Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cabin In The Woods

I could blame the lack of indoor plumbing. I could blame William Shatner. I could blame the Holiday Drive-In. But I know, to quote Jimmy Buffett, "this could be my fault." I would like, on the occasion of my older brother's birthday, to apologize to him for the injustice that I perpetrated upon him oh-so-many years ago.
It was in the back end of my older brother's Toyota pickup truck that we all sneaked into Boulder's only outdoor movie theater. We went, ostensibly, to see "The Devil's Rain," but we were really there to see how long we could stay awake. Our parents were out of town, and the keys to the kingdom fell to my older brother. Just before dusk, we packed up our coolers and lawn chairs and headed to the north end of town. Five of us held very still and stifled our giggles underneath the bean bags that were loaded into the back of the truck, inside a camper shell. We could hear my older brother say, "just the two of us," when he pulled up to the ticket booth and was asked how many tickets he needed.
Once we parked and darkness began to fall, we poured out of the back end and began to set up camp. In those days, the drive-in was never completely full, so we were able to spread out, using a number of speakers from the poles around us to provide us with ample sound for our movie-going experience. As the evening wore on, I became immersed in the story of rural Satanists, led by Ernest Borngine. I understood that I was watching a B movie, but it creeped me out. My brother and his friends were less impressed, and when that feature was over and William Shatner had succeeded in melting all the bad guys, including the Borg, it was decided that we would hop the fence, and take in the second feature on screen number two. We took our chairs and the cooler, locked the truck, and went off into the night.
It was past midnight when the second feature finished next door, and my older brother sent one of his friends back over to drive the truck to us where we could commence the load-out. When the little red Toyota appeared, we went around to the back end and noticed that there was something trailing behind: The pole from the speaker that was still attached to the passenger side window. We hastily shoved the pole, speaker and all our accoutrement in the back and closed us all up inside.
We drove into the early morning hours up into the mountains to the cabin where my family spent our summers. It was dark, and all of us stood around and waited for my older brother to light a kerosene lantern, but first he told us, he needed to make a pit stop. That meant we all stood around a little while longer while he went out the back door to water some of the trees. It was dark enough, quiet enough, and late enough that the memories of the Satanic rituals in the woods I saw on the drive-in screen started to make their way into the back of my mind. That great tub of cola I had consumed earlier in the evening was now weighing heavily on me. I needed to go to the bathroom. The outhouse. Outside.
I took a flashlight and left my little brother standing in the relative safety of my older brother's friends. We had a rule that even if we were going to relieve ourselves al fresco, that we should be at least fifty yards from the cabin. I knew how far that was, and started making my way toward the aspen stump that marked the safe zone. I never made it.
From behind a tree my older brother leaped. He may have hollered or yelled or growled, but in my agitated state, the large, moving shape was what scared the wits out of me. Or nearly. My instincts took over and I launched the flashlight at the center of the dark mass that was making its way toward me. The sound I remember was the stream of cursing that I heard coming from that dark mass that I now easily identified as my older brother.
I ran back to the cabin. Now I wasn't afraid of what might happen. I was afraid of what I was certain would happen. The good news was that when my older brother pulled himself together enough to make his way back inside, the rest of us were all having a good laugh at his expense. There was no reprisal. I got away with plunking my older brother squarely in the -
Well, that was years ago, and maybe we all remember things differently, but I do know that I owe my big brother an apology. I'm sorry I threw a flashlight at your privates. I had an awesome time that night. It was a night I haven't forgotten all these years later. Thanks for letting me survive that night. Happy Birthday.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Been There, Seen That

Did you see the VMAs? I did. Of course, when I say that I saw the VMAs, I mean that I watched the Video Music Awards. In 1984. That's what I needed to see. For nearly thirty years since then, MTV has sought to replicate that magic night in the mid-eighties when video music was the pinnacle of the pop culture mountain. If you weren't watching back then, either because you weren't quite as hip as I was, or maybe you weren't alive yet, here's what you missed: Hosts Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler showed up dressed as matching moon men, replicating the trophy that winners would hoist upon winning such categories as "best concept video," "best new artist video," and the coveted "viewer's choice" award. The Video of the Year was presented to The Cars for their promotional clip featuring the song, "You Might Think."
It was a magical night. Everyone was there: Roger Daltrey, John Mellencamp while he still had a Cougar in his name, both Hall and Oates, Dale Bozzio, and the Go-Gos. Music Television, as they were once known, felt compelled to recognize their legacy by awarding not one but two Video Vanguard Awards. The first went to The Beatles and Richard Lester, for coming up with this whole "music video" idea in the first place. The second went to David Bowie because he was the first guy to make a video that made us all go "huh?" But most of all, that night will be remembered for the way Madonna shocked the world by frothing about on the stage at Radio City Music Hall, in a wedding dress, to her hit, "Like A Virgin."
And that's pretty much when I stopped watching the VMAs. I wasn't shocked. I was pretty much convinced that I had seen what I needed to see as far as this particular vision of the future. Twenty-nine years later, the music world is all abuzz with chatter about Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus prancing about in her undies with Robin Thicke. Shocked? Nope. Not then, not when Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera came of age with a more "mature" Madonna ten years ago singing that oh-so-ironic tune, "Like A Virgin." Each passing year there seems to be some young woman who seems determined to shed her teen-pop-star image along with much of their clothes to give us all something to talk about while we wait for our half-caff-double-shot-latte. Not so much foam next time, please.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Holy Bat Criticism

Remember how bad I felt for Johnny Depp that his Tonto was being so thoroughly ignored by the movie-going public? It was enough to get Johnny all flustered, or as flustered as he tends to get. “I think the reviews were written seven to eight months before we released the film,” Depp proclaims in a new interview. Fair enough. It's the critic's fault that nobody wanted to see the film seven or eight months in advance. In the "business," this is called "word of mouth," and it's possible that the Deppster has never encountered such a phenomenon. That seems unlikely, given the existence of "The Tourist."
Still, even Johnny "Cash" Depp probably feels a little bad for his pal Ben Affleck. I assume that they're pals, since they tend to hang around in the same circles and get into the same kinds of trouble. This time it came before a frame of film was shot: Ben Affleck is Batman? Who came up with this brainstorm? Considering the number of men who have worn the cowl and cape over the past seventy years, it's hard to put old Ben at the bottom of the list until after he's pulled on his tights. That doesn't mean that some folks have already started to not line up for the new Superman-Batman team-up.
With the kind of ferocity that is generally reserved for snarky washing instructions sewn into a pair of Madhouse Fashion chinos, pop culture has turned on Academy Award winning director and screenwriter. It should be noted that neither of those prestigious trophies were acquired for acting. Specifically, they were not given out for his performance in "Daredevil." Comparing that effort ten years ago to the upcoming work as the Dark Knight is probably unfair. Ten years before he was Batman, Michael Keaton starred in a sit-com with James Belushi called "Working Stiffs." That was cancelled after four episodes. George Clooney's time in the Batmobile was preceded by a couple of stints in an emergency room, but followed by a few more Oscars. Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't.
In the meantime, we have so many more pressing matters. Like Justin Timberlake getting back together with 'N Sync.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

No Means No - For Everyone

It's not like me to kick a man when he's down. I wait until I'm sure that he's asleep and down that I move in for the swift boot to whatever unprotected area presents itself. This is why I am currently so interested in the daily schedule of his honor, Bob Filner, the mayor of San Diego. I am wondering when his nap time is. In Filner's case, I might even waive that down and asleep rule.
Why? Well, if you have to ask, you a) don't live in San Diego or b) aren't into the seamier side of southern California politics. Filner will be leaving office on Friday after surrendering to calls for his ouster from the community at large. Those calls come from those who see their mayor, not as the champion of the working man and progressive Democrat in an historically Republican city, but rather as the serial sexual harasser that he is. Eighteen women have come forward with allegations of unwanted touching and suggestive comments. This, along with the attendant uproar one might associate with such behavior, is what Bob is referring to as lynch mob mentality. “I faced lynch mobs many times when I was younger,” Filner said, a reference to his activism in the 1960s as a Freedom Rider in the segregated South when he spent two months in a Mississippi jail. It could be that this is where he also experienced unwanted touching and suggestive comments.
This comes at a time when righteous indignation seems to come along as part of the package when public officials get caught in compromising positions. The indignation expressed by Anthony Weiner after he haughtily confessed to a continuing difficulty dealing with is his package as a candidate for mayor of New York City exemplifies this: "I want to bring my vision to the people of the city of New York. I hope they are willing to still continue to give me a second chance." If his vision involves a sexting persona named "Carlos Danger," I would like to believe that the people of New York will do the right thing. Thi is especially true since this would be the third chance, at least, for Mister Weiner and his long-suffering wife, a former assistant to Hillary Clinton.
Clinton? Where have I heard that name before? The guy who lied, repeatedly, about his liaisons with a young intern? Well, that may not be mere coincidence. Could it be that the liberal agenda put forth by the Democratic party for all these years has made it easier for these men to feel somehow entitled to their infidelities. Or still worse, that that they had somehow earned their missteps with all their prior good works on the behalf of so many oppressed individuals?
Gads, I hope not. My hope is that this was the summer where we were reminded of how things can go off the track and our collective moral fiber will tested more when lying to the people about weapons of mass destruction or the existence of alien life stored in government warehouses. In the end, it should be noted that I am not making up the name of the law firm that represents Bob Filner: The are Payne and Fears.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stars On 45

The benefit I receive for getting up early and going to work is that I am afforded the opportunity to listen to morning radio. Drive-time is talk time, so while I get a certain amount of music to fill my head for the upcoming day, I also get a goodly amount of chatter about this and that. Last week, I was lucky enough to have both, when the crew at KFOG in San Francisco started going on about this revelation they had experienced when playing Dolly Parton's "Jolene" at thirty-three and a third rpm. Suddenly, this "world class rock" station found themselves playing a Dolly Parton record. This was notable for the following reasons: First of all, it was Dolly Parton, who has all kinds of world class attributes, but "rock" is not among them. Secondly, it was a record, not a compact disc or digital audio file. Finally, this was a single, or forty-five, named for the number of revolutions per minute required to play at the proper speed. It was a bit of an anomaly in a world of corporate radio built on focus groups and prescribed playlists.
But this was drive time, and so the discussion began. By slowing it down, Greg and Bill asserted, the song became imminently more listenable. There was no mention of how changing the register of the voice made it sound as if a guy was now begging Jolene " please don't take my man." The thing they seemed most curious about was how someone came to make this discovery in the first place. They cited several other incidences of audio recordings and their manipulations, such as listening to "Strawberry Fields" backward to hear John Lennon saying "I buried Paul," or timing your "Dark Side of the Moon" experience to sync up with "The Wizard of Oz." That and the little plastic thingy they needed to make that tiny record fit on their turntable.
It made me remember my first record player, the one that had a built in adapter for forty-fives. It had one speaker on the right hand side of the case that could be closed up and carried wherever there was an electrical outlet to play stacks of wax. Well, it could play one record at a time. It was my parents' couch-sized Hi-Fi that could play four or five albums, one after another. It was my portable audio system that taught me how those clever chipmunk records were made. By playing those LPs at sixteen rpm, I could hear David Seville carefully enunciating all those endearing bits that sound so much cuter when they get played at twice the speed. I did this the first time by accident, having moved the speed lever all the way down when I was switching from a forty-five to a thirty-three and third LP. This meant that I spent the next couple of weeks doing the same thing on purpose with a great many records. Sometimes I listened to them fast. Sometimes I listened to them slow.
When I was a little older and had a belt-driven turntable with a "neutral" setting, I was able to explore a great many mysteries of backwards masking. I never did hear the voice of Satan, but I did hear my older brother lecture me about the way that sort of thing tears up needles. I was congratulated by Roger Waters for finding the secret message in "The Wall."
And so I went to work with a sense of ennui, missing those days of happy accident. The ones that sound a little like Kenny Rogers singing a Dolly Parton song.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Another First

My son and I stood on a hillside, taking in the scents and sights of a bright summer's day, looking out onto the Pacific Ocean. Behind us was the university that he had just fallen in love with: Pepperdine. Never mind that he hadn't even heard of the place two weeks ago. Or that he would be required to take religion courses. Or that until somewhat recently the idea of spending more than a night or two away from home was a test in which he was unwilling to take part. This was where he felt he belonged.
He had it all figured out: He would attend classes by day, discussing his Pastafarian beliefs with anyone who was foolish enough to doubt his convictions. By night he would roll down the hill on his bicycle/moped/scooter to his job at Duke's in Malibu where he would work as a valet, parking cars for the rich and famous. All those Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Ferraris, and maybe even a German car or two, all of which would only confirm his belief in a God with noodly appendages. He wants to study film and car design. He found courses in the catalog that would allow him to do just that.
And now we stand on a different perch: Our porch. This has been the launch pad for more first days of school than I care to count. My wife reminded me of the way our son spent a good portion of the walk to his first day of kindergarten trying to persuade her to tell his teacher that his stomach hurt, and he didn't really need to go to kindergarten anyway, since he already knew most of his alphabet. He toughed it out and made it through the day. Just like he has the past eleven years, but now we can see what all this primary and secondary education has been leading up to: That horizon, looking out on all that blue water, listening intently for the sound of an Italian racing engine in the distance.
It's not an easy dream to have. The folks at Pepperdine are just a little fussy about who they invite to come and study by the shore. Currently, my son's grades and my bank account are not the things that this particular dream are made of, but there is still time. There are scholarships and extra credit. There are still ways that this could be the future that we discover together.
He's on his way again. Another first day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pronoun Trouble

Jon Stewart is still away on a movie-making sabbatical. The Daily Show has gone on its end-of-summer vacation. These were the pieces of information that came into my head as I read this headline: "Bradley Manning plans to serve WikiLeaks sentence as a woman." Well okay. I needed some sort of reality check, so I went to my wife with this news, and she laughed aloud. "This is from The Onion, right?" No, I assured her, this is real news. The kind that would be easy pickings for Jon Stewart and friends. Just a few moments of reflection made my head hurt.
This person, the previous Bradley, now Chelsea, Manning would like us to now address him as her. Furthermore, she would like to have hormone replacement therapy while she is in prison. Military prison. The military, for its part, is dealing with things as they tend to: straight down the middle, with the emphasis on "straight." “The Army doesn’t provide sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy,” says George Marcec, a spokesman at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks and Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. As for this whole "Chelsea" business, Marcec says, “The Army doesn’t let you be called by whatever you want to be called.” Not exactly the safe and caring environment that one might hope for while suffering from a “gender identity disorder.” 
I have no doubt that this is a real thing, and that Chelsea is experiencing a wide range of emotions, not the least of which is guilt, having confessed to the crime for which she has been found guilty: leaking classified military and diplomatic materials to the previously mentioned WikiLeaks. The punishment for this crime is thirty-five years in jail. He wasn't brought before a firing squad, as traitors have been in the past. Happily, we live in more enlightened times, and the thought of executing someone because they sold some government secrets seems hopelessly antiquated. For most. And there will be those who will insist that Chelsea should be given her rights, as a woman, as a human being, to live her life the way she feels fit. In federal prison. 
I'm still stuck on that whole timing thing, however, since Bradley chose to sell those classified documents in some fit of pique that, according to his lawyers, was brought on by an ugly breakup with a boyfriend back in early 2010. If Chelsea had chosen to address her gender dysphoria at that time, she would have been "chaptered out" of the Army and then would have been left with the difficult path toward living her life as the woman she always believed she was. Instead, she lied, stole and lied some more from the very people she would now like to provide relief from her predicament. Corporal Klinger associations aside, I believe she made an error in her timing. At least she's got some time to figure this mess out. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Statistically Irrelevant

If you're scoring at home, make that "HBP." That's "Hit By Pitch." That's what Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster did to New York Yankees "star" Alex Rodriguez. "Star" as in a player for a professional sports team that has become more famous for things that he did or does off the field than on. Or in this case, it should be pointed out that currently Mister Rodriguez is more famous for what he has put in himself prior to going on the field. A-Rod (to his friends) was suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season and all of the 2014 season for violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and the Basic Agreement. Ale Rodriguez was cheating. He took drugs. Drugs that were supposed to make him a better player, even if it didn't make him a better person. As a matter of perspective, Donald Trump thinks that Mister Rodriguez is "a bad guy."
Is Ryan Dempster a bad guy? Well, if you're a Yankee fan, you might have to jump to that conclusion based on the color of his socks, but if you follow baseball, it might be worth noting that there are forty-seven major league pitchers who have hit batters more often this season than Ryan. That would suggest two possible conclusions: First, Ryan Dempster doesn't  hit that many batters, so he's hardly a "bean-baller." Second, he's probably a good enough pitcher that he probably could have thrown that ball anywhere he wanted, and he picked Alex Rodriguez's left elbow. Both conclusions are probably correct, which is why Major League Baseball suspended Dempster for five games for his misconduct. He said he thought about appealing the suspension. He didn't. This is what he said: ''At the end of the day, I think Major League Baseball does a really good job of thinking through punishments before they hand them out. I thought it was in the best interest of us as a team to go ahead and serve my suspension.''
This isn't exactly Alex Rodriguez's view. He is currently playing professional baseball in spite of the fact that he has been suspended by that same group of individuals who looked to protect him from mean men hurling projectiles at him. If A-Rod had been serving his suspension, he never would have been hit with the ball in the first place. Cheaters may end up prospering, but they will probably need to learn when to bail out of the batter's box.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Home Movies

A lot of people have asked me if "Fruitvale Station" is a good movie. They ask me this because I see a lot of movies. They also ask me this because I live a block away from Fruitvale Avenue, which leads directly to the Bay Area Rapid Transit station just a couple miles away, the one for which the movie was named. It's not called "The Oscar Grant Story," though the last day of this young man's life is depicted in the film. The title comes from the spot where that young man died.
But is it a good movie? If I told you that I avoided seeing it for months, missing the premiere at our favorite local movie palace and then for subsequent weeks while I paid to see all manner of disappointing summer blockbusters, would that give you a clue? No. Not really. The truth is, I don't believe I am equipped to tell anyone if this is a good movie or not. I know that the film opens with the cell phone video of the incident. As I sat there, four and a half years removed from that moment, I was filled with sadness and outrage, the same feelings I felt on New Year's Day 2009 when the news broke that a BART police officer had fatally shot an unarmed man on the platform just a couple miles from my house. As I watched the events of the last day of Oscar Grant's life dramatically recreated, I kept coming back to those grainy bits of video that became part of our city's consciousness. The distinctive roar of the trains as they accelerate away punctuated scene after scene. In the early morning hours, this is the sound I hear as I ride my bike to work. Early in the film, we see Oscar walk across the parking lot to the grocery store where he hopes to get his old job back. That parking lot is just two blocks from my house. The movie is filled with the sights and sounds of the city in which I live. It looks and sounds just like Oakland. And when it was all over, I felt sad and outraged.
How could this happen? Then I remembered this is the city in which a dozen people had been shot, three of them killed, over the a twenty-four hour period. A sixteen-month-old child was shot in his bed while sleeping with his father. The chances of a feature film being made based on the lives of any of these victims seems unlikely, in part because of the horrible sameness of the experience. For those of us who live in Oakland, the sadness and outrage continues.
According to the review in my son's high school newspaper, "Fruitvale Station" is a great film. One of the reasons the reviewer cites for this opinion is the veracity of the images depicted: "They use 'bruh' and 'hella' just the right number of times." They didn't mention the cell phone video, but I believe they used that just the right number of times as well. Do I think that "Fruitvale Station" is a good movie? It could be. I'm just a little too close to get the perspective. I know that it worked to remind me of where I live.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That - Really

I love my son, but I can't help but feel that ever since he became a teenager that there has been a distance between us. It may have been an issue with his, well, attractions. When he was a little boy he seemed to have all the same interests I had. Mostly because I gave them to him. And then there was that seemingly innocent infatuation with trains.
To make a long story short, I started becoming suspicious of how my son was spending his leisure time when I started finding little telltale clues around the house, and checking up on some of his Internet habits. You think you know a kid, and it turns out that he's "one of them," a cat video fancier. Don't get me wrong, I will always love my son, but I'm not sure how I feel about him living under our roof. I know, I've heard all those people who insist that watching cat videos isn't a choice, that it's somehow programmed into your DNA, but nobody from my family ever had a problem with cat videos. It's probably all those times he spent hanging around with those kids across the street. "Oh, look at that kitty! Isn't it cute?" Youthful experimentation. Curiosity. But we've always been a dog family. I'm so ashamed.
If only there were some sort of therapy, or treatment that could help get him back on the right path. As a parent, I'm just worried that these choices he's making as a young man could hurt his chances to be a responsible member of society.
It really does sound ridiculous, doesn't it? That's why I'm so happy to hear that New Jersey governor Chris Christie just signed in to law a bill that prevents therapists from offering the "service" of changing teens' sexual orientation. It's likely that, like his fellow governor Jerry Brown from the Golden State, this statute will be tested in the courts, but at least someone is willing to say what the medical profession has been saying for several years. It's a bad idea, and now in at least two states, it's against the law. Exodus International, once a leader in the practice of "reparation therapy," has gone out of the business of "fixing" young gay men and women. And they apologized.
Now we're waiting for the same from Michelle Bachmann.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Cycle Of The Seasons

Remember Arab Spring? No, not the deodorant soap, but rather the surge toward democracy in the Middle East that started some three years ago. There were demonstrations and conflicts of all kinds, violent, non-violent, big, and small. There was a feeling that Al Gore's Internet may have helped move the cause along as much as anything else. Finally, there was a revolution where the whole world was watching, texting, tweeting, posting and coming together.
Now in Egypt, the army is back in charge. Syrian Kurd refugees are fleeing south into Iraq in fear of rebel groups who continue to battle pro-government forces. One of Lebanon's most powerful Sunni politicians accused the leader of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah of dragging their country further into neighboring Syria's civil war. United States embassies in sixteen countries that make up that region were closed for fear that may be as much about the vulnerability of certain embassies and staff and the range of increasingly mobile terrorists as it is about specific threats.
All of this made me wish for a diplomatic magic wand. Political pixie dust that could be sprinkled on the Middle East to remind everyone of the enthusiasm that existed for a few shining months way back there in 2010. I understand the historical absurdity of peace in the Middle East, but it's also on a short list of dreams I have harbored since I was a kid.
I grew up during a very tumultuous time, a time during which I saw a great many Time Magazine covers seemed to alternate between Watergate and the unrest in the Arab world.  When talks began between Egypt and Israel, I believed that I might grow up in a world that was different. Richard Nixon was gone, and Jimmy Carter was now presiding over a settlement between Begin and Sadat. There were hugs and handshakes. And lots of smiles.
The shine from their Nobel Peace Prize was only beginning to diminish when Sadat was murdered, Begin ordered an attack on an Iraqi nuclear reactor, and Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter. The dream that was Camp David became an historical memory.
And now, Arab Spring has moved into the dog days of summer. Were those winds of change just another desert storm? I leave the last words for Mister Sadat:
Let us put an end to wars, let us reshape life on the solid basis of equity and truth. And it is this call, which reflected the will of the Egyptian people, of the great majority of the Arab and Israeli peoples, and indeed of millions of men, women, and children around the world that you are today honoring. And these hundreds of millions will judge to what extent every responsible leader in the Middle East has responded to the hopes of mankind.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hazy Davy and Killer Joe

I sat there at the table, carrying on a conversation with a young man who was just a couple of years younger than my son. This wasn't the peculiar thing, since I regularly discuss sports, video games, and related topics with young men who happen to be friends with my son, or are students at the school where I teach. The interesting thing was that I was having a conversation with the teenaged son of my college roommate. To my left, my wife was busy catching up with his sister, the sixteen-year-old daughter of my college roommate.
Again, there was nothing truly bizarre or unique about these interactions. I was struck by the time that had passed between those years when my friend and I were first setting up housekeeping and the moment where we found ourselves on the left side of the country, with our families, sharing in a vacation that brought us all together. In a quiet moment, I shared this bit of perspective with my buddy, and we agreed that it had been a long, strange trip. All of those things that might have kept us apart or made it impossible to stay in touch had been surmounted. Now, we sat in the restaurant feeling the extra pull of gravity, his silver hair reminding me of the absence of my own, and feeling that next generation getting ready to stir things up.
We weren't that much older than our sons are now when we first met. We were going to set the world on fire, or at least our corner of it, and for a while, that's exactly what we did. We wreaked havoc in a way that never got us too close to the edge, and when we did, something would bring us back to the center. Often, that was me. I was the anchor. The chicken. The fraidy cat. But when Friday night rolled around again, I knew that there would be another adventure and I had better be ready for when the going got weird.
Married. Divorced. Kids born. Friends died. Parents died. We kept moving through it. Across a continent, we stayed in touch. Sometimes better. Sometimes worse. The years raced by until the youth left us and landed squarely in the laps of our children. The stories flew around, serving mostly to remind us of others that we had begun to forget. We told these stories for the benefit of our kids, who had heard versions of these myths before, but having that other voice to fill in the gray spots made them all the more thrilling. To tell, if not to hear. For better or worse, this is their heritage, and someday it could be grandpa telling stories to another round of bemused faces.
Don't you know we're living in stolen moments
You steal enough, it feels like we're stopping time
These days are gold, we're living in stolen moments
Just grab a hold - John Hiatt "Stolen Moments"

Monday, August 19, 2013

Used Mistakes

It was Miss Kunesh who told me, way back in third grade, to "use your mistakes." She was the art teacher at my elementary school, one of three that attempted over my stay there to corral my artistic impulses. It was a practical concern at its core: She was guarded against a raft of eight-year-olds coming to her room and pulling out great big sheets of colorful paper only to make two marks on them and crumple them up to throw them away because those two marks didn't turn out the way they had planned. These were the days before every classroom had its own recycling bin, but I'm sure Miss Kunesh, who skewed a little hippie in her environmental outlook, was probably anxious not to fill those already 1970's landfills with construction paper.
The other part of this advice, the spiritual part, caught me just about the time that I read "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" for the first time. I could imagine myself as a young gull standing on a beach receiving instruction for the refinement of my gliding skills. If I listened closely, I was certain that the next time I took off, I might shimmer and glow until I materialized on some higher plane where yet another wise bird would patiently watch my struggles until such time as I was ready to ascend to the next level.
Miss Kunesh's advice certainly put me on a path. I learned to draw with confidence, avoiding those little sketchy lines that might eventually connect into some larger piece, but up close look like the hairs on the back of your hand. If that bold, dark streak goes left, go with it. If it doesn't fit in the house you're drawing, turn it into a branch of a tree standing just outside. At the time I struggled getting the ideas I had in my mind from my brain where they were fully formed and colorful to the blank and sometimes unforgiving page. Sometimes it was a matter of motor skills, still in the process of being awakened. Sometimes it was simply that my ideas wouldn't hold still long enough for them to be fully realized. It was Miss Kunesh who helped me quell those hyper-critical voices in my head, the ones that tell so many kids "you can't draw."
Now I'm a teacher, and sometimes I draw for the kids in my room. I have learned not to do it too often, since it tends to intimidate some whose inner voices are already quite loud. Whenever I hear those words come out, I am quick to remind them, "Sure you can. Everyone can draw. We all draw a little differently." And then I wait for it: "But I made a mistake." That's when I tell them the story about Miss Kunesh.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Secret Ingredients

"When I founded Papa John's in 1984, my mission was to build a better pizza," says "Papa" John Schnatter. "I went the extra mile to ensure we used the highest quality ingredients available - like fresh, never frozen original dough, all-natural sauce, veggies sliced fresh daily and 100 percent real beef and pork. We think you'll taste the difference." Me personally? I couldn't tell you. Maybe I should take a deeper interest in Papa John's. My son was fascinated by Mister Schnatter's 1971 Chevrolet Camaro. Peyton Manning, Denver Bronco's quarterback and spokesperson for all manner of things, was doing such a great job shilling for Papa John's that he got himself twenty-one pizza shops in the Denver Metro Area. Papa John's is the NFL's official pizza.
I'm a football fan, but I'm also a teacher, and when a deal was struck with our school district to deliver cheese and pepperoni pies to our cafeterias once a week, it seemed like such a good deal. It had that whole "giving back to the community vibe." As the weeks went by, I watched our kids' eyes light up each and every Wednesday. It wasn't just pizza day, it was Papa John's pizza day. To say that there was a Pavlovian element to this experience may be stretching the point, but I know that there were kids who never ate lunch because they so desperately needed that extra six minutes to play four square. Except on Papa John's day. It must have been all those high quality ingredients.
If only we knew what those ingredients were. They're a secret. Restaurant food isn't required to list theirs like the stuff you buy in a supermarket. We do know that Papa John's garlic sauce, which comes in little packages, is made with a slew of additives: mono and diglycerides, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and the preservatives sodium benzoate and calcium disodium EDTA. That's high quality sodium benzoate, I'm sure.
Papa John wants us to know that the ingredients he uses are "better." He just isn't saying what they are. That's his business. The business he's worried about losing because of rising healthcare costs. He might have to cut employee's hours, or raise the cost of his high quality pizzas. Wait a second. That wasn't partially hydrogenated soybean oil I tasted. It was Tea, wasn't it?
Looks like it's time to order Chinese.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


It was our dog who got up first. She had chosen, as we now call her custom, to go outside in the middle of the night to sniff at things and take care of her business. This is completely acceptable behavior compared to the alternatives, but we still end up grumbling in our groggy haze as we meander toward the door to let her out. Then it occurred to me: She was doing me a favor. This was the last night that the Perseid Meteor Shower would be easily visible in our night sky. For a change, there was no thick layer of fog obscuring our view of the heavens' wonders. I went back to our bedroom and reminded my sleepy wife.
"I'm going out to see if there are any meteors," I said as I pulled on my robe.
To this, my wife replied, "That's great! I'll be right out," though it sounded a little more like, "Grembplehmuhnuhfez." I took this as tacit approval and moved to the back porch. When I sat down and looked up, I had a familiar reaction: Where are all the meteors? I tend to expect more of a fireworks show, orchestrated to the sounds of today's pop music hits. Instead, I found myself staring into a charcoal gray pool of faint points of light. After a few moments, I shifted my chair to get a better view of the sky, less obstructed by the overhang of the roof of our house. This set off the security light, and suddenly I was sitting in the spotlight, unable to see much but the bright glare of the lamp that we had installed to keep bad guys out of our yard.
That's when I heard my son's voice. "What are you doing?"
"Looking for meteors," I replied in a low voice, "Could you please turn off the porch light?"
I heard his shuffling bare feet make the trip back inside, and the light was off again. Then I heard those same feet shuffle back out to the deck. "Oh yeah. There's meteors tonight." He sat down just behind me. He was followed abruptly, or as abruptly as we all move after midnight, by my wife. "Didja see any yet?"
I confessed that I had not, but I continued to stare. The three of us sat with our eyes on the sky for several more minutes before my wife whispered, "Didja see that one?"
I hadn't, but I felt encouraged. I looked harder. At this point, my son began to explain how tired he was of this whole ordeal, since he had spent hours volunteering at the local science center, moderating an activity called "Meteor Right, Meteor Wrong." He felt that he had been there and done that. For a while, the three of us whispered our dissatisfaction with the way that technology had made watching the night sky so much less of an adventure.
But still we persevered. I saw a few faint streaks. My wife and son both claimed to have seen "six or seven." That's when our dog showed up on the deck. She seemed confused by the appearance of her pack in the middle of her late-night sojourn. The four of us shifted briefly in our spots before I sat up and called it a night.
On the way inside, we congratulated ourselves on having the tenacity it took to get up and look for shooting stars. Except our dog. She went straight on in and found her bed. Family time was over. It was time to get some sleep.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Easy Money III

"Bank error in your favor: Collect $200." That was a card you could draw from the Community Chest pile in Monopoly. Of course these days the idea of getting anything back from a bank, let alone a paltry two hundred dollars seems like a pittance. I would assume that if you found yourself on the receiving end of such a "gift," you would probably end up owing at least that much in processing fees and possible penalties. Meanwhile, the confusion over whether or not you could still go to jail when you played the game is seemingly resolved. There will still be a "Go To Jail" space on Monopoly boards, even if you can't go there with your token iron. You'll have to be satisfied with your newly added kitty.
And what about collecting rent while you're in jail? Or the money in Free Parking? What about that? As it turns out, it doesn't really matter. Instead, we might want to start worrying about the rules of the banking system in the world outside of Parker Brothers. Remember a few years back when Goldman Sachs paid five hundred and fifty million dollars in fines for its part in the sub-prime mortgage fiasco? As it turns out, that hefty penalty amounted to a solid drop in the billions of gold-plated buckets at Goldman Sachs. As for going to jail, well, these folks don't seem to have to worry about such things much if at all, and if you happen to own entire city blocks, free parking is pretty much implied.
So how can we hope to get rich quick? We could play the lottery, but as I heard one radio personality complaining the other day on his show that the California Lottery was only worth ten million dollars. If you wanted the big money, you needed to be playing Powerball. That's for the people who want to take a risk, or wait for their chance to be handed a few million dollars just because you happen to have the name that's printed on the oversized check that the casino is handing out.
Or you can keep making trips around the board, collecting two hundred dollars each time you pass Go.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Get With The Program

It's how I celebrate the end of the summer: I attend a teacher training. The good news is that since I'm a teacher by trade, I will get paid for the experience. The not-so-good news is that it is being held in an elementary school auditorium. This is the time when we all get to see what it's like for our little charges to sit for hours at a time, listening to information that may or may not be relevant or fresh to us, but it is our duty to internalize it with the express intent of being able to disseminate it at some later date. Thank heaven they give us these great, bulky binders full of suggested lessons and strategies.
Over the years, I've lugged hundreds of pounds of great, bulky binders from this training and that, all in the service of becoming a better and more competent teacher. Nothing I've learned so far this week would make me smarter than a 1912 eighth grader, but I do feel as though I'm gaining some valuable insight into delivering math curriculum. I joked with a neighbor, as I walked past his house on the way up the hill to the school where the training is being held: "It's the new math. Apparently two plus two is actually five, for especially large values of two." And so up the hill I trudged.
Part of the excitement this year comes in the form of being part of the Common Core. If you're a fan of Glenn Beck, you probably know these standards as the bane of education's existence. Being part of the "leftist groups" that support such a reform and makes Glenn and his scary friends get all fussy makes me feel that I must be doing the exact right thing. Right as in correct, by the way. If what I'm doing is indoctrinating kids into a world that allows them to understand why two times two is four, then I will be happy to wear the brown shirt that Mister Beck is insinuating on my back.
Meanwhile, back in the auditorium, dozens of teachers laugh and moan as they attempt to work on the problems that we will soon unleash on our classrooms. A couple of very clever new teachers figured out that you could get more pieces of pumpkin bread with fewer slices by thinking of the loaf as a three dimensional object. We "old teachers" leaned back and realized we still have a lot to learn.
And in a couple more weeks, we have a lot to teach. Those kids aren't going to indoctrinate themselves, after all.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Already? Really?

"It will be a tougher race than the last. Somebody is going to have to emerge who is really smart … the Republicans have to get it right. If they don’t find the right person – and I mean the right person – they are going to get drubbed in the 2016 election and that’s not a good thing." That's the view from the top of Trump Tower, anyway. In an address to evangelical Christians in Iowa last week, the Donald wanted everyone to know  that Republicans "have to get it right" in selecting a 2016 presidential nominee or the country "could be in real or permanent trouble."
What sort of real or permanent trouble? The kind of trouble that Hillary Clinton, whom Mister Trump sees as the presumptive Democratic nominee. "This country has to be brought back from the edge," Trump continued. "There’s a point at which it’s going to be too late, and the Republicans have to get very tough and very smart, and they have to do it fast." This is an interesting perspective for a couple of reasons: First of all, the term "fast" usually connotes something that would take place in less than a year's time, and the election is still more than three years away. Therefore it follows that it must the first part of that statement that is at issue. Getting smart could be the thing that will take three years. One could infer from this that Republicans missed out on the "smart" choice last year when they didn't give Donald Trump the keys to the presidential race car. As for Romney, “I don’t know what the hell happened in his campaign," Trump said. "That was an election that couldn’t have been lost.” Even after Karl Rove and his evil henchmen pumped more than four hundred million dollars into it. How could they have lost?
No crying over spilled milk, unless the milk in question comes from the very pampered and expensive cows at the Hare Krishna dairy in Hertfordshire, England. Or the ocelot milk that is used in the treatment of Mister Trump's scalp condition. The important thing is that the Republicans start doing what they do best: Respecting life and owning guns. "I am a conservative Republican, I am pro life, I support traditional marriage and the second amendment one hundred percent," said the self-described "Sunday church person" to the Iowa evangelicals.
He concluded by saying, "Do what's right, but be careful because it could be a death wish for the Republican Party." So to review: Be careful. Be smart. Do what's right. Do it fast. And whatever you do, watch out for Canadians.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lactose Intolerance

Hey, you remember Chick-fil-A, don't you? The ones with their own college Bowl Game. The ones with the hysterical commercials with cows? The ones with the president who said,  "I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about." That Chick-fil-A.
Not exactly an American institution, but they certainly know how to promote themselves. The bowl game was watched by more than eight and a half million viewers. Those nutty cows keep on encouraging us to "Eat more chikin." And their president, Dan Cathy, keeps reminding us of the pending apocalypse we're bringing on ourselves by allowing this gay marriage thing to take root in our society: "Sad day for our nation; founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies." That cornerstone would be heterosexual marriage. Men and women love each other as naturally as they love a Spicy Chicken Sandwich Deluxe. And if you don't, well it's still a free country and you can feel free to eat at McDonald's or wherever it is that you think you can get a crispy chicken breast sandwich that will go along with your morally bankrupt persona.
Which brings us to breasts. Now Chick-fil-A has decided to take on nursing mothers. Last week, Jennifer Day, a mom who was feeding her child at the restaurant where she had just fed herself experienced the following: "Just as I was finishing up, an employee came up and told me other parents were afraid of letting their children play while I was feeding her, especially without a cover." As it turns out, breastfeeding in public is a lot more legal in Tennessee than gay marriage, where Jennifer and her daughter were interrupted from their afternoon meal. So, she called some friends and orchestrated a "nurse-in" to show solidarity amongst those who enjoy fast food and breast milk, but not necessarily together. For their part, Chick-fil-A released a statement: “The manager has apologized and regrets any offense he may have caused." The restaurant also plans to now work with the East Tennessee Breastfeeding Coalition for some sensitivity training.
The apology probably came a lot quicker once they figured out that these women were just participating in their Gospel-defined role as caregivers and would be rushing home with takeout to their husband, who really loves him some waffle-cut fries. Praise the Lord and pass the ketchup!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Smoking Barrels

When you reserve a hotel room these days, you sometimes need to check the "non-smoking room" box to be sure that when you check in you won't be burdened by the last ten guests' habit of smoking cigarettes in every corner. There are many hotels that even proudly proclaim that they are smoke-free. This assures the guests that they will not only be free of that ashtray smell as they attempt to settle in to their home away from home, but they won't have to worry about secondhand smoke drifting through the ventilation system to choke them in their sleep. It's the innkeeper's way of looking out for us. Such a deal.
What about when you head back to your home that isn't away from home, but is actually your home? There are a great many apartment buildings, especially in large metropolitan areas that have gone smoke-free. If you were looking for an apartment in Colorado, for example, that was smoke-free, you could avail yourself of the services of Al Gore's Internet. There you could find a wide variety of listings to help you find a place to live and breathe free. The friendly folks who make up the "Group to Alleviate Smoking Pollution," or GASP, don't think that you should put your health in danger just because of someone else's nasty habit.
But what if you've got that nasty habit? There are plenty of nice pleasant tenants who might have to pack up their belongings and leave, even if they don't believe that "myth" of secondhand smoke. You want to trust the Environmental Protection Agency? That's the government, and we all know that they are slowly eroding our personal rights. If I want to turn my lungs into sticky black bags of tar, that's my right. Then again, it's not like they're telling me I can't own guns and live there.
Unless you happen to be living in the Oakwood Apartments in Castle Rock. The management of this particular complex issued the following in their "community policies:" Firearms and Weapons are Prohibited - Resident agrees not to display, use or possess or allow any member of the resident's household, or a guest or other person under the resident's control to display, use, possess any firearms (operable or inoperable) or any other weapons, including but not limited to, night sticks, nun chucks, brass knuckles, anywhere on the property. Would you guess that the ex-Marine who lives there doesn't want to give up his guns? He wouldn't feel safe without them. Now he's faced with a choice: Move out, or hand over the shootin' irons.
But back to the hotel room for just a moment: When I check in to that swanky resort, why isn't anyone asking me if I want Second Amendment or No Second Amendment? Anti-gun hoteliers like Marriott are bold enough to put their signs up in the lobby: All Weapons Prohibited On These Premises. How is a guest supposed to deal with that guy next door who sneaks a smoke on his balcony?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why Bruce Willis Is A Skate Punk

It's the trouble with being in the one percent: It's so much easier to hear all that whining from the other ninety-nine. "We're cold. We're poor. We can't afford a gallon of gas. We're tired from working so hard." Well, we think we've got it tough, why not take a minute to consider the struggles of some of our more fortunate friends.
Sylvester Stallone recently announced that he was making a casting change for his new film, "Expendables 3." First of all, this news comes as quite a relief to those of us who were confounded by all those loose threads left over from the previous two installments. Secondly, Sly is offering his pals in the aging action hero community a chance to ply their craft. It's good to see Dolph, Jean-Claude, and even Arnold out there cracking heads and blasting away at bad guys, just like the old days. With all this largesse, you would think these guys would be grateful. Well, not Bruce Willis. Mister Stallone tweeted, regarding the departure of his Planet Hollywood partner from the all-star lineup, "GREEDY AND LAZY ….. A SURE FORMULA FOR CAREER FAILURE." Since when do these guys do it for the paycheck? I thought they were in it for the art. That and the fifteen dollar cheeseburgers
Meanwhile, across the country in the quiet little village of Litchfield, Connecticut, one of the residents would like somebody to do something about those darn kids and their noisy skateboard park. The town is looking into moving the park, but first it's trying to muffle the noise by enclosing the sides of the metal skate ramps, stuffing the jumps with Styrofoam and putting up soundproofing fabric on a fence, said First Selectman Gerald Stomski. The park hours were also reduced and it is closed on Sundays. The offended party? Rob Zombie, rock and roll singer and director of such films as "The Devil's Rejects" and "House of 1000 Corpses." It's understandable why Mister Zombie would want a little peace and quiet in his own home after disturbing the peace of so many others. It's the neighborly thing to do, especially if you happen to be Montgomery Burns.
So, don't forget: Expendables 3 opens in August of 2014, and Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem is available now on Blu-Ray. Help ease these guys' pain. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Suburban Alchemy

The girl I marry should have a certain
In the case of Darren Stephens
or Major Anthony Nelson
Not the kind that will get me in trouble
with the boss
or my commanding officers
I don't want Ben Franklin
to appear in my living room
I don't want to battle some clown
with a scimitar
I just want to find
a parking place
Or to have my dog
come running home
Those are the kind of spells
my wife can cast
The kind of witchcraft
she practices
Keeps me guessing
which isn't all bad
And though sometimes
I roll my eyes
or rail at the heavens
But I know all will be well
by the end of the episode
Happy Birthday,
to my White Witch

Friday, August 09, 2013

Music From The Heartland

Long before I ever knew all the names of the E Street Band, I was a fan of Cheap Trick. If you've been keeping track, and I have, there have been eight previous mentions of this band from Rockford, Illinois here in this blog. There's been a lot of talk, also here in this blog, about the staying power and continued cultural significance of Bruce Springsteen and his band. Those total more than eight. But it should be pointed out, or rubbed in the face of yours truly, that The Boss has been rocking since 1972, and while his world tour never seems to end, the same can be said for Cheap Trick. In Japan, they're still playing stadiums. Okay, to be fair they are the opening act, but they're still in the game more than forty years later.
Rick, Robin Bun E. and Tom are every bit as important to their hometown as Bruce is to the Jersey shore. On June 19, 2007, the Illinois Senate passed Senate Resolution 255, which designated April 1 of every year as Cheap Trick Day in the State of Illinois. Yes, I know that it's April Fool's Day, and I'm sure the band does as well. Which is precisely what drew me to the group in the first place. Acting on a tip from an upperclassman with whom I was in marching band, I went down to K-Mart to flip through the record section. That's where I found "Heaven Tonight," their third release featuring the single "Surrender." But before I even peeled back the shrinkwrap, I stared at the cover: On the front were the two seventies rock gods, Robin and Tom with their sleepy eyes and shoulder length hair. On the back, well let's just say that no one would immediately peg Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos as part of one of the hardest rocking bands to ever dance that fine line between pop and rock. Before I ever heard a note, I was hooked.
And so it went, as I waited anxiously for news about the latest releases, and more importantly, tour information. I paid to see the Trick more times than I can count in those heady days of the late seventies and early eighties. I always came away impressed and hungry for more. Cheap Trick delivered, for my late teen ears, the musical equivalent of the Fast and Furious franchise for my son. Somewhere inside, I knew that these were not the preeminent musicians that I insisted to my friends they were. I studied music. I knew. But I never let on, mostly because of those photos. A band that could look like that and still rock that hard couldn't simply be dismissed.
It is worth noting that the first rock and roll show that my wife ever attended was the Cheap Trick show I took her to back in 1981. We were just friends at the time, which is probably why she felt so free to tell me of her lustful thoughts about Robin Zander. I understood that. She's a girl and all. I was, in the meantime, captivated by the guitar theatrics of Rick Nielsen. I was also curious how Bun E. managed to keep that cigarette dangling precariously from his lower lip as he bashed his two-tom set evermore furiously.
Bun E. no longer tours with the band. He's been replaced by Rick's son. They don't play arenas here in the States. They're a pretty big draw on the nostalgia circuit, however. These days I find myself thinking back to those daylong summer festivals that kept me sitting for hours in the sun, waiting for the moment when the rest of the bands had finished their sets and the black and white checkerboard mat was rolled out. That's where Cheap Trick did their best work. That's how I remember them. I can hear them now, and if I close my eyes, they still look goofy.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

What's The Difference?

I am currently involved with a younger woman. Not much younger: two years. That doesn't seem like such a big deal, does it? Especially since that woman is my wife. I bring this up because of the unique perspective that was offered to my son last week by his uncle, my wife's older brother. He told my sixteen-year-old son that he would be better off checking out the incoming freshman girls than continuing to pursue girls his own age. He went on to rationalize this strategy by pointing out that young women in their junior year of high school had a pretty solid two-year head start on maturity compared to their male counterparts. That two year age difference could really work for him. At least that's what his uncle thinks.
Me? I'm not sure. Having managed a grand total of three official girlfriends in my life, I don't know if I can back up my brother-in-law's science. Back in grade school, my first girl friend was a few months older than me. When it was time for my first kiss, I can say that I was a happy and willing participant, but I was not the initiator of that sequence. I was the very grateful recipient of her "emotional maturity."
In high school I spent a couple years chasing after girls my own age, or more tot he point, I spent a couple years imagining how I might chase after girls my own age. Mostly I pined. It wasn't until my senior year that I recalled the sage wisdom of a friend of mine who had recently graduated: sophomores. Never content to take the easy way out, I ended up dating a junior who turned out to be every bit as clever and experienced in the ways of dating as her elementary school predecessor. I was out of my depth ten minutes into our first date.
Then there was a ten year period where I retreated to that familiar position of pining. This was defensible primarily because I hoped that the disparate levels of dating prowess might be overcome if I went into some sort of relationship stasis for a decade or so. When I awoke, Bill Clinton was president, and I was engaged to a young lady who was a sophomore when I was a senior. At that point, I was thirty and she was twenty-eight. I wish that I could report that I had made leaps of maturity that made this relationship a piece of cake. Maybe I slept through that part where I would somehow have come out on the dominant end of this transaction. After twenty years of marriage, I'm still trying to catch up.
That's why I won't be backing up the sage wisdom of my son's uncle. I don't know if our kind is genetically predisposed to understanding women. Ours is the clan who sit and marvel at all the wonders that they deliver, and try not to get hung up on all that math.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Why We Keep Going Back

Yes, it's time to find those binders and start looking for a place that sells graph paper. It's time to go back to school. Not the real, get up out of bed and face the day kind of back to school, but the start to cope with the reality of teacher-student interactions and all the ways that disappointment and joy can radiate out from those. Like the way you can talk to a room full of kids about the missing stapler and it suddenly becomes a chat in the principal's office with angry parents about calling their kid a thief. Things can change in a hurry, best to be prepared.
Like in Memphis, where the school board recently rescinded their use of corporal punishment. “Quite frankly, I’m scared to use it,” board member David Reaves said. “You could easily wind up in court. I think it’s in our best interests that we eliminate the paddle.” It is curious to me how, in 2013, there is still a public school in the United States that would even consider this option. Not that there aren't rooms full of teachers and administrators who have considered it. Over the years I have had a number of parents take me aside and let me know that it would be "totally fine" with them if I needed to give their kid a swat. I have also considered this is advice I was given at the beginning of a year, long before all those previously mentioned joys and disappointments had blossomed fully. These kind of interactions usually tell me more about the parent than the kid, but I'm just as glad that the option has been taken off the table long before I ever got there.
What's left over in the corporal punishment bin? Well, in Memphis there was some relief expressed by the board that coaches could still have their student-athletes run laps as a consequence for behavior unbecoming. It should be pointed out that this district had to take the question up because a smaller district had been merged into Memphis proper. Students in Memphis didn't need to worry about getting a "whuppin'" since way back in 2004.
Nine years ago. In the twenty-first century. Teachers and administrators were still allowed to spank their students in Memphis, Tennessee. Of course, a quick search of Al Gore's Internet tells me that there are still a number of places where spanking students is still policy. Did you guess Texas? I suppose it makes sense, even though ninety-seven of one hundred of the country's largest school districts have banned corporal punishment, in some Texas way that I can't fully comprehend.
As a teacher, this is where I start to shudder at the anticipation of endless seminars and in-service instruction on the proper ways to paddle your students. Next week I'm going to be immersed in a week-long training about delivering our math curriculum. I'm not guessing that we will have time to consider how to do this and mete out just the right smack to the kid who isn't quite ready for school. But I guess there's still so much to learn.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Laughing Matter

It was Chris Rock who made the observation that, "If a homeless person, has a funny sign, he hasn't been homeless that long." I mention this because my wife has had an interesting urge over the past couple of weeks: She wants to hand a joke book to a person camped at one of the stop signs leading to the on ramp of the highway that takes us across town. I have been trying to comprehend this impulse. I know that it comes from a charitable place, because of all the people in our family, she is the easiest touch when it comes to being panhandled. She buys the Street Sheets. Walking down the sidewalk, my wife is the one who will stop and listen to the stories that go along with the requests for spare change. I'm the tough guy, with the thousand yard stare. I gave at the office.
My wife is the one who once had this experience: While making her way home from lunch one day, she was accosted by a scruffy gent who asked for a dollar. "Asked" may be a little polite for the actual interaction, but this didn't keep her from being sympathetic. She realized that she had no money to give this man, but she did have a cookie, which she offered up freely.
"What kind is it?"
It was at this point in the interaction that we have historically noted that this person could not actually be a beggar. If that were true, he would not care what kind of cookie it was, he would have simply taken it with gratitude. Beggars cannot be choosers.
Unfortunately, this also means that the last choice that anyone might ever make would that to become a beggar. That may be why my wife felt the need to pass along the joke book. It's a sad and lonely avocation, begging. "Will work for food." "Hungry. Anything will help." Beyond the humility, there is a good deal of politeness associated with this exchange. Lots of "please" and "thank you." When you hang around with my wife, you get to see a good deal of the smiles available on the street. It was her idea to give one of these denizens of the overpasses a joke book to help spice up those otherwise dreary messages. When I grumbled something from the passenger seat, she went ahead and gave the guy her leftover scrambled egg and toast. No joke book. Maybe next week.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Two Tickets To Paradise

"Scientists" believe that "The Garden of Eden" has been "discovered" and "restored." I apologize for the number of quotations in that sentence. Just be glad you didn't have to read it out loud. You would be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome from executing all those air quotes. That discomfort is probably on a par with the soreness I experienced after rolling my eyes after reading the story describing this archaeological feat. I got the same vibe from this story as I did way back when I heard about how Noah's Ark had been found. The great thing about these discoveries is that they can now be turned into the fee-required National Parks that they always needed to be.
"The Garden of Eden" is going to be Iraq's first National Park. Want to see where it all started? Maybe order up a half slab of Adam's Ribs? This is the place! If you don't mind a little small arms fire mixed in with your explosions, that is. Apparently, while we were busing sowing democracy over there, we were able to plant a pretty solid idea about how to go about instilling a sense of national pride in the natural regions and history of the surrounding area. We just didn't manage to get the shooting to stop long enough to enjoy Paradise. Also, it seems that the damming of certain rivers and their tributaries while Saddam Hussein was in charge made it less a garden than a desert. Now the dykes have been broken and the water has returned, causing the reeds and water buffalo to come tromping back. No mention of serpents, however.
Just up the road in Turkey, where Noah's Ark came to rest, you can feel free to test your knowledge of cubits while trying to imagine just exactly what all that paired-off livestock must have smelled like. It's located quite close to what our Turkish hosts would like you to believe is the site of Soddom and Gomorrah, or what's left of it. Just a hop, skip and a pair of stone tablets away you can find Mount Sinai, or its tourist equivalent. Say what you want about the political unrest in the Middle East, but when it comes to Holy Places, they've got the market pretty well cornered.
The first National Park here in the United States was Yellowstone. Lots of grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk, and more geysers than just about anywhere else on earth. But there's a pretty solid lack of biblical reference. If that's what you're after, and you don't want to spend the money and take the shots, yo could always settle for Holy Land in Orlando, Florida. The attractions tend to skew pretty solidly toward the New Testament, but if you've got a hankering to spend your Last Supper with the King of Kings, this is the place. And they've got a Best Western located just down the path to salvation.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Cover Boy

Rolling Stone, wanna see my picture on the cover
Wanna buy five copies for my mother (Yeah!)
Wanna see my smilin' face, on the cover of The Rolling Stone

These words were famously recorded forty years ago by a "one-hit wonder" of a group called Doctor Hook and the Medicine Show. It should also be noted that these lyrics were written by one Shel Silverstein, who also composed the Johnny Cash hit "A Boy Named Sue." Shel certainly write a song with his tongue wedged carefully in his cheek. Clever though he was, I doubt if Mister Silverstein could have anticipated the furor his ode to self-promotion would channel four decades later.
If you're like me and never buy a copy of Rolling Stone unless you're getting on an airplane, you might have missed all the fuss about this past month's issue. The one with alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tzarnaev on the cover. The one that inspired these lyrics:
Well now I'm fixin' to get people to listen
There's a sure-fire road to fame
I'll set a bomb off down in Boston
Then everyone'll know my name

 Everyone, that is, who is incensed by the idea of giving any more press to the kid who decided, along with his brother, to blow up innocent men, women and children. Allegedly. So here I go, giving up another slice of cyberspace to this bad guy and his deeds. I can hear my wife wondering: What is he trying to do? Make him famous? Well, infamous would be more like it, but I get the point. Can I say the same thing about the editors of Rolling Stone?
Well, this particular issue of Jan Wenner's counterculture rag was a big seller. Retailers reported sales of 13,232 copies from July 19-29, which is more than double Rolling Stone's average newsstand sales for the same period in 2012. Subscribers, on the other hand, reacted to the cover by cancelling their commitment to future issues. What did the publishers have to say for themselves? "The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens."
They forgot to mention that it is also very important to sell magazines. Sure, he's no Michael Jackson or Bruce Springsteen, but I'm guessing if Dzhokhar wasn't chained to his prison bed, he'd probably rush right out and buy five copies for his mama.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Who Watches The Watchmen?

"Hi, I'm not home right now, but if you'd like to talk to the National Security Agency, just start talking after the tone."
Ha, ha. Life is so funny in the twenty-first century I sometimes forget to laugh. There's so much information just laying around for anyone to pick up, it's a wonder that we have any time at all for our own lives. Did you want to see what it looked like when George Zimmerman got pulled over for speeding in Texas? You can watch the video from the camera mounted on the dashboard of the state trooper who pulled him over and discovered that, believe it or not, George was carrying a gun with him at the time. The folks at Google Earth have even done us the solid of removing the smudge where Dick Cheney's house used to be, or still is. There's even a safer, easy to make recipe for napalm out there. You don't have to look very hard.
Andy Warhol suggested that in the future we would all be famous for fifteen minutes. The trouble with this assertion is that it was made with mid-twentieth century attention spans. These days we are lucky if we get the full fifteen minutes, especially when there's a new cat video uploaded approximately every twelve seconds. And our level of fame has shifted substantially since Andy was painting soup cans as well. "Famous" these days could mean "going viral," which meant something completely different in Andy's time. These days it's not so important that you learn how to play the piano well, but owning a cat that will let you pretend that they can is really your ticket.
Then there's the ever-present reality TV angle. For most of the people who appear on these shows, the talent they seem to share is the willingness to appear on these shows. I was musing the other night to my wife about what future generations will make of ours as they look back on our archived video record. "Real Housewives" and "Mischievous Maids." "Ice Road Truckers" and "Teen Moms." It is no surprise that the Public Broadcasting Service continues to have to legitimize its broadcasting day to remain funded by our government since our attention seems to be transfixed on Duck Dynasty and Honey Boo Boo. The fact that the networks producing these last two shows are, respectively, the Arts and Entertainment Network and The Learning Channel is just barely ironic at this point.
Which brings me to the fuss here in Oakland, where citizens bristled at the idea of using federal funds to install an expanded surveillance center to monitor the port. This new "Domain Awareness Center" will have the capability to pool in different camera feeds within the city and the port. It may also include license plate readers as well. These disgruntled townsfolk, who shouted "Shame! Shame!" at the City Council after the decision was made to go ahead, are obviously missing the point: They will soon be part of the fist federally funded reality show. Instead, they should have been shouting, "Fame! Fame!"

Friday, August 02, 2013

Back To School Shopping

It never fails to get the hackles on the back of my son's neck up when he sees "Back To School" sales popping up in the second or third week of June. We're now fully into the heavily discounted portion of this part of the year. It's time to stock up on all those pencils and books that Alice Cooper insisted we were all free of just a few very short weeks ago. Teachers do the same thing. We go out and buy our white board markers and empty the 99 Cent Store of all the little plastic prizes that will somehow become legal tender out on the playground. And in Arkansas, they'll be checking the back room to see if there's any more hollow point ammunition once the shelves have been cleared.
The Clarksville School District will arm twenty volunteer teachers and staff with handguns starting this fall. Participants in the program, whose identities will be kept secret, will be considered security guards after undergoing fifty-three hours of training."The plan we've been given in the past is, 'Well, lock your doors, turn off your lights and hope for the best,' " said Superintendent David Hopkins.
Mister Hopkins said that he was responding to the wave of calls he took from concerned parents after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. This makes sense since Sandy Hook is in Newtown, Connecticut and Clarksville is a town of a little over nine thousand Christian souls located some fourteen hundred miles away. Why wouldn't they expect an armed intruder to perpetrate the same senseless slaughter of school children? Better safe than sorry, right?
Staff at these schools will be given a one-time $1,100 stipend to purchase a handgun and holster. The district will pay about fifty thousand dollars for ammunition and for training by Nighthawk Custom Training Academy, a private training facility in northwest Arkansas. “That teacher is going to respond to one thing and one thing alone, and that's someone is in the building either actively or attempting to kill people," Jon Hodoway, director of training for Nighthawk said. "That's it. They're not going to enforce the law. They're not going to make traffic stops. If somebody is outside acting the fool, they're going to call the police." That teacher is going to to do one thing and one thing only: kill someone. Not make traffic stops.
Let me say this about fifty thousand dollars in training: I'm not sure how many teachers they are trying to put on the firing line, but I'm guessing if it's more than a couple, that's not going to be enough to cover everything. The newspapers are full of stories about highly trained officers of the law who spend years, not days learning how to deal with issues of deadly force, and they still make mistakes. And since part of that fifty thousand is going to buy ammo, I'm guessing there's still a possibility that they didn't cover everything. Like toy guns.
I hope there's something left over in the budget for grief counseling.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

About Us

My wife and I
are writing a book
About Us
We try and answer
questions profound and sublime
We take on subjects
that help to define us:
The Machismo of Power Tools
The Politics of Lingerie
Some pages are full of laughs
Some are full of tears
We're talking
about twenty years
We're talking
About Us
Way back when
as we stood in that meadow
friends and family gathered
and they talked
About Us
Will it last?
Do they belong together?
What happens next?
Will they be happy?
To answer them now:
I don't know
Most of the time
If they asked
if we still love
each other
I can say
"every day."
That's our story
the one that we tell
About Us