Saturday, April 30, 2011

What Did You Call Me?

In my neighborhood, nicknames were de rigueur. It was a mild form of acceptance. Just about every kid that I grew up with on that dead end street answered to a name other than the one they were given at birth. Most of them were less than flattering, but that didn't matter. You took your new label and wore it proudly, with the hopes that no one would come up with something worse. It's telling that the kid who was essentially in charge of handing out nicknames was called "Beak" in honor of his rather profound and pointy proboscis.
Doomsday, Bimmer, Stosh, Neeta, Dooley, Foo, Pollywog, were all pleased and happy to have the acceptance of their new epithets. I was given a few different names, but the one that stuck was Caviar. I was grateful that some of the more demeaning attempts slipped through the cracks. On those rare occasions that reunions occur amongst the urchins from Garland Lane, I would expect to be greeted as "Cav."
As a grownup, I got a new nickname: "Mister Caven." It was my first principal's insistence that everyone on the staff refer to one another, even in meetings with no children present, in this very formal fashion. We got so immersed in this habit that during parties at my own home at the end of the year I could expect to hear, "Mister Caven, where do you keep the Margarita Mix?" And so it went for years and years until this year, when I was suddenly being addressed as "Mister C." It was very flattering to have that sense of inclusion once again. It was doubly nice since I am only familiar with two other men with the same nickname: Howard Cunningham, Richie's father on "Happy Days," and my father. Just like that, I'm back in the old neighborhood. Looking for Dooley and Fooj.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Severed Ties

If I had a nickel for every time a student told me that they wouldn't be coming back to our school for one reason or another, I would have a lot of nickels. I would also have a pretty empty school. Kids don't always know when they are actually leaving. Sometimes they hear their parents talking about moving and they come to school the next day announcing, to anyone who will listen, that they won't be coming back the next day, or the next week. There are also those students who, usually when they run into some sort of trouble with authority, explain that they don't care because they're not coming back to this school. They are convinced that their borderline ridiculous behavior will somehow be tolerated in some school down the road.
To which I nod and smile, since I know that it is not just our school, but schools around the country that are full of kids who are going to be leaving at any minute. That is, if the kids had anything to say about it. Which is why it was a surprise when Jessica just stopped coming right before Spring Break. There have been plenty of times when a kid was absent for a week or more, and then suddenly reappeared right before we were ready to drop them from our roll. I expected that to be the case with Jessica.
I thought this because Jessica is, for lack of a better term, a bit of a pill. A second grade girl who has been suspended more than once in a school year is going to be a handful. In Kindergarten she was cute as a button and rarely said a word. In first grade she started to show a bit of a precocious streak: elbows akimbo, exerting her will on the boys who would chase her. When she entered the second grade, the streak became much wider, to an extreme. She pinched and poked and stuck her tongue out. It stopped being cute. She also decided that no one could tell her what to do. That made teaching her more and more difficult. When she chewed through a cord on a pair of headphones in the computer lab, she shrugged her shoulders and waited for someone to come and replace the obviously defective headphones.
We got word this week that Jessica is gone. Sadly, no one seemed to notice. Her classmates were a notch calmer. The drama on the playground was stepped down a notch. And the wiring in the computer lab was safe. It was a relief. Maybe it was for her as well. Perhaps she found that school where kids really are encouraged to hit back, or to talk back to their teachers. Or maybe she's out there someplace pinching and gnawing all on her own. Aloha, Jessica.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Real Thing

This summer my family is planning a trip across the country to take a look at America's history. My son is very excited about spending as much time as we will let him in the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. My wife and I are hopeful that he will take the opportunity to experience as much of Washington D.C. has to offer: the Capitol, the monuments, the vast storehouse of our nation's past.
If we wanted to see the present and the future, we might just have to head the other direction. That's where we would travel if we wanted to see Barack Obama's birth certificate up close and personal. No other document, even the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, has stirred up such a fuss in the past forty years. At last, we can settle in to the business of governance: balancing the budget, ending the wars, creating jobs, finding alternatives to fossil fuels, and of course, preparing for the next election.
If you were the trusting sort, you could simply look at the full birth certificate on Al Gore's Internet. You might be as "proud" as Donald Trump claimed to be at the release of this record of an event that happened almost fifty years ago. You might also go in the opposite direction and start generating conspiracy theories about the time it took to produce the certificate, and why we are only allowed to see copies of it. After all, you can do some pretty amazing things with Photoshop these days. But maybe if you really believe that the shark was attacking the Coast Guard helicopter, you should stay home in your basement and wait for the death squads to come and take your liver. We'll be in Washington D.C. looking at the past, and worrying about our future.
Oh, and this just in: Donald Trump's hair is not of this earth.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Anything Will Happen That Can

Baseball season is upon us, and that can only mean one thing: Chicago Cubs fans like myself have already begun to fabricate excuses that will allow us to live through yet another year without winning a World Series. If you're a follower of the team from the North Side, you start preparing your "wait until next year" speeches right about the time they break training camp. It has been more than one hundred years since the Cubs have won a World Series, and haven't played in one since 1945, or as Steve Goodman recalls, "the year we dropped the bomb on Japan."
To suggest that Cub fans are a miserable lot is to miss the point: There are so very many other choices. It does require a certain amount of self-loathing mixed with a wondrous amount of optimism. It is with this odd confluence that I read an article explaining how, back in 1918, members of the Chicago Cubs conspired to their shot at the championship of the world. Eddie Cicotte, one of the infamous Black Sox from the south side of town who was banned from baseball after their tainted World Series against Cincinnati swore n a 1920 court deposition that "the boys on the club" talked about how a Cub or a number of Cubs were offered ten thousand dollars to throw the 1918 Series. Conspiring or not, they lost four games to two to the Boston Red Sox.
And so it gives me pause. As a kid my father took me to see the Cubs play in spring training, and years later when I was in college we watched them play an exhibition with the Denver Zephyrs, who were then the farm team for the Cubs. He got it from his father, who lived in a major-league free Kansas, back in the day. I learned about Ernie Banks and watched Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe. I tolerated Harry Caray's drunken enthusiasm from the broadcast booth. I knew that it would only be a matter of time. Those hapless football also-rans the Denver Broncos managed to win not one but two Super Bowls. The Boston Red Sox managed throw off their own much-ballyhooed curse and win a Series or two. Even the neophyte Colorado Rockies managed to appear in a World Series in the post-war era. I know, I know: which war, right? There have been a few since the last time the Cubbies landed in the big show. But it's spring, and there is hope in the air. Maybe this time someone will pay them to win a World Series.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

System Update

The other day as I sat in front of my computer, ready to start another day's toil and struggle with the voices inside my head, when I was waylaid by iTunes telling me that they had a new version of their software they desperately wanted me to download. Perhaps desperate is a little severe. I felt compelled since it was free and they wanted to alleviate any of the discomfort I was experiencing from the prior ten to twelve versions that I had previously downloaded. I put off my creative impulses for a few moments as I watched the progress bar creep from left to right. Then I was prodded to restart my machine to ensure that the software was gassed up and ready to roll. As I did this, I started thinking.
I started thinking about when the last time my personal software had been updated. Not Windows or Mac, but my very own personal operating system. I know that I am due for a new version of fatherhood, or at least a patch for raising an adolescent. I have been pretty successful at archiving all the baby files, but I keep a backup on changing diapers and peekaboo for infant related emergencies.
My husband drive is working as well as can be expected, given the years of dedicated service it has given me. A disk cleanup might be in order, since I sometimes have difficulty accessing romantic impulses due to the number of daily practical chore programs that run day and night. Certainly there are times when my wife and I, acting as one another's external hard drives, could use a little defragmentation: This is your stuff, this is mine. But I guess that's what community property is all about, after all.
I'm getting regular updates to my teaching file, though there are times when I have trouble running the program. This is probably because the hardware itself is somewhat outdated and memory is being stretched to its breaking point even as we speak. It does help that I have more room for some of these files as I compress the fatherhood sectors just a little.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with the performance of my central processing unit, and as long as I continue to take care of my peripherals, I should be able to make this thing work for a few more years. Until I come in tablet form.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Vacate And Shun

I have often looked to fictional characters for life advice. I'm proud to acknowledge the wisdom of Navin Johnson, Ty Webb, and Pee-Wee Herman. In this spirit, I was recent reminded that David Addison once suggested that vacations never end, they just change location. The break that occurred in the middle of my Spring has now ended and I find myself back at work, where I am happy to return if only because there is still a job for me there.
I actually had a moment at one point in the middle of last week when I had to think about exactly which day it was. The prime time television schedule brought me back to my present. That let me know that I was starting to uncoil. It let me know that I could probably find a way to spend more than a week away from the routines I have set up for myself: six thirty alarm, ten after seven departure, the ride to school, and on and on. The things that give my life rhythm and let me know what happens next. The bells ringing in the background remind me of just how regimented my time really is.
And now the bell has rung for the final round of the school year. The one that has all the standardized testing. The one where the fifth graders start to look back longingly at life with recess. The one where all the kids look forward to next year's teacher. Teachers start to imagine what next year's class might look like. There's another break coming. The big one. The summer. But for now it's a steady march toward the middle of June, where the days are longer and the chance to forget the day of the week returns. Meanwhile, the vacation continues.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dinner Reservations

Professor Colin Humphreys, a scientist at the University of Cambridge in England, would like us all to know that the Last Supper was actually held on the Wednesday before Good Friday. For centuries, Christians have been the dinner party on the Thursday before the crucifixion. Getting this kind of news after two thousand years is bound to shake things up a little, right? Matthew, Mark and Luke all say the Last Supper coincided with the start of the Jewish festival of Passover, John claims it took place before Passover.

Who are you going to believe? First of all, they were all probably a little worse for wear after partaking of all that "blood." Secondly, the apostles were under a fair amount of stress back in those days. What had been a non-stop caravan of preaching and miracles was becoming a great big political mess. Humphreys makes the logical argument that all the events that occurred after the Last Supper would probably not have happened over the course of just one day. Then there was the confusion over which calendar was being used. The professor believes that Jesus was probably using the old-fashioned Jewish calendar, rather than the lunar calendar that is still in use today.

This doesn't even take into account how hard it is to get a table for thirteen on such short notice. Humphreys suggests for all of these reasons that he can pinpoint the date for Easter as the fifth of April. At last there would be a fixed day of the year for this celebration. The pagan origins of a vernal equinox celebration that was most likely co-opted by proto-Christians are not mentioned in his calculations. Or maybe it would make it easier to schedule spring vacations. Perhaps when he returns in just about a month, Jesus can fill us in on the details. Happy egg hunting!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What Burns Me Up

It's a beautiful world for you, or at least that's what the boys from Akron, Ohio used to tell us. Millionaires continue to run for president of the United States, while the rest of us continue to wonder where the middle class has gone. War doesn't even show up on the budget anymore. We just expect to pay for it much in the same way we expect to pay for the reactors that melt down or the wells that explode. It's a beautiful world.
For this reason I found the following headline refreshing: "Candles recalled because of fire risk." At last, a concrete example of how our government is looking out for us, the little people. Not content to simply accept the wisdom of our overlords, I decided that I should check out the details. The last time I checked, one of the features of your standard candle was fire. Were the wicks made from some sort of incendiary material that caused a jet of flame to erupt from your birthday cake? Maybe it was some sort of novelty gone horribly wrong. Upon further reading, I discovered that the cups holding the candles are made of plastic and were susceptible to melting or catching fire. I chose not to take offense with the misinformation I was presented with initially. The problem was in the container for the candle, not the candle itself. As long as the candle was carefully monitored, there would be no concern about the fire which would stay restricted to the part of the candle that is supposed to burn, and the melting would be limited to the wax that we have all traditionally come to expect.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission would like us all to know that there are seven million of these potential conflagrations among us, most of which came from Target and other discount retailers. Maybe the Trumps and Obamas of the world can afford to spend thirty-four dollars on their tea candles, but for now I'll stick with the cheap alternatives to heat my home.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I, for one, would not have expected that Jan Brewer would end up being the voice of reason. Yes, it was Arizona's governor that finally decided to stem a rather ugly tide that was sweeping across the desert. She vetoed the so-called "birther bill," that would have made Arizona the first state in the nation to require presidential candidates prove U.S. citizenship by providing a long form birth certificate, and other forms of proof including baptismal or circumcision certificates, to be placed on the state ballot."I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for president of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their 'early baptism or circumcision certificates.' This is a bridge too far," she said. Coming from a lady that signed into state law a measure that required all immigrants to carry proof of citizenship. She stopped just short of having them wear armbands with big red stars on them. But this? This one was even too much for Jan.
While she was in a veto-ing kind of mood, she also struck down a bill that would have allowed students, faculty and visitors to carry guns on Arizona university campuses. Her primary concern with this one was that "it was so poorly written." The Republican dominated state legislature was anxious to keep pace with neighboring Utah, which already allows college kids to pack heat along with their biology textbooks. No lone gunman is going to storm into a classroom at the University of Utah and shoot the place up. Now it will be a semi-automatic free-for all whenever trouble arises. Maybe Ms. Brewer noticed that just down Interstate 10, a kindergartner accidentally shot three of his classmates after the gun he brought to school fell out of his pocket. Maybe she's just tired of competing with South Carolina for the most ridiculous state in the union.
Or maybe she's just gearing up her own presidential campaign for 2012. Like Doctor Thompson once wrote, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pistols At Dawn

As I stood out there on the asphalt, light rain falling intermittently, I watched the children play: up the hill, down the hill, in circles, always smiling, sometimes laughing. It was the first day of Spring Break, and my son had assembled eight of his friends on the yard at his middle school for some Nerf combat. It was ten in the morning, and I was standing in the drizzle watching kids play. Suddenly I didn't miss work so much. There were some differences, not the least of which was the relatively few times I was asked to tie anyone's shoe. During your average school day I get asked at least a half dozen times to correct some lace aberration or other. This group of middle schoolers seemed to have a pretty solid handle on their footwear. Most of them, my son included, seemed to prefer Velcro to shoe laces in the first place, and dodging incoming foam rubber bullets kept them from being too concerned with what happened to their feet. I was also impressed by the attention span these kids seemed to have. They played hard for nearly three hours without much of a break in the action. They had some rice crackers and a tangerine or two, but mostly they lived and died in a hail of small arms fire. Every so often there was a rueful whine of complaint. "I got you!" "No you didn't." "I got you in the leg!" "You did not!" And so on. Until noon. Then, as if a bell had rung somewhere in the distance, they began to collect up their weapons and spent ammo and began heading for the parking lot. They were done. How could this be? No complaining? No pleas for just five more minutes? It was lunchtime, and like Napoleon's army moved on its stomach, peace had broken out on account of pizza. We trooped on home and began our vacation anew.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Take A Hike

There is a reason that particular phrase is considered a not-so-subtle rebuke. Assigning a walk of any duration away from what are generally considered comforts: couches, chairs, televisions, is not generally a pleasant invitation. And yet I find myself periodically besieged by requests to do just that. They come, primarily, from my wife. She would very much enjoy having my company as she wanders through the relative splendor of nature that can be found in the parks and on the trails in and around our city. I feel like I got my share of hiking in before I was in high school. On one particularly memorable trip up fourteen thousand feet plus of Longs Peak, I can remember crawling the last hundred yards or so to the summit, just so I could say that I made it all the way to the top. I did it as much out of spite, since the trip was my father's idea, and he didn't even make it as far as I did, but I was determined to complete the trip. We left the parking lot long before sunrise, and when we all finally gathered back together and made it back to the car, it was dark again on the other side of the day. Somewhere in the middle of that day, I had been near the top of the world. The air was thin, but the view was incredible. I haven't spent the intervening years stuck to a couch. I have been running consistently through those decades, generally in urban loops that don't include much scenery or nature. I get my exercise, I just don't tend to commune with the flora and fauna as I go. There are times when I allow myself to be dragged along on one of my wife's expeditions that I marvel at the way she can stop and enthuse at each and every plant or rock formation. She takes great joy in being outside, when I am thinking about how long it will take me to get from point A to point B. All these distractions are keeping me from the destination. When will it end? Then, all of a sudden, we are back in the car, on our way back home. I have a number of "good husband points" to save me from having to go out again for a while. Maybe it will give me enough time to grow an appreciate traipsing about in the wilderness, but for now it just feels like being lost. Which, according to my mother, isn't always a bad thing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

High Score, Hard Lessons

The other night, on our way out to dinner, I tired of looking at the top of my son's head. He was fixating on the trajectory of pieces of meat and vegetables falling from the sky on the screen of his handheld gaming device. I made what seemed like an extraordinary move: I took it away. I didn't snatch it from his hands. I asked for him to hand it over which, to his credit, he did abruptly. Suddenly our little family was at least a third more interactive. I understand the perils of obsessive behavior. My chosen vice has been one of Freecell solitaire and Civilization. I have been known to spend hours at a time immersed in moving bits and bytes around in clever combinations that ultimately add up to nothing. I remember spending a summer in my parents' basement alternately attempting to set a neighborhood record on Atari's Breakout and dealing hands of analog solitaire on the arm of the couch. It was a very solitary phase of my development. As I grew up, however, I began to understand just how important those human interactions were. I suppose if someone had given me an portable version of the Atari 2600, I might have wandered around the block in a daze, staring at those pretty colors and using even more of my precious youth on the manipulation of lights on a screen. The reason my son has his own handheld time sink is essentially the same one that caused my parents to buy me a video game way back when Pong was cool: Everyone else has one. Not my proudest parental moment, but it stands head and shoulders over Shannon Johnson of Fort Lupton, Colorado. Ms. Johnson left her thirteen month son in the bathtub while she played a game on Facebook. The boy drowned. She insisted that her son, Joseph, wanted to be left alone, that he was a very independent baby. Shannon will now have plenty of time to catch up on her online gaming. That is, if she will be allowed to keep her Facebook account while she serves ten years in prison. I want my son to be independent too. I want him to know when it's time to turn off the machine. I want him to remember the lesson we taught him when he was Joseph's age: People are more important than things. Now it's time to go talk with my son.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gimme A Break

It's good to have a break. Things have been pretty tense around the old schoolhouse lately. You might recall a few weeks back when over six hundred layoff notices went out in the mail to teachers in my district. If you don't, then you probably didn't get one of those nice, pink, registered affirmations of the crisis in education. The pink tide stretched all the way up to the five year mark. Hundreds of experienced, "fully qualified," tenured teachers made that list. I was fortunate enough to be spared, even if it was merely because I had the whim to join the ranks of professional educators more than five years ago. Since two-thirds of our staff fell under that line, however, there have been a lot of hard feelings in the staff room. That's not to say that anybody just stopped doing their job. On the contrary: We have all banded together as we lurch toward the statewide testing deadline in the first two weeks of May. At one time, it was accepted that the final notice of being laid off would have come just after that window closed. "Thanks for cranking out another crop of bubbled-in approximations of your students' abilities. Now don't come back." Only now the worm has turned. Suddenly, as if by magic, virtually all of those pink slips have been rescinded. That's fancy education-speak to say that our teachers get to keep their jobs. Apparently there was this big chunk of money that no one knew about, or was willing to talk about, suddenly became available and now everyone can go ahead and just relax, knowing that they can come back to the job they worked so hard at all year long. Or not. It is certain that a good number of that six hundred felt the tree shaking and went elsewhere to look for a place where their talents would be needed. More than a hundred took the early retirement bait, and those who had only probationary contracts won't be coming back. Now the district is working on saving music teachers, as if that announcement would stir us all to cheer. They should be doing that. As well as counsellors, principals, assistant principals, adult education teachers, and on and on. The shocking part of this whole experience was the lack of apparent action from either the district or the teacher's union to work at saving the jobs of those on the bubble. When it turned out that the bubble was much smaller than anyone outwardly appreciated, the reaction was supposed to be gratitude for saving jobs that never needed to be threatened in the first place. That's either really poor fiscal management, or it's evil manipulation of people's lives. Whatever the case, it will be nice to have a week off. I expect I'll still have a job when it's over.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chewing Satisfaction

I don't know exactly when I started enjoying chewing on gum, but I do know the precise moment when I stopped. I brought home my first girlfriend, for real, and after a few moments of very pleasant conversation with my father, he proceeded to ask, "Why would a pretty girl like you want to chomp on your gum like that? It makes you look like a cow." I had heard my father's objections to overt mastication before, but since they were primarily directed at me, they tended to bounce off in the same way his pronouncements about how beards meant that you were trying to hide something. Since I never brought home a girlfriend with a beard, that was never a concern of mine. When I was in college and grew my own set of whiskers, I told him that they were hiding the fact that I had lost interest in shaving. But the gum thing stuck with me, if you'll pardon the pun. When friends are passing around sticks in a friendly way, they will offer one to me, and I politely decline. I can see my father standing in the kitchen, looking at my girlfriend with quiet disdain and all that sugar-free goodness just disappears. Maybe it was simply the end of the line for a bubble-gum junkie. My younger brother and I used to horde packs of Bubble Yum, the first soft bubble gum. Eventually, to thin out the stock, we went on binges, stuffing as many pieces as we could cram in our adolescent mouths. It was a hint of things to come in my stunt-eating career. Still, as I crammed another chunk of pink sugar into my drooling maw, I never flinched. My father's disapproval was the last thing on my mind. The record was ten pieces, and I would not be denied. Not until I was a senior in high school, anyway. These days, my wife and son enjoy their icy mint jaw massage, while I abstain. Probably the best thing to come of this trauma was the fact that I can spot a gum chewer in my class from across the room. The kids in my classes hate that. They have to spit it out in the garbage, but at least I don't compare them to livestock.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


The nation is celebrating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the War Between The States. It has been a century and a half since Fort Sumter was fired upon to start our Civil War. It is interesting to me that now I feel compelled to drop the definite article before that name, since it could no longer be "the" civil war, but it is the one that involved the Unite States. Since 1861, there have been a number of civil wars, but only one that we would call "ours." It makes me wonder what sort of thoughtful documentary tribute Ken Burns or his offspring might generate for the conflict in Libya in another few decades. The Public Broadcasting Company would like to remind us that "history made them famous, Ken Burns made them real." Well, as much as I appreciate Mister Burns work, history has been creeping up on me pretty ferociously lately. For instance, there has been a flurry of books and commemorations of the Beatles' fiftieth year. I remember most of those, having lived through them. It was also a bit of a shock to have Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" performed on "American Idol" on a show that was centered around songs recorded in the year the contestants were born. "Twenty years ago today," indeed. What is the difference between the Beatles and Nirvana? Libya and Fort Sumter? Plenty. But they all reside in an ever-expanding toy box of history. George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." When I was going to college, there was a quote from another George, George Norlin on the front of the library that bore his name: "He who knows only his own generation remains always a child." I suppose, in the end, that makes me old enough to sense my own doom.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Would You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth?

Years of doing yard duty on an elementary school playground has given me a certain perspective on language. I have become more sensitive to certain words, often described by children as "the S-word" or "the B-word." When I am dealing with other people's children at an elementary school, cursing is a non-negotiable. There is no way that I, as a molder of young minds, would feel comfortable allowing any of "that kind of talk" to take place on my watch. Sometimes it is a younger kid, in kindergarten or first grade, who is spouting something that they heard an older sibling or a parent say. That's when I have to ask them: "What would happen if you used that word in front of your mother?" It's a bit of a double-edged sword, since I know that many of our mothers use a fairly liberal sprinkling of cuss words, but the kids are also pretty clear about what would happen to them if they were caught repeating them. Most of them respond the same way: "I'd get a whuppin'." With the older kids, it's a little different. By fifth grade they have heard enough to know that it is only the filter they use at school and in certain social situations that keeps their mouths from sounding like the movies, songs, video games and neighborhood from whence they came. It is precisely this kind of restraint that needs to be taught to kids before they find their way out into a world that really will look at them sideways if they toss around the S or B words. I don't expect that I will keep them from cursing. I expect that they will know that if they let fly with an expletive or offensive slur in public, they will have to suffer the consequences. Like if they were on national television and shouted a homophobic term across a basketball court at an official who had just made a call that they didn't agree with. Kobe Bryant did that on Tuesday night. He had just been given a technical foul. He had just punched a chair. He was screaming at official Bennie Adams. He was misbehaving. Then he dropped "the F bomb." Not the one that my first graders are shocked by, but the one that my fifth graders like to try out on their peers to degrade them. Every bit as offensive and inciting as its cousin, the N word. I confess that I've never been much of a Kobe fan. Sure he's got talent. But he skipped college to make that talent pay off quicker. It has created, in the minds of many a basketball fan, an arrogance that has only increased over the years. He's a star, and he's won championships. He's untouchable. Or maybe not. This one may stick. The National Basketball Association has fined him one hundred thousand dollars, a little more than a parking ticket for someone who makes more than twenty-thousand dollars per game. Still, this is one that hopefully won't go away, the way the sexual assault allegation from 2003 did. At the very least, I know that he wouldn't be allowed to play on my court. He'd be sitting on the bench and I would be sure to call his mother before the end of the day.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Taxing Experience

I have a very good friend who has complained, over the years, that her birthday has been compromised by the federal government. She has the sad luck of being born on the day before taxes are due. Whether this has actually had any fiscal impact on the number of cards she has received or average price of the gifts is still a mild point of contention. It has certainly made it easier for me to remember because of that association, especially when you consider that it usually takes a yearly preemptive reminder to me about exactly which day in January my mother was born. Maybe my friend will take comfort in the fact that this year the deadline to file your taxes won't be until April 18. That is because Emancipation Day will be observed on April 15 this year. Go ahead and make your tax-filing freedom jokes now, but savor the irony that this little-known celebration of the freeing of slaves in Washington D.C. back in 1862 allows for all of us to take another couple of days to fret or procrastinate. If it seems like this is a new wrinkle in the Tax Day drama, keep in mind that this holiday has only been an official public holiday since 2005. Who says that your federal government doesn't give back? And so, for this year, the stigma of April 14 and all its anxiety and acrimony can fade. The focus falls squarely back on the birthday, not the late-night rush to the mailbox. Unless you're planning on celebrating the publication, in 1939, of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes Of Wrath," for those of you who enjoy a little irony with your cake.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

My father used to opine about how judgemental people are. "People are so judgemental," he used to opine. When he did this within my earshot, I pointed out to him what an amusing irony he was setting up. Not on a par with Marty McFly having to take his mother to prom in order to ensure his continued existence, but it still got a pretty good reading on the paradoxometer. I pointed out, on several occasions, that what he was saying was a judgement itself, thereby proving his initial assertion. This also tended to end those conversations, much to our mutual chagrin. Imagine how interesting it would have been if my father would have lived long enough to see China telling the United States to quit telling them about human rights violations: "The United States ignores its own severe human rights problems, ardently promoting its so-called 'human rights diplomacy', treating human rights as a political tool to vilify other countries and to advance its own strategic interests." At least that's what China had to say in their annual report on U.S. human rights abuses. I was especially fond of the inclusion of a very Pee-Wee Hermanesque "so-called" in their official comments.The report does come out just about the same time that Beijing police detained dozens of worshippers from an unapproved Christian church who were trying to hold services in a public space after they were evicted from their usual place of worship. It's just the latest move in a clampdown on religious and political dissidents. That didn't keep the Chinese from continuing their rant: "The United States is the world's worst country for violent crimes. Citizens' lives, property and personal safety do not receive the protection they should." Touché, Beijing, but just remember: We are rubber, and you are glue. So there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Captain's Log

There are plenty of Star Trek episodes where Spock will tell Kirk that a particular situation is under control, and as any good captain would, he responds by asking, "But for how long? For. How. Long?" The delivery is what makes William Shatner one of our greatest pause actors, and a national treasure for both Canada and the United States. But it is also a reminder of something much more dire: Our government is back up and running after an eleventh hour reconciliation of need and greed. The budget is fixed. But. For. How. Long? It reminds me of the times in my youth when my parents informed me that they didn't have enough money for a particular GI Joe or Hot Wheel set, and I replied the way any child raised in the idyllic suburbs of the sixties and seventies: "Can't you write a check?" It's the way our government is currently operating, though instead of writing checks, they are borrowing money from China. It's very easy to sit back and call the Republicans the bad guys because they want to take money away from poor people, and certainly the pictures of Ranger Bob and all the other government employees who would stop getting paychecks if the government had to shut down made everybody spring into action. The Democrats saved the day by limiting cuts to just thirty-eight billion dollars. Or maybe they simply saved face since they knew that we're still spending more than we're taking in. Still, with all the anxiety mounting in a very Y2K way, the looming deadline left our leaders with the choice of compromise or pulling the plug on hundreds of thousands of government jobs. Interestingly, if the budget talks had stretched on past the deadline and furlough notices had gone out and national parks had been closed, your senators and representatives would have continued to get paid. It was only at the last minute that a few Senate Democrats suggested a bill that would have halted their checks along with that of the president in the event of a shutdown. A nice gesture, to be sure, but one that turned out to be unnecessary, since morning came and there was no more anarchy than there was the night before, and all that fretting turned out to be for nothing. But. For. How. Long?

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Suit Of Trumps

I have never read Machiavelli. Maybe it's because I was busy reading Hawthorne and Melville and Vonnegut and Homer and the Bronte sisters and Milton and on and on. Or maybe it was because the idea of "political philosophy" left me a little dry. That didn't keep me from absorbing the concept of "Machiavellian" through the cell walls of others who had taken the time to pore over the guy's work. All those other authors surely had their points of view, and their personal philosophies shine through, but none of them make me sneer as a reflex. I feel the very same way about Donald Trump. I haven't read any of his books. That could be because I don't tend to think of him as much as an author as a reptile with a hairpiece. I have also never had occasion to watch his television show. That could be because I am not a fan of reality TV or because I would rather watch the GEICO gecko if I am going to watch a lizard perform in prime time. Is that a little harsh? I don't know the man. I know of him. What I know I don't like. Maybe if I met him at a friend's barbecue, we might find a lot of common interests. Maybe he's read "Wuthering Heights." But since that seems unlikely, I'll stick with my original judgement. Especially since he seems to be gearing up for a run for the presidency of the United States. I could keep my petty objections to myself if he was just a slimy real estate mogul who seemed to lease his wives rather than marry them, but now he wants to run our country like he runs one of his luxurious casinos. Maybe he feels that his personal experience with bankruptcy gives him unique qualifications for the job. Or maybe he's just a shill for the Republican party. Here comes the Machiavelli. What if The Donald is just sticking his face in the high speed fan for the GOP, spouting all his antiquated birther nonsense in order to make anyone else who comes along behind him seem like a rational alternative. Did I just say "rational?" It's already working...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Resistance Is Futile

Drop leaflets before you bomb. This idea has been floating around since 1870, when the French tossed the following message, written in German, on Prussian troops from a balloon: "Paris defies the enemy. The whole of France rallies. Death to the invaders. Foolish people, shall we always throttle one another for the pleasure and proudness of Kings? Glory and conquest are crimes; defeat brings hate and desire for vengeance. Only one war is just and holy; that of independence." We don't know if NATO or the United States did the same favor for their Libyan targets over the past couple of weeks, but we do know that Muammar Gaddafi lobbed his own missive across the ocean at us in the form of a three-page request that we stop bombing his country. It was the second letter to Barack Obama, asking him to halt the NATO military campaign against Libya, while wishing him success in his 2012 re-election bid. The Libyan leader referred to Obama as ''our son'', and said his country had been hurt more morally than physically by the NATO bombings. He also repeated his claim that his domestic enemies were members of al-Qaeda. For about four dollars, the Colonel has made his next move in what he no doubt assumes is a battle of wills that he will no doubt win. Sure he's nuts, but you have to admire Gaddafi's chutzpah, if that term is appropriate. He's spending a few bucks to open a hailing frequency, in the time-honored tradition of Captain James T. Kirk. Our cheapest smart bomb runs about twenty thousand dollars, so he's got himself quite a deal there. I don't think the Obama administration will suddenly rethink their mission and cancel all operations in Libya, but for a few minutes, that letter did kick up a little sand. I wonder if Obama wrote him back...

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Making Do

Irony runs thick this spring, as our school district awaits the news from on high about how big the budget cuts will be. We had initially expected cuts of approximately three hundred dollars per student next year. Now we are told to anticipate that amount to be more like eight hundred dollars per student. The image of every student from kindergarten through high school forking over their lunch money plus interest for nine months seems a little obtuse at first. Maybe there is another way to look at it. The standard school year is one hundred and eighty days. if you divide that eight hundred dollars by the numbers of school days, you come up with something in the neighborhood of four dollars and fifty cents a day. You can buy a pretty good lunch off most fast food dollar menus for that, but you would still be a few cents short of a foot-long at Subway. Instead, let's put it in weekly terms: twenty-two dollars. What can you do with twenty-two dollars a week? There are a number of web sites that you can use to get advice about buying groceries for that amount each week. Of course, at our school we are feeding kids two times a day already, five times a week, and all the while we are filling our primary function as educators. Pencils, paper, white board markers, and some of those round-tipped scissors are the fuel that our students consume for that endeavor. Then you add in the salaries of a principal and some teachers. Suddenly that figure looks awfully daunting. Flip it around another way and multiply that eight hundred dollars by the three hundred kids in our school and the magnitude of this crisis becomes even more apparent. Two hundred and eighty thousand dollars for our school site means something has to go. Eliminating field trips, PE equipment, and those round-tipped scissors doesn't begin to fill that hole. You have to start cutting jobs. In spite of what you may have heard about the lavish salaries and benefits of teachers lately, we expect to lose four or five teachers and our assistant principal in this scenario. While the simple solution seems to be to put more kids in fewer classrooms and move on, maybe we can try one more math problem: A teacher with twenty students in their classroom has roughly five hours of instructional time each day with them. That gives each student an average of fifteen minutes each day. If we bounce the number of kids up to twenty-seven in each room, the per student instruction time drops to just below twelve minutes a day. That fifteen minutes a week doesn't seem like much, but at the end of the month it will be an hour, and over the course of a year it will be thirty-six hours of instruction lost. Think of the things a young mind could absorb in thirty-six hours. I don't think that the teachers at my school would allow that to happen. They would work harder and longer to fill in those gaps, stretching their time between the time the bell rings in the morning and when their kids slide out the door at the end of the day. Because that's what we do. We make do.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Think Pink

Monday was a "Day of Action" for my union. We were asked to support our rights as members, the ones that have been taken away from other unions in Wisconsin, as well as to show solidarity with our colleagues who have recently been notified that they might not have a job next year. To do this, we were encouraged to wear pink, as a reminder of the pink slips that were handed out to six hundred plus teachers in our district. At our school there are eleven teachers who may not be working here next fall. That's two thirds of our staff. That's why I dug a little bit to find my bright pink Jimmy Buffett T-shirt. It caused a minor sensation. Perhaps because I don't tend to wear T-shirts at school unless it's a PE day, and also because I was only one of three teachers who chose to make this particular statement. As a result, no fewer than twenty different kids, most of them boys, asked me, "Why are you wearing a pink shirt, Mister Caven?" Apparently I had tweaked a sensibility of theirs that said that men should not wear pink. I told them that I was wearing the shirt to remind everyone of the pink slips that had been handed out to eleven teachers at our school. "You mean like tardy slips?" "No. They didn't get them because they were late, unless you mean they got here after I did. All they did was work here all year long and when the government ran out of money, they decided that the last ones here would have to be the first ones to go?" "Will my teacher have to go?" That's when the color of my shirt stopped being an issue. Suddenly they could imagine a world where their third grade teacher wouldn't be here, or the teacher they hoped would be their fifth grade teacher would be gone before they got a chance to be in their class. "And that's why I'm wearing a pink shirt."

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Living Trust

It's been a long time since I've had to worry about roommates. How to get them. How to keep them. How to keep them honest. I confess that I was lucky through most of the years that I was living with people other than my immediate family. I was fortunate to have friends who needed a place to live as much as I did, and we were able to get along for the year or two that the lease required. Of course, I was also a big fan of the one bedroom no-roommate experience. That meant that there was no worry about who forgot to pay the phone or water bill. It was all on me, and the lights never went out, and the water was always mostly warm when I got in the shower. This was not the case when I moved into my first apartment. I moved into a two-bedroom townhouse with the guy who lived across the hall from me in the dorm at Colorado College. When we transferred to the University of Colorado, we decided to live off campus: by about one hundred yards. The location was ideal, we just needed another couple of guys to take the other bedroom, since the rent was a little expansive for full-time students, even with my supplemental income from my job at Arby's. We interviewed a few people, but we were mostly concerned with the ability to pay rather than the ability to get along. The first guy we met hit all the right notes: funny, wealthy family to make sure the checks kept coming, and good-looking. That last bit we hoped would bring more women to our bachelor pad. Then we were stuck. The next few interviews didn't do much to instill confidence or our sense of adventure. We waited until the first day of classes before we settled on Bill. Bill was a tall guy with a big, blond moustache. He had money in his checking account, and he didn't appear to have any particular issues. But we had never lived with Bill. As the weeks wore on, we discovered that Bill was a bit of a hippie. Not the Grateful Dead version, but the social conscious kind. He wanted us all to shop at the local vegetarian co-op. It didn't seem to register with him that the other three guys with whom he was living were big-time carnivores, and our shelves tended to be stocked with corned beef hash and hamburger helper. My buddy from Colorado College was such a brand name aficionado that he refused to eat anything but Miracle Whip on his Oscar Mayer bologna sandwich. When you add in the late night guitar playing in the nude, Bill was not long for our little enclave. Soon, we found ourselves sitting around the kitchen table plotting ways to get him to move out. We would cover his part of the rent, since it meant we would never again have to hear his warbling version of "Roadhouse Blues." Finally, it fell to me as the elder statesman, to deliver the bad news. "It's not you, really. It's us. We're just not ready to evolve, I guess." He was gone at the end of the month. I saw him a couple more times on campus, and he went the other way. I can't say I blame him. We weren't particularly kind in our treatment of him or his moustache. Little did we know that this same interaction, some fifteen years later, would get us our own reality TV show. How times change.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Forces At Work

I know a little bit about rapid deceleration. It's what killed a friend of mine back in college, and was also to blame for my father's demise. That may be why my younger brother adopted the motto: "Avoid Impact." It is the reason that I always stop and read those articles about small planes crashing at local airports. I don't expect to know the occupants, but I know how the story goes. It's not the flying that gets you, or the driving. It's coming to rest sooner than you expected. The curious thing to me is this: I was supposed to be along for the ride when my college roommates went for a drive in the mountains of Colorado on that fine Indian Summer day. They got tired of waiting for me, and they were correct in assuming that I wasn't going to cut my evening film class. But I might have been coerced into playing hooky just that once. And then the forces of the cosmos would have shifted, and maybe my uptight kvetching about getting back home before dark or having one more beer before we hit the road might have changed the outcome. Or maybe three of us might have gone away that day. We'll never know. The airplane that took my father on his last trip was one that I had flown in a few times before, including the penultimate leg of the journey that eventually ended just a few hundred feet from a safe landing. My father had his own near-miss years earlier when he got squeezed out of a short hop with his boss in his small plane, an experience that kept him out of aircraft smaller than a 727 for a long time after that. Then something changed his attitude, and he was in the wrong place when there was a sudden deceleration. Just a day before I had been tucked in the jump seat right behind him. It was my turn to walk away from that one. I, for one, see mounting evidence of the old adage suggesting that if man were meant to fly, he'd have wings. Of course, there is no way to know when Fate will give you a Fast Pass to the front of the line. I live on top of a major fault line that is supposed to eventually make us all forget about the earthquake in Japan. I live in Oakland, where we are all just innocent bystanders. I ride a bike. But I know where my earthquake supplies are, and I wear a helmet. And I think my younger brother is onto something.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Burning Issue

As Judgement Day closes in upon us, I started getting curious about who out there in Fanaticaland was burning bibles. Last week, eleven people were killed at a United Nations compound in Afghanistan after news of a pastor in Florida went ahead with his plan to burn a Quran. For his part, his nut-jobiness Terry Jones said that he was sorry for any loss of life, but "I think it definitely does prove that there is a radical element of Islam." And with this, he found a way to perfectly illustrate Galatians, chapter six, verses seven to eight: you reap what you sow. That's the verse from our holy book about how God should not be mocked. I'm guessing that if you burn somebody else's holy book, it's pretty much your standard definition mock. And even though various dignitaries and military commanders implored Pastor Terry not to go ahead with his controlled burn, even after he was given a car at the end of last year for abstaining from stirring up an international incident, he had to go ahead and do it. Maybe he assumed that since so much of the rest of the world is on fire these days, no one would notice a book burning. Maybe he's just doing his part to bring on the rapture. I am sure he could show us all where, in biblical prophecy, it states that "some idjit in Florida" will whip all followers of Islam into a frenzy. My money was on Jeb Bush, but sometimes you get surprises from the pointiest of heads. And so, as Pastor Jones drives his 2011 Hyundai Accent into the light that will envelop us unbelievers, I continue to wonder how vast regions of the state of Florida and other parts of our great nation might react to a foreign cleric putting a match to a bible, especially if they were surrounded by heavily armed troops from that other nation. I guess we're all looking for liberation in one way or another. Pastor Terry seems to be seeking liberation from reality.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Who Ya Gonna Call?

My wife, who holds a third degree black belt in undestatement, said this to me: "You know, if we were renting, we would have just called someone else." She was referring to our water heater. The one that sits in the basement of the home we own, or at least a large chunk of it. Last Wednesday, it forgot it's primary function: heating water. The initial challenge came in the form of a bathtub full of cool water. She was able to discern from this a problem, and went to the basement to look for likely suspects: The washer and dryer were still working hard, perfoming their tasks like champions. The water heater, however, was derelict. A quick inspection lead my very clever wife to the conclusion that the pilot light had gone out, and without any fire, there would be no hot water. My general rule of thumb that says that I am happy to work with plumbing, since the worst that could happen is that I get very wet, whereas electrical might leave me dead. I would like to add, at this point, my feelings about working with gas run along a very similar vein. Needless to say, I was impressed that my wife, with some coaching from her friendly neighborhood handyman, decided to try and relight the pilot light herself. When I arrived home, there were no charred remains of my wife or our house, perhaps because the pilot light was still not lit. Now it was my turn to loll about on my stomach, staring into a chamber that I was assured did not smell at all of gas. That's where I would be sticking a match. I recalled a Mythbusters episode in which they showed how you could, under proper conditions, launch your hot water heater through a two-story house and into the atmosphere. As much as I admire the work they do, I had no real interest in recreating their experiment. I pressed the little button and stuck the flame in. After a few attempts at getting a tiny blue flicker that winked out as abruptly as it started, I resorted to the next threat level: Al Gore's Internet. It was there that I discovered that my thermocouple was bad. Not a two hundred dollar water heater, but a ten dollar piece of a water heater. At this point, my wife sprang back into action, being the supply sergeant of our little enclave, and whisked down to Home Despot to get the part. Now it was past nine o'clock. I wasn't getting a shower that night no matter what I did, so we waited for the dawn's early light to call an experienced hand to drop by and help us out. I stayed away from the work site and chose instead to use my nervous energy weeding the area next to our back patio. His initial assessment confirmed our thermocouple suspicions, and fifteen minutes later we rejoiced in the installation of our newly refurbished water heater. How long might it have taken to get a landlord to get a crew to come out and inspect our water heater, much less repair it? Compared to that, our sixteen hours without hot water was a drop int he bucket.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Flight Status

"Reading departure signs in some big airport reminds me of the places I've been." - Jimmy Buffett, "Changes In Latitude, Changes In Attitude" My niece flew in from Colorado last Thursday. I had the day off, thanks to the memory of Cesar Chavez, so it was easy enough for me to head on down to Oakland's airport to pick her up. And as happy as this event was, since it's always a giddy good time to spend some time with the girl I may or may not have dropped on her head on Halloween many moons ago, it was still tinged with regret. I could go to the airport, but I really couldn't hang out there. I couldn't even meet her at the gate. Instead, we had to rely on cell phones and the big board of comings and goings next to the baggage claim. The anticipation was roughly the same, but I missed the opportunity to see her coming out of the jetway, shot into our world fresh from the Rocky Mountains. I also missed the chance to stare out the windows at all the planes that were taking off and landing. Vacations just beginning, or ending with a flurry of tired kids and souvenirs. Nervous boyfriends waiting to see if the girl he left back at school still looks at him that way when she comes to visit. Lives beginning, taking new direction. It made me sad once again that in our surge for freedom in countries across the sea that we all had ours curtailed. One of the best dates my wife and I ever had took place at that airport. We drove down and parked in the lot, and went inside the terminal to have a thoroughly forgettable meal in the tower lounge. But when we came out, we looked at those big lighted boards, and imagined the trips that we might take, the places we might see. On the way home, we stopped at one of those carnivals that opens up wherever there's enough space for a Tilt-A-Whirl, and we took our chances on a ride called "The Ring Of Fire." It was the last time my wife went upside down for amusement. Afterwards, she was unwell. But it was still a magical night. That was before the towers fell and the TSA sprang up. Now the airport is an ordeal somewhere on the level of the DMV. It's no longer a place of whimsy. It's still a portal, but some of the magic has gone.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Long And Winding Road

It could be that there is something to be gained from restless nights. At the very least, I might avoid the rambling dream time that deep sleep provides. As I have mentioned before, I don't tend to have particularly fantastic imagery in my dreams. Unicorns are pretty scarce, and so are whimsical notions. I tend to dream to get dreams full of logistics. Many of these center around moving from one apartment to another: packing up boxes and trying to find a place for everything that I brought with me from the old place in the new. Last night I was trying to meet up with my parents who were planning a birthday celebration for me at our mountain cabin. This was a pretty matter-of-fact leap, since many of my summertime birthday parties were held there. The problem was that Magnolia Road, the twisting, turning dirt avenue that wound its way up into the hills was under construction. Unfortunately, there was also a good deal of water damage done to the newly paved sections, and enormous earth moving machinery was blocking what little path was available. I suggested to a man in a hard hat that I would be willing to walk around the obstruction and hike my way in. He replied that besides being far too dangerous a trek, that it would take me several days. I wanted to argue with him. I wanted to tell him that my brothers and I had walked this same stretch of road, although coming downhill, on several occasions in our youth. But there wasn't any recourse. I was stuck. Unless I turned around and drove up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, and then on to Pine Glade Road, where my family waited, patiently no doubt, for me to arrive. It was then that I realized that I had left my car behind in the mud and mire, and it had been swallowed up by all the commotion of construction. I was stuck. When I awoke, I started to decipher the meaning of what I had seen with my eyes closed. What did the construction represent? Was it education reform? Was my car really my job? Where did that highway lead to? Why didn't I just go up to the mountains with my family in the first place? Then I decided that I didn't want to know all the answers. I was just glad to be awake and wandering into the bathroom, where everything was where I left it.

Friday, April 01, 2011

It's All About U.S.

Traces of radioactive material from the endangered Japanese nuclear plant are being detected from coast to coast in the United States and in Iceland, but amounts continue to be far below levels that would cause health problems. Or so the "experts" want us to believe. The initial concern would be "how much radiation is safe?" and the correct response would be "none." Maybe we should blame Homer Simpson and his laissez-faire attitude toward nuclear power. Walking out of Springfield's reactor on the way to his car, he regularly finds a glowing chunk of plutonium stuck in his collar, which he casually tosses out the window into a storm drain. To be sure, in this particular event, The United States is neither Homer Simpson nor the storm drain, but we could find ourselves just downstream in Shelbyville. So, should we continue to await clouds of radioactive material, blown here by the wind, ready to poison us all and kill us in our sleep? Probably not, especially since there are so very many ways to get lethal doses of radiation right here on our shores. Take that microwave oven in your kitchen. Improper seals could cause exposure to high levels of microwave radiation that is known to cause health problems including cataracts and burns. Think about this the next time you really need to heat up a burrito at your local Seven-Eleven. You could also start holding your cell phone a little further from your head. Your cerebellum probably won't burst like a kernel of popcorn, but there are plenty of folks, many of them "doctors" who believe we are spawning a generation of mutants who can make calls from their local Starbucks. And don't get me started about those of you who aren't using the SPF One Hundred lotion before you venture out into the harsh radiation of that big fiery nuclear reactor in the sky. Or we can sit around and wait for the inevitable return of the king of monsters, Godzilla.