Monday, June 30, 2014

Something To Think About Over Summer Vacation

One of the presenters at the literacy training I attended last week was encouraging us, a group of teachers, to have kids use social media. This came fast on the heels of our burgeoning awareness of Common Core Standards which asks us to have kids get up out of their seats and talk to each other. There goes half of my management plan: Stay in your seat and be quiet. On top of this, I would add social media? I want kids texting one another? Posting on Instagram, Facebook, and sites and apps that haven't even been invented yet?
Or discovered by their antiquated teacher? Having already investigated and endured a fourth grade Instagram imbroglio that ended up in tears and confessions and calls home for its horribleness, along with at least a couple more big wide swings through the dark side of social media and kids, I wonder just how we might be able to use this new technology in a way that would be productive, and not just the twenty-first century version of writing something mean on the bathroom wall.
The bathroom wall, after all, can be washed off. Getting something off Al Gore's Internet is all but impossible. Raising a generation of super-users to show restraint and conscience as they enter a world of anonymous chat rooms and applications that require little more than the ability to lie about your age to get an account is a responsibility I feel very wary about accepting. Managing my own son's cyber-forays is a full-time job. A room full of fast-fingered ten-year-olds with smartphones seems like a recipe for disaster, at least from the outset.
The challenge isn't awareness. I've been teaching kids about cyber-safety since I started introducing them to the World Wide Web. The majority of them, starting in Kindergarten, understand that talking to strangers online or on the street is a bad idea. But there's still that group that believes, because kids do, that they are smarter and indestructible compared to their adult counterparts. We just don't understand.
They're probably right. I find myself already past the window of using Tinder or Blendr  tweeting about using any of them. Do I know that these aren't the only apps out there? Yes, I do. Do I know that I could be completely successful introducing kids to Pinterest or a dozen different totally useful and educational sites that would help them explore the world around them? Yes, I do. does the idea of being responsible for such a journey feel daunting?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Best Foot Forward

I have some runner friends, or friends who run, who have tried to convince me over the past few years to buy those silly looking toe-shoes. They have gone on and on about the benefits of "running barefoot" the way God, or Vibram who make the fancy footwear, believe we should. The folks at Vibram tell us that their rubbery cobbling will "reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles." That may be, but I never wear flip-flops because I don't like the feeling of something stuck between my toes. If I'm going barefoot, I want to go bare foot.
Walking around without shoes is kind of a summertime ritual for me. I like the idea that I can wander around my house and out into the yard to see if the mail has come without having to put shoes on. This feels quite natural to me, but I won't be mistaken for a Hobbit anytime soon. I also haven't taken to insisting to others that I am reducing foot injuries and strengthening muscles of any sort. Unless I'm exercising my freak flag muscle. 
As a matter of anecdotal fact, all those five-finger-foot acolytes who were trying to get me to try on a pair of my own have also shared stories of the injuries they have experienced "getting used to" their own foot condoms. Calf and ankle strains, mostly, but they insisted that these were brought on only because they didn't understand the science of what they were doing. Someone had to correct them.
What I didn't ask them was this: What part of the science of Evolution are you missing out on? I no longer have to chase my prey about the rocky hills and grassy fields in my bare tootsies. I can take the time to cover them in overpriced space age foam and polymers designed by out-of-work NASA rocket scientists so that all those little sticks and stones won't hurt me. As much as I hate to admit that Nike, Saucony or Asis may have a point, they have some years of research and experience to back up their product. Vibram came to the show a little late, and according to the lawsuit they are trying to settle, they may have rushed their science just a little. Early studies suggested that barefoot running may take the strain off heels and knees, but later reports show that strain just moves somewhere else on our tired bodies. If you really want to avoid the stress and strain of running, stay on the couch. In a really comfy pair of warm slippers.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Wretched Hive Of Scum And Villainy

Lucky Chicago. They won the sweepstakes. They get to have George Lucas' Museum of Narrative Art. The City of the Big Shoulders, Pork Butcher to the World, is no longer Second City, at least not to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The West Coast Star Wars fan will have to catch a flight to the Midwest if they want to sneak a peek at Mister Lucas' collection of illustrations, paintings and digital art. Lucky Chicago. At least they're not getting the Official Star Wars Museum. That venue doesn't exist. Not yet.
All this talk of luck, however got me to thinking: Who really is lucky here? While I respect and revere George Lucas for his ability to put forth a vision of the future, or the past if you believe the credits, I wonder how he might fare in today's box office-driven world. In 1977, the Summer Blockbuster was just a couple of years old. Elvis had just died and the Sex Pistols had just blown up, not unlike the Death Star blowing up. I'll ask you to refrain from imagining the King of Rock and Roll exploding on the toilet inside Graceland. What I'm suggesting is that the cultural vortex that was being created at that time was most certainly what made this myth of the Skywalker clan and their involvement in the galactic rebellion. It was fresh. It was new. It was exciting. It had some of the most regrettable dialogue in motion picture history. And I spent that summer returning to the theater again and again to make sure I memorized every syllable.
It was 1977. Movie theaters could keep a film on their screens for weeks at a time. The mega-superfaplex concrete bunkers that we troop into now to see the next big thing were still a distant dream. Movie profits were still discussed in millions of dollars. That's with an "M." And most importantly, there was no video on demand. If you wanted to see "A New Hope," there was one place you had to go. Nobody's modem was going to handle that kind of traffic in 1977. Nobody had a modem in their home in 1977. Except maybe Matthew Broderick. Digital Art, indeed.
No, it was a series of very fortunate events that generated the zeitgeist George Lucas dropped his little science fiction movie into nearly forty years ago. It's probably just a mildly curious twist of fate that kept Smokey and the Bandit from becoming the cultural touchstone that we now recognize as Star Wars. The story is essentially the same, and that black Trans Am was every bit as cool as the Millennium Falcon. It could make the Buford T. Justice run in less than twelve parsecs. Or something like that.
So, if I'm in the Windy City in the not too distant future, or long ago if that's how this works, I'll try to stop in and see the art collection that George Lucas has been able to amass as a direct result of the money I've pumped into his franchise and attendant merchandising over the years. Or maybe I'll head on down to Jupiter, Florida and take in some real film history.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Read Ready

The Balanced Approach to Literacy is the new thing in town. Perhaps most significantly, it allows for our school district to apply the dreaded TLA: BAL. I would be doing a disservice to all the research and pilot programs that lead us to this point, but it is an interesting twist in the road of my teaching career. When I first arrived at my school, we had just received our brand new phonics-based reading curriculum: Open Court. Everyone, even the brand new computer teacher, was required to attend a week-long series of trainings. I learned phoneme segmentation and fricatives and glottal stops. I learned to distinguish graphemes from phonemes. I learned the science of reading.
For years afterward, each summer brought us an opportunity to refresh and renew our understanding of the way all those sounds became words and then sentences and paragraphs. Of course we were encouraged to ask kids to make meaning out of all those sounds they were making. We learned that comprehension was very important too. We needed kids to decode and generate meaning. We were entrusted with the sacred duty of helping them get these skills.
After a while, it became clear that the first box of reading that had been given to us was not enough. We got new boxes. These had more research associated with them, and we were trained to use the new boxes and the books that came inside. Did I mention there were books? The kids read books that had parts of other books, selections that were picked for the way they featured the long A sound or words with more than one meaning. When I was a fourth grade teacher, I lived for that week when my class read an excerpt from "Charlotte's Web." Letting my kids know that they could read the whole story of Wilbur and his new friend who just happened to be a spider was a secret joy of mine.
Fast forward again a few more years, when I had left the fourth grade and returned to the computer lab, and the gains our school and our district had made by teaching kids to read by using those tiny bits of sound and tiny bits of stories had leveled off. It was time to go shopping for a new program. Not new boxes of phonics this time, but crates of books. Not books with bits of books in them, but real books by authors like E.B. White. Our kids will now have a chance to read "Charlotte's Web." The whole thing. Not all of them, of course. Many of them will have to start with books far less complex. Books full of sounds and little meaning. It's how I remember learning to read. Students at our school might end up reading about that terrific pig in fifth grade. Or third. Or even second. They will run into words that they don't know how to read, but the magic of the story will help them figure it out. Or their teacher will help them.
That's what I'm learning to do this summer.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stop Making Sense

My wife woke up worrying about Isis. Not the Egyptian patroness of nature and magic, though if you know my wife that could make perfect sense. Nor was she fretting about the Isis of CBS TV from the mid-1970s. Like so many of us in the western world, she was waking up to the reality of the ISIS that takes its name from their goal: the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. These are the guys who are so brutal and extreme that even al Qaeda says are too vicious. Currently, my wife and a good portion of the rest of the globe seem to have the same worry: Where will this all end?
Do you remember the relief we all felt when American troops left Iraq? I do. We left with the mild assurance of democracy blooming from the seeds of Starbucks and ten years worth of casualties both military and civilian. We never found weapons of mass destruction, but I like to think that what we missed out on in mass we made up for in time. We left with the notion of stabilization in mind. What we didn't remember was Newton's third law which states that for every force in the universe there is an equal and opposite. This is especially true in the Middle East. Here comes the push back.
This is not in any way unprecedented. This is a history of that region. What gets the United States in trouble is when we find ourselves in the middle of things. It would be nice to imagine ourselves as "liberators," but not everyone still holds to that dream. Instead, it is much more likely that we have set ourselves up for yet another round of conflict and American involvement in a region that predates our nation's existence by a few thousand years. This has created a number of interesting scenarios, one of which has the United States looking to Iran for help in hopes of calming the situation. I'll just let that one sit with you for a while.
Unlikely comrades is what this crisis has wrought. Rand Paul recently said, "And what’s going on now, I don’t blame on President Obama. Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution. But I do blame the Iraq War on the chaos that is in the Middle East. I also blame those who are for the Iraq War for emboldening Iran. These are the same people now who are petrified of what Iran may become, and I understand some of their worry." If you need a moment to unscramble your brain from this seemingly contradictory message, you're not alone. Dick Cheney is confused. But this should not come as a surprise. That may be the only thing that makes any real sense about ISIS. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Appreciation Of Art

My younger brother came over for a story and a snack. He brings them both, which is very brotherly of him. This time he brought us a big tin of popcorn mixed with peanut M&Ms, and he read a selection from his favorite author, David Sedaris entitled "Adult Figures Charging Toward A Concrete Toadstool." It was about a family and their reckoning with the art world. As always, I leaned back and enjoyed the treat of having someone read to me. It's not very often, as a school teacher, that this happens to me. Sure, I get bits and pieces of compositions or passages for practice read by kids who are still mastering the craft. My younger brother has been practicing for a while now.
As the story unfolded, I found myself thinking about my own family's relationship to art. The fact that my artist brother was reading me a story about art wasn't lost on me. The dances we've done over the years about drawing and painting are well documented, and now I feel a sense of relief when it comes time to cede the graphic arts portion of our sibling rivalry to him. But we grew up in the same house, and as I listened to the tale of a family and their art collection, I thought about the paintings that adorned the walls of our childhood. My parents had friends who made us art, and there were few vertical surfaces that were left needing adornment. There were the Degas ballet dancers in the hallway. Ardourel wood cuts in the my parents' bedroom. And then there were the Katz canvases. Great, huge beasts that hung on the walls of the living room, one behind the piano and the other spanned the great stretch above the stairway. They were landscapes. Great, tortured landscapes that must have had dozens of tubes of oil on each one, a style my younger brother would later refer to in his own work as "liberating paint." Each tree was a twisted hunk of dried pigments laid on not with a brush, but almost certainly a pallet knife. Or a trowel.
It was these pieces that stuck in my mind when I was first offered a chance to paint with acrylics. The idea of watering down the pigments seemed to run against the way I had experienced this craft. I wanted the flames on my painting to be every bit as thick and chunky as those of Mister Katz.
When my brother finished his story, I asked him if he remembered those paintings. He laughed and we enjoyed our shared memory. "Whatever happened to them," I wondered. Neither of us could account for them. We knew that they were no longer on display at my mother's home. The scaled-down townhouse life would not support such massive displays. We agreed that there was only one thing to do: Call mom.
As with many of these types of out-of-the-blue inquiries, it took our mother a few moments to catch on to what we were trying to figure out. Once she did, she assured us that the paintings in question were not from "that Morris Katz," even if that's how we wanted to remember them. She wanted to assure her sons that she hadn't tossed any sort of possible masterpiece or conversation piece. "Your father and I bought those with the furniture." I knew that the living room furniture from the old homestead had gone away some time ago, during the move to smaller quarters. Suddenly I recognized these as the "sofa sized paintings" that they truly were. Their value was the one that we had assigned them back when we were kids, when we were shorter than those paintings were long. We owned that art. These were not reproductions, but the work of some starving artist, who shared a name or borrowed a name of an artist who may have been more well-fed and slightly more notorious. For the purposes of our story, we'll just say that part of the collection has "been retired," but they still live in our mind's eye.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I received a lot of swell presents for my birthday. Some of it came in the shape of packages to unwrap, others were more of the experiential variety. For example, my family took a trip up north to the Six Flags theme park in Vallejo. We rode roller coasters. We ate corn dogs. All that tossing about via various modes of kinetic conveyance made corn dogs and other tasty morsels hard to digest, making us feel at times as though we were working at cross purposes. In the end, we were all able to take our dizzy heads and stomachs home and rest them for what would come the next day.
On Saturday morning, I woke up early, as it was the longest day of thee year and I always like to take full advantage of the hours of sunlight offered to us here in the northern hemisphere. I watered the plants. Inside and out. I did the chores I needed to do in order to have the rest of the day to myself. And those I care about. Which is why I woke my son up early, or at least early for him. I made us an appointment for us all to donate blood. This is something I do on a somewhat regular basis, along with my wife, but my son had never made the trip before. Initially, this was because he was too young. More recently it was because he was less than enthusiastic about the experience. Needles, specifically.
He wasn't shy about explaining his fears. Just like I wasn't shy about using the leverage I had of being the birthday boy to cajole him out of his self-imposed avoidance of sharing his precious bodily fluids. I also hoped to get him while he was still sleepy, and have the hemogoblins taken out of him before he was fully awake. That wasn't exactly how it all went down.
By the time we arrived at the Red Cross, panic was brewing. He did a good job of covering it up, as he is a very good sport about most things. Once my wife and I had been ushered off to our separate rooms for reviewing our medical history, however, the fear struck hard. When I came back out to the waiting room in anticipation of my own bloodletting, he was sitting with his head down, looking more than a little pale. "I don't think I can do this," he told me. We had a little chat, and he agreed that he would sit and watch while his dad got stuck.
As it turned out, I was fortunate to get the A Team, and my technician was as enthusiastic and personable as my son was not, at the time. When all was said and done and my pints had been sealed and stored, I went back and had another chat with my son while my wife finished her own date with a vampire. Her time in the chair wasn't as successful as my own, and we tried not to let on to my son that sometimes things go awry and you don't get to finish off cleanly. A bandage and a bruise was what she left with, but I really wanted my son to get the chance to conquer his fear.
I got Tony, the tech who took my blood, to work with him. We took it a step at a time and Tony made it all seem so easy and natural, this opening of a vein. Before he knew it, my son was in the same chair where his dad had been just a short time before. Tony talked to him about cars and music and zombie movies and just like that, he was done. My son had crossed into a bigger world. He was sharing something with his parents and his community. We all had this great gift of life to share, and I felt just a little happier than everyone else because I was as proud of him as I have been in quite a while. I asked him what he thought after he had a couple cups of juice and some Keebler snacks. "No big deal," he replied.
I know different. It's a very big deal, and quite a gift.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Time To Name Names

First of all, I should point out that I took the time when my family and I went to Washington, D.C. a couple summers ago, to look at the name on the door. The name on the door, the one for Speaker of the House, says "Boehner." I looked at it for minutes, while my family's patience as our tour group kept moving. B-O-E-H-N-E-R. For the life of me, I could not make this into "Bayner." Why doesn't he call himself "June" instead of "John?" Or "Fronkensteen?"
That was a digression intended to open up this piece about what this guy recently suggested: In a letter to the president, Speaker Boehner blamed Obama administration policies for the huge increase in children making their way here from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and said the president must act. That's why he wants to send the National Guard down to our southern border to deal with this crisis. Not UNICEF. The National Guard. With all due respect to the amazing work that the National Guard does in times of crisis, tornadoes and floods and the like, but how does this solve the problem with Obama's policies? 
If I understand this right, the Speaker (or is that "Spooker?") is upset because the current administration's policies made our country so very appealing to children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Maybe it's the new school lunch program? Or maybe it's the lack of comprehensive immigration reform. And who better to carry out comprehensive immigration reform? The National Guard, of course!
Well, if the National Guard hadn't been busy the week before last when Eric Cantor lost his seat as well as his job as Majority Whip. Some have suggested that it was because of his support of amnesty. Not the international kind, the immigration kind. Back to the Boehner letter ("litter?"): "The policies of your administration have directly resulted in the belief by these immigrants that once they reach U.S. soil, they will be able to stay here indefinitely," Boehner wrote. "While we understand that many of these individuals are coming to this country to escape violence and hardship in their home country, the current climate along the border and our enforcement policies are only encouraging them to risk their lives and those of their children. It is time that we confront the crisis along the border head-on through immediate and aggressive action."
But first, how about some aggressive action on that whole phonics thing?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

It's In The Game

I had plenty of kids coming to me on a regular basis complaining about how they felt their classmates were not following the rules of this game or that on the playground. It came as no surprise to me that five and six year olds tended to miss the point of soccer, that is, to use only their feet. The fact that by the end of the year we had most of them understanding fundamentals such as kicking the ball and not each other as well as keeping the ball within the prescribed lines, rather than chasing it and one another across the yard. I had plenty of opportunities to refine my speech about just what constitutes "regular rules" in four square. By stark contrast to soccer, you're only supposed to hit the ball in this game with your hands. If it bounces more than once in your square, you're out. If you hold the ball, you're out. If you hit the ball outside of the four squares, you're out. The litany of additional twists and "rules" that get piled on top of that just serves to make the kids standing in line anxious and frustrated while the finer points of these made up "rules" are argued. Even the sanguine pastime of jumping rope was periodically turned into an excuse to vent elementary schoolers' spleen.
Rules, as they say, are meant to be broken. That's part of the game, it seems. How else would one explain that Marshawn Lynch, star running back for the Seattle Seahawks, made new this week for showing up for practice. His job is a game, and playing games about whether or not he would show up according to the terms/rules of his contract generated some concern among those who care about such things. In other sporting news, Oakland A's pitcher Drew Pomeranz broke his hand not by catching, throwing or hitting a baseball, but by punching a chair. Not that the chair did anything to deserve such treatment, but apparently Drew was just a little upset about giving up eight runs in less than four innings of work last week. Again, I use the term "work" when I mean "playing a game." And is it all "part of the game" to intentionally throw a baseball at a batter? That's what the Arizona Diamondbacks would have us believe. It took two tries, but D-Backs pitcher Evan Marshall plunked Milwaukee Brewers bad boy Ryan Braun. Marshall got a congratulatory fist bump on his way to the showers after he was thrown out of the "game." If he had stuck around for a couple more minutes, he could have seen the next batter up for Milwaukee clear the bases with a grand slam home run.
And maybe that's what we're missing here: That sense of just how things go around and come around when it comes to playing games. Every dog has its day and even a stopped clock is right twice a day and all those bits of wisdom that may not fully apply, but keeping in mind that it is, after all, just a game. Cheaters never prosper, unless their business happens to be cheating in which case they had probably better be very good at it. But that's not the message I'll be sending on the playground anytime soon.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Toys In The Attic

"I'm growing older, but not up
my metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck" - Jimmy Buffett
For many years, these were the words that I took very much to heart as the calendar pages fell from the wall and were eventually recycled in that very environmentally conscious way I have learned as time piled up along with this metaphor. I took great pride in the way I maintained my childlike fascination with toys and all things less than mature. I bought a little more time for reckoning when my son was born. Train sets and model cars were once again a part of everyday life in my house. We used to take trips to Toys R Us just to look around. For him.
Then there was the time I went into Best Buy and walked out with Guitar Hero, my son trailing behind me wondering aloud, "Do we like stuff like that, dad?" I spent hours in front of the television, pretending to play along with rock hits from long ago. Every so often we made a family event of it, with my wife on vocals and my son on drums. Sometimes we even got our friends into the act. It was an excuse for me to play with a plastic guitar and pretend that I was in a band. I even downloaded a couple Jimmy Buffett songs so that I could play along with the Coral Reefers. I already knew all the words by heart, I just needed to learn the faux chord progressions.
These days, the plastic guitars don't get much action. The toys have been put away, for the most part, replaced by screens and consoles that offer virtual experiences that appear more mature than the mounds of Legos that used to be piled under his bed. We no longer need to rush out to the toy store after we see the latest special effects comic book extravaganza to check out the swag. I miss it. Not just for my son, but for me.
I know that fifty-two trips around the sun doesn't mean that I have to give anything up. If anything, I can afford to be the consumer of all that stuff. Honestly? I don't want it as much anymore. Way back when I used to go to Jimmy Buffett concerts every summer, my niece went along when she was just a little girl. She wanted to know where the toys were. The good news was we could get her a stuffed parrot and then we could get back to the singalong. Happy Birthday to me.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Leaving It On The Field

Yes, I'm a football fan. I played the sport just long enough to understand that I was going to be much better off sitting on a couch watching others put their bodies in harm's way than going down on the field and hurling by own flesh and bones around in the hopes of making a touchdown. Not that I had a lot of opportunities, since mostly what I was doing was "blocking," or being pushed roughly to the ground. This occupied enough of the other team's players from time to time that other members of my team were able to use this distraction to score that touchdown, so hooray for me. I'm much better off as a spectator. I don't even bother going to the stadium to watch anymore, since that has its own dangers to my physical being.
So, who is it that's still willing to put their youth on the line in order for folks like me to enjoy their efforts vicariously? The NFL draft took place last month, and no one who heard their name called stood up and said, "No thanks. I'll try bullfighting instead." Spine and knee injuries make even the heartiest of souls old before their time, and if you manage to walk away from the game, who knows what kind of life expectancy awaits these men who are old before their time.
Like Rodney Thomas, former running back for the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons who just passed away at the age of forty-one. Forty-one. He played professional football for seven seasons and even made to to a Super Bowl, but didn't live to see much the start of his fifth decade. Then there's the sad tale of Jim McMahon, star quarterback for the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. Jim was known, in his day, for his reckless and bizarre behavior on and off the field. Now that behavior is all off the field, and when they say "That Jim McMahon is crazy," they mean demented. Clinically. The fact that he isn't sure if he had three, four or five concussions during his career suggest that maybe he was sacrificing his body for a sport that cared less for him than he cared for it. About five years ago, when he went to get an x-ray and MRI, he found out that somewhere along the line, he had broken his neck. That's about the time the dementia diagnosis came. Now he's part of the class-action suit filed by former players against the NFL. It's for millions of dollars. I hope he gets a chance to spend some of it. I'll be watching. From the relative safety of the sidelines.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Top Of The Pops

Casey Kasem has signed off for the last time. No longer will there be a need for him to keep his feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars. He now lives among them. He is stardust. He is golden. He is also a part of history now, and the kind of pop icon that we won't soon see again. Disc jockey? What's that? Doesn't everyone run a podcast out of their garage these days? Wolfman Jack and Dick Clark come to mind when I try and find an easy allegory to Mister Kasem's cultural impact. His voice was the one that told us what was happening and what was hip, as well as being part of a group of meddling kids who uncovered the truth behind that haunted amusement park.
I probably listened more to Shaggy than Casey. The adventures of Scooby-Doo held a lot more intrigue for me than the current list of top forty hits in America. I've never been much of a top forty guy. Sure, I bought Fleetwood Mac's Rumours  because everyone else did. I also bought Silver Convention's "Fly Robin Fly" as a forty-five when it made the Top Forty, though all that math confounds me today. I owned these records as a surrender to the peer pressure of pop culture, something that I began to work actively to subvert shortly after that episode. That's when I started buying albums by Cheap Trick and DEVO. Even though both of these bands were capable of turning out the occasional pop hit, they weren't the flavor of the moment. Which explains the horror I felt when I received the soundtrack from Grease  for my sixteenth birthday. This was the moment when I became fully aware of just how far I had moved from the country of Top Forty. It remained in its protective shrinkwrap film for months until one night, a friend decided to see if I was serious about "folding that record in half" if it ever touched my turntable. I made it down the stairs in less than the time it took for Frankie Valli to commence to warbling about how Grease really was the word. I yanked the needle up, grabbed the record in both hands and, in front of my guests, I folded it in half, sending shrapnel in all directions. Everyone who asked got a lovely parting gift that night: a shard of Grease.
Since then, I have kept to the fringes of popular music. I have owned my share of number ones, but only because of their particular merits outside their position on the charts. I know people who devoted weekend evenings to the anticipation of what Casey would ultimately announce as Number One, but that wasn't my scene. I was headed to the alternative side of things, mostly out of sheer stubbornness. These days, I find myself downloading Olivia Newton John tracks with my tongue squarely in my cheek and my heart on my sleeve. I watch with amusement and respect as Bruce Springsteen covers the Bee Gees in his live shows.
Casey Kasem, arbiter of taste? Not exactly, but a voice that could make you believe it. He and Shaggy stomped on the Terra. Aloha, Casey. See you in the stars.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


There's a new champion in hockey. In case you missed it, The Los Angeles Kings beat the New York Islanders last week to win the Stanley Cup. I missed most of it, save the headline. Generally speaking, I'm a pretty good sports fan, but it's been some time since I paid attention to hockey. When I was a freshman in college, I used to root on the Colorado College Tigers. It was a fast and fun way to spend a Tuesday evening. Then there was the time when my father made a sucker's bet on the Colorado Avalanche to win it all at the very beginning of the season. It was the first year of the franchise's existence, having morphed from the Nordiques of Quebec to become the new kids in the Mile High City. That sentimental bet was never collected on by my father, who made his last flight before the Stanley Cup came to Denver. I cashed it in and have had a silly sentimental attachment to them ever since.
But not enough to watch a whole hockey game. The same can be said for basketball, which I used to watch up close and personal in high school, where Boulder High won a state championship in my junior year and made it to the finals when I was a senior. After that, I couldn't keep up the fixation. College and professional basketball takes place during that time when I am recovering from twenty-some weeks of football. My concern rays have been worked to their breaking point, but that doesn't keep me from throwing in on the NCAA tournament brackets. I tend to treat them more as math exercises rather than trying to make any competitive sense out of them. I watch the scores and the brackets collapse, and await the outcome, but watching a whole game? I've got baseball to think about by then.
Baseball fills the summer months, and I can usually be counted on to sit still for nine innings on any number of occasions, and I even try to make it out to the ballpark once or twice to take in all the spectacle in person. I'm lucky enough to live at the confluence of the National and American Leagues. There's almost always some baseball excitement in the Bay Area.
And now there's the World Cup. I was working with a couple young men the other day, installing new computers in our school's lab at the end of the year. They had grown up south of our border, and were rushing about, trying to get everything buttoned up before the first match started. It was like the start of a month long Super Bowl for them. And the rest of the planet. I won't be watching. I prefer games where the points pile up more dramatically than one to nil. Sure, I may peek in as things get closer to their conclusion, or if the team from the USA makes any sort of run, but I've got all this baseball to watch, and start working out my fantasy football roster. They're just going to have to figure out who the global champion of the world's most popular sport is without me. I hope they're up to it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Talk about your low-speed, high-density flashbacks: I went into the office at the front of our house to catch up on some e-mail, and when I looked out the front window, I saw a gentleman coming in the gate who I didn't recognize. But I knew who he was. It was the father of my son's girlfriend. I had never had this experience, exactly, but I do remember way back when I met my future father-in-law.
In high school, I waited until my senior year to throw parties of any real consequence, starting with Halloween and then most Friday nights after football or basketball games. The guest list for these soirees was pretty exclusive. You had to be in band to get in. At this time, my future wife was a sophomore, and had only just begun to find her way in our social circle. She wasn't anybody's girlfriend. Not yet. She was on the cusp of becoming my best friend's girl friend, but first he had to finish off a rather acrimonious breakup with the girl who would eventually become my girlfriend later that same year. All of those connections are not as important as the fact that my parents were hosting a group of underage boys and girls, supervised with occasional shouts downstairs and an appearance by my father to play ping-pong with those foolish enough to challenge him.
It was the underage and supervision portions of that equation that gave my wife's father pause. That's why he showed up on my parents' front porch, unannounced save the doorbell in a time long before cellular telephones. Word spread quickly through those of us who had nothing to fear, but still felt the need to feel it because "her dad is here." Any awkwardness I might have felt as the host was nothing compared to that of this teenage girl who was just out for a good time with her new friends when suddenly "her dad is here." for his part, my father handled the situation gracefully and did everything he could to put "her dad" at ease. There was nothing that could save the rest of our nerves. If we had been frolicking naked amid empty beer bottles and drug paraphernalia, we couldn't have felt more shame. Sure, there were those among us who used the dark corners for a quick make-out session, but mostly we listened to loud music and played Atari. It would be some years before truly illicit behavior would become a staple of my parties.
The next Monday at school, there was a lot of talk about how "her dad showed up." I don't remember talking to him, or even seeing him. I just knew that the party fell kind of flat after he took his daughter away. That's why, a generation later, I was so shaken when I looked up and saw somebody's dad coming up the driveway. I knew that when I had asked my son if there was a particular time that his girlfriend needed to go home I had set off a wave that turned into a cell phone call that morphed into a drive across town to the appearance of somebody's dad at our front gate. Somewhat unwittingly, I had pulled the plug on my son's evening. As the father of a son, I will probably never feel the same kind of protectiveness once felt by my current father-in-law, or his present-day doppelganger. I want everyone who comes over to my house to feel comfortable and have a good time until, suddenly, it's time to stop. I still haven't figured out how to do that one gracefully. Hopefully I'll get another chance.

Monday, June 16, 2014


Since the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary, there have been seventy-four instances of shots being fired on school grounds or buildings here in the United States. Land of the free. Home of the brave. And regular acts of random violence at our schools. I suppose that "random" is kind of a misnomer, since the "regular" that precedes it kind of trumps that whole idea. In the past year and a half, that works out to be just a little less than one a week.
A lot of people will be happy to point out the sad irony of all of this killing taking place in areas that have been designated as "gun-free zones." A fat lot of good that distinction makes. What possible good does it do to hang signs outside schools, warning bad guys away with their weapons? Those who patrol the comment section of news stories to hammer on this sad irony are also happy to point out that they guy who rolled through Isla Vista, California started his spree not with guns but knives. And he ran down people with his BMW. Why don't we have dedicated no-cutlery and foreign car zones? If people were getting attacked on a weekly basis with knives and foreign cars on school grounds once a week, I would happily support such legislation.
Ultimately, it's not worth arguing with the scary folks out there who insist that the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut were part of some arcane oligarchical conspiracy. It's not about keeping kids safe. It's about keeping guns safe. Since the start of 2014, there have been thirty-seven school shootings here in the land protected by the Second Amendment. I don't pretend to have an answer. Maybe we do need "good guys with guns" on every street corner. Adding more guns doesn't seem to make a lot of sense in this equation, but what does make sense in this equation? The good news is that it's time for summer vacation. Maybe that means that death can take a holiday too.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Daddy Issues

Your dad is the one who would take you to the R-rated movie. Your father is the one who would explain it to you.
Your dad is the one who would take you fishing. Your father is the one who would get stuck at work so you couldn't go.
Your dad is the one who taught you that joke. Your father is the one who told you not to tell it in front of your mother.
Your dad is the one who bought you a paperback copy of "World According To Garp." Your father is the one who never finished it.
Your dad is the one who bought the case of beer. Your father is the one who tried to explain moderation.
Your dad is the one who took you to the amusement park. Your father is the one who worried aloud about how much it was going to cost.
I'm a dad. I'm also a father. Sometimes when I set out to be one, I turn out being the other. It's a complicated business. Anybody who tells you that it's easy probably isn't doing both jobs. It's a balancing act, and only the guys who check out completely don't have to think about it. If you're going to fall off on one side or the other, will you end up crushing your child. Probably not literally, but in ways that will only show up years later and become the driving force behind their parenting urges.
Your dad is the one who knows that everything will be just fine in the morning. Your father is the one who worries about it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


I'm a parent, so I am pleased and happy to see that a judge struck down tenure and other job protections for California's public school teachers Tuesday, saying such laws harm students, especially poor and minority ones, by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.
I'm a teacher, so I am worried.
Suddenly the mild feeling of security I have achieved over the course of my career has been stripped away. Tenure was never a ledge to which I climbed and then sat precariously, waiting for someone or something to come and knock me off, knowing the whole time that I was firmly affixed to the rock by metaphorical crampons and all manner of super adhesives. As a teacher, I know the powers that are wielded outside a teacher's contract. That's the reason we have them.
I also know that there are plenty of teachers out there in our schools who flaunt that convention. As citizens, we are routinely treated to stories each day about how this teacher got away with this or that horrible behavior. We are made aware of the blatant injustice of the way our children are mistreated by bad teachers who use their tenured positions as perches of power, where they teach alliteration and force their students to learn folk dances against their will.
I joke, because it is my way. I also know that it is true that there are plenty of educators at all levels of the system who abuse their authority and their students. They should be fired. That would be a relief for the teachers who show up every day and would never be considered "ineffective." That worry should be left for the truly "ineffective" teachers. Those quotation marks are there because of the lingering worry for the rest of us about what "ineffective" means and who will judge it.
Back to that climbing metaphor, something I might teach to my fourth and fifth grade students, and how I haven't stopped my ascent. Achieving tenure was establishing base camp, and it came as a relief, of sorts, but it is by no means the end of the climb. I suppose we could always go by that base camp and round up the teachers who were just sitting there reading magazines. Get rid of them, right? Or is that the best way to judge "effectiveness?" I am too busy clinging to this rock face to worry about it right now, but I do wonder when they might come for me.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Eye In The Sky

The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday it has granted the first permission for commercial drone flights over U.S. land. It's all a part of the government's new program: "Know Your Drones." The FAA is loosening restrictions on commercial uses of the unmanned aircraft, so get ready for it. The BP energy corporation and drone maker AeroVironment of California have been given permission to use a Puma drone to survey pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, the agency said. The first flight took place on Sunday. You remember BP energy, don't you? They are the current world record holder for the biggest oil spill of all time. What could possibly go wrong with this operation? Last summer, the FAA had approved the use of drones for flights over the Arctic Ocean to scout icebergs, count whales and monitor drilling platforms.
Of course, the ironic thing about all of this is the idea that these are truly "unmanned" flights. Sure, it's hard to get a full-sized human in side one of these four foot long aereoplanes, but there is a guy sitting somewhere in a darkened room with his joystick directing the action from his easy chair. I'll give you a moment to wipe that mental image from your mind as I prepare to press on: the point is that they aren't autonomous robots, sent by the overlords to keep us in line. They're souped-up model planes flown by specially trained nerds, using all those mad video game skills their parents told them would never amount to anything. So there, mom and dad!
Now back to the paranoia: Drone makers warn us that if the FAA doesn't move forward more quickly on these regulations, businesses from real estate agents to wedding video makers aren't going to wait for government permission. Soon, the sky will be full of little planes, watching this and filming that. So, in that spirit, I would like to suggest that we put them to their best use. Remember all those signs on the side of the highway that said, "Speed Checked By Aircraft?" I think it's time to put some teeth back in that fear from above. Or maybe we could just get some really great footage of next year's Rose Bowl Parade.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What's New?

Who should be the New Indiana Jones? My initial reaction to this question was not an answer, but another question: Do we need another Indiana Jones? I'm not sure about you, but the last one did just fine, right up until he popped out of that refrigerator. Of course, we've had our share of Batmen, Spidermen, and Men of Steel. It should be noted that technically, even Harrison Ford had his stand-ins with a couple different Young Indianas. That's really the problem, isn't it? The world isn't exactly waiting on pins and needles for the AARP tales of everyone's favorite archaeologist. Many of us are unsure about how Medicaid will cover Han Solo as he zips about the galaxy in his Golden Years. This nerf-herder isn't getting any younger.
And that's really the rub. Being an action hero is really a young person's game. Just as Laurence Olivier moved through his career first as Hamlet and then Henry V and ultimately King Lear, a man's got to know his limitations. The trouble is, we live in a world where "reboot" is now a real thing, not just something we do to recalcitrant computers. Beloved characters don't need to sit on the shelf very long before someone in accounting gets the bright idea: "Hey, we haven't done a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie for a while." Of course, there aren't a lot of folks who associate a particular actor with Donatello. That's not the case with Doctor Jones. It is Mister Ford's craggy visage that most of us connect to the finder of Lost Arks and Temples of Doom. How does one go about shaking that particular connection?
Ask James Bond. Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, George Lazenby and even Woody Allen have played this international man of mystery. The box office express that is the Bond franchise hasn't slowed for much in over fifty years. Who will be the new James Bond? Who cares? It is, to borrow another computer term, plug and play. Some are more successful than others, but as long as the shell of the production company keeps bringing us bigger and better ways to save the world from SMERSH or SPECTRE or ANTHRAX, it won't matter. Ultimately, it won't matter for Indiana Jones.
Let Tom Selleck have a bash at it. Why not?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tie A Yellow Ribbon

Yellow ribbon. This is how we welcome our soldiers home. If I don't see that yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree, I'll get on the bus, forget about us, and so on. I wonder if Bowe Bergdahl isn't wondering if he should have stayed on that bus. Since he was released from captivity in Afghanistan, he and his family has been batted around by the media and politicos like a cat toy.  Sorry, son. You're not a hero. You're a political football with spit all over you. 
Okay, so maybe Bowe's not a hero. According to members of his platoon, when he went missing back in June of 2009, he was not captured. He was deserting. He was twenty-three years old at the time. Who among us hasn't made bad choices during our twenties? Who hasn't made those bad choices with things blowing up around you in a foreign country? Sergeant Bergdahl had become disillusioned with his country's mission in Afghanistan, and when he went missing, there were plenty of people both military and civilian who questioned his motives. He wasn't captured during some twilight raid while fending off bad guys who outnumbered him ten to one. He was captured.
Bergdahl has told people treating him at an American military medical facility in Germany that he was tortured, beaten and held in a cage by his Taliban captors. There are plenty of people who will shrug their shoulders and say that he somehow deserved this treatment. Most of them aren't soldiers. Still, there will be those who will suggest that being a soldier opens you up to experiences like that, and if he's a deserter, even more so. How about his dad, then?
Why would Bowe Bergdahl's dad be receiving death threats at his home in Idaho? The elder Bergdahl deserves to die because he waited patiently for five years for his son to come home? Because he grew a beard while his son was held captive? Bowe's hometown will not be hosting a Welcome Home celebration, primarily because Hailey, Idaho has a population of eight thousand and it would have tripled with the additon of supporters and protesters who want to express their opinions on the matter of Bowe's release. Some of those protesters are angry about soldiers who may have been killed while trying to find Bergdahl. So it makes sense that they would want to kill his father. With a yellow ribbon. Tied real tight. 
Nope. It doesn't make any sense at all. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lift Me Up

I was leaning against the wall, staring into what I would describe as the middle distance. Waiting for the bacon cheeseburger that would most hopefully level my karma, I had solidly begun to space out. The week that had passed was a blur and I was hoping to move into the weekend with what little steam I had left. That's when I felt the tap on my shoulder.
When I looked up and to my right, there was a smiling face looking down at me. "Don't worry man," came the silky smooth voice, "everything's going to be okay."
Suddenly I was in the midst of a reckoning: Who was this person, and why was he smiling down on me with this dose of compassion? It was most certainly something that I could use. How did this stranger know that? Was this a stranger? Should I know him? It could have been a friend of my wife's sent over with a message of inspiration forwarded from my spouse. Maybe it was someone from my past that had appeared at that moment to lighten my load.
Perhaps he was commenting on my outward appearance. There have been plenty of times when I have been identified as someone who needed sympathy or concern based on the T-shirt I was wearing. My sports affiliations have garnered my share of kind words, sincere or otherwise, made obvious by my hat, jacket or jersey. That night I was wearing the Conch Republic logo on my chest. Why would some guy want to patronize me for my fondness for Key West?
"Things will get better," Mister Tall and Smooth finished up with another kindly grin.
I smiled back, still not fully comprehending. "Thanks."
And he was gone. I was left standing there, only now I wasn't leaning. I was now alert, and aware of my surroundings. There were strangers all around me, looking at me, and apparently able to see into my soul. I had been leaning against the hamburger stand looking like my world was falling apart. Or maybe I just needed a kind word. As it turns out, the guy was right.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Always Watching

It has been suggested to me on a few occasions, that if you were to follow anyone around doing any job with a video camera, you would almost certainly find something over the course of a day that could be seen as objectionable by your average viewer. How we treat the people behind the counter at the 7-11. The way we drive in a crowded parking lot. That little scratch to the side of your nose that might inadvertently have slid up your left nostril.
And then there are some really bad days. How you treat the people around you, especially if you are in a position of trust and authority: law enforcement officers, judges, teachers, security guards. You really can't have a bad day in an age of cell phone cameras.
Some days, of course, are worse than others. Oakland High School security guard Marchell Mitchell was dismissed by the school May 19 after he was caught on video beating seventeen year old student Francisco Martinez. after the student argued with the guard, slapped the guard's hand and spit on him. It should be noted at this point that Francisco has cerebral palsy. And he was in a wheelchair at the time of the beating. Firing him, from the start, seemed like the least harsh of penalties for such abuse. But now there is a petition being circulated by students at Oakland High who see Mister Martinez as a "troublemaker," and they want Mister Mitchel reinstated. Some students claim Martinez provoked the attack by spitting on the guard and that the student often runs over people’s toes with his wheelchair. It might also be worth pointing out at this point that Mitchell is only six years older than Martinez. All that wisdom that might come with a few more years of seasoning are lost in this case. Still, it takes a very interesting point of view to come up with dumping a kid with cerebral palsy out of his wheelchair as any sort of supportable action. Ah, youth. I'm just glad this isn't a video blog. 

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Dreaming Is So Not Free

My wife and I have a pretty much daily ritual upon waking up where she recounts the events of her dreams from the night before. It is her way of easing into the reality that will be the rest of her day. It is also periodically the way I start my day with a Gordian knot of images to process that sometimes takes me until past lunch to digest. It's an odd bit of responsibility that I take, but sometimes it offers me insights into what is going on behind those pretty blue eyes.
Then there was the other night. Very late, or very early, depending on the perspective that is most useful, but we had all had a very busy and trying day. Sleep came abruptly for all of us, which was a nice change. My son was sawing logs in his room, my wife and I were in solid REM before midnight. That was about the time that I shifted slightly, and my elbow nudged my wife's shoulder.
To say that she woke with a start would be a vast understatement. To say that she screamed would be doing a disservice to the bloody murder that she yowled. Whatever notions I might have had about rolling over and going back to slumbertown were shot down immediately by the continued shrieks from the other side of the bed.
"What is it?" I begged her. To which her only reply was a breathless, "Oh my god. Oh my god." At this point, my son had arrived, trying to discern what sort of abuse must be taking place next door, let alone in his own home. "What is it," asked my son.
Finally, the three of us were coming back to full consciousness, and my wife was able to describe the horrible vision that had awakened her. It was one that I recognized as coming from Disney's Haunted Mansion, where the disembodied voice intones: “...And consider this dismaying observation: This chamber has no windows, and no doors... Which offers you this chilling challenge: to find a way out! Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Of course, there's always my way...” That's when the lightning flashes and we see a body suspended in the rafters of the chamber above. Then she turned to me and gave the big reveal: "It was you."
That's when my son had the terrific idea of going to his room and getting the Native American dreamcatcher that we had hung in his room when he was a tiny baby. He placed it carefully at the window near my wife's side of the bed. We tried for a few more minutes to make sense of the trauma we had all just experienced, but in the end, we relaxed with the refrain of "just a bad dream." Our collective breath caught, we returned to our regularly scheduled sleeping positions, and proceeded to drift off into what was, for me, a solid, uninterrupted snooze. The alarm woke me for the first time in months. I was groggy but refreshed. I spoke only briefly to my wife about the interruption after midnight. I didn't want to hear any more details. I looked forward to the next morning that she would tell me about the horses that came to visit her apartment.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Smells Like Elementary School Spirit

"Hey, Mister Caven!"
"You're wearing your pajamas!"
It's Spirit Week. Today is Pajama Day.
"You look stupid."
"Hey, Mister Caven!"
"Your hair is blue!"
It's Spirit Week. Today is Crazy Hair Day.
"You look stupid."
"Hey, Mister Caven!"
"You're wearing a Broncos jersey!"
It's Spirit Week. Today is Sports Day.
"You look stupid."
"Hey, Mister Caven!"
"Your shoes and socks don't match!"
It's Spirit Week. Today is Mismatch Day.
"You look stupid."
"Hey, Mister Caven!"
"You're wearing that same old purple and gold shirt!"
It's Spirit Week. Today is Purple and Gold Day.
"You look stupid." Thus, another Spirit Week has come and gone. My conclusion: They make me look stupid.

Friday, June 06, 2014

A Dream Within A Dream

In the summer of 1981, I hadn't attended too many weddings. I was eighteen, about to turn nineteen, and I was steering myself out of the rut that was my "gap year" into my return to college. I saw this as a step toward adulthood. That's why I so readily accepted my position as an usher in my older brother's nuptials. I was told that I would be wearing a tux, which would up my total on that particular account to three: Two senior proms and now a wedding.
It was a brilliant, sunny day in Boulder, Colorado. The ceremony was held in the church where I had gone to Sunday school and my older brother had been confirmed before our family had given up on that whole place of worship thing. Now we were back. All of us, and we were about to welcoming another one to our midst. After years of having two brothers, I was adding a sister to the mix: in law.
I wish I could tell you about the ceremony, but it has been decades now, and since I need a photo album and a guest book to remind myself of all the people who came to my own wedding. The photos of that day in June help me recall that most of our neighborhood showed up. The kids we had all grown up with on that dead end street filled the pews and later crowded around the bar at the reception. It was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. This was notable perhaps most readily by the fact that I had a date. It was the first time I started to wonder about what my own marriage might be like because people started to ask me. I was very aware of how much my own path had followed my older brother's. I felt the urge to rush headlong into that next phase of my life.
I was also very aware of just how much more together my older brother's life was. He was ready. I really wanted to be. I was always in a rush to catch up to my big brother. I wanted to see what he saw, do what he did. On that pre-summer day way back when, I wondered what the view was like from where the groom stood.
Years later, when it was my turn to stand in the center, my older brother and his wife were there to cheer me and my incipient wife on. My brothers stood up with me, and in a day-saving gesture, my older brother came to the rescue. Along with forgetting my pants down the mountain, which my father was able to remedy with a pair of his own and a sturdy belt, the rings had been left behind as well. How could we go ahead with the ceremony without rings?
That day, my older brother and his wife loaned us their rings, carried to the makeshift altar in the meadow by our trustworthy ringbearer in his clenched fists. The pillow on which the rings were to be carried had been forgotten as well. When my wife and I were pronounced as such, we wore the rings that had bonded my brother and his wife back in the day. Something old and something borrowed, all in one. It was that kind of day.
Today is the anniversary of the wedding of my older brother and his wife. The magic of that day continues. In ways I never would have imagined. Mazel Tov.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Future Tense

As I have mentioned here only moments ago, the school year is winding down. It's apparent in the way teachers and students interact. It's obvious by the way we celebrate our Spirit Week. Today is Mismatch Day. It's an outward signifier of what is about to come: The End. We will pack up our classrooms and check in our keys. Students will pack up their desks and turn in their textbooks. We will go our separate ways, for a while at least.
That's true for most of us, anyway. Our fifth graders will be promoted, and they will ascend to the heavens of middle school, never to be seen again. Unless it's to pick up their little brother or sister, or just to drop by because it turns out that Mister Caven wasn't kidding when he said that middle school would be tougher than elementary. That's a transition with which I continue to be familiar. This past Sunday, I experienced something a little bit new.
I went to a retirement party. A pair of teachers from my son's elementary school were ringing the bell for the last time. They had taught together for twenty years, and they were rightly seen as an institution at that particular institution. They won't be returning. They're all done. The crowd at the Garden Center where the event was held was standing room only. Former students, parents and colleagues packed the place and had all kinds of warm and loving remembrances of a career or two that made the room even more full. Of love, respect and dedication. It brought a tear to my oft-jaundiced eye.
It made me think about a day in the future. More than ten, but less than twenty years from now. I will be tiring enough to consider retiring. At that point, it may be more than just a consideration. There may be people or constitutional amendments that will require that I load up my bag of tricks and head out to pasture. Of course, it would be best if by the time I made it to the pasture that I still had a little something left in reserve. I have joked, at times, about how they will have to carry me out of my classroom when it's time to go, but I don't think that's how I really feel. I don't want to overstay my welcome, and I don't want to stick around past my shelf-date. I want people to stand up and speak glowingly of me and I want to be able to taste the chocolate cake that someone will make sure to bring along. I want to be able to make sense when it's my turn to speak about my years in the classroom. I want the room to feel the way it did last Sunday. I don't want there to be a dry eye in the house.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Ghost Of Tom Joad

We're just looking for an honest days work, that's all. If you got any pickin' or somethin' like that. Me and my family we ain't lookin' for no trouble. It's this week every year when my family feels like the Joads. When the Mirabel plums start to drop in our front yard, I feel the need to strap the mattress to the side of the Prius and head on out to the dusty bowl, looking for a place to bed down for the night where we can be free from the tyranny of the man. You know the man, or at least you might if you saw it in capital letters: The Man. Or as Tom refers to him "a guy."
The truth is, we're really not looking for work. The work finds us. If we let the plums fall on the ground and the lawn and the sidewalk, it's only a matter of time before they start to stink and rot. We used to have a little help in this matter. Our sainted doggy Maddie would gulp down a few dozen of these fetid treats, mostly when she noticed that we were busily doing everything we could to get them up off the grass. Food? Those are food? I'll be happy to help then.
We miss her, but we didn't miss the plums. They came back this year with a vengeance. They also came early this year. Something about the drought or Easter coming so late, but the first week of June is not when I look to be shaking the tree. And yet, there we were, with our tarps spread out in anticipation of all the gravity we could muster, encouraging those little yellow orbs from their tenuous connection to the twigs from which they had sprouted just a few weeks ago. If there were anybody in our household who enjoyed these gifts from the earth the way our absent dog used to, it might not seem like such an onerous task to pick them up. Instead, we took our places on the ladder and beneath the spreading branches, waiting for the inevitable plop, plop, plop of plums we couldn't be less interested in eating.
But somebody else will be. Thanks to Al Gore's Internet, my wife was able to find a local organization that would take these juicy treasures off our hands. We were also able to connect again with the elephant guy at the zoo, who will be happy to share our extra plum branches and twigs with his pachyderm pals. We're not going hungry, in the meantime, but wherever there's a plum waiting to be picked, I'll be there.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Time Sync

Hi, my name's Dave and I'm a megablogger. It's been a day since I last blogged, and it will most likely happen again tomorrow because that's what megabloggers do. Not that I'm self-conscious about it or anything. Doesn't everybody write about their personal lives every single day for years on end? It was my wife's insistence that today's blog should be a real treat, a lollapalooza because it falls not just on Election Day, but Premiere Day. The movie that they made about my fellow megabloggers and myself will be projected for the select few who took the time and energy to make it all the way to watch all thirty-three minutes flash over the screen at the Dances With Films Festival.
Does it sound like those grapes that were so lovingly given to me are being returned on account of their relative sourness? It's probably because I remain so terribly ambivalent about having my face and name in the public eye. Given my regularly espoused distaste for reality television, I find myself wondering just how different a documentary about my personal quirks is any different than an episode of Hoarders. Well, since you asked, and you didn't, this is a film. It's not a TV show. It will appear in a theater, not someone's living room. The film's focus is scholarly, not simply prurient. It will be more like "An Inconvenient Truth" than The Osbournes. At least that's what I'm hoping.
The reality is this blog exists as a reality TV show. Sure, there are fewer pictures, and the sound is sketchy at best, but if you tune in here once a day you can find out how life feels to me. I don't mind sitting here behind the keyboard, tapping out anecdotes about my world and sharing them with anyone with a penchant for such things and the time to digest them, but turning a camera on that existence is just a little intimidating. Why else would I be making all manner of excuses for not making the trip down the coast to revel in my specialness with those who are just as special? I'm quite comfortable with faceless strangers dropping by to see what's going on inside my head, but meeting them might cause some sort of temporal anomaly, like an episode of Star Trek.
I've got a thousand excuses, but the truth as inconvenient as it might be, is that I am desperately committed to keeping my peculiar light under the bushel for which I have become so well known. I think of it as a kind of self-imposed glass ceiling. It's that strange mix of self-promotion that keeps me writing, but I won't post signs or put up advertisements pointing people in my direction. If you really want more of this, you'll have to come and find it. And that's just the kind of twisted logic that keeps me coming back to try and work out whatever it is on your free time. Unless you are currently standing in line to buy tickets to the premiere of "Friends You Haven't Met Yet," in which case I am providing you with a valuable service.
You're welcome.

Monday, June 02, 2014

The Dream Deferred

Closing out another school year, I find myself doing the accounting: One hundred eighty days of instruction, plus a few extra teacher work days, which always makes me laugh since the implication there is that those one hundred eighty days aren't "teacher work days," but that's the math. The countdown continues, especially for those fifth graders who are eagerly anticipating their release from our institutional learning facility.
After all these years, summer just feels like that little ridge in the vinyl between songs on an old LP. I'll be going back soon enough, and this little pause just gives me time to reflect. Like whatever happened to Karen. She was in my fourth grade class a long time ago. I was able to figure out just how long ago recently when her younger brother, who is about to ascend to the lofty height of third grade, told me that Karen had just turned eighteen. Later that day, I heard from another former student that Karen was pregnant.
This was not shocking news. I have lived in this neighborhood long enough, on this planet long enough, not to be bowled over by the notion of teenage pregnancy. It's on MTV, after all. What stirred my concern was the fact that this was not Karen's first pregnancy. She was just a few months away from having her second child. The first one was already a couple of years old. It is quite likely that that first one, a boy, will show up in our Kindergarten list before too much longer. This cycle is not unknown in this or any other world, but since I taught Karen in fourth grade and remember her dreams of becoming a veterinarian and moving to Stockton, I felt more than a little twinge.
Maybe Karen's life has taken this turn now, only to correct itself to the Stockton Veterinarian course in her late twenties, after her kids have found their own way and become successes in their own. Time has a way of leveling everything, but I hope it doesn't keep Karen from reaching great heights.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Intentional Communities

The countdown continues. On June 3, the documentary about those compulsive types like myself who feel that their lives are worth sharing in a seemingly endless stream of blogging, "Friends You Haven't Met Yet" will have its premiere. I won't be at the theater. Instead, I will be plugging away at the job which provides a great portion of the material for which I was included in the film in the first place. It is a wicked curve. And now a new twist to that wicked curve: There are others.
Of course, I knew that computer science was interested in my algorithm because I represented a trend. By having a film crew show up in my front yard, the idea of being part of a bigger piece drifted away. These guys came with their cameras and boom mikes and curious attention to see me. It was flattering beyond words.
Okay. It wasn't beyond words. I won't shut up about it. I have shared it with a bunch of people, many of whom have in turn shared it with others until I find myself in the uncomfortable position of mild celebrity. Then it occurred to me that I wasn't alone. There were others whose blogs rang the particular bell that mine did. The authors of those epistles were, perhaps, experiencing the same bends that were affecting me. Because there was a clue left to me in the trailer, I went online in search of Farview Farm. This was the only blog's title mentioned in that two minute preview, and it was easy to find. Sure enough, there's an entry for just about every day. I was not alone. I left a comment saying as much, and left quietly so as not to kick up much of a fuss.
A few days later, I received a comment, not from Farview Farm, but from Maggie World. This person had found me after showing up on the Farview Farm blog just moments after I was there, and used the opportunity to follow the link I left there to find me here at Entropical Paradise. Slowly but surely, we have begun to introduce ourselves to one another. Friends I haven't met before.
This probably won't be the last connection that I make, but it puts me in mind of the affiliations Kurt Vonnegut suggested in novels such as "Slapstick." We are the megabloggers, lonesome no more!