Thursday, May 31, 2012

Size Matters

So does character, but that wasn't what Mitt "Enz" Romney was talking about. He was talking about class size. He said, "The schools in the district with the smallest classroom sizes had students performing in the bottom ten percent. Just getting smaller classrooms didn't seem to be the key." There are plenty of studies that the presumptive Republican candidate can cite, but it doesn't make a lot of what we in the education biz call "sense." By the way, we call Mitterling the "presumptive nominee" not because he hasn't yet been named his party's guy, but because he makes a lot of presumptions.
Like the one he made about class size. Those low performing students that he refers to are not necessarily languishing at the bottom of whatever measure the experts choose to use because they have less than twenty kids in their classroom. It's a little like suggesting that hospital rooms cause illness since so many sick people can be found there. I hesitate to say it, because of my chosen profession, but it could be that the classrooms that contain those under-performing students might also contain under-performing teachers. Or a lack of up-to-date materials. Or an large proportion of English-language-learners.
But let's go back to that teacher question, since it's an easy enough target to access. I would hope that no one would argue that teaching one child easier than twenty. I would also allow that after a certain point, teaching ten or more kids is not that much different from teaching twenty. I can also say that there is a marked difference between teaching twenty than thirty. As long as every kid gets a textbook and a warm body at the front of the room with access to the teacher's edition of that textbook, why shouldn't we maximize our savings by getting as many kids into that room as possible? If class size doesn't matter, why not gather all the kids in the cafeteria and let one or two highly trained professionals have a whack at all three or four hundred of the little rascals?
It's not just Mitt 'n' Grits Romney that holds this belief to be true. Barack Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan has urged districts to improve efficiency by making “smartly targeted increases in class size” and spend their funds instead on “online learning, virtual schools, and other smart uses of technology.”
I understand that budget cuts are one of the pillars of education reform in our country.The focus on both party's education platform is in recruiting and hiring effective teachers and administrators. Good luck on that one if your plan is to recruit highly effective teachers and turn them loose on a room full of thirty-plus hungry and confused young minds. If things don't work out for them in those classrooms, there's always a future for them in consultancy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Past Present

It was a scene that I was happy to witness, but left me a little sad. We stopped by my son's old preschool this past weekend. My wife and son got out and walked around a little. They sized up the little slide and the narrow walkway that lead to the front door. They looked down the hill toward the winding path that served as a Big Wheel race track for him and his little pals way back when. I watched all of this from the passenger seat, windows rolled up. I didn't get out. This wasn't my place. It was theirs.
Coincidentally, I started my teaching gig just about the same time my wife did. She did hers without a credential at my son's co-op preschool. While I was busy sorting things out at my new elementary school, the two of them were pioneering snack time and potty breaks for those who were not ready for Kindergarten. They were just over the hill from where I was working, but they could have been light years away. The days at Peter Pan always involved so much more fun than Horace Mann. I suppose that makes sense, but it pained me just a little that I didn't get to be part of the crew that kept things running alongside the rest of the volunteer parents. I spent a few Saturday afternoons putting in some sweat equity on the clean up crew and even helped install that little slide that seemed so big way back when.
But mostly I was at work while they were at school. They came and visited me on a couple of occasions, but mostly we were on separate paths. I was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Dads' Club at my son's elementary school. I was finally able to connect with his scholastic endeavors in a meaningful way. That is, if running the talent show and serving pancake breakfast once a year could be considered meaningful.
Now he's in high school, and the opportunities for either his mother or me to be involved in his day to day world lie squarely after the bell rings. He would much rather have us here as support on geometry homework or the occasional ride home when the bus comes too early or too late. Back in the Peter Pan days, sometimes he would ride on the back of his mother's bike to school. Those were the days.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pick Up The Pieces

This past weekend my wife caught up on all the Transformers she had been missing when she sat down and watched "Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon." Dutiful mother that she is, she sat still for the entire two and a half hours of the latest chapter of action-figure-inspired mayhem. She winced at director Michael Bay's selection of underwear model Rosie Huntington-Whitely and her skimpy ensembles that might have made Megan Fox blush. She cringed when the space shuttle carrying the Autobots into space exploded in a scene all too reminiscent of space shuttles that have exploded in real life. But that's what you get when you sit down in front of a Michael Bay film: Things blow up.
In this case, both Washington, DC and Chicago got the Bay treatment, as Earth was once again in peril of being overrun by giant robots who double as sports cars and tractor trailer trucks. Somehow, three movies into the franchise, our government is still able to keep their existence a closely guarded secret, in spite of the way they seem to crush and destroy most everything that gets in their way. Such is the conceit of Transformers.
I wandered in and out of the room as the action took place in surround-sound. I wondered how no one had managed to snap a picture of Optimus Prime with their camera phone or grabbed a video of Bumble Bee for uploading to Youtube. Perhaps they were all too busy running for their lives as buildings crashed down around them and machines from another galaxy threatened their very existence. When the smoke cleared, the bad robots had been vanquished and the good robots needed a few parts replaced, and most of downtown Chicago lay in ruins.
That's when I came up with the idea for "Transformers 4: Damage Control," after the limited comic series from Marvel Comics. The good folks at Marvel have been tearing up New York City for fifty-plus years now, and so it makes sense that by now they've figured out that you can only knock down the Empire State Building so many times a month without somebody at least threatening some pretty nasty litigation. I would expect that even transforming robots from another galaxy might end up having to do a little community service after some of the surveillance video has been seen. There could even be a whole line of household appliances that turn into very useful robots who can put things back together just as their more boisterous counterparts tear things up. Once they put the Lincoln Monument back together, they can get to work on reassembling the Pyramid of Cheops. Actually, come to think of it, I think I saw this show back when my son was much younger. It was called "Bob The Builder." I can't wait for Michael Bay to get his hands on that one.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fixing A Hole Where The Rain Gets In

I can already hear my mother chuckling. She does this when she hears how I spent my days off, puttering about the house. On any given weekend, I might mow and week the lawn, or maybe attack a tree that has become too assertive in its growth, but those are tasks for the two-day weekends. This was a four-day weekend. In a move that I could finally support, my union opted to get what would have been Lincoln's Birthday attached to the traditional three-day Memorial weekend. Now I had four days. Just enough time to replace half the roof over our back porch. Hear that, mom? I found a way to stay busy.
Of course, I didn't really give myself a chance to relax, since I started demolition on the dry rot Thursday evening after I came home from school. There was sunlight, after all. "If a task is once begun, never leave it till it's done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all." Or at least that's the poetic Christian view of things. I don't know about doing it well, since this is the second time I've had to repair that section of roof. The first time I did it, I went up the ladder with an eye toward getting finished, but had no particular vision. This time I was plagued for weeks in advance with measurements and possible geometry for making this process a smooth one. Like so many things about our old house, there were no standard distances between any two points, and I felt gifted by the two right angles left on the slab of roof I was able to salvage.
The night before was full of tossing and turning. In my dreams, I did the job nine times. Each time I refined my technique and materials. I didn't sleep much, but I had a solid feel for the job ahead of me by the time I got out of bed around seven. It would still be a few more hours before we could borrow a van that was large enough to carry our plywood and tar paper and shingles. And flashing. And tin snips. And nails.
It was just before noon when I started the actual construction, and the clouds confirmed what the news had intimated the night before: rain was headed our way. As my son and I toiled in the sun, we watched the weather begin to change. I hammered, he hauled things up and down the ladder, and as the sky grew completely dark, there were still a few shingles left to nail down. Then it started to rain. I didn't look up, I kept hammering. My son scurried about on the ground, putting away tools and extra materials as we raced to beat the storm.
When I was finished, so was the rain. Just enough moisture to test my resolve. My son held the ladder for me as I climbed back down. I told him we could wait a day or two to put some paint on the exposed wood. He was relieved, but I knew what I would dream of until it was complete.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thin Blue Line

Bud Selig and the players of Major League Baseball are currently discussing the use of more video instant replay to ensure the proper calls are made during contested plays. Was the ball fair or foul? Was it in the glove or trapped against the ground? Currently these calls are made by those eagle-eyed defenders of the game: umpires. Will baseball go the way of the National Football League and start checking the tape for every little thing? Whether they do or not, one thing is certain: I have a great deal of empathy for the men in blue.
I spend a day a week as part of the physical education staff at our school, officiating over a wide variety of games, from four square to Builders and Bulldozers. In a relatively confined space, I am called upon to determine the validity of a six-year-old's claim that he did not kick the plastic cone but did, in fact, knock it over with his outstretched hand. Meanwhile, on the other side is the six-year-old girl who is vehemently denying this claim. Would I like a little help from the booth on that one? You bet I would. How about the play at second base when we're playing kickball? I'm also trying to keep the kids lined up against the wall lined up against the wall and the girls who are wandering off to the drinking fountain within earshot. And I'm playing pitcher for both teams. Was this kid safe? Sure. Why not? It's just a game, right?
Try telling that to a fourth grader who has just run as hard and fast as he or she may have run in the past calendar year, while his or her counterpart has done just the same and arrived at the exact point where they both needed to be. Who was first? What can I do if I didn't see it clearly? We Ro-Sham-Bo. Rock, Paper, Scissors. Happily, this conflict resolution scheme has been in place long enough that, even if there is some grumbling, kids tend to accept the outcome of this purely chance event. It keeps the game moving, after all, and that's the bottom line when you've only got fifty minutes to get the game in.
That's why I'm suggesting that Major League Baseball institute Ro-Sham-Bo for any and all disputed calls for the rest of the season. Did the ball go over the wall, or was it a ground rule double? You've got rock. He's got scissors. Rock wins. Don't send it up to the booth, or under the tent, just Ro-Sham-Bo. Keep the game moving. Of course, the world championship of baseball shouldn't be decided on on the outcome of one chance operation. For the World Series it will be best two out of three.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Burden of Proof

Well, thank goodness that's settled. This past Tuesday, the State of Hawaii provided verification of the president's birth to Arizona's secretary of state. That means that Barack Obama's name can now legally be included on the Grand Canyon state's ballot in November. According to Joshua Wisch, special assistant to Hawaii Attorney General David Louie, the matter is now resolved.Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett insisted he is "not a birther. I believe the president was born in Hawaii — or at least I hope he was." He continued, "my responsibility as secretary of state is to make sure the ballots in Arizona are correct and that those people whose names are on the ballot have met the qualifications for the office they are seeking."
And now a partial list of other things that need to be verified by Bennett's office:
The relative roundness of the earth.  Bennett insists he is not a "flat-earther."
Are roses red? Bennett's team is currently in the midst of litigation about violets, since according to him, "If they were blue, why would we have a color called 'violet?'"
Does night truly follow day? Bennett gets to bed pretty early, so he's never been completely certain.
The moisture content of water is up for debate this month in the Arizona state legislature, and therefore it will remain off both "wet" and "dry" lists until further notice.
A state-sponsored program to determine the exact value of a "free lunch" is currently underway.
Later this summer, a manned probe will be launched into the farthest reaches of our galaxy to dispel the myth that "in space, no one can hear you scream."
All in a day's work for the Secretary of State of Arizona.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Object Permanence

I spent a lot of time comforting my son when he was a very small boy, telling him these words: "Mommies always come back." Sometimes it was for the shortest of trips to the store. Other times it was a late night when bed time came and he was stuck with his grumpy old dad to tuck him in. There were a lot of tears. There was a lot of insecurity. And he was upset too.
Even now, at fifteen, when his mother is out past sundown, he finds me and asks in the most nonchalant way: "When is mom coming home, anyway?" It's the way he keeps track of the order of things. When everyone is in their place, the day can turn over and a new one can start. It's a great big familial reset button.
I get this. I remember watching for my father's car coming up the street. We lived at the end of a dead end street, so just about anywhere I was playing I could see when dad came home. I remember catching a glimpse of his green Datsun rounding the corner from the front window of my friend's house. "Hey, my dad's home!" I enthused. To which I received this reply from my good buddy: "So?"
Not everyone was as interested in the relative comings and goings of their parents as I was. Some were just the opposite of me, waiting for those moments when they could be left alone. That's not how I grew up. During those summers my brothers and I spent living at our cabin in the mountains, we would often make a project of walking down the road to meet our father as he made his way up the dirt road to us. At first we were content to walk to the bottom of the driveway. Then we started leaving a little earlier to hike up to the top of the hill. Soon we were regularly making the trip to the turn off from the main road to our winding lane, hanging out by the mailboxes that reminded us of the rural life we were leading. On a couple more occasions, we made the commitment to walk the seven miles down the mountain to meet my dad where the asphalt ended and the hairpin turns began.
Interestingly enough, this meant we left our mother behind. We were pretty safe in the assumption that mom would be there when we came back. That was how I grew up, after all. Mommies always came back, primarily because they rarely left. But even though my dad rarely missed a dinner at home, we always waited for him as if he were returning from the wars.Which I suppose he was.
These days, when I ride my bike into the driveway, I'm not sure who will be home. My wife is busy with her Zumba class. My son is staying late at school or heading up the hill to hang out with his friends. My dog greets me to get a scratch behind the ears before we go about our routines, and we wait. Because families always come back.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Saturday Night Live?

"But first, I'd like to do a few seductive poses for you. I call this one 'The Snake.'" These are the words of Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute, a character created by Dan Ackroyd back in the 1970's on a show called "Saturday Night Live." These words are generally enough to send friends of mine into gales of nostalgic laughter, remembering back when comedy was king on NBC. This was groundbreaking stuff. The kind of thing you have to search out on YouTube, and even then you almost always have to surrender to wading through the commercials on Hulu to find the bit you were looking for.You know that old guy on "Community?" he got his start on the National Broadcasting System way back then. He was pretty funny.
I mention all of this because another season of Saturday Night Live came to a close this past week. Some cast members moved on, while others will stick around to try and build a reputation equal to that of Chris Rock or the aforementioned Mister Ackroyd.All the while they will try and avoid the legacy of John Belushi and Chris Farley. Nothing funny there.
But in the meantime the talk swirls around, as it has since 1975. It's not funny anymore. It never was. It's not as funny as it used to be. The fact that this same comedy machine produced Kristen Wiig alongside Eddie Murphy and Chevy Chase suggests that it is still a viable property, even if it isn't the shocking alternative that it seemed thirty-seven years ago. My fifteen-year-old son's exposure to Saturday Night Live doesn't come on Saturday Night, nor is it live. He catches bits and pieces of it online, without the challenge of having to stay up past midnight to catch all that anarchy. He lives in a world of downloads and wireless Internet. A ninety minute show can be quite a burden to sit through while waiting for that one gem of a skit.
I expect Lorne Michaels will go out and find some clever people to replace the ones who are leaving this year to fill those empty slots in the Fall. Maybe there will be another Joe Piscopo in the lot. That would be funny. If it really were Joe Piscopo, I mean.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

First Lunch

After spending my lunches in junior high as a relative outcast due to my lunchbox carrying, I was grateful to find a friend to share my lunch period with as a sophomore in high school. Greg was the son of a professor at the university, from whom I would eventually learn a great deal about Mark Twain, but that first year at Boulder High was all about our walks to the Municipal Building. Right after our fourth period class bell rang, we went straight to our lockers and exchanged our books for our bags and headed up Arapahoe for the bulk of the fifty minutes we had. The freedom of off-campus lunch would become more apparent to me as I grew older, got a car, and had a girlfriend, but in that formative year of 1977-78, Greg and I were all about the twenty-five cent soda machine.
It was only a three block walk up Arapahoe, which gave us just enough time to slip into our comfortable dance mix of conversation: Monty Python and Saturday Night Live skits we had memorized, teachers and upperclassmen who were getting on our nerves, and a recap of what had been a grueling day in secondary education. Then a few more silly bits. The object was, or at least it became, to get the other guy giggling to the point that when we finally bought our can of pop for a quarter, that a good portion of it would come out through his nose.
It would be comforting to imagine, at this point in my life, that this was a trip we made on special occasions, or only when we were feeling especially constricted by the weight of our youthful oppression. Since I am a creature of habit, I can say that there were days when I made that trip in snow, wind and rain, sometimes all at the same time. There were even a few times I made the walk alone, when Greg was absent or otherwise occupied. I'm sure there must have been a day or two when I found myself stuck at school, staring at the tile as I ate my bologna sandwich, trapped against my will in a facility that charged fifty cents for a can of Pepsi. But those were few and far between, because I needed to stretch my legs. I needed to feel the wind in my hair, while I still had it.
Greg and I had been friends in junior high, but bonded most ferociously over that sophomore year, pausing just before we went back inside the high school to crush the cans we had carried back. The height of this friendship came in the last quarter, when we took Tennis class together. We won the second place ribbon for men's doubles. There were two teams. This was fact was amusing enough to get us both to spout cola from our nostrils.
And then he was gone. It wasn't a falling out or animosity. It was junior year. His world took him to the track, where he ran cross-country. I became more immersed in band. Now when I listen to stories of my son's escapades on the front lawn of his high school with his buddies, I think of Greg and our sophomore meanderings. And when Coke comes out of my nose.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shoe In

I remember how truly shocked Raul was. "You don't have any black shoes?" Believe me, it sounds much more aghast with a heavy Mediterranean accent. I was supposed to be opening doors for guests arriving at the Art Deco Ball. I was doing it as part of my initiation in to the Society of folks who preferred to live life in another time, or at least in another mode of dress. I wore the tuxedo, and for the record, my cuff links and studs matched the maroon high tops that I was wearing. But these did not pass muster with the fashion police, and so I received a secret number of demerits and began wondering how my life with my wife, who reveled in such costume chicanery, would ever be the same.
My father had black shoes. And brown shoes. He had lace-ups and loafers. He had a closet full, but not overflowing, with dress shoes. I learned to shine shoes from him, even thought I was in high school before this skill paid off. It was then that I was required to keep a shine on the black shoes I wore in marching band. It was long about this time that I traded in my Buster Browns for a pair of Frye boots. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I made a conscious choice to avoid having a closet full of dress shoes, even if it wasn't a fully conscious one.
In college I kept a pair of uncomfortable shoes in my possession at all times, but just one. These were just in case I was asked to a wedding or a funeral or some function that would not allow me the freedom of footwear choice. I wore a pair of brown suede Earth Shoes for most of my tenure as a manager at Arby's. When my career path bounced to unloading trucks at Target and then to running a video store, sneakers were perfectly acceptable.
And so the years passed until I moved to California and into the belly of the beast: The Art Deco Society, where even if I had vintage athletic shoes, I would be ridiculed and scorned for my poor taste. One of the first fights I had with my new roommate and lady love was about dress shoes. How hard would it have been to simply accept the wing-tips she bought for me in hopes that I could just fit in? Alas, for her and me both, it was an issue of absurd proportions.
When we were married, I wore a pair of black shoes, all black Converse high tops. She understood. She has made room in her life for my lack of shoes, the snappy polished sort anyway. I saw a pair of business-types walking to their car the other day, in their suits and ties, dress shoes sparkling in the sun. I wondered what I must be missing. Even my everyday teacher shoe is the comfy walking shoes preferred by NBA referees. How long can I keep up this charade? Don't tell Raul, but I hope it never ends.

Monday, May 21, 2012

All Apologies

I'm thinking of the little girl who I asked to apologize to her classmate who was hit in a flurry of displeasure that she could not contain. At the top of her little lungs, she shouted, "I'm sorry, okay?" This was after some cajoling and a moment or two to relax. There just wasn't an apology in there. Not a sincere one anyway.
Later that day, I stopped a boy who was rushing off into a throng of his peers, pushing them aside as he made his way to wherever he was headed, probably into another throng of his peers. When I finally caught up to him, he was fuming. At me. His jaw was clenched and his fists were clenched. "What?" He growled. I asked him to slow down and be a little considerate of those around him. "Whatever," he sniffed, "Can I go now?" This kid had not seen his tenth birthday. The question that rang in my head was this: "Where did all this anger come from?"
The next day, on my way to work, I watched a pickup truck try and squeeze past a bus going the opposite direction. The pickup's over-sized side view mirrors began to scrape along the side of the bus. The bus driver slid her window open and began to scream at the diver of the pickup. The driver of the pickup rolled down his window, as he continued to make his way down the side of the bus, and screamed back. Then they were done. There was no reconciliation, just scratches along the length of the bus and elevated blood pressure across the board.
I thought about how each one of those incidents was like a virus, and how we are all carriers. I thought about the way we avoid people when they're sick, and how we hope that keeps us safe. Until we run into a someone or something that activates that flips our switch or trips our trigger. It made me think of the times that I lost my temper. Then I thought that this wasn't an accurate description, since I knew exactly where my temper was: It was boiling over onto someone else. For that, I apologize.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I've written here about the movies I've made in the past. My distant past. Those afternoons spent chasing my friends around our neighborhood in the service of various plot machinations driven, for the most part, by whatever make-believe games we were playing the day before. These came after the films of my older brother, who was, to be fair, much more expansive in his narrative scope. In his movies, there were costumes and distinguishable characters. This took me years to figure out.
Years later, when I was in college, I had washed out of my studio art major, primarily because I failed a basic drawing course. Not that I couldn't draw, but because I stopped going. Apparently certain universities believe that you should officially drop a course when you want to stop taking it. How is an artist supposed to function under these oppressive conditions? For me, the answer was to flee to the Film Studies department. Here I studied both the history of celluloid, and how to make them. I flourished here, in part, due to the kindness and financial patience of my parents who bought me a new camera as well as my very own Super-8 moviola and editing equipment. It wouldn't be fair to say that I found my muse, but it was during my sophomore year that I began to find my cleverness.I made movies in black and white.
At the time, I was watching movies made at the beginning of the twentieth century, and I found myself drawn to this primitive art. I watched documentaries and French New Wave. I watched Italian Neorealist film. I watched the Marx Brothers. I read Sergei Eisenstein's book and worshiped at the altar of "Battleship Potemkin." I sat through an entire semester listening to some very intelligent professor wax on about the films of Alfred Hitchcock just so I could watch the movies.
And then there was the horror film class. All those late nights and early mornings watching Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and all his Universal pals finally paid off. I got my easiest A of my college career by wading through the headwaters of all my inspiration. Somewhere during all of this excitement, I made a visit to a counselor to try and figure out what kind of major I might be able to splice together out of all these credits. As it turns out, I had worked myself right out of the fun. I had taken so many film history classes and not nearly enough film making classes that I no longer qualified to graduate as a film maker. I was also top-heavy on film study credits, and was told that if I wanted to graduate in the next decade that I should bundle up what I had and paint it over with an English veneer along with my Creative Writing Workshops and call it a Bachelor of Arts, Creative Writing.
After I left the university setting, I put away my film camera in favor of the flashy new video machine I coerced my parents into buying for me. The moviola was lost in a move somewhere back in the eighties. All those little reels of film disappeared as well. But sometimes I still dream in black and white.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Regime Change

I thought it smelled funny. Or to be more precise, I thought it sounded funny: My morning radio station, KFOG went into a roll call of its playlist, A through Z this past week. I didn't think much about it at first. This kind of "clever" promotion has occurred before. The most certain thing about it was that you could count on wading through certain phrases or words: "Ain't" and "Love" for example. But last Monday morning, I noticed something else. There was only one voice chatting up the experience between songs. The guy who had so recently been relegated to news and traffic was now suddenly center stage, without a mention of the rest of the morning crew. No Webster. No Irish Greg. Just Greg Gory counting us through the alphabet.
Initially, I was ready to imagine a day where Webster was off for the day. Perhaps he had a touch of laryngitis, or maybe he was off on a family retreat somewhere in Michigan, or wherever it was that he originated as an on-air personality. :Yet there was no mention of it.
Admittedly, I did not listen to the entire show. I was riding my bike for a section of it, and then when it was time to go out and take my turn on playground duty, I turned it off. There could have been some explanation. On the second day, as we navigated through the letter "B," I waited for some discussion of where the rest of the gang was. there was no announcement. I turned to the station's web site and looked at the tab marked "Airstaff." Irish Greg and Webster had been disappeared. Of course, there was no Greg Gory either, but this only heightened the intrigue. A quick search of the bay area radio forums and blogs revealed the truth: The Morning Show, as I had come to know it, was no more.
I'm not going to opine at great length about the relationship I had to these voices to which I had only recently been introduced. Webster had a tough road replacing the legendary Dave Morey, and Irish Greg just seemed to be chiming in from the background to make the place sound more crowded and convivial. And I've already lamented the departure of Peter Finch, the news guy. As Robert Frost wrote, "Nothing gold can stay." Not that the KFOG morning show was gold, but sometimes it was shiny and pleasing to the ear. It was comfortable in its normalcy. Maybe a gold sweatshirt would be a more apt metaphor.
Regardless, that crew is gone. The old gang has been thrown under the proverbial bus while behind the screen, the great and terrible Oz continues his machinations. There have been sideways announcements of the new show appearing after Memorial Day, once we have heard "Zoot Suit Riot." More rock, less talk? Okay. Oldies? If we must. Prank phone calls? No thank you. I'll listen to the alphabet as the tension continues to mount.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What Is Normal?

The big knock on Richie Cunningham, according to Mork, was that his life was "hum drum." That's probably why they needed Fonzie around for all those years, for jumping sharks and such. Aaaaay. I'm here today to suggest that maybe "hum drum," as Richie learns from this visitor from another planet. There is safety in routine. Furthermore, it allows the brain to focus on things less mundane than what is for dinner and which day the chores will be done.
At our house, we have a number of programs that run just beneath the surface of our hustle and bustle that keep the fabric of our lives from being torn asunder. And if you've ever had anything torn asunder, you know how much rehab work is involved in getting it back to sunder. This is why we have our Monday meetings. There are just three of us, four counting the dog, but we have found that getting together once a week with a clipboard to write down our various commitments and appointments to be an extremely valuable tool. Even if we are simply reaffirming our date on Thursday to clean the house together, or to meet at least once during the weekend to share stories of how our lives have progressed since the last time we saw one another.
It used to be that we had frozen pizza night. My wife and I were sharing a weekly Tombstone with pepperoni before our son was born. Once he was ready for some solid food, we started sharing the sausage off the top of our slices with our little boy, which had the amusing effect of generating one of his first words: "meat." It wasn't long before the eight slices were now being shared with our growing son. Then, his portion began crowding out his mother's, and finally, it became apparent that the only way to share a frozen pizza with our son was to allow him half while my wife surrendered her portion to him and me. Then Tombstone raised their prices. My wife began teaching Zumba one evening a week, and so my son and I reconciled our tastes to whatever frozen pizza was on sale.
It was long about this time that Monday became not just a Meeting day, but my wife instituted "Meatless Monday." It's our new routine. Her carnivores sometimes whimper and moan, but it is one of the ways we mark the passage of time. And when every once in a while you toss a little feta cheese and some Swiss chard at us, we don't feel quite so hum drum.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Network Neighborhood

When I grow up, I want to work at Google. My dream job would be to work with the group that comes up with those clever animations that turn into the shape of whatever date or memorial they choose. Google Doodles, they call them. I don't think I would enjoy being one of the overworked minions rushing about in the library looking up obscure facts in the fractions of a second that is demanded by those users seeking their information as fast as Google will take them to it.
There are, of course, other search engines. Once upon a long time ago, I signed up to get a mail account with Yahoo, because it was where I found myself going when I needed to know Barbie's full name. It added to my feeling that I would someday know everything, but until that time I would fill those holes in my worldly acumen with the wisdom of Yahoo. As it turns out, Google was the horse I should have bet on this particular track. As I watch the rats fleeing this sinking cyber-ship, I feel a little ashamed for any grief I might once have given my mother for holding on to her America OnLine address. My own Internet mailbox now has that faint odor of death about it.
But moving is so hard. Carrying all those addresses and links from one address to another is so incredibly time consuming, especially in a world that works on tenths of a second. This is why I live at Yahoo, but I find myself wandering down the street to that happy little neighborhood where the letters dance and sing, and I can find Space Mountain on their maps. And someday, maybe I'll get paid to animate a tribute to the End of the Middle Ages. But first I'll have to work on my resume.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I have something in common with our President: My views concerning marriage are evolving. Not just gay marriage. All marriage. It was country superstar Dolly Parton who once asserted her support of gay marriage this way: "Sure, why can't they get married? They should suffer like the rest of us do." As this blog is currently not equipped with its own laugh track, please feel free to insert bemused, knowing laughter you might have heard on "a very special episode" of "Blossom." I expect that's fair, since Vice President Joe Biden claims that "Will and Grace" are responsible for our country's enlightenment.
My feelings about marriage were once reinforced by shows like "Eight Is Enough," as it roughly paralleled the teeming horde that lived across the street from us. This couple who married in their teens were raising a house full of kids. They stuck together through all kinds of drama, including their own teen-aged daughters' pregnancies and eventual couplings with boys and the confusion that resulted when those grandchildren started showing up next to their aunts and uncles who were just a year or two older than they were. Still working on that bemused laugh track button.
They have since moved away, and we have been made aware of their progress through periodic visits and contact with other neighbors. Last week I found out that after raising all those kids together, that mom and dad were folding the tents and calling it quits on their marriage. Just one kid short of the finish line, they have separated before their last son could move out of the house. This should be their victory lap. Now dad is taking the boy and leaving. All that effort, all those late nights, all that worry and all those moments of joy packed into boxes and moved into the past. I know the challenges of bringing up a family of three, and a dog. I can't fully comprehend what that would feel like multiplied by eight. Or nine. Or ten.
Katherine Hepburn, who never appeared in a very special episode herself, once said,
"Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then." Cue laugh track with rising applause.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Opinions Vary

North Carolina voters approved a ban on gay marriage. Joe Biden helped nudge Barack Obama's evolutionary thinking along by putting in his two cents about the subject. Now the administration that finally got around to rescinding "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is all about supporting the rights of everyone to get married. Even those who live in North Carolina, where later this summer the Democrats are heading to have their convention. Confused? Why wouldn't you be?
Maybe the democrats in North Carolina is hoping that having the President of the United States show up in their state will help put things back on track for them. A couple weeks back, North Carolina Democratic Party executive director Jay Parmley resigned in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed one of his former communications staffers. For the record, President Obama is against sexual harassment. Four years ago, a young upstart from North Carolina came charging out to impress some, including myself, as a possible candidate for president. This senator and his haircut, John Edwards, is sitting out this election cycle, focusing on charges that he violated federal election laws during his 2008 presidential bid. Misuse of funds to cover up that affair he had. And that baby that turns out to be his after all. Barack Obama's feelings about children born out of wedlock are still evolving.
As are my feelings about North Carolina. What's up down there? I thought it was South Carolina that was supposed the weird one.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Working On A Dream

For seven years I've been telling stories about the trajectory of my son: my one and only. Often, when I'm accosted by those who would like to plan my family and would love to have my wife and I generate three or four more to spread the joy that we have enjoyed with this poor lonely child, I politely decline. My reasoning is based squarely on the law of averages. I never studied law, but I believe that if we got as lucky as we did with this one, it's hard to imagine what spinning that wheel even one more time might unleash upon an unsuspecting world.
That's how impressed I am with my son. If the only news you get about this kid comes from the lines of this blog, you might believe that he is rough around the edges or at times unmanageable. These are the reflections of a parent's learning curve. When I am confounded by some new twist or turn on the parenthood trail, I squirm and holler, expecting that no one has ever experienced the woes or anxiety that have beset me. So I respond in the only way I know how: I complain about it here.
Here is where I should set the record straight: This is a wonderful boy, who is doing his best with a load of varied input that we, his parents, are making up as we go along. Not that we're not doing a pretty good job. We've got some pretty decent examples upon which to draw, and some of our innovations have made this kid one to watch. Here's the example I'd like to put forward: The other day, as he was in his usual rush out the door to school mode, he stopped and came back in the house. He grabbed a pair of scissors and was back out the door again, only to return a moment later with a fully bloomed rose from the bush at the bottom of our front steps. He presented this to his mother and then was off he went. Kudos to the kiddo.
Today my son is fifteen years and hundreds of stories old. Thanks to you for sitting still as I work out my parenting issues, and congratulations to my son for surviving the process.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Are You My Mother?

I spend a lot of time around kids who don't have full access to their parents. Many of them are being raised by grandparents or an aunt. Some are in foster care. Just recently we had a moment out in front of our school where a divorced mom and dad showed up in separate cars and began to barter for their son's attention with bribes of food and fun if he chose to come with this or that parent. It made me sad and tired imagining what that must be like for a seven-year-old brain to absorb.
And it made me happy because I never had to do that. I lived in a place where the affections of my parents were a certain thing. To be sure, there were times when my parents' affections for one another were uncertain, but they were always best when rallying around us kids. I knew who my mother was, and there was never any question about who knew me best. She put in the hours. From the time that I was in need of a volunteer to come to my second grade class and help prepare and dish out a Hawaiian feast for all of us short people to fully grasp the Pineapple State, to the Monday night dinners we used to share after I graduated from college. And through all those years of shared meals and moments, we talked. To be honest, I talked and she listened. To be fair, when I grew older, I started to listen. It's been an amazing conversation these past fifty years.
At the same time, I'm happy to listen in on the conversation my wife is having with our son. She's been listening for all these years too. She's been there before school, after school and when necessary, during school. He may not be as impressed with the attention he's getting as I am with the attention I get from my mother, but he's young and he'll learn. It's a beautiful thing. Thanks for listening.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Nothing To Fear

I have a lot of little fears, not the least of which have been detailed here in this blog. Judging from the list I was able to generate, one might suspect that I am full of fear. Like that one about becoming especially thin and sliding through a grate in the sidewalk. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.
Still, there are plenty of us walking around who are just bundles of insecurity, waiting for the thing that will set that mass free and turn them on ourselves. That's why I avoid Fox News, actually most news, until I am in a quiet state of mind. I don't want to set off any waves of anxiety just before I sit down to dinner or close my eyes to try and go to sleep. Underwear bombs. Sharks. Losing your home. I have flinched at all these suggestions, but if you happen to be part of the sixty-six percent of those surveyed who listed being without their cellular telephone as their biggest fear, I can't relate. As of this writing, I have not turned my cell phone on for almost two months. The last time was to check and see if the battery was charged. It's not as if I want to be out of touch, but I do enjoy having moments throughout the day when I am unavailable. Feel free to imagine what those might be, but don't spend too long.
I remember the days when, even if it was a made up fact, people's biggest fear was public speaking. I couldn't fully relate to this phobia, but at least I could understand it. Standing up in front of a group of strangers and talking about something for more than a few seconds seems like a grand challenge compared to being without your electronic means of talking for a few seconds to one person at a time. That may have been the impetus behind Tom Hanks' screenplay for "Larry Crowne." In this film, Tom stars as a divorcee who finds himself laid off because he never went to college. He finds his salvation in a public speaking class taught by a grouchy Julia Roberts. In the end, Larry (Tom) comes to terms with his new reality and gets to date his teacher. A nice resolution to all those concerns, but my deeper fear is being asked to watch that movie again. Brrrr.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Born To Be Wild

I have a favorite Wild Thing. It's the one that looks a little like a buffalo with bare feet. He's the one that is sleeping on the cover of Maurice Sendak's book. With Max's tiny sailboat off to the left, you can really get a sense of just how large these beasts must be. And yet, when this guy and his wild pals commence to rumpus, it only takes a couple of words to get them to stop: "Be still!" That's because Max was the most wild thing of all. I suppose that was the appeal to me, all those years ago when I first saw the book in Miss Benson's library at Columbine Elementary School. I read that same copy a great many times, even after it migrated away from the "featured shelf." I was that most clever child who understood the alphabet and the Dewey Decimal System. Miss Benson could not hide that book from me.
When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher Miss Stuart, had her own class library that included not one but two copies of "Where The Wild Things Are." It was here that I began to explore the rest of Maurice Sendak's work, both as writer and illustrator. I spent a month being particularly entranced by "Higglety Piggletly Pop." I pored over "In The Night Kitchen," but the dreamlike imagery in that one made me nervous.
And so I returned again and again to Max and his beastly buddies. It was a relief to me when I became a parent and was afforded the opportunity to buy my own copy to share with my son, whose middle name is Max. Some will tell you that he is named for his maternal great-grandfather. I know the truth. When the lights go down at our house, and the curtain in his room is drawn, the jungle begins to grow. And grow.
Aloha, Maurice: the most wild thing of all.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Kids Will Be Kids

That's the refrain that I hear both at work and in the swirl of media when a child, or a group of children, are caught doing something that shows up on my teacher's radar as naughty, but because they're kids, we expect a little bit of mischief. Hence the phrase: "Kids will be kids." Several reports about the first grader in Aurora, Colorado who was suspended for three days for singing "I'm Sexy and I Know It" received some of that chagrined attention. At first blush, depending who you are, you can look at that and find the punishment ridiculous. The kid was singing? So what? Okay, so it was a little racy for a six-year-old, but it's not like he was waving his backside in her face as he did it. Oh? It was? And it was the second time this kid had been in trouble for singing the same song to the same girl?
Kids will be kids. His mother promised to "to sit with him and see if he understands exactly what the song means." It seems to me that this child has already ascertained certain elements of the lyrical complexity of this tune. He may have learned it on the playground. Or at home. You know how kids are these days. I don't. If he had been singing something from Cole Porter, would it have been as objectionable? "You'd Be So Easy To Love," for example. Admirably precocious, but if it included the waving of his private parts, still objectionable. He wouldn't even need to sing. Booty-shaking as a second offense on the same girl seems sufficient to me.
He's only six. Kids will be kids. And adults will be adults. It is the grown-ups job to start making clear distinctions in a world full of ambiguity. I had to talk to a mother who had sent her third grade daughter to school in a T-shirt that promoted the group whose song that first grader was singing back in Colorado: LMFAO. Just five letters. What's so objectionable about that? I explained to the mother what those letters stood for, and her initial stance wavered a bit. Especially when I asked her daughter if she knew what those letters stood for. After a moment, she answered "yes." Nobody got suspended, but that shirt hasn't been back to school since.
It's a fast-moving world, and anybody who works with kids owes it to them the opportunity to test the boundaries. That's what kids do. They also need to remember what six-year-old boys and girls need. We don't need a bunch of little adults. We need to let kids be kids for as long as they can get away with it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A Working Number

Way back in my early forties, a friend of mine suggested that I should try blogging. A very good suggestion, as it turns out, since today marks the seven year anniversary of the daily appearance of words I chose to string together in this rather public venue. Not quite a major thoroughfare on the information superhighway, but located near a convenient exit with plenty of parking and plenty of smirking humor, day and night.
The thing is, I don't "try" much. I attribute this to a feeling that runs much deeper than the Yoda aphorism about do or do not. I get up in the morning each and every day with the prospect of having something to say. Sometimes it's an attempt at meaningfulness, other times it's just keeping the cursor moving across the screen. The magic times come when I'm in the midst of pushing the ideas into the mill and suddenly that spark catches fire and suddenly I'm off to the races for another three or four paragraphs. Short attention span theater? When the lines start to stack up far past the moment that the scroll bar appears on the right hand side of the text box, I can feel my welcome wearing out. It's time to put a period on this thing. Pack it in and save the rest for another day. I don't want to burden my readers with too much to think about. These are, after all, my idle thoughts.
But they're not always idle. Sometimes they fidget about and get out of line and push themselves to the front one more time. I could write endlessly about the summers in the mountains, or the toys I left behind. I will continue to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly moments of my life and pop culture. I will shout out when I sense someone or something going astray. It's what I do. Right here. Almost live. Daily. Thanks for sticking around while I work this out.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

That's not exactly true. I have had some heroes in my life who happened to be cowboys. "The Electric Horseman" was one such example. That was about the same time that I had adopted King Arthur as my guiding light, due to repeated viewings of "Excalibur." This was a period in my life, during my late teens, that I was especially susceptible to acquiring role models from the media I experienced. For a short time I pondered my existence from the point of view of Rick in "Casablanca," and lest you think that all my influences were cinematic, there was also Billy Pilgrim in "Slaughterhouse Five." For the record, I can also vouch for the film adaptation.
And it's not like this was a phase that I went through and moved on. When I was nine years old, I saw "Bless The Beasts and the Children," and I became fixated on the tragically heroic Cotton, leader of "The Dings." He wasn't the coolest kid in the camp, he was just the coolest misfit kid. This set me up for a series of idols who were not necessarily the best in show, just the best in their very specific category.
I felt this once again as my wife pointed out that I was referencing Hawkeye from M*A*S*H as I described the departure of one of my colleague's departure from our school. Alan Alda got a little preachy for me near the end, but his wise-cracking surgeon facing death every day has remained a touchstone for me all these years later. I find myself watching people come and go from this place I have been, seemingly, forever. It makes me wonder what's wrong with them, and then I wonder what might be wrong with me. Then I remember the words of Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond in "Inherit the Wind" to his friend Matthew Brady, played by Frederic March: "All motion is relative, Matt. Maybe it's you who've moved away by standing still." All of this to say that I am happy to have popular culture on which to draw for reconciling my emotions all these years. To which I can only reply with the words of that old cowboy, Josey Wales: "I reckon so."

Monday, May 07, 2012


I am surprised that everyone didn't get the memo: The Mayo Clinic announced that over the last forty years melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, has increased by a factor of eight for young women. The study attributes the dramatic rise to an increase in the use of indoor tanning beds. I remember forty years ago. When I was ten, I got one of the worst sunburns of my life while I was snorkeling in Mexico. That was when I was introduced to the magical elixir known as Solarcaine.
The numbing agents in that spray didn't make the pain go away, but it did back it off enough so that I could sleep. And wake again the next day feeling like a lobster that had just been dropped in the pot. Because of my fair-nearly-albino-complexion, I never was much of a tanner. I would invariably get singed once near the beginning of the summer and then spend the next few weeks managing that burn until it was time to start wearing sweaters again. Meanwhile, down the street, my teen-aged pals had begun searching for that perfect tan. They started with Hawaiian Tropic Oil, with an SPF of zero. When the searing properties of that concoction didn't deliver the searing potential of straight up Johnson's Baby Oil. That was a different time.
Today I don't go out without my SPF 90 sunblock and a hat and a personal ozone shield to deflect the harmful rays of the demon sun. And I am completely perplexed by the existence of tanning beds. Sometimes, when I am out cutting the grass or acting as Coach Caven for the day, I get a little color from the rays that squeak through my protective layers, but I can't imagine paying to expose myself to harmful ultraviolet radiation. I'm pretty sure that's what happened to Doctor Bruce Banner.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Lifestyle Contouring

For the longest time, my CD collection was the envy of many a visitor to my home. Invariably, of course, they would say something like: "Do you have any Grateful Dead?" or "How about some Santana?" The completist in me was sent out into the cold, hard world looking for a disc that would fill that hole. Even if there was just the one greatest hits package, I can now say "yes" to both queries. I continued that way for decades, until the volume of plastic that I was lugging around far outweighed the four crates of vinyl that I had been holding onto until I could no longer talk any of my friends into helping me move them from one corner to the next.
My clever wife developed a new storage system in which the plastic jewel cases were taken out of the equation and the disc, artwork, and liner notes were tucked into a simple plastic bag. The CD footprint of our living room was cut in half, with room left for expansion.
That was several years ago. Nowadays the CDs that I purchase are few and far between. The only time my collection sees any growth is when I buy a collector's edition of something or I burn something to a disc for those moments when having that tangible remnant of the physical age of music seems important.
And now I wonder just how important that age really is. Having already jettisoned my albums in a fit of pique resulting from my inability to figure out a clever place to store all those records, let alone find the time to play them on one side and then the other. Even my cassette player would do me the favor of switching over to the other side automatically.
Will my all my music eventually go the way of our family photo albums and eventually find itself plastered on some cloud somewhere? Do I really want to take away the opportunity of poring over those tiny little letters that tell me who played what on this track or that? Not today. I still have to burn the Essential Bob Dylan to disc in order to fill the gap someone pointed out last month.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


Spoiler Alert: Gollum isn't real. I have met the guy who helped bring his pixels to life. Sure, it all started with actor Andy Serkis romping about a green stage with ping pong balls attached to his body and face. Then months and months of layering with computer generated pixels brought us the tortured performance we saw on screen. Movie Magic.
At last month's Coachella Music Festival, deceased but not dead rapper Tupac Shakur showed up to perform a couple of songs with Snoop Dog and Doctor Dre. Well, a digitally generated version of Tupac Shakur showed up, thanks to James Cameron's visual effects department. The same guy that made us believe that Leonardo DiCaprio was the King of the World brought life to the dead. Pretty neat trick, but it's nothing really new.
Fred Astaire was dancing on the ceiling with a Dirt Devil back in 1997. John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart and Grace Kelly have been brought back from the Great Beyond to shill for light beer and diet cola. And anyone who watches The Daily Show knows that you can stick anyone in front of a green screen to make them appear to be in any exotic locale.
Which brings us to the reality of our president's visit to Afghanistan this past week. The story is that he landed there in the middle of the night and left before dawn, just to add weight to the speech he gave on the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden. Was it necessary? Was it expensive? Was it computer generated? It might have been less expensive if he had been photo-shopped into Bagram Air Base, but that would have been wrong, right? Even so, the doubters among us wonder why the special effects crew working on Mitt "Thurston Howell" Romney's campaign couldn't have made the Rudy Giuliani look a little more lifelike in their photo-op in front of the fire house in New York that same day.

Friday, May 04, 2012

What's In A Name?

I remember New Coke. As a loyal Coke drinker, I went ahead and bought the stuff, but in my mind I knew that I didn't need "New Coke." I had already tried Pepsi. I would like to believe that it was my quiet discontent that brought the original formula back just seventy-nine days after the launch of New Coke. New Coke abruptly became Old Coke and faded into marketing infamy. Coke Classic could then drop its modifier and things could go back to the way things were before April 23, 1985. There are plenty of purists, myself included, who will argue that they can taste the difference between what was once the original formula, which included real sugar and the new version of the original formula which substitutes corn syrup, but I suspect that if Coke had simply changed its recipe and kept that same old red and white can, we would all be drinking New Coke today.
Then there was Qwikster. Last year, Netflix decided that an oddly spelled new version of their online video download service. The resulting confusion, along with the attendant price change was enough to send loyal customers flocking to those red kiosks outside grocery stores for their video needs. The two and a half months New Coke enjoyed seemed like an eternity compared to the flash in the pan that was Qwikster. It disappeared without a trace. Except for those increased rates for video downloads.
Perhaps these models were going through Osama bin Laden's mind as he pondered al-Qaeda's future. His organization faced some of the same market insecurities of these giants of their particular industries. When you want the worldwide leader in Islamic Extremism, who you gonna call? As bin Laden saw it, the problem was that the group's full name, al-Qaeda al-Jihad, for The Base of Holy War, had become short-handed as simply al-Qaeda. Lopping off the word "jihad," bin Laden wrote, allowed the West to "claim deceptively that they are not at war with Islam." All that brainstorming came to an abrupt end a year ago when Navy Seals interrupted. We'll never know what won out: New al-Qaeda or al-Qwikster.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Guided Tour

By odd coincidence, we had a chance to return a favor this past weekend. As we were going about the business of quietly celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of moving into our home by mowing the lawn in front of it and sitting on the couch inside of it after mowing that lawn, the phone rang. It was someone calling to tell us that our dog had wandered out the gate that had been left wide open. That person just happened to be out in front of the house at the time, and that person just happened to be the lady who used to live in our house before we did.
To be more precise, this woman lived in our house with her two sisters, two brothers, and her parents when she was growing up. She grew up there, amongst the rose bushes and trees and lack of closets with only one bathroom for the seven of them. She was also the person who took pity on us as new home buyers who desperately wanted to get ourselves settled into our new digs before our new baby joined us. She got us a key and let us in to paint and begin to feather our nest before the actual move-in date. And she was standing outside our gate asking to come in and look around.
Last summer I intruded briefly on the hospitality of the people who own the home where I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. I found many things just the way they were when I left. Others had been painted over or removed entirely. This was essentially the experience she had as she wandered from front door to back, out into the back yard, and finally looping back to the front again. She described the daily flow of life back in the 1960's, and noticed where things were missing or changed. There was never a trace of sadness in her tour, it was more of a chance for her to return to the place where she was raised: an opportunity to recharge her nostalgia batteries. When she left, she asked if she could take a brick from the chimney which we had taken down a few years back. It seemed like a reasonable trade for all her memories.
When she was gone, my wife and I wondered what it might be like for our son to return to his old house after he grew up and moved away. No rush on that.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Good News From An Unlikely Source

The Black Hole: This moniker was as useful for describing the Oakland Public Schools' budget as the end zone seats at the Raiders' home games. We've been in and out of state control. We've cut programs and staff. We've done more with less. In spite of all this, we've managed to make positive strides. Test scores are up. We're working hard to stem the tide of kids dropping out and raise graduation rates. Year after year, it's an uphill battle, especially when we never know how we're going to pay for the the things we need.
The Raiders, meanwhile, have been battling back from a decade of less than excellence themselves. They have had more head coaches than we've had superintendents, which is saying something. They've had flashes of brilliance, and plenty of promise, but putting a winning team together each year is a challenge when you are competing with thirty-one other teams for talent and durability. Of course, the payroll in professional football is just a little different than public education. With all those millions of dollars floating around just down the street from some of Oakland's poorest neighborhoods, it must be somewhat inspiring to see all those kids clad in silver and black even though the Raiders haven't posted a winning record since 2002.
This year Oakland starts with a win before they ever play a game: Every season ticket purchased and paid in full during May and June will have ten percent of its gross donated to the Oakland public schools. That means that even the cheap seats will kick twenty-six dollars apiece into the classroom, even more for seats closer to the action. It's one thing for athletes to make a show of promoting education: "Stay in school, kids. Don't do drugs." It's another for the powers-that-be with the very deep pockets spreading just a little bit of that wealth with the community at large. Maybe this is a trend, a good thing that started in Oakland and grew. Imagine how urban school districts could be affected if each of the professional sports franchises in the area followed suit. It almost makes me feel bad that Los Angeles doesn't have an NFL team.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Future Of Rock And Roll

A week after I stayed up way too late on a school night, I'm still recovering. Well, perhaps "recovering" is not exactly the right word. I am settling back in to life as we experience on a day-to-day basis. We don't tend to sing at the top of our lungs for more than a few minutes at a time. Though I don't have trouble standing for hours at a time, it's all the twisting and shouting that made the impact on my weary bones. But mostly I don't tend to expose myself to the kind of focused joy that is induced by a Bruce Springsteen concert.
I've still got the songs in my head. I've still got the smile on my face. It's not a morning-after glow anymore, just a trace of the giddiness I felt all the way at the back of the sports arena radiating from the stage. It's not a new feeling. It's one I've been experiencing off and on for the past thirty years. At this point in the game, I've lost track of exactly how many times I've seen Mister Springsteen in concert. I suppose I could try and gather up my ticket stubs and tour shirts and try to make some sort of approximation. There are plenty of resources available on Al Gore's Internet that would help make this count easier, but I am kind of pleased with the feeling of "more than I can count."
A lot has changed since that first show, when I was one of the uninitiated, a doubter. What I experienced back in 1981 at the Red Rocks Amphitheater made me a fan. More than the Denver Broncos, more than any other sports team. More than DEVO, or any other music group, Bruce Springsteen caught my attention and held it. And it's not just because he's a great songwriter or guitar player or something intangible. He works at it. Hard. He has always been very up front about the fact that if he wasn't playing music that he would be hard pressed to find a "real job" like the ones the he sings about. That's why, night after night, year after year, when the lights go down and he hits the stage, he does so with a vengeance. It's his job to make sure that when the show is over, we feel like the crowd got what they came for.
Last week, we did. Now it's not just me My wife and son are there, standing next to me, singing along. The next morning was a tough one. Tired, stiff and hoarse we all dragged ourselves through our various routines, but somewhere in the mix was a spark that kept us going. The one put there over more than three hours of rocking and rolling by the Boss. That's his job. It's our job to keep that spark alive. Until next time.