Monday, September 30, 2013

What Seems To Be The Trouble?

A week ago, I spent a couple of quality hours with Apple technicians, over the phone, to resolve an issue I was having with my iTunes account. The relief I felt when I heard, over the course of two separate interactions, how confused these experts were by my problem was hard to define. I consider myself to be a pretty savvy end user, which is to say that I try to do all the basic steps first before I ever dial that 800 number. I check to see if the cables are connected. I make sure that I have the current version of the software. I go online to see if there is a fix or a patch that I can install quickly and easily. I make sure that the machine is, in fact, plugged in. In the case of my iTunes dilemma, I had exhausted all these alternatives before I initiated a chat with a "genius."
To their credit, the friendly folks at Apple seem to want us to interact with them, even if they do make it a bit of a challenge. I put my name and number in their automated system and waited for a "genius" to get in touch with me. As I waited, I wondered how this process might work if the Apple device I was hoping to get help with was the one that either connected me to the Internet or was my telephone. I was gratified by the notion that if I didn't get any satisfaction from this pending interaction I could take solace in the mp3 downloads from Amazon, and the cloud player that company seems more than happy to promote on their web site.
Then the phone rang. Alexandra introduced herself, and I myself, then we began to discuss my problem. After politely deflecting her suggestion that I simply follow the directions on their support page, since I had done so twice with no success, she began to examine my situation and account a little more deeply. After putting me on hold long enough to hear a whole Dave Matthews song, she came back with the answer: The release of the new iPhones had overloaded the server that kept track of passwords and accounts, and the changes that I had made would most certainly be reflected the very next day. I suggested that maybe having the one server on a day when millions of new accounts would be added may not have been the best business model. Alexandra agreed. She offered to call me back the next day to check on my progress. I told her that I hoped that it wouldn't be necessary and we said our goodbyes.
As it turned out, it was necessary. After more than twenty-four hours, I was still not able to access my iTunes account, the one that had served me so bravely and effortlessly for so many years. I logged back onto their support system and signed up for another call. This time it was Jeff who called me back. He too wanted to expedite the call by running me through the normal hoops. I politely assured him that I had tried the easy stuff, and Alexandra had hoped that the server would be making room for me by this point. To Jeff's credit, he recognized a challenge. He put my account up on his machine, and it froze up. Somehow, my iTunes account had become the undoing of the Apple Empire. This was the part where I took some smug satisfaction on presenting a problem that actually required fixing. It was also the point where I felt that I was working with Jeff as we navigated the arcane complexities of account password protection. This required me sharing the answers to the security questions that had once been part of my login procedure. We became closer as a result, and after another twenty minutes of cajoling and exhorting our collective computing hardware and software to come up with a solution, there was a breakthrough. Jeff was able to crack the code that had been inserted crossways somewhere in the recent past, and I was suddenly granted access to the virtual record store once again.
I thanked Jeff for his effort, and his tenacity. He told me he was glad that he finally had a call that was worth his effort and tenacity. Then, perhaps as payback for the revelations I had offered in my security questions, he told me that he was going to be off work soon, to which I replied that I hoped that he would have a safe drive home. He told me it would be more like a walk upstairs. As it turns out, Jeff had been working from his office downstairs and was going to hang up with me and head off to bed. He was already in his pajamas. On the brink of oversharing, I bid him adieu. Maybe Jeff's a genius after all. I don't get to do my job in my pajamas.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Autumn Colors

It's always a difficult time, as baseball season winds down and football season cranks up. I sit on my couch, alternately rooting on one local team, while wishing for the humiliation of the other. I was pleased and happy to see the Oakland A's bring another American League West championship to the crowd at stadium, though why no one considered the naming rights for this facility would have been better suited by calling it " stadium" is beyond me. Maybe that Overstock thing worked well with the Oakland, but I still feel it was a missed opportunity.
Meanwhile, back on the gridiron, I returned to school on Tuesday morning, fresh from the Monday Night Football drubbing of the Raiders courtesy of my Denver Broncos. I searched for someone with whom I could converse about the details of the precision with which the Silver and Black were dismantled. "Didja see the game?" I asked one of my fifth grade tough guys.
"Yeah," came the dispirited reply.
"Pretty tough loss, huh?" I waited to rub it in, if ever so slightly.
"Yeah. But you guys have Peyton Manning."
I wasn't prepared for this loop of a retort. "Right," I paused, "So?"
"You guys have Peyton Manning." It was the defense for having no defense. The Raiders were yet another notch in the side of the helmet that will one day reside in Canton, Ohio. A decade of learning that "commitment to excellence" may just be an aphorism around the Oakland Raider clubhouse, the youngest in their fanbase are starting to turn.
Not so the fortunes of the Athletics. This is a green and yellow bandwagon upon which everyone seems to want to crowd these days. Those black t-shirts with the pirate on them are giving way to the "green collar baseball" sportswear kids seem to favor on our playground these days. In this way, I suppose, baseball has once again showed is unifying potential. Where football tends to arouse bitter feelings and bursts of passion, baseball is a love affair that just goes on and on.
Into October and beyond.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

It's one of those "twenty years ago today" things. It does help to be more than twenty years old to make this sort of thing intriguing, but if you're sixteen it doesn't matter that much that Nirvana's last album, "In Utero" was released twenty years ago this month. A few years before that, it was Nirvana's major label debut, "Nevermind" that kicked the doors in on the music industry. If you had been alive before that, listening to music that made you feel safe and happy, this was a sound that made you wonder if what you had been listening to was what you were supposed to be listening to. It was loud. It was scary. It was angry.  It knocked Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" out of the top spot on the Billboard Top 100. It was a monster.
It was Nirvana's masterpiece. I have friends who said at the time and even years later that they prefer the band's earlier work. It's a good way to ensure your hipster cred, but I know that only a few of those people bought "Bleach." Thirty million people bought "Nevermind." What made this so amazing was that many of those people were the same ones buying "Dangerous." The evil scourge of hair metal, which had become pervasive in those late days of the twentieth century, was extinguished. Loud and angry replaced loud and pretty. For those of us without hair, this came as quite a relief.
It was also quite a relief for record companies, because it made "grunge" the next big thing. Pretty soon, there were a comparable number of bands with stringy hair and flannel shirts as there were groups wearing spandex and hairspray. Everybody made money. Everybody wanted to make the next "Nevermind."
Nobody did. Even the guys from Nirvana never matched the success of that big, angry noise from Seattle. It was a moment in time that passed just as surely as "Sergeant Pepper" and "Thriller." Kurt Cobain burned out rather than fading away. Dave Grohl went on to lead the fight against Foo. Kurt Novoselic played bass with a number of different bands, but stuck mostly to political and social activism. Twenty years later, the surviving members seem just as puzzled by their success back then as they are right now.
Oh well, whatever, never mind.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Speaking Out

Don't want to go along with the Common Core? Prepare to be arrested. That's the simplified message that has been drifting around since Robert Small was led out of a Howard County, Maryland town meeting. He was interrupting education officials and complaining that new standards were aimed at sending children to community colleges. An interesting observation, but since I'm not completely familiar with Maryland's statutes about complaining, I will reserve judgement. It was, after all, a public forum.
A public forum during which a hotly contested issue was being discussed, and in the words of Maryland's state attorney, "It was clear that Mr. Small violated the rules of the meeting and disrupted the meeting. It was also clear that the officer acted appropriately and did have probable cause to make an arrest on both charges." Like I said, the rules in Maryland about arguing at school board meetings are tough.
Meanwhile, the heated debate against Common Core standards continues to rage. Mostly on conservative talk radio, but that's what they tend to do: Rage. Mister Small wasn't satisfied with his written question being selected to be answered by Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance. He is concerned about lowered expectations of students, and as a result the children of Maryland will not be selected to attend Harvard but will languish in community colleges. As he was being led from the meeting by an off-duty Baltimore police officer, he shouted at the crowd, "Don't sit there like cattle!"
And so I come to an impasse here: I don't agree with Robert Small that Common Core standards and curriculum will systematically lower expectations for our students. I do agree that parents should not sit there like cattle. Nor should students. Or teachers. Education is a participatory experience. It is something of a relief that the American people seem to be getting stirred up by something pertaining to the education of their children. That's a relief, just like it's a relief that charges were dropped against Mister Small.
And now the debate can continue.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Things in the Grand Old Party get a little confusing sometimes. At least they do from my perspective. This is a group of politicians who have designated an elephant as their mascot. For some reason, the Oakland Athletics and the Crimson Tide of Alabama have adopted the same beast to represent them, seemingly without connection to the the original team names. I know that we can blame a cartoonist, Thomas Nast, for the Republican's elephant, the Athletics were once considered a "white elephant," and the Crimson Tide might have something to do with a Steely Dan song but more likely it's a Groucho Marx line about "Tuscaloosa" that brought a pachyderm to Alabama's sideline.
None of which explains Mavericks. Or Wacko birds. My recent obsession with all things McCain continues this week with the story of John McCain, the Maverick Elephant, and Ted Cruz. A couple of months ago, Maverick called Cruz a "wacko bird." To be fair, it would seem that Senator McCain was also referencing Senator Rand Paul and Representative Justin Amash when he flung this particular epithet, and he has since apologized for having done so. But it does seem odd that there wasn't a more meaningful connection between John and Ted. See if you can follow my reasoning: John McCain was a fighter pilot, the kind of guy that was depicted in the film "Top Gun." That film's main character went by the call-sign "Maverick." He was played by none other than Tom Cruise. Get it?
These guys don't. Cruz now says that he is embarrassed that he supported McCain for president in 2008. Not that this is an exclusive club, but The Cruiser added this: “I think the Republican Party lost its way. We didn’t stand for the principles we’re supposed to believe in.” Those core principles we all know and cherish, such as learning how to draw water up into their trunk and then pour it into the mouth, eating an extremely varied vegetarian diet, including grass, leaves, twigs, bark, fruit and seed pods, and frequently touching and caressing one another and entwining their trunks. That's what we expect from Republicans, after all.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Okay, honestly, if the government shut down, would anyone notice? Probably not for a while, anyway. The relative inaction by the one hundred and thirteenth Congress of the United States would be key to this lack of interest. It is the fussing and blustering that has taken place on Capitol Hill has amounted to this: a standoff with Republicans looking to defund the Affordable Care Act while the Democrats are trying to maintain their collective dignity and not whine about it. It's yet another hostage crisis where the prisoners are sitting at home, wondering what all the fuss is about.
Interestingly, public opinion shows that as unpopular as Obamacare seems to be, a government shutdown is even less popular. All those government programs, including the Affordable Care Act, would screech to a halt. If, for example, you were a veteran and you were waiting for your education benefits or a disability check, how would you distinguish the shutdown delay from the standard operating procedural delay? It's our government in action. Pardon me: inaction.
This has become our legacy of lethargy. Rather than come together and generate common sense answers to problems that plague the country as a whole, the United States government seems to have taken on partisan rhetoric as their favored form of discourse. Are there problems with the Affordable Care Act? You bet there are. Does it make sense to turn back the clock and allow health care to be limited to those who can afford to have that first born child first in order to pay for all future insurance premiums? Does it make sense to keep pushing forward with a plan that even the party that supports it can't do it with a straight face?
There I go, trying to make sense of it again. That could be because I'm married to a lady who is a big fan of the "do-over." Okay, so that piece of legislation didn't come out exactly right the first time. Can we get a do-over? Go ahead and laugh, but it makes a whole lot more sense than a do-nothing.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Water Cycle

If the rain comes they run and hide their heads - Beatles "Rain"
If you live in Boulder, Colorado you probably know what the boys from Liverpool were singing about. In a twenty-four hour period, they received nine inches of rain. And then they got more rain. For days. I thought of the many times I had heard my mother say that "we really need the moisture," and I imagined that she probably won't have that feeling again for a while.
I thought about the coincidence of my younger brother's visit to our home town, and how I used to refer to myself as "bringer of rain" for the way that I brought an end to California's drought by moving here twenty years ago. I thought about the hard work that is in front of every resident of the flood-ravaged Front Range. It will be a long time before things return to anything that resembles business as usual up against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
I thought about the creek into which I once sprinkled the ashes of my father. It was his wish, as he once wrote in the pages of our cabin's guest book: "scatter me here." I remembered all the ways I used to demonstrate watersheds for my fourth grade class. Water flows from the highest point to the lowest point, gradually picking up speed and gathering sediment and debris as it joins other streams and rivers. Over the years, I'm sure that my father, in diluted form, made his way down out of the hills and onto the plains, perhaps rolling right past his old high school in that same creek that overflowed its banks just a couple weeks ago. Bits of him may have even drifted as far as Kansas, where he was born.
I thought about Shel Silverstein, who wrote, "And some kind of help is the kind of help That helping's all about/And some kind of help is the kind of help We all can do without." The first kind would be how my older brother and sister-in-law spent those days during and after the deluge, making the city and county safer. The second would be the nimrods kayaking in the storm swollen streams, and the conspiracy twits who insist that this was all part of some government plot generated by secret weather control technology.
Then I remembered that my younger brother was there in Colorado when the rain began. Now that he's back in California, the Bay Area received its first measurable rain in months. There is no causal connection here. I'm just glad that he made it back and my family is safe and sound once again.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Hardest Part

Did I miss something? I have Internet access and all, but maybe I've been so busy tracking the floods in my hometown. Or maybe I was clicking on the articles about the most recent shootings. I might have been preoccupied by our once and future war with Syria. That's why I didn't notice that there is a new iPhone. This is the seventh, I am told, time that Apple has visited a slightly updated version of their mobile communications device. There were people lined up outside stores across the country waiting. Again.
Didn't they know that they could order one to be delivered to their house?
I apologize in advance to any of those people who queued up who were actually homeless and just happened to be on the street because that is their home, but I'm not sure I get it. I would assume that those people who feel the need to purchase the newest piece of technology at the earliest possible moment are doing so because they embrace the idea of modern conveniences: labor-saving. Why then would someone give up hours or even days of their life to sit on a curb just across from Starbuck's and the Gap to be certain that they have the machine that would, in a perfect world, help them avoid such experiences? 
As it turns out, there were a few enterprising folks who used Al Gore's Internet to make money off this schism.  had a campaign that offered to have someone stand in line for you, providing you paid their price. Whatever that price was. And the helpful folks at Taskrabbit helped themselves to a twenty percent service fee. Totally worth it.
Especially if you were able to make the following call:
"Dude, guess where I'm calling you from?"
"It's three in the morning."
"Yeah, I know. The guy I paid a hundred bucks to on Taskrabbit just dropped off my new iPhone."
"I'm sitting in my living room, looking at all the cool new features."
"Good night."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

I Am Rubber, And You Are Stalinist Glue

It takes a real Maverick to say "back atcha." That's just what John McCain did last Thursday. As a response, of sorts, to Vladimir Putin's op-ed piece in the New York Times where he pointed out the dangers of "American exceptionalism," Senator McCain wrote an letter to Pravda. John is all about setting the record straight, so he set about making sure that the people of Russia knew what was really going down.
“Since my purpose here is to dispel falsehoods used by Russia's rulers to perpetuate their power and excuse their corruption, let me begin with that untruth,” McCain wrote. “I am not anti-Russian. I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today.” Oooo! Snap!
The Man From Arizona continued, "A Russian citizen could not publish a testament like the one I just offered. President Putin and his associates do not believe in these values. They don't respect your dignity or accept your authority over them. They punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your elections. They control your media. They harass, threaten, and banish organizations that defend your right to self-governance. To perpetuate their power they foster rampant corruption in your courts and your economy and terrorize and even assassinate journalists who try to expose their corruption.
They write laws to codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn. They throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar and for having the audacity to protest President Putin's rule." Double snaps in a Z formation!
We know this it the truth, since "Pravda" translates to just that in English. It might have been more truthful if John would have mentioned the punk rock band by name: Pussy Riot. But maybe that's too much truth, even for a Maverick.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sleep Tight

The California legislature has a new law in mind. This one will create a non-profit mattress recycling organization to develop the system to collect mattresses, dismantle and recycle them for new products. It came as no surprise to me, a resident of California, where mattresses seem to sprout from the sidewalk ready for harvest by roving bands of mattress harvesters.
That's not really what happens. When some residents of California get tired of their old mattresses or feel that they have adequately soiled them, they toss them on the back of whatever transport suits them and they drive around until they find a suitable spot to drop the used/soiled mattress and drop them on the curb. It would be difficult for me to be fully aware of the motives of these mattresses dumpers. Perhaps they feel that they are doing their community a favor by redistributing sleep surfaces in some sort of altruistic socialist boudoir initiative. Maybe they are elves who make very old mattresses and rather than wait until Christmas and drop them down the chimney like you might expect, they toss them out on the street in hopes that some deserving, less than sanitary family might adopt their wares.
Or maybe they're just obnoxious litterbugs. I'm not sure if a queen size mattress and box spring equates directly with anyone's definition of "litter," but it would be nice to be able to bike to work for a week without being worried about dodging the debris left by the previous night's deposits. The International Sleep Products Association backs the bill, saying "“We appeal to the governor for his signature on this very important piece of legislation that will make a positive impact on keeping used mattresses out of our landfills, off highways and roads, and out of vacant lots.” What will these mattresses, previously designated to bring down property values of the neighborhoods in which they were dropped, become? Maybe some nice throw pillows, or stuffed animals. These can, in turn, be tossed in neighborhoods where lightly soiled throw pillows and stuffed animals are so desperately needed.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Short: Back And Sides, And Top

This weekend will include such varied activities as watering the plants, getting a little family exercise, and shaving my head. Regular visitors to this page will recognize this trend. The routine stuff, and the seasonal shearing of my skull. It is not a  decision I entered into lightly. Initially it was a solution to the length of the hair on the sides of my head, brought on by sheer laziness. I would take it all off every six months, just to avoid the "Doc Brown" look. After a couple of years I figured out that six months was just enough time to perfect the Doc Brown look before returning to the clean slate, so I decided to move to a more seasonal approach. At the equinoxes and solstices, every three months, I would shave my head. This made it much more a maintenance issue rather than one of style.
Style has never been at the forefront of my search for a proper haircut. I remember the diagram from the barber shop I went to as a kid with my father:  the forward brush, the Ivy League, the flattop, the flattop with fenders. It was all too much for me to take in. I ended up with the haircut that was precisely as good as I was willing to sit still for. At that time, I was fully aware of the eventual fate of the hair on top of my head. I watched my father get the same haircut for a dozen years. The only thing that changed was the length and relative bushiness of his sideburns. There wasn't much but the occasional wild hair on the top to fuss with.
Still, there were a few years after I graduated from college when I thought that the style of my hair could be the thing that kept me from getting where I wanted to be in life. Board rooms. Bed rooms. That sort of thing. That's what took me to SuperCuts. Rather than seek out a barber with whom I could have an ongoing relationship over decades, as my father had done, I chose to go the corporate route and put my follicles in the hands of some girl named Brandi, or Cindee. It was a lateral move to what I had been doing throughout college, which was to wait until I found a girl who noticed my shaggy appearance and offered to "clean it up a little." That's how I made through college without ever paying for a haircut, unless you count the price of the beer that I offered them before and after the experience. Brandi and Cindee wanted to be paid. And tipped. I can't say that I found anything particularly super about the cuts they gave me compared to the drunk girls, but I had hopes.
Soon, however, gravity and age had done their work, and my scalp was on a par with my father's in terms of room to let. That's when I began to consider the shave.
And so, as Autumn approaches, I wave goodbye to my most recent attempts at growing hair from my skull. I would have thought that after all these years of trying to discourage it, that they might just give up completely. Time to push the reset button.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Meetings, no matter how important, sometimes get postponed. That's what happened to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin's confab with the mothers of two teens who were killed "in self defense." That defense, the "stand your ground" law was to be the topic of the discussion. These two women, along with a number of other experts in the field of firearms legislation, were scheduled to speak to a Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning. That hearing had to be called off, in part, because Lucia McBath's plane was delayed coming into Washington D.C. It was delayed because of a shooting in the Washington Navy Yard on Monday morning. That's some pretty thick irony they've got out there in our nation's capitol.
Still, it seems unlikely that the shooter in the Navy Yard attack is likely to use the "stand your ground" defense since he's dead. Aaron Alexis shot and killed twelve people before police returned the favor. No motive was made available initially, as if this sort of thing would be more understandable if there was.
Meanwhile, everyone's favorite non-convcited murderer George Zimmerman couldn't find his way out of the national spotlight. Since his acquittal in July, George has been busy: two stops for speeding, a cellphone photo of a smiling Zimmerman touring the Florida factory where the 9mm semiautomatic pistol used in the February 2012 shooting was made, and, last week, police dash-cam footage of Zimmerman kneeling in the street to be cuffed after an alleged scuffle with his estranged wife. It kind of makes me think about the old days, back when O.J. Simpson was still a struggling author with some debts he needed to settle.
It also made me think of all the victims of these crimes. It made me think of how my wife insists on forgetting the names of murderers, especially since history seems to encourage us to remember them without recalling the names of the people they killed. We don't often see lists of the survivors. All those people who are still walking around, having had their lives torn apart by some gun and the idiot pulling the trigger.
Sometimes justice is swift, as in the case of Aaron Alexis. Other times the wheels grind slowly, but eventually they catch up to you. Right George? 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thanks For The Memories

Socrates, my wife pointed out, believed that writing would weaken the necessity and the power of memory. This was an interesting point coming from the queen of making lists, and who just recently has begun to take a digital photo of the shopping list on our kitchen door to take with her on her tablet that she takes with her to the grocery store. There are terabytes of memory storage in our house that we have only begun to fill, but it all starts with a list.
Of course it was Plato who did us all the favor of writing down what Socrates was prattling on about so that centuries later we could take note of just how silly he sounded. "Don't write things down. It makes your mind weak." Really? How do you suppose you get on the best seller list without getting something on paper first? I'm guessing that Socrates' agent probably had a fit on that one.
Did Socrates have an agent? Does the fact that I can press a few buttons and click my mouse to find out make me smart or stupid? All the stored up memories of the last two thousand years are pretty much just hanging around out there in cyberspace waiting to be reinvigorated. When I used to forget things, I would worry that they would be lost to the ages. Happily, I know that I can call my mother, who tends to remember those things that have slipped my mind. She was greatly relieved by the advent of Al Gore's Internet. Now I can ask Google where Gene Kelly was born. It does cheat me out of the pleasant and often more fulfilling interaction that I might have had with my mother. These are the sacrifices we make in this modern world.
There was a time when I felt that I was a fairly impressive repository of information myself. I carried around all manner of data that made me a very useful partner in Trivial Pursuit games. All this trivia made for some sparkling conversation, if not a little diverted by tangents presented by the odd associations that were generated by synapses so hard at work recalling connections between life and TV shows I had seen in my youth.
Now we have YouTube. My memory of Peter Bogdanovich's musical misfire "At Long Last Love" is taken care of by the International Movie Database. It doesn't come with the dressing of having seen the poster outside Radio City Music Hall on an Easter Sunday just after my family had watched "The Great Waldo Pepper" on a Big Apple vacation that took us to Broadway as well  where we saw Doug Henning in "The Magic Show." It was on that same trip that I bought the soundtrack to "Young Frankenstein." I carried it home and proceeded to commit all that zany dialogue to memory.
Decades later, my wife finds it hard to be in the same room with me when that movie is on, along with a number of others for which I have the capacity to regurgitate whole scenes on command. And sometimes even when I am commanded not to.
Maybe I should just write them down.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Company Car

I grew up with a company car in the driveway. My father was a salesman, and as part of the deal with being on the road on he highways and byways of the Denver Metro area, he was allowed to drive a car bought and paid for by the company for which he worked. This created a certain amount of tension in our household, since we tended to view our motor vehicles as transport for ourselves and our supplies up into the hills during the summer. My father's commute included runs up and down the mountain on a daily basis, usually hauling water in five gallon jugs along with him full of drinking water, along with any necessary tools or basic needs that may have been forgotten in our mad dash to be free from society.
The Datsun station wagon was up to this task and more. Its performance mirrored that of the mighty Volkswagen squareback that my mother drove, loaded to the gills with kids and dog and all the groceries they might consume in a week, relentlessly for miles and years beyond anyone's estimation. My father had an image to maintain, however, which is why the Datsun was never the favorite, in spite of its utilitarian abilities. That sense of style was better suited to the Ford Granada. While it was no Cordoba, it was a relatively plush sedan that eventually gave up the ghost when it dropped its transmission on the Denver-Boulder turnpike. Plenty of flash, but little substance.
The fully realized combination of guts and glory came in the form of my father's red VW convertible Bug. Not only did it make countless trips up and down the hairpin turns of Magnolia Road year after year, but it was the machine that my father used to teach my older brother how to drive. It was a classic not just for the black rag top and rear engine stability, but for the running boards on which my brothers and I would frequently hop on for rides up the two ruts that served as the driveway for our cabin. It was there, amidst the towering blue spruce and lofty piles of granite, that it looked most at home. It was from that lofty perch that my father had to figure out a way to get that gem of a car down the twisting, turning roads without an accelerator cable. He rigged up a system where he could pull on a rope that stretched from the driver's side mirror around and under the hood that was propped open to pull on the throttle. This worked great until he hit a bump and the hood slammed shut on the rope with the throttle stuck open. As he accelerated down the hill, he must have wondered if maybe this was the best purchase he could have made. Until an idea came: turn the car off.
That was pretty much the end of the Bug. The others came and went, and when he left his old company to work for a smaller firm, he bought himself a Ford Explorer. A big beast of an Eddie Bauer edition SUV that was designed for climbing mountains and carrying cargo. Ironically, that's what he drove during those years that he lived at the cabin alone. Carrying water up the hill for one isn't nearly the chore it was for five. It was that hulking set of wheels that we had to unload after he died. Nobody wanted that one. Or the Granada. But I would have fought and died for that Bug.
My son has a plan to buy a company car. His company doesn't really exist, yet. But he has an idea for getting together a Kickstarter campaign to buy him and his buddies a BMW M3-E46. I don't know if I would click to send him a dollar for that, but maybe a classic VW Bug convertible.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Disaster Perspective

It only took me a couple of minutes to find the crazy ones. The ones that linked God's Wrath with the floods in Colorado. I grew up there. My family lives there. By coincidence, my younger brother happened to be visiting my mother and older brother in Boulder when the floods hit. This weather phenomenon was enough to get the crazies to line up and start pointing to the heavens exclaiming how this was punishment for all the misdeeds of those who chose to live in the path of the torrential storms that parked over the front range of the Rocky Mountains at the end of last week.
These were some of the same yahoos and googles who lined up on comment boards across our country to sneer and guffaw at the people of the eastern seaboard who suffered devastating losses of home and life during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. Access to Al Gore's Internet is not limited to those with compassion, it would seem. There are plenty of people, warm and dry in their concrete bunkers awaiting the Apocalypse with some time on their hands, more than happy to spew their bile at whatever crisis or circumstance fits their vision of the End of Times. I will pause here for a moment to point out that besides inventing the Internet, Al Gore also invented Global Warming.
The saddest part of this strained interaction is that there is no sense of proportion. The idea that somehow every living soul that endured the Wrath of God somehow invited it upon themselves. My mother, who took care of generations of kids' loose teeth and fed them when they were dragged home by her own kids? My older brother, the sheriff's officer who has served and protected the town in which he grew up for decades? My younger brother who just happened to be in town to visit his mother, on a brief vacation from his job of driving the elderly and infirm around town in the city where he lives?
I know. It's Boulder. There's a great big, blue target on it ever since I can remember. But it's not God's Judgement that brought the rains. It was a Hundred Year's Flood that has been forecast for as long as I can remember that finally happened. It wasn't the hippies or the gun control lobby. It was the weather. The Front Range is terribly susceptible to this kind of flooding, and if there was a thought about relocating because of the potential of such a disaster most of the people who call Boulder home didn't give it a thought because it is, after all, their home.
Just like the Bay Area is mine now. It sends a shiver down my spine when I think of what the response will be when the godless denizens of this Sodom-by-the-sea experiences the big earthquake that is forecast for this location anytime. Or, I could focus on the efforts of those who are working to rescue, rebuild and bring comfort to those who experience such disasters. They're far too busy to spend time typing snarky comments on chat pages. They're making lives work. Those are the noodly appendages of the Flying Spaghetti Monster at work.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


This is a new concept for me: exceptionalism. It could be that it isn't actually a word in English. The first time I saw it was in an article about an article that appeared in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times. Heaven knows that those East Coast intelligentsia types are not above making up words to suit their very specific and conniving purpose, but it came from across the ocean. The author of this particular piece was Vladimir Putin. The President of Russia wanted to make his voice heard over here in America, letting us all know where he stands on this whole Syria mess. And this is where the whole "exceptionalism" thing comes in.
Vlad urges us, or "U.S." to be patient and consider diplomatic solutions. "The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders." He continues, "A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance." Sounds like pretty sage wisdom from a once and future Super Power.
Then there was this: "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy." This was the "exceptionalism" passage. It made a lot of Americans angry. It made Democratic Senator Robert Menendez want to vomit, which may be the way that Democrats have decided to show their rage these days. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain called Putin's piece an “insult to the intelligence of every American.” Pretty harsh words, considering the source.
Which brings me back to Mister Putin. Considering yourself, or your country to be exceptional may be lacking in humility, but it certainly sounds as if he's got no bodies hidden anywhere around the Kremlin. It's pretty easy to throw stones when it's not your empire that's crumbling. I'm guessing Barack Obama sticks around long enough to remind him of the dangers of "exceptionalism."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Life During Wartime

Wednesday morning, we had a quick family meeting. Before my son and I rushed off to school and the day got away from us completely, I asked if we were going to fly our flag to commemorate September 11. My son wasn't sure he wanted to mark that sad day with any sort of celebration. My wife felt that we should fly both our flags: the stars and stripes and our rainbow peace flag. Before I got on my bike and rode to work, just like I did twelve years ago, I did something that I didn't do twelve years ago: I hung two flags, one on each side of our front porch.
Anger is a secondary emotion, it usually springs from some other strong feeling. Twelve years ago, I wasn't angry. I was sad. A great hole had been ripped in the world, and the losses of that day were unimaginable. It made me afraid. That's why it's called terrorism. My older brother and his family were scheduled to fly to Europe on that day a dozen years ago. I feared for their safety. One of my best friends in the world was working in downtown Manhattan. My non-specific knowledge of the geography of that island kept me frightened for a day before I got word that he and his family were safe. I thought about the Transamerica Pyramid across the bay in San Francisco. I was terrified of what might be in store for that tall building and any of the others across the United States when it seemed like the whole world was falling apart. That day, the terrorists won.
Twelve years later, my son is in high school, not in preschool. He has grown up in a world with all that fear and sadness. He's seen it turn into anger: the kind that makes you want to hit back. He has grown up in a world where that is what we've been doing: hitting back.
Wednesday my family decided not to hit back. We remembered.

Friday, September 13, 2013


“Dear President Assad,
We don’t talk about it ever, but I love you very much. I know you love me very much, and you are very proud of us . We wouldn’t be where we are, or have what we have, if it weren’t for you. You taught us that we need to learn how to take care of ourselves before we rely on anyone else to do it for us. You encouraged us and supported us in our global aspirations. This gave us the confidence we needed to accept diplomatic positions that took us throughout the Middle East on our own.
When I went through my major civil war, you were the one whose shoulder I cried on. You were the one I trusted. You helped us get through it.
President Assad, your chemical weapons have been a part of our lives for a very long time. We didn’t get here overnight. It is running our life. When we call to check in, if it is too late in the evening, you’re launching missiles. You get on the phone and your speech is slurred. When we talk later in the week you don’t even remember our conversations. Sometimes you’re passed out, and we don’t get to talk at all.
When weapon inspectors come to visit you, and we're on the way out to walk the dog, if you’re in the bunker we’ll try to wait a little while because we don’t want to catch you secretly killing your own people. We do this to save you embarrassment. Or else we try to make a lot of noise in the laundry room so you know we're coming, and you can hide the sarin .
If we show up at your house late in the evening, you’re using chemical weapons. I see it in your eyes, hear it in your speech and watch you move back and forth from the kitchen cupboard to the couch, with an occasional trip to the bunker to launch from your hidden supply.
We love you, and we don’t like seeing chemical weapons sucking the life out of you. We’re all here together because we want you to accept help. We’re here to help. Will you accept our help today?
Love, The Syrian People”

Thursday, September 12, 2013


It's the transitions that are the hardest part. This isn't just true of kids, but you can see it there most readily. Just about the time you get them set down and in their places, it's time to have them get up and move somewhere else. Stand in line, walk with your mouths closed. Now it's time to sit back down and talk. Then it's time for another quiet line that takes you to recess where you can run and play until the bell rings and you have to get back into a line that will take you back to a desk where you will repeat some of that prior behavior, unless it's Wednesday when you go instead to computer class where there are a whole slew of different routines and expectations.
Me? I tend to work best when there is a routine. Endless repetition is a strength of mine. I do not thrive amidst a bunch of transitions. It's different when you choose to pick up and move because you've finished a task or simply grown bored of the same old-same old. It's hard when you have those transitions forced on you. That's why this time of life is hard for grown-ups.
Relationships don't often end via some mutually agreed upon timetable. Somebody's attention span or fidelity is challenged and the wheels start to wobble. It takes a commitment on both sides to keep that thing rolling until it can make it to the metaphorical shop to be straightened out. Sometimes the wheels fall off and the relationship ends. All those routines and momentum stop. A new set of behaviors have to be installed in their place. A new set of lines, a new desk, a different group of people with whom you have to stand in line and sit next to in that new desk.
Some people thrive on that kind of experience. Some people prefer to change things up. Good for them. I'll be happy to continue in my well-worn rut, thank you. Change is hard. My sympathies to those of you who have been forced out of yours.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Rose By Any Other Name

Syrian president Bashar Assad told Charlie Rose there is "no evidence I used chemical weapons against my own people." What a relief. Now we can get back to the important things in life, like playing poker on our smart phones. If only it really were that simple. If only we could make things like global warming go away by denying their existence. I could deny the existence of cell phones in movie theaters. Or chemical weapons.
Maybe we could start with Charlie Rose. Has there ever been anyone who lied to Charlie Rose? Some people believe that Al Gore was stretching the truth when he told Charlie about storage capacity of EEStor Ultracapaitors. There was  a lot of huffing and puffing about President Obama's defense of the NSA spying scandal on Rose's show, and how he might not have been completely forthcoming in his responses. But lying, as in "not telling the truth?"
What is truth? Pontius Pilate asked this question to Jesus Christ. Under some rather difficult circumstances, Jesus didn't have a very good answer. Merriam Webster would have us believe that it is "sincerity in action, character, and utterance." There is a whole web site devoted to Truth, though in the first few lines we are assured that there is no truth in mathematics, science, or logic. There is no mention of PBS or Charlie Rose.
So we're left to take President Assad at his word. It's all some sort of terrible misunderstanding. Those four hundred children who were killed by rebels. Rebels who had access to chemical weapons. Rebels whose mission is to free the people they are accused of murdering from the oppression of President Assad.
I don't know a lot about truth, but I'm pretty sure that it's supposed to make sense. This doesn't fit that bill. Of course, by this measure, there is very little on television that can be considered truth. Even Charlie Rose.
There is no truth in Mathematics
b- There is no truth in Science
c- There is no truth in Logic

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On The John

Remember John McCain? He was going to be president a few years back. And a few years before that. He was a Maverick. Not the car nor the TV show starring James Garner, but rather the kind of shoot-from-the-hip straight-shooter who doesn't really shoot but would probably defend anyone's right to shoot under their constitutionally guaranteed rights. The kind of guy who, though Republican and conservative in the extreme, could still pull off a comfortable guest spot on "The Daily Show." That is, before they resorted to using an angry puppet in his place.
Bitter and disillusioned, John McCain appears to a large portion of the American public as an angry puppet. It might also have something to do with his personal habits: how he chooses his running mates or where and when he chooses to exercise his constitutionally guaranteed right to play video poker. I suppose the fact that he chooses to play a game on his smart phone while the rest of congress is discussing the merits of U.S. military action in Syria shows that he's still a Maverick. But it would have been cooler if he would have been playing "Call of Duty: Congressional Debate" instead.
Which brings us to this past week, when at a town meeting in his home state of Arizona, he is now open to "potentially" legalizing marijuana. This stands in stark contrast to his previous stance, the one that sounded like this: “I can’t support the legalization of marijuana. Scientific evidence indicates that the moment that it enters your body, one, it does damage, and second, it can become addictive. It is a gateway drug.” That was back in 1999. Way before the turn of the century. These days, science suggests that fifty-six percent of Arizonans back legalizing small amounts of pot. It could be that Senator McCain has had some time to consider his stance, especially in light of his own daughter's revelation that she has smoked reefer.
Or just maybe the senator has a touch of, oh I dunno, glaucoma? That might explain all that giggling. And video games. He's not a Maverick. He's a stoner.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Yard Duty: Week Two

I had good reason to be watching Jerry. Last year, as a first grader, he was the kid who tended to be on the wrong end of trouble whenever it erupted. Nothing really bad, just the kind of mischief that comes about as a result of making bad choices. That's why it was no surprise to find him trying to hide something behind his back, then in his pocket, when he saw me coming across the playground. "So, what've you got there, Jerry?"
A blank look. "What?"
"Whatever it is you're trying to hide behind your back."
"It's his juice," came the voice from behind me. It was Jerry's little sister, Danielle, now a first grader and always good for ratting out Jerry's schemes.
"Let's see it," I said, holding out my hand. This only caused Jerry to hold on more tightly to his juice. After a moment, he held it out to me, with both hands. He wasn't going to give it up easily. I could see glittery strawberries on the label and the word "gel" between his clutching fingers. "I don't think that's juice, Jerry."
"No! It is!" Jerry was adamant.
It was the second week of school, and so I decided to give Jerry a little break. "You know we can't have 'juice' out on the playground, right?"
"Yeah, Jerry," I had Danielle backing me up.
"Why don't you give the juice to Danielle, and you can have it after school." Jerry considered his options for a moment and started to hand the bottle over to his sister. "And while we're at it, I don't think that's juice. I'm pretty sure it's gel." Another blank look. "For your hair?"
Danielle took the Strawberry goo and I went back to watching for kids trying to kick balls on the roof. Later I saw Danielle still had the bottle, so I was pleased with my management of the incident. Please until I heard later that our school nurse had taken the bottle away from Danielle. Not because it wasn't the right thing to do, but because of how embarrassed I was to find out that the gel inside the bottle turned out not to be styling gel, but flavored personal lubricant. A closer look on my part would have saved at least two more people from having to be immersed in the chagrin that soon erupted. The relief was that the bottle was still mostly full, and the contents were advertised as "non-toxic." Nobody was going to die from poisoning. Embarrassment, maybe.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Opportunity Wasted

When I see my son sitting on a couch, control pad in hand, jaw slightly slack, gazing intently at the screen across the room, I know I have only myself to blame. Certainly as a parent I could have done so much more to prohibit the flow of video games into my home. My attitude at the time was that these were part of the firmament. Making video games a forbidden fruit would have simply driven my son from the garden and sent him out into the cold, hard world in search of Knowledge, or at least the next level. I also would have felt like a complete hypocrite.
I had a habit, way back when. Before my son was born, I was up to several hours a week on the old Sega Genesis. It all started innocently enough: with that little blue hedgehog. I played my share of Sonic. I went from left to right as fast as I could, gathering as many rings as I could before I had to face off against the evil Doctor Robotnik. It was only after considerable amounts of time were spent in nerve-shredded frustration that I was able to overcome the forces of virtual evil and beat that particular game. All those hours of climbing the ladder, only to slide back down again finally paid off. That's when Vectorman came into my world.
I would like to tell you that Vectorman offered all manner of intellectual and physical challenges that weren't available in the hedgehog game, but that wouldn't be true. It was essentially the same drill: move from left to right, only this time I wasn't gathering rings, I was gathering power-ups in hopes of defeating the evil Warhead. Good versus evil, moving from left to right. It was a pretty standard video game trope. I played and played, inching ever closer to that final confrontation. It never happened.
My son was born and I put the Sega away. After considerable discussion with my wife, and some solid recognition of my new position in the world. Did I say discussion? That might be shading things a little lightly, but eventually the whole package, hedgehog and all, were sent packing. Nowadays, I find myself immersed in epic battles to save my own Civilization, but I save and quit whenever the dinner bell chimes or the dog needs to go out. Or if I've been staring at the screen too long.
But sometimes I still dream of Vectorman.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Wait

I was that kid who stood for hours on line waiting to buy my ticket in the summer of 1977 to see "Star Wars." I kept going back, as the film played through into the fall, until the snow began to fly. I waited in an even longer line when the Empire struck back. This time I went down to Denver with my family to see the sequel on the biggest screen in the Mountain Time Zone. By the time the Jedi returned, there were multiple theaters showing the third film, making the wait less than half an hour. At this point, I was well into my college years, and finding time to stand around seemed unnecessary unless I had a beer in my hand.
Sixteen years passed. I was cajoled back into my youth by a friend who had a similar fixation on George Lucas' saga. We sat in front of a multiplex on the cool concrete, having forgotten the lessons of the past, without the aid of any sort of cushion or comfort. We waited again for the story to begin again: The Phantom Menace. I will tell you that I watched closely, once we were admitted into the theater and the story began to unspool, but I never fully understood what was so phantom about that particular menace. It made me tired, staring at all the digital effects layered upon digital acting. At this point, I had this thought: I can't wait for this to be over.
There were two more films released in the prequel sequels. I did not line up for them. My son got out of school early on the day the Sith got their revenge. It was a very satisfying time for that eight-year-old. I caught it later, but not so much later that there could have been any surprises leaked. But there were no surprises. Having spent all those years in the late seventies and early eighties consumed in my fandom, reading all associated reports and additional fiction, there wasn't much left of the story of whence the Skywalker clan began. I felt that George Lucas had waited too long.
Now, Star Wars is part of the landscape of pop culture. It's another Disney E-coupon attraction, and all attempts are being made to generate the kind of excitement that existed back in 1977. I can remember the physical pain I felt when the credits began to roll on "The Empire Strikes Back." The idea that I would have to wait three years to find out if Darth Vader really was Luke's father seemed like a torture that no man or Wookie should have to endure. Now, planned release dates hang out there for years, waiting for tentpole blockbusters to land on them. The next reboot of the franchise that just finished making its kerjillionth dollar is already in pre-production. What was once special is now commonplace. Spectacular 3D Imax Surround Dolby THX commonplace.
All of this to say that Dark Horse Comics is releasing a limited series comic based on George Lucas' original screenplay for "Star Wars." I would line up for it, but I can probably get it online cheaper.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Taking The Heat

I used to walk to school in the wind, rain and snow. Uphill. Sometimes the drifts would pile up so high that kids who started out the door of their homes in November weren't found until the next spring. It was horrible. Or at least hyperbole. I do find myself, at times, waxing nostalgic for those days when the weather was so fierce that the superintendent of Boulder County Schools would call a "snow day," and all us kids would sit, huddled about the radio, for the warmth as well as the announcement. Upon hearing that conditions outside were such that the man in charge of our county's education deemed them unfit for man nor beast, we raced about the house, pulling on scarves and mittens, hats and boots to prepare ourselves for a day spent frolicking in the snow. We weren't men nor beasts. We were kids, after all.
I find this same spirit in the mildest form here in California, where we periodically have to have recess indoors because of rain. There are a certain number of kids, no matter how torrential the downpour, who stare up into the sky and insist that there is no problem with the weather. They want to be in it. Not really a surprise there.Grownups tell you to be inside, therefore there must be something about being outside that is fun or forbidden. That distinction is generally lost on children. And adults.
Now imagine this: A school district that calls off school because it's too hot. Blame global warming or the budget crisis in education, but kids in the Midwest are getting "heat days." Schools in Fargo, North Dakota and Minneapolis have been shut down, while others have been sent home early. Schools are starting their year in August, before Labor Day. They want to get the jump on all those new standards and expectations for their students. But they don't want to pay for air conditioning. "I was up on the third floor and it was 93.8 degrees in the classroom and the kids hadn't been there in hours," said Matt Patton, superintendent of a one-school district in Baxter, Iowa. "You put twenty bodies in there and it will go up to at least 95 and you can imagine all the sweat on the desks and textbooks."
I think that will be enough imagination for now. Unless you would like to imagine taking a Slip 'n' Slide to your fourth period class.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Between The Lines

As a participant, I am certain that I spent more time playing and practicing on a football field as a member of a marching band than I did as a member of a football team. I can't say that this is because I didn't care for the sport. Quite the contrary. When I was in fourth grade, playing on the Young America Football League Patriots, I envisioned a long career of gridiron glory. Though not particularly quick or agile, I was able to remember the intricacies of some of our trick plays: The Dipsy-Doodle, for example, had us line up to one side of the center, overloading the line of scrimmage and giving the opposing coaches fits. Or at least that's the way it would have been if we had ever used it in a game. Instead, I kept my blocking assignments in mind as I went through the game, gnawing ever more fiercely on my mouth-guard, waiting for Todd or Ronnie to come gliding through the gaping hole I had created in the opposition's defense. And I watched them run. Past me to glory.
They ran right on into junior high, where they quickly found themselves a spot on the team, while my speed and agility continued to develop. I didn't play in seventh or eighth grade because I lived in a world in which I was too heavy for the lightweight division and too light for the heavyweights. In ninth grade, a third team opened up, perhaps with me in mind: the middleweight division. The playbook in junior high was not nearly as madcap or zany as the one I had memorized in fourth grade. There were many more specific assignments, and our coach was a stickler for such things. I remember the time I forgot my responsibility on punt coverage, and ran squarely down the middle of the field, looking for someone to tackle. Unfortunately, that person just happened to be running up the sideline, where I was supposed to be. It was one of a series of moments when I got to be up close and personal with my coach. He grabbed me by the face-mask and asked me if I knew what my responsibility was on punt coverage. When I say that he asked, I mean that he bellered. He wasn't looking for an answer. It was a rhetorical question, of sorts, more akin to a penalty if he had been on the opposing team. It was, in his wild eyes, a teaching moment.
So maybe it was no surprise that I didn't sign up for that abuse again in high school. My speed and agility were coming along just fine for a civilian's used, but by this point the Ronnies and Todds had evolved into much more streamlined beings, and the beasts who were in charge of making their paths clear were slabs of meat that carried algebra books. I hadn't considered that I was following a family line, wherein my older brother had taken all the grief he could by the time he was in ninth grade, choosing to focus on marching band instead. This was the same path my father took, years earlier, even though he would tell us of his glorious and heroic deeds on the field, specifically the time he got himself a deviated septum by using his face to block an extra point against Casey Junior High. By the time he showed up at Boulder High, all that glory was behind him. He picked up a sousaphone and never looked back.
When I watch football now, it's with an eye toward position and responsibility. I've seen plenty of games won and lost must because one guy was in the wrong place. I feel for that guy, and the sputtering rage he will no doubt receive when he gets to the sideline. It's enough to make a guy consider joining the band.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Old School

I'm not sure that I would have answered the door if it hadn't been the first week of school. It was after four o'clock and the office was closed, but since we had been fielding questions from parents for the past several days about dates and times and forms and classes, I figured I should check and see what the mildly persistent rapping at the door was all about. I opened the door with my best customer service, "How can I help you this afternoon?"
"Hey man, I used to go here a long time ago, and I was wondering - are you the principal?"
Somewhat abruptly I made the choice to try and slow this particular interaction down. This gentleman had kind of a wild look in his eyes, and if we hadn't all had a tough week already, this might make it just a little bit longer. "No, I'm not. The principal's already gone for the day. Is there something I can help you with?" At this I stepped into the hallway, letting the door close and lock behind me. Now it was just the two of us.
"Yeah, so I was wondering if you could find my graduation pictures. My sixth grade graduation pictures. I used to go here. A long time ago."
I was guessing it had been twenty some years. "I'm pretty sure we don't have any of those around anymore. I've been here for seventeen years and I pretty much know where things are. I've been in every room in the building at some point, and I've never seen any graduation pictures. Not from sixth grade. We've been a K through five school for as long as I've been here."
This former student wiped the sweat from his brow and closed his eyes. "I used to go here a long time ago," he repeated, "I was just hoping to get that picture back. I live just around the corner. I went to this school, man."
He never got angry, which was a relief, but his agitation went on unabated.
"So, you're saying you don't know where these pictures are kept? I was wearing black pants and I had a gold earring back then. You're not the principal? Maybe you could give me your number and I could call you tomorrow and you could tell me where to look for those pictures."
I explained again that I hadn't seen anything like what he was describing, and since the building had been modernized nine years ago the place had been pretty well cleaned out.
He went on to describe the neighborhood as it had once been, back when he had gone to this very school. "I tried to graduate from junior high, but I couldn't do it. I graduated from here."
It was Friday afternoon after a long, hot opening week of school. I desperately wanted to go home myself. This nervous, twitchy, sweaty sixth-grade-graduate seemed desperate to connect with his last great success. I wished that I could somehow materialize that portrait, the one that would send him on his way. I told him that I wished I could help him. I didn't tell him that I guessed that he would probably feel better once he got some rest and the chemicals that were making it so hard for him to stand still had dissipated. Finally, I had run out of things to tell him.
"Yeah, well maybe I'll come back tomorrow and see if you found those pictures," he seemed just a notch calmer on his way out.
I stood and watched him make his way down the front steps. I wondered if I might see him after the long weekend. This was his old school, after all.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Super Power Suit

O-Zone: Honey?
Congress: What?
O-Zone: Where's my super suit?
Congress: What?
O-Zone: Where - is - my - super - suit?
Congress: I, uh, put it away.
[Syria explodes outside]
O-Zone: *Where*?
Congress: *Why* do you *need* to know?
Congress: I need it!
[O-Zone rummages through another room in The West Wing]
Congress: Uh-uh! Don't you think about running off doing no daring-do. We've been planning this dinner for two months!
O-Zone: The world is in danger!
Congress: My evening's in danger!
O-Zone: You tell me where my suit is, woman! We are talking about the greater good!
Congress: 'Greater good?' I am your legislative body! I'm the greatest *good* you are ever gonna get!

Do I want my president to have to resort to military action in the Middle East just because the last few guys who had the job did? Not really. But I'm also not sure that I want to sit by idly, as a super power and watch some crazy guy use chemical weapons on his own people. Civilians. Children. Wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to be the world's police, and our attention could be focused on our own children?
It would be great, but it's not the world in which we currently live. While our president continues to ask Congress for help in resolving the horrible mess that exists in Syria, I continue to imagine a solution that would make everything alright. Like a time machine. Or a super suit.

Monday, September 02, 2013

A Fine Whine

I know how to turn a one syllable word into a monotonous drone better than a lot of people I know. It is a skill that I honed during my years as a child. The word "mom," though it has just three letters, can be stretched out by simply adding modulation to that middle vowel: "mooooooooooooooooom." It is important to note that this will not create one long vowel, but a sing-songy fluctuation of that single short vowel. If you've got good lungs, it could go on for a minute or two. Did I mention that I played tuba when I was young?
The reason to develop that particular skill was to get my mother's attention. As a middle brother, it was my way of showing up on my mother's sonar. Or at least that was my intent. Now that I am an elementary school teacher, I understand that I was in no way unique. This particular way of communicating with adults may have been pioneered by me, but future generations seem to have taken those simple parameters and made them their own.
Future generations? That would bring us to my son, right? Well, it would be ridiculous to suggest that none of those noises have ever come from my son, but they are generally made in jest or as some sort of satire on the usual commerce in our house. I say this because I found myself fully tensed for the siren's wail when my son asked his mother if she would take him to the DMV to take his learner's permit test. There was a hesitation, and then the bad news came: "I don't think we can do it until next week."
I was sure that there would be some sort of squeak or wail, but I had forgotten who my son is. All those years of my own whining and living in the midst of kindergarten through fifth graders who expect that moaning will get them what they want set me up for that expectation.
"That's okay," said my son. "It's not like it's hurting me."
Really? I thought that all such slights would immediately bring on some sort of apoplexy, especially in the case of a teenager and his driver's permit.
"I don't have a permit right now, and I'm doing okay. I can wait a week," continued the zen master.
You learn a lot from your kids, if you pay attention.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Bridge Of Sighs

My first memory of the Bay Bridge was the claustrophobic feeling I got when coming in from the San Francisco airport on the lower deck. It was in that moment that I began to comprehend just how different life might be in another place. Four lanes of traffic, all surging eastward, with the wishes that nothing bad would happen ahead of them. Or above. Just a few feet over our heads was an equally busy four lanes of traffic heading in the opposite direction. I had seen the pictures, of course. The ones from the 1989 earthquake when a huge chunk of the upper deck collapsed down on top of the lower. Because of the rare lack of cars on the bridge brought on by the Bay Bridge Series, only one person lost their life in that location. A month later, the major thoroughfare from East Bay to West was repaired and back in order. It was that image that stayed in my mind until we were clear of the bridge and back to the relative safety of Oakland.
Then there was the moment when I realized that, after decades of watching the film over and over, "The Graduate" had a major flaw: Benjamin Braddock is driving up from southern California to chase after the elusive Elaine Robinson in Berkeley. It makes sense that a guy who owns an Alfa Romeo Spider convertible would probably prefer to drive up the coast with the top down, but if was in such a hurry, why didn't he drive up Interstate 5? Even so, if he found himself on the Bay Bridge, and he wanted to go to Berkeley, he wouldn't be on the top deck where the helicopter could see him. It never spoiled the movie for me, but I did get a sense of smug superiority as I watched that scene after I moved to the Bay Area.
Now we're getting a new one. Well, part of a new one. The east span of the Bay Bridge is being replaced. After years of questioning why I had to pay toll to get into San Francisco, I can now feel that I have invested in a shiny new icon for postcards to come.  There will still be an opportunity for that claustrophobic feeling as we make our way from Treasure Island into "The City," but an era will come to an end this weekend when that relic from the thirties closes and a whole new age begins. When I start paying toll to pay for yet another bridge.