Friday, November 30, 2012

Regrets, I've Had A Few

My mother-in-law sent me a link to a story on BBC News: "Two and a Half Men 'filth', says show star Angus Jones." I had been aware of the story for some time before this, since it was exactly the kind of scandalous screed that I tend to seek out as I look over the morning's news. For those of you unfamiliar with "Two And A Half Men," the long answer is that it is a CBS sit-com that tells the story of a man who gets divorced and goes along with his young son to live with his swinging single brother. Angus Jones plays the half man in that equation. Initially, one of the full men was played by Charlie Sheen, which may be the short answer you were looking for. 
Angus started appearing on the show when he was ten years old. He is now nineteen. What was once a career-making opportunity is now filth. In the big book of Hollywood stories, that's nothing new. Angus has recently sought spiritual guidance, as many young stars have. The one that springs to my mind is Dolores Hart, who walked away from making movies with Elvis and into a nunnery. Mother Dolores is still a voting member of the Academy. My guess is that Angus won't be showing up on the red carpet to present an Emmy anytime soon. It's not just his show he's done with: "Do some research on the effects of television and your brain and I promise you you'll have a decision to make when it comes to the television and especially with what you watch on television. It's bad news. It's bad news."
And that's probably why my mother-in-law wanted me to read this article. She and I don't exactly see eye-to-eye when it comes to TV viewing habits. Or the habits of my son. In a perfect world, he wouldn't need to stare at a screen to be entertained. He would be out in the world, creating new ideas and experiencing people and things in reality. Not staring at a screen. 
Of course, I did have to click on the link that my mother-in-law sent me and read the story about TV on a screen. Perhaps I need some more spiritual guidance.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Voice From Beyond

During timeouts at my high school's basketball games, as Pep Band President, I used to instigate cheers for Rusty Shaffer. Four syllable names are good for that, then a little drum flourish, repeat. We got the crowd whipped up into a tumultuous frenzy. Rusty wasn't a player on our team. He did once participate in varsity sports at Boulder High, but he had long since graduated. He had moved on and even gained a college degree in Communications. He was applying himself to this calling as he sat at a small table in the corner of the gym, broadcasting the game for our local radio station, KBOL. It was our way of appreciating the attention he was giving our team, our school, our community. It was a little tongue in cheek, but he never seemed to mind.
Rusty was also the voice of Ken Penfold's Grid-A-Phone. After each University of Colorado football game, he took calls from around the area, asking for scores and updates on games going on around the country. This was before cable television, and score updates at the bottom of every screen. It was before Al Gore's Internet, which meant that Rusty and his crack staff had to scurry about behind the scenes, reading wire service reports and making long distance calls to other stations that could give them those scores. It was my senior year in high school that I also began calling Rusty for the Slippery Rock score.
Slippery Rock is a little school in Pennsylvania. They have a football team, and they sometimes do quite well. But they aren't exactly Michigan or UCLA. My older brother and I knew this, and regularly tested Rusty's good faith and patience by dropping that request into the mix that included all of those questions about how Nebraska fared or if Florida held off Alabama. He would always promise to "track that down" for us as we hung up, giggling. Years after Rusty and his family sold KBOL and the face of broadcasting had changed forever, we still got a laugh from hearing "scores from around the nation." My older brother bought me a Slippery Rock sweatshirt. Rusty went on to work in finance, but I'm sure he missed his time on the air.
Rusty signed off for the last time last week, losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. Slippery Rock fell to Bloomsburg in their season finale, 49 to 41.
Aloha, Rusty.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Going The Distance

It wasn't until my wife pointed to the line on the web site that said "Five K course" that I realized that my post-Thanksgiving ritual had changed. Further inspection lead me to understand that I would no longer be running through the heavily wooded acreage of Golden Gate Park. After more than a decade and a half of making the early morning trek across the bay to run my ten kilometers, I found myself on that same side of the bridge, but this time I was headed toward Crissy Field. The scenery was new, and so was the distance. What would I do with all that extra energy?
As it turns out, I needn't have worried. I spent the week before Thanksgiving rallying from my what has become almost as much a tradition as my big race: a hacking chest cold that kept me in bed for a day and a half. Breathing was the exercise I needed then, not running around the block or any further than the living room couch to see what strength I could muster to operate the remote control for the TV. On Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for antibiotics and the recovery that they brought. By Saturday, I could imagine running a mile, maybe two.
On Sunday morning, when the alarm went off before the sun started to work on the fog bank that lingered over the start of our day, I felt ready. My wife coaxed our son out of bed with a cup of cocoa, and we made our way across the bridge. She knew the way, which was good, since my instinctual sense of San Francisco geography only would have lead us back to the place where we had always celebrated the onrush of the Holiday Season: The Run To The Far Side. In the past few years, the sponsorship of the post-Turkey-Day event had shifted from the Academy of Sciences to the Firefighters Toy Drive. That meant that besides a shift in location, we were no longer availed of a Gary Larson designed T-shirt, and all the attendant silly costumes. Instead, our forty dollar entrance fee got us a "free" Santa hat. Made in China. I tried to prepare myself for what I could only imagine would be a let-down.
I probably shouldn't have been so harsh. It was a very scenic route, along the bay, up underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. I lost track of my son in the muddle of the first mile, then caught sight of him chugging along as I was making my way back down the third. When I finished, I walked back up the course and found him and we ran the last hundred yards together. That last bit of misgiving dropped away as we walked back to the start line, where we picked up some bottles of water, and some chocolate milks. We stood in line for a few minutes to pick up our souvenir shirts, and some of the letdown returned. No funny cartoon. Just a logo on the front and a bunch of sponsors on the back. We went back and got more chocolate milks. And we waited for my wife and her mom to finish walking. It was a good day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Boot Meditations

I saw in the news this past weekend a video of the world's oldest computer. It weighs two tons. After a little bit of work, the folks at the United Kingdom's National Museum of Computing have it back up and running. I found this reassuring, since most of the machines I work with are only about seven years old. "The Witch," short for the Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computation from Harwell, first started crunching numbers in 1951. Sixty-one years later, it's back on the job, though primarily for demonstration purposes. The same might be said for the computers for which I am responsible, though I do tend to flatter myself in thinking that the output generated by the computers in my domain could eventually amount to something significant.
While I'm waiting for that significant output, I do what I can to keep that hardware from ending up in a scrap heap rather than a museum. Which is why sometimes I can be found, staring at a blank screen, muttering encouragement under my breath. I know that this box of plastic, metal and assorted mystery elements isn't listening. It's busy doing the best it can to set itself up to perform the operations that were programmed by Bill Gates or someone like him. If it takes a few extra seconds, or I hear a sound or see a flash of anything out of the ordinary, I get a little chill. What happens if this computer fails to boot?
Honestly? Not much. It's happened a few times at my school's computer lab. There, I just ask a kid to slide down the row and sit at another machine. Then I work feverishly behind the scenes to get the one that is misbehaving back on line. It's nothing like the reclamation done by the caretakers of The Witch. It took them three years to get those two tons of computing fury back to work. There isn't a first grader in the world who would sit still that long, waiting for to load.
And so I sit and stare, waiting to log on. Muttering my inspirational whispers to silicon chips, waiting for their chance to be in a museum.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What's In A Name?

Way back in 1963, the professional basketball franchise known as the Chicago Zephyrs, formerly the Chicago Packers, moved to Baltimore. This necessitated yet another name change: The Baltimore Bullets. A new town, a new mascot. And who wouldn't want to have a bullet for a mascot? Speedy. Accurate. Deadly. Eventually, to reflect their expanded fan base, they came to be known as the Washington Bullets. There they established a record of relative ignominy, rarely rising far enough above the middle of the pack to become a truly notable member of the National Basketball Association.
Then, in 1995, team Abe Pollin owner announced that he was changing the team's name yet again, since the Bullet part had made him increasingly uncomfortable, in large part due to the high murder rate found outside his arena in the Washington D.C. area. Magically, they were transformed into the Washington Wizards. This name change did little, if anything, to alter the course of the team's success, but it's likely that Mister Pollin slept better at night.
Which brings me the other side of the country, where I live. Out here we have a basketball franchise called The Golden State Warriors. Not to be confused with the Oakland or even the San Francisco Warriors, since this team has bounced around near the bottom of the western conference of the NBA for years, and after playing in various venues around the Bay Area after moving here from Philadelphia in 1962, they settled into the Oakland Arena in the late sixties. Now they're on the move again, looking for better digs across the bay. While they await their new home being built, the Warriors will continue to hang out in Oakland, where they are currently promoting themselves through the school district there with the line, "Warriors - Come out and play!" I walked past that poster in the hall of my school a few times before I stopped and listened to the voice in my head. It was the voice of Luther in the 1979 Walter Hill film, which was loosely based on a Greek poet Xenophon's "Anabasis." It's also a pretty gritty movie about inner city gang warfare. This weekend, Oakland experienced their 111th homicide of the year. The Warriors beat the Mavericks in overtime. This year, Washington D.C. is on a pace to have fewer than one hundred homicides. I wonder if the results would have been the same if they had been the Oakland Optimists. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ribbons Of Time

We're coming up fast on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It's an historical milestone, to be sure, but also rife with all manner of controversy and intrigue. Who really shot JFK? Is there a curse on the whole Kennedy family? I can answer that one: No. People die. Pretty much all of them. Whether they die in fiery plane crashes or quietly in their beds at a ripe old age, they all go sometime. Even if, or perhaps because, their last name is Kennedy.
Still, there are those who like to conjecture, such as Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center. He has taken a page from the Marvel Comics canon, wondering "What if John F. Kennedy had survived his assassination?" The obvious starting point would be "in what condition?" We assume that either the plot was foiled ahead of time or maybe hitting a moving target from eighty-eight feet away was a trickier shot than Lee Harvey Oswald was prepared to make. No matter, let's just put JFK's switch back to the "on" position in November of 1963. One of the things that Bomboy suggests that might have changed, other than the not-shot Kennedy, would have been the Civil Rights Act. Without a nation in mourning, he believes that the sentiment would not have been there to help push that piece of legislation over the top. He continues to muse on America's role in the Vietnam war if Kennedy had been alive. Maybe he would have taken a more diplomatic tack than Lyndon Johnson. We could have avoided that whole quagmire.
And that's why this "What If" game is so very fun. It's a little like the historical version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." And like all those episodes of Star Trek that found the crew of various Enterprises worrying about the space-time continuum, it does make one wonder if the rest of the Kennedy family might have fared better, curse-wise, if that magic bullet had gone awry. Maybe Bobby Kennedy could have dodged his own, and given us a miss on that whole Nixon era. The sixties might have become an era of social and political upheaval, but in a good way. George McGovern could have gotten elected in that universe.
Or maybe, as Voltaire has suggested, this truly is the best of all possible worlds. Suffering ultimately leads to happiness, and death springs from life. Sorry, Mister Bomboy, but I'm going to have to go with Candide on this one.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Feel The Rush

The title of the story was "Black Friday Doesn't Live Up To The Hype." Really? I thought that was all that we could hope for: hype. Being first in line for the doors to open on a Christmas shopping season that, by many accounts, has already begun, doesn't seem like the best use of my time today. Maybe it's the accounts of previous years, in which strangers trample one another for a chance to get an additional ten percent off the already ridiculously low price for a fifty inch TV. The fifty inch TV they're buying for their sales-crazed family who lurk about in the next aisle, savaging their way to even greater savings. Hunting and collecting. Take no prisoners. Unless they offer an additional discount.
No thanks. I've seen the aerial footage of the parking lots and the cars schooling like hungry piranhas, searching for that one available spot. That one's just as ripe for a confrontation as the last Mario game on the rack. We understand supply and demand, and we want more! That's because we are Americans. Never mind the bloody conflict in the Middle East, or the Best Buys and Wal Marts still shuttered on our own east coast because of Superstorm Sandy, get out there and shop!
Not to say that I am above a little crass consumerism. I've watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" enough to know the true meaning of the holidays. They're brought to you by Dolly Madison.  And since they went out of business right along with Hostess, it could be that the Mayans were right. It is the end of days. Where are my car keys? I've got to get me to the mall!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Fine Artist

I don't remember a time when I didn't know Jeanne Mann. She has been part of my life since I can remember. She was introduced as one of my mom's coffee and cigarette friends. She had a son about my older brother's age, and a daughter who was just a little younger than I. The two older brothers were in Indian Guides together, and that's where I was made aware of the extreme creative spirit living inside Jeanne. My father was counseled by his buddies at the YMCA to keep his tribal name as simple as possible, since he would be asked to repeat it dozens of times in pictograms. This is why he chose "Bent Arrow" for himself and "Straight Arrow" for his son. The Mann men became "Big Bear" and "Little Bear." The visuals that adorned their crafts were aided by the talents of Mama Bear. Jeanne gave them a pair of big black bears that were at once impressive and easily duplicated. Imitated, but never equaled.
Jeanne was an artist looking for a canvas. She gave her art to all kinds of nice places, like the library at my school. She drew cartoons of a cowboy and a cowgirl that graced bookmarks for Columbine Elementary years after her kids had moved on. Their Christmas cards were always a marvel to me: topical, funny, and always carefully drawn in a style that I tried to imitate, but never matched. Later, all this creativity found a new outlet in soft sculpture. Far from the mashed faces of the dolls that could be found in your average eighties gift shop, Jeanne applied her eye to making characters from literature come to life. I was the grateful recipient of a Falstaff, a Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Frankenstein's monster. They hold a special place in my home to this day, since I know just how unique these pieces were.
And when her grandchildren arrived, oh lucky them. The stuffed animals would not be purchased from a store. Cat in the Hat, Eeyore, the Lorax and more Wild Things than you could roll your terrible eyes at came thundering out of her workshop. There seemed to be no end to her energies. She was the friend of my mother's that I felt I could hang around and talk to. On those long afternoons when she and my mother used to play duets on the piano, I would wait for a break to come down and hang out with Jeanne. She got me, even when a lot of adults didn't. At least that's the way it felt. And she liked a bawdy story. She had a loud, long cackle that was the reward for telling a joke that was just the right shade of off-color. She nurtured my fascination with Charles Addams, and inspired me to keep sketching.
Now she's gone. It comes after a time when she had put her own drawings away. The music and the laughter had dried up. She leaves behind rooms full of relics that testify to her humor and enthusiasm. I thought of her as I sat at my desk, drawing this year's Christmas card for my family, just as I will every time I put a pen to paper.
Aloha, Jeanne. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Please Read This

The giving of thanks is something of an institution in our house. I would like to tell you that it was because of some profound sense of gratitude that I felt toward the universe that first set me on this path. I would also like to report that this over-arching insistence on "please" and "thank you" was generated by a deep-seated sense of politeness. I would like to tell you these things, but they would not be completely true.
Here is the truth: When I first moved in with the lovely woman that would become my wife, I felt this overwhelming need for approval for every little thing I did. I wanted thanks for passing the salt, and was willing to pay for it by responding in kind. This met with some resistance, initially, as my wife wanted to suggest that certain interactions carried "an implied please or thank you." Without a third party to adjudicate such matters, we limped on into the first five years of marriage with enforced politeness as part of our household traditions. By the time our son came along, we were practiced in the art, and he has grown up in a world that he understands needs to be asked courteously and then appreciated in turn.
And somewhere along the line, it stopped being ironic. It became worthwhile and gratifying on its own. Being thanked for doing the dishes or taking out the trash was a gift all its own. There was value in that little connection, and the cap stone "you're welcome" was the perfect resolution to the piece. On any given day, we do this dance a dozen times or more. And it doesn't get old. Sure, every so often one of us forgets the rules and begs for something only to be reminded, "you didn't say the magic word."  Sometimes this onus falls on visitors to our tiny kingdom, and they become perplexed or antagonistic about the demands being made on them. The ones who play along are asked back. It makes for a much nicer kingdom.
Today is the day when we give thanks, and so I'm asking us all to remember that before we we do that, we all say "Please."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

After Math

Did you get your gift bag yet? I'm still waiting on mine, in spite of the fact that I cast my vote for the giver of gifts, Barack Obama. At least that's what Mitt Romney would like us to believe. I am neither black nor Hispanic, and it's been a while since I could squeeze into my "youth vote" jeans, but I was hoping for a little something. Maybe it's the condoms. “Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now twenty-six years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people." Over twenty-six. White. Male. What's in it for me, Barack?
It could be that giving the guy who got Bin Laden and kept GM afloat was gift enough. Or maybe I wasn't looking at it in terms of what my country could do for me. Maybe I was looking at what I could do for my country. Even Newt Gingrich agrees with me. "It's nuts," Gingrich said on ABC's "This Week." "First of all, it's insulting. This would be like Wal-Mart having a bad week and going, 'The customers have really been unruly.' I mean, the job of a political leader in part is to understand the people. If we can't offer a better future that is believable to more people, we're not going to win." Interesting, since just a week before, ol' Newt was "dumbfounded" by Obama's win. I suppose it's all a part of the new Republican strategy, which seems to be founded less in dumb than doing exactly the opposite of whatever Mitt Romney did. This may include applying for a job at Wal-Mart, but only time will tell. I hear it's going to be pretty busy there on Friday. Lots of gifts will be bought that day. I just hope they're ready for a rush on the condom aisle.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Moment Of Silence, Please

At times like these, it's good to have friends. Within minutes of the news of Hostess's closing, I had two new e-mails in my inbox, consoling me. I don't own stock, nor do I know anyone personally who will be affected by the shuttering of the once and future king of snack cakes. Still, eighteen thousand people will lose their jobs, and that's nothing to sneeze at. Even if you're not allergic to chocolate.
I bring up this last piece of information because many of my favorite Hostess confections are conveyances for chocolate. Not the least of these are the little donuts, covered with that brown waxy coating that required a large glass of orange juice to dissipate its hold on one's teeth. That was the rationalization for eating these "Donettes." At least I was getting my RDA of vitamin C along with whatever else might be in the donuts.
I had no such illusions about Chocodiles. These tasty treats passed the Twinkie on the left by coating that golden sponge cake with creamy filling inside with that same "frosting" that covered the Donettes. My fondest memory of Chocodiles comes from a time when my older brother came to visit me while I was working at a video store. The day shift was notoriously slow, but I was required to sit behind the counter and catch up on tasks such as duplicating customer's personal VHS tapes of their children's birthdays or other tedious family gatherings. My brother stopped by and asked if there was anything he could do to help make the time pass. "How about a snack?" He popped out the door, across the parking lot to the convenience store, and returned with a bottle of Jolt Cola, and an assortment of Hostess products, the most prized among them was the elusive Chocodile. This gesture was one I never forgot. It had echoes back to our childhood, when we used to ensure that we would never steal one another's dessert by removing the foil wrapper and licking the entire surface of the chocolate hockey puck. My apologies for this image to any of you who grew up without siblings. Or if your siblings were more well-behaved than we were.
And finally, the Twinkie. For years, I had heard the stories about how this signature snack cake had a shelf life of more than twenty years. Some said that they would outlive the cockroaches and in the event of nuclear war, they might be used for bartering purposes. This quandary led to Bobcat Goldthwait's musing: "If you ate a Twinkie that was 20 years and one day old, would you go...'Hey, does this taste funny to you?'" This, in turn, caused me to secure a Twinkie and place it deep in the recesses of my mother's refrigerator. I knew that the refrigeration might have unforeseen impacts on the experiment, but I was committed to holding on to that Twinkie until it was certified as twenty years and one day old. And I was going to take a bite of that Twinkie. Just to see.
I should mention, at this point, that I was not living at my mother's home at the time of this scientific endeavor. I just figured a Twinkie would be safer in her house than mine, and whenever I was over, I made a point to check on it, however briefly. Then I made the momentous decision to move to California. When I decided to grow up and move away, I left childish things behind. Like that Twinkie. But my mother, ever the good sport, kept it, and eventually she moved to a smaller place. This meant clearing out her refrigerator, since the townhouse into which she was moving already had one. It was my older brother who, with some insistence, moved that Twinkie to its new home at the back of my mother's new refrigerator. That was my older brother, keeping the dream alive.
When I returned for a visit, I was regaled with the stories of the move, and how my little piece of Historic Hostess was lovingly cared for. At this point, it became clear that the joke was becoming strained, and a brief examination of the Twinkie let me know that an additional decade wouldn't bring it any closer to appearing tasty. It had retained its color, but the size and rigidity had been altered over time. I gave my mother permission to set it free, along with the ten cubic inches of refrigerator space that was relieved to have real food in it once again.
Add to all of this the fascination my new little family has grown with frozen Ho-Hos, and you can understand that even in this more health conscious age, the liquidation of Hostess comes as sad news. Then again, the idea of liquified Chocodiles seems awfully yummy to me right about now.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Strom Front

The last thing I want to do is throw cold water on the efforts of any person or group attempting to do good in this troubled world. I would go so far as to point everyone's attention to the mega-concert that is going to be held on the twelfth of next month to aid the victims of Superstorm Sandy. 12-12-12 is a very auspicious occasion, with a lineup to match: Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Roger Waters, and The Who. Sure, this roster of stars might skew to a particular demographic, but that would be more of that cynicism that I am making efforts to avoid. The hope is that this show will bring badly needed donations to those hit hardest along our eastern seaboard. The devastation there brought me, in addition to texting along my donation on my antiquated cell phone, to the blood bank where I gave a little bit of myself in those first few days. That bit of giving was spurred on, in part, by the one hour telethon NBC and its networks.
That one reminded me of the one they held on behalf of the victims of Katrina. And the one for the victims of September 11. Band Aid. We Are The World. Farm Aid. Good people doing good work. Giving. Caring. Raising awareness.
I was riding to work the other day, looking at the squalor piled up at the curb, looking at the homes I knew that were empty because of the foreclosures. Watching the oddly bundled, hunched over men and women picking through those piles, searching for plastic and aluminum. Or maybe a new blanket. And I wondered when their telethon would be. Across the country, we have millions of victims who lost their homes without a stiff breeze or an earthquake. They are still waiting for the concert that will bring them relief.
So I'm suggesting, respectfully, that if you want to give nationally, that's a good thing. But don't forget to think and act locally too. The storm hasn't passed yet.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ever Vigilant

If you work long enough in an urban school, you get the feeling that you've seen it all. I've had to intercede in fistfights between parents. I've had to explain to children of all ages where and how to use the indoor plumbing to which they may only recently have been introduced. I've have removed dead rats from behind desks and refrigerators. I've scared live pigeons out of the lunchroom. I've lived through a six hour lockdown while police scoured the neighborhood for bad guys while we attempted to keep the kids entertained and calm in rooms with little or no ventilation, and the absence of that plumbing we already mentioned.
But I've always feared a gun. Some years ago, a particularly troubled fourth grader was rumored to be carrying a pistol in his backpack. It fell to me and the assistant principal to confront this kid, and even though it turned out to be a vaguely realistic cap gun, I remember the slightly out-of-body feeling I had as he reached into the pack and pulled it out. I've read far too many stories about how things like this go terribly wrong. That experience is probably why I reacted as strongly as I did when I found a bullet on the floor of my classroom last week.
A real, twenty-two caliber bullet. Outwardly, I remained calm. I picked it up like I was picking up the candy wrappers that periodically end up on that same floor. This was not the standard litter. This was ammunition. I asked the student whose chair was closest to the bullet to step out into the hallway so I could ask him discretely about it. After an initial flurry of "what?" and "I dunno," I firmly but calmly reminded him that this was a very big deal. It was a lot different than being caught chewing gum. That's when he lit up and started protesting his innocence loudly. My hopes of remaining discrete dwindled. "You wanna check to see if I've got a gun?" I took a long breath.
"No, I just want to find out where this bullet came from. It's very dangerous."
At last, the storm broke, and he gave up his friend, sitting across the room, who had given it to him "to look at" outside my room. When we brought him out into the hallway, I went through a very similar song and dance that ended, happily enough, with a confession. We took the group to the office to be dealt with by the principal. It took me the rest of the day to put my jangled nerves back in order, which is about the same time I encountered bullet boy back out on the playground. He had decided to come back after school to play basketball. I chose not to have an additional confrontation, nodded and went back to my room. On my way out, I stopped by the office and found this same kid sitting there, having been apprehended by our school's secretary while trying to light a bunch of weeds on fire next to the Kindergarten room.
I thought about all the choices I had made over the course of the day. I thought about all the choices this kid had made. I hoped that taking a week off for the Thanksgiving holiday might give us all a chance to reflect and make some better choices. Away from school.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Kicking The Bucket

Over the past few days, I have encountered a voice from my past. The odd thing is that it is coming from the mouth of my lovely wife. My lovely and optimistic wife. My lovely and seemingly eternally optimistic wife. The words she has chosen to echo is a metaphor about a fist in a bucket of water. It was introduced to me by a former boss of mine. This guy ran an office furniture installation business, and he didn't expect to have long-term employees. Most of the guys who worked for him came from something else and were on their way to something new. Assembling cubicles for the local IBM phone support group was not a career move. It was a job. That's why our boss often referred to us individually as that metaphorical fist. The job was that bucket of water. When the fist came out, the water was still there, but try as you might you weren't going to take any of that water with you in that fist.
I held on to that image for many years, as it seemed to explain how I was able to move from job to job: a name tag here, a few paychecks there, but I never once attended a reunion of the night crew at Target. Even though I still send a Christmas card to a couple of the guys. I suppose that if I were on Facebook, I could keep up with the old gang from the book warehouse, but the fact remains that with the exception of Target, the rest of the businesses for which I worked in my youth have all disappeared. In this case, the fist remains, and the bucket has disappeared.
I know the appeal of the fist in the bucket of water to my wife. It's a very zen thing, and it is open to wide interpretation. For me, however, it will always mean that I am replaceable. Behind me is a long line of fists awaiting their turn in that bucket. The good news is that she hasn't applied it to me. Not yet, anyway.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Rash Of Indiscretion

Elmo isn't the only scandal rocking the news these days. You may have heard of this other peccadillo involving a certain General Patraeus? The one where the now former director of the Central Intelligence Agency was involved in an extra-marital affair with his biographer, with whom he shared more than just a few briefings. If you catch my meaning. The first thing that occurs to me is this: If you can't keep your mistress a secret, do you really deserve to be our nation's top spy?
That's what makes James Bond such a great model. He doesn't make attachments, and if he does, they're usually gone by the second reel. When James did finally judo-flip over a woman, Contessa Teresa ‘Tracy’ Di Vicenzo ended up being shot in a drive-by, he doesn't get mad. He made a sequel. Though it is probably worth noting that George Lazenby wasn't renewed as 007. His license to kill was passed along to Roger Moore, who spent most of the seventies hopping from bed to bed with nothing but a quip and his Walther PPK to keep him company on most nights. That's the life of a spy.
Or maybe it's that power thing that has plagued men since before Thomas Jefferson, and right up to William Jefferson Clinton. And David Patraeus. And now, our top commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, has been caught with his camos around his ankles. This will make it very difficult for him to be confirmed as the commander of NATO forces in Europe.We wouldn't want someone in that position to be compromised by something as tawdry as infidelity. Again, if you can't keep your e-mail private, then you probably don't deserve to be in charge of a bunch of spies anyway. It makes you wonder which side Elmo is really on.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Down On The Street

Oh, how the fuzzy are fallen. Kevin Clash, the man who has voiced of Sesame Street's Elmo for the past twenty-seven years, has been placed on a leave of absence as the story about his relationship with a teenage boy some years ago becomes clear. The folks at Sesame Workshop stated that it conducted a “thorough investigation,” including two meetings with the accuser, and found his claims regarding underage sexual contact to be “unsubstantiated.” Clash has admitted to a relationship with the young man, but says it did not take place until after he had turned eighteen. If he had been sixteen, would that have been the problem?
How about this: Apparently there are a lot of people who would be happy to find a reason to pull the plug on PBS. The most interesting thing is how much the people who voted for Barack Obama look like those hanging out on Sesame Street. The poly-ethnic mix of men and women, boys and girls, frogs and monsters that call that boulevard home are just the kind of trouble that frightened Republicans are worried will be taking over our country soon. This non-traditional America is a challenge to those who would rather close their eyes and imagine a life in Mayberry.
Elmo wouldn't last long in Mayberry. Bright red monsters don't fare well in bright red states. Kevin Clash definitely has some explaining to do, but his story is as old as our great nation. The kiddie show host that is forced out because of this illicit behavior or that, in fact or fiction, has been around as long as broadcasting, and probably before. I have no particular love loss for Elmo, but I was not part of the generation of kids who grew up with his oddly-pitched third person vision of the world. Elmo's world. It will be interesting to see how this turns out on Reality Street. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Final Count

As relieved as I may be not to have to live in a country run by a president named after a piece of sports equipment, I can't find it in my heart to sneer at the sincere efforts made by Mitt and his running mate Paul to win the race. They worked hard, won a debate, won some more votes, but ultimately this wasn't their time. There has been plenty of hand-wringing and grumbling about this "Electoral College," and why couldn't we just go ahead and make it the popularity contest that we all secretly want it to be. One man, one vote, right? Okay, if you insist: One man or woman, one vote.
In this case, it would have taken a few more days to get things settled, but it still would have turned out the way the electorals had it. One they finished playing shuffleboard and the Canasta games were over down in Florida, and all those missing ballots were rounded up in Ohio, it was just like the Grinch and Christmas. He didn't stop Christmas from coming. It came just the same. In this model, of course, the Grinch will be played by Karl Rove.
Sputtering and fussing and spewing invective, Karl was every bit the picker of nits. As the rest of the country closed in around him, he wanted to make sure that every "good, suburban Republican" vote was counted. Good news, Karl. It's over now: Obama won. Romney came in second. The good news is that he outperformed Rosanne Barr. The bad news is that all the Whos down in Whoville starting singing. Even without your permission. It could be that it was at that moment that Karl's tiny heart grew three sizes. Or maybe it continued to collapse in on itself, like a black hole. Whatever the relative size of his internal organs, he will have to content himself with making excuses for losing an election to a guy who ran on eight percent unemployment and a staggering national debt. The most ironic of those seem to be voter suppression and dirty tricks. Then, of course, there's those women. The little dears voted by the dozens to keep their private parts private, as well as telling the rest of the world that they, like so many Americans who aren't found in those "good, suburban Republican" neighborhoods need to be counted. Suppressed the vote? He keeps using that word. I do not think it means what he thinks it means. The numbers, meanwhile, don't lie. And maybe that's why Karl seemed so confused.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lurching Forward

Sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Take, for example, the wisdom a friend of mine laid on me about lemmings. That part about them rushing forward to their little furry deaths? Not true. Which pretty much closed out my central metaphor about the Fiscal Cliff which we find ourselves speeding toward like Thelma and Louise. Thank you Callie Khouri. Now that the election is over, we have the ugly realities that we have been spinning into attack ads to fix.
How are we going to pay for all of this stuff? Sure, the two billion dollars that was spent on those attack ads might be nice to have back, but maybe that was just the leading edge of our eventual economic recovery. Or maybe instead of spending all that time hanging out in Ohio, all those clever government types could have worked a few more hours on a fiscal plan to avoid the fiscal catastrophe that is shaped like a fiscal cliff. Raise taxes. Cut spending. Print more money. A switch to the silver standard. Another movie that springs to mind is "Dave," wherein Kevin Kline takes the place of the President when the chief executive slips into a coma after a vigorous night with his mistress. While carrying on as his lookalike, Dave uses his man-of-the-people knowledge to balance the budget and get America working again. I wonder how many times Mitt Romney watched that one.
Meanwhile, back in Washington D.C., the opportunity to be smug is short-lived, since now that the confetti has been swept up and the flags have been removed from volunteer's hair, it's back to work. The House of Representatives is dominated by Republicans. The Senate is in the hands of the Democrats. There's a month and a half until we plummet into the abyss. And I don't mean the James Cameron film.
Of course, we might all get lucky, and the words of our President on election night about coming together, not as red states or blue states, but as on America will finally ring true and we can begin building on a foundation of cooperation and trust. Or maybe the Mayans were right and we can just relax and enjoy the next few weeks.

Monday, November 12, 2012

For Those Who Served

For many of our veterans, the hardest part about being shot at, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, is not being shot at anymore. Many years ago, I wrote about the casualties of war. The war that has now been going on for a decade. The death toll of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have long since passed by the two thousand mark. The hill in Lafayette, California where crosses have been placed to mark each fallen soldier is now all but obscured with white markers. It made me think of that sign in front of the Veterans' Hospital in Muskogee, Oklahoma that read, "The Price Of Freedom Is Visible Here."
As each war passes into history, science has given us better and better ways to bring the wounded back, in more or less on piece. Yet we continue to struggle with ways to bring them all the way home. The worst wounds are the ones we can't see. In this case, the price of freedom is invisible here. When the guns are silenced and the medals have been awarded, the war isn't over.  The stories of soldiers returning from foreign lands who brought the war home appear far too frequently. The War On Terror is now being fought on two fronts.
I think of my son, who at fifteen only really knows his country at war. I wonder how this has affected his world, inside and out. I wonder what it has done to me. If it makes me flinch to hear about "Price Wars" at a mattress warehouse to celebrate Veterans' Day, how do you suppose that feels to someone who lived through the real thing?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Major Award

"It's a Major Award!" These are the words Ralphie's father utters as he goes out on the porch to sign for the crate that has just been delivered there. At last, all those crossword puzzles and radio contests have paid off. At least that's how it works in "A Christmas Story." It makes sense, given the number of times I have watched that film even before the TBS marathon showings, that I would have this phrase bouncing around my head when I read my e-mail last Wednesday. I have been selected as Outstanding Elementary Teacher for Region Two. Immediately upon having that bit of dialogue pass through my mind, along came all the ways that I could diminish it: "Sure, Region Two. The real competition is in Region One." Or how about, "Well, I guess they had to get to me sooner or later." And just about any other Eeyore-inspired grumble that would have made this major award something less than a lamp in the shape of a woman's leg.
So here's the deal: After sixteen years of toiling in obscurity, I'm still not fully comfortable having someone come along and pull the bushel off of my light. I am, by nature, much more inclined to continue along with the periodic pat on the back or mention in the newsletter. Even that one gets me a little nervous. What if everyone figures out that they could be doing the job I'm doing, and then suddenly there was no more work for me to do? This condition is nothing new. Whenever I have ascended to any new position of authority or achievement, I have always looked for ways to diminish that accomplishment. Way back when I was named Assistant Warehouse Manager and then shortly thereafter elected to the board of directors at the book wholesaler where I was first employed in California, my father responded this way: "That either says something about you, or the people you work with." Maybe it was both, but that is the sound success makes in my head.
Now I've got a month or so before the ceremony to reconcile my ambivalence. How much humility is appropriate, and how much am I allowed to feel, "Hey, it's about time?" And if I was really that concerned with toiling in obscurity, why would I be writing about it here?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Survivor: Nederland

My mother sent us down to the meadow when we got too loud inside the cabin. A hundred yards down the two ruts we called a driveway, obscured by several trees and a substantial pile of granite. Past the horseshoe pit. Past the aspen grove. That was our playground. That's where we learned about lawn darts.
There were plenty of toys and activities that we pursued at our cabin in the woods that we never would have attempted in the cozy suburban cul-de-sac: Riding motorcycles, operating chainsaws, climbing trees and rocks like we were born to it. And those lawn darts. To be more precise, the brand name we were presented with was "Yardarts." At some level, I suppose it made sense, since they were marketed as "fun for the whole family," and we were encouraged to "throw them like horseshoes." What the makers of these foot-long plastic missiles with weighted metal tips failed to take into account was the way three brothers might already be throwing horseshoes. Flinging a two-pound iron horseshoe in the direction of someone who alternated between being your best friend and chief tormentor is an ugly temptation. Making them a notch more aerodynamic and putting a nice sharp point on them didn't do anything to arrest that feeling.
And yet, we all walked back into the cabin after a day's play. Sometimes to the surprise of my mother, who may have been expecting (hoping) that evolution would win out, and the herd would be thinned. Or at least frightened.
Not us. The three of us were made of stronger, or perhaps luckier, stuff. We fell down, bloodied and scraped, got back up again, and got ready for the next day. My mother, to her credit, cleaned our wounds with hydrogen peroxide and bandaged them with as many Band-Aids as necessary. Then she sent us back down the path to the meadow. This time my older brother took his bow and arrow. What could go wrong?

Friday, November 09, 2012


What's round on the ends and high in the middle? If you answered "OhighO," you'd be right, and not just for your faulty spelling skills. A woman caught on camera driving on a sidewalk to avoid a Cleveland school bus that was unloading children will have to stand at an intersection wearing a sign warning about idiots. Thirty-two-year-old Shena Hardin to stand at an intersection for two days next week. She will have to wear a sign saying: "Only an idiot drives on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus." You can argue with the wording. You can argue with the sentence. You could argue with the sentence wording, but you have to admit, this is a creative way to dispense justice.
Perhaps this was a reaction to all that swing-state scrutiny, but I wonder why over the past few weeks we haven't seen more acts of idiocy. Pushed to the brink of irrationality, by hour after hour of political advertising, the denizens of the nation's most vowel-laden state by percent have most certainly become unhinged. There are probably numerous cases of Ohioans drying their clothes with microwaves, feeding crocodiles marshmallows by hand, and testing car batteries with their tongues. It's the stress.
The pressure to pick the leader of the free world is enough to make anybody drive on the sidewalk, and not just to avoid a school bus. In other realms, we applaud this as "thinking outside the box." Clinging tenaciously to light poles and mailboxes might be the net result of such action, but isn't that the kind of survival of the fittest experience that made our country great in the first place?
Or maybe I'm just an idiot.

Thursday, November 08, 2012


I felt so clever, running over hill and dale, carrying my cassette player carefully in one hand, puffy headphones placed neatly over my ears as I listened to my favorite tunes on a mix tape of my own creation. Exercise was so much more pleasant with music to distract me. The toll for this joy was exacted through double A batteries and the number of times I had to retrieve a mass of tangled tape from the spindles inside a machine that was just barely designed for such a purpose.
That is why I eventually moved from one machine to the next, each one promising to be more shock proof than the one before it. It was, as I came to understand, a battle against physics. All those moving parts were not suited to align with my moving parts over prolonged periods. I turned to the next logical alternative: radio. This was a much lighter and convenient method of moving my music along with me, and the addition of headphones that acted as an FM antennae made it possible for me to hear just about whatever I wanted to, as long as I kept my head tilted to this side or that. Until the commercials came.
My first mp3 player was about the same size as a cassette Walkman, and I found that even though I could cram more than six hours of music into its memory, it suffered some of the same challenges that those first tape players endured. It had to be carried just so, and though I never had to pry any tape from its jaws. But I did have to reinstall software more than once, and updating my playlist was quite a project. When I allowed myself to step up to the world of iPod, I was finally able to experience relatively carefree tunage as I went out in the street or into the back yard.
Until that one that threatened to burst into flames. To their everlasting credit, Apple sent me a nice note to let me know that the machine I was using to facilitate my good health might work against that purpose by overheating and causing a nasty burn or worse. That's about the time I remembered the wisdom of my therapist, who encouraged me to be more in the world by listening to the world around me, even when I had nothing to say. Especially when I had nothing to say.
I tried that, for a while. I ran without anything sticking in my ears. I heard a lot of traffic. I heard some birds. But not once did I hear Bruce Springsteen. That's why I accepted Apple's kind offer to replace the dangerous machine with one that promised not to harm me. And to keep safe from the sound of silence.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Family Fare

As I sat and watched these two disparate souls, separated by so much, but drawn together by fate and circumstance, I couldn't help but reflect on my movie-going habits. The couple cavorted across fantastic landscapes, encountering all manner of bizarre creatures and completing one harrowing escape after another. While I stared up at the screen I thought about the human condition, which seemed a little odd, since I was watching "Wreck-It-Ralph," not "Cloud Atlas." I would have expected to have all manner of profound insights while watching the expansive tale from the makers of the Matrix trilogy and "Run Lola Run." I didn't expect to think too hard while watching a Disney movie set inside a video game.
And yet, that's where I found myself this past weekend. I sat with my wife, my teenage son and his friend, soaking up each brightly lit frame of the story of a misunderstood giant who just wants to fit into the blocky, sixteen-bit world of his game, "Fix-It Felix." Ralph wants to be a hero, not a bad guy. This is pretty elemental stuff, but once he goes wandering inside a universe that doesn't give much room for this kind of change. When he finds a little glitch in another game, who helps him become more of what he wants to be, the story takes off. It's a fairy tale and a meditation on contemporary society. "When did video games get so violent?" wonders Ralph, who had previously spent his time breaking windows and crushing buildings.
When did family movies become so entertaining? Maybe it was back when my son was born, or just before. When "Toy Story" first came out, it became safe, even a little bit hip, to a watch kids' movie. You can see John Lasseter's fingerprints all over "Wreck-It-Ralph." He's the guy sitting in the control booth at Disney. He is the man behind the curtain, which is interesting since the other upcoming movie that caught my eye showed up in the previews before Ralph: "Oz, The Great And Powerful." It comes to us from the director of "The Evil Dead" and the Spider Man trilogy, Sam Raimi. Produced by John Lasseter's magic movie making machine, Disney Studios.
I have drunk the Kool-Aid, and I look forward to the Marvel/Disney/Pixar/Lucasfilm production that tells the origin story of that big red pitcher with legs.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Checks And Balances

Let's all take a moment to praise our remarkably efficient system of governance. The one that hasn't been disrupted since the Civil War. The one that is going to select a new Chief Executive today, or over the next few days, or however long it takes to pull those "lost" votes out of the ditches in Ohio. Savor the fact that we have a pretty successful track record when it comes to holding elections, and no matter what the outcome is, there are built-in safeguards to keep us from turning into a fascist state or a socialist commune overnight. Those three branches of government turned out to be a pretty good idea, so thanks to all the guys down om Philly who put this whole thing together. Nice work, guys.
By the time the newly elected or re-elected president finds his way to the stage at his inauguration, there will already be a heap of work to do sitting on the desk in the Oval Office. Getting America back to work and figuring out how to keep us all safe from the rest of the world and ourselves will not be the work of any one man.
That's why I've gone all zen on this election deal. I've lived through Nixon. And Reagan. And a couple of Bushes. If that's the worst they can throw at us, I guess I'll be fine with that. Tomorrow I will get out of bed without the expectation of an armed presence in the streets to direct me to the nearest indoctrination camp. Quite the opposite. I expect that whoever ends up living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next few years will have to spend a little more time figuring out just what they can do to make things work for me. By the people, for the people, if I recollect. Given the gridlock which has become a way of life in Washington D.C., I suspect that it will be some time before the insurgency or counter-insurgency will take anything that appears like control. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. Consider me established and ordained, fellas. I'll be watching.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Force That Binds The Galaxy Together

It bugged the heck out of me when I learned that Michael Jackson had purchased the Beatles' song catalog. That may be why there was little or no heck left in my system when I found out that Disney was buying Lucasfilm. Four billion dollars worth of Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, and copyrights to go along with them. As part of this engulf and devour move, Disney has announced that the next chapter in the Star Wars saga, Chapter Seven, will be released in 2015. If there was a trace of heck left in my system, that pretty well bounced it right out of there.
Please understand, I have worshiped at the temple of Mouse for most of my life. My first monster mask was purchased at the magic shop in Disneyland. Even then I wondered how the Universal Studios depiction of Frankenstein's monster could find its way to the shelves in the happiest place on earth. These were the days before intellectual property, I suppose. Ideas and images just floated around freely, with little or no hindrance, stopping only long enough to entice or inspire before moving on. This was before there were laws and lawyers. Or so I'm told.
Since then, the attorneys for the Mouse have been very busy. They landed in Times Square and malls across America. Then Star Tours opened up at Disneyland. Corporate Synergy. Indiana Jones followed a few years later. Then they bought up the Muppets. And then they bought Marvel Comics. Disney bought Pixar, or was that the other way 'round? All of a sudden, Mickey is palling around with Darth Vader, Kermit the Frog and Spider Man. As the center grows ever more massive, the pop culture universe is collapsing around its Disney core. In entertainment Monopoly, as soon as Disney gets a hotel on Park Place, the game is over. Maybe they can make a deal for the estate of Michael Jackson. Just don't let me catch Jar Jar Binks putting out any Beatles tribute albums, or I might go into heck foreclosure.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A Stitch In Time

If you've read Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle In Time," you're probably familiar with the concept of a tesseract. It's a time travel device, described by otherworldly Mrs. Whatsit as a way to travel in time, rather than space, a "wrinkle" rather than a flat plane. I happily embraced this theory as I grew up, wondering when I might encounter such a neat trick. It is only now that it occurs to me that I have been tripping over these anomalies for most of my life in the form of Daylight Savings Time.
Spring Forward. Fall Back. As someone who spends his life tied to a system of clocks and bells, I am innately suspicious of any process that suggests that we would somehow wake up one morning with "an extra hour of sleep." Let's start with the time it takes me to wander about my house, searching out the various appliances and machines that require resetting. Those minutes are definitely coming off the bottom line. I'm pleased and happy to have a room full of computers at my school that can remember this switch for me, but the bell system and clocks there usually take a day or two to catch up to the vagaries of this government boondoggle. In another six months, I'll be back to wandering around my house and school, checking to see if all of those built-in chronometers have caught up to the arbitrary shift.
I suppose this is a confession of sorts: I can't relax and enjoy my "extra hour of sleep" because I'm too concerned about keeping track of the time I'm losing on the other side. This is no gift for me. I'm far too concerned with the minutiae of minutes. Is it really worth having those extra hours to have those extra hours to collect insects after your factory shift is over? 
Maybe you'd like to have the time you spent reading this blog back. You'll have to wait until April for that.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Channeling Weather

My father had a name for it: The Potbelly Syndrome. It wasn't a diet or exercise program. It was a theory he maintained about catastrophe, wherein people would gather at the general store after the fire, flood or blizzard to warm themselves around the stove, a potbelly stove, and commiserate about their experience. Maybe that explains why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, had this to say about the federal response to Superstorm Sandy: “I have to say the administration, the president himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far. We have a great partnership with them, and I want to thank the president personally for his personal attention to this.” This comes as a stark contrast to his assessment of Barack Obama in August as “nothing more than a Chicago ward politician.”
It comes at an awkward time for partisan politics. But that's not the way of nature. In an election that was all but void of discussion of global warming, along comes a very compelling talking point: Frankenstorm.  How about when we're finished debating tax code reform and battleships versus horses and bayonets we take a few minutes to talk about continuing life on our planet. Having a planet on which to have these debates pushes all of that talk to the side. For now, at least. The chance to politicize a natural disaster has been, for the most part, tastefully avoided. That doesn't mean that in the days leading up to the election that we won't be reminded of how things might have been done differently. We are a planet of Slow Learners. Sometimes things have to fall on our head to get us to realize that the sky, or parts of it, is falling.
I don't know who will win the presidential race, but I do know that Mother Nature's office isn't up for grabs. She managed to do the one thing that Occupy Wall Street never managed to do: Shut it down for two days. She's still going to do what she does, and we do our best to stay out of the way, and hopefully we'll all meet together around that potbelly stove to swap stories.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Grappling With The Past

When my son came home and complained of "feeling uncomfortable" when his PE class started a unit on wrestling, I felt bad. It took me a while to unravel just where that "bad" came from. I wrestled, way back in junior high school. It was the narrow pathway that lead me to the novels of John Irving. It was also the second time I was on a team. Even further back into the mist, when I was in fourth grade, I played Young America football. Then I took a few years off. My older brother had wrestled, and so there was a bit of a legacy at Centennial Junior High for the Caven boys. In seventh grade I was still far too consumed with the intricacies of locker combinations and social cliques to imagine spending my winter afternoons locked in that gym.
Social cliques? Maybe that was the key. I remembered that my neighborhood pal and chief tormentor had insisted that the only way I could overcome the plague of being in band was to go out for a sport. He was on the basketball team, after all, just like his brothers before him. It was my destiny to follow in my big brother's footsteps. The ones with the funny pattern made by a pair of wrestling shoes.
Of course, I found out, weeks after I had started attending the nightly practices and had our first match, that wrestling wasn't on the approved list of "cool sports." All those hours spent in a Bikram Yoga-style environment were not improving my social status. At best, I was getting an asterisk for doing something that was not band. At worst, I was grappling with other boys. Not cool.
All of this came flooding back as I considered my son's level of discomfort. I remembered how I didn't quit, even though I took a good deal of grief from "friends" who wanted to improve their junior high caste by pointing out just how gay wrestling was. And so, like my brother before me, I committed myself to sticking with it, through the season, and all through ninth grade as well. I even went to the district tournament that year. For "B" mat. I was never that good, but I stuck with it and as a result I was featured in a couple more yearbook photos.
All that time, we wrestlers labored in the shadows of the basketball team, who practiced in the less than sweltering gym upstairs. I endured countless bloody noses and any number of strained muscles and twisted joints. I endured.
I tried to explain that to my son. The Ultimate Frisbee player. He listened respectfully, and agreed to do his best. He's already had his picture taken for the Frisbee team.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Create A Space

In my mind's eye, I can see it. On two sides there would be floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out onto the woods below. "Below," because the room itself would be elevated, either on the second floor or stuck up on stilts. The light comes with a green filter through the rustling leaves. Inside, it is warm, even on those foggy mornings when the sun is still working on making its way to this place: my studio. Where I work.
This is the place where I go to create. Sometimes I draw, sometimes I paint. My typewriter is there on my desk, facing away from the window because I don't want to be distracted. It's not a big desk, but it is substantial and wooden, especially when compared to the drawing table that sits just to the left. From there I can look outside, since when I am making pictures I want to be able to draw in light. And sound. Behind me is a small sound system with shelves full of CDs. These are the ones that keep me inspired when the view isn't enough. Rock, classical, new wave, and lots of soundtracks. That is when the sounds of the woods outside aren't enough. This is where all of the children's books have been imagined and pieced together. This is where all my talents come together and make the dreams I had into a reality I can share. It's just a few short steps down the hallway from my bedroom so that I can get up early or stay up late when the muse strikes me. It's where I work.
At least that's where it was in my teen-aged imagination. It still exists in, pieces. I don't have a typewriter, but I have a desk where my computer monitor and keyboard wait for me to come up with the day's sentiments. If I turn my head, I can look out a window and see a pair of trees: one that I planted when my son was born, the other a weed of a plum tree that continues to flourish in spite of our lack of attention. All the drawing supplies are tucked away in drawers and cabinets throughout the house. If I decided to paint, I could find brushes and paint, but finding an uncluttered surface might slow me down. This is where I live. I work at a school where the trees have been sacrificed for the asphalt playground. The sounds I hear are children's voices. Sometimes I get clever ideas for entertaining them. I tell them stories. I even draw pictures, from time to time. This is where I work.