Friday, February 28, 2014

Up On The Roof

Harold Ramis and Bob Casale climbed up on the roof. This is the tailored version of the punchline from one of my all-time favorite jokes. It has been, for many years now, the way I deal with mortality. When my family gathered to remember my father, the raconteur of so many jokes himself, I chose to remember him that way: Dad climbed up on the roof.
For those of you unfamiliar with the entire joke, I encourage you to take in the version performed by a young Sam Waterston in Capricorn One. That's where I learned it. Spoiler alert: When Sam gets to the top of his climb, the bad guys are waiting for him. The joke ends, and so does he. The good news here is that Sam is still around. It was just his character that climbed up on the roof.
Sadly, this is not the case with Messrs. Ramis and Casale. Bob 1, as he was known in the band, was guitarist and keyboardist for DEVO. He died from heart failure at the age of sixty-one. It came as quite a shock to me, especially since I had only recently learned that their original drummer, Alan Myers, had passed on eight months earlier from brain cancer. The potential for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reunion for these guys is now out of the question.
Harold Ramis, writer and director of so much of the late seventies, early eighties comedy that informed a generation of would-be comedians died last Monday from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a disease he contracted four years ago. He was sixty-nine. All those lines I stored from "Caddyshack" and "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters" now rest in a more hallowed place. That collection will not be expanding.
For me, both of these gentlemen were part of my youth. They were part of the building blocks of my cultural DNA. Even though it has been five years since Harold Ramis made a movie, even though it has been even longer since I took my son to see his first rock and roll concert: DEVO. I will miss having these guys around, but from a selfish point of view, it would have been nice for someone to let us know that they weren't feeling well in the first place. That way we wouldn't have that sudden jolt when we open Yahoo News. Somebody really ought to start a page that lets us know that a particular celebrity has crawled up on the roof.
Aloha, Bob and Harold. You stomped on the Terra.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kiss Off

Calling all members of the KISS Army! If you already bought your tickets to Sunday's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, prepare to be disappointed. No, the powers that be are not rescinding their acceptance of your favorite band into that hallowed Hall, but the powers that be Gene and Peter are rescinding their acceptance of any particular lineup of the band that would perform to celebrate that long-awaited induction.
"Our intention was to celebrate the entire history of KISS and give credit to all members, including longtime present members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, and additionally Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr all who have made this band what it is, regardless of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame's point of view," the band wrote on its web site. "Although KISS has moved forward far longer without them, Ace and Peter are at the very foundation of what we have built and this would all be impossible had they not been a part of it in the beginning." Hold on a second. "The band's web site?" Isn't that the disembodied voice of Gene Simmons I hear behind all that hubris? Tommy Thayer? Eric Carr or Singer? It sure is nice of The God of Thunder to consider the feelings of his fellow bandmates. Or maybe he just didn't feel like burying the hatchet when it came to all those bitter feelings that fester just beneath the Kabuki makeup of sixty plus year old rock and rollers.
The Spaceman, Ace Frehley had this to say on Eddie Trunk's radio show last week: "They just shot down any type of reunion with us," Frehley said during the broadcast. "It's very frustrating. It's what the fans wanted, it's what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wanted, and it's not gonna happen. You don't want to do something for the fans after forty years of them supporting you?"
Well, there is that part about showing up for the big dinner and picking up your trophyThat's pretty much what it's all about, isn't it? The partying every day? Don't you think these guys owe it to us all to rock and roll all night? After all those years, whining about not getting into the Hall of Fame. Really?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Celebrating Closeness

It was a guy weekend. Mom went out of town to meet her new nephew, and her boys stayed home. We made a point of going outside, a couple of times. We managed to eat something besides frozen pizza and ice cream. It should also be noted here that the frozen pizza we did eat was warmed up in a real oven before it was inhaled.
On Saturday night we had steak. Dad grilled and son made a salad. As another concession to propriety, we chose to eat off plates. The bites may have been larger than we could have gotten away with mom watching, but we did use forks and knives and there was some chewing involved. It was the kind of low-impact/high reward meal that exists primarily as an experiment: red meat and roughage. What will win out?
Of course, we didn't bother to sit at the dinner table, preferring instead to hunch over the coffee table in front of the television. It is a well known fact that nothing aids digestion of guy food like action movies. On steak night, we chose "Hot Fuzz," the second of the Cornetto trilogy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. We did take a pause for clearing the dishes, and my son was kind enough to bring us each a napkin. Then it was time for a little Ben and Jerry's. If you're keeping score at home, neither one of us exceeded our half-pint limit.
Then came the part of the evening when we both leaned back on the couch to savor our good fortune and full bellies. This was the bonding moment. With our feet now resting where our plates once were, I noticed that my sixteen year old son had leaned over and his head was now resting lightly on my shoulder. We were close. We are close.
We missed mom, but it felt good to have that opportunity. We were glad to have her back, and we might even invite her to have meat in front of the TV with us one day. We're close.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In So Many Words

Here are just a few of the myriad of reasons that I can't get that worked up about Ted Nugent referring to our President as a "subhuman mongrel:"
Ted's comments were made in an interview given to, a website that is pretty much what you would expect from a website called "" Rule number one in showbiz is "know your audience."
That brings me to the second reason: Showbiz. Ted has been romping around for decades, in and out of his loincloth, espousing his own peculiar cartoon-ish vision of America and its way of life. He's not a politician. He's an entertainer. So was Bozo the Clown.
Here in America, we have a bunch of Amendments to our Constitution beyond the Second. The one that comes just before it, known as the First Amendment. That's the one about free speech, and while it's not the kind of speech that the framers of our nation's rule book may have had in mind back in the day, I suspect that Ben Franklin may have had some colorful epithets for King George, but his penmanship was a little pinched.
Then there's this: perspective. I grew up writing limericks and haiku about Richard Nixon. As a fourth grader I was referring to our President as "Tricky Dick." Questionable taste? Perhaps, but I certainly had the zeitgeist on my side.  Decades later, I used this very blog to refer, on hundreds of occasions, to our forty-third President as "Pinhead." I don't have a leg to stand on. Respect for the office? Sorry, but I can't expect any sort of double standard.
Finally, for now, I won't be that upset with Mister Nugent's tirades since they are generally linked with folks with whom I tend to disagree in the first place. If the Motor City Madman wants to spout his vitriol in the service of this or that Republican candidate, especially in the state of Texas, who am I to argue? If this is the voice that the Grand Old Party would like to have blaring from their Marshall Stack Amps, so be it.
And that's showbiz.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Scrub A Dub

I haven't used shampoo for a good long time. I haven't needed to. Shampoo is for washing hair. This isn't a lack of washing, it's a lack of hair.
It's not the hair that I miss so much. I miss all that hair care discussion. I miss the ablutions. There was a time that I was very interested in hair care products and their use. Back in the seventies, I used a separate shampoo and then a conditioner. I listened when the powers that be suggested that blow drying could be bad for your follicles. I was haunted by the image of clumps of hair flying from my scalp as I aimed those ninety thousand watts of drying power at my head. It was not an inspiring thought and it was the beginning of the end of my love affair with hair.
By the time I was in college, I had moved on to using Silkience: shampoo and conditioner in one bottle. I was still in the game, but the idea of hauling two or three bottles down the hall to my freshman dorm shower was untenable. I was much more interested in getting hosed off and on my way to the SAGA food service line than I was in getting the right bounce in my wave. This was the era of the "could-have-been-a-fro." The hair I had was curly enough that if I kept it clean and dry, it fluffed up nicely enough for those around me to be impressed by the cloud of hair I could sustain.
That didn't last long. By my late twenties, I was left with the left and right tufts that are often found on clowns or mad scientists. The shampoo I did use went to work on the hair I had left, and after another decade of fighting the good fight, I decided to cut it all off. Showers are a brisk affair, and I am pleased and happy to say that I don't have to worry about clogging the drain with any misbegotten strands that took their leave during the five minutes I was busy scrubbing the rest of me. That distinction belongs to my wife and son. Just like that shampoo bottle.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Shirt Off My Back

It was a great shirt. It was blue and green plaid flannel. It was one of those items in my wardrobe that appeared as Fall made its inexorably slow turn into Winter. It was long sleeved and button up. It met my fashion requirements of being wash and wear. And now it's all washed and worn out.
I was suddenly thrust into a wave of mourning. I felt the loss of all those favorite shirts. The ones that fit so well. The ones that never did. I had a sweatshirt given to me when I was just a lad. It came from a cousin who attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I don't know if he ever wore it. It was small when it came to me, and I proceeded to wear it for years after that, until the sleeves only came down to my forearms and the collar began to chafe. My mother finally persuaded me to let that powder blue monstrosity go. It was time.
As an adult, the job of informing me when the shirts I wear have outlived their freshness factor. She will tell anyone who will listen the tale of my running shirts, one of which is a T-shirt I rescued from a dumpster behind the University of Colorado fieldhouse. It was a souvenir. That was closing in on forty years ago. Now it is a relic. It is also the secret shame for my wife. Even though I only wear it one day a week, and it's usually covered by another layer, each time I pull that rag over my head, I know she dies a little inside. Someday I know that I will go to the drawer to find the shirt that was once black and I will find nothing in its place. I imagine that it will have collapsed in on itself like a dying star. Or my wife will have finally exacted her revenge for all those years of suffering in relative silence.
Generally, she is more vocal in her approval or disapproval of what I am wearing when I leave the house. Often it is in the harsh morning light that she sees the threadbare or the irrevocably stained tatters that I choose to don on my way to another day of teaching. Over the years she has grown much more kind and deferential, coming a long way from, "You're going out like that?" to something more neutral and affirming like, "Do you think it's time you thought about..."
This time it was all me. I noticed the way the collar had worn through to white as I glanced in the mirror after I had brushed my teeth. It was time to retire the old green and blue. When I announced this decision, after wearing it to work that day and making it home alive, I got a surprised reaction from my wife. She sensed my attachment, and then went one further: she offered to adopt it for herself. There may be another life left in that old rag still. We'll see if we can find any trace of it after it goes through the laundry one last time.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

In My Life

I got a call from a dear friend the other day. She wanted to tag off on me to be sure she told me how much she cares about me. It was one of those calls I didn't mind taking. This is to say that there are plenty of calls that I do mind taking. This was no telemarketer. This was someone who had every right to call me and it made me just a little shameful for even asking, "Who is it?"
It is the time of our lives we find ourselves in, when even the good friends are calling to share news that isn't so good. Pending babies and wedding announcements are giving way to dire proclamations of disease, divorce and the biggest D: death. I liked the ones about babies. I felt proud about the ones that brought me into that bigger circle of friends generated by weddings. I'm not a big fan of that circle diminishing.
That's why this call was so unusual. It was generated by a call she had received from a friend of hers that came with an announcement of the Big C: Cancer. Her friend's husband was dying, and it set off a chain of emotions that brought her to the other end of my telephone line. She was calling, not to check up on me, but to make sure that she let me know how much she loved me.
I know. Suddenly we're in that AT&T/Stevie Wonder territory of commercial-grade sentimentality. That's not what this was. This was the pure stuff, from which that treacle was so callously distilled. So pure, in fact, that it caused my own sincerity defenses to spring into action. My impulse to reply with smart aleck was almost as intense as the wave of sweetness I was getting. Happily, the sincerity won out, and I was able to rein in those wiseacre impulses long enough to respond in kind, if not a little slowly. It was, in the words of my son, totally worth it.
It got me to thinking about "The Big Chill." All those old friends gathering together as the news changes from pleasant to less than. I used to sneer a little at this contrived situation, driven by Motown hits and trumped up connections between these old college buddies. Now it doesn't seem so trite. All of a sudden, Lawrence Kasdan seems to have locked in on a particular moment in time and put it on film. The soundtrack of my life is different, but many of those emotions ring true. I'm very lucky to be able to have that in real life. I'm very lucky to have friends like her. I'm very lucky to have her in my life.
There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Friday, February 21, 2014


I'm sorry I didn't grow up in Florida for one reason: proximity to Disney World. It would have been awesome to be able to get on a bus and ride to the most magical place on earth whenever the mood struck me. A land of make-believe where excitement and adventure are around every corner. Of course, the same could be said for Florida itself.
But not in a good way. For now, I'll just skip that whole section about election fraud, missing ballots and voter disenfranchisement. I won't even make the Bieber association, even though it's as fresh as the Bieb's orange jumpsuit. Instead, I think the reason that I'm glad that I didn't grow up in Florida is that I might not have lived very long.
For one, I have been known to take a walk now and again. Sometimes I do this while wearing a jacket with a hood on it. In my youth, I was also known to imbibe periodically in a Skittle or two. Though I was raised with a great deal of respect for authority, I'm not sure how I would have reacted if an armed man started to chase me through a strange neighborhood. I might have ended up being shot by some overzealous member of that neighborhood's watch.
Or, perhaps more likely, I would have been killed for playing my music too loud. When I think about how I listened to my stereo, whether in my car or in my home, in those days the volume knob was pegged on "excessive." While I was blessed with very understanding parents, it was when I moved out that my habits began to impact those who were less understanding. I knew this because sometimes when the walls of my apartment were shaking, it wasn't the bass, but the pounding of my disturbed neighbor's fists on the other side. I wasn't shy about sharing my music tastes on my car stereo, either. Often at stop signs or red lights, I was discouraged by other drivers or pedestrians on the sidewalk from sharing my music tastes. That's not the way they do it in Florida, apparently.
In Jacksonville, the volume control is found at the end of a gun. Michael Dunn believed his life was in danger when he fired into a car full of teenagers back in 2012. He killed Jordan Davis, who will never be any older than seventeen. Mister Dunn was not convicted of that killing. Instead, a jury found him guilty of multiple counts of attempted murder. Dunn's defense was that he was "standing his ground." Prosecutors argued that he recklessly shot at the teens after complaining about the volume of their music in a convenience store parking lot.
Happily, this kind of thing almost never happens in Disney World.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why It Should Matter

Ellen Page came out as gay last week. "I'm tired of hiding," she told a crowd at the Human Rights Campaign's Time to THRIVE Conference on Valentine's Day. She made the announcement "To help others have an easier and more hopeful time. Regardless, for me I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility." Thank you Ellen, that is very compassionate and responsible of you. But let's back up to that "hiding" part.
I am old enough to remember when "outing" wasn't such a voluntary thing. I remember when Rock Hudson "came out." It was 1985, and the secret shame that one of Hollywood's most dashing and virile leading men was dying of AIDS was a shock to the entire world, not just the film community that had kept that secret for decades. I remember the fear and outrage this announcement generated even as sexual preference was finally becoming something that could be discussed, albeit with that same potential for shame and anger that erupted when Mister Hudson found himself at the forefront of this very difficult cultural tipping point.
It was Rock Hudson that made it possible, for better or worse, to be gay and lead a public life. Announcing one's sexual preference became less of a promotional stunt, as many felt David Bowie's proclamation of his bisexuality in 1972. This may seem crass, but manipulation of public image is something at which David has always excelled. That celebrities may time or engineer the declarations of their personal lives sometimes feels a little disingenuous. As a white male heterosexual living in the United States in 2014, I feel comfortable making that assertion. That there is any kind of backlash or retribution for how consenting adults choose to carry on their lives behind closed doors or walking down the street should no longer be an issue in the twenty-first century.
And yet it is. Still. Al Gore's Internet is still full of "did you know?" hints and rumors. The game of "Who's Gay?" still gets played with regularity, primarily with celebrities and public figures. The most ironic part of this comes when we try to figure out if an actor is pretending to be something he or she is not. That's what actors do, after all. That we require of our movie stars and rock gods is an accounting of things that are none of our business is the real shame.
Now, on the eve of what could be another young person's career-defining moment, Missouri linebacker Michael Sam has chosen to come out and step into what may be some of the harshest light possible: The National Football League College Draft. What sort of athlete Sam is stopped being the question at the instant he declared himself gay. Can he drop into coverage? Can he manage the complexities of a 3-4 defense? Who cares when what we all really want to know about takes place not on the field but in the locker room. My guess is that over the next year Michael Sam will have plenty of time to consider whether he should have "stayed hidden." But that's where we are in 2014. The good news, whether you are a movie actor or barista, athlete or custodian, is this: It Gets Better.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What, Exactly, Is The Debate?

Sometimes it helps to have things explained to us as if we were ten years old. That's why it made such good sense to me that science educator and television personality Bill Nye was brought on to NBC's "Meet The Press" to describe the effects of global warming to congressperson Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Ms. Blackburn was interested in discussing the "cost/benefit analysis" of what has been happening to our planet over the past century. The Science Guy wanted to get The Politician Lady to consider that something needs to be done. Representative Blackburn suggested that the change from three hundred and twenty to four hundred parts per million was "very slight." Is there doubt about climate change? Or is there doubt about what we need to do about it?
Pacific Gas and Electric, the combined natural gas and electric utility provider for northern and central California has accepted its "responsibility to both manage its emissions and work constructively to advance policies that put our state and the country on a cost-effective path toward a low-carbon economy." Those words "cost-effective" and "economy" show up a lot in discussions about greenhouse gasses and carbon footprints. What will it cost to keep our planet inhabitable for generations to come?
It's not a surprise, really, that the House Committee for which Ms. Blackburn is vice-co-chair is called "Energy and Commerce." Those two ideas have been running hand in hand with each other since the birth of our nation. It is a law of physics that you can't get something for nothing, just as it is in economics. There is a cost to everything. I learned this when I was just a kid, reading Bill Peet's "Wump World." When the Pollutants showed up and turned the Wump's green and pleasant home into a paved-over ball of muck, I started to understand what was happening. That was when I was eight, and since then I have participated in an economy that sells opportunities to wreck and save the planet disproportionately. Recycled toilet paper costs more than brand new. I find that horrifyingly ironic, and I'm neither a scientist nor an economist.
Maybe that's because I'm a Wump.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Very Dry

The past week or two around the Bay Area would not give anyone the impression that we are in the midst of a drought. A presidential-visit-of-concern-type drought. We have had rain. We have had snow. We have started to get our collective hopes up.
On the other side of the country, it's cold. It's wet. It's downright inhospitable. So much so that newly minted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio took some heat where there wasn't much for keeping schools open in a blizzard. Other school districts in the northeast will probably have to keep their kids coming back into June or later to make up for the missed time this winter's storms have created. Kids in Manhattan are trudging to school in snow up to ten inches.
Meanwhile, out here in the arid wastes of California, I have students coming up to me with feat in their eyes wondering how we can expect them to go outside and play when there is a little mist in the air. We should be celebrating ever drop of water, every bit of moisture. They have started to measure rain in tenths of an inch. We are all relieved to hear that our reservoirs are at sixty-three percent of their capacity. At my house we have begun to keep the stopper in the drain during showers to keep track of how much water we are using. If it gets up over your toes, it's too much.
Still, I can't help but remember that everything is a cycle. My good friend and science teacher from back in my younger days used to remind us all, starting with third graders, that the water we are drinking has been around a long time. Since the dinosaurs. It takes a while for most third graders to make the connection, but since everything evaporates and eventually comes back down to earth, those raindrops and snowflakes may have once made a circuit through a brachiosaurus. Makes those ten inches of snow seem a little more ominous all of a sudden.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


It happened in a rush, a rush that had taken what seemed like forever. My son packed up all his Legos from underneath his bed and carted them down to our basement. This move wasn't the surprise. It had been in the wind for some time, but the action came in a rush. All those blocks, wheels, rods, and tiny men were shoveled somewhat unceremoniously into boxes and suddenly they were part of the past.
This isn't to say that they will be forgotten. A great many of the Lego sets I played with as a kid were preserved in my mother's house, as mothers and their houses will do. I fully expect that some or all of the bricks that found their way out of my son's room will rest comfortably beneath us, as so much of our family's past does. Still, this was part of his life from the time he fell in love with trains and before he switched fascinations to cars. He built trains. He built cars. And starships and houses and forts and machines that only he understood. That didn't mean that he wouldn't take the time to explain them to his parents. We were treated to extensive presentations on his latest creations, including the painstaking details that he included in every build.
Most of these creations came from long periods spent in the Lego Lab, underneath his bed. When he was very small, we raised up his bed so that he could have room below to work on projects, to stretch out, to relax. Year after year, birthdays, Christmases, and assorted occasions brought more Lego to our home, and joined the ever-expandng pile. We worked, or more honestly, my wife worked to control the swelling mass of tiny pieces, separating them into ever-smaller categories of plastic bits. It was mother's idea to make the son's creative process smoother by making those little gears and sprockets and tubes easier to find. After years of attempting to stem the tide, we surrendered to this rule: Legos must remain under the bed. Completed models could be brought out for display, but the flood needed to be contained in the shadow of the bed above. When we cleaned his room, we dusted and swept right up to that line, kicking the odd brick or wheel back into the dark recesses.
All this time, he never stopped building. Not with the frequency or duration that he used to, but there weren't too many months that went by without him finding some expression in Lego. Until the calendar turned to February 2014. The Saturday before the Super Bowl, he took it upon himself to shut it down. The Lego Lab was closed, and the forwarding address was downstairs. There are a few remnants: a Bionicle here, a twelve-cylinder engine there. These will remain. Other bits and pieces may resurface in time, but the Lego sea has receded. All those late nights or early mornings when I cursed the tiny plastic shard that found its way into my bare foot were over.
I don't remember who said it, but when I went to ask my son why it was finally time, I think we both knew the answer. We both knew that a young man at this age starts to fancy himself more of a bachelor. Bachelors have bean bag chairs and lava lamps in the little nook under their beds. They don't have piles of Lego. Not if they want to entertain young women in that space. Even if this notion is the purest form of teenaged boy fantasy, it was time for him to move on. Unless there was a daydream of constructing a perfect Lego mate from the toys of his youth. If he changes his mind, all those parts are still in the basement.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


John Keating once suggested to his class of young, impressionable boys that language was not invented, as one of his students timidly suggested to communicate, but rather to woo women. There are plenty of reasons to disagree with this, primarily since my intent in writing this blog is to get words out of my head that seem to need their space and freedom. My wooing days are, for the most part, over now. I do try and keep my poetic license up to date, and I have been known to put a sentence or two together now and again to get the embers of my true love's heart burning. Without the actual heartburn, if possible.
This week at school, I have been attempting to drag poetry from the hearts and minds of third, fourth and fifth graders. When prodded, most every one of them could come up with this chestnut: "Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweet and so are you." This came after painstakingly working through the mechanics of rhyme. It's not the first letter or sound that matters, it's the last. Even so, many found it perplexing that "good" and "food" were not a rhyming pair. I wrote several examples on the board, but the majority of my students surrendered to the inevitable observation about the colors of various flowers and the relative level of saccharin found in your basic household sweetener.
Maybe what was missing was a muse. Someone for whom they could compose a sonnet, or at least a couplet. Most of the kids made Valentines for their parents. A few for their grandparents. They understood that the limits of their composition would hardly be noticed by this audience. There was one fifth grade boy who kept his work very quietly to himself. He made a very pretty background on which he could place his verse, but was completely stumped when it came time to write. "Mister Caven," he whispered, "what rhymes with 'love?'"
I gave him a flurry of suggestions, not wanting to tip the scales in any one direction: of, glove, dove, above, subversive. I left him to stew and continued on my rounds, watching as the number of red roses and blue violets threatened to dull my senses to the point of paralysis. When I finally returned to my quiet little friend, I saw that he had inscribed the name of one of the girls in his class at the top of his carefully drawn by wholly inaccurate heart. Inside he had written two words: "Love" and "Shove."
"What do you think, Mister Caven?"
I had seen the two of them, the intended recipient of his card and her suitor, racing about the playground in recent weeks, alternately shrieking at one another and then pulling on the other's backpack or colliding as they made their awkward and desperate lunge into line. I told him that I figured he had single-handedly epitomized fifth grade romance. I printed it out for him and wished him luck.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Heart-Shaped Bike

What she said to me was this: "We may never have a new car, but I can give you a new bike." This was how she introduced me to the vehicle that would be my main mode of transportation for the next decade. Green and sleek, it was a bicycle like I had not seen before. It wasn't a mountain bike. It wasn't a racing bike. It was a Raleigh C-40. Shifters on the handlebars, under my thumbs, changing gears was a twist of the right hand, or the left if I wanted to shift down into climbing mode. Twenty-one speeds. More than twice the number I had ever experienced before.
All these years later I still marvel at it. Not just the bicycle. That is certainly amazing enough, but the way this gift has kept on giving. Over the course of days and weeks and months that I have been riding my Raleigh, we have owned three different cars. This is not to say that we go through cars, either. We ran one, a white hatchback of limited repute, into the ground. Bought it's replacement: gold Saturn station wagon. That was stolen. Then we bought our space age Prius. I've put a lot of miles on the C-40 in that time. It's not a new bike anymore. I'd like to tell you that I've been a lot of places, but my bike and I are pretty much a one-route tandem: back and forth to work.
And that's where the romance comes in. Every day it's like the elastic band that connects me to my love, my life. The bike is the thing that brings me back home. It was a gift from my wife, so I believe she expects me to come back. She wants me to come back. So that's what I do, as fast as that old bike will let me. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I went to see "Monuments Men." This film tells the heroic tale of a group of battle-hardened art historians who go behind enemy lines near the end of World War II, searching for paintings and statues that have been stolen by the Nazis. It was a nice slice of that corner of history. The Allies banding together to keep Adolph Hitler from gathering all the world's great works for his own, and saving many treasures from ages past from becoming rubble and ash. It did prompt me to reflect on art preservation.
That same weekend, I took my son to see the "Dark Side of the Moon" Laserium show. He had missed it when my wife and I had gone before Christmas, and we were anxious to share this slice of our past with him. I know every note from years of listening to the album through headphones, and I was familiar with the light show from my previous visit and the multiple times I sat in various stages of consciousness while the lasers danced above my head when I was in high school and college. After the show was over, we stayed a little for my son the techie to talk with Danny the Laserist. They talked about the science that made the art. Danny told about how he came to be a Laser Artist. I watched my son's fascination grow. A new generation of appreciation for the dancing lights and Pink Floyd was growing in front of me.
Later that night, the Columbia Broadcasting System ran a special commemorating the first appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. Half a century of Beatlemania. An audience of millions watched as the glitterati sat and watched today's stars pay tribute to the Fab Four at fifty. Their musical influence can still be felt in this new century, just as the strains of baroque piano could be found "In My Life." I wondered if we would be gathering again, in another fifty years, to celebrate this moment in time.
I wondered about Ryan O'Neal fully appreciates Andy Warhol's painting of his enamorata, Farrah Fawcett. It has stood the test of time for more than three decades. I wondered if some future oppressive regime might try to forcibly remove that portrait. Would it end up on the "save" pile, or the "delete," as many of Picasso's works did during the Nazi occupation? Then I remembered Rabo Karabekian, the hero of Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Bluebeard. Mister Karabekian was an abstract impressionist who maintains a barn full of what might be masterpieces. As it turns out, spoiler alert, Karabekian's last painting is an enormous photo-realistic picture of his experience of World War II where he and five-thousand, two hundred and nineteen other prisoners of war, gypsies, and concentration camp victims were dumped in a valley when the German forces realized that the war was lost.
What will be left behind by the next war? Pink Floyd? Daft Punk?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Club

My son's friend had knee surgery last week. He is seventeen years old. He's very uncomfortable, and is having trouble sleeping. He is also part of a club which I joined nearly thirty years ago, when I was in my twenties. I understand his pain. I empathize with his despair. Over the next several weeks, he will have plenty of time to reflect on the importance of that great big leg knuckle: his knee.
That nice little bend you get halfway down your leg turns out to be a very useful thing. In its simplest form, it can be very helpful in getting on one's pants and socks. My own experience of having the my left side turned into a tin soldier for months while I waited for the miracles of modern medicine preformed by the surgeons to become apparent was torturous. This was due, in large part, to the fact that my injury came at a time in my life when I took mobility for granted. I was not yet grunting as I leaned down to pick things off the ground. I didn't have to consider my approach to inclined planes or stairs. In a moment, that changed. His came on the lacrosse field. Mine came on the playground. He was at practice. I jumped out of a swing. Neither one of these actions would seem like high-risk or irresponsible. Well, the lacrosse practice at least. When you're seventeen, or twenty-seven, you feel like you're indestructible. You're still operating with original equipment. It's still a while before you feel the need for thirty thousand mile checkups. Most of us haven't even read the owner's manual at this point.
That all changes when you crumple into a ball, while your friends gather around, puzzled as to why this previously active, vital part of their lives is suddenly much closer to the ground, alternating curses and moans. Suddenly every injury time out on ever NFL broadcast you've ever seen comes back to you in sharp relief, only here there is no cut away for a Bud Light commercial. It's just you and all that gravity that had previously seemed so easy to deal with. Bipedal motion is now on hold, and will be for some time to come. The delicate arrangement of muscles and ligaments just below the thigh are now negotiable.
And here is what I tried to tell my son's friend: They can fix it. It won't always hurt like it does now. The agonies of the physical pain and the emotional torment of wondering when things would be normal again fade. But now you're part of the club. The ones who see that halfback, skier, skater, pedestrian or passerby drop down and clutch at their knee, and they remember. Then they say a little prayer to the gods of medial collateral and meniscus and wait for a chance to share their stories with the newest member of the club.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sometimes They Come Back

That title up there is also the title of a Stephen King short story about a guy who is tormented by visions of his past. I wonder if David Letterman, Conan O'Brien or Jimmy Fallon have read it. Jay Leno has trundled off into the sunset. Again. This time it's for real. At least that's the way the National Broadcasting Company would like to tell it. The last time Jay left, NBC had him on a pretty short leash. They wanted to keep Jay and his chin around in prime time. That didn't work out so well. Not for Jay. Not for Conan. Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman tried not to be too smug about it. But that's show biz, right?
Well, twenty-two years later, minus the four or five months when Jay came on before the local news and that red-haired guy was filling in for him, Jay Leno has left the building. Perhaps, to be more precise, the building is leaving Jay. The Tonight Show is heading back to its roots in New York City. Jay's staff has been laid off, and the Olympics are over in Sochi, the curtain will rise on a new era that might look strikingly like an old era for the Tonight Show. One that would be funny. One that would be worth watching. One that would at least be worth recording.
I used to like Jay Leno. Way back in the 1980's, when he was a guest on David Letterman's show. He was a stand-up comedian. He told jokes. There was an edge to the guy. In order to get the spot vacated by Johnny Carson, he sanded off those rough spots and became the safe and sane choice for America's late night talk show host. How might things have been different if David Letterman had walked right in and taken over? After all, Dave had a successful ten-year run as host of his own NBC late-night show. Jay was a stand-up comedian. Sometimes he was really funny. That's how you get a show, right? Sometimes you're funny. If you can be pretty funny for a number of years without embarrassing anyone or winding up dead, you'll probably get a show.
Now it's time to say goodbye to Jay one more time. Goodbye, Jay. If I were Jimmy Fallon, I would make sure that wherever they bury him, that it wasn't previously an Native American burial ground.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What's In A Name?

There are five Siones at my school. I have come to understand that this is essentially the Tongan version of "John."  This understanding does not make it easier to distinguish in a crowd setting, such as a crowded playground at lunch time. We used to have the same issue with "Jose," but some of those have matriculated or moved away. Using my Great Big Teacher Voice from across the yard, I sometimes manage to get the attention of both of the Joses we have left, but that's an easy enough matter to sort out.
Then there's the matter of Alicia. We have three of them. To be more precise, we have two Alicias, and one Alesha. One of the Alicias is phonetically "uh-lee-see-ya." The other two are "uh-leash-uh." Not an issue unless we are in a crowd situation and it becomes a primary concern that I separate one from the rest. Since they tend to flock together, this becomes less of an issue. The real challenge comes when I am in the midst of a lesson and my mind is not on my seating chart when a hand is raised or someone cries out, "Mister Caven?"
"Yes uh-leash-uh?"
Perturbed pause, "Uh-lee-see-ya."
"Right, sorry. Uh-lee-see-ya." Hails of derisive laughter from my fifth grade audience. Moments later we return to the issue at hand, after having discerned the proper pronunciation for all to hear.
Then there's the matter of Angels. There are three currently at our school. Two boys and one girl. I don't have much trouble distinguishing them, but the irony of their name as a descriptor is the part that sticks with me. Very little, short of sprouting wings and donning a halo would bring these children more in line with their moniker. I always feel a twinge as I write referrals that include the phrase "Angel was having a problem working and playing with others today."
I try not to make it any more confusing by signing them "Mister Cabin."

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Higher, Faster, Stronger, Gayer

Ah, the spectacle of the Olympics. Every four years, the world's elite athletes converge on one of the great cities of our globe to compete. Or is that only two. I could swear that we just finished an Olympics. That was in London, right? All that pageantry doesn't seem so distant. It feels like it was just a couple of years ago. Because it was.
Twenty-two years ago, it was somebody's bright idea to alternate Olympic Games, Winter and Summer, dropping one or the other in every two years. Now, just as we are forgetting about London, and Vancouver in 2010, here comes Sochi. That's in Russia. You've probably heard something about those since there's this little matter of tolerance that became an issue when Vladimir "Putin On The Ritz" Putin decided to show his true colors, none of which can be found in the rainbow flag. "The Olympic Games will be held in full compliance with the Olympic charter, without any discrimination on any basis. Russia will be rooting for its own athletes of course, but we wish success to all the athletes," Putin said. Feel free to doubt the sincerity of his comments, considering his country's anti-gay laws. No less a world presence than corporate giant AT&T has spoken out against Russia's discriminatory practices. "We celebrate the diversity of all Olympic athletes, their fans, Russian residents and all the people the world over - including, and especially, our employees and their loved ones." A very nice sentiment, and one that almost feels redundant in the shadow of the Olympic Creed, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
I thought back to this year's Grammy telecast, the one they hold every year without differentiating between Winter and Summer, and how my son is growing up in a world where the sight of gay men and women expressing their love and getting married is still a kind of spectacle, but it is now becoming part of the awards season. In another two years, when the Olympics turn to summer and land in Rio de Janeiro, I'm guessing the vibe will be a little different than it is currently on the shores of the Black Sea. The nice thing about having only two years between Olypmpiads is that we can now see just how fast the world is changing. And that's a good thing.
We celebrate the diversity of all Olympic athletes
We celebrate the diversity of all Olympic athletes, their fans, Russian residents and all people the world over – including and, especially, our employees and their loved ones.  - See more at:
We celebrate the diversity of all Olympic athletes, their fans, Russian residents and all people the world over – including and, especially, our employees and their loved ones.  - See more at:
We celebrate the diversity of all Olympic athletes, their fans, Russian residents and all people the world over – including and, especially, our employees and their loved ones.  - See more at:
We celebrate the diversity of all Olympic athletes, their fans, Russian residents and all people the world over – including and, especially, our employees and their loved ones.  - See more at:

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Sound And Fury

Around my house, we're just about over the Super Debacle. We still have neighbors and friends stopping by to offer their sympathies. My wife suffered her first bout with Big Game Depression. Not even a big slice of chocolate cream pie could fill that void. And still people keep looking to us for an explanation: "What happened?"
I don't know what happened, exactly. I know that very good teams are capable of playing very poorly at the most inopportune moments. When that big light shines down on you and the planet, at least the ones who aren't watching The Puppy Bowl, are staring at you, it's likely that the stress is at such a level that we mere mortals will never fully understand it.
That's why some people fake it. Rather than take any chances, they go with the easiest possible way out. I'm not suggesting that Peyton Manning phoned that one in. On the contrary: if he were just going through the motions it could have been much more ridiculous, and obvious. Like playing a bass that wasn't plugged into anything. And while this provided one member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers more flexibility when it came to lunging about the halftime stage, it raised some questions about just what part of their performance was live, and how much was Memorex.
As it turns out, Anthony Kiedis was giving it away in the sense that he was truly singing. The rest of the Peppers were pretending to play to a track they had already played, and recorded especially for the spectacle that is the Super Bowl. We know this because Mister Flea confessed to the pantomime performance on their website. No shame. No recriminations. No Beyonce-type controversy.  "I would do it all the same way again," Flea writes, with complete resolve.
For his part, Peyton Manning probably wishes that he could have found a way to play to some pre-recorded "Omahas" himself.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Was It A Dream, Or Did I See It Plain

The season and the weather collaborated this morning on a very nice ride to school. When I made the big turn to the left and started pedaling toward the east, the sky was trying to commit to the new day. The very deep purple started to give way to reds and then orange, with spikes of light shooting up into the darkness, prying the lid off of the night.
When I woke up, it was dark. That's often the case around my house. It is also often the case that the first person up in my house is me. It is also quite often the case that that person is wandering around in the dark. This is about morning breaking, and I'm often the one responsible for it.
It's odd to me that this comes with the territory of being the one in the house who sleeps the least. When I miss sleep, I don't tend to make it up. The clock that tells me that it's time to roll out of bed is very insistent. As if I were worried about missing something. Even on the weekends, I feel the pull of dawn and my eyes squint out into what awaits me: that sunrise, another day at work, rain-soaked streets, neighborhood cats crawling back from a night's adventure, the occasional rooster crowing. Sights and sounds available to me because I put myself out in the glorious transition that is the beginning of the day.
This is endlessly fascinating to me, since I seem to run into this collision of night and day all the time. It makes me think of the aboriginal concept of "dream time." Maybe all this time I've been bumping into things by the dawn's early light, I've actually been asleep. This might explain the magnificent display I saw the other day in the eastern sky. Asleep or awake, it was totally worth it.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Sudden Death

"Mister Caven - you mad?" This was the question with which I was assailed on the playground Monday morning. It was the day after the Super Bowl. The day after the Denver Broncos had, once again, set a new record for futility on the World's Biggest Stage: Twelve seconds into the game, the Seahawks scored the first points. That's the fastest that has ever happened. Thank you, Denver Broncos, for providing us with history. Was I mad? In a word, no. In a lot of words, which are not mine: "It hurts too much to laugh, but I'm too old to cry." That is not a quote from Peyton Manning, who had a ball sail past his head on the game's first play. That ball was eventually recovered by his team in his own end zone. A safety. Two points. Fastest ever.
No, I wasn't mad, and apparently neither were the Denver Broncos. They just seemed overwhelmed. All evening long. A steady string of mishaps and misfires kept on coming for the boys in orange and blue. Fumbles, interceptions, missed tackles. When the second half kickoff was returned by the Seahawks for a touchdown, bringing the score to twenty-nine to nothing before the guests at my house had settled back into their seats after the Bruno Mars halftime show. I wasn't mad. I was overwhelmed. I had twenty people in my living room, decked out in various vintages of Bronco gear, eating and drinking orange colored and flavored snacks, and still the Seattle onslaught continued. Denver's only touchdown came after they had been outscored thirty-six to nothing. Nothing.
Was I mad? No, but I felt a little like crying. I had waited for two weeks after Peyton and the boys had taken care of business with the Patriots. I had waited for a year since this same team had been undone by a last second pass by Baltimore Ravens' quarterback, Joe Flacco. I had waited a decade and a half since the last time the Denver Broncos had played in a Super Bowl. I didn't cry. I'm too old for that. But it hurt too much to laugh. 
Monday morning, when I walked out on the playground, wearing the same Denver Broncos jacket that I have been wearing since the beginning of the school year, I fielded a lot of questions from a lot of kids. Many of them had hopped on the Bronco bandwagon after their Forty-niner affiliation had fizzled out in the NFC Championship game. Some of them hopped straight on the hater train. Thankfully, most of them are kids who have a bit of empathy. It's what we're trying to teach them. "Sorry about your Broncos, Mister Caven," came from a number of mouths. Maybe that kid who asked me if I was mad was truly concerned about my emotional health. Was I mad? No. After five months of football? After fifty years of being a Broncos fan? No. I'm not mad. I'm tired.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Price You Pay

I've seen the needle and the damage done. That's what Neil Young told us forty-three years ago. Philip Seymour Hoffman was three years old at the time. Was there something set in motion before he was born that made it inevitable that he would end up dead, from an overdose? Were there chemicals in his brain way back then that predisposed him for such a disposition? Or was it something that came about as he grew older? As he became famous, and the choices he could make became at once more varied and more limiting. Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead at forty-six, and there's nothing we can do about it.
He was clean for years, according to reports. He lived most of his adult life in sobriety, but started sliding down that slippery slope back in May. A quick ten-day stint in rehab was good enough to get him back on track, ready for the premiere of his latest film, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." No more red carpet. Just a black box.
There are plenty of people who ascend to levels of fame beyond Mister Hoffman without falling prey to temptation and demons like drug addiction. He is not the first, nor will he probably be the last. It was David Lee Roth, the once and future lead singer for Van Halen who said, "I used to have a drug problem, now I make enough money." Maybe he's got a point, since it was his bandmate, the eponymous Eddie Van Halen who did a stint in rehab.
In 2006, when he won his best actor Oscar, Philip Seymour Hoffman had this to say about his earlier struggle during an interview with "60 Minutes": "I have so much empathy for these young actors that are nineteen and all of a sudden they're beautiful and famous and rich. I'm like, 'Oh my God. I'd be dead.' You know what I mean? I'd be nineteen, beautiful, famous and rich. That would be it. I think back at that time. I think if I had the money, that kind of money and stuff. So, yeah [I would have died]."
The damage is done. Aloha, Philip Seymour Hoffman. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Magic Time

The letter reads:
Dear Santa. I need some advice for how to make Pokemon real. Why do I need some advice because I can not get Pokemon out of my mind. I need a very good answer. If you have a answer please send a messag back
From Kinnell
Kinnell is eight years old. He wrote to Mister Claus in anticipation  of his eighth birthday, even though his timing may be a little off. He really wants a Pokemon for his upcoming birthday. It makes some sense, however, when you consider the demands on the toy-making machine at the North Pole at this time of year are probably pretty low. With all those elves rattling around the factory and wrapping facilities, there must be plenty of available alt-manpower available before the real crush begins in another seven or eight months.
And who else could get to the bottom of that whole real versus pretend thing than Santa? The guy who has a team of eight tiny reindeer that fly? The guy who manages to slide down people's chimneys in spite of the fact that he is generally considered to be, shall we say, weight advantaged? The guy who manages to haul all those toys and goodies across the globe in the span of one night? Isn't this the guy who could make anyone's dreams come true?
Then there's the question of obsession. While I can appreciate young Kinnell's honesty, I do wonder if all this confession is truly good for his soul. He's eight. Of course he can't get Pokemon out of his head. It's a head that is not as yet cluttered by Social Security numbers and passwords to dating websites. It is kind of a shame that Kinnell can't rejoice in the fact that his mind is full of Pokemon. There are seven hundred eighteen known species of these pocket monsters, and eight years old is far too young to start wondering whether he should be ashamed of the idea of "Pocket Monsters." When I had an eight year old, he could not get trains out of his head. We tried everything, including making as many connections with real trains, and yet he remained transfixed.
Then one day, we weren't laying track in our living room anymore. All the engines and rolling stock were boxed up and put away. We were able to drive past railroad crossings without having to wait breathlessly for the next train to pass by. Eight years old is a magic time, and I hope Kinnell gets to enjoy it along with his parents as long as he can.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Rockin' In The Free World

Compared to a crew-cut, I'm sure the haircuts worn by the Beatles were a shock and an annoyance to the general viewing public fifty years ago. These young men from Liverpool had bangs, for goodness sake. You could scarcely see their eyes. What were these foreigners (four inners) doing on our soil? Were they here to throw our carefully crafted American lifestyle by the wayside and make a mockery of all those things we held true?
No. Not exactly. They were here to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was part of a promotional tour arranged by their management to conquer the world, and sell millions of records. They did the second part for certain, "Meet The Beatles" has sold more than five million copies since it was first released half a century ago. As for the world domination part, they may not have been quite as successful. The public response to their continuing presence on the scene lead to much debate and consternation, shining a light on what we all began to know as "The Generation Gap." Those who scoffed and fussed the most may have contributed to their success, owing first of all to the tenet that other long-hair from England set forth: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." Secondly, those angry mobs who crushed and burned their Beatles records had to buy them in the first place, so thank you offended public.
It was a magic time. It was also a healing time. These drug-addled hipsters from across the sea showed up just about the time that America was fraying on the edges. I know, because this is the world into which I was born. I am grateful that I have spent my life in a world that includes The Beatles. As the years passed, my parents and I didn't always agree on everything, but we did agree on The Beatles. It was their music that we could all listen to in the car, and we could even play our Beatles records on the family Hi-Fi.
Thank you, John, Paul, George and Ringo for coming to America and giving us something to talk about. And thank you for being fab.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Rhymes With Orange

I really wanted to be a poet. About the time that I graduated from college, after I had spent countless hours in writing workshops carefully crafting both my skills and my persona. I had all of these thoughts that could only find expression through very specific blank verse. I described love and loss and worlds that only someone in their twenties could possibly experience. These were my salad days, back when I ate a steady diet of frozen pizza and Hungry Man TV Dinners.
I didn't need to rhyme. All that convention was what I learned in school. It was what I was throwing off to prove just how expressive I could be. And I suppose it could be said that at this point in my life I was showing off. I was a bit of a tortured artist. At least that's how I thought of myself. A good deal of what I put myself through was in the service of creating that image of The Poet. For me, being a novelist or short story writer didn't have nearly the appeal of being known for those endlessly quotable lines. It also served my fondness for brevity. I've never been much of a long-form kind of guy.
The other thing I discovered, more upon reflection, was that poetry was for me very connected to that other great passion in my life: jokes. So many of my "best works" are a ramble toward what at times was an inevitable punch line. These days when I find myself composing a holiday ode or a birthday rhyme, I find it easier to think in terms of that funny bit at the end.
Back in the dark old days, the endings weren't generally as amusing. Instead I took it upon myself to shine a light on the misery and pain experienced by a post-adolescent white kid from suburban Colorado. I like to believe for that particular demographic that I was the voice of my generation. In some parallel dimension, I'm sure that I probably was published more than just the once in the literary magazine that paid off in souvenir copies of that literary magazine. Maybe I even became the rock and roll lyricist that I always imagined myself to be.
Instead you're stuck here in the now with me. No paragraph breaks, and the occasional lilting phrase. I may not be a poet, but I was apparently born to blog.

Saturday, February 01, 2014


How did I get to be "it?" Perhaps I was the slowest to raise my hand. Maybe I wasn't listening when someone counted off, "One, two, three, not it!" Or it could be that when I went out for a job interview for a teaching position seventeen years ago, my prospective employer asked if I knew anything about computers. My confident answer, "Yes," was enough to get me my position and a room full of Mac LCIIs connected to a bunch of tractor-fed dot matrix printers. That I know what these terms mean now is a testament to how quickly I learned. I had come from a five year stint as a warehouse manager where I had worked with a room full of computer experts, some of whom had started out on the warehouse floor and found their way to the relative comfort of their office in the back, amidst a sea of servers, wires, and random hardware on its way to being part of our system or the dumpster.
Years later, I have become "one of them." The wrinkled khakis. The furrowed brown whenever someone can't distinguish between a VGA cable and an Ethernet cord. When someone calls my room and tells me their computer is broken, I try not to roll my eyes. What is the problem, specifically? Could you be just a hair more precise? Is the box making funny noises? Do you see pretty lights? Has your computer fallen on one of the children and now they can't get up?
I have lost my patience, but I try and remember what it is to be an end user. Forgetting passwords and not knowing which of those wired leads to the mouse-thingy is what they are supposed to do. I am supposed to show up with all my worldly knowledge and set things right. I am the IT guy. Making those broken computers work is my job. And if the coffee maker stops working, I'll probably get to take a look at that too.