Monday, March 31, 2014

The Mouths Of Babes

Janice is a kindergartener. She came to my room on Thursday morning, along with the rest of her class. I am used to Janice being a little chatty. My approach for her is similar to the one I take with many of my younger students: I wait her out. Shushing her only leads to her becoming more insistent about getting whatever is on her mind off of her mind and out of her mouth. That's what I did on Thursday. I kind of wish that I would have found a way to keep her quiet.
"Mister Caven," Janice announced, "you have a fat stomach."
I remembered my position and my poise. I said nothing.
"And you're bald," she continued.
This resulted in the standard mix of giggles from her classmates and shocked gasps from those who had yet to fall prey to the Dark Side. After this, it took me a few more minutes to bring the group back around to the topic of numbers bigger than eleven and less than thirty. There wasn't a lot in those digits that could compete with Janice. Still, I pressed on.
What Janice didn't know is that she hurt my feelings. I know that is what she meant to do, but I didn't want to give her the satisfaction. I was ignoring her, a strategy that I often prescribe to children who come to me with complaints of bullies teasing them. Still, somewhere down deep inside, the round kid that was teased on playgrounds decades ago winced. I wanted to tell Janice that I had lost more than twenty pounds over the past year, and I was working on my weight not just for appearances but for my health. As for the baldness, I suppose the fact that I had shaved my head just the week before was my own fault, but there was a simple matter of genetics and age that provided that outcome. I wanted to defend myself.
I didn't. I waited until the rest of the class, and Janice, were ready to get the directions for the day's lesson. Just before I was going to set the kids loose on their computers, Janice raised her hand. "Mister Caven," this was a squeak compared to the sneer I had been hearing just a few minutes ago, "I had an accident." She had wet herself, and though a thousand other thoughts raced through my head, I scribbled a quick note and handed it to her, calling ahead to let the office know that she was coming and would need a change. Even mean little girls have accidents sometime.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


It makes sense that I would remember her name. It makes sense that I am a teacher now. At the time, she wasn't a teacher. Not yet. She was still a student teacher and I was a sixth grade student. It makes sense that I remember Tess and not Miss Straw because that was the way my teacher Miss Leonard, or Kitty as she seemed to want us to refer to her, ran her classroom. We were all on a first name basis. For the record, I don't believe I ever referred to Miss Leonard as Kitty.
But I did call Tess by her first name. She was tall and fair, with strawberry blonde hair. She was probably my first real crush. Tess read stories to me. Well, she read stories to our entire class, but as I sat there in my desk, enraptured, I felt as if they were just for me. She recommended books to me that she felt would be both of interest and at my accelerated reading level. She read my writing and praised it effusively. Why wouldn't I be in love with this woman? At the bottom of the autobiographical sketch I wrote at her assignment, she wrote "Cleaver, Cleaver, Cleaver!" At the time I didn't imagine that she was comparing me in some way to a meat hacking device or connecting me in some way to Ward and June and their sons Wally and Theodore. I recognized immediately the praise she was sending me: Clever, Clever, Clever!
Again: Why wouldn't I be in love with this woman?
It was later in the year when I got the bad news. Usually on Fridays we had time to do crafts, or projects that didn't fit into the otherwise loosey-goosey curriculum in Miss Leonard's room. I used this time to draw and, on occasion, play chess. It was during one of these rather quick matches against a severely over-matched classmate that Tess stopped by to watch me in action.
"Oh Dave," she enthused, "you play chess!" Most of what came out of Tess' mouth came with an exclamation point.
I mumbled something in reply, trying to appear deep in thought, but thoroughly distracted by her presence.
"Henry plays chess." What? No exclamation point? Full stop.
I don't remember asking, but I'm sure the look on my face read, "Henry?"
"Oh, he's my fiance!" Back to the exclamations. "He's in the seminary."
Again, no response from me as the pieces sat idle on the board. Seminary? She was going to marry a priest?
"I'll have to bring him by some Friday, and the two of you can meet!"
What a great idea!
"Maybe you two could play!"
Great! I can't wait.
I spent the next two weeks imagining how this encounter would go. Could I beat this religious nut so soundly that Tess could only see me as the next logical alternative? Could I be that cleaver?
When the day finally arrived, Henry showed up looking like John Denver with an afro. There was just a hint of red in his hair, which made the two of them look like Up With People castoffs. "Dave, this is Henry!"
I shook his hand and tried to look as clever as I was sure that I had been advertised. "I hear you play chess," were the first words Henry spoke to me.
Suddenly I was completely aware of just how young I was and how small. We went to the carpeted area where I often read and set a chess board up on the floor. We sat cross-legged across from one another, with Tess looking on from between us, leaning slightly toward Henry.
I don't remember the particulars of the game. I don't remember if anyone else in the class watched. Or cared. I know that I was beaten rather efficiently, but I could tell that I wasn't getting Henry's A game. When it was over, Henry shook my hand again, "Good game."
I mumbled something, completely distracted by the proximity of the two of them. Grown-ups. Ready to spend their lives together being wholesome and probably clever in their own right.
"I told you he was great!" sparkled Tess. I don't know if she was referring to me or Henry. I just know I was having my heart broken solidly for the first time.
When I think about Tess now, I don't think about the heartbreak. I think about all the encouragement she gave me, and how I wouldn't be a teacher if it weren't for her. But when I think about heartbreak, I think about Tess.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Antisocial Media

I am an old fogey. I don't have a Facebook page. I'm not ready for Reddit. Nothing about Pintrest piques my interest. The chatter of Twitter makes me tired. And, as of this past week, I have learned more about Instagram than I care to forget. I don't have thoughts that are easily condensed into a hundred and forty characters. That's Haiku. I don't tend to take a lot of photos of myself or the pavement in front of my house. The content I feel compelled to add to the ever-expanding pile that is Al Gore's Internet are the words you are reading here before you.
Most of you are here by my invitation. As a result, I tend to filter myself to that audience. I also understand that there are those who stumble across my rants and musings on their way to finding articles about Douglas Leedy's electronic masterpiece, and for that I apologize. Such is the nature of words and discourse: all the really good ideas have already been used, and if you're very clever you can repackage them in such a way that they seem like yours. I'm looking at you, J.J. Abrams.
I'm also looking at myself: the guy who is so out of touch that he had to find out if Instagram had any age restrictions when he heard that there was a series of slanderous messages being sent around a group of fourth graders. As it turns out, this small cadre of younger than thirteen-year-olds were caught up in a web of ugly intrigue that had all manner of name calling and lewd suggestion, all of which went without the notice of anybody's parents. It took a sharp-eared coach with her ears out to catch all the drama being fomented in and around the jump rope area. Eventually, there were a lot of tears and a lot of finger-pointing. What made the situation worse was that Instagram by its nature is essentially anonymous. You never know who you might be inviting in to your tablet or phone and what vileness they might spew. Unless you took the time to talk to your kids about what they were doing with all that technology they lug around.
I got to have some of those conversations with a number of kids that day, and then their parents. I hope we all learned something. I hope I never have to go on Instagram again. Now I have to educate myself on Rumr. Gosh, how I miss the olden days of writing on the bathroom wall. I'm old.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Accidents Will Happen

Aside from the requisite Mythbusters episode, I wonder how many times the ability to find a needle in a haystack has proved to be worthwhile. A literal needle in a literal haystack sounds like a practical joke, or perhaps some arcane method of birth control intended to keep farmer's daughters from taking that literal roll in the hay. In which case, it seems that dumping a few more needles into the mix would make it more useful, but therefore making the odds of finding said needles easier.
It's a figure of speech, but it was what I was thinking as I saw a co-worker pull up to work with a flat tire. He had discovered a nail in the rear driver's side. and the air had all but left him and he was riding on the rim. Aside from the obvious next steps of finding a place to change out the impacted wheel, I started to be curious about just how that nail found its way into that tire. Like porcupines and balloons, these two items are natural enemies, but their interaction would seem to be necessarily limited. Once upon a time I could have imagined a world that was still being built, with cities full of ongoing construction. Nails would be pervasive, even more than the hammers that pounded them. Now? Those nails have been knocked into place, where they've been for ages, and many of them have even been replaced or enhanced by stronger stuff: rivets, concrete, Velcro. How did that lone offending fastener find its way deep into the tread of this one particular tire? The odds of this occurrence in 2014 seems awfully slight.
Unless, like those needles in that family planning haystack, they were put there with malice aforethought. My son plays enough driving games on his Xbox that I have vicariously encountered spike strips, but I'm reasonably sure that my colleague was not attempting to outrun a highway patrol pursuit, and that kind of damage is more than one note. Instead, I tried to imagine some young hoodlum creeping by curbside, and inserting that lone nail into that one tire. That made about as much sense, and wasn't nearly as exciting as imaging my fellow teacher in an episode from Grand Theft Auto VI: Elementary School Rampage.
It didn't make sense. That's what makes it an accident. That's probably why they don't tend to store hardware directly adjacent to freeways and also why quilting circles weren't held in barns.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Job Security

In another life, I installed office furniture. It was modular, mostly from AllSteel, a product of Aurora, Illinois. On my first day of work, I was given a box knife and told that I needed to take all the file cabinets, chairs and desk tops from their cartons and stage them strategically about the IBM office complex where we had been deployed, like the Army Corps of Engineers, to construct a new hive for the busy bees that would eventually inhabit the cubicles we were busily building. Only I didn't do much building. Instead, I spent my day dealing with corrugated cardboard, shrink wrap, and dozens of plastic bags that held the treasure of furniture inside.
I never made it more than a few steps inside the building. Most of my time was spent unloading the truck, unboxing the raw materials, and then cutting up the empties and putting order to the chaos that I had made. In one box, I stuffed all the plastic. In another, I stacked the wooden slats that came at the bottom of every two or three drawer filing cabinet. There were a lot of those. As for the rest, I chopped up as much as I could to consolidate the mass of cardboard that had once surrounded all the furniture that was now becoming an office. I was pleased with the way the volume of the truck shrank as I busied myself about my work. This caught the attention of one of the leads on the job, and he anointed me "King of Trash." I found this appellation friendly enough, and it didn't occur to me that as the new guy, I would be master of that particular domain for some time to come.
What I did discover, was that there was a perk to being the monarch of rubbish. At the end of the day, if I drove the truck now laden with recyclable material, over to the scrap yard just a few blocks from our warehouse, I was paid a few extra dollars for my trouble. Not exactly a king's wages, but it allowed me to get extra pepperoni when I needed it.
Eventually, a new guy joined the crew, and I had to relinquish my title along with the box knife of which I had become so fond. But every now and then, I would volunteer for waste removal, just to keep my honor intact. And that extra three dollars in my pocket.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sliding Into Home

Baseball season is starting soon. Just a few days away now. I'm ready. The distraction of hockey and basketball have yet to take hold in my head, and even the bracket that I submitted for the NCAA tournament wasn't clever enough to make me a billion dollars, so now I wait for the next six months of professional sports to come blowing in like a lion, or at least a lamb with a really bad attitude. To this end, shortly after football season ended, my Denver Broncos windshirt went back into storage, and I brought out the Chicago Cubs version.
The fan base for the Oakland Athletics is generally more relaxed about their affiliations than that of the Oakland Raiders. I can expect to get away with little or no reaction from the townsfolk for my Cubbies gear, especially since it doesn't show up as a threat the way anything orange and black with the letters S and F on it does. The National League rival Giants across the bay tend to cause the biggest ruckus in this neighborhood, much in the same way that Raider fans tend to see Forty-Niner supporters as Chardonnay sippers who don't appreciate the blue collar ethic of their more urban counterparts. Chicago Cubs fans? They're just lost.
That's how I felt until last week, riding my bike home from school, when a car coming the opposite direction from me stopped. "Cubs?" shouted the driver, "They're never going to be anything! They never have been!" Or words to that effect, with a few choice expletives that flavored the whole thing. Then, just before he stomped on the gas and sped off, he added, "Go A's!"
I wanted to explain to him my history with the Cubs, and if I had an Oakland A's jacket, I would probably wear it. I've got T-shirts and an official fitted cap in green and gold. It's just that the team from the North Side of Chicago has a lot of history for me. I expect that someday, my son will tell his kids about how his father used to carry him in his little baby bucket to the upper deck of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. How he bought his dad tickets for Father's Day. Stories that will make it hard for him to imagine wearing any other team's colors.
I wanted to explain this to the guy who is obviously more ready than I am for baseball to start. Go A's. Go Cubs.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Buried In The Past

Some secrets should stay secrets. Some things that have been hidden should never see th light of day. Some things are better left buried. Folks in New Mexico seem to agree. Environmental regulators from the Land of Enchantment are blocking two companies from digging up an Alamogordo landfill in search of a rumored cache of what some consider the worst Atari video game of all time: E.T. Officials say an approved waste excavation plan, or WEP, is needed before any dig can begin.
Who wants to find the worst video game ever made? Why, the makers of video games, of course. Fuel Entertainment and LightBox Interactive recently announced plans to search the landfill for the game that proved a financial drain for Atari. The companies plan to record the dig for a documentary to be released by Microsoft for the Xbox One console. Filmmakers have even offered fans the chance to enter a giveaway of anything that might be unearthed. If this all sounds a little like video schadenfreude, you're probably not the only one. There was a time when Atari and Steven Spielberg ruled the world. It was a mythical time when women wore shoulder pads and men wore sunglasses at night. It was a different world. Expectations were different. There were people back then who played Dungeons and Dragons without irony. I know because I was one of them. The D&D players, not the sunglasses or shoulder pads. I was also the proud owner of an Atari 2600 console.I spent many hours in my parents' basement honing my Missile Command and Space Invader skills. These were elemental games that were rooted not in story, but in survival. E.T. was not that. It was a journey, a voyage. And it was nearly incomprehensible in eight bits, but it had a good beat and it was easy to dance to. It was a way to wile away the hours until something better came along. Because that's really what the 1980's were all about.
Now these retro-nerds want to dig up that somewhat mournful part of my youth? Go ahead, but you'd be better off trying to clear all the screens on Breakout.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day Breeze

The part of the dilemma my wife and I felt comfortable facing was what to do with the four inch diameter plug of wood that needed to be placed in the hole where our furnace flue used to be. This is precisely the kind of project that we can get our homeowner heads around. The parts where we struggle are usually those that involve multiple moving parts and lots of equipment. If it cannot be fixed with a Makita cordless drill, it it generally beyond the scope of my abilities. Please understand that we have, together, taken on a great many household repairs and installations. We have painted the interior and, more profoundly, the exterior of our Victorian. We have planted and removed trees from our yard, the yard that was seed that we planted. It should be noted that during this lawn creation project, I managed to incapacitate the rototiller we borrowed for this job. I have a knack for breaking tools. I maintain that there is a proper tool for every job, and I'm just the guy to bend or twist it in such a way that it cannot be used again.
But it's all in the service of making our home a nicer place to live. There are, however, certain elements of our house that defy my blunt-edged carpentry and plumbing skills. Recently, we had all of our old galvanized steel pipes replaced with nice, shiny copper ones. That meant we ended up with a whole basement full of plumbing that we no longer use. That became a garage and then a back yard full of plumbing that we no longer use. Most of it is useless, as several decades of rust have made the pipes into metal rods, some of which can still pass the tiniest bit of water through them.
Shortly after we engaged in the professional plumber to generate all that detritus, the furnace that we had so carefully paid to be installed by professionals of another guild, was determined to be "on its last legs." That's technical talk that only HVAC folks know. What we came to understand was that the innards of our furnace were broken, and they needed to be replaced. The good news was that the great big hunk of metal that lives inside the great big metal box was still on warranty and we were able to get it for free. Unless you count the expense of hiring someone who knows what HVAC stands for and will come by and reconnect all those gas and electrical connections to make the furnace work again. And we got to keep the old, broken great big hunk of metal that lived in the big metal box. It is now part of the discard pile that is our home renewal. In my younger days, I might have considered finding a way to turn them into some sort of conceptual art piece. Now I see it as more of a performance piece: Haul It Away.
I will miss it all terribly, all that scrap. It was once a valuable part of my life. Now it's debris.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Turning It In

I was never terrifically concerned about my grades. This could be because I was such a good student that it was never an issue. It probably also had something to do with the fact that my parents never seemed to make much of a big deal about them either. My older and younger brother made it through their years in public education without much of a fuss, so perhaps we came from a gifted family. Or maybe we went to schools that made it easy with their superior teachers and advanced curriculum.
Maybe it was easier to succeed back then. I didn't measure myself by my grades back then, but I find myself at times confounded by my son's report card. These are my marks as a parent. As a parent who is also a teacher. I've been a teacher since my son was born. How have I not been able to pass along the essential DNA strands that would create an excellent student? Considering my wife's educational experience, I would have expected that we should have created some sort of genetic beast of a super scholar.
That happened, sort of. We have a very smart kid, able to take things apart and put them back together again. He can carry on intelligent discussions about movies, literature and current events. He is also, by my reckoning, a pretty funny guy. He's not very good at turning in his homework. When he was in elementary school, we didn't notice so much because he had a single adult to answer to: his classroom teacher. That person was almost always willing to work with him to make sure that his desk eventually disgorged the correct missing assignment, and with plenty of reminders, he was able to rise beyond his multiple distractions. It didn't hurt that he was so witty and charming.
The game changed in middle school. Suddenly he was just a number on a long list of students with varying degrees of difficulty and challenges. My son learned all kinds of things that never even showed up on my final exams in high school while he was there, he just couldn't get those papers in the box at the right time. Suddenly, he was in an arena he didn't fully understand. In seventh grade he gave me a lengthy and mostly cogent argument for eliminating homework. That's when I wished that he was the son of somebody other than a public school teacher. I felt the absurd need to defend homework and all the abstract construct around secondary education. Ultimately, the name of the game is "If You Don't Turn In Your Work, You Fail."
He knows that. He works hard at it. Not just for himself, but also not to disappoint his mother and me. That part makes me love him all the more. And he wants to put together a transcript that will magically transport him to the college of his choice. We all hope it's somewhere without homework.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


No, this is not about a Korean airline that may have had some nefarious involvement with Flight 370. This is about Three Letter Acronyms. They are the flurry of letters that seem to drive the education business. I understand that working for the government, I should expect some of these. This is the land of the FBI, CIA, NSA, FDA, ABC, CBS, NBC, LBJ, JFK. This is the USA, after all. So a certain amount of this clever abbreviation seems necessary, if not a little patriotic.
When I first started teaching, I had a friend with whom I studied to get our teaching credentials. When we sat through those initial staff meetings after we were placed, he was the one who kept asking "What's an SST? What is ELA?" There are so many TLAs in the teaching profession, that knowing your Student Success Team from your English Language Arts is sometimes a struggle. Especially for new teachers. That's why my friend spent the next three years, at various meetings and staff retreats, reminding us all to please take pity on those of us who come to the profession without a lot of OJT. That way we will be more prepared to TCB.
This memory weighed heavily on me as I attended the training for the replacement for the CST, or California Standards Test, the SBAC. Four letters? What do they expect us to do with that extra letter? Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium? I tried explaining to a bunch of fifth graders why we needed that C at the end. Consortium? Why can't it just be "company?" Maybe because no "company" would send along a manual filled with a whole new passel of TLAs. Only these aren't just three letters. Some of them are four, or just two. ITTLs can be TAs for the SBAC. Informational Technology Teacher Leaders can be Test Administrators for this Assessment that has a consortium behind it. You have to know how to operate a CB, which doesn't turn out to be a Citizen's Band radio, but rather a Google Chromebook. You have to be sure to follow the DFA from the TAM. Directions for administration from the Test Administrator Manual. It's enough to make your head swim. Now imagine giving this raft of information to a group of tired teachers, or even more, to their tired students. I'm sure we can all imagine the acronyms that apply to this situation, even if they are more than three letters.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Natural Selection

Very early in my teacher training, it was impressed upon me just how awful tracking can be. You know, the way schools used to steer kids in a particular direction, depending on their skills or aptitudes. This kind of social engineering was seen as defeating in a number of different ways, starting with self-esteem and radiating outward. Which students should make paths to engineering and science? Which should start polishing their resumes for that job at Burger King? Starting at ten years old? After seventeen years, I still don't consider myself a shrewd enough judge of character and abilities to make this kind of discernment.
Some time ago, Charles Darwin used the term "divergent" to describe a "process by which an interbreeding population or species diverges into two or more descendant species, resulting in once similar or related species to become more and more dissimilar." We are about to be treated to another film adaptation of a young adult novel called, you guessed it, "Divergent." It tells the story of a dystopian future in which people are divided into five distinct factions based on their personalities. Those who do not fit into one of these narrow categories are considered, wait for it, divergent. They are the ones who apparently stir up all the trouble. At least enough to make a move about.
Some are comparing this tale to "The Hunger Games," a series of books and companion films that tell the story of a dystopian future in which young men and women offer themselves up as tributes for their region during a selection process called "the Reaping." Then these contestants go on to play the games referred to in the title, with only one survivor. Pitting teenagers against one another in a fight to the death seems a little less civilized than putting the ones who can't read into shop class, but not much.
And where does one go to avoid such pigeonholing? Not at Hogwarts. In the world of Harry Potter, you are designated on day one as a member of one of four houses. When my family took a tour of Potter memorabilia at Warner Brothers Studio, my son was in tears at the notion that the Sorting Hat might shove him into Slytherin. Good luck getting a job anywhere but the dark side with that one on your permanent record
I'm thinking of writing my own series of novels for young adults. This one will pit the Band Kids against the Smokers. I think it's going to be a big, big hit.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?

As a bachelor, I had two things in my freezer: Swanson Hungry Man TV Dinners and Tombstone pizzas. Since I regularly went out on Tuesday evenings to my friend's pizza restaurant down at the mall, I had to stagger the days on which I baked those Tombstones. Thursdays. Saturdays, or sometimes Sundays. That meant I was alternating pizza nights. This seemed to me like a prudent diet restriction.
Except I used to eat an entire pepperoni for dinner. In those days, I only cut them into four slices. It seemed to expedite their inhalation. When I got married and settled down, I went through a vetting process with my wife regarding our tastes in frozen pizza. It was pretty clear that there would be no Swanson's in our home, since the next best thing was no longer necessary when I had home cooking. Tombstone won out over a variety of other competitors. It was consistent, and that was important as we started our lives together. It did mean, however, that I was giving up a quarter of my pizza to my wife. That's when I started cutting eight slices. Somehow, getting six slices made up for not eating all four. It was a fractions trick that made me content to share.
When our son was born, I managed to cling to my six of eight ratio, but I was giving up the sausage from my pieces to my newly minted carnivore. That didn't last long. Soon enough, I was down to four slices, with two apiece going to my wife and child. Before the onset of teenagedom, I had given another to my son: three, three and two. The thought of cutting into still smaller slices occurred to me, but even I wasn't fooled by this notion.
These days, the balance of power has been somewhat restored. My son and I share a Tombstone on nights when my wife will not be home for dinner. I can still feel him eying my side of the pie as we work to clear the cardboard circle. "You want that last one?" On principle alone.
Sometimes, when the rest of the family has gone in whatever direction they choose and I am left alone with a freezer that has Tombstone pizza in it, I will slide one in the oven just for me. What do I want on my Tombstone? One word: Mine.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's Getting Cold Out There

John McCain referred to Russia as "a gas station masquerading as a country." This comes as the senior senator from Arizona describes his experience visiting Ukraine last week. Furthermore, he continued, “It’s kleptocracy, it’s corruption. It’s a nation that’s really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy. And so economic sanctions are important. Get some military assistance to Ukrainians, at least so they can defend themselves. Resume the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Look at Moldova and Georgia, both of whom are occupied by Russian troops as we speak, a path toward membership in NATO.”
He was also featured in the New York Times' Op-Ed section, where he wrote,"Crimea has exposed the disturbing lack of realism that has characterized our foreign policy under President Obama. It is this worldview, or lack of one, that must change." McCain added: "Crimea must be the place where President Obama recognizes this reality and begins to restore the credibility of the United States as a world leader."
Realism? Johnny Mac wants realism? How about we start with Vlad the Impaler, who seems to have taken his vision of world domination straight from a game of Risk.  That's where I first hear of Ukraine, and Kamchatka, and Irkutsk. Putin is the guy intent on rolling the dice, as the world at large sits around the board, staring in disbelief. Who does he think he is? A Bond villain without his necessary opposite on Her Majesty's Secret Service.
That might be why more than fifty thousand Russians showed up in Moscow to protest the reality that is being perpetrated in their name. Russia's not-so-free press put the number at around three thousand. Again, not so realistic. According to many of these protesters, economic sanctions would do the trick. They don't want a war. It's the guy with the eye giant laser, sitting in the swivel chair slowly stroking his long-haired cat, who seems to be missing the message.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Watch List

"Premium Rush" is the best movie. At lest this is the assertion that a friend of ours made the other night at dinner. Taken in context, during a conversation in which we were all catching up and specifics were excused for generalities, this epitome could have simply drifted into the chit chat ether. Not on my watch.
"And Citizen Kane is garbage," I shot back, snobbery ablaze.
"You know what I mean," responded our friend, somewhat taken aback with the ferocity of my return of her lob volley.
I wasn't finished. "The work of Martin Scorsese pales by comparison to this tale of a reckless bicycle messenger in New York City. Mean Streets? That was nothing. Premium Rush was the real deal."
That's when our friend's husband stepped in as the voice of reason. "Well, you know, we're talking movies more than film here, right?"
I knew exactly what he meant. I understood that he was talking about those easily digested nuggets that have no nutritional value to speak of but make us feel fat and happy. There are plenty of people who, if pressed, would describe Cheetos as "food." There are people who watch movies starring Vin Diesel more than once. On purpose. Not that they're ever going to be referred to as "film."
When I was in college, I studied film. I went to the movies. Occasionally there was some crossover. Watching George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" in Horror Film class was one of those moments. Owning a VCR and working in a video store gave me plenty of opportunities to flip from one side to the other: this one's good for you, this one not so much. In those years I learned to speak with authority about montage and mise en scene, but learned when to turn that all off and talk about "what's new that's good that's in" to customers whose taste ran more Goldie Hawn-y Chevy Chase-y than Kurosawa.
I've probably seen more movies than film since then. I don't know what the best of either crop was, objectively. I'm just pretty darn sure that "Premium Rush" wasn't on either list. Of course, Joseph Gordon Levitt never made commercials for cheap wine.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Us And Them

My head has been full of Venn Diagrams lately. It's something that you may not think about much, unless you spend a lot of time in an elementary school. I belong to that set of humans who make those pictures in their heads. There is an overlapping circle of people who used to think about such things but have forgotten what that means. I live in the intersection of those two groups called California and Colorado. It's nice to run into some of that same type of person every now and again. We can compare notes on why we chose to move from here to there. What we miss. What we're happy to be free of.
Adults: married or single, with or without kids. You can have more than two circles. It makes things more interesting. I have found, over the years, that I have more in common  with parents than I do with married people, but I have a crazy hard time comprehending the lives of single parents. Maybe this is why the world is such a curious place.
One might imagine that geography would be enough to bring a group together. As it turns out, that doesn't seem to be the case. As far as land masses go, the Middle East is incredibly overlapped, with dozens of different cultures and religions stacked up on top of one another. The topographical features don't seem to be enough to keep them from fussing with one another. It reminds me a bit of the playground back at that elementary school I mentioned. All these kids come from the same neighborhood. They eat the same breakfast and lunch. They have multiple opportunities each and every day to find ways to become more familiar with one another, and yet I still end up with two fourth graders from the same class shoving one another because of some perceived slight.
It's so much easier to be oppositional: boys versus girls, left versus right, America versus the Taliban, Russia against the Ukraine. Maybe we should spend more time studying the overlaps.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

You Must Chill!

"A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman" would like you to know that Disney's icy animated hit "Frozen" was sent to a movieplex near you to brainwash your children into supporting the “normalization of same-sex sexual behavior.” Or worse yet, it's out there in its colorful wrapping, computer generated 3D graphic, Academy Award winning song belting box in the form of a DVD waiting to indoctrinate your children into being gay. In so many words, conservative radio host Kevin Swanson, had this to say: “I wonder if people are thinking: ‘You know I think this cute little movie is going to indoctrinate my five-year-old to be a lesbian or treat homosexuality or bestiality in a light sort of way.’ I wonder if the average parent going to see Frozen is thinking that way. I wonder if they are just walking in and saying, ‘Yeah, let’s get my five-year-old and seven-year-old indoctrinated early.’ You know they’re not, I think for the most part they’re oblivious. Maybe they do pick up on pieces of it, but they just don’t get up and walk out.” Pastor Swanson believes, “If I was the Devil, what would I do to really foul up an entire social system and do something really, really, really evil to five- and six- and seven-year-olds in Christian families around America? I would buy Disney.”
Is this news, really? Did these folks spend any time looking at "Pinocchio,"  or "Peter Pan?" The puppet who wanted to be a real boy was enticed by some shady characters to spend some time on Pleasure Island before being turned into a donkey along with the rest of his chums. You probably don't need to get much past the green tights or the Island of Lost Boys to understand why Peter Pan was hanging around with a fairy. As I have mentioned here before: Donald Duck is not wearing pants.
Or maybe it's just that you find what you're looking for, no matter where you look. A Space Ranger named Buzz and a cowboy named Woody? Laurel and Hardy? Ben Hur and Messala? I guess love is where you find it, even if you're a well-behaved Mormon woman.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


In my neighborhood, there was a kid who used to proclaim loudly that, "I'm gonna sue you because my dad's a sue-er!" whenever there was some sort of real or perceived offense made on his person. We always assumed this threat was unfounded, since we knew the kid's dad was neither a lawyer nor connected to waste disposal. Still, it was enough to give us all pause just before we continued the behavior that had incited the claim in the first place. We did, as ten-year-olds, stop to think.
That was forty years ago. Since then, our nation has became a country full of sue-ers. A Colorado man, despite acknowledging that he's lucky to be alive after being trapped in a submerged car, has filed an intent to sue his rescuers for half a million dollars. Roy Ortiz filed his intent to sue the county of Boulder and his rescuers because, as his attorney, Ed Ferszt explains, the county should have closed the road during floods in September. He said the first responders were also included because they did not realize Ortiz was trapped in the car until they prepared to lift it out of the water. His life, it seems, was not saved quickly enough. Mister Ferszt calls the lawsuit a "preservative measure." Interesting, since that's what the rescue workers tend to call their job.
A little further south, in Florida, George Zimmerman's parents are seeking damages "in excess of $15,000" and cite emotional distress and invasion of privacy from against comedian and former presidential candidate Roseanne Barr, claiming that their lives were harmed after Barr allegedly posted their home address on Twitter in 2012. The first part of this discussion would seem to be "what is the difference between being a comedian and a former presidential candidate?" The next would be, why is emotional distress and invasion of privacy such a bargain compared to being dragged from your submerged car by rescue workers? I guess it's all pretty subjective. Especially in Florida.
Back up the coast, in New Jersey, Rachel Canning has asked a court there to require her parents to pay the remainder of her high school tuition, living expenses, legal expenses and at least some of her college tuition from a designated college fund. She claims that she is on the honor roll and a cheerleader and her parents kicked her out and crushed her dreams of studying biomedical engineering. Her parents say that she voluntarily left the house because she didn't want to follow rules and had been suspended from school. Ms. Canning's future depends on a price tag somewhere between that of Mister Ortiz and the Zimmermans. I'm just glad I didn't grow up in any of those neighborhoods. I don't think I could afford it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Opportunity Knocking

What if your life expectancy? If you had a way to anticipate your exit from this world, would you choose your own off ramp? This is the kind of discussion you can have first thing in the morning at an elementary school. Before the kids come in. We were having it in reference to the stolen passports involved in the Malaysia Airlines incident. Terrorists? Or maybe just unfortunate victims of a catastrophe. It's possible that we will never know, but imagining that these two men were attempting to flee their country to the relative safety and calm of Europe is one of the possibilities. After all the intrigue of trying to get themselves out to a better life, getting on a doomed jet airliner would be almost too tragic.
We want more. When I say "we," I mean most of us human-types. When I say "more," I mean life itself. The conversation continued. We wondered if there was a point where you could be satisfied. My colleague suggested that if he knew his time was coming, he would start jumping out of airplanes. This was an interesting choice of activity, considering what lead up to it, but I got the idea: start taking those chances. Start taking the risks that would allow you to tell stories, and then for others to tell those stories after you're gone.
I considered this for a moment, and realized that I have a different perspective as a parent. Once my son was born, my story started a new chapter. This was going to be a longer book. I want to stick around to see how his life turns out. How will he navigate the twists and turns of college and dating? When will he fall in love? How many times? Who will his children be? And the cycle repeats again.
So many paths. So very little time.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Different Shades Of Pink

I was flipping around the channels the other night when I landed on our local PBS station. They were showing "Brit Floyd - Live At Red Rocks." There were a lot of reasons for me to take a few moments out of my evening to watch, and not because I had any particular need to donate to the endless beg-a-thon that seems to be going on during every broadcasting day. I was watching because I love the venue. Having spent a good portion of my youth warming those wood benches wedged between two mammoth outcroppings of sandstone, watching performances by everyone from Steve Martin to Talking Heads, it was like a little slice of home. I never saw Pink Floyd play there. I saw Roger Waters solo tour in Denver. This tribute band from England may be the closest thing to Pink on Red.
Soon, I wasn't watching. I was just listening. Sonically, the band was all but indistinguishable from the original. With no lasers on the ceiling to distract me, I found myself drifting back to my high school years: lights off, headphones on, listening to every sound. I remembered my senior year in high school when every gathering of my friends included a somewhat ritualistic playing of all four sides of "The Wall." Somehow, invariably, a friend of mine would find his way into my bedroom by the end of side three, where he would take some young thing to share mild indiscretions during "Comfortably Numb."
It wasn't until I was much older that I considered just how tragic a choice this was for a make out song. Sure, it was over six minutes long which made it ideal in some respects, but "Comfortably Numb?"
I'll need some information first.
Just the basic facts.
Can you show me where it hurts? 

Kind of cold. Kind of distant. And it's only now, after a couple years of not getting a Christmas card from my buddy and his happy family that I found out that he was no longer with his happy family. According to his wife, now ex, he had "made some bad choices." I wondered if one of those choices was his high school make out song. That's when I changed the channel.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Big Two, Or Is That Three?

I can't blame Rick Perry. The governor of Texas, once and future Republican candidate for president and public speaker of some renown has recently taken two states to task for their job growth: New York and California. "If you rent a U-Haul to move your company, it costs twice as much to go from San Francisco to Austin than the other way around," joked Perry. "Because you can't find enough trucks to flee the Golden State. And New York has got this new advertising campaign," he continued. "The new New York. But they're implementing the tired old recipe of back-breaking taxes and yeah, you guessed it: regulations that are larger than a thirty-ounce big gulp."
First of all, this is right in the governor's wheelhouse. It doesn't require him to remember more than two specifics. Three is a lot to ask, as we recall from his assertion that he would close three government agencies if he were elected president, but could only recall two of them, Education and Commerce. Some time later, he remembered that it was the department of Energy that he was going to shut down, but the damage was already done. This time, he decided to keep it simple: the two biggest, bluest targets on the map and never mind how factual his pithy commentary was.
Since it wasn't. The third state in this mix is, of course, Texas. Governor Rick wants us to see his state as the model of efficiency and effectiveness, but evidence tends top suggest otherwise, at least when compared to California. Not everyone buys into The Texas Miracle. The Washington Monthly's Phillip Longman is one of them. "In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, children who grew up in families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution had only a 12.2 percent chance of rising to the top fifth as adults. Those who grew up in or near San Diego or Los Angeles had even lesser odds—only 10.4 and 9.6 percent, respectively. It’s depressing that for so many Californian children, the chances of realizing the American Dream are so slim. But California looks like the land of opportunity compared to Texas." What does it look like in the Lone Star state? "In the greater Austin area, children who grew up in families of modest means had only a 6.9 percent chance of joining the top fifth of earners when they became adults; in Dallas, only 7.1 percent; in San Antonio, just 6.4 percent. Yes, Texas offers more chances for upward mobility than places like Detroit and some Deep South cities like Atlanta. Yet the claim that Texas triumphs over the rest of America as the land of opportunity is all hat and no cattle. Children raised in the postindustrial wasteland of Newark, New Jersey, during the 1980s, it turns out, had a better chance of going from rags to riches than did children born in Houston, which was the best city in Texas for upward mobility during that time."
And so we see the problem. If the governor had to hold on to all those facts and figures, and make it cute, we might all still be waiting for the punch line. Nobody wants to take a swipe at Detroit these days, and Atlanta is not the easy target that New York is. On that issue, I'll let the Daily Show's Lewis Black have the final word. Or two. Or is that three?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bridge Of Sighs

I thought about the poetry of these bridges. The old and the new coming together just beyond the gate that told me I had made it half way. I could have run on into San Francisco if the path didn't end at Yerba Buena Island. At least that's what I told myself.
When I started, I looked up at the fog burning off an early spring morning. In my mind, I tried to picture the span, but it came out like a postcard. The reality of putting one foot in front of another for nearly eight miles gave me pause. The reality was I didn't know the distance until I came home and looked it up. I had something to prove.
I wanted to be able to push myself a little further than I had for the past few years. I wanted to see if I could still keep up with my wild notions of exercise, so I ran out under the overpasses, past the sewage treatment plant, and onto the bridge.
I was running into a little breeze, but the playlist of Rush songs that had serendipitously popped up on my iPod kept me chugging along. As I made my way west, I watched the little group of men on the Old Bay Bridge across the way, preparing to retire the rusted old hulk, piece by piece. The Skeleton Crew. At the top of a crane, teetering precipitously, was a lone hard hat moving along a girder that would be scrap soon. I tried to imagine the plan for dismantling such a beast. There were still speed limit signs and street lights attached to the upper deck. I wondered if there wasn't some hush-hush contingency plan for keeping the old one for a spare, just in case the new one didn't turn out to be so wonderful after all. The bridge I was on.
It wasn't until I turned around and faced the hills of Oakland again that it occurred to me that I was hundreds of feet above the bay, and any kind of catastrophic failure would be just that for yours truly. I considered once again the challenge I was giving myself. I wasn't walking on water. I was running above it. High above it.
The other runners and bikers and strollers I met along the way seemed just as immersed in their morning's exertion. I have them all the cursory head bob, and mouthed "morning" to them as they passed, not wanting to share the thoughts or sounds in my head aloud: Geddy Lee, government conspiracies, my youth.
When I made it back to dry land, the IKEA parking lot, I felt that I had accomplished something. I didn't build a bridge, but I experienced one. The span between the old and the new. Those ten mile runs that used to come so naturally in my twenties that have now been reduced to three and four mile maintenance jogs around my neighborhood. Poetry. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Town Called Bob

This is the kind of thing that gets me all worked up and then I have to blog about it: On February Eleventh, a Chevron well outside of Bobtown, Pennsylvania exploded. Ian McKee, who lived about a half-hour away in Morgantown, West Virginia, and worked for a contractor was killed. For five days, the streets of Bobtown were choked with emergency vehicles and the sky was filled with fire and smoke as crews attempted to bring the conflagration under control. Chevron's response? Representatives visited about a hundred people, seeking concerns or questions and leaving a gift certificate for a large pizza and two-liter drink at Bobtown Pizza, which had just opened.
Can you feel the outrage? Corporate America trying to buy off this little town named Bob with some pepperoni and soda? How wrong is that? About twelve thousand people have signed an online petition demanding Chevron apologize, according to petition organizer Karen Feridun. Karen doesn't live in Bobtown. She lives about two hundred miles away. Other signers came from Alaska, Florida and many other states, as well as Australia, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Germany and Italy. Nobody from Bobtown has yet to sign.
That may be because they were satisfied with the settlement. "I thought it was pretty decent of them," said Ray Elli,  who lives in Bobtown, noted that the fire was about a mile outside town, on a ridge, and that people in town didn't feel threatened. His current priority is not getting an apology from Chevron, he said, but getting ready for the spring wild turkey season. It seems as though the prospect of getting dinner from Chevron instead of a protracted lawsuit is a real-life solution for the folks in southern Pennsylvania. Can I get some Crazy Bread with that?

Sunday, March 09, 2014

I Got You Babe

Harold Ramis was a genius. I say this because he made me laugh. I mean this because aside from this laughter, he also made me think. I thought about the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. I also had plenty of time to consider the wisdom of the Dalai Lama, and the zen of putting. Mostly what I learned was the way to pace yourself through the endless slog of days that look and sound exactly alike
How do I keep things fresh and exciting when every morning it seems I wake up just before the radio next to my bed begins to whisper its AOR reminder. Then I wander into the bathroom where I hear my son's EDM reminder to me that his alarm is now beginning. By the time I make it to the kitchen to pour my customary bowl of granola and glass of juice, that same song has made a loop four times in my son's room. Looping back into my bedroom to get dressed, I hear the music from my son's room, drowning out the soft and more commercially palatable sounds of my clock radio. This is about the time that my wife and I trade "wake up" choruses with one another in what appears to be another vain attempt to rouse my son. Finally, the clock radio in his room begins to do a third more insistent alarm. This one is an annoying beep that starts out slow but slowly builds and intensifies. Still no movement from my son's bed. That's when I feel compelled to point out to my son that I am performing the same function that I have for the past few hundred days, hoping that I might have any other interaction first thing in the morning. 
Stuck in a loop. I know that if I wasn't there for some reason, my son would figure out a way to get himself up and to school without our incessant hounding. It's just part of the program. Rewriting that program is the challenge. Sometimes in the evening before bed, we talk about what that might look or sound like. We've had a lot of great ideas, but mostly it ends up being yet another trip through the ritual we call morning at our house. I know it was different, once upon a time, but I have a hard time distinguishing the now from the then. It was Harold Ramis' movie that helped me understand that it's a learning process. One of these days, it won't be February Second, and I want to be ready.

Saturday, March 08, 2014


"Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, where they are unlikely to be causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence, although the events need not be exactly simultaneous in time." This is how our friends at Wikipedia define the fifth studio album by the Police. As it turns out, Carl Jung's notion is the place where I tend to dwell a good deal of the time I spend writing this blog.
Let's take today for example: Officials at Devonshire Alternative Elementary School defended their decision to suspend ten-year-old Nathan Entingh, whose hand they designated as a “level 2 lookalike gun.” Gun play at the school had become a problem, they said, and students and parents had been warned against it. Nathan was suspended for three days. The officials were defensive because, believe it or not, the community found this a pretty ridiculous response to a pretty ridiculous situation. “He said he was playing,” Nathan's father said. “It would even make more sense maybe if he brought a plastic gun that looked like a real gun or something, but it was his finger. I would have even been fine with them doing an in-school suspension.” Making sense is the hard part. It does make me wonder what a level 1 lookalike gun would be. It is certainly not what I was thinking about when I got into the education biz seventeen years ago.
The other piece of coincidence to which I will now attempt to ascribe meaning is the story from Florida, where a couple was arrested for abandoning their three young children in the woods.Police said the children, ages ten, eight, and six, had walked nearly two miles before they were found. When mom and dad, both aged thirty, were taken into custody officers found crystal meth in their car's glove compartment, along with a syringe and a burnt spoon. I'm guessing that would be a "level 1 lookalike."
I'm bringing these two events and mashing them together to try and make sense of the ten-year-old's experience in America. I'm having a hard time with it, but maybe it has something to do with those of us who aren't ten. I wonder what Sting would have to say. 

Friday, March 07, 2014

Gonna Have To Be A Little More Thrifty

Okay, I will promise not to make any Webelos jokes here. After that one, anyway. The Walt Disney Company will cut funding to the Boy Scouts of America beginning in 2015 because of a policy that bans gay adult leaders in the organization. That means the Boys Scouts of America will have to go somewhere else to find funding for their pup tents and neckerchiefs. The Boy Scouts organization is "disappointed" by the decision, which will affect the organization's ability to serve children, Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said in a statement Sunday. What did they want? Just last year the Boy Scouts of America lifted their ban on gay youth. Wasn't that forward thinking enough?
Apparently not. Even though Disney is not a direct contributor to the Boy Scouts, but it donates money to some troops in exchange for volunteer hours completed by their employees. Feel free to imagine your new troop leader, Goofy. Or Donald Duck. Of course, if you were lucky enough to tear Mister Duck away from his very busy production schedule, you Scouts might be shocked to find that this Hollywood type tends to show up for work most days without his pants. He seems to be sending this message to his nephews as well.
It is possible that I am the exact wrong person to ask about this, having had precious little experience with Boy Scouts of America. My older brother was a Boy Scout, and he seemed to like it just fine. I really appreciate that whole "be prepared" thing. I do wonder if somehow they aren't following their own message. This is 2014, after all, and times have changed. If you want Disney money, you've got to play by Disney rules. Or maybe you can just join the Junior Woodchucks (pants optional).

Thursday, March 06, 2014


They're casting the new Gilligan's Island movie. Yes, the three hour tour which has now lasted half a century, continues. Whether or not producers choose to play the whole thing as camp or as a precursor to "Lost," the choices ahead of them are daunting. There is no more crushing and eternal debate than the one set up in 1964: Ginger or Mary Ann?
Sherwood Schwartz set up this dynamic in the very first episode: Small town girl Mary Ann Summers was played by Dawn Wells, while Hollywood bombshell Ginger Grant was embodied by Tina Louise. The competition was initially played down, but became apparent throughout the three year run of the series: girl next door or sex kitten? They were both citizens of the Island, but as each season ran into the next, viewers couldn't help but notice the friction.
I believe this duality was drawn from an earlier source: Archie comics. Betty was the wholesome blond. Veronica was the spoiled brunette. Who would Archie choose? On Gilligan's Island, this pairing off was never as explicit, but one could imagine the challenge of three eligible bachelors vying for the attention of two potential mates. For Archie, things were simpler, only periodically was his choice tempered by the addition of Reggie into the equation. Jughead was a non-factor.
This tableau was echoed in the struggle between Chrissie and Janet on Three's Company, though casting directors flipped the table here once again, putting the bimbo in the blond while the brunette returned to the down-to-earth one. Shortly after this, came what was, for me, the most difficult choice: Bailey Quarters versus Jennifer Marlowe. The men who worked at WKRP in Cincinnati seemed at all time willing to fall at the feet of the hyper-sexualilzed Jennifer while ignoring the obvious charms of Ms. Quarters.
Perhaps you share my quandary, or perhaps you didn't make it past that first sentence.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

What Are Your Neighbors Up To?

Sarah Palin would like us all to know that she was right. "Yes, I could see this one from Alaska,” she wrote. “I'm usually not one to Told-Ya-So, but I did, despite my accurate prediction being derided as ‘an extremely far-fetched scenario’ by the ‘high-brow’ Foreign Policy magazine. Here’s what this ‘stupid’ ‘insipid woman’ predicted back in 2008: ‘After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama's reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia's Putin to invade Ukraine next.’
Okay. Points to the ex-governor for calling the Russian invasion of Ukraine six years ago, but she will lose some petals off her Courtesy Daisy for usually not being one to "Told-Ya-So." In my experience, that's pretty much how she's made her way in the public eye since she arrived. While voters and her own party have distanced themselves since her initial flurry of mixed messages in the 2008 election, she has continued to spray invective at whatever situation she felt merited it. Regarding the U.S. and NATO bombing of Libya, March 29, 2011, "I haven't heard the president state that we're at war. That's why I too am not knowing - do we use the term intervention? Do we use war? Do we use squirmish? What is it?"
After being asked how she would handle the current hostilities between the two Koreas during an interview on Glenn Beck's radio show, November 24, 2010, the once and future Republican candidate said, "But obviously, we've got to stand with our North Korean allies."
On June 30, 2010 she wrote this on her Facebook page: "We have a President, perhaps for the very first time since the founding of our republic, who doesn't appear to believe that America is the greatest earthly force for good the world has ever known."
Or what she had to say on Fox News, June 15, 2010 about solving the Gulf oil spill crisis, "What the federal government should have done is accept the assistance of foreign countries, of entrepreneurial Americans who have had solution that they wanted presented. The Dutch and the Norwegians, they are known for dikes and for cleaning up water and for dealing with spills."
I guess what I'm saying is this: Even a stopped clock can be right twice a day.  

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Post No Bills

The fact that my son is now receiving more mail than I am comes as no real surprise. I don't tend to get a lot in the first place. Mostly what I get are offers for some form of insurance, usually connected to my job. Most weeks, if it weren't for my subscription to Entertainment Weekly, I could probably go a month or two without ever getting so much as a postcard. That's fine with me, since the bulk of the correspondence that fills our mailbox comes addressed to my wife, supply sergeant and chief financial officer.
Still, it's a little strange to be dragging in stacks of letters, fliers and oversize envelopes for my son. It used to be that his monthly issue of Car and Driver kept him content. Now his desk is frequently littered with unopened requests for his attention, coming from institutions from across the country, begging him to consider them in his future plans. Especially enjoyable are the full color maps of campuses that we may never visit, but they do inspire a sense of nostalgia. This isn't because of any connection to academia, they are reminiscent of the fold-out diagrams of Disneyland that we continue to drag home after each and every visit, just in case the geography of that place should ever change in the slightest way.
Somewhere beneath the deluge of junk mail, however, is this undercurrent of anxiety: Our little boy is getting ready to leave us. After years of insisting that he would go to college in Berkeley so that he could still sleep at home, his sights have begun to expand. He actively entertains invitations from schools in Vermont. He pores over glossy photos that entice him to become an Tyler Texas Patriot. He gets so many of these dispatches from institutes of higher learning that many of them simply go unopened. Too much information, not enough time for a high school junior to take it all in.
But I do. I look at them all and start to think about the airline tickets home for the holidays. I imagine the road trips to this or that destination. I wonder if someday there will be a home for my son in a place like Texas or Vermont. Or Malibu. Or somewhere from whence we I will receive mail from my son. Asking for money.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Over My Head

I could hear the rain tapping on the sides of our house. It was a welcome sound, mostly because it is a sound we have missed over this past very dry winter. There was also comfort in the drip drip drop of the showers. I was inside my house. There was a roof over my head and I was able to experience the rain from an auditory perspective.
There are plenty of people for whom this is not the case. Here in the city I call home, there are at least three thousand people for whom the rain is no comfort at all. The number of homeless people in Alameda County is double that, and as I watched the Doppler Radar pictures of the storm moving across the state of California, I thought about the hundreds of thousands of people in its path who were looking for shelter. What were those basic needs? Food. Clothing. Shelter. They weren't listening to the rain. They were soaking in it.
And so I took solace in my house. I thanked my father, since it was his life insurance that gave us a down payment on the place we call home. I have often reflected on the tragic game show nature of that transaction. Would I rather be living in a one bedroom apartment, wishing that I had the scratch to be making the jump from renter to ownership, or sitting on the couch in a much larger manse where we have ample room to build and expand our lives. Sometimes I take it for granted. That makes me ungrateful. I think I would rather be grateful. Grateful for the roof over my head and the gift I was given all those years ago.
It's the true sorrow of being homeless. First you need the house, then you can make a home. I'm glad I got that chance, one I should never take for granted.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Children Of The Sun

Let's hear it for Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer: She courageously vetoed a controversial bill that would have allowed business owners to deny service to gays and lesbians because of religious beliefs. This probably won't do much to keep business owners from denying service to gays and lesbians because of their existence, but it's a step in the right direction. A very small, but now wholly insignificant step.
This is a state, after all, that ignores daylight savings time. Who cares about all those weak-kneed liberals who allow the government to make them turn their clocks endlessly back and forth. Not in Arizona. Of course, this does cause trouble when they try and figure out the Fox News Schedule.
Arizona took an additional six years to decide that a national holiday honoring the life and work of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was a good idea. Again, these folks won't be pushed around. Just because some guy had a dream and he got shot, we all have to take a day off? Not even Chuck D and Public Enemy could bully the Grand Canyon State into submission. Ronald Reagan, icon of conservatism, only signed the bill that made Dr. King's birthday a national holiday with great reluctance. Why should there be yet another federal holiday? Keep the government out of my weekends!
In 2008, voters in Arizona voted against gay marriage, but for Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Joe went ahead with his progressive agenda, including having inmates wear pink underwear, sending a very loud and mixed message to the locked down population.
Then there's the story of the Maverick and his sidekick Sarah. We can't blame Arizona alone for that one. Alaska is just as culpable in this matter. Maybe it has something to do with states that start with the letter A. Arkansas? Alabama?
Four years ago, Arizona passed SB 1070, the most stringent law on illegal immigration to be found anywhere in these United States. Under this statute, failure to carry immigration documents became a crime and gave the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act was upheld by the US Supreme Court, giving authorities the right to arrest anyone when there is "reasonable suspicion (read "brown")" that they are in this country illegally. 
I suppose it's a good thing that the already overtaxed law enforcement officers in Arizona were not called upon to have to determine sexual preference via "reasonable suspicion." Those pink bloomers might not tell the whole story.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Cash Crunch

Back in 1980, my girlfriend's dad was working on a bank card system that he hoped would turn us into a "cashless society." At the time, as any good teenage boy hearing words come out of a grownup's head, I scoffed. Cashless? You mean that I will walk around town with no folding money in my pocket with nothing but a magnetic stripe to pay my way? Right. And when do I report to Carousel?
Well, I'm here to tell you that I live in the big city and there are plenty of weeks that go by when I carry nothing but a magnetic strip or two in my wallet. Those clanky bits of change I used to haul around are but a thing of the past. Thirty-four years later, I am living in a cashless society. Who would have thought? Well, we know the answer to that one.
It's also the reason why movies that feature satchels full of hundred dollar bills and TV shows that include daring armed car robberies are becoming somewhat antiquated. Who needs all that exposure? Why not just figure out a way to electronically transfer those millions of dollars into your Swiss Bank account. I guess it's nice to know some things never change. The Swiss are still the best at keeping time and money.
Minneapolis is a lot like Switzerland. Well, in climate at least, if not accent. That's where you'll find the headquarters for Target. I worked for Target back in the eighties. It was a discount store, so you didn't expect to need a credit card for transactions there. This meant security for the wads of tens and twenties and rolls of quarters and nickels and dimes was extreme. These days, I suspect those cash drawers don't get the workout they used to. But maybe they should. Credit card information was gathered by as yet unknown hackers, causing customers to run fleeing in the opposite direction in the months following Christmas. Revenue slipped more than five percent after that breach.
Kind of makes me long for the days when I used have a lucky day because I found a crumpled up five dollar bill in the pocket of my jeans. I could buy a latte with that.