Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls

I am not a huge fan of cellular telephones. I suppose to be completely honest, I am not a fan of telephones of any sort. Part of this may stem from the number of times the phone rings at my house and the voice on the other end is asking for me is less than thirty-three and a third percent of the time. This makes some sense, since I am not here very often, spending a great deal of my time on my way to work, at work, or on my way home from work. I expect that the bulk of calls coming into our land line are directed to my wife, who is at work at our home. Even when I come home from work and find that my wife has voice mail messages stacked up from the time that she has been away from work. At home. That's about the time the phone rings and when I answer, I hear my wife's voice informing me that she is not home, at which point I feel compelled to remind her of just how many calls she has received since she left.
My son gets a certain amount of calls, but anyone who really wants to connect with him will get there most readily by hooking up with him on his ineradicable Android texting machine. So much so that it seems as though most of his interactions take place via some keyboard or screen. Sometimes we don't see his friends for weeks, but we know they are out there because of the beeps and buzzes and not-so-casual glances made to see what or whom is up.
Me? I've got my own cellular telephone. It's the thing that's connecting me to those things related to school. When I hear that beep, I now something has changed. Or something is about to happen. Or something isn't going to happen after all. I am only recently becoming more comfortable with the notion that the sound that you hear could involve me. I am becoming conditioned. Almost Pavlovian. I know this because there is a malfunctioning PA speaker in the hallway across from one of our first grade classrooms. It beeps. Not loudly, just loud enough to give me the impression that somewhere in my pocket is a cellular telephone making that sound and it needs my abrupt attention. Only once in the last five weeks has that noise coincided with an actual call or text for yours truly. The other five or six hundred times it was the mistaken impression that someone was trying to get in touch with me.
I should know better. If the phone rings, it's probably for my wife. Any phone. Always.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Laugh? I Thought I'd Die

"Death is easy. Comedy is hard." These words were spoken to me by Peter O'Toole on his death bed. Well, okay. It wasn't his death bed. It was in a movie: "My Favorite Year." He wasn't dying then. Not in the sense that he died earlier this year. He was dying in a much more metaphorical sense. Dying in the realm of comedy is a death much worse than, well, death. I carry with me the times that I have stood in front of a group of faces with confused or angry stares: Was that supposed to be funny?
Like the time I was at a party in the warehouse of my former employer. Bookpeople from days gone by had come to revel in their collective past and to catch up on the way things turned out. At some point, our cook (yes we had our own cook and now figure out how the company eventually went out of business) brought out a tray of her very chocolate frosted brownies. At that moment, a little girl, who would have been a next-gen Bookperson if the company hadn't folded, tossed a beach ball that landed squarely in the middle of the pan, leaving a dull imprint of beach ballness on the entire dessert. "Well," I intoned in my best parental tones, "it looks like you're going to have to eat all those brownies."
A little jest. A bit of silliness. Then came the voice of the little girl's mother, shocked and dismayed. "She's diabetic."
And this is a moment which I am alternately extremely proud and periodically ashamed of: I turned to this woman, who I did not know, and said, "Actions have consequences. I guess she should have thought about that before she threw the ball."
The look of horror was not reserved for the mother's face. Several others gathered near had the same reaction. I had rendered them speechless. No one laughed, but inside, I was celebrating the scene which I had just created.
Was it funny? To me. Would I rather be dead? No, but it would have been a lot easier if someone would have laughed. So maybe Edmund Kean didn't have it exactly right. Maybe it was Steve Martin who had it pegged: Comedy is not pretty.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


I heard the voice coming from behind. A familiar phrase: "Mister Caven!"
As is so often the case, when riding my bike to and from school, I put up a hand to acknowledge the recognition of this old guy on a bike. I waved.
"Mister Caven!" This time it was more insistent.
I stuck my arm up again, but turned around to see who was calling after me. It was early. It was raining. I didn't have my mind focused on anything but getting myself to school in one more or less dry piece.
"Mister Caven!"
This time, I stopped. When I got a foot down on the wet pavement and looked over my shoulder, I saw nothing but the street sign on the corner.
"Mister Caven!"
I squinted to see from whence this disembodied voice might be emanating. That's when I heard the immediately recognizable sound of the contents of a backpack being shaken and rattled by a young man who was in hot pursuit of Mister Caven. Then I saw Jesse round the corner.
"Mister Caven!" Still running hard, but now that I had a face to go with all the commotion, it made perfect sense. Jesse was now in middle school, having been promoted at the end of last year from our fifth grade. I remembered the hollering from across the playground. Usually Jesse needed me to confer on some injustice that had been perpetrated upon him on the soccer field. Or at four square. Or lining up. Jesse seemed to attract trouble. Now he was chasing me down. I stood in the rain and watched him race toward me.
"Mister Caven!"
"Are you still in the computer lab?"
"Well, not right now. I'm standing in the rain. How are you doing?"
"I'm good." And then we had run out of initial pleasantries. "That's my bus," he said, hooking a thumb in the direction of the corner.
"Well," I said, ever the teacher, "Don't be late."
"Okay, Mister Caven. See you." Off he ran into the gloomy morning. I turned and stood on my pedals, still three blocks to school. Elementary.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bimmer Bummer

Those were the words in the subject line of my younger brother's email. This was notable for several reasons: My little brother does not tend to send email, preferring instead to send personalized art cards to assert his opinions and feelings. I appreciate this since the cards are such warm and connected pieces, especially when compared to the cyber cool messages sent via Al Gore's Internet. When I do get email from my younger brother, it's of the one to six word variety that gets straight to the point, with verbosity left to me. When I read the subject line, I had an idea what I was in for.
He wrote to tell me that one of the kids we hung out with back on that dead end street in Boulder, Colorado had died. After that, he went on to say, "Unclear of the details, much like I was unclear of the details of his life. What I do remember is him cracking me up when we were kids." For my younger brother, this was practically a novel. 
It made me remember stories about Bimmer, not the least of which was that this was not his Christian name. Like so many kids on our block, he had been bestowed with a unique moniker by which he was known by all of us who played Capture the Flag, touch football, hide and seek, kick the can and every other outdoor game conceived by us youngsters. I remembered two stories that centered on Bimmer's garage.
The first was a time when Bimmer and his pal Doomsday (again, not her Christian name) were playing darts in that garage. Not that they had reached the appropriate age according to the warning on the packaged for the steel tipped weapons of pain and destruction, but this was back when there weren't warning labels on darts. Or anything else, for that matter. The circumstances that lead up to the denouement are largely shrouded in faded memory and mystery, but everyone who was hanging around outside on the street that day does have this one indelible image: Bimmer running out of the garage, screaming, with one of those poorly labeled darts sticking out of the back of his head. It is possible that he put it there himself. It is also possible that darts were being thrown at one another, and it was only a matter of time before one of the combatants was injured in this or a more severe way. We also tend to remember Doomsday chasing after him, trying to get the dart out of the back of Bimmer's head.
Again, the years have made recalling for certain whether it was before or after this that this same pair chose to play with matches in that same garage. A garage that had an open, very toxic and highly flammable bag of fertilizer in it. One of those matches, which could have been properly labeled as dangerous, but it didn't matter because it only took a few minuted for that part of the house to erupt into flames. It was an opportunity for most of us to see a fire truck up close and personal. It was probably only a coincidence that there was a fire hydrant on the corner adjacent to Bimmer's house. Perhaps his family was planning ahead. 
These youthful indiscretions later evolved into real trouble. The kind for which you sometimes end up in jail. Bimmer sometimes ended up in jail. The years after he left our little neighborhood were hard ones on him, and whatever the details of his passing turn out to be, it probably has something to do with cramming all that danger into such a short life. The neighborhood is just a little smaller now.  

Friday, September 26, 2014


"the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques." That's what the dictionary says, anyway. This is how we persuade the peace-loving people of this great nation of ours that the best way to discourage bad behavior is by engaging in that same bad behavior, only on a massive scale. I am speaking, somewhat rhetorically, about airstrikes. 
What sends a better message to our enemies that killing our people, or any people for that matter, than by dropping hundreds of bombs and missiles on strategic targets? This is how we will teach the lesson that killing is wrong. If you behead journalists, if you slaughter defenseless women and children in an effort to further your cause or defeat our own, we will bomb you back to the stone age. We will fill you with shock and awe. We will bring death from above. Don't mess with the US. We've been doing this rhetoric thing now for a couple hundred years. Maybe you've heard of a little ditty we like to call "Live Free Or Die?" That was us. How about "There is nothing to fear but fear itself?" We did that. We liked it so much, we thought about putting it on a dime, but it wouldn't fit under the guy's face so we left it at that. 
The point is: We here in America ('merica) are always willing to set an example of how to behave by doing that exact thing that we have said that we want to discourage. Empire building? No. Not where we are trying to install a democracy. How about terrorism? We will scare the jihad out of you if you give us half a chance. We're that good. 
So what if we happen to take out a few civilians while we're on our way to proving the larger point by blowing up somebody's ammo dump. The ammo dump that was probably at least half-filled with weapons stamped "made in the USA." The ammo dump that happened to be located directly adjacent to the daycare center. That's not fighting fair, now is it?
Of course, fighting fair isn't always in the cards for freedom fighters which, if you were to hear it from the mouths of ISIL, they are. Back when the Revolutionary War was being fought over here, there was some loud debate back in England about how those colonists didn't seem to want to follow the conventions of war. Bad sportsmanship, wot? I guess we're just glad that the British Navy back then didn't have access to any Tomahawk missiles. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Don't Click - It Just Encourages Them

Just in case you were under the impression that all the awful behavior directed at women and children was found in and around the National Football League, here's this: An Alabama woman accused of running her nine-year-old granddaughter to death as punishment for eating forbidden chocolates and lying about it was supposed to go on trial on Monday. 
Joyce Hardin Garrard, 49, stands accused of forcing Savannah Hardin to run non-stop for three hours in February 2012. Authorities say the girl collapsed, went into seizures and died days later at a Birmingham hospital.  Etowah County Sheriff's spokeswoman Natalie Barton said Savannah died from dehydration and low sodium, a condition common in marathon runners. Savannah was not a marathon runner. She was a naughty nine-year-old girl. A naughty nine-year-old girl with preexisting medical conditions. So, did grandma murder this little girl? Murder? With intent? How could it be so?
Not really that difficult to imagine, I suppose given the age in which we find ourselves living. Not in a world where little boys are kept in cages. Horrible stories of cruelty and abuse that make Stephen King cringe. It turns our collective stomachs and makes people like me click on the link to find out more. That's the worst part. Slowing down on the cyber highway to look at the pictures that have piled up next to the "news" median. How could we let this happen? How could one person be so horrible? How can I find out more?
Well, the good news is that the trial has been pushed back to February, which will give me and those like me the chance to find out even more of the grisly details. In another four months, Lifetime could have the movie version ready to go. Back in the town we call Reality, we recognize that this kind of thing has been happening forever. Everyone knew a story about some horrible thing that happened to a kid. The worst of those are the ones that end with a phrase like, "and it was her own grandmother that did it." Awful. Horrible. Terrible. And awfully horribly terribly fascinating. Tune in a little later to see how that lawsuit Savannah's dad is filing against the doctors who may or may not have misdiagnosed her condition after she had been tortured by grandma. Until your favorite NFL player gets suspended for running over the team's mascot with his Humvee. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tramps Like Us

Once upon a long time ago, I heard Bruce Springsteen tell a story about how he once hopped the fence at Graceland in hopes of getting a chance to meet The King. He was telling this story as an older, wiser man. One who had risen to the lofty station of "Boss." Still, at the time of the fence-hopping, he had just recently been featured on the covers of both Time and Newsweek as the future of rock and roll. Before rock's future could ever meet its past, Elvis' security force descended upon him and his co-conspirator Little Steven before they could even ring the doorbell. Bruce tried to charm his way past the Memphis Mafia, but they would have none of it. Besides, they explained to this interloper that Mister Presley was out of town, and even if he was at home, breaking into Graceland was going to be tougher than breaking into show business in the first place.
That was back in 1976. A lot has changed since then. Elvis has left the building. Most of your Neighborhood Watch groups have more sophisticated security than what was guarding the Presley mansion on that April night so long ago. This is due in large part to the war on terror which began, in earnest, twenty-five years after Bruce and Steve made their mad dash at stardom. In 1976, you could walk right up to the fence at the White House. I know, because I have pictures of my brothers and I taken by my father doing just that. You couldn't see in the Lincoln bedroom windows or anything, but it still felt like "The People's House." When I returned to Washington D.C. with my own son a couple years back, we couldn't get anywhere near the place. My son prattled on about all the counter-terrorism measures in place: sharpshooters, missile batteries, lasers. We giggled nervously about all the ways we could get in trouble by even playing around the edge of this maximum security perimeter.
We never would have considered hopping that fence, even if our faces had been on the covers of Time, Newsweek and Rolling Stone. What made Omar Gonzalez think he was going to get away with it? Maybe because he could. He did. The forty-two-year-old from Texas made it all the way to just inside the North Portico before being subdued by Secret Service. Carrying a knife? Really. The Treasury agents didn't bother to explain to Mister Gonzalez that the Obamas were out of town. Back in 1976, Bruce Springsteen was able to walk away from the gates of Graceland and return to his band to play the next show. How long will it be before Omar Gonzalez gets back on the road. I'll be watching and waiting from behind the fence, thank you very much.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

For The Want Of A Nail

Our house has been broken into before, and since then, we have taken a few measures to ensure that we don't have endure that feeling of violation and fear again: Security lights, laser beams, shark-infested moat. Nothing, of course, is a sure thing since if someone decides they really want in they can shoot out the lights, block the lasers with an intricate series of mirrors and brave the moat in shark-proof chain mail swim trunks. If somebody really wants in, they're coming in. These were the thoughts I had as I stared at the floor of our bathroom. Wreckage was strewn all the way from the doorway to my son's room to just outside ours. Broken glass and bits of plastic, it could only have been the work of some dastardly intruder, who came to relieve us of anything we had left after our last burglary, and who obviously had little or no aesthetic sense. The wreckage was that of the neon art piece my younger brother had created for my fiftieth birthday.
Had I foolishly left a door ajar? Did the interloper squeeze through the impossibly thin gap left at the bottom of our bathroom window? Suddenly I found myself consumed with thoughts of Abbey Road. There I stood, without even the protection of a silver spoon. I was little afraid, but mostly I was devastated. If someone had wanted to come in and steal my wallet, my car keys, my TV, I could have lived with those losses. I would have replaced them. This was an object d' art, and I wasn't going to head on down to Target to pick another original neon creation up over the weekend. This was a loss.
Then, after a minute or two of this angry reckoning, it began to dawn on me what had happened. There had been no home entry, other than my own. I was just looking at the consequence of poorly mounted artwork. Two years ago, when I had been presented with this lovely gift, I was in such a tizzy to get it up on the wall to for all to see, I had done a less than perfect job figuring out the load-bearing strength of the screw I used to affix this one of a kind monument to me to the wall. At some point during the day, while we were all out, that screw and the little piece of plastic that was supposed to expand and keep their conjoined presence stuck in the drywall, gave up. Out came the screw, down came all that glass, metal, and plastic, and what was left wasn't so much art as mess. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I only wish that my little brother and I had a chance to watch the catastrophe happen, one last hurrah of a performance piece as my fiftieth birthday came crashing down in a shower of debris.
I'm keeping the pieces. Maybe they can be turned into something new again. If not another piece of glowing art, maybe a new feature in my home security system.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Whoopin' It Up

There used to be an easy comedy bit to be made about the way the sports pages and the police blotter began to merge. It's not so funny anymore.
Currently, the National Football League finds its collective self standing over the can of worms they opened up when they went back and banned wife-punching Ray Rice from their party. Much has been made, here on this blog and elsewhere, about the relative justice of this whole escapade. Public figure, security camera, privacy, yadda yadda yadda. If Ray Rice had been an employee at Wal Mart, would he have been welcomed back with open arms? Would his supporters have been hanging around the store entrance, wearing his blue vest in a show of solidarity? I don't expect that they would. And I'm guessing that his co-workers might have found a safe distance to sit before issuing their own encouragement. It's the world without wads of cash.
In the world that runs on those great big wads of cash, Adrian Peterson the star running back for the Minnesota Vikings and indicted child abuser, has been reinstated by his team. "Whooping" his four-year-old son with a switch caused him to miss a game, or one week of work. A year's salary for most of us. And he got plenty of that vociferous support for his actions from his colleagues. His division rival and fellow running back Reggie Bush discussed his child-rearing theories with WFAN's Boomer and Carton. "I was punished the same way," the Lions ball carrier said. "And I know a lot of my friends and a lot of the guys I played with, they were punished the same way, too. I got what we call whoopings." There's that word again. He went on to speak about how he might treat his one-year-old daughter, “I definitely will try to — will obviously not leave bruises or anything like that on her. But I definitely will discipline her harshly depending on what the situation is.” 
Obviously. Because leaving bruises is what gets a guy into trouble, isn't it? Leaving lacerations that lasted for weeks, that seems to be the issue for Mister Peterson. Leaving security video behind seems to be the issue for Mister Rice. "Whooping" is something that has cultural acceptance. Not in Third World countries. Not in poverty. In America. Now. And other Americans are defending it. Here. Now. Sleep tight, America. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014


I had a conversation with our after school program coordinator a few evenings back, where we talked about a great many things, including baseball. We commiserated with each other about the percipitous fall from the top the Oakland A's had experienced over the past month. He told me that he had thought about going out to a game to root the team on, but it was his wife's turn for a night out. "I've learned, or I did as a new parent, not to refer to these evenings as 'babysitting.'" He went on to relate an experience he once had at a convenience store, when the cashier made note of his child. He shrugged and chuckled, saying the word: babysitting.
"Is this your daughter?" asked the cashier, taking a certain shaming tone.
"Well," he realized his mistake but it was too late.
"Then you are not babysitting," she let everyone in her line know. "You are just doing your job. It's what you're supposed to do."
This gentleman, whose job it was to look after one hundred kids at our school five days a week after their daytime teachers had begun their commute back to their civilian lives, still felt a little sheepish about this interaction. I told him that I could relate, having made my own reckoning with child care and caring for my own child.
It was the next day that I spoke with him again, this time on a more professional note: He was resigning because his daughter was very ill. Just six years old, she had taken a turn for the worse, and all the care that she had been getting since she had spent the first year of her life in neonatal intensive care was not enough. He was quitting his job so that he could be there for his daughter. It was a life decision that he was making. It was a father's decision. He wasn't going to be babysitting.
He cried a little while he told me about the choice he was making. I felt the tears well up in my own eyes. I thought about how far away those concerns about baseball were. Miles away. Years ago. There is no crying in baseball. But there is in fatherhood.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Random Access

Memories, they can't be boughten.
They can't be won at carnivals for free. 

- Steve Goodman "Souvenirs"
It was trash day, and my son ran to the window at the front of our house. He had heard the rumble of the trash truck, and he wanted to see it in action. He stood there, peeking over the ledge that was just below his chin in those days, fascinated. The excitement and unbridled joy he felt at that moment was incalculable. He vibrated. When the dumping was over, and that great big truck rolled down the street, he ran to his room to get his own trash truck. He proceeded, over the next few hours, to toss the trash from our trash cans on the floor and pick it up more times than I can count. It was also more times than he could count, since at that point in his life, he counting was very low on his priorities. Not every time, but quite often when I see or hear a trash truck in the distance, I remember that time. It's a snapshot. It's stuck in a great big box of other pictures and movies from my son's past. They are moments that I remember because of where I was: on the outside, looking in. 
I wonder, sometimes, how much my son's memory of mild events such as this are affected by the stories my wife and I tell. In front of him. In front of others. On weblogs for the whole world to peruse. Would this moment be special to him like it is for me if I hadn't told the story over and over? Would he remember it differently? What did he think the trash truck was really doing out there in front of his house each week? 
I know that he is currently building his own vast warehouse of reminiscence. Some of the things I choose to recall won't fit in the crates and boxes. He will be making room for thoughts of his first girlfriend. He will want to have a spot for that night when he first realized what he wanted to be when he grew up. And there will be secrets, too. His vast storage facility will be different from mine. There will be some overlap, as it should be. I wonder if the trash truck will make that cut. 
I hope so.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Be Very Afraid

Two al Qaeda branches urged warring militant factions in Iraq and Syria to stop fighting each other and unite against a U.S.-led alliance preparing to attack the ultra hardline Islamic State armed group, according to a joint statement posted online. The enemy of your enemy is, after all, your friend. Which gets a little confusing, since the enemy of al Qaeda in Iraq is the United States, and one faction of al Qaeda has suggested that they are at odds with Syria, we should be pals with al Qaeda. Something like that, right? But this is how terrorism works, it seems. Just when we feel as though we, as a nation, have a righteous target, somebody shows up and makes it all confusing. In a rare joint statement, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said, "Stop the infighting between you and stand as one rank against America's campaign and that of its satanic alliance that lies in wait for all of us, to break us stick by stick." I like that whole stick metaphor. It's very Greek. But we're getting along with the Greeks right now, so we'll leave that alone for now, but don't think we're not watching you, Greece.
What we really have to watch out for is trouble on our own doorstep. Did you know that ISIL is now actively recruiting from our own coalition of the willing? They are currently touting five jihadists who hail from Britain and Australia. And there are even some Americans who are lining up for a chance to fight for the bad guys. Danger is lurking everywhere. That makes it very difficult to win the war on terror when everything is so very terrifying.
Add to this the truly frightening news that Yusef Islam is going on tour. In the U S of A. Yes, the former and once again Cat Stevens is coming back to rub our collective noses in his Rock and Roll Hall of Fameness. Wasn't he a terrorist just a little while back? Catsef will be rolling into Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Which sort of figures, since those are all hotbeds of liberal Muslim evildoers. It's just not getting any easier. Now I've been happy lately, thinking about the good things to come. Maybe its' time to hop on that Peace Train. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Get Ready

The question my wife asked was, "Are you ready for your son to own a car?"
I didn't answer. I didn't really have words. Even though it has been a nearly constant topic of conversation in my house for months now, I cannot say whether or not I am ready. In philosophical terms, which of us is truly ready for anything?
I helped my wife prepare an earthquake kit. We have food and water for days, extra clothes and even a spare pair of glasses for each of us. Am I ready for an earthquake? No. I have studied math for most of my life. I have taught math in elementary school for almost two decades. Am I ready to take a test to prove that I am ready to teach math? Not yet.
Was I ready to move to California?
Was I ready to get married?
Was I ready to own a house, have a kid, start a career? No. No. No. This probably has more to do with what my understanding of "ready" is more than actually being unprepared. I have learned, over time, that I am very good at creating the impression of readiness. A certain amount of background knowledge and then answering questions with conviction goes a long, long way. There are a great many people who are convinced that I am a very confident and capable individual. By presenting myself in such a manner, I tend to have even more responsibility and challenge tossed my way. The reality is that I am scared to death of the holes in my acumen. And if you've ever had a hole in your acumen, I think you know how painful that can be.
Being ready for my son to own a car? I am only vaguely connected to the idea of him driving a car, let alone owning one. I still find myself looking up from the back seat and wondering who let this little boy get behind the wheel. Aren't there laws against that kind of thing? Actually, there are probably laws against not letting him behind the wheel. In some corners of the globe, it would be considered bad parenting not to let your child have access to the highways and byways as soon as practically possible.
Am I ready for him to own a car? I just got used to him crossing the street without reaching up for my hand. I just got used to splitting a large pizza with him. I just got used to him being in high school. Am I ready? He was born ready. I wasn't.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What Is Just?

Semantics is the branch of linguistics concerned with meaning. I have always had a fascination with semantics, and lately I've been wondering if there should be a separate category for studying the connection between language and relationships. This topic popped up for me as I was considering the custom of wives taking their husband's last name. It's a convention that fell out of vogue sometime in the past few decades. There have been plenty of hyphens and slashes and other ways to minimize the male domination of women via marriage. But lately I've been wondering if those bits of punctuation aren't doing more than just keeping two competing surnames apart.
At some level, taking someone else's name could be seen as surrender, or at worst, subjugation. A contrasting point of view would be that this is a level of commitment that we have become uncomfortable with as a culture. A woman isn't a car, after all. You don't just transfer her title from father to husband. She is not property. Maybe it's that little bit of surrender that is necessary to bridge the gap between one family and another.
It puts me in mind of one of the phrase "just good friends." I see this limiting word at the front of that sobriquet and I wonder how it stands up next to the words I see on the back of cars leaving weddings: "Just Married." To quote Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Just? That one's got three different meanings: two adverbs and one adjective. Which is most meaningful in this case?
I'm guessing it probably has a lot to do with what sort of relationship you find yourself pursuing. When it's a limiter, "just married" has nothing to do with waiting until death to part. It's a convenience. It's circumstantial. It's not so very much about forever. Why trade names in this case? Or give your identity up at all? It's not like you're somebody's slave. You're just somebody's wife. It's just a name after all. It's just semantics. Right?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It's Never Straight Up And Down

It is a wiggly world. Our heroes, the ones that we gathered behind while they were being offered up by the NFL and ESPN and other acronyms, have begun to fall. Apparently, abuse that was passed out on a football field wasn't enough for some of these gentlemen. Ray Rice, whose smiling milk-mustached face welcomed kids at our school into the cafeteria, was caught on tape spitting on and then punching his fiancee. Adrian Peterson, another star running back, moved us all last year with the discussion of the loss of his young son, was indicted on felony child abuse charges. Apparently he beat another son with a tree branch. Vikings jerseys with the number twenty-eight will no longer be sold in youth sizes.
Meanwhile, the people who seek to make their livelihoods in public service have us all scratching our collective head. A Democratic president is declaring an undeclared war on terror, and Republican lawmakers want us to know just how stupid and reckless that kind of behavior can be. Or maybe what they are arguing for is what they seemingly always wanted: bombing the entire Middle East until it becomes a flat plane of glass. Our response to aggression seems to be more of the same.
Then there's Thomas Ready, a Republican candidate for Pueblo County commissioner in Colorado. He, like many other people, suggested that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary may have been a hoax. Opinions, as Dalton tells us, vary. Where this gets more bizarre is the reaction to this somewhat ridiculous assertion: Ready received a death threat. Perhaps this is an effort by those who have dissenting opinions to make sure there would be not doubt about what happened to Ready if they disagreed. Or maybe the death threat itself was a hoax. Questions on top of questions. It's a wiggly world.
A very angry, violent, and wiggly world.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Way back in my first few years of teaching, my friend and colleague from down the hall went with me to classes after the school day was over to earn our clear credentials. On those evening rides, we used to chat about our days, recounting some of the unexpected moments and revelations we had dealing with the children of Oakland. We mused, at the time, about writing a sit-com which would be similar in tone to "MASH," with plenty of laughs, but always with that green fatigue undertone. We found ourselves wondering, after a few hours of combined reading and classroom management training, if anyone would believe it if we did actually sit down and write it.
Years passed. That good friend, like so many others, has moved on. He retired. Others just left. It's hard job, and even though sometimes I count myself lucky since I am not digging ditches or mucking out stalls, but teaching continues to amaze me. I know it consists, primarily, of standing around and talking, both skills at which I excel. Still, I come home most days exhausted. Maybe it has something to do with how close I am standing to the cracks in the firmament, and the holes in the safety net.
Like the other morning when I was standing next to the play structure watching kids swarm about, a woman approached.
"Excuse me," she entreated, "Could you watch my son?"
I looked down at the young man she offered up at the end of her arm. I recognized Eric from the first week of school during which I had become acquainted with him and his periodic tendency to bite and hit other children whom I had been assigned to watch. "I'll be happy to keep an eye on Eric," I assured her. This was, aside from standing around and talking, part of my job. That's when this mother stepped across the over-share line.
"I just got out of jail, and I have to get downtown to court," she let me know in a way that sounded a lot like a reminder for a haircut.
"Well, then," I assured her, "Don't be late."
Off she went. Eric looked up at me, dark circles under his eyes. There's probably not a lot of extra sleep in Eric's evenings. Eric's day had a bit of a dark circle under it as well. I just hoped that it wouldn't include any biting or hitting. Now that I think of it, I'm not sure this would make such great TV.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Everything Old Is New Again

My fellow Americans, it is that time of year again, when our thoughts turn to terror and how to summon our national courage to triumph over it. I thought it might be fun, in the spirit of the season, to try a little quiz. Some of the quotes below are from 2001, when George W. Bush spoke to us about the dangerous new world we found ourselves living in, even though we had been there all along. Some of them come from the guy who replaced him, Barack Obama. Can you guess which is which? Good luck!

"We have seen their kind before. They're the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."

"Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. That’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge. At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain."

"We will direct every resource at our command--every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war--to the destruction and to the defeat of the global terror network."

"In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide."

"And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists."

"But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. That’s why I’ve insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days. So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat."

Have you got your answers ready? Well, as you probably already guessed: It just doesn't matter. Sorry.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Hearts Of Darkness

The way we have all reflected on the crisis in Ray and Janay Rice's relationship has been played out for the world to see. It's not football fans who are caught up in the discussion. It's everywhere. I had a conversation with two fourth grade boys the morning after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Mister Rice from the NFL. These were ten-year-old FIFA fanatics, but the media attention brought the drama into their living rooms. At first, their opinions were that of disbelief: Could you believe that Ray Rice won't be allowed to play football anymore? And that makes sense, since taking away a kid's recess is about the harshest punishment we dole out here. Then I asked them if they knew why Ray Rice wasn't going to be allowed to play football anymore.
"He hit his wife," came the much quieter answer.
"Knocked her out," added the second. There was a twinkle of "ain't that cool" in it.
I asked them if it was okay to hit a girl.
"No," came the droning, conditioned response.
Is it okay to hit anyone?
"No," was the refrain once again.
What if it was your sister or your mother or your brother or your dad?
Now they started to engage. "I wouldn't let anyone hit my little sister."
Okay. Maybe it really wasn't okay to hit anyone. Maybe all the reasons in the world were just excuses. The saddest part of all of this is the way Ray and Janay's life was bared for all to see through a few grainy seconds of security camera video. Does that instant describe their relationship? I'm sure it doesn't. There are things about their lives that we will never know. It's none of our business.
What is our business, or mine anyway, is getting kids to make good choices. Hopefully by the time they become professional football players or plumbers or civil engineers, making good choices will be easy. Easier. Not impossible.
We would all like to make it through life without the worst of ourselves becoming an Internet meme. Unless that moment of infinitely looped footage showed us in the best possible light. Learn. Grow. Live. Peace.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Imagine a box. We will call this box "two thousand dollars," since that is what the average "good used car" was going for back when I was a teenager. Imagine how much money that felt like when I was a teenager. You don't have to imagine the reality of me spending every bit of eight hundred eighty dollars on the Chevrolet Vega that became my (asterisk) first car. The real first car was my brother's truck, which technically wasn't a car, and I got that for being such a good little brother and then I dropped it off a cliff. But that's another story.
Now, imagine another box. This one will be called "ten thousand dollars," since that is how much "good used cars" are going for in the circulars that show up attached to our weekly newspaper. Imagine, if you will, that my son would like his first car to be of the eight hundred fifty dollar variety. Thirty-five years later, my son would like to undercut his father's purchase price on his first car by thirty dollars.
Now imagine my chagrin. That takes up a pretty fair sized box. When my son further announced that the car he had in mind was "a bit of a gas guzzler," I flinched again.
"What does your mother think of this?" I queried, keeping in mind that his mother was the inventor of the "Homemade Hybrid." I understood my son's predilection toward high performance sports cars, but I hadn't imagined that his wish for wheels would take him to this place. Would my son, who owns dozens of Lamborghinis, Maseratis, and innumerable exotic foreign automobiles in the virtual world of video games, let his first car be a "beater?"
Then I remembered being seventeen, and the lure of the open road. Being able to drive to places where my friends would hang out, ready to give me grief about the Vega I was driving. But it didn't matter. What mattered was that it was mine and it had four decent tires and a stereo that worked. It was my car. I drove to my high school graduation in that car. Eventually, it met the same essential fate of my previous first car, when the aluminum engine block warped to the point where I could not put oil in it fast enough. I used to keep a couple quarts of oil in the back, just in case.
My son knows better, but his encyclopedic knowledge of motor vehicles will not let him rise above his absolute need for something for him to drive. Now. I'll keep trying to reason with him. Maybe we can talk him all the way up to the thousand dollar range. Maybe the sellers will even throw in a free case of oil.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Urban Assault Vehicles

What is in a name? Whether 'tis Desert Shield or Desert Storm, 'tis all but a tick of the hands of a clock. I think Shakespeare wrote that. Maybe it was me. It was probably me. I find this kind of government/corporate nomenclature to be highly amusing, but not in the "ha ha" way. That was a long time ago, but it still rings in my head, so much so that it set off alarms when I started hearing about "Urban Shield" here in Oakland. If you're not familiar with this yearly festival of militarization, it is "a  comprehensive, full-scale regional preparedness exercise assessing the overall Bay Area UASI Region's response capabilities related to multi-discipline planning, policies, procedures, organization, equipment and training." It also features a number of different vendors who are on hand to sell their wares to police departments interested in the latest in, well, Urban Shields. This includes companies like 3M, who we assume will be there to show off the latest in Post-It technology. Others, like Aircover Integrated Solutions, probably aren't there to sell office products. 
Nope. They are there - here - to sell hardware. The kind of hardware that makes people get all worked up about the militarization of the police. Police in the streets. The streets of Oakland. 
How did the streets of Oakland respond? As they often do: with a demonstration. Protesters blocked streets downtown in the area near the hotel where Urban Shield was holding forth. They probably weren't there to protest the presence of All Star Dips, the dry-mix sauce company there to promote their line of "Delicious gourmet snack food products." They were there to tell the guns and ammo crowd to pack up and leave. 
Again, this is ironic, considering the streets in which they made their protest. The streets of Oakland which continue to experience unprecedented numbers of homicides each year, not to mention the aforementioned demonstrations, which don't always remain as peaceful as organizers draw them up. Ask Jean Quan about that one. She's the mayor of Oakland who experienced a flurry of bad behavior on both sides of the barricade back in 2011, during the Occupy demonstrations. There was much discussion, at that time, about the use of police force to quell the disturbances. And lawsuits. It may be incredibly jaundiced of me to suggest that the pronouncement from the mayor stating that Urban Shield is no longer welcome here in Oakland has something to do with this being an election year. Or maybe it's just common sense. I can't say for sure, but in the meantime, Praise the Urban Shield and pass the Broccoli Cheese dip

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In The Dark

What's the matter with kids these days? Since it's been nearly sixty years since that musical question was first offered up for our consideration and still longer since someone first uttered it without musical accompaniment, it probably bears attention. In this version, I am keeping in mind that all of us were kids at one time or another. Some of us more recently. Some of us with more frequency. Still, when we find someone acting like a ten-year-old, it's nice when the chronological age matches the behavior. 

And then there's this: fourteen-year-old Lily Marie Hartwell set fire to her family's home in Florida. She wasn't playing with matches, which would have skewed a little younger, behavior-wise. Instead, she was consorting with Slender Man. Her mother and nine-year-old brother escaped, thanks to a smoke alarm warning them of big sister's nastiness. What's that? You're not familiar with Slender Man? Who is this shadowy figure who commands allegiance and has recently been implicated in the attempted murder of a twelve-year-old girl who was stabbed by her "friends" in Waukesha,  Wisconsin. He is the embodiment of evil, or an Internet meme, depending on your point of view. Or age. 
It's also not the first, or surely not the last, time that kids have gotten hold of some snippet of pop culture evil and run with it. This time it's not Marilyn Manson or Judas Priest. Slender Man is more video game than rock and roll, but he reminds me most of Bloody Mary. You don't remember Bloody Mary? She was the spirit that was supposed to emerge from bathroom mirrors after elementary school bathrooms were crowded with terrified girls chanted her name. And she was supposed to kill them. Or show them the face of the man they were supposed to marry. It was messing around with the occult and things dark, in order to stir that pot of scary that exists in all of us. Especially when we're young.
It would be easy to blame Al Gore and his Internet for this one. It's really the best way to spread bad information, right up there with Fox News. It would be just as easy to put up big, blinking signs on sites frequented by pre-teen girls reminding them that Slender Man and his ilk are fun to play around with, but it's still play. It's not real. Burning down your house is very real. Stabbing your friend likewise. When you're twelve you don't always think of permanence, which is terribly sad, since these girls will all be dealing with the fallout of these incidents for the rest of their lives, now that their youth has been taken away. It's not the Internet. It's for real.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Thanks, BC

I woke up this morning thinking of Oobleck. If you're not familiar with this particular substance, your study of the works of Dr. Seuss may need to go just a little deeper. Beyond the Green Eggs and Ham and Cats in Hats, there was Bartholomew Cubbins. He of the Five Hundred Hats. In addition to his seemingly endless collection of nearly identical red hats, Bartholomew encountered some pretty awful stuff falling from the sky, once upon a time. It seems that the king, the same one that was so mad for young Mister Cubbin's hat to come off, was bored with the traditional precipitation in his domain, so he ordered his court magicians to come up with something new. They did: Oobleck.
It was green, and sticky, and eventually it covered everything. Suddenly the kingdom is plunged into a devastating ecological crisis. The birds in the trees, the cows in the fields, the wagons in the street, all mired in a thick, green goo that keeps them from going anywhere. The stuff even begins to pour down through the chimneys and out of the faucets. There is no escape. No escape, that is, until Bartholomew Cubbins does what he does best: he brings conscience to the king. Spoiler Alert: The Oobleck goes away once the king says, "I'm sorry."
Why was I reflecting on this story at the start of my day? Was it a reaction to years of earthly abuse by multinational oil companies whose slime isn't green, but black as tar? Was it the metaphor the good Doctor came up with for global warming years before Al Gore? Or maybe it wasn't the ecological theme I was picking up on at all. I was impressed with the very visceral depiction of hubris. The king decides that his vision of the world is more important than that of anyone else under his rule, and he decides to spread his mess thickly across the land. It is not just his intimates who find themselves immersed in the muck, it eventually spreads to the innocent and the purely tangential.  We all spray Oobleck from time to time, and we don't notice it until someone bothers to point it out. We should all be so lucky to have a Bartholomew Cubbins in our midst. Otherwise we might all get mired in our own piles of sticky, green goo. Metaphorically speaking.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Can We Talk?

Of course we can. This is the United States of America where, after the right to carry loaded automatic weapons into fast food restaurants, we treasure our right to free speech. Which is why Joan Rivers was such a uniquely American Icon. When Joan died last week, I felt bad, but mostly for her because like Robin Williams, there were still so many jokes to tell. About herself.
When she first started out, she was a housewife telling stories about her husband "Fang," and describing the life of a woman trying to find a place for herself outside the bounds of "homemaker." To wit: "I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again." This is the kind of line that made her a fixture on talk shows, especially Johnny Carson, where she eventually became a favorite and eventually the go-to guest host back in the eighties. By this time, Joan's act had become more about show business than about the drudgery of being a wife and mother. It was 1986 that she chose to go to Fox for her own show, rather than continue to stay safe in the warm shadow of The Tonight Show guest host spot.
That show lasted a year. Unfortunately, "Fang" only lasted that long as well. Her husband and manager, Edgar, committed suicide in 1987. That didn't stop Joan. It may have slowed her down, but it didn't stop her. She kept talking. And talking. "I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking," she once said, describing her way of cutting through the facade of show business. She was not above poking fun at her own facade, as her innumerable trips to the plastic surgeon became a staple of her act: "I've had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware."
Well, that would have been funny, but it's not what will really happen. Joan will be buried just a few months after she returned to the Tonight Show for the last time. It is entirely fitting that this was her swansong, since late night talk was really what she was all about. She may not have stomped on the Terra, per se, but she did tear up the couch. Aloha, Joan.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Home Front

Apparently, all is not completely well on the Western Front. Or Southwestern Front. Okay, the line between Russian-occupied Crimea and Ukraine. Not that that region had been particularly tranquil over the past few months, but tensions have begun to spread back up into Mother Russia. The "Mother" reference is accurate, since it is the parents who are making things difficult. Mothers and fathers who have sent their children off to fight a war to annex portions of what was formerly the Soviet Union are less and less enchanted with that opportunity. Giving up their sons and daughters is not what they had in mind when they waved farewell to them on the way to rolling over the defenses of their neighbor to the south
This comes as a great surprise to Russian President Vlad "The Inhaler" Putin. He has denied Russian troops are in Ukraine. He said the handful of soldiers captured by Kiev authorities had wandered into the ex-Soviet country by accident. Contrast this with the reports from Ukraine's defense minister, Oleksandr Danylyuk, who said on Facebook this week that two thousand Russian troops had been killed in Ukraine. That's a pretty devastating way to find out that you had made a wrong turn at Sevastopol. It's also pretty telling that these pronouncements are being made on Facebook. Of course, social media isn't quite as prevalent under Putin's rule. Most Russians are still unaware that Russian troops are fighting in the fellow Slavic country Or they prefer to look the other way. "I have not heard anything about any war," said Olga Burtseva, a mother of three. "No one crossed the borders, and I believe no one has declared war."
Odd then, that  a group calling themselves "Cargo-200 from Ukraine to Russia" has sprung up on, you guessed it, Facebook. The group's name is a reference to the Russian military term for body bags. Or maybe it is in reference to the 2007 thriller of the same name. Probably not. It's probably the stink of history about to repeat itself, but who knows? Maybe Facebook can stop this one before it becomes another Afghanistan. Or Yugoslavia. Or...

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Healthy Habits

I was just getting used to saying, "Honey, could you drop by CVS and pick up some throat lozenges?" Or, "Honey, could you drop by CVS and pick up some Neosporin?" Not that we need either of those items on some radical, weekly basis. CVS has become our neighborhood drugstore. In truth, depending on the season, I am just as likely to ask my wife if she wouldn't mind stopping by CVS to pick up an additional string of Christmas lights. That's the kind of convenience this place has to offer. It's everything we need, and it's just a few blocks away.
It wasn't always that way. When I first moved to the area, this was a Long's Drug. There was a bit of a tumult when the big red and white sign was replaced with another big red and white sign, but mostly it was the same aisles of merchandise that qualified it as something distinct from a grocery store and your average discount store. It was a place you could go with a more than fifty percent certainty that you could buy a hairnet there. It filled a niche.
CVS became our drugstore. It was, conveniently enough, on a corner. So that worked. And every so often they had a sale on peanut butter M&Ms. Well, now I'm prepared for the next big change: CVS is changing their name. They will no longer be called CVS Caremark. They will now be referred to as CVS Health. Imagine my surprise when I had been going to a CVS Caremark all these years and didn't even know it. Imagine my surprise when I heard that the cigars and cigarettes that used to fill the shelves behind cash registers will be replaced with nicotine gum and signs urging visitors to kick the tobacco habit. I guess they are taking this name change very seriously. Which is nice for me since I don't really know or care what a "Caremark" is. 
Now I can feel righteous about heading up the block for that extra string of twinkle lights. It's for my Health, after all. 

Friday, September 05, 2014

Such A Deal

I remember an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" in which Barney, as part of his never-ceasing search for law and order in the rough and tumble town of Mayberry, purchased an old Army motorcycle with a sidecar. With the helmet. And the goggles. Deputy Fife is determined, with the aid of his new rolling stock, to nip speeding on Highway 6 in the bud. It's that kind of out-of-the-box thinking that made the Sheriff's office in Mayberry the height of urban pacification. Back in the day, anyway.
These days, one might wonder what kind of surplus Barney might be twitching to get his hands on, given the very generous way in which our military has filled in the gaps for many of our local law enforcement entities. The reason given by many of these constabularies was that they needed to step up their game since they didn't want the terrorists to win. They wanted to make sure that they were not outgunned. When protecting the annual Pumpkin Festival.
Okay, I can understand that in a country that is increasingly proud of their right to bear arms that keeping up with the bad guys probably has some ring of truth to it, but what about the training and care that goes along with these weapons? Like that Humvee that was stolen from the police department in Palestine, Arkansas. Police Chief Stanley Barnes said “it never crossed my mind” that someone might try to steal the vehicle, which is maybe why it took them a week to realize the Humvee was missing. Chief Barnes wasn't the only recently embarrassed officer in charge. Back in July, Sheriff Dan Bullock said St. Louis County Police picked up Michael Gray on suspicion of breaking into storage sheds. With a Humvee stolen from  the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department on loan from the federal government. At least now we have a practical use for some of these smaller departments to acquire these beasts. A recent report states that one hundred eighty-four state and local police departments have been suspended from the federal government's "1033 Program" which provides them not only with a great many military grade armaments, but the opportunity to misplace them. 
As a point of reference, it should be noted that in Barney's case, Sheriff Taylor ended up talking his overzealous deputy into donating his "cicle" to a nearby museum. That's probably where you'll find a lot of the M-16s and Humvees, as soon as the crooks are done breaking into grain silos with them. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Opening Day

Oh, the avalanche of sports in September. College football starting up, along with the kickoff of the National Football League. Things are heating up for the stretch run in both Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball. There is no lack of coverage of any of these competitions on cable television, but there are still so many hours to fill.
That's why I am suggesting that ESPN send a crew out to my school to cover the opening of the Elementary Four Square season. There are plenty of returning stars, many of whom are now in fourth and fifth grade, really coming into their own. Along with them are some up and comers who had been hanging around by the jump rope area, just biding their time, waiting for their chance. Now is the time. Now is their chance.
We play "Regular Rules" on our playground. That means that if the ball bounces twice in your square, you're out. We don't allow holds, either. This makes it difficult for some of our younger players to manage the game when things start getting fast and furious. It also means there are a lot of tears when they have to give up their square. Well, not a lot. Shock and disbelief are more frequent reactions to the moment of clarity: "You're out." There is no instant replay. No slow motion. Just the sad realization that the end of the line is what awaits them. Some don't even bother. The end of the line is nowhere they want to be. They stomp off in the direction of the play structure, kickball, or the basketball court. Then there are the ones who will stand, hands on hips, defiantly announcing their unwillingness to let anything as trivial as a rule to take them out of their preordained position. Standard operating procedure would have the stubborn one doing a quick round of Ro Sham Bo with the other offended party. The problem with this process is that it depends on a certain amount of good sportsmanship, which is what really started the confrontation in the first place.
That's when I tend to stroll over. Without a central office in New York to call in to review the disputed play, it falls to me, as the authority, to make the right call. Will it end neatly and with an air of dignity, or will there be humiliation and degradation? Will it be me who ends up degraded? Hopefully not.
Hopefully there won't be any hurt feelings. Hopefully there will be more fun. More competition. More sport.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Crying Foul

There is no crying in baseball. What about in football? This endless font of machismo certainly wouldn't allow such displays. Or maybe it would. Highly trained and conditioned athletes, but human beings all. That's one of the reasons why the National Football League has all these rules and codes of conduct to keep those emotions and behaviors in line. There is a certain standard we must all maintain. Drug testing? You bet. That still won't necessarily keep you from making bad choices. The practice of giving young men large sums of money to play a game doesn't ensure their adherence to any sort of role model-type existence. I find it easy enough to imagine that if someone told me what I needed to do in order to keep my three hundred thousand dollar a year job was to avoid getting caught with my face in a pile of cocaine or waving my AK-47 around the neighborhood, I would probably exercise a little restraint. Then again, if I had a lifestyle that was fueled by that much money, the league's minimum salary, I might not be as chill as I imagined.
That's why there are rules. Like the one that Commissioner Roger Goodell recently updated. Now, a player can be suspended from participating in their high-paying NFL gig for six games for violations regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault involving physical force ban without pay and a second offense will bring a minimum one-year bounce from the league. That all comes in this flurry of perspective brought on by the contrast between the four games that Bronco's kicker Matt Prater was asked to sit out for having "a few beers" at home and the two games that Raven's running back Ray Lewis got for knocking out his wife. 
Okay, it's apples and oranges. One more bruised than the other, but it sure does make it a little confusing to understand just what sort of behavior will be tolerated by our superstar athletes. It should also be noted that Ray Rice won't be grandfathered in by this new, more socially conscious rule. He will be back a full two weeks before that drunken sot of a kicker gets on the field again. There are those who will insist that all of this fuss is just that: fuss. The "No Fun League" is out to keep us all from enjoying all that America's Game has to offer. They won't even let Jimmy Graham dunk the ball over the goalpost anymore. Maybe that makes more sense since it was conduct on the field.
Off the field? The contrast continues: the sports world gave that collective shrug when Ray Rice showed his attentions/intentions to his fiancee. This same group got all worked up when Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend after he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. With the season about to start, Sam has been cut by his team. He's looking for work. Rice will be back to work for his team in just a couple of weeks. The Hopi might call it Koyaanisqatsi. There is no crying in Koyaanisqatsi.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A Nudder One

"A nudder one?" This was the glee-filled cry that came from our son on Saturday mornings, many years ago. His joy came as a direct result of the guitar twang that accompanied the Warner Brothers logo, announcing the beginning of "a nudder" Loony Toon. My wife and I kept our eyes closed and feigned sleep. This was expressly difficult because our son was bouncing up and down on the bed between us, giddy with every punch, slap, explosion or fall. and every seven minutes, there was another one.
This was back in those heady days when my wife and I were simply trying to get enough rest to deal with everything that our little boy had to do on Saturday. Merrie Melodies gave us that chance to recharge our parental batteries before the next flurry of blocks and trains and trucks and more trains. We listened to the voice characterizations of Mel Blanc, the music of Carl Stalling, and the sounds of chaos. And above it all came the laughter of our son. This was the music of our Saturday morning.
Later, of course, that spell was broken as our son's love of Chuck Jones and his colleagues' work became diluted with visions of transforming robots, aspiring Jedi knights, and the delicious conceit of Bob The Builder. That little round guy whose best friends just happen to be construction equipment? What kid wouldn't be obsessed with that? Parents not so much.
These days we don't tend to see our son until lunch time on Saturdays. His corner of the DVR is pretty well filled with episodes of Top Gear, both British and American versions. There aren't a lot of cartoons on his list. Still a lot of cars, a few trucks, but not many trains. We don't watch a lot of television together, especially not on Saturday morning. He did pick up a season pass to the FX series "Tyrant" for us to watch. I have yet to sleep through an episode, or even pretend to do so. My wife hasn't found the time to sit down and watch just yet. Maybe if they were a little shorter.
Like seven minutes long.
With a Carl Stalling soundtrack.
And Mel Blanc could do all the voices.

Monday, September 01, 2014


Why would the death of any one person matter more than that of any other? From where I'm sitting, which is somewhat comfortably on my couch, thank you very much, it depends a lot on where the TV cameras happen to be. There has been a lot of hue and cry about how the death of Michael Brown has been sensationalized by the liberal media. The immediate irony here is that the not-quite-so-liberal media has been very busy crying "foul," which has had the effect of ramping up the volume around the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri. All the while men, women and children continue to die across the globe while we try and sort out just how much air time any of us deserve when it's our time to leave this mortal world.
I notice that here on this blog, I spent two days mourning the loss of Robin Williams. That's almost as much space as I gave our beloved dog Maddie when she went to that great big couch in the sky. Where are my priorities? For that matter, while I was busy reflecting on the world with and without Robin Williams, I completely bypassed the passing of Lauren Bacall. What was I thinking?
Quick answer: I wasn't. I was reacting. That's one of the things I am becoming more familiar with as I grow older. Death is always a wake-up call for those of us who remain. Trying to tease out the "why" is almost always a dead end, if you'll pardon the expression. Then again, why should you. As the poet Marilyn Manson once wrote: "The death on one is a tragedy. The death of millions is just a statistic." Strong stuff, especially coming from a guy who was periodically pointed to as the cause of death for many of our young Americans. Without ever picking up a gun. There's that media thing again.
That is why I paused to read an article about Mark David Chapman. He killed John Lennon nearly thirty-four years ago in a vain attempt to make himself famous. John Lennon is dead. Mark David Chapman is alive. What sense does that make? If matters at all, Mister Chapman told a parole board that he is sorry for what he did on that December night back in 1980. "I am sorry for causing that type of pain. I am sorry for being such an idiot and choosing the wrong way for glory." It makes me wonder if there is a right path to glory. CNN and Fox News? If that's glory, I'll take insignificance.