Friday, May 31, 2013

Close Shave

For my eighteenth birthday, my father gave me a brown paper bag. Inside I found a can of shaving cream, a disposable razor, and a copy of John Irving's novel, "The World According to Garp." I read the book in a fever, finishing six hundred plus pages in just a few days. It became a touchstone for me. It didn't replace "Breakfast of Champions" at the top of my list, but it helped inform my sense of what a story could do. I would like to think that my father knew that John Irving had studied with Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and that I would be able to follow this thread to discover my own strengths as a writer. Or maybe he had heard that there were some nasty parts, and he wanted to give his son a dirty book for his eighteenth birthday.
I know that he never read it. My father wasn't much of a reader. But he did shave. That razor and shaving cream were invaluable in making my transition from an electric razor to a blade. For the previous two years, I had been chewing up my pubescent chin with a Norelco that had first been my father's, and then passed down to my older brother. It is doubtful that even in its prime that this machine would have been equipped to manicure the combination of peach fuzz and pimples that my face offered. Switching to a blade gave me a much better chance to avoid some of the chewing and grinding that the electric shaver was giving me. After that, I never looked back. I've been a blade man ever since.
Which is why, when my son turned sixteen, I considered giving him a disposable razor and some foam, just to get him off on the right foot, chin-wise. Instead, I got him an Xbox. It was his grandfather, my wife's dad, who stepped into that shaving void. He sent some old-school safety razors with some vintage blades along with a cup with shaving soap and a brush. There was no dirty book. I guess I've still got a chance to get in on that account.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


That echo you hear is history repeating itself. Last week, authorities in Albany, Oregon arrested seventeen year old Grant Acord and, based on the evidence they found in his home, charged him with attempted murder. Police found diagrams of the Acord's high school along with six home-made bombs, including pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails and napalm bombs under the floorboards of his bedroom. Authorities refer to his plan as a "Columbine-style attack."
Sure, that would be the one most people would point to. Tactically, the use of explosives for mass killing sounds a lot like the beginnings of the scheme Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had in mind way back in 1999. But something else stuck in my head when I read about Grant Acord: Kip Kinkel. Mister Kinkel was just fifteen when he murdered his parents and then proceeded on to his high school where he shot and killed two fellow students and wounded thirty-seven others. Kip's shooting took place in Springfield, Oregon, just a little further down Interstate 5 from Portland than Albany. Not far from Salem, where Kip Kinkel is serving one hundred and eleven years in the Oregon State Correctional Institution.
Ken Kesey shared alliteration as well as an home along that same stretch of highway with Kip Kinkel. Kesey wrote an article for Rolling Stone about the aftermath of Kip's killings. All that commonality didn't generate any more sense than we can make out of Grant Acord's vision for death. The older I get, the further I feel myself removed from the kind of youthful angst that would drive a young man to such extremes. They seemed like such nice boys. It's only afterward that we start to take apart the lives that lead to such fear, anger and terror and put them back together in a form that makes sense. Motives? Opportunities? Sadness. Loneliness. Rage.
Olympia Beer used to have a slogan: "It's the water, and a lot more." It would be nice if we could blame it on the water in the Pacific Northwest, but we know it's the lot more that's really the problem.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

History Lesson

Fifty-one thousand. That's not a sellout for most major sporting venues, but it's a pretty good crowd. It's also the number of soldiers who died at the Battle of Gettysburg. Not Berlin. Not Basra. Not Kabul. This one was fought in Pennsylvania, not far from Pittsburgh, just up the road from Baltimore. One hundred and fifty years later, the loss of life over a three day period still feels overwhelming.
Little Round Top, Culp's Hill and the appropriately named Cemetery Hill were some of the spots that saw action over those three days in the summer of 1863. As turning points go, this was a decisive moment for the United States on both sides of the Mason Dixon line.
I've been there. In my youth, my family took a trip back east in our much-traveled station wagon. This was no breezy jaunt to Disneyland. This was a voyage into the darkness. I remember touring the battlefields under the direction of the cassette tapes that gave us point to point descriptions of the action. I remember wishing my dad would spring for the extra fun tickets that would take us up into the observation tower that loomed over the site.
The tower has been taken down, and preservationists have worked to restore the surrounding area to the way it was a century and a half ago. Many of the local motels have been removed or relocated as part of this effort. This probably means that the place where we stayed has been returned to rolling hills or lush thicket. It was in the bathroom of one of these quaint motor courts that I found myself, in the middle of the night, as sick as I can ever remember being, before or since. My father said, "It sounded like you were puking up your toenails." It's a mental image I haven't been able to shake after forty years.
Looking back, it may have been the only way I had to react to the history I was being told. More than fifty thousand men died trying to preserve or defend their vision of the country which hadn't yet reached its own hundredth birthday. It would be the bloodiest days in America's military history, and we were fighting each other. It would be some months later, after the Confederate Army had been pushed back but still two years from surrender, that Abraham Lincoln showed up to dedicate a portion of the battlefield to those who gave their lives: "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
In 2013, reading those words makes my stomach feel much better. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

For Keepsakes

I was reading on Al Gore's Internet about how the original title for "Return of the Jedi" was going to be "Revenge of the Jedi." Apparently, even though it is a dish best served cold, it is something that Jedi Knights are above. At least that's what George Lucas decided way back in 1983. Now, thirty years later, as the forces both dark and light set about to make another installment of the Star Wars trilogies, fanboys and girls are rising to the intergalactic bait that is the discussion of anything vaguely related to the Skywalker clan.
As I read the discussion of revenge versus return, I became distracted by a thread that began as a complaint about this or that piece of treasured memorabilia that was wantonly and recklessly sold off while the nerd or geek was away from his or her parents' house. It began with a bitter whine about a Star Wars lunchbox that fetched a paltry three dollars at a garage sale while its legitimate owner was away at college. This generated a flood of responses that piled on the torment: baseball cards, classic cars, comic books, and still more lunch boxes, all of which had been underhandedly dispatched by uncaring and unknowing parents simply to get rid of the "junk" that was in their basement.
Suddenly, I found myself squarely on the fence. Certainly I have felt the loss of a great many of my most treasured items that I assumed would be safe forever in the Fortress of Solitude that was my parents' house. All those Mad Magazines. GI Joes with lifelike hair and kung fu grip. Models of Luke's X-Wing fighter. I am also the custodian of all of the mementos and keepsakes of my son's youth. I am currently storing miles of model railroad track and boxes full of related accessories. There is a fleet of partially functioning Tonka trucks a pair of tricycles, a unicycle and an extra bicycle that never see the daylight anymore. Thanks to Craig's List, my son has been able to offload some of his spare Transformers while he continues to ponder how to reduce his Nerf arms stockpile. I can feel the parental nerve in the back of my neck twitch each time I have to move a crate of forgotten toys to find that thing that I went to the basement to find in the first place.
Like the tub of original Don Post Studios Star Wars masks that I have carried with me for the past three decades. Or the carton of Marvel Comics my older brother rescued for me back when my mother decided to close up shop at our warehouse of memories. The ones he discovered while he was going through the comics my mother had saved from when she was a kid.
Then, suddenly I returned from that galaxy a long time ago and far away. I remembered why the article was non-news for me: I own a copy of that Revenge of the Jedi poster. When I left my parents' house to go off and seek my fortune, I decided to take a certain number of items with me. My movie poster collection was one of them. A great big, hard to store item, but it was important enough to me that I wanted them with me. Those, along with the hundreds of pounds of vinyl records which have since become someone else's problem, were the keepsakes I took with me. And that's all I need. Except that box of comics...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Racing In The Street

I'm a little jealous of my older brother today. Living at the foot of the Rocky Mountains as he does, I could probably find reason enough on any given day to turn a little green, but Memorial Day is an especially nice day to be in Boulder, Colorado. He'll be running in the thirty-fifth Bolder Boulder 10K race. Winding through the streets of our hometown, taking in the sights and sounds of the cusp of summertime, he'll be crossing over the footprints of his father and his mother and his wife and daughter and his brothers and all those other race enthusiasts who have come before him. And he's going out to do it one more time, keeping the family tradition alive.
In all my years living out here in California, I still haven't found a replacement for that experience. The 10K I used to run after Thanksgiving every year has changed sponsors a half dozen times and now has a new location that makes it just a 5K. I've been asked why I don't run the Bay To Breakers, which certainly has the alliteration down, but the drunken brawl and periodically naked parade that snakes its way from one side of San Francisco to the other holds no real appeal for me. Been there, done that, didn't care for it. Instead, I find myself running along the same worn paths in my neighborhood, imagining the Flatirons looming in the west.
Then I remember that my brother will be running in an organized event, that will be saddled with the heightened security measures instituted after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Some of the joy might be drained from the day, after having your bag of sweaty clothes checked and the sight of a few extra uniforms along the course. But it's still a place I long for, and when I put on my running shoes and head out into the California morning, I'll be pining for the pines of Colorado. And wishing my brother a good race of his own.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


A new law in Washington State bars employers from asking their employees for their social media passwords. Now if you're in the middle of an interview and some guy from Human Resources says, "Well this all looks fine, but we'll still need to take a peek at your Facebook page," you can tell Mister Flenderson "Thank you, no." All of that dirty laundry you have sitting in that cyber hamper stays put, right where it was: on Al Gore's Internet for anyone to see. Anyone with a modicum of skill or wiles or both, that is.
It's a nice protection from having your boss or prospective boss checking out those pictures from last year's Halloween party. Or the comments you made about your last boss. Or the funny story about how you embezzled a hundred thousand dollars from the retirement fund. Get it? You could retire early with that money! But that's private. At least it is in Washington State.
Around here, I have had a few weeks to mull this whole privacy issue as I learned that scientists from a distant galaxy (The University of Southern California) were viewing my blog. The goal of the experiment, as I understood it, was to try and anticipate my moods and movements based on the posts I have made over a prolonged period of time. How far could I roam or change with this self-imposed electronic collar around my neck? I have no idea how accurate their findings will be. Perhaps they have already anticipated that I would start writing more about the relative privacy of social media. I'm not a PhD. candidate, but I suppose I might have anticipated that.
Which brings us to the obvious question: What sort of things might you hope to find revealed here? Secrets? Confessions? Well, maybe the problem is that the revelations that could be gained from reading this particular bit of social media won't keep me from getting into the college of my choice. My son? We'll have to wait and see.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Who Played Bass For The Doors?

Some might choose to answer "Doug Lubahn," who played bass on the second, third and fourth Doors albums, gaining him the moniker "The Fifth Door." Or you can choose to be more clever and reply "Patricia Sullivan," who was there when the boys from LA got together at the very beginning. Or you could simply say "Ray Manzarek's left hand." I hadn't considered this bit of information for decades, finally confronted with it in my late thirties by a friend with whom I was sharing "didja know" type questions. Until that point, I had never considered that The Doors, seminal "oh wow" rock band, had any mysteries left for me.
In my youth, I spent a lot of time arguing with anyone who would engage with me about who was the best drummer, guitarist, or vocalist of any particular era. I don't recall that I made much of a fuss about bass players, which is odd since that's effectively what I was. I played tuba for long enough that I felt bass lines and perhaps took them for granted. Much of my early memory of The Beatles' catalog comes from hearing the thump of the floor as their music poured up from my big brother's room in the basement. Paul McCartney? Bass Player. Sting. Geddy Lee. John Entwhistle. Sid Vicious. I could toss those names around, but never in any sort of competitive way. When Cheap Trick switched bass players back in 1981, it didn't occur to me that I should be all shook up. It was the bass player, after all.
Ray Manzarek did all that work with his left hand, and I never fully noticed. Until I had my metaphorical nose rubbed in it. It made me feel better about the rockin' version of  Carmina Burana which my wife has chided me for over the past twenty years. Ray made the sounds of entire orchestra on that one. Don't ask me who played bass.
Aloha, Ray. Your left hand truly stomped on the terra. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Success Story

"Mister Caven!"
I lifted my head from my afternoon bike ride's focus. I looked up to see a young man waving to me from the street corner.
"You don't remember me, do you?"
I pulled my bike over to the curb and confessed, "You've got me at a disadvantage here. I probably taught you about three feet ago." I gestured, implying that he must have been half the size when I would have remembered him.
"It's me," he enthused and then gave me the information that made the pronoun make sense, "Daryl Evans."
Then his face became one I recognized. The smile came first, and the eyes. Sure he was six feet tall with a wisp of a mustache and lines that come from years. Now I knew Daryl's eager face all over again.
"How have you been, Daryl?" Saying his name made him even more real.
"I just turned twenty-one," he bounced just a little as he spoke. "I got an apartment. I don't got no kids. I'm doing fine."
Normally I ask former students of mine how they are doing in school, but since he was letting me know what was important in his newly minted adult life, I figure he would tell me if about what was important to him.
"If anybody asks you, you can tell them that you taught a guy who made it!"
I thought about what he told me. His own apartment. No kids. He had made it. I remembered Daryl's years at our school. His own place was a victory. I could get that.
I taught a guy who made it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Moonage Daydream

Back when my self esteem sat at the bottom of the adolescent well, looking up, I listened to every new taunt and sneer as if it were constructive criticism. I had a "friend" who would greet me with a list of what he considered to be my faults, most of which were found in my appearance, though some were directed at my choices of friends and extracurricular activities. "Zitface, birdsnest, tuba," was how this litany started. The first one was obvious. The second was a reference to my unruly mop of hair. The third was a double swipe at both my weight and my participation in band. If I had to be in that group, couldn't I at least play a cool instrument? Who plays the tuba?
I did. And I wore glasses. And I didn't have a single clue about how to go about getting a girlfriend. That was, according to my "friend," the reason he was taking all this time and effort out of his otherwise busy day to describe my limitations. It was in hopes that I could do something about the craters on my face and run a comb through my hair and get some cool clothes and maybe stop being all the things that I was. Carrying that lunchbox didn't help matters at all.
This is why I flinch when I hear my son and his friends "playing" with each other, as they describe it, and one of them lands a verbal punch in what I assume is the other's emotional solar plexus. They like to call my son "Unibrow." I see it as a genetic reminder of the prodigious caterpillar that crawls just above his father's eyes. It is distinct and proud.
To me. It may also be part of my son's motivation to try contact lenses. We both started wearing glasses when we were about five years old. We have the same kind of lazy eye. He's a lot more courageous than I am because he is willing to stick his finger in his eye. For the sake of beauty. Or maybe it's convenience. He doesn't have to worry about his glasses getting left behind or sat upon or crushed in any tumultuous way. He just has to stick his finger in his eye.
I suppose this is how I know that evolution is real. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tea Ball

It wasn't that long ago that pundits and their like were suggesting that the Tea Party had run its course here in the early twenty-first century. Just a few years ago, Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle, floated the possibility of armed insurrection in a radio interview: "I hope that's not where we're going, but you know if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out."
Eight years ago, Michelle Bachmann asserted, “If we took away the minimum wage, if conceivably it was gone, we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level.” The same woman who assured voters in Iowa three years later, “…the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more.”
After the 2012 election, when only four of the sixteen Tea Party candidates won their races, it appeared that the Party of Tea was on its way out.
Well, now we have the IRS to thank for its resurgence. All that whining about how they weren't being treated fairly turned out to be true. Katrina Pierson, a Dallas-based tea party leader said, "This is the defining moment to say 'I told you so.'" Oh, and apparently they are rubber and we are glue. Sticky, messy glue that smells a little like Benghazi. Never mind that this is the group that gave us "legitimate rape,"and covergirl Bachmann who reminds us that, “There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.” The Tea Party's odd, poorly constructed clubhouse was about to collapse under its won stupidity, and now it would appear that the Internal Revenue Service has swooped in just in time to save them from their own ridiculous beliefs. "What's happened here is a reminder of, this is what happens when you expand government," Senator and Poland Springs spokesmodel Marco Rubio said in an interview with The Associated Press. "That and the disaster that is Obamacare is going to be a real catalyst in 2014 and beyond."
Meanwhile, the disaster that is The Tea Party lives to fight another day. When was the last time the IRS did something nice for you?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Party At Ground Zero

It's all over now. As my son is fond of saying, "Nobody died." He got that from me, but it did come as a relief. His first big high school-type party was held in our basement over the weekend and nobody died. Huzzah.
Well, there are plenty of reasons for this, not the least of which was the sheer lack of percentages. If he had been the host of the kind of rager where Guido the Killer Pimp would be in attendance, a death might be more expected. If his exhortations on social media had been such that the guest list would have numbered in the hundreds, or even the forty that he had initially invited, then we might have been in for some trouble. Instead, we had nine pretty well-mannered kids show up. They played Xbox and listened to dubstep at volumes just loud enough to make the floor beneath our feet vibrate. Kind of like those chairs at the state fair.
There were a couple of girls who showed up. They stayed for about half an hour. That was when the music got turned down. We knew there were girls because we could hear their voices. They didn't come up the stairs to meet the parents. They had places they needed to be. Once the girls were gone, the thumping bass returned, and we started cooking the frozen pizza.
Considering the damage these young men did to the food that we bought for fifteen to forty guests, I suppose we should be grateful that there weren't more hungry mouths to feed. There was plenty of soda consumed, enough to make a couple trips to the recycling bin. We can only assume that this heightened the sensation of driving virtual cars on the Xbox while being subjected to electronic beats that began to alter the heartbeats of the grownups upstairs.
And before you knew it, it was ten o'clock. Five hours of this frolic had taken its toll. Eyes were bleary and nerves were frayed ever so lightly. My son chose a pair of the heartiest souls to stick around and keep the party going for a couple more hours. No dancing. No Pinata. No more throbbing beats. Just a few more laps around the virtual track before they fell asleep under the Christmas lights.
When I went down to check out the carnage the next morning, there were three bodies. Worn and slightly frazzled, but still very much alive. When they came up for breakfast, there was no lingering need for one last race. They ate real food, and washed it down with juice without carbonation. We returned the guests more or less the way we received them.
But we may never be the same.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Image Problem

There was a lot of tumult in our house last week. Not only did we have a son turning sixteen and all the attendant excitement that surrounds such a passage, we also had to contend with the re-designing of Princess Merida. If you missed it, and who could believe in a world of Benghazi and IRS investigations, the folks at Walt Disney decided to elevate their fictional character, Merida from the film Brave, to full Princess status. That means she gets to be featured right alongside the rest of the princessly pantheon that includes such notables as Cinderella, Snow White, and Belle.
Good deal, right? Except first they had to gussy her up a bit. That meant dropping her gown off her shoulder a bit, then giving her just a little come hither through the heather in her eyes. And the part that got the most objection was the loss of her bow. It was the part of Merida that set her apart from some of her other peers. She is a crack shot and wasn't going to simply give up her life to be married to live happily ever after. Never mind that these wishes eventually get her into more trouble, you'll have to see the film to find out about that, but when you're selling dolls to girls you probably aren't thinking "action figures."
Never fear. There was enough outrage stirred in that first week to get The Mouse House to reconsider their makeover. Hundreds of thousands of parents, kids and fans of Merida petitioned to have this redo undone. As is their way, Disney capitulated, and has reverted to the way she appeared in her Academy Award winning movie. A triumph for the people. It made me wonder what Katniss Everdeen would have done. I'm also thinking of putting together a petition to ask for the pre-Beghazi Obama restored to the White House.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Welcome To Paradise

Living in Oakland has dulled me to certain sensations. When I hear a car alarm, I do not scramble to the front window to see if someone is breaking into our neighbor's Lexus. The sound of helicopters in the air are no longer a point of fascination for me or my Oakland-bred son. He tends to sigh and turn up the television. Then there are those moments when urban living still gives me pause.
I got an e-mail from the director of our after school program late one evening. I read his concerns, passed along from one of his staff, that one of our kindergarten students might have ringworm. There was dry, scaly skin on her neck that may or may not have had a circular pattern. It was good of that after school mentor to take the time to notice this. This wasn't a shock. Over the years I have discovered any number of cases of ringworm, lice and assorted other issues with our kids. So much so that I tend to ask, mostly in passing, if mom or dad have had that looked at. If not we make a quick visit to our school nurse, who comes in on Tuesdays and Fridays, or to our secretary who hands out ice packs and motherly advice while making the necessary phone calls and keeping the process moving.
I forwarded the e-mail to my principal. The next morning she wrote back, letting me know that this little girl was "fine." She had just come back from having surgery to remove a bullet that was in her neck.
It took me a moment to let that sink in. She's five years old. She just had surgery to remove a bullet. From her neck. All the car alarms in my neighborhood went off at once. A dozen helicopters hovered overhead. This was going to forever alter my definition of "fine."
Welcome to the Big City.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


When she said her name was James Bond, I knew that I had hooked into a situation that I needed to disconnect. I knew she probably shouldn't be hanging in the front hall of an elementary school as the children were making their way home and to their various after school programs. It took me a few moments to negotiate her toward the front doors and down the steps, on her way to have that oddly disjointed conversation with the next person with whom she made eye contact.
It took me until the next day to consider what might have been at stake. I've dealt with a great many adults who have come to our school seeking their children, answers, satisfaction. Some show up with clear minds and purpose. Others are clouded by anger, frustration or poor choices of chemicals. Most of them show up with the focused intent of their child's well being. They don't always stop and consider the well being of the kids around them or the adults who are there to try and help them.
That's why I stopped to see what I could do for James Bond. She was peeking into a Kindergarten room, and so I made the inference that she was looking for a child in that classroom or hoped to find her son or daughter in the after school program. "Can I help you?"
What followed was a bizarre stream of consciousness that fell from her lips as I listened for any sort of sense. The underlying thread seemed to be her interest in children. All children. She also expressed interest in my children. Apparently her children had gone or left or were taken away. It was hard to track because many of the words were mumbled or slurred. I listened as she continued to shake my hand and I began to consider that this might not be a mother or grandmother or aunt or friend of any of the boys and girls. "Can I help you find someone?"
This was a question she never heard. She kept on about her worries about the children. I decided that it would probably be best for our children if we moved the conversation out of the middle of the hallway. I wanted to help, but I felt my responsibility to the kids at my school. Gently, I moved with her, still holding hands. When we reached the doors, she seemed to grasp the direction we were heading and let go. "Good luck," I said as she walked out into the afternoon sun.
I watched her go. Then I turned around and looked at the children making their way to wherever it was they needed to go.

Friday, May 17, 2013

That Blowed Up Real Good!

This summer has the potential to be a blockbuster at the box office. Not necessarily because the movies will be so very good, or that we will finally find out what happened to those star-crossed lovers in "Before Sunrise." Instead, the reason for all that traffic at your local superfaplex is due to the promotion of the films inside. TV and magazine ads have been screeching at us for months about this or that tentpole franchise sequel, the one that will come and save us all from our June or July doldrums.
Don't get me wrong. I love me a good slab of butter with my popcorn. I've already lined up to participate in the celebration of "Iron Man 3" and the umpteenth iteration of "The Great Gatsby." I have watched as my family's thirty-ish dollars adds to the opening weekend take. I'm reminded of David Letterman's admonition before "Stupid Pet Tricks": "Ladies and gentlemen, this is only an exhibition. This is not a competition. Please, no wagering." And still I feel compelled to root for this or that movie to succeed or fail, as if I had some stake in the success or failure of any of these bits of celluloid. Or digitally projected 3D entertainments. In IMAX and 7.1 Dolby. 
I could blame Steven Spielberg. "Jaws" made summer blockbusters as important a seasonal sign as the first snow of winter or the first manager fired in Major League Baseball. Way back in 1975, it really helped that, aside from a gigantic budget for its day, it was a great movie. It also sold a lot of tickets after that first weekend because families weren't home waiting for the newest releases on Netflix. Of course, on the opposite side of the ledger, ticket prices have gone up since I spent the summer of 1977 confirming my geek credentials by going to see "Star Wars" every other weekend. 
Or I could once again surrender to the sound and fury that is the summer blockbuster. I can also hope that Shane Black or Baz Luhrman don't end up issuing apologies for their work a decade down the road. Like Michael Bay did for "Armageddon."  That's okay, Michael. Even The Great And Powerful Oz makes mistakes.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


We had a pretty good weekend. Lots of preparation for my son's birthday. Plenty of attention lavished on Mothers on their day. The weather was pleasant. I asked my wife how she felt in the afterglow. After a polite flurry of adjectives like "happy, relaxed, accomplished," that described her experience, she landed on "helpless." One of these things was definitely not like the others.
"This weekend, we went over four hundred parts per million," she sighed.
I didn't need to ask what that meant. I knew she was talking about the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The greenhouse effect. Melting ice pack. Homeless polar bears. And I was the clown pushing the power mower around our yard on Saturday. If I had confessed to my part of the problem, I would have had to confess that I had already tried the solution and it wasn't up to the task of getting all those foxtails out of our lawn. I sacrificed pounds of pollutants to be free of the little seeds that find their way into our dog's ears and nose and eventually breed even more. I tried to assuage my guilt by telling myself that I put off the inevitable use of choking gas-propelled machinery as long as I possibly could. But I knew the truth. I could have used the push mower and raked up the debris. I could have pulled them all out by hand. I could have let them grow. What about the dog?
Helpless. Without opposable thumbs, she can only sniff and scratch at the burs that get stuck in those tender spots. I could have set aside some time every day for an inspection. I could have kept her away from the tormenting plants until they were done with their cycle. I could have made a difference.
Instead, I mowed them all down and bagged them up. I mastered my environment and shrugged my shoulders at the thought of all my alternatives. Then I thought about how much our dog looks like a polar bear.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Is This Thing On?

Well, as it turns out, these words do get read by a number of people. Some of whom I have only recently encountered. A computer scientist, working on his Ph.D  came and found me because of his interest in people who write blogs that regularly contain personal stories. That would be me. Eight years of the stuff for which he happened to be looking. Not only that, he brought a film crew. Apparently his fascination with what I do set off another fascination in the documentary department and this little bit of research became a great big film.
Okay. Not a great big film, but one that required lights and sound and adjustments to both. I sat in a chair in my back yard and talked to a computer scientist about what makes me think that all my little anecdotes are so very interesting, and not only that, why do I keep doing this. Day after day. Year after year. I gave them the only answer that makes sense to me: "I tend to keep doing things until I'm told to stop." The other thing that made ironic sense to me was that simply by coming to visit, these strangers had helped me generate at least one more post. What hadn't occurred to me until very recently is that it doesn't take much to get me to write about something, and when a university research team lands in my back yard, suddenly I feel inspired.
"But how do you feel about knowing that strangers are reading your blog?" asked my inquiring visitor.
I told him that I thought Fred Rogers said it best when he said, "Strangers are just friends I haven't met yet." Of course, if I'd had a spotter, I would have said that it was Will Rogers that said that. Which makes sense. Fred Rogers probably wouldn't be suggesting to his audience that they should go out and start seeking out strangers. Will Rogers could probably afford to meet and greet a few shady characters. Or a computer scientist and his film crew.
Which still left me with the whole Heisenberg thing. Now that I know that I'm being watched, will I start writing any differently? Will I stop writing altogether? Did I mention these guys came from Southern California? Will I go Hollywood?
Probably not. As flattering as it was to be told that I was in the top one percent of bloggers who post on a regular basis and have been doing so for a long time, the research and documentary has moved on, leaving me with the obsessive compulsion to cut the grass in the back yard that I noticed had grown to ridiculous heights even as I sat, appearing thoughtful, during my interview. All that attention didn't get my chores done. Or this blog written.
Who knows? Someday I might be asked to fly out to Sundance to check out the premiere of this little production. Then I'll have another adventure to write about. For now, I'll just keep on keeping on, with only the slightest bit of curiosity about who's looking over my shoulder.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sixteen Candles

It's the thing about being a father that I didn't fully appreciate until the last couple of years: hearing your funny bits come tumbling out of your progeny's mouth. Chief among these is the way he answers the phone. "Yello?" He has absorbed my prior absorption of the affected way in which Herb Tarlek, Sales Manager for WKRP in Cincinnati, would address callers when they reached him at his desk. And now, at age sixteen, we have a number of friends and family who make the mistake of believing that they have reached the elder when they have in fact reached the younger.
Proud? Sure. Why not? It's the part about growing up that I really don't mind: his. My wife might not agree, but I've got a great deal of fondness for the kid as he has grown. The fact that I can talk with him about music, and movies and even politics is a gift. Even those moments when our thought patterns don't completely mesh are a giddy good time. He knows a bunch of things that I don't. Early in his existence, the things that I learned from my son were primarily things I found out about myself as I learned to care for another proto-human. These days he's bringing home plenty of new and varied information that I wouldn't have imagined could come from someone who is just a sliver of my age. Most of these factoids concern motor vehicles, and that's okay. There is a significant gap in my knowledge and understanding of cars and trucks and things that go. With all of this discussion of internal combustion engines and the like, you might guess that part of today's celebration would involve the procurement of that sixteen-year-old's rite of passage, the driver's license. You would have guessed wrong. My son has yet to acquire his learner's permit. The smart money, a year or so ago, would have had him and his parents lined up outside the DMV, waiting for the chance to take that driving test.
That's not how this one worked out. As it turns out, there are myriad opportunities and challenges to fill the days of our boy. When asked, he'll give some sort of vague answer, but the underlying truth is well known to me. He isn't ready yet. He knows it and has purposely put it off for the time being. Which is fine and right. He's doing what I have done myself all my life. When it comes time to jump, you won't need to push me. I'll jump on my own because I'm ready. That's the way my son is, too. I'm proud as I can be, even though he's stealing my best bits. Happy Birthday, kiddo.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Parking Space

Those were the words that rang in my head the day after our last "Bike To Work Day." I didn't have to worry about a "parking space." I knew right where I was going to put my kickstand down: in the back corner of my classroom, just like I have for more than a decade and a half. Bike To Work Day, for me, is a little like Amateur's Night. I have been fortunate for the past sixteen years that I have been able to negotiate the side streets of Oakland each morning and afternoon without too much stress or discomfort. Sure, it rains. Sure it's hot. Sure it's cold. That's weather. I've been uncomfortable inside a climate-controlled motor vehicle. This particular morning was pretty standard East Bay: gray and cool in the morning, warming to the upper sixties in the afternoon. That's another nice thing about my commute. I don't generally have to worry about drifts of snow impeding my progress. And for some magical, ironic reason, the trip to work is downhill, and the way home is up.
Maybe that's why there was no Energizer Station on the path to and from work for me. The miles I pedal each day probably don't require a lot of roadside assistance. There's a drinking fountain at school if I need it, and by the time I get home, I know how many stairs I have to climb before I collapse in a heap just inside the front door. That doesn't come up very often. It's just part of the way things roll, bicycle-wise.
Did I notice packs of other cyclists making their way to and from their busy days as I made my own? No. I may have picked just the wrong route or something. Or maybe all the real bike enthusiasts made the trip much earlier than I did. Or much later. Or maybe not at all. But if they did, they didn't have to worry about those two words, but they might have had some trouble trying to remember the combination to the lock they never use.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


My wife, the mother of my son, will tell you that we officially have a teenager. You know the kind: sullen, uncommunicative, periodically despondent. To be fair, these symptoms don't occur on an every day basis. On the contrary. We've been very lucky on this particular front. That doesn't mean that we still don't have to fight the periodic fight or give lengthy lectures to a person who has already figured out how the interaction will end and the number of words simply add to the frustration level for all involved.
It's a chore, sometimes. That's why my wife, the mother of my son, deserves a day all her own. She manages the schedules of three humans and a dog. She copes with the ever-shifting sands of commitments and interests. She keeps track of our various locations, rarely resorting to GPS. She does it with love in her heart and a smile on her face.
Until it's used up. There are days when all that good Mommy Mojo runs a little thin. It never runs out, but it's a tough job and she's got to do it. I think of the times when I tested my own mother's patience and wonder how she managed to keep it together through all three boys' adolescence. When we were all five, my son included, all we need to know was "potty, jacket, lunchbox." Out the door we went to whatever adventure was in front of us. Then came the report cards and play dates and all the attendant others. The friends and their families and eventually the girlfriends.
Girlfriends? Well, our son is still making inroads in that arena. He's testing the waters and that means another rite of passage. What we never knew about those passage rites when we were going through them was that our parents got to go along for the ride as well. That's tough. But my mom did it with admirable aplomb. And so is my son's mother. It takes a great deal of inner strength and patience to make it look like you know what's going to happen next, even when at times you're making it up as you go along. Thank you Mom(s). Happy Mothers' Day.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


"Talk about massive potential for growth!" - Bill Mlurray in Stripes.
Yes, in the education business, we talk a lot about the little acorns that we all hope will grow to be giant oaks. That's not always how it works. Sometimes that little acorn turns into something that we barely recognize. Sometimes they remain, always, a little acorn. The reason to keep coming back are those magnificent trees that cover the land.
If the land in which you live happens to be southern West Virginia, however, when school started in the Fall, one out of seven classrooms was without a teacher. Leaders there couldn't recruit enough educators to that sparsely populated rural area.In McDowell County, a place perpetually ranked among the worst in the state by almost every measure, twelve people a month die from drug overdoses here, while more than one hundred people are on a waiting list to talk to rehab counselors via Skype. Three-quarters of all students live in a home where parents can't find work in this one-time coal hub that has slowed. The county leads the state in teenage pregnancies.
Suddenly working in Oakland, California feels like a pretty good deal. Educators are working hard to transform those West Virginia schools, turning them into community centers where families can turn in this time of uncertainty. Arne Duncan, Obama's Secretary of Education is a big fan of this plan. It's an idea he championed when he was in charge of public schools in Chicago. That's the idea that we have struggled with here, as well. We have kids who are dropped off by single moms at seven in the morning and aren't picked up from our after school program until after five in the evening. It is an awesome responsibility. We continue to do everything we can during those ten hours to help those little acorns grow. The realities that have created the world outside our doors don't change quickly, but we keep hoping that we are making it easier for our sprouts to put down solid roots and spread their branches. Sometimes it takes a village. Sometimes it takes a forest.

Friday, May 10, 2013


I have been asked, over the past couple weeks, by a number of people if I have ever read "The Great Gatsby." I can answer this query with calm assurance, "Yes." I have also seen the Robert Redford film version more than once, which kind of hinders my ability to be a literature snob. That's because my recollection of F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece is aided and abetted by the soft-focus 1974 movie. I would love to talk in great deal about Fitzgerald's use of symbolism and metaphor, and the significance of that green light, but it would be mostly talking through my hat. My awareness of Mister Gatsby is not dissimilar to that of Nick Caraway: an outside observer, taking in impressions of what must be a very complicated man.
I could go on and on, but it would be ultimately as empty as any discussion I might have about "Moby Dick." I have, in good faith, read every word in Herman Melville's fishing story, but I have also seen Gregory Peck lash himself to a pretty cheesy looking special effect. I am, it would seem, a victim of the dominant pop culture funnel through which I received most of my education. Like Beaver Cleaver and his "book report" on "The Three Musketeers," I could have watched the musical version of any number of classic stories and taken them as the original text.
I read the Bible for the first time when I was ten. I felt it was a good idea, since I had earned it by learning a great many verses and committing them to memory. At that age, I was consumed with images from Cecil B. DeMille as well as various film incarnations of Jesus. My imaginings of most of the stories in that book were informed by central casting. In college, I read the whole thing again, front to back. This time I was a student of literature, and even though I was a much more studied reader, I couldn't help but refer to the movies in my head as I moved from Genesis to Revelations.
Which brings me to today's essay question: Compare and contrast Jay Gatsby to Jesus Christ. Extra credit for citing any film starring Kevin Bacon.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Life Style

Ozzy Osbourne is back in rehab. At least that's what the tabloids want us to know. The guy who once snorted a line of ants after the cocaine had been hoovered up, now wants us to know that he is a month and a half sober. That little episode took place in front of Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, who recently celebrated his bandmate Mick Mars' sixty-second birthday by watching his guitarist get bowled over by a fan who was on his way to getting his hands all over singer Vince Neil. Authorities suggest that alcohol may have been involved.
None of this would be considered "news." This would be the way we rock and roll. All night. And party every day. What surprises me is that these gentlemen can continue to carry on into what many might refer to as their golden years. Mick Jagger just turned a hundred and thirty-seven, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that these relative youngsters are continuing to live the life. Billy Joel now has his own wing of the Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut. Sex, drugs and rock and roll just aren't enough anymore. You've got to do some cleanup work now and again to keep yourself going.
Alas, there doesn't seem much we can do for Jeff Hanneman, guitarist for Slayer. Jeff passed away last week from complications due to a spider bite he suffered three years ago. It's doubtful that Mister Hanneman ingested the spider first, but with a band that sports song titles like "Raining Blood" and "Angel of Death," it might not come as a huge surprise. Like the Strokes' song, "I'll Try Anything Once": "Sit me down, shut me up, I'll calm down, and I'll get along with you." And you could do it all without Doctor Drew Pinsky.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Mother Lode

Mother's Day is coming. If you haven't already considered getting mom a nice card or some flowers, it's not too late. It's also time for me to consider the spectrum of motherhood. I spend a good deal of time trying to comprehend the connection that exists between my son and his mother. It is unique and profound. Okay, maybe it's not that unique. My mother is one of my best friends. Always has been. Except for a while there when I was testing that bond, trying to find out just how much weight it would support. As it turns out, it was and continues to be a lifeline. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose that.
That's why I was so deeply affected when I watched Francine Wheeler sing a song with Dar Williams. The song was "Family," by Pierce Pettis and I only made it to the one minute mark before I started crying. Francine is the mother of Ben Wheeler, one of the first graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. The loss of a child, whether by accident, illness or crazed gunman, is all but incomprehensible to me. It's not supposed to happen in that order. In an interview after the song, she talked about the direction her life has taken since her son was taken from her. She has joined a growing movement of men and women who believe we need to take some time and figure out how to keep our kids safe. She chose gun control as her platform.
Beckie Brown chose to campaign against drunk driving. She helped establish Mothers Against Drunk Driver's first chapter, in 1980. This was a short time after her son, Marcus, died from injuries sustained in a traffic accident that involved another teenager. A drunk teenager. She helped get Florida, where she lived, to raise the legal drinking age to twenty-one. By 1988, the legal drinking age in every state was twenty-one. Alcohol related traffic deaths among sixteen to twenty year olds declined by seventy-seven percent over the thirty years since she took up the cause. Along the way, Ms. Brown ruffled plenty of feathers socially and politically by calling for zero tolerance legislation for dealing with teenaged drinking and driving, asking the federal government to withhold highway improvement funds from those states who refused to get on board.
Beckie Brown passed away last year, and even though she could look with pride on her achievements, I'm certain that she would trade them all to see her son graduate from high school. From college. Get married. As ugly coincidence would have it, her oldest son killed himself in 1987, causing her to turn her attention to issues surrounding gun violence. The doubts that plague every parent were magnified. What could I have done better? What could I have done differently?
No law is going to keep accidents from happening. Bulletproof glass doesn't stop the bullets that have already found their target. No legislation is going to keep hearts from being broken. But we can honor those who died too son by trying to figure out how to keep it from happening again.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Awaitng The Robolords

The United Nations wants a moratorium on killer robots. Really. This is not part of an elaborately crafted promotional stunt for the new Michael Bay blow-'em-up. This is a U.N. Human Rights Commission report from last week that deals with legal and philosophical issues involved in giving robots lethal powers over humans. Didn't they read Asimov? ''A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." Unless the robot in question happens to be the once and future Governor of California. and you happen to be listed in the phone book under "Sarah Connor."
Okay, all kidding aside, we all really know that we're not talking about Skynet becoming aware. This is not a ride at Universal Studios.
According to a report written by Christof Heyns, a South African professor of human rights law, the United States, Britain, Israel, South Korea and Japan have developed various types of fully or semi-autonomous weapons. In the report, Heyns focuses on a new generation of weapons that choose their targets and execute them. He calls them "lethal autonomous robotics," or LARs for short, and says: "Decisions over life and death in armed conflict may require compassion and intuition. Humans - while they are fallible - at least might possess these qualities, whereas robots definitely do not."On the other hand, he notes that LARs "will not be susceptible to some of the human shortcomings that may undermine the protection of life. Typically they would not act out of revenge, panic, anger, spite, prejudice or fear. Moreover, unless specifically programmed to do so, robots would not cause intentional suffering on civilian populations, for example through torture. Robots also do not rape."
Perhaps Professor Heyns is unfamiliar with Proteus in "The Demon Seed." Or the actions of the Gropenator. Alas, I don't seem to be able to separate fantasy from real life. This is one of the failings of the human mind, after all. 
The United Nations is scheduled to have further discussion on this matter at the end of the month. This should give Professor Heyns and the rest of the Commission to get some more background information. But just a little heads-up: "Demon Seed" isn't available on Netflix. Coincidence? Time will tell.

Monday, May 06, 2013


Please pardon the confetti and streamers. We're still cleaning up around here. It wasn't the Cinco de Mayo celebration that got out of hand, but that was pretty tremendous. It was the automated "Another Year Has Passed Since He Started Blogging" system that popped off somewhere around midnight. This makes eight times that the sirens, bells and whistles have interrupted my sound sleep and brought me fully awake to reckon with the fact that I have been telling anyone who clicks here about What I Believe. That and the tiny number-shaped confetti that gets stuck way down in the deep pile shag carpet are enough to make me stop fussing about this particular date. Especially since this is really just First Blog Day Observed.
The real streak began on the Monday following, when I began my absurd commitment to writing something here each day, trivial and/or otherwise, just to keep piling up stats. Eight years of three hundred and sixty-five days apiece give me, well, you do the math. I'm stuck on the notion that after all these years I still feel compelled to share my innermost thoughts on pop culture, politics, relationships, school, parenthood, sports and holidays, all served up with a patina of nostalgia.
I received an e-mail last week asking if I would be interested in discussing my blog with a documentary filmmaker who, as a project for his university study, claims to be interested in me. Or maybe just people like me. There are a lot of us. The ones who continue to type away in mild obscurity about relatively obscure events and opinions. I can say this with some confidence since, as one of the statistics that I look at is page views, I average a dozen or two visitors here each day. Most of those are my friends and family, many of whom are compelled by me to keep track of What I Believe because I have nudged them that way.
Then, every so often, I get one of those unsolicited comments. The one that says, "You are wrong and you should be ashamed of yourself." Or maybe, "Keep up the good work." Either of these come as a pleasant surprise, since as far as I know, I'm writing these things to fill up forty-five minutes of each day, making a great big stack of my thoughts that someday will be warehoused in the Library of Congress. On a disc the size of Duran Duran's Greatest Hits. Or maybe Blogger, which has been kind enough to share this web space with me for free all these years, will simply wink out of existence and all we will have are our memories of my memories.
But let's not dwell on that now. There's still so much to be pleased about. I was able to get myself through the Pinhead Administration by blogging about it. I was able to process my feelings about moving from fourth grade back to computer teacher. You have been able to witness my shift of parenting from the seven-year-old dad to father of a teenager. We have all learned a lot. Or at least spent some quality time clicking on those links I learned to add a few years back. Enjoy the day. I know I will. And now it's back to picking those little number eights out of the rug.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Real Deal

Everyone knows that Tony Stark is Iron Man. He told us so. In so many words way back in "Iron Man." Since then, he's been seen in a pair of sequels as well as "The Avengers." He also popped up in a cameo at the end of "The Incredible Hulk." All of these moments have been captured on film, over the past five years, in hopes of reminding us that Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. Unless you've been watching some of Iron Man's adventures on TV. Then there are plenty of choices for his alter-alter-ego.
I mention this because I overheard a group of fourth grade boys arguing the other day. This is nothing new, since fourth grade boys can argue about most anything and everything, but this particular debate focused on super heroes. One of them insisted that Iron Man was "a real guy." That makes since, since their cultural awareness as ten-year-olds would put them solidly in the movie franchise wheelhouse. For the past half-decade, Robert Downey Jr. has been the man in the iron mask. That's why it was so easy for this same kid to insist that Spider Man was not a real guy, since there have been two of them. This is the moment at which I show my age by reminding anyone else who watched the Spider Man TV show back in the seventies about Nicholas Hammond. The effects were atrocious. The costume was awful. But it was my favorite comic book hero brought to life.
The folks at Marvel helped blur this line more fully by enlisting Lou Ferrigno's help in "voicing" their Hulk as they wheeled out a third actor to play gamma ray bombarded scientist Bruce Banner. The actual Hulk was made up of tiny pixels generated in a computer somewhere, but Ed Norton, Eric Bana and Mark Ruffalo provided points of contact for those pixels. Still, obviously the Hulk is not real.
Batman? Real. He's Christian Bale. Unless you're over twenty. Then the parade begins. Superman? That one used to be easy. I guess the folks at DC Comics aren't as committed to the man behind the mask. Or maybe it's all just an illusion. I won't tell those fourth grade boys. They're still awaiting the results of this week's matchup on WWE Raw.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Lessons From The Past

I woke up with this word in my head: detente. It was probably because I had been watching a rehash of "All The President's Men" that included an attempt at reminding us that Richard Nixon wasn't all bad. After all, he gave us detente, or what the web dictionary defines as "the easing of tensions or strained relations (especially between nations)." That parenthetical is the part for which Tricky Dick gets credit. He opened China. He went to Russia and spoke to Brezhnev. While we tend to think of Ronald Reagan as the guy who ended the Cold War, he probably couldn't have done it without the groundwork laid by President Nixon: detente.
Flash forward some forty years and I look out on the playground. I see a herd of fifth graders who have spent the past six years dealing with each other in one fashion or another. Some of them are quite adept at handling themselves. Others take more coaching. At lunch a few days back, two girls who have attempted to share the lightly recognized position of princess of their class gave up any pretense of getting along and commenced to slugging it out. Not very princess-like. The physical confrontation was over in a couple of seconds. Our principal stepped in and brought them to the office where they were allowed to glare at one another from across the room while parents were called and consequences were determined. The aftermath on the yard was not as clear cut. Factions formed. The two and a half punches and slaps that were lobbed became the discussion points for a hundred and fifty kids. "Didjooseethat?"
The temperature is rising as we creep closer to June. I know that all the frayed nerves and perceived slights are starting to weigh on the students and staff of our school. We don't need to be best friends here. We just need to get along for the next six weeks. We need detente. I wonder if I could reconcile sneaking in some American History into our curriculum before the end of the year: Richard Nixon and The World Playground.

Friday, May 03, 2013

The Long Ball

It's a pretty rare occurrence when a baseball player can hit home runs on back to back days. It's even more rare when that player can hit a home run on back to back days during the same game. That's what Brandon Moss did on Monday night for the Oakland A's. In a game that lasted for six and a half hours, for nineteen innings, from Monday Night into Tuesday Morning, the Athletics held on to win, thanks for that pre-dawn tater Mister Moss sent out into the mostly empty stands. For those who stuck around, it must have been more than cathartic. It must have been historic.
Perhaps that is why I feel just a little more sheepish about how I dealt with the situation. I tuned in to watch the game after catching a score that told me Oakland was behind four to one. By the time I got the television all warmed up, they had fallen behind six to one. I told my wife that we could probably go to sleep, since it looked like the local team had run out of steam.
"Don't count them out," my wife reminded me, "These are the A's."
So we watched for a little while longer. Sure enough, in the bottom of the eighth inning, it was a one-run affair, with the A's still coming up in the bottom of the ninth. We had seen this before. Last year we were treated to fifteen of those walk-off wins, complete with the whipped cream pies and buckets of Gatorade. But it was getting late. It was a school night. We decided to put it in the hands of the baseball gods and get some shuteye.
Little did we know that the game would go on for another three and a half hours. Playing more than the equivalent of two full games, the Los Angeles Anaheim Former Disney Angels battled toe to toe with the scruffy boys from Oakland. The two teams traded runs in the fifteenth inning, and so the game continued. They played until it became the longest game in Oakland's baseball history. Shortly after one thirty in the morning, they were finished. It was epic.
I slept through it. And I earned my wife's mild scolding: "I told you so." I should have listened.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Why Not?

I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues before school about his plans for the summer. He and his wife were looking forward to a three week getaway to Europe. And suddenly I was back at the mall. With my wife. We went to the mall last Saturday night. We ate at the food court. We had Mongolian Barbecue. It was exotic, for us.
While we ate our noodles and savored the high impact plastic interior of the decor, I told her that I had this inkling about just driving up the highway and getting a hotel room. This was my devil-may-care notion that was probably fueled by the large Coke, but it came from a place that was rooted in the words that started our relationship, way back when: "Why not?" That attitude had taken me a long way. Over the years, however, the weight of adulthood with all its attendant trappings had given me all the reasons I needed to answer what was, at one time, a rhetorical question. On this particular evening, the answer was "the dog." We had wandered away from our home base without first securing care for our collective best friend. She would have been very unhappy with us had we decided to stay away. We would have earned any and all of the consequences from stranding our sixteen year old dog indoors overnight. My wife and I finished up our Mongolian Barbecue and headed back to feed the dog.
Meanwhile, my colleague was feeling stuck with his own burden. His pet bunny needed to be cared for while they were away for most of a month. "I guess it's a little like getting ready for parenthood," he imagined, "but not really." I told him he was in the right arena, just a few sections away still. Having anyone or anything dependent on you for food and bathroom breaks takes a lot of special training and commitment. We have been fortunate over the years to have had a number of good friends who have bonded with our dog and made it possible for us to carry on as if we were carefree. As for the kid, we haven't had many trips away from the homestead that didn't include him, so there's really no test for that.
But it's coming. In the past year or so, he has started to insist that my wife and I leave him and "go out on a date." Our initial responses have been mildly skeptical. Why does he want us out of the house? We've seen "Risky Business." We don't want to come home to a cracked Faberge egg and a brothel being run out of the basement. In that case, I'm pretty sure the dog would tattle on him.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Everything Old Is New Again

The Twinkie that I once kept in the butter compartment of my mother's refrigerator would have turned thirty this year. Common sense and a matter of propriety kept that snack cake from ever making it this far, but if would have been interesting to compare the old with the new. This July, those golden, creme-filled treats will be back on your local grocer's shelves a mere eight months after they so tragically disappeared. The new "bakers" of these sweet sponge confections have assured us that no labor unions will be involved in the generation of new iteration of Hostess' flagship goodie. This should allow us unfettered access to Twinkies for a good long time. What a relief.
Of course on Al Gore's Internet, one can find page after page of "secret" recipes that would allow one to create a homemade Twinkie, if one were to be so bold. This reminded me of the words my mother said to me about one of my favorite baked goods: her chocolate chip cookies. She told me, "If you like them so much, you should learn to make them yourself." That is precisely what I did. I thought myself very clever at the time, calling her bluff and all. As it turns out, it was a great deal for both of us, since all that pressure to keep the cookie jar full was taken off my mother's shoulders, and I was free to take whatever liberties I might with the ingredients and size of the cookies I baked.
Decades later, I'm still making cookies, but the fist-sized globs of dough I favored in my youth have shrunk to a more discrete one-bite size. After years of eschewing nuts, I have begun to reintroduce crushed walnuts into the mix at the request of my wife. It's back to "Chocolate Chip Classic" at our house.
Which is just fine, since that means that our interest in Twinkies remains primarily one of curiosity. Maybe when July rolls around, I'll bring home a package or two. Not to eat, mind you, just for the sentimental and experimental value.