Wednesday, April 30, 2014


When I was a member of the Board of Directors at an employee owned book warehouse, I became enamored of the phrase: living document. What this meant was that if we made some decision or edict and put it into our corporation's bylaws, we always felt safe telling our shareholders, who were also our employees, that it was a "living document." This meant that anytime we wanted we could go back and change our minds. To be more precise, that should be "when our shareholders changed their minds." I was not much of a politician in those days. I tended to bend far too easily to the winds that blew hot and fierce through the warehouse. And in the offices. I was already keenly aware of the division between "labor" and "management," but this was the first time i had encountered a tiered division of responsibility. At Arby's, I took orders, made sandwiches, pulled potato cakes out of the oven, and cleaned the shake machine just like everyone else even though I wore a brown vest and carried a key to the cash register. When I unloaded trucks for Target, even though I was nominally the supervisor of our crew, I crawled into the back of the trailer to grab those Cabbage Patch dolls that were desperately needed out on the sales floor. When I ran a video store, I came in early and stayed late. I operated chiefly as "one of them," but I had this other job to do.
That was the money part. I got more money because I was counting money. I was responsible. If something was missing or didn't get done, I was the one who got the call. I was responsible. This trait worked for me, at least in terms of moving quickly from the entry level positions to the spot with a clipboard. This was what I learned from my friend Waldo. He was a District Manager for Arby's. He was in charge of three stores. That meant he traveled in his company Volvo from store to store on any given day, checking in on us all. He still made sandwiches and pulled burned potato cakes out of the oven, and he gave some of the best customer service to people who just wanted fast food I have ever experienced: "And how many cherry turnovers would you like with that today? That will be only two dollars and forty-nine cents." But when the lunch rush was over, he repaired to the back room where he had his coffee with two milks, grabbed a clipboard and pursued what he described as "creative management." This was the part of the day that he separated himself from the brown polyester masses. We knew not to bother him during these times. Was he busy making a schedule? Was he forecasting sales? Was he trying to remember the hieroglyphic doodles he made during his brief college flirtation with Egyptology? It didn't matter. He was, at that point, the boss.
I tried to remember this as I moved into my management position at the book warehouse. I tried to find time to wander about with my clipboard, but I was far too easily distracted by the work that was going on around me. I was also aware of the way warehouse workers viewed their counterparts on the other side of the wall. Where there was carpet. And climate control. And jobs that involved sitting. Over the years I trained a number of great book pickers and packers who eventually worked their way out from under my thumb and found themselves in swivel chairs answering phones or looking at clipboards of their own. This schism was felt most keenly when we met as shareholders, office and warehouse all crammed into the lunch room at the end of a long day. As a member of the Board of Directors and a warehouse guy I was envisioned by many as the voice of the worker. Or maybe that was just me. That meant when the vote came down from on high to consider hiring a General Manager, a CEO, I found myself in the position of being the swing vote. Our employee company had been run for decades without that top-heavy level of management. We were all in this together, weren't we? Would I be the one who twisted the dial, turned the knob and signed his name to this change in the way things had always been?
All of that life experience flowed through my mind as the case was made by Phil, the head of our Board. I looked out at the faces of my constituency and felt this tiny surge of democracy come over me. When it was my turn to speak, I said this: "I hate to break ranks here, but," and then I proceeded to have my five minutes of Jimmy Stewart monologue. It was as sincere as anything I have written or said in my life, and when I was done I felt two sets of eyes on me: the ones who agreed with me and the ones who didn't. Those who didn't ended up outnumbering those who did, and we ended up hiring the great big manager, who ended up spending a great deal of time in his office, looking at a clipboard. I was out in the warehouse, picking and packing books alongside my employees. I never did get that whole division of labor thing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Colorado Chainsaw Massacre

I cut 'em up just the way my daddy taught me. At first I didn't do any of the cuttin'. I was just holdin' 'em down for pappy. Livin' as we did way up in them mountains, there weren't many folks around to hear what we were up to. We did things the old way. We used a chainsaw. We used axes. We didn't use g's at the end of our gerunds. I don't live that way anymore. All those lives I cut short. But they were dead already, weren't they? I live in the city. I don't even have a fireplace. I've got no use for firewood anymore.
But I used to. My whole family did. It was how we survived. I learned that it was my job to drag fallen aspen trees up to the side of our cabin where we would saw them into foot-long chunks. We called these "stove size." I remember sitting on the sawhorse, feeling the vibrations of the machine as it moved closer to me with each cut. It wasn't a precise operation, but it was an operation. When we had a pile of logs, we stacked them against the side of the cabin, under the eaves where they wouldn't get wet in case of rain. Then we would start all over again on another fallen tree. Set it on the sawhorse, cut it into stove size logs and stacked those on top of the others. We did this until the sun went down, and sometimes when we really needed the wood, we would light a lantern and work into the night.
There was no running water, electricity or gas. Not in pipes, at least. The gas we used went into our chainsaw. We turned that into the kinetic energy that became the potential energy of that stack of logs. Then they had to be chopped into pieces. We didn't use a chainsaw for that. We used an axe. There was a prescription for how to make those big round logs turn into pieces that could be easily shoved into our wood burning Majestic stove. Since my mother cooked our meals on that stove, she needed to have some moderately clever way of keeping the temperature consistent. That meant we couldn't give her a bunch of great thick chunks of wood. She needed control. She needed pieces that would burn quickly, but not too quickly. When mom cooked, we used more wood. That meant we were outside making fuel.
When my father wasn't home, the kids would use a hand saw on some of the trees of lesser circumference. Eventually, he taught me the way of the chainsaw. Prime and choke and throttle back. He used to point with his figure where the next cut should come. That's how much trust he had in me.
The hills around our cabin provided a seemingly endless supply of wood for the fire. We stayed warm. We stayed fed. And that's where the story starts to sound again like we were a family of cannibals. So that's where I'll stop.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Seven More

Seven more of these. Mondays. That's what we have left in the school year. One of those is Memorial Day, so we could just cross that one off, but maybe we should just stick to the calendaric notion that we have seven more weeks of school. I've become almost immune to this cycle, but it was my wife pointing out to me that this is the last seven weeks of our son's junior year in high school that rang the bell in my head. Clang. Now you have my attention. A number of my colleagues at my school remember when that little round kid with the big head came tottering into those first Back To School Nights. Now he's a much larger young man with a head much more in proportion with his teenaged body. That's a lot of water under the bridge. It will be just a few short months before we start the countdown in earnest: This is the last time we'll ever...
You fill in the blank. Or perhaps I could give you some cues: Drag your sleepy body from that warm bed, pick you up at school after missing that last bus, meet with your teachers about those missing assignments, stay up late worrying about finishing that assignment that turned out not to be missing but just incomplete, discuss the difference between weighted and non-weighted grade point averages, wonder why he doesn't go to the school dances, and on and on and on. It used to feel so much like discovery. Each new year had a new teacher and a new grade to explore. Then middle school came and muddied those clear puddles. The joy of school gave way to the drudgery of class after class and the necessity of completing required essays and standardized tests.
And yet, somewhere in there, we managed to find some joy. The occasional A plus or the backstage humor of techies hard at work. We're still waiting for news about that first girlfriend. No rush, by the way, since his father didn't have a steady date until he was a senior himself, so there's still a chance he could do one better than his old man. There's still seven weeks left, after all.
And then another year. With the clock ticking. And hearts yearning.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Who Ya Gonna Call?

The Vatican is up in arms. That is not news in itself. The seat of power for the Roman Catholic Church always seems to have their vestments in a twist. What is it this time: Women in the priesthood? Molestation allegations? Abortion? No. It's the Pope and his phone. Apparently Pope Francis has a habit of picking up the phone and cold calling people who write to him. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has had enough.
Lombardi said on Thursday the calls were part of the pope's "personal pastoral relationships" and "do not in any way form a part of the pope's public activities". Lombardi went on, calling the calls "a source of misunderstanding and confusion."
What could possibly be confusing about getting a call from the Pope? If, for example, I wanted to know if Adam and Eve had navels, who else would I call?  Is baptism necessary for salvation? Ask the Pope. What was Noah's wife's name? Stump the Pontiff. If you were a woman in Argentina who had complained her parish priest would not grant her Holy Communion because she had divorced and remarried, wouldn't you hope for a little divine guidance?
Well, that's just what Pope Francis did. Francis was quoted by the woman's husband as saying that the issue was being "looked at" in the Vatican and that divorcees who take Holy Communion "are doing nothing bad." Catholic rules currently ban divorcees from taking Holy Communion. So who you gonna trust? Some rules, written down a long time ago, or the Guy In Charge? I would want to talk to the supervisor. 
This is the best way I can think of to get clarification on any possible sticking points. Instead of sending it to committee and having that group send a puff of white smoke to indicate what I should do next, I'll be happy to sit by my phone and wait for the infallible word. Thanks.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Against The Wind

Most days, I don't think about it at all. It's just my commute. In the morning, I'm still waking up, and by the time I'm on my bike and pedaling, the sun is coming up and I'm thinking about the day in front of me, not the ride itself. The same can be said for my trip home, when I often have my head down, reviewing the day's events, making plans for the day to come. Then there are days like I had yesterday.
The wind was blowing in my face as I made my way up the hill outside my school. It's always seemed a supreme irony that the way home is uphill, but the way to work is down. Today that uphill was enhanced by a strong headwind, and I watched every inch of pavement as I pushed myself to keep going. And here is what I thought: Maybe it's not the breeze at all.
Maybe what was slowing me down was that I was thinking about what I was doing. Earlier in the day, our attendance clerk asked me if I rode my bike to school every day. "I'm thinking about trying it myself. I don't live that far away."
Neither do I, I told her, and then went on to describe in very limited detail the trip I take twice a day: mostly side streets, trying to stay clear of the peak car commute hours to avoid four-wheeled traffic as much as possible. It was the four-wheeled traffic that I encountered outside my school later that afternoon that made me reflect once again on my two-wheeled commitment.
"Mister Caven!" The face that went with the voice came from behind the wheel of a shiny, white BMW with big ol' rims and a stereo that competed with this enthusiastic greeting. "Remember me?"
I recognized the smile, but I confessed that the years of seeing ten year olds who return to me as eighteen and twenty year olds had dulled my senses a little bit. Give me a hint, I asked.
"Daryl Stephens!" The grin grew wider. "You still riding that same bike?"
Yeah, I replied, trying very hard not to imagine what Daryl might have had to do in order to get that sweet ride of his in between the years I taught him and his graduation from high school. We exchanged a few more quick pleasantries and off we went. In different directions. I was headed uphill. Into the wind.

Friday, April 25, 2014


Parental lecture number fifty-eight has something to do with making choices. Good choices. This particular lecture is part of a series that has been in pretty heavy rotation since our son became a teenager. This is primarily because, as a teenager, our son has a lot more choices to make: What classes should I take? When should I take the SAT? Should I run the stop sign even if no one is looking? Who should I hang out with? The answers to most of these questions are pretty easy, if you've already lived through being a teenager. That's where all these lectures come from, after all. The worldly wisdom of parents who used to be teenagers themselves. Parents who just happened to be teenagers when they met in the first place.
That's where my brain starts to seize up just a little bit. My wife and I met when I was a senior and she was a sophomore in high school. I was just seventeen. She was only fifteen. At the time, we weren't dating, we kept each other company while we dated other people in a very tight circle of friends. We called ourselves "The Kids" way back when. My son has a very similar group. They call themselves "The Kind." Suddenly I find myself looking at this group and wondering which of these characters will stand up with my son at his wedding. Is the godfather of his child among this gangly group of adolescence? So many of the people with whom I faced life in my teens have fallen away. I still send Christmas cards to a number of them, but at the same time I maintain very close connections with a few of these Kids, and I wonder how many of my son's friends will still be on his mailing list in another decade. Or two.
My younger brother and I were talking about choices when we got together last week. He was remembering how he and his new wife drove to California from Minnesota to look for a place to put down roots. They landed in San Rafael after a very brief flirtation with Vallejo. They took a month to month lease on a one bedroom apartment, just to get the lay of the land. They've been there for seventeen years. Coincidentally, this is the same amount of time that my wife and I have been in our house, the one into which our son was born. Either we're very scared, or we make good choices. I hope it's the latter, and I hope my son can do the same.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Like It Mattered

How much did I miss school while I was away?
Not a lot.
We are crossing the divide and rolling into what is called, in technical ed-speak, "the end of the year." That means that two things happen: We prepare the kids to take the state mandated test and the kids start getting ready for the summer. The leverage we have is based solely in the notion that we still have this Big Test to take, and the ones who are invested in their education and were invested in their education before we all went off on Spring Break are gearing up and bearing down. The ones who weren't all that excited about the Core Curriculum and its vagaries are looking 'round the bend to see how many more minutes until June. It's a magic time.
It's a time for self reflection for both students and teachers. Many of us find ourselves scratching our collective heads over what might have been. If only we would have started that first day with more rigorous and strategic curriculum. If only the kids had shown up with more basic skills. If only there was a love for learning somewhere in all this tangled mess.
There is. The love for learning is buried somewhere in the midst of all these expectations and all the letdown that occurs when you come back from a week away. Teachers and students find themselves staring at a month and a half of school that still counts on your permanent record. And so we soldier on, even though we know that the progress that has been made is pretty much the progress that will be made until the end of the year. We want to measure that progress, so if we can get those kids and teachers to stop squirming and settle down, we can head on down that home stretch. Like it mattered.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Gospel According To Stan Lee

For three weeks in a row, Captain America has not just saved the world, but ruled the box office. It's not the first time in recent memory that super heroes have been pushed to the top of the charts, pop culture-wise. Coinciding with this past weekend's ticket sale triumph was the end of Holy Week: Good Friday, Easter, Passover. It started me thinking.
It made me wonder if the folks who started telling those stories way back when were the comic book writers of their time. Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus. Those are some pretty amazing heroes with some extraordinary powers. Lots of water manipulation, for sure. And the foes they were up against: Pharaoh, Herod, Pontius Pilate. These were bad guys who would have had no trouble standing up to The Joker and Doctor Doom. They were willing to exterminate an entire generation to get what they wanted. Bank robbers? Let the local constabulary deal with them. To stand up to these kind of maniacs, you really needed some Super Heroes. The robes may not have been as sharp as the tights they seem to favor these days, but if I were looking for someone to save the day, I would like some otherworldly help when it came to battling hate and oppression like these guys did.
Fast forward a couple thousand years, and we find ourselves transfixed by the adventures of a group of extraordinarily gifted individuals who are on a mission to preserve truth and justice. Captain America and his pals on the Avengers have gathered together on more than one occasion to save the planet, with promises of at least another five or six movies worth of galactic calamity, all of which will be dealt with by these heroes who tend to hide out most of the time by blending in with us, but always ready to leap into action when the threats become real.
In another two thousand years, will our ancestors be reading our comic books and watching our movies as a third testament? Will this newer word be taken as some sort of literal account of this age, or will it be viewed as an allegory for the times in which we looked to guys in capes and masks to save us, often from our own hubris. Or maybe they will take their clues from the revealed word: American Idol.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

War Is Not Healthy For Children And Other Living Things, Unless They Happen To Be Corporations

I imagine that if Charles Schulz would have stuck around a little bit longer, he might have found a way to make fun of the current state of affairs, something along the lines of Lucy complaining that since corporations are people that we should all worry about hurting their feelings. If happiness is a warm puppy, then how many puppies do you suppose it would take to make Shell Oil happy? My guess is a whole lot. 
Royal Dutch Shell is committed to expansion in Russia, in spite of sanctions imposed on that country after its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, according to Chief Executive Ben van Berurden. This comes amid reports of President Vladimir Putin wringing his hands and laughing maniacally. 
"We are very keen to grow our position in the Russian Federation," van Beurden said. "We look forward with anticipation and confidence on a very long-term future here in Russia." Leaders of the European Union and the United States were left scratching their collective heads as they consider wider sanctions if Russian troops were to enter the Ukraine. Best guesses would suggest that Shell would look forward to partnering with Russia on their "growing position." It is, as Michael Corleone would say, strictly business. It's nothing personal. 
It's nothing personal when there's all that liquefied natural gas in them there hills to pull out of the ground. They want to expand from the ten million tons they are currently extracting along with their pals at Gazprom. Or is it their pal Gazprom? It is Vladimir Putin's wish that Russia  boosts production of LNG and double their global market share to around ten percent by 2020. Nothing personal. Meanwhile, Russia's Energy Minister Alexander Novak said there was no sign of international oil and gas majors cutting investment. What, after all, are a few sanctions between friends? With friends like ExxonMobil, Eni, Statoil and BP, who needs warm puppies? 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Coming Attractions

There is a problem with being one of those creative-types: sometimes you want to mess with other people's creations. My wife and I frequently walk out of movie theaters with an agenda. One of us will ask the other, "What would you do to fix it?" Then we spend the next couple of hours dissecting and eliminating the roadblocks that kept us from enjoying ourselves in the previous two hours. Sometimes it's very cathartic. Sometimes it just makes us tired.
Please understand that there have been plenty of films that we have enjoyed without this exercise. Sometimes we simply sit in our seats after the rating slide has faded and the curtains close that we wait in stunned silence for the other to find some hanging thread or unnecessary scene. Those are the truly satisfying moments. Those are the ones that are worthy of applause.
That still leaves us with a great many opportunities to pick nits. What about that truck-sized plot hole there? What was that character doing when he or she should have been calling the police on their forgotten cell phone?  How did the car get to the top story of the apartment building in the first place? I believe that one must offer sturdy enough cable to suspend our disbelief in order for the paying customer to do just that. We see a lot of movies, and maybe that's the problem. We've seen all those movies from 1939, and a great many years before and since. The notion that they don't make them like they used to is not exactly true. When a movie works, it works, whether it stars Cary Grant or George Clooney. Howard Hawks may have taught David O. Russell a few things, but it's worth noting that this new generation of filmmakers are learning.
Some of them faster than others.
You might guess that with all the chances directors and screenwriters have to get their films made compared to seventy-five years ago that they would become more practiced, and the result would be a flood of expertly made cinema to choose from down at the bijou. All this product has had essentially the opposite effect. More sequels. More direct to video. More remakes. Can somebody please explain the necessity for "Miss Doubtfire 2?" I'm just glad that nobody feels the need to make a followup to "The Philadelphia Story." Maybe that's what my wife and I should consider the next time we're grumbling our way through the credits of whatever underachiever we got ourselves into.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Thanks For The Ride

We professionals know instinctively when to throw in the towel. Some stick around just a little too long. Muhammad Ali might be a good example of this. Why tarnish a legend? Go out on top, I say. If only I would heed my own advice.
The real end of the road for me came after a day of driving up the coast with my family. We weren't so tired that we didn't want to walk just a few hundred yards more to Bones Roadhouse for dinner. I had picked it out before our trip to Gualala began. Partly for the name and partly for the menu: Barbeque.
It should be noted here that I was looking at the combination plate with ribs and brisket. It was my wife who pointed out the Bone Daddy Burger. It was their challenge meal. It was my Waterloo.
At first glance, it seemed easy enough: eat a two pound burger and win a T-shirt. What I hadn't counted on was the time element. I am a committed and confident carnivore, but once I saw all four patties, eight slices of cheese, garnished with two green peppers sitting next to a bowl of cole slaw and a fistful of homemade chips, the confidence shrank. Not enough to call it off, mind you, especially with a growing audience of patrons and staff urging me on. After some wrangling, I was informed that the time to beat was six minutes and forty-eight seconds.
I will spare you all the goriest of details, but I can tell you that all that food went inside and stayed there. I did not, in spite of what I was told was solid technique and a great start, manage to beat the clock. I came in somewhere around ten minutes. This meant I had to pay for the meal as well as the T-shirt. The T-shirt I felt I needed to own as a reminder of this experience.
Walking out, I stopped to talk to the Bone Daddy himself. Not one to gloss over gory details, he didn't ask if I enjoyed it, he asked, "Didja puke?"
I assured him that I did not, shook his hand and told him that I had met my match. This is a young man's game, and I should have gotten out years ago. Thanks for the ride.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Would You Like To Play A Game?

Computer viruses scare me. Not like the end of the world scares me, but they still scare me. This is probably because I can imagine how a computer virus could bring about the end of the world. Like that Matthew Broderick kid who thought he was just going into his school's computer to change a grade or two for his girlfriend Ally Sheedy and he almost ended up bringing down a fiery rain of nuclear Armageddon, or was that just a movie?
As a subscriber to the well-established theory of entropy, I don't actually believe that our demise will be quite as abrupt or drastic as the one suggested by Professor Falken's evil machine. It's not a game, but rather a series of games. Candy Crush. Angry Birds. Tetris. All of those little time sinks that we keep in the corner of our home computers, smartphones and tablets, the ones that take us away from the important business of the day, like answering that email from the Nigerian prince who will gladly pay you half his fortune for your First World ability to generate a money order. It's not the Trojans and worms and hacks at this and that which will bring about our cyber doom. It's our continually diminishing sense of priorities.
Oh, sure, I'm frightened by Heartbleed, but not because I'm worried about hackers stealing all my money and turning my computer into a slave workstation for the eventual overthrow of our system of governance by robot overlords. I am concerned that all the time it will take me to change all my passwords will come directly out of that chunk of time that I have set aside for playing Fruit Ninja. Besides, I'm pretty sure that the NSA already has my profile pretty much in hand and will probably be selling it to the highest bidder in order to ensure my continued enslavement to the machine dominated society in which we all live.
It's probably best that we all maintain a certain amount of paranoia. A healthy amount. It is what distinguishes us from the androids. Except Marvin, that is.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Breaking Up Down Under

Say it ain't so, Malcolm! Rumors are swirling, counterclockwise,  that AC/DC is calling it a day. Packing it in. Retiring. Shuffling off to Buffalo or someplace equally as desolate down under. It was reported that founding guitarist and songwriter Malcolm Young had returned to Australia with his family. “He is believed to be unable to continue playing, although there has not been any explanation why,” the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
It might have to do with all that incessant head-bobbing, or maybe an interest in getting out of that schoolboy's uniform that he's been wearing for the past forty-one years. No wait. That's his brother, Angus. He's the one you probably think of when you start to think of AC/DC. If you're thinking about the Australian rock and roll band, that is. If you're a fan, you probably know that Malcolm and his younger brother are the founding members of the band, and the only two who have stuck with this southern hemisphere Spinal Tap from its inception. Singers, bassists and drummers have cycled in and out, but the brothers Young have held down the ship, or whatever appropriate rock metaphor fits here.
Some or all of these guys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2003, a full decade ahead of Rush, essentially their polar opposites from the other side of the globe. The AC/DC catalog has been available on iTunes for a couple years now. Angus even had a part in "Lord of the Rings." There are no more mountains to climb. \
Especially if you have to climb them in orthopedic shoes. I'm certainly not going to insist that rock and roll is strictly a young man's game. Bruce Springsteen continues to tour as he twists the night away, seemingly blissfully unaware that he has passed the age of retirement. The Stones seem intent on using geologic time frames to describe their career, and The Who will continue to show up for any and all disaster benefit performances until there are none of them left. 
It's interesting to me, since the trend used to be that rockers died or disappeared before they were asked to fade away. If they were lucky, like Elvis and Jim Morrison, people would insist that they had never really died at all. Maybe that's what happened to Malcolm Young. Coming back from the dead would be a great way to sell a few more albums. It worked for Jesus, after all.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Oops - Sorry! Wrong House!

I don't need a Pulitzer Prize to tell you that the United States went to war in the wrong place after September 11, 2001. Everybody but Donald Rumsfeld will get behind the idea that Iraq was a bad choice to sell Freedom Fries, but until recently, Afghanistan seemed like the "just war" we were prosecuting in the Middle East. New York Times journalist Carlotta Gall, who spent more than a decade covering Afghanistan, will tell you we've been fighting the wrong enemy for the past thirteen years. She'll stake her Pulitzer on it.
“Instead of fighting a very grim and tough war which was very high in casualties on Afghans, as well as NATO and American soldiers, the problem wasn't in the Afghan villages,” Ms. Gall said. “The source of the problem, the radicalization, the sponsoring of the insurgency, was all happening in Pakistan.”
You remember Pakistan? The country southeast of Afghanistan where we routinely have to barter and beg to fly over, around and through on our way to blowing things up in its neighbors? Gall continues: “I think the politicians, not all of them, but the diplomats … it took ages for them to understand that actually the persuasion wasn't working; the engagement wasn't bringing them on board; they were actually double dealing, and now diplomats will tell you very plainly, ‘Yes, Musharraf was double dealing.’” Sorry about that, chief.
Why were we in Afghanistan in the first place? To find Osama bin Laden, of course. But it turns out that bin Laden found shelter in Abbottabad, Pakistan, for six years before he was killed in a Navy SEAL raid in 2011. According to Gall, Pakistan’s government was orchestrating his protection. Ouch. I'm wondering if Jon Stewart wants his Gatorade back.
Of course, Mister Stewart never won a Pulitzer Prize. But he did once host the Oscars. See? We all make mistakes. Who knows how many lives could have been saved if they had just stuck with Ellen?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Did you know that if you drink plenty of water every day you'll sleep through the night? It's safe, and it's natural, and it works for babies as well as adults! Of course, that "plenty" may be a difficult measure to gauge, and it's entirely possible that there is no actual correlation between drinking water and sleeping, but I'm pretty sure that if you're dying of thirst you'll probably have a hard time sleeping. Until you pass out or expire.
And so the process continues finding a way to live better through Al Gore's Internet. My recent bout with kidney stones, the one where I was oh-for-two last week, had my wife and I scouring our online resources for answers. The problem is that once you open the door just a little bit, the information flood begins. Do this, don't do that, can't you read the signs? It's a pretty frustrating thing to feel like I am living a healthy lifestyle, getting plenty of exercise, and taking my vitamins but still I found myself in this medical crisis that involved emergency rooms and blood tests and pain medications and all sorts of extra attention for which I didn't recall asking.
And so I ended up with a puzzle. The visit with my doctor didn't solve it. There were all kinds of loose ends. The good news was that my continued vigilant awareness of what goes into and out of my body would certainly help. Having lost twenty or more pounds over the past year gave me another gold star, but also made me all the more curious: With all this health consciousness, why am I still sick?
Well, it could be that I am of a certain age. It could also have something to do with my profession and the stresses related to it. It might be that the combinations of the bad things I have done to my body in the past, even though I have become much better-behaved, have created this ongoing issue. That's where Al Gore's Internet comes into play. How can I stop being whatever it is that I am in order to be what I want to be? If you Google the right combination of terms, you can almost always find someone or some entity that will support that world view. There is no one right answer. Just endless links to other web pages that will let you know how to feel better in ways you might never have expected. Or maybe you did, since you went looking for it in the first place.
So I'll keep drinking plenty of water, and I'll do my best to avoid all those things that bring on premature aging and heartbreak, or heart attack. Maybe then I'll be able to sleep through the night.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mowie Bowie Wowie

Do we need another reason not to legalize marijuana? How about this one: A recent study suggests that since medical cannabis was legalized the number of pet pot poisonings has risen dramatically. Apparently, as good for your "sciatica" as a nice pan of magic brownies might be, it's really bad for your dog. Rover probably didn't have getting totally baked in mind when he got his nose in your stash, but it's not the weed they're after. It's the chocolate, dude. Insert forehead slap here.
It brings to mind the plight of our poor dog, God Rest Her Soul, who spent many days in a self-induced haze after ingesting unhealthy amounts of chocolate. And this was the stuff without the stuff in it, if you catch my meaning. Of course, it isn't really fair to call it "self-induced," since we were the ones with opposable thumbs who could have just as easily moved the cake, brownies, truffles, or other chocolatey goodness far away from nose level. We were careless owners. We left chocolate where it was physically possible for her to get at it, and so we were therefore completely to blame and I retract my previous sentiment. And we did this while we weren't stoned.
Now imagine that you are a regular user and all that residual THC is faintly tampering with your thought processes as you take that cookie sheet out of the oven with those very special cookies. You were just going to watch a few minutes of the Cheech and Chong film festival on IFC, but that's when you heard that rustling in the kitchen, the clatter of the pan hitting the floor and it occurred to you that maybe you should go in and see what was the matter.
"Trixie! What did you do?"
Well, as it turns out, Trixie was just doing what Trixie would always do in that situation, and the fact that this particular batch of Toll House cookies was laced with medicinal grade polio pot has everything to do with pet ownership and very little to do with the legalization of marijuana. It was Doctor Hunter S. Thompson who said, "You can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug, especially when its waving a razor sharp hunting knife in your eye." Or razor sharp teeth. Or a nice wet nose.
You can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug, especially when its waving a razor sharp hunting knife in your eye.
You can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug, especially when its waving a razor sharp hunting knife in your eye.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Through The Heart

They'll be going back to school on Monday at Franklin Regional High School. Well, most everyone. Not the ones who are still in intensive care. Not the ones who are still afraid to go there. Not the one who is locked up. Last Wednesday, when sixteen-year-old Alex Hribal went on a rampage before classes began, he changed that school forever. It now joins a long list of schools, big and small, connected to tragedy. Police have charged Hribal with four counts of attempted murder and twenty-one counts of aggravated assault.
Take some time, if you must, to try and distinguish between the experience of someone attempting to murder you versus that of being assaulted with aggravation. It's hard enough to imagine such a scene, but even harder to try to fathom how one might go about prosecuting such a crime.
The good news: No one is calling for "common sense legislation on kitchen knives." When this sort of thing happens, it breaks down that wall between the real and the surreal. If it had been yet another school shooting, we would have a place to put it in our talking points. We could all line up on our sides: those of us who want someone to pry our guns from our cold dead hands, and those of us who would rather have a few less cold dead hands. Hribal's attorney Patrick Thomassey described the alleged attacker as a good student who got along with others, and asked for a psychiatric examination. Not for himself. For his client.
Because that's what it seems our country really needs: a psychiatric examination. Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and all those other schools in between, now we can add Franklin Regional. As with all those other stories, there were heroes, and there were questions. Lots of questions. But the worst thing may have been the horrible sameness of it all. The kid who kept to himself who nobody would have ever expected, and the way yet another community has to find a way to pull itself back together. We are asked to understand that such attacks are becoming more prevalent in China, of all places. As if there was some solace to be gained from this information.
It doesn't matter if it was a knife. Or if it was in China. It was a crazy, desperate act carried out by a child. It's never going to make any sense.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Days Of Future Passed

It just so happened that instead of going to college after I graduated from high school, I found myself with a year off. As discussed here, at length, I stayed busy with the important work of serving America Roast Beef, Yes Sir! Man cannot live on potato cakes alone, and so I needed to fill my hours with more than eight hour shifts of slinging fast food while wearing some of the most ridiculous brown polyester uniforms imaginable. What does one do, for example, if they aren't in school and their shift starts at eleven o'clock?
That year, the answer was simple: Watch The David Letterman Show. Before he became a late night sensation, Dave was flaunting conventions of the morning show and making a mess of things on the National Broadcasting Company's usual slate of game shows and soap operas. It's where Stupid Pet Tricks was born. It's where that guy who had been on Mork and Mindy and the even shorter-lived variety show hosted by Mary Tyler Moore landed when nobody on TV seemed to notice.
What went on there, of course, became the stuff of legend, and was eventually moved to late-night, where I was able to catch it a couple years later once I had returned to school where such viewing seemed a necessity. For a while, I even harbored a secret wish to become a writer for his program, coming up with just a couple of the Top Ten list, maybe numbers six and three. It seemed like such an attainable goal, way back then.
Then came a time when staying up late to watch talk shows seemed less than hip. Once Johnny Carson retired, I lost my thread to Late Night, and because NBC never seemed to get that whole thing right, they hired Jay Leno, ensuring that I wouldn't be watching them after ten o'clock. When Dave landed opposite Jay and his chin, it was a relief of sorts, since I could finally find a way to reconcile my fondness for Dave and his sense of humor without staying up past midnight. I was growing a family of my own by then, without so much roast beef.
Somewhere in there, it stopped mattering to me who was on, or what the event might be. I was going to bed by the time the news came on, and the idea of staying up past the news seemed like something that young kids did.
Dave's not young anymore. Neither one of us. And now he's decided to retire, having held down his slot just a little longer than the guy who swooped in and took his job in the first place. That's got to be just a little satisfying. In his place, we're going to get "the real" Stephen Colbert. I'll probably put an episode or two on the DVR, just to get a taste of what I'm missing, but if Mister Colbert really wanted to impress me, he'd be entertaining housewives and Arby's employees at ten in the morning.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Be Still

That's the command Max told the Wild Things: "Be Still!" It's a very impressive trick, to get all those Wild Things to stop their wild rumpus, and it's probably much easier to take coming from a kid in a wolf suit, but it didn't work on me.
The number of people who looked at me incredulously, after hearing that I had spent a good chunk of the night before in an emergency room passing a kidney stone, and then admonished me to go home and lie down was just about equal tot he number of people who heard that I had spent a good chunk of the night before in an emergency room passing a kidney stone. What did I think I was going to get? A merit badge of some sort for showing up at work the next day?
I got nothing of the sort. Instead, I got woozy and had to leave two classes into the school day. I also earned myself another day off, since I had no real sense of just how off-kilter my systems were after testing my limits with such an absurd trick.
I should have been at home in bed, but that's not what I do best. I've been pushing myself up off that bed and making my way into work for the past seventeen years in all manner of conditions and states. I like to think that my constitution is as strong as my body and that I can push it to extremes that might seem ridiculous to others. And here was the irony of all of that consistency: I was preparing myself to have my Cal Ripken streak broken by a jury summons for last Monday. When I was excused via phone, I was pleased and happy to think that I was safe from any further distractions for another year. Then I went home and that night went into convulsions that turned into that trip to the emergency room.
It was as if someone was trying to tell me, "Be Still." It wasn't Max, nor was it the voice inside my head. I wanted to get up and face the day in that way I have for so very many days in a row that I have lost count. I just lost my perfect attendance pin. And that kidney stone. Now I get to start climbing that hill all over again. At the bottom of that hill is a resting place where I hope to have learned a lesson.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Stones Reunion

Flopping around on the floor of the bathroom should have felt familiar. I had been there before. Or at least someplace very similar. There wasn't any comfort in that thought. There was only pain. The pain was only vaguely familiar. It was the kind that brought me to tears, and not because of that familiarity. This was the kidney stone pain that I had worked so hard to forget.
And yet, here it was again.
The first twenty minutes was spent in solid denial, but all that flopping brought me to my son's attention. "Dad? Are you okay?"
As it turns out, I wasn't. I wasn't in ways only described by the way a fifty-one year old generally responsible man could be reduced to a blubbering idiot, capable of uttering very few words outside of "Ow."
This monologue continued as I piled into the back of the car, the one that came came roaring up as my wife returned from her meeting, the one that I had so rudely interrupted with my medical condition. The one we call kidney stone. All of my histrionics got my wife to adopt some of my son's video game driving techniques. We made it to the emergency room in record time.
Not that I was fully aware of time or space. Later we were asked by the doctors and nurses why we chose an emergency room that wasn't part of our health care group. Our health care group asked the same thing. Our answer was simple: it was the closest to our home. The good news was that kidney stones will get you attention ahead of a whole lot of other potential patients.
What I wondered, as the miracle drugs found their way to the Ow parts, was how much better I would feel, along with my wife and son if I didn't have to figure out which emergency room would be best. The best should be the one that's closest, right? If you can afford it.
And the parking lot ticket you can get for leaving your car out front while trying to get your blubbering husband the care he needs. This too shall pass.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wishing I Had A Photograph

A great portion of my youth was spent wincing in anticipation of a flashbulb. "Just one more," insisted my parents, who wanted to make sure they got a photo to commemorate whatever event or rite of passage that was about to pass into memory. Consequently there are dozens of faded pictures that capture less than the joy of whatever moment that happened to be, since we were asked to hold still while that time became another in a series of photo ops. I would like to imagine that this was because my brothers and I were a particularly photogenic group, but that's probably only partially true. It was truly an attempt to capture a moment.
That was the reason for all those home movies as well. Somewhere there is a reel of Super 8 film that was intended to sync up with a cassette tape, both of which were recorded as a legacy of my older brother's appearance on TV with the Boulder High School marching band in the Orange Bowl parade. Why didn't we just push record on the DVR? Or the VCR? Because there was no such animal living in our house back in those days. I am pretty sure that the footage and sound that was taken way back then is still to be found somewhere in the garage of my mother's house, but the projection and playback equipment has been lost to the ages. And yet I still remember the event as it occurred so many Januarys ago.
Which makes me wonder how my family might have behaved in today's age of digital everything. Would we be uploading YouTube clips of our exploits? Dangling selfies on our Facebook page, letting everyone know what a wonderful time we are having at whatever point we decided to press that button? My mother, the woman who took all those pictures for all those years with her trusty Kodak Brownie, still doesn't have a digital camera. She has declined to join that revolution. That's okay, because her sons have. We aren't filling up shoe boxes with our slides and negatives, but we are tracking the progress of our lives in pictures. We're asking a whole new generation to stand still so that we can remember later.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Needs Assessment

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. That's what the Barenaked Ladies told me. I have to agree with them, and not just because it's the polite thing to do since they're Canadian and all. It takes a certain amount of killer instinct that I just don't have. Don't get me wrong, I can purchase with the best of them. If I know what I want, I can go right to the store, to the aisle, to the shelf and take whatever food, widget or commodity I need to the checkout stand and then bring that purchase straight back to my house and put it into the stuff rotation that goes on constantly at my house. Finding the best deal? Comparing prices? I panic. More than one size of mustard to choose from? I'm hopeless.
That's why I'm so glad to have a wife who will hunt and gather for me. Finding a sale or using a coupon is a badge of honor for her. Buying that slightly larger squeeze bottle of mustard that comes as a two-pack saves us enough money to buy more mustard when we run out. I understand the math, but once I'm standing there in front of all that grocery or electronics or chinos, I get all flustered. My instinct is to grab the brightly-colored, brand name and escape with a shred of dignity.
That's probably why I like shopping online so very much. Point and click. My process can only be called into question if I have to box that thing back up and return it because I never really needed it in the first place. But that's so embarrassing. What will those people in the returns department think of me? It's better just to hold on to that second fur sink and hope that eventually I find a use for both of them.
My wife, on the other hand, returns things all the time. She is completely comfortable with the customer service desk. She knows how to print out labels and ship things back to whence they came because they weren't the right color, size or fragrance. It's a super power that amazes me. She makes full use of all manner of methods. We get our groceries from a variety of different venues, depending on the week, or the season, or the availability of certain items. She knows where they come from, and if they aren't there, she'll keep shaking the tree until the right thing drops out.
It's not a flawless system. Sometimes all that magic gets a little backed up, but mostly the supply line remains unbroken. I can't remember the last time we ran out of mustard. Or fur sinks.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

They're Got Us Surrounded

Sitting in this room, one that used to be an elementary school auditorium/gymnasium, with a Google Chromebook on my lap, I am acutely aware of all the computing that is going on around me. This place used to be an elementary school, but now it has been transformed into a training site. It is a place where professionals such as myself can go and learn the latest and the greatest about what we need to teach our kids about technology. It's everywhere. Even if there weren't tables lining the room with vendors from all manner of educational software and hardware devices and programs, the chairs are filled with people tapping away on keyboards and screens of various sizes, sending messages to themselves or others, hoping to make a connection with something that will make their jobs easier.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." That's what the guy who invented the HAL 9000 computer said. That means I'm sitting in a room full of magic. Or what appears to me as magic, since I still cringe at the idea of unsecured wireless networks and files that can't be found on my own personal gigantic hard drive. What is this cloud of which you speak? Why should I trust that when I press "enter," this work I've just created won't simply disappear in a puff of smoke, instead of landing safely in a gigantic hard drive of someone else's invention? 
HAL is out there, doing his best to make sure that our mission is a success. I have the utmost enthusiasm for this mission. Of course, HAL now sounds a little more lot Siri, or even Scarlett Johannsson. All of these entities are totally helpful and every bit as pervasive as that useful little red line under that word I just misspelled, but I wonder how much longer we all have to wait before we bow down to our robot overlords. That or the impeding zombie apocalypse, after which all these battery powered devices and things with wires will become useful primarily for shoving into the gaping jaws of the flesh-eating creatures that surround us. 
Or maybe it's all tied together. The zombie apocalypse has come and we're all just living quietly through it, with our earbuds squished firmly into place and our eyes glued to the screen in front of us. 
When I looked back up, I saw a few groups of people, looking at one another in the eye and having conversations in the way I remember them: the free flowing exchange of ideas without Al Gore's Internet. It makes me wonder why we can't reach kids in the same way. 
Maybe I should write a blog about it. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

I Am The Person My Parents Warned Me About

An anniversary slipped by while we were looking for that Malaysian airliner and Vlad the Putin was annexing parts of his old empire. The good news is that it didn't hurt anyone's feelings. There probably won't be a sit-com episode that will encapsulate the feelings in some mordant way. But today, in a very special episode of Entropical Paradise, we will examine what it means to be a quarter century sober, and how that must look from the outside.
First off, I really don't have any idea what it means to those who used to know me "back then" that I have straightened out my act and started to behave like a productive member of society. With the exception of my family and closest friends, there aren't a lot of hangers-on from the days when I had hangers-on. When I used to have parties at my apartment for little to no occasion, unless that occasion was the celebration of getting face-down one more time and possibly offending those who I had invited to said soiree. This is one of the reasons why I have a curiosity about sticking myself out on Facebook for a couple of weeks to see who would like to take a whack at me. This is just a little prideful, since I am imagining that there are some grown men and women out there who might still be harboring a grudge against me for this or that embarrassment. I was that guy who held a real gun to one of my party guest's head and asked her, "So, are you having any fun yet?" I used to kid myself back then about how I knew the gun wasn't loaded and how it was this great gag that made everyone else laugh hysterically. I don't see it that way anymore. I'm married and have a kid who is rounding the bend toward that same time in his life and I can't imagine what I would do or say if he was accosted like that. Or if he was the one holding the gun.
Hey, I was all messed up at the time, right? Not good enough. Not now. After twenty-five years, I know that I was living way too close to the edge and I was taking a lot of people along with me for the ride. Literally. The fact that I never wrapped my car around a telephone pole or spent a night or two in jail comes as a surprise to a lot of people when they hear about how I spent my twenties. This story has a happy ending, though as I have suggested I imagine there are those who might not be satisfied with the way things turned out. To those people I can only say this: It was a lot of fun until it wasn't anymore. I'm glad that I lived to tell those tales, but I don't know if anyone wants to hear them anymore. It was another time.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

We Need Answers

I believe it was the late, great George Carlin who once suggested that telling kids not to run the halls made no sense. This is because, according to the child's perspective as gleaned by Mister Carlin, "Of course you want to run in the halls. It's the only place you can get up any speed. It's a straightaway." This is what goes through my head at least a thousand times a day as I remind children from seven in the morning until five at night, from five years old to twelve, and from August through June, "Don't run in the halls."
It's the dynamic that we set up early on. We want order. We want conformity. That's what we're teaching. The problem is that kids don't come to us in nice neat lines with their mouths closed. Another Carlin observation comes to us via his inspired retort to those who would tell kids not to "talk back." He suggests, "What? You're teaching me a language here and I'm not allowed to practice?"
In a word: No. Not unless you are willing and able to respond in forms and manners that we determine acceptable. That's where the game begins. How do we, as adults, engineer questions that don't automatically open us up to the smart-aleck response? Please feel free to use the space provided below to leave your witty response to this rhetorical question.
That's one of the lessons I took away from my first dozen years of teaching: Don't ask rhetorical questions. Don't ask "What were you thinking?" unless you're really interested in hearing why this kid kicked the other one or why that kid tossed his entire lunch on the floor. There are answers. They just don't fit our grown-up blanks. Sometimes they tell us what we want to hear: "I wasn't thinking Mister Caven." Sometimes they tell us what they want us to hear: "None of your business." And sometimes they don't say anything at all, in which case, see number two on our list.
The truth is, kids are always thinking. They just don't spend as much time on the highly structured curriculum and schedules that we adults might like. That's the struggle. That's our jobs as teachers. That's our job as parents. Their job is to not make our jobs easy. It's that simple.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

:You Know, For Kids

"They're coming for you, Barbara!" And you too, Eddie. And Sally and all the other fans of flesh-eating zombies and the survivors they attack. "The Walking Dead" will be shambling onto My Network TV this fall. The same place you find your "Family Ties" reruns and old episodes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." I'm a big fan of old television shows, and I'm happy when they find new life (if you'll pardon the pun), but I'm not sure how this is going to work. 
AMC, the once and future "American Movie Classics" channel, is happy to spread their wealth around, especially if it is in exchange for some wealth that they can keep. Ever since they got out of the classic movie business and started making cutting edge (sorry for the spoiler) entertainment for the discerning adult, that eighteen to forty-nine demographic has flocked to their spot on the cable listing to see how an ad executive can survive in a world where corpses walk the streets. Or something like that. It was just a matter of time before some sort of gigantic syndication deal was struck.
My Network, in spite of its name, isn't a place I find myself frequently, but when I do it's for that nostalgia fix that only Mork and Mindy or Happy Days can bring. I'm sure the execs at "My" are hoping to bring in a more sophisticated or at least monied viewer by offering up companions to their lineup of Law &Order CI and SVU. But I can't help thinking about the unsuspecting viewer who happens upon an episode of "Walking Dead" while surfing through the channels hoping to find something a little more, shall we say, lively. It does make me wonder how Mary and Rhoda might deal with "the biters." Would they barricade themselves inside that big old Victorian in Minneapolis, or would they take to the highways and byways, looking to connect up with Lou and Ted and Murray? As for Alex Keaton, becoming a zombie might be the nicest thing that could happen to him.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Hypocritc Oath

I feel pretty fortunate. I also feel pretty healthy. These are both good indicators that my health insurance is up to snuff. It is the thing about being a teacher that makes the salary a little more livable. The district has taken care of me over the past couple decades, or at least their contracted health care providers have. I don't tend to be a very high-maintenance patient, preferring instead to wait until something breaks or aches before I check in with my doctor. Still, it's nice to know that as my original parts start to wear out and the tune-ups required are a little more frequent that I've got someplace to go with my family's maladies.
I am not one of the nearly sixty  million Americans who are not covered by their employer's health care plans. I'm not sure, but I think even the friendly folks at Fox News get their tonsils out thanks to Rupert Murdoch's largesse. One hundred sixty million people, or thereabouts, have coverage at their place of work. That's about sixty percent. The rest of us have to look somewhere else. Why not The Affordable Care Act?
It could be that the web site was down, or that the various plans were hard to decipher, or perhaps it was that looming specter of Death Panels, but only seven million people have signed up for "Obamacare." I don't know about you, but it seems like if the plan is going to bear his name, Barack ought to be there handing out tongue depressors. Seven million of them.
But that was never really the plan, was it? The whole idea was to make health care affordable. Wouldn't it be an awesome thing if you didn't have to choose between paying rent and health insurance? Should I buy food this month or the bottle of pills that will keep me alive long enough to eat it? Such a conundrum. And still there are those who will argue and fuss and tell us that everything is just fine the way it always has been. Like when doctors used to drop by your house on their way home from the office to check and see how you were getting along, in their horse and carriage. When you could still buy a bottle of leeches for a reasonable price. What is it they used to say? "I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure." I'm not sure that was depending on your plan. That was supposed to be the deal.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

An Appointment With Dis

I sometimes stop and help kids with their emotional vocabulary. "How are you feeling?"
"Really? Not sad?"
"How about 'disappointed?' That's kind of like when you're feeling sad because you don't get what you want, and then somebody says something about it and you get mad on top of it?"
Most of the time, they climb back down the ladder to "mad," but it's always a bit of a win for me when I get them to think beyond the primary colors of their feelings.
I was disappointed the other day. It started when I won a radio contest. By identifying the voice I heard as Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King, I was awarded a copy of the new CD from Kings Of Leon. Even now, if you put a gun to my head I would first ask you not to, and then still have a next to impossible time naming a single song by Kings Of Leon. Which is just fine, since the gift of the CD should remedy that situation pretty abruptly. This is not the disappointment part. This was the part where I was happy. No, let me shade that a little more: I felt smug.
Then the friendly folks on the radio informed me that I would in addition to receiving this gift of music, I would be entered into a drawing for a trip for two to see these same Kings Of Leon in New Orleans. Suddenly, on top of smug, I was excited. This feeling was ratcheted up a notch when my wife told me the next day that the radio station had called while I was at work, and they hoped that I would be listening Monday morning for my chance to win that trip to the Big Easy. I started thinking about how I might want to start studying up on my Kings Of Leon catalog. I wouldn't want to fly allt he way down to Louisiana and appear less than familiar with the work of the band I had been sent to see. I started to feel nervous.
When Monday morning came, I was grateful that I had the day off, since it meant I could lay in bed and listen to the radio, full of anticipation for the moment when the big winner was announced. After ninety minutes of buildup, they came back from a commercial and made a big production of selecting one name from the dozens that had been lucky enough to be on the list of CD recipients. There could be only one grand prize winner, however, and that person wasn't me.
I lay there, awake before I really needed to be on a three day weekend, and took inventory of my situation. I was still getting a CD. I was awake. I wasn't getting the trip. Some guy named "Pete" was. I felt sad. I felt mad at Pete and then myself for letting my hopes drive me to the brink of caring about winning. I turned off the radio. I didn't want to hear Pete when he called the radio people back. Disappointed.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


When I hit the ground, I was abruptly aware of my place in the universe. On my hands and knees, having just found the curb with the tip of my left foot. Daniel Day Lewis allusions aside, I was grateful for the fact that I had made it to the other side of the street before pitching forward and landing in a heap.
This was my first level of recognition. I was happy not to be looking up into the grill of an oncoming car. Turning my head slightly to the right, I saw hubcaps, rolling to a stop. At this point, I tried to decide if I would be more comforted by the attentions of a stranger, or more embarrassed.
Because that's what I was: embarrassed. I had yet to examine my extremities for breaks or tears, but I knew that I felt foolish. All that swagger I had enjoyed just a few steps before about being in such great shape for a guy my age was gone. A guy my age? I was suddenly reminded of the recent tumble my mother had taken in the ice and snow of the Rocky Mountain winter. I heard about that one from my older brother. What self-respecting adult wants to call up and confess that they fell down and went boom?
This turned me back to the matter at hand, or in this case, knee. Though my outstretched hands had taken the brunt of the impact, my right knee was stinging, and I had a sense that if there was no blood, there would be. Another Daniel Day Lewis moment. When at last I turned over to sit on the sidewalk, I could see the layer of skin that had been chewed off by the unfriendly conjunction with gravity and concrete.
Now my mind went in a different direction. I thought about the kids I pick up from their tumbles on the playground. Knees are almost always the first casualty. If there is any kind of scrape, the tears come hot and heavy. Then it's a trip to the office for cleanup and a band aid. I was a couple miles and forty-some years removed from that experience, so I rolled back over and got to my feet. I decided to push on, ignoring the sticky warm trickle I felt making its way down my shin. I would run on home, with the satisfaction of having heroically survived this Fall On Outstretched Hands.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Above The Law

When I worked at a video store, just for guilty pleasure's sake, I took a look at "Above The Law." I had heard that this new action star, Steven Seagal was the real deal, as he was the first foreigner to ever operate his own dojo in Japan. He was the Karate Guy. He was also rumored to have once been a bodyguard, and a CIA agent, and the second coming of Bruce Lee. At least that's what his initial flurry of publicity wanted him to be. I just wanted him to knock the bad guys silly and have a few terse one-liners. I wasn't paying for it, after all.
For fifteen years, Steve and his intermittent ponytail made action films that eventually landed him on the straight to video circuit. And all the while, he kept that furrow in his brow and a sense of justice that made him an obvious candidate for Reserve Deputy Chief in the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana Sheriff's Office. If this particular rank seems obscure, just think of Dwight Schrute's title: Assistant to the Regional Manager. Mister Seagal was supposed to have been certified by the Los Angeles Peace Officer Standards & Training, an organization that accredits California police officers. However, POST officials in California and Louisiana have no record of Seagal being certified, and his rank in Louisiana is ceremonial.
All the more reason why this veteran action star and wannabe cop would sign on to help Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio  to train posses of volunteers to deal with school shooters. As we have already established, Reserve Deputy Chief Seagal is Above The Law. That's why it should come as absolutely no surprise that in a recent interview, Steven and his ponytail called Russia's Vladamir Putin "one of the great living world leaders," adding that he "would like to consider him as a brother."
These two men's men bonded in part over their mutual love for martial arts. Seagal is helping Putin promote what's been described as a "Soviet-style" fitness initiative in Russia called "Ready for Labor and Defense.” In the interview, Seagal said that it's possible he may "sometime" apply for Russian citizenship. 
This comes as good news for karate students in Russia, but bad news for those of you waiting on another installment in the Jonathan Cold saga. And maybe it's a mixed bag for the folks in Arizona: He might not be running for governor of the Grand Canyon state, but he might just ask his buddy Vlad to send some tanks over and annex it, Soviet Style, alongside Chief of Propaganda and Basketball Dennis Rodman. Czar of Arizona beats the heck out of Reserve Deputy Chief. Or "aging action star."