponing the inevitable. Since Rolling Stone magazine decided to rate the top one hundred songs by the Fab Four, from a catalog that includes just over three hundred tunes, there is a renaissance Tiger Beat proportions. The Cute One. The Smart One. The Funny One. The Quiet One. Come on now, the clock is ticking!
To be fair, I think we all have spent time in each of those camps. I was a Paul fan early on, since he seemed to be the most accessible of the bunch. I switched to John soon after that, mostly to bring my alliances in line with my favorite Monkee: Mike. In college I went with Ringo, mostly because I got tired of listening to others badmouth him. It wasn't until I got married and settled down that I finally arrived at George and his ukuleles. This was a guy who seemed completely at peace with his place in the firmament of musical mythology and he helped pay for Monty Python's "Life Of Brian." He will forever be the person who introduced me to the concept of "grotty."
Who knows, in a few more years, I may come full circle, but for now it hardly seems worth fussing about. Unless somebody comes up with Tony Sheridan.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dream On

What are we to make of a statement like "This is a moment, quite honestly, that I think we reclaim the civil rights movement?" If it were made by anyone who might conceivably be connected to the civil rights movement, either now or in the future, it would sound like a call to arms. In this case, it is Glenn Beck who is rallying his posse on the forty-seventh anniversary of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior's "I Have A Dream" speech at the very location that the late reverend made his plea for universal peace and understanding. The guy who once said that Barack Obama is a racist is holding a rally is to pay tribute to America's military personnel and others "who embody our nation's founding principles of integrity, truth and honor."
He believes that the fact that his big show happens to coincide with one of the most important dates in civil rights history is merely coincidence. "I'm sorry, oh so important media, that I forgot the date," Mister Beck said in a mocking tone. "It's not the date. It's the message." I suppose that, just for a moment, Glenn forgot that his is in fact still part of the "oh so important media," but we can forgive that since he seems to have so much else on his mind right now.
Like the guest list: Sarah "Half a Term" Palin, Jo Dee Messina, and Alveda King.
Wait a minute? King? That last name looks familiar. She is the niece of uncle Doctor Martin Luther King Junior. It's about freedom of speech, she says. "If we want to sing the national anthem at a memorial to the man who led this fledgling nation out of slavery, and made my people free, we should be able to send our voices soaring to the heavens. Glenn Beck’s 'Rally to Restore Honor' this Saturday will give us that chance, and that’s why I feel it’s important for me to be there." Yet another eerie coincidence for Glenn to roll his eyes at when the oh so important media asks him about it.
"I know that people are going to hammer because they're going to say, 'It's no Martin Luther King speech,'" Beck told his radio listeners on Wednesday. "Of course it's not Martin Luther King. You think I'm Martin Luther King?" In a word, "no." But we can realize a part of Doctor King's dream, we can judge Glenn, not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Spare The Air Day

A lot of people would tell you that China is where it's all going on these days. They've got all the money, and they're starting to import their cheaply made toys. They recently unveiled a missile that could destroy one of our super-carriers. They have even considered dropping the death penalty for "economy-related, non-violent offenses." Progress, we assume, comes in stages.
Like the traffic jam outside of Beijing, now in its second week. It stretches sixty-some miles as cars are stuck behind cargo-bearing trucks and road construction exacerbates an already ridiculous situation. Welcome to the future.
It brings to mind Kurt Vonnegut's vision of China in his novel "Slapstick." In this book, China has closed its borders for a number of years, then an emissary appears who is only six inches tall. He explains that his country's scientists have solved most of its problems with the advent of miniaturization, and he has only appeared long enough to tell the rest of the world "farewell." Unfortunately, a plague develops when someone accidentally inhales one of the now microscopic Chinese, bringing about the end of the world as we know it.
Presently, a shadow economy has sprung up as an adjunct to the traffic jam. Unscrupulous vendors are circulating through the cars and trucks that sit idling outside of the capital city, selling food and water for highly inflated prices. No word yet on whether this will be a crime punishable by death. Or miniaturization.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

V.I. Day

I know I was on vacation and all, but did the war in Iraq just end? Where are the parades? The presidential aircraft carrier landings? Did the last guys out remember to turn off the lights?
Okay. There were plenty of news items about the last units to pull out, but shouldn't there have been something more along the lines of "shock and awe" with which we came busting in all those years ago? Aren't the Iraqis going to miss their liberators?
Enough questions for now. We owe it to ourselves as a nation to take a deep breath and appreciate this pause in the action. Mission accomplished or not, the combat troops have moved out. Of Iraq. There is still plenty of combat to be found, but it won't be in Baghdad for us. There will still be fifty thousand American troops left in Iraq, but their job will be "Operation New Dawn," a far semantic cry from "Desert Storm" or "Airborne Dragon." Fifty thousand men and women hanging around, just in case there is trouble. We're there to help, after all.
My mind goes back to the video images from my youth of the scramble the United States made out of Vietnam. It wasn't proud. It wasn't happy. It was embarrassing. We were done.
It also makes me think of "Monty Python's Life of Brian," as the People's Front of Judea argues about "what have the Romans ever done for us?" After a somewhat exhausting list, one timid fellow suggests: "Brought peace?" To which Reg, their leader, replies, "Brought peace? Oh, shut up!" We shall see.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Oh, stewardess? I speak jive."

With these words, Barbara Billingsley gave us one of the biggest laughs in film history. I had one of the biggest laughs in undercover investigations history when I read that federal agents are seeking to hire Ebonics translators to help interpret wiretapped conversations involving targets of their inquiries. For those of you who don't recall, Ebonics is African American Vernacular English. It caused quite a fuss back in 1996 when educators in Oakland suggested that it was a separate language. Many believed that this meant that their children were going to be taught this new language, or that much of the instructional day would be heard in this exotic tongue.
There was a good deal of discussion and debate, most of it centering on the question of whether Ebonics was, in fact, its own language. So confounding was this proposition that the Reverend Jesse Jackson initially called this school board's decision to teach Ebonics "an unacceptable surrender, bordering on disgrace," only to reverse his position a few weeks later, saying that he hadn't fully understood the resolution. Feel free, at this point, to make your own joke about fully understanding Jesse Jackson.
All of this came to pass in the year before I started teaching in Oakland. By the time I was ready to enter the classroom, however, most of the tempest had escaped from this teapot, leaving us to discuss, as educators, the difference between dialects, languages, creole and pidgin. I remember one fifth grade teacher who preferred to tell his students that there was such a thing as your everyday talk, which was fine for hanging out on the street corner, and "money talk." Standard English is the language you want to use when you are interviewing for a job, or when you are trying to impress your teachers. Ebonics, he told them, was for hangin' with the homies.
And now, apparently, when you're trying to catch the bad guys. Where is Mrs. Cleaver when you need her?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Take A Picture Here, Take A Souvenier

On our family trip, I found myself periodically vexed by the feeling that I should be taking a photo of the activity or experience in which we found ourselves. It was a compelling thought, since I grew up in an environment that was heavily photographed. This was especially true of my summers. All the comings and goings at our family's cabin were carefully documented by my mother and her Kodak Brownie. Albums were filled quicker than we could keep up, and so we eventually switched to metal recipe boxes. All of our pictures were stacked in them. Family reunions, sleepovers, new construction, it was all there. When a roll of film came back from the developer, we would have to catalog them carefully with those that came previous. Eventually, it became all but impossible to flip through all those photos because they were so densely packed. All those memories with no practical way to share them.
Now we share our pictures digitally. If we don't like the looks of the moment we have just captured, we simply hit delete and take another shot. My mother loves it when we send her links to our latest online photos, but she always feels a twinge of regret that she doesn't have the tactile sensation of holding a print in her hands. I understand that. I miss the five by sevens that we used to get by the dozens. I have offered to order some of our best moments for her from our virtual albums, but trying to decide on which images deserve to make it to their analog state is a chancy operation. Digital photography is almost too casual. It all happens with the relative ease and frequency of a cellular phone call.
And so, we wrestled with the compulsion to document every moment of our family sojourn. We did the best we could to capture those days or activities that we were certain that we would forget if we didn't get a snapshot or two. Or more. Then we culled through the data, and found that much of what we had was out of focus or poorly lit or someone had their eyes closed. Just like the olden days. And maybe we could just print them all out. And store them in tin recipe boxes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sometimes Nothin' Is A Real Cool Hand

"Vacation never ends, it just changes location." - David Addison
This summer I chose to take some time off. A lot of time off. Even though it would be months before my family would take their southern California tour, I chose to limit my exposure to work for the summer. No summer school. No additional training or seminars. I put myself on a metaphorical island and I stayed there.
And stayed there. The idea that I could stay away from work for two and a half months seemed like wishful thinking at first. Now, at last, I can proudly say that I have managed to deal with the relatively amazing lack of activity in my life. To be sure, there have been scheduled rendezvous here and there and plenty of chores and fixes. Major motion pictures were viewed, and we saw a Beatle. There weren't many days when my son wasn't either on his way over to a friend's house or one of his friends was on their way to ours. There are new windows in the back room and rain barrels in the garage, ready for the rains to come. Birthdays were celebrated. Fathers were feted. We found our way into a river, the ocean, and a few different swimming pools.
Yes, there were a couple calls from school that got me up and out of the house. I confess that I was happy to be back in the halls and classrooms, even if it was only long enough to bring a computer or two back on line. But that was only an hour or two. Otherwise, there were entire days when the only time I went out our front gate was to go for a run. Days passed between what might be described as moments of intentional responsibility. I made lunch. I cleaned up the kitchen. I worked in the garden. The laundry never piled up. We made it to Disneyland.
Now, the curtain comes down on a summer that will be best remembered for nothing. Not because there is nothing to remember, but because it is what I had to do. I don't know when I'll have it in me to do nothing again, since nothing seems to have taken a lot out of me.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

There's One More Kid

"...that will never go to school
Never get to fall in love,
never get to be cool."
- Neil Young, Rockin' In The Free World
It has happened for a second time. To be honest, I don't actually know if there have been other occurrences, but this was the most recent: About a week ago, a kid who had been in my class was killed by a gun. When you start to toss the numbers around: fourteen years of teaching, hundreds of kids each year, it becomes less intimidating. And I teach in Oakland, where there were one hundred and ten homicides last year. Extrapolating, that would sit somewhere in the one thousand four hundred range for my teaching tenure. Many of those homicide victims were between the ages of fifteen and thirty. I suppose I shouldn't be all that surprised by the coincidence.
There was a loaded gun and two kids involved in this one. One was thirteen. The other was fifteen. They were brothers. The fifteen year old was the one who was shot. Accidental or on purpose, murder or suicide, it may never be known. Doesn't matter. Dead kid. Was a student of mine. Somebody's son. Somebody's brother.
Years ago, it was another boy who made the mistake of being in front of a nightclub in San Francisco late one night. More to the point, he was in front of a gun late one night in San Francisco. He too never saw his sixteenth birthday. I knew him too. I gave him the same lecture I give to any kid who will listen to me about "good choices and bad choices." The same lecture I have given to my son. When I see second and third graders chasing each other around the play structure, pointing fingers and shouting, "Pow, you're dead," it makes me flinch. When they get to fourth or fifth grade and they make the sounds of a shotgun being racked, or start bragging about the AK they saw, I tell them the story of the boy I had in my class who didn't ever get his driver's license or go to his senior prom. They stare at me for a while, and a few of them start to put it together. Mister Caven has a hard time watching kids play with guns. I know that I won't stop them. Cops and Robbers and Cowboys and Indians and Halo are far too exciting to simply give up. Now I have a new story to tell, and I hope more kids listen.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Super Egos

With all the interest in getting any and all comic book characters to the big screen these days, I was wondering why there hasn't been a bigger push for Captain Marvel. Perhaps it is due to the very confusing nature of his origin and appearances over the years. DC comics maintains a character that they now refer to as "Shazam." Their main rival, Marvel comics, has had a series of characters they have published comics about called "Captain Marvel." Who could blame the guys at Marvel for wanting to have an eponymous hero to carry their banner throughout the galaxy? Trademarks can be such tricky things, even in the super-hero biz. 

Back in the seventies, there was a very blown-dry version on Saturday mornings of the adventures of "Shazam." It explained how young Billy Batson could assume all the power and wisdom of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. He would shout out an acronym of their names, and suddenly this kid would expand into a caped crusader with a big lightning bolt on his chest and a chin to match. In the comics, Billy was a newspaper reporter, a very common guise for super heroes to assume. In the TV show, he was a kid who travelled around in a Winnebago with some old guy and occasionally got to ride motorcycles. Even with the glamorous job at the newspaper or the opportunity to ride a dirt bike, I could not imagine why, once he had become Captain Marvel, Billy would ever utter the word again only to revert back to his ninety-eight pound weakling self.

The guy in Marvel comics had to bang his wrist bands together, and then he could only maintain his connection to the "other dimension" where the good Captain had been banished for so long before having to revert back to his more human form. That, in comics terms, makes sense to me. Perhaps the fact that "Shazam" was always meant to appeal to a younger audience may have kept him from feeling comfortable in an adult world. Maybe they figured out something about Superman that the folks at DC struggle with all the time: Once you become a Super Man, life loses a lot of its mystery. The vague sense of ennui felt by Clark Kent as he stares across his desk at Lois Lane is really an adolescent emotion. Ol' Supes could have manipulated the situation in his favor anytime he wanted by just keeping the blue tights and cape on full time, and he could have had any woman he wanted. But that wouldn't be right, would it?

I think Billy is afraid of what might happen if he kept his muscles on twenty-four/seven. The need for a secret identity is profound, especially when you're a teenager. That's what Marvel comics figured out with Spider-Man. Nobody needs a fortress of solitude more than a teenager. For Superman, it meant flying off to the North Pole. If all you had to do was say a word that makes you sound like Gomer Pyle? So be it. Goooolllleee!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eat, Pray, Wander Around

It was a very conscious choice. Caught between the worlds of my son and my wife, I chose to find my own way. It was a very spiritual quest. I might have stayed back at the house, listening and watching as my son and his best friend waged Lego war upon one another or set out on video game adventures to save the galaxy. This held no specific appeal to me, since I understood that this was their special time together. Likewise, when my wife decided to go see "Eat, Pray, Love" with her best friend, I would be hanging on the edge of a planet that I just barely understood.
Instead, I chose the road less traveled. Initially I had a vision of going to see a movie by myself. I had a few to pick from, but the timing at the neighborhood superfaplex made the whole process bog down in minutiae. Instead of simply buying a ticket to sit through a movie that I had no real interest in, as I have in the past, I sent the ladies in with my best wishes and then proceeded to spend the next two and a half hours exploring the mall.
My first stop was the Barnes & Noble. There were two floors of books and magazines to keep my interest, and obviously there were parents and friends hanging out in the comfy chairs, doing that thing that I was attempting to do: filling time. I considered picking a volume which held passing interest and finding a seat. Then the voice of the grouchy book store manager came into my head, "This isn't a library, bub." Finding no book or magazine to which I could immediately commit to purchase, I left the store.
Outside, summer was asserting itself in Southern California. It was warm, but not oppressive. I continued to follow the sidewalks to where they might lead me. I went into a Sports Authority and made plans for the equipment that I would purchase with unlimited funds from my school district. I meandered still further and found myself in a Hallmark store, searching for an occasion for which I might buy a card. Lacking any real sentiment at the time, I returned to my path.
I found the places where they unload their trucks. I found the places where they dump their trash. I walked until I ran out of sidewalk. I sat on a bench in front of a Chili's and played Tetris on my cell phone. After a couple vain attempts at getting the tiny blocks to fall into tiny rows, I checked the time: There were just ten minutes left until my wife and our friend were to be disgorged back into the world. I went back to the entrance of the theaters and took my place.
They found me there, sitting at a table with an umbrella, looking as relaxed as I might be if I had been actively pursuing relaxation. I felt proud of my accomplishment. More than two and a half hours of daylight had been consumed by my trackless wandering. I tried to explain to them what an interesting experience it had been, since wasting time is something that I tend to eschew. But I had done just that.
When we got back to our friend's house, I wasted little time suggesting that we attempt to fix her bathtub spigot. We were able to remove it with little effort, and set off to another mall in hopes of buying a replacement. At last, I was purposeful once again.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Setting The Record Straight

Remember when Bobby and Cindy Brady decided they wanted to set a record? I do. They didn't get invited to Aunt Gertrude's wedding. After being shoved around and ignored by their siblings and suffering their various accomplishments and ego-feeding-frenzies, the two youngest decide to prove themselves on their own terms. They decide they should be able to compete for the world's mark for teeter-tottering. That brings the news cameras to their house. What a feat. Can you imagine? Can you imagine bouncing up and down for twenty-four hours with only five minute potty breaks every five hours? How about seventy-five hours? That's the real record. It was set in 2003. The one Cindy and Bobby can only dream about, since the best they could hope for was an asterisk and some sort of "junior's mark" that probably wouldn't get them that oh-so-coveted invitation to Aunt Gertrude's nuptials.
But that's the world I entertained when I was a kid. Any physical action that could be repeated, seemingly endlessly, was a potential record breaker: free throws, yo-yo, clackers, jump rope, tennis ball toss and catch. Once we even constructed a monster version of four-square that was actually twenty-six square, with a spot for every letter in the alphabet and every kid in the neighborhood. It was our wish that channel seven would come by, or even channel nine with their helicopter, but at least dumb old channel two. It was epic, this snaking trail of boxes drawn on the sidewalk and out into the street. Nobody came. Perhaps this was because no one ever bothered to call. It didn't occur to us that these sort of things relied on someone shining a light on us from the outside. Just because we took on the challenge of stacking soda cans all the way to the roof didn't spontaneously generate a media event. It was, instead, merely a bunch of kids finding new and generally pointless ways to waste time. Not that we didn't document our own achievements. Countless loose leaf notebook pages filled with won/loss records and hash marks scrawled on garage walls to track the inevitable proud moment when, beyond all reason, we accomplished the seemingly impossible. And, for the record, we never got invited to Aunt Gertrude's wedding either.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Devil's Playthings

Playing solitaire on the computer isn't a hobby. According to my mother, maintaining this blog is not a hobby either. Her point was that this is somewhat of a required exercise, and I tend to it as if it were a chore. Not that it isn't completely satisfying: seeing my words come alive on Al Gore's Internet each day. But this is no hobby. It is, to use the parlance of elementary school, a "must-do."
What then would my "may-do's" be? I used to put together plastic model kits, but even in my youth I had a compulsion to finish them. Sometimes the pieces broke or I painted the wrong side first. Too much glue or not enough. My work suffered by comparison to the other kids on the street who were painting the lenses on the binoculars of Afrika Korps commanders that were one seventy-second scale. That kind of detail was wasted on someone like me. The idea of spending more than a few minutes with a piece of plastic no bigger than my thumb was incomprehensible. It still is.
That's the trouble with me and the hobby thing. Just about the time that I catch myself collecting or connecting with any object for more than a few minutes at a time I start to question myself and my priorities. Consequently a lot of my energy gets used on home repair and upkeep. It has that "useful" feeling to it, though I still find myself racing to the finish. I'm not one to take a break and sit on the steps, admiring my handiwork. Gardening is the same challenge. If there's something that needs to come out, I don't spend a lot of time negotiating. If it's going in the ground, I dig a hole and get it planted. My wife is a "process" kind of person, and when the two of us get on opposite ends of a project, the strain can be almost unbearable. I'm big into that whole completion thing.
Golf has too much equipment, and there's too much fog here next to the bay for stargazing. I bike to work, so it doesn't feel much like fun to me, and the only thing I want to respond to a remote control is my TV. And by now you've probably come to the same conclusion that I have, which is that the hobby for which I seem most suited is complaining about not having one. Maybe not very fun, but ultimately very satisfying.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reboots In Disguise

Hey pop culture fans! Academy Award winning director Guilermo del Toro will be directing a new film version of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion. He promises that his "will be scary and fun at the same time." This may come as a great relief for the eight of you out there who may have paid to see Eddie Murphy's turn as workaholic dad Jim Evers in the original 2003 version.
Original? Is it appropriate to say that the first attempt at trying to make a movie about an amusement park ride is original? Especially in the rather frothy wake of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl," released four months before. It used to be that Disney built rides based on their movies, not the other way 'round.
This gets me wondering just what inspirations we have left for our entertainment, since we continue to chase our collective tails when it comes to influences: based on the best-selling novelization of the TV series inspired by a breakfast cereal modeled on an action figure. The fact that the board game "Battleship" is on its way to the big screen should no longer seem surprising. I am fully expecting the movie adaptation of this week's Target circular will soon be a major motion picture.
It also speaks volumes about our attention span. Remember just eight years ago when Tobey Maguire was Spider-Man? Not anymore. He's so early twenty-first century. The new millennium is all about Andrew Garfield. We need to be reminded, one more time, that with great power comes great responsibility. Radioactive spiders and all that. "Avatar" was really "Ferngully" and "Inception" already made the rounds as "Dreamscape."
Come to think of it, maybe it's not so strange at all, since all of this really could be a dream after all, and if it's taking place in my head that would make perfectly good sense. Though most of my dreams are based on "Caddyshack."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Down The Street

It was those orange glass grapes. They sat on a shelf in the cutaway to the living room at my friend's house. They had a thin layer of dust on them, and that's what bugged me. My "friend" had taken issue with my mother's ability to keep a clean house. Who was this clown to tell me that my mother wasn't on top of her game? Since when was it okay for us to criticize each other's mothers?
To be certain, this kid was my friend in the most desperate way. This is to say that I started walking to school with him in Kindergarten and continued right up until ninth grade. In between, he tested my patience and loyalty in ways that would have sent most people looking for the door. It just got me back on my knees, begging for more. Somehow I got the idea that if I put up with all his abuse, he would accept me, which turned out to be essentially true, if only for the most rudimentary connection. Looking back, I find it odd that he felt that he was somehow able to tolerate me, when he was the one who was so regularly obnoxious to me. Did I need a friend that bad? I used to think so.
That's why I never confronted him on the whole housecleaning issue. I defended my mother, but I never lowered myself to his level. I didn't dare. He might choose to "drop" me, as he did periodically when I failed to meet his odd requirements for friendship. Would I bring him more Snickers bars from my house? Could I help him cheat on a math test? Can we melt that model airplane of yours? He had a list of nicknames for me, each of which described what he felt were my faults: "Tuba, birds-nest, zitface," and so on. And yet he continued to show up on our doorstep, looking for goodies. He came along on my family's trips to Dairy Queen or the local amusement park. He was my guest. He was my friend.
And I showed up on his doorstep as well, day after day, week after week. I would often have to wait ten to fifteen minutes each morning as he struggled to get ready for school. I sat in his living room, watching their TV, waiting, looking at those orange grapes, and experiencing that faint odor of cabbage that lingered. I used to think that I was the unhappy kid. I was the one who was miserable because I was willing to take all that grief just for the opportunity to be his pal. My mother was there to send me off in the morning and welcome me home. His mom had already sent two older brothers through school. She didn't have time for him. She was busy cleaning house. At least that's what I was told. Now I feel bad for him, but not bad enough to ignore the dust on those orange glass grapes.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

All In The Family

I saw "Paper Moon." We don't even know for sure if Moses is really Addie's dad at the end of the movie. And that Trixie Delight and all her talk about "bone struchah." It was a highly memorable experience. Now, thirty-seven years later, Ryan O'Neal and his daughter Tatum are teaming up again, only this time it will be a reality TV show. It will be about their attempts to reconcile. I'm pretty sure that I would rather watch the "Paper Moon" series that was on ABC in 1974 for one season. At least that had Jodie Foster.
It is a scary thought to imagine the size of the check that had to be dangled in front of these two to try to put their differences aside. How natural will it be to see them coming together to settle old scores and get back to being a loving family once again, with a swarming camera crew and dangling boom mic? Tatum's fee for appearing on "Dancing With The Stars" probably doesn't cover the rehab, and her daddy has to find a way to live down the fact that his daughter is the one who won an Oscar, which may be why he was hitting on her after Farrah Fawcett's funeral. It's sure to be every bit as fascinating as any other reality train wreck on your cable dial this fall. It's what "real" TV is all about these days, but don't be fooled. Those aren't "Real Housewives." In the real world, drunken college types have to fish their own car keys out of the jacuzzi. In reality, we fight with our parents and it's really pretty dull. Kind of like "Nickelodeon" without Burt Reynolds.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Ben Quayle? Why does that name sound so familiar? My son has a friend named Ben. I knew a kid in school who was a Benjamin, but he went by "Benji," not "Ben." Maybe it's that last name. I remember, a long time ago, we had a vice-president named Quayle. Well, it just so happens that these two are related. Ben is Dan Quayle's son. Ben's daddy was second-in-charge back in 1989 to 1993. He wanted to be the Republican nominee for President of the United Stated in 2000, but that honor went to the Pinhead. Perhaps Dan's most notable policy decision may have been to take on a fictional character: TV's Murphy Brown, whom he believed was contributing to our nation's "poverty of values." That was back in 1992, and he lost the election that year, so it's been a while since Daddy Dan has been in the headlines.
His son is about to make up for that. Ben is running for congress in Arizona. He's got a campaign ad in which he refers to Barack Obama as "the worst president in history." He also maintains that his generation will inherit a "weakened country." Hold on just a second there, Ben. Aren't you and Barack from the same generation? There's a sixteen year age difference, but a generation? But why quibble about a few years, when we have all of history to argue about. The worst president in history? Maybe first we should define our terms: I'm fairly certain that Ben is only referring to Presidents of the United States, not other countries or other highly placed officials. Like the president of the Kiwanis a few counties over who got arrested for embezzling club funds for his mistress' plastic surgery. He was an awful president. Maybe the worst in history, but we should probably stick to Chief Executives of the United States.
Maybe we should just start with his dad's boss, Pinhead's dad. He left office with a fifty-seven percent favorable rating. Not bad, considering his son had a fifty-nine percent unfavorable rating. Neither one of them was any John Tyler.
Yes, John Tyler was once President of the United States. He could only ratchet up nine percent in his favor by the time he packed his office up in 1845. He didn't even get along with his own party. Impeachment proceedings followed, including charges of corruption and official misconduct. That resolution was defeated, making it one of the few victories of his four years in office. Unless you count the annexation of Texas as a victory. The guy he replaced, William Henry Harrison, managed to get into double digits of approval in the thirty-one days he lived to serve. Last week, Barack Obama was dipping below the waterline with only forty-five percent of those responding approving of his ability to steer the ship of state.
Again, not exactly John Tyler numbers, but certainly not worst. Meanwhile, we wait for history, since time will tell if Ben was using that keen Quayle intellect to divine the truth in advance, or maybe he is simply taking a page from his dad's book, the one where he told Sam Donaldson, "I stand by my misstatements." Or maybe it was George Santayana, who wrote, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." No word on Mister Santayana's approval rating.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's What's Inside

The city of San Francisco is considering a ban on toys in fast food meals. Civic leaders would like us to add the modifier "fatty" to those meals. And therein lies the rub: If there were healthful meals available at fast food restaurants, there probably wouldn't be a need for such a ban. One can imagine the hemp action figures that might come in the new Colon Cleanse Kids' Meal at your nearest bio-fuel station. It might require the fast food giants to consider some more alternatives than apple slices or a carton of milk to make the choices for their younger customers just a little more healthy, but after Jared, who is really eating at Subway for their minimum daily requirements?
The suggestion that kids will immediately flock to whatever burger chain happens to be hawking little plastic swag in their little boxes of "food" is not a ridiculous one. My son first became entranced by the idea of cheeseburgers when he realized there was a toy that went along with them. He was also the kid who, a couple of years later, became enraged at that same marketing ploy when he discovered that it was all one big advertising gimmick. Buy the "food." Watch the TV show. See the commercials for the "food." Repeat. A vicious cycle that he was able to discern for himself, with a little help from his parents.
Oh, that's right. There is another element in this equation: parents. If parents made the conscious choice when and how often "fatty fast food meals" would be consumed by their offspring, the toy might not be such a deal breaker. A radical suggestion, I understand, but it might be slightly easier to take than the one that once upon a time got the "sugary cereal with a prize inside" monkey off my back: My older brother watched me stick my arm in the box and fish around for a minute or two before observing, "You know, you're leaving all kinds of dead skin cells from your arm in your cereal when you do that." Apple Jacks were never the same after that. Do I really need to extrapolate that image to the kitchen of a fast food restaurant? I hope not.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Travel Log

I'm not flying this summer. As much as I enjoy the periodic airplane trip, I am a little relieved to be free of what has become an increasingly arcane experience. My wife and I have reasoned, with a little creative math, that the trip we take on Interstate Five to Los Angeles in our car takes about as long as the flight would. The lines at the check-in, and security. Taking off your shoes, your belt, and any artificial limbs that might interfere with the scanning procedure all add up. Then you wait in the designated corral for your number to be called, at which point there is more standing around and then sitting around until the point that takeoff occurs. A short hour in the air is compounded by the slow shuffle up the aisle, then out into the terminal and if you are silly enough to check any bags then you can stand at the turntable of luggage to see if you are the lucky winner of the bag that you packed before you left.
In the meantime, we're picking our own music in the car and stopping on the road for an In 'n' Out burger and talking to each other about the best vacation we can remember. It's six hours or so later and though we've put some extra miles on our family wagon, we didn't have to pay for that extra bag of Legos that we absolutely had to bring along. The actual travel time was, door to door, about the same. I don't think I would be up for a lot of cross-country jaunts, but for a trip to the bottom of the state, I think I prefer the open road to the friendly skies. Especially after I read about this guy: Steven Slater, JetBlue flight attendant. He was arrested for cursing out a passenger on an airplane public-address system, grabbing some beer from the galley and exiting on an emergency slide. This hardly ever happens on one of our family road trips, but I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rhymes With $#*!

William Shatner has a new show coming to CBS this fall. It's called "____ My Father Says." The blank is there for the expletive that the network is currently intending to use in the title. The series is based on a book by Justin Halpern. In presentation, Justin's web site uses a single asterisk between the other three letters to deflect censorship on Al Gore's Internet. That's the way it appears on the book jacket as well. And that makes sense, since they are selling a product and while there may be a certain amount of titillation in using "one of those words" right up front like that, but there is also a degree of caution that sanitizes it by using this very mild secret syntax. Inserting random symbols for possibly offensive words is a practice common in comic books and other printed material, where characters might feel the need to swear, but the comics code won't let them.
The Columbia Broadcasting System is taking this approach in their print media, using the assemblage "$#*!" to take the place of the missing word in their new show's title. However, since television uses audio, they use the broadcast equivalent, the "bleep" when announcing their new production. Rather than enunciating "Dollar sign, pound sign, asterisk, exclamation point My Father Says" coming up next on most of these stations," we can expect the tone of politeness to cover up the word that, by now everyone with a television set has made a guess at. I will be anxious to hear the guys in the booth during the football season do promos for the show on live TV, making the choice, perhaps on the fly, to let the five-second delay catch it or simply refer to it as "Bill Shatner's new show."
Which brings us to this point: If you are still unable, via standards and practices or concern for advertising revenue, to commit to the expletive of your choice, why not simply refer to it as "Stuff My Dad Says," and be done with it? I'm a big fan of artistic integrity, and I think that it's a shame that the first of seven words that George Carlin listed almost thirty years ago are still taboo on broadcast television. Which explains why Denis Leary shows up on Fox's cable alternative, FX. For the record, William Shatner doesn't think "the S word" should be a big deal. This makes sense because, first of all, if it is then maybe he won't have a show to promote. Second, and perhaps more obviously, if he has a show that people talk about before it's ever on the air because the title has a dirty word in it, then it matters just a little less that hundreds of advertisers are choosing to avoid it like the plague.
It remains an interesting conundrum, where our society has evolved in the way that it has and become so much more accepting of so many different sights and sounds, but this one little word can still stir up so much - stuff.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Still No Pony

A few years back, I wrote about how disappointed my wife would be because, once again, I failed to deliver the horse she had secretly been wishing for all those years. As our life together has progressed from the flurry of excitement that is the beginning of every relationship to the quiet comfort of familiarity, I continue to search for those moments when I surprise her. Sometimes it's a silly face or a joke she hasn't heard in a seemingly endless loop. Sometimes it's a sudden willingness to try a fruit or vegetable that had previously been resigned to the "icky" file. Or maybe a story from the distant past that has managed to stay buried for seventeen years. But after living together for nearly two decades, and knowing one another for ten years before that, there's just not that many surprises left.
That's why it's especially sweet when they still occur. That's why some of the most arbitrary things can become secrets. "You like Jan more than Marcia? How can that be?" It's a middle kid thing, I guess. There are still some Bruce Springsteen lyrics that I have not committed to memory. Sometimes I just mumble through particularly wordy sections to shout along with the chorus. Admitting any of these in a public forum such as this might come as quite a shock as well.
Most of all, I continue to look for opportunities to add a little spark, and that may be the biggest surprise of all. The Old Spice guy is my motivation. I want to give her tickets to that thing she loves. And most of all, I would love to show up on a horse.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Lost In America

And so, to make the problem go away, Hewlett-Packard is going to spend twenty-eight million dollars and some stock. That problem is former CEO, Mark Hurd. Mister Hurd resigned just as the angry villagers reached his gates, bearing torches and pitchforks, and allegations of sexual harassment, falsified expense reports, and concealing a relationship with an outside contractor. This is the same person who was only recently negotiating a new three-year contract for one hundred million dollars.
Sometimes it helps if you break a situation up into little pieces to help understand it better. This guy will now be paid roughly one third of his asking price for not working for Hewlett-Packard. That means they will be saving two thirds of that money to pay the next person they hire. It's a cost-cutting measure, see? It's the same kind of thing that Mark Hurd was so well known for as CEO. He cut costs, and jobs, and over the past five years, helped the company become the number one technology company. It should be noted that he did say that he was willing to pay back any of the disputed expenses. A pretty easy assertion coming from a guy who is about to make thirty million dollars for quitting his job.
I'm guessing that many of those people whose jobs were eliminated by Mister Hurd would like to be able to make a similar deal for salary and stock, but you know, times are tough and we all have to tighten our belts these days. And maybe if Mister Hurd had kept his belt buckled he might not be looking for work right now: maybe something from the "hundred thousand dollar box?"

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Road Show

People along the Gulf Coast have seen it before, and chances are, they're about to see it again. It's not that it's really all that fun when the circus comes to town: the media, the experts, the rescue and relief teams. The fact that they are there in the first place suggests that something has gone horribly wrong and it takes a village to put the village back together. The problem is that when the problem is solved, all those trucks and vans pack up their gear and head off to the next problem.
It will be years before the full extent of the oil spill from Deepwater Six. The local economies, still reeling from hurricane Katrina, will have to absorb the shock of more lost revenue, lost jobs, and business that simply dried up overnight. The oil, by contrast, is not going to do that. Even though the well is now capped, and covered with tons of mud and cement, there are millions of gallons of sludge still floating in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Ocean currents may take the dissipated globs of tar out into the Atlantic, where they can feel free to wander the east coast for years to come.
When the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl this past February, there was a media-generated catharsis for the country to breathe out, as a nation, for those poor unfortunates living near the Gulf. On April 20, we were all surprised to find out that things weren't back to normal at all. Things had just become a whole lot worse. Bruce Springsteen once wrote, "How many times can you get up after you've been hit?" It's a fair question for all of us, but especially for those living down there.
You can't see the oil from a satellite anymore. The oil is gone. Unless you live in Myrtle Grove. Then it's really easy to see. On the beaches. In the marshes. It's not on fire anymore. It's not pouring out into the sea in a great, crude fountain. Time for the networks to pack up the trucks and get back on the road to the next disaster. Those relief checks will be in the mail, at least for those with "legitimate claims." Folks will be watching their mailboxes, and wincing in anticipation of the upcoming hurricane season, when it can start all over again.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Big City Nights

Early Friday morning, two youths were apprehended after neighbors called police to tell them that a burglary was in progress. The eyewitnesses said they saw the pair tossing garbage bags full of something from an outdoor second floor landing. It might have been laundry, though 12:45 AM seems a little late to get get one last load in. As it turns out, the bags were full of marijuana and had come from the basement where there was enough pot to, well, fill garbage bags. Thanks to the keen observation skills of the neighbors, as well as the waist-high bags, police were able to make fairly short work of this one, including the six hundred plants being grown in the basement.
Except this wasn't the first time something like this had happened. Two years ago, police arrested a burglar at the same address carting out the same ill-gotten booty. Much has been made of the fact that Oakland's police department has just had to lay off eighty officers, but not two years ago. Six hundred pot plants didn't just spring up overnight at this same location. I know that only Baretta or T.J. Hooker have the kind of moxie and resources it would take to take down the bad guys and keep them down, but in this case, I guess you have to thank the two knuckleheads who decided to break into the same location two years later for moving the investigation along. Nothing says "probable cause" like a Hefty bag full of hydroponic weed. Then, of course, there's the irony factor: It was only a week and a half ago that Oakland's city council authorized large-scale pot farming for the purposes of selling, and taxing, bushels of medicinal herb to the populace. The "street value" of the nabbed doobage was estimated at a quarter of a million dollars. Pump that back into the city budget and maybe we could get a couple cops back on the job. Wow. I must be stoned.

Friday, August 06, 2010

La Familia

I don't know. Maybe they were worried that if California allowed gay people to get married there would be a whole stream of homosexuals pouring over the border to get hitched and adopt anchor babies. The good news is that won't be as big a concern now, since the Mexican Supreme Court has just turned back an appeal by prosecutors that said that same-sex marriage was legal in Mexico City. They still have to decide whether or not this applies to states outside the capital, and if it gay couples would be allowed to adopt children.
"It does not appear to me to be unconstitutional," Justice Jose Gudino said during Thursday's session. "The concept of the family established in the constitution ... is an open concept." The concept of the family is open. What a marvelous notion. It puts me in mind of the extended families Kurt Vonnegut used to write about. In "Slapstick" he wrote, "[H]uman beings need all the relatives they can get–as possible donors or receivers not necessarily of love, but of common decency." It also bears the subtitle "Lonesome No More," a sentiment that echoes throughout much of his work. The main character runs for president and upon assuming the office, gives everyone middle names like "Raspberry-19" in hopes that they can connect with other Raspberries or 19's, providing relatives at an exponential rate. Lonesome no more.
The American Heritage Dictionary, a much less amusing read, defines "family" as:
1. (a) A fundamental social group in society typically consisting of one or two parents and their children.
(b) Two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another, and reside usually in the same dwelling place.
2. All the members of a household under one roof.
3. A group of persons sharing common ancestry.
The definition of "marriage" starts out by suggesting that it needs to be a man and a woman, but quickly moves to less gender-specific terms: "the state of being married; wedlock." And so we're left to wonder about those big documents: The Constitution and The Bible. How do we interpret them and whose interpretation is best? Or should it matter at all? Who gets to decide? At the end of the day, I return to more words from Mister Vonnegut: "If you can do no good, at least do no harm." I'm not sure what that is in Spanish, but I'm guessing the Supreme Court of Mexico already knows it.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Citizen Ship

If you're like me, and who isn't these days, you probably wonder about those articles that start with the phrase, "Republicans want to," followed by some sideways or confounding political agenda. That's how I reacted when the mainstream media tossed me the headline: "Republicans want review of birthright citizenship." Of course they do, but before I read the entire article, my mind was already racing ahead with all the reasons why.
It seemed to me like the perfect way to get that 2008 election back. If there was a chance to prove, once and for all, that Barack Hussein Obama was not a citizen of these United States then the last year and a half would only be a bad dream, a bump in the road. If he's not a citizen, he can't be President, though he could still be governor of California.
Then I read the article, and found that all "those Republicans" really want to do is revise the Constitution of the United States. It certainly won't be the second amendment, since that one is perfectly fine and keeps the guns right where they belong. The one they're after is the fourteenth amendment. It's not the equal protection clause, or the part about due process, though they may get around to messing with that soon enough. The part that seems to be causing all the stir is the section about citizenship. The one that reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." That's a pretty good idea, considering how we're a nation of immigrants and all.
"I'm not sure exactly what the drafters of the amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen," said Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama. That would be pretty amazing if the framers of our constitution had also invented air travel. And in-flight snacks. And long lines at security checkpoints. And fees for carry-on bags.
Maybe I have strayed from the point: A number of Republicans, including Senator John McCain from Arizona, would like us all to consider just what this tired old amendment, passed way back in 1867, means to us today. Aside from those jet-setters who are flying in to have their children here on U.S. soil just to give them citizenship, they seem to have some concerns about immigrants coming across our borders illegally and having the unfortunately named "anchor children." These hunks of iron are then used to hold those immigrants in place against the metaphorical tides of the naturalization process. Did I mention that John McCain is from Arizona, where the strictest law for detaining and deporting illegal aliens has recently been under fire? Did I mention that this is the same John McCain who, as a presidential candidate in 2008 began to quietly distance himself from the immigration reform he championed only a few years earlier. Oh, and did I mention that John McCain is a Republican?
And that several of Senator McCain's ancestors were not born in this country? They just hopped on a boat and had a baby, hoping that all their children would be somehow granted citizenship in this "New World." And even though some of his relatives fought with those treasonous Confederates way back when, the congress has been pretty forgiving about letting them have their citizenship back. I guess you never really notice how nice it is to have some things until they're gone. Like Republicans.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Near Miss

I understand disappointment. I comprehend regret. I grok despair. That's why my empathy gland swelled when I read the story of one man's search for Bruce, and the crushing loss he felt when he was turned away at the last possible moment. A long time ago, I reconciled myself to a Bruce-less existence. I lived in Colorado, after all and it was possible back then to count the times that the Boss had visited the Centennial State on one hand. I had heard the apocryphal tale of a fan who hung around after a show and was eventually rewarded with the appearance of Mister Springsteen himself, who accepted this fan's invitation to dinner and a movie. A dream date with the Boss. They went to see "Annie Hall." They had dinner this guy's parents. And it all took place in Denver.
Or so they say. Growing up in Boulder, most everyone in that town had a Dan Fogleberg story. This guy sold Dan some hiking boots. This girl who brought him frozen yogurt. He was everywhere, but I never met him. Even if it had been my wish. That's kind of what I imagined would happen if I decided to hang around the Jersey Shore. I probably would trip over Snookie or "The Situation," or even Dan Fogleberg before I had a chance encounter with Springsteen. I could sit at the door of the Stone Pony for weeks at a time, and the moment that I moved left or right, that would be the time that Bruce Springsteen would amble on in and play a three hour set. With me on the outside. Just like the guy in the story.
I know that there are plenty of people, the couple hundred who watched Alejandro Escovedo and Bruce tear through "Beast of Burden." I know it wasn't me, and I suppose I'm happy to know that it wasn't a lot of other people too.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Promises, Promises

The President of the United States, who is currently Barack Obama, announced on Monday that the Iraq war was nearing an end "as promised and on schedule." This comes as some welcome relief for a number of us who were unaware that there was a schedule or an end. Back when we had a Pinhead for a president, we had been told that the war was over, or rather that it would be over abruptly, but I guess it would have helped to understand the timeline that the government was working with.
Back when the war was first getting finished, in April 2003, it was comforting to think of all those American GI's coming home in time for summer in the states. Even though "major combat operations" had ended, there was still a little clean up to do. Another seven years or so. What we who are not "in the loop" fail to grasp is just how hard it is to end a war. It's not like we're running out of bullets or anything. On the contrary, the war in Iraq has been good business for arms manufacturers here in the United States, what with all the guns and bombs that our soldiers need as well as those we are selling to the Iraqis in hopes that when there aren't any more U.S. soldiers left to shoot them they can get back to shooting one another. Our current president tells us that we are still expecting to get all our troops out of Iraq by the end of next year. If you're looking at a calendar presently, you've probably pieced together that we still have a little over a year and a half to pack our bags and go. "But make no mistake, our commitment in Iraq is changing — from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats."
No word yet on how the diplomats will be armed.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

Sitting in my pew in the temple I felt welcome, as I often do in places of worship. This sense of well-being was followed somewhat abruptly with an urge to flee. Well, "flee" might be a little strong, but I can't say that I have ever been completely comfortable in church, or synagogue in this case. Maybe it was because most of my childhood memories about what I experienced on those Sunday mornings was getting up early and waiting for the services to conclude so that our regularly scheduled weekend could reconvene. The sounds and words of the Bar Mitzvah that we attended this weekend made me remember all those Sundays before my father decided to retire us from the Methodist church.
Don't get me wrong. I took it seriously enough to earn my Bible in Sunday school: a Young Reader's version that had some pretty interesting modern illustrations, but it was the real deal from Genesis to Revelations. I read the whole thing. But before I had my shot at my first communion, my family had parted ways with the First Methodist Church. My father asserted that he didn't need a building to find God, and he was closer to Him when he was in the mountains chopping wood anyway. And we, as a family, bought this. I admit that I missed the after church trips to the donut shop, but didn't feel any loss for not having to put on our Buster Browns and school clothes one more time that week. I knew enough to know that the Sabbath was a day of rest, and why in the name of All That Is Holy would I imagine anything restful happening in one of those creaky wooden pews?
Since then I've been back, from time to time. My wife insisted that our son be baptized at the church she went to as a child. There has been a funeral or two. I've been to a bris and a christening. I've been to weddings in the woods and indoors. Whatever god was needed in each of these instances seemed to be available for the asking, not necessarily because of the location. The temple I sat in on Saturday listening to readings from the Torah had previously been a church for Christian folks just a few years ago. It made me wonder if you had to call Yaweh or the Flying Spaghetti Monster each time you set up shop, or if the cardboard Stars of David taped on the stained glass windows would be enough to get the transmission straightened out or if you had to climb up on the steeple and adjust some sort of holy beacon or other.
So apparently, after all those years, I am still far too distractable to sit in church. Or temple. Heaven help me.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Rest

Hey, toss me that piano!
Please, hit me in the face with that rake!
Let's spend the rest of our lives together!
There are a lot of phrases
that I never thought I would say
Or to be more precise
That I ever thought I would mean
Sometimes it makes me nervous
When I stop to think about how little
I really know about "forever"
Waiting for the bell to ring
Watching "Gone With The Wind"
That's what it used to feel like
Forever used to be something endured
Now it's something I look forward to
But come to think of it
We've already known each other
Forever and a day or two
Could it be this is only Act Two?
And it all began with those two words:
Why not?
So toss me another piano,
while I duck the swing of the rake
and I'll be seeing you
for the rest of our lives