Friday, October 31, 2014


I've been in costume for nearly fifty years. Or longer. I don't remember if my parents did that favor for me of dressing me up in swaddling pumpkin garb the way we did for my niece, and dressed my son up as a larval bee for his first Halloween, but I can't remember an All Hallow's Eve that didn't include dressing up in some way, shape, or form.
That's what we do, right? It is how we legitimize that whole begging for food thing. If you're not in costume, don't come banging on my door, trick or treating. You'll be getting the trick end of that deal. That's not a threat, it's just a reality check. Or a surreality check. When I went to see Clint Eastwood's "A Perfect World," I was immediately struck by the idea that Phillip, the kid in that movie, had never had a Halloween costume. This was due to his family's being Jehovah Witnesses, but it made me immediately sympathetic. It made perfect sense to me that this child would spend the rest of the movie dressed in the Casper the Friendly Ghost costume purloined by escaped convict Kevin Costner just so young Phillip could enjoy life on the wild side for a change.
I used to love that time of year when my mother would take us out to Ben Franklin's to shop for that year's disguise. We bought our share of less-than-fire-retardant comic book heroes and cartoon favorites. We were also blessed with a mother who could turn out her share of clever costumes from her sewing machine. When the night of October 31st showed up, we were ready.
As I grew older, I collected masks of horror and science fiction movie monsters. Eventually, I had a storehouse that allowed me to share with friends who were not as equipped as I was for that night of masquerade. One of my parents' friends asked to borrow my Planet of the Apes gorilla mask, and I begrudgingly let it go. I never saw it again. It was stolen from the seat of their car. Or so they said. I was never quite as free about loaning out my stuff again.
My son has happily taken up where I left off. He has a Stormtrooper helmet from Star Wars, and an Optimus Prime mask. This year he is reprising his "Most Interesting Horse In The World" costume. I think it will be a big, big hit. I don't know if I'll need a costume myself, but I know where to look if I get the urge.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ramparts, Rockets, And So On

Nobody ever paid to hear "that song." These were the words I recall my high school band director asserting back in those dark days before the Clone Wars. BW: Before Whitney. Eventually, Whitney Houston makes liars of us all, as she ended up topping the charts with her recording of our National Anthem. She donated all her profits to the Red Cross and children's charities. Ms. Houston, God Rest Her Soul, is the exception that proves the rule. The Star Spangled Banner is a train wreck of a song that tests everyone's patience while we, the faithful, wait patiently for the sporting event which follows momentarily to commence.
There are those who insist on dragging it out, using it as a showcase for their vocal capacity. This makes sense, since it requires more than the standard human's one-octave range, and it has the ironic distinction of having its music lifted from a British drinking song from the previous century. Sure, don't make everyone sit through all four verses of Francis Scott Key's original poem, but depending on the version, it can get a little out of hand. The average time it takes to sing that one verse is a little over one and a half minutes. Whitney ran a whole forty-five seconds longer than that. This may not seem like a lot, but considering it is a fifty percent increase in the amount of time it takes to sit down and commence with the rest of the commencing, it is substantial. This just kicked the door open for artists to make their own mark, and not always in a good way. I'm looking at you, Alicia Keys.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good, stirring patriotic moment as much as the next jaded Democrat, but I'll take a John Phillip Sousa march over a drawn out version of that ode to Fort McHenry any day. It is, after all, a song that is mostly about fire. This was pointed out to me by Laurie Anderson, way back about the time that Whitney was making her version endemic.
Or you could do what Aaron Lewis did at the beginning of game five of this year's World Series. You could just scoot to the end of the tune without anyone else knowing. Well, almost nobody else. That would get us back in our seats extra quick. Of course, what else would you expect from the lead singer of "Staind?"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Brought To You By:

Did you know there was an election coming up? Sure you did. Especially if you've been hanging around your computer reading this blog, and if that's what you've been doing, thank you and now go out to the living room and say hello to your family. They miss you. Next, you should probably get that voter's guide that you set aside a month ago out from under the stack of Sunday newspapers and Taco Bell wrappers and take a look.
Or don't. It's just your chance to change the world in which you live by participating in democracy. You remember democracy, don't you? That thing we've been trying to promote across the globe in the same way Taco Bell has been trying to encourage us to think of them as a place for breakfast? Why not start planning now to get out and stretch those patriotic muscles that have atrophied since the last big election, when George McGovern lost in a squeaker.
I kid, because I'm a kidder. But this isn't anything to kid about. Well, maybe a little. For example, if you're a voter in Colorado, you probably want to make sure you have plenty of toner in your printer so that you can crank out as many ballots as you can for your favorite candidates and ballot measures. At least that 's what Megan Kelly of Faux News would expect you to do. Especially if you're one of those Democratic types. Ms. Kelly announced that Governor Hickenlooper, whose name I am not making up, signed a bill sixteen months ago that allowed citizens to print out their own ballots and hand them over to "collectors." Ms. Kelly asked wryly, "What could go wrong?"
Well, essentially the same thing that happens whenever somebody announces a factual error like "Dewey Defeats Truman." As it turns out, you can't really just print up ballots and wait for somebody to drop by and pick them up in Colorado. The bill that became law allowed the law, known as the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, specifically applies to military and overseas voters, who can receive ballots via email and return it with a signed affidavit by regular mail services.So maybe you should start by printing up some of those fake affidavits. 
Or don't, because in the end, voting should be every bit as easy and delicious as ordering a tasty breakfast from your nearest Taco Bell. And let freedom ring. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Welcome To Paradise

America, as I have often said, is a tough town. There are plenty of things to be frustrated about. There are plenty of things about which we can all sleepless nights fretting. Our economy. The upcoming election. The crime in the streets. Ebola. I could go on and on, since that is my tendency. But maybe today we should all take a moment to consider the alternatives.
Our president, knuckling under to partisan pressure, named an Ebola czar. Ron Klain will now orchestrate our nation's response to this plague. We worry that our capacity for treating more than a dozen cases in our special isolation units our country supports. The good news: we are not currently in danger of filling those twelve very prized beds anytime soon. Our percentage of the ten thousand cases estimated by the World Health Organization is about one thirtieth of one percent. In the meantime, just for safety's sake, stay away from bowling alleys.
Now on to the economy. Our dollar, as well as our cents, have taken a pretty solid beating as a result of all the turmoil in the world. The stock market has been buffeted by all manner of effects brought on by forces outside our borders. And yet, Wall Street recorded its best week in nearly two years. How could this be? Perhaps there is money to be made on pain and suffering, and we as a nation have never been too proud to overlook this fact. We are, after all, the guys who invented the smallpox blanket. We also spend a great deal of our money making smart bombs and stealth bombers to carry them, so be careful who you're messing with, world outside. We are sneaky, explosive and well-funded.
And then there's the whole justice thing. There are so many ways that our system of courts and all around jurisprudence. We send the wrong person to the electric chair. Our peace officers are sometimes less than peaceful. If you have the money, you can buy yourself a verdict. It is a far from perfect system. On the flipside, we are not currently hanging women for killing their rapists. They do that in Iran. We have a lot of kinks to work out still, but here in the Estados Unidos, we continue to be the place where the rest of the world longs to be.
And maybe that's a good thing.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gathering Wool

My very good friend and confidante from Manhattan left me a text the other day, wistfully remembering the days of our youth. The days of our youth that have now been spent. The days of our youth that we now chase in ways that sometimes embarrass us. Those were the days, after all. Time, if you believe Chrissie Hynde, is the avenger. When we were in our twenties, my friend opined, we did not know the danger that was waiting for us just outside the cozy confines of our college townhouse. All the beer games in the world didn't prepare us for what we would encounter once we finally embraced the reality of our surroundings. That was our thirties.
We grew up quick, and contrary to what Shel Silverstein might have you believe, we didn't grow up mean. We did, however, grow up quirky. There were some bends in the road that we hadn't fully anticipated and those were the ones that left a mark. We believed that we were indestructible, and for the most part we were.For a while. It was the decay that got us. Years of feigned ambivalence gave way to caring deeply about political causes. Suddenly we cared about who won and who lost. It mattered right down to the price of the beer that we no longer bought.
It made me think about relativity and that great scene in "Inherit The Wind" where Henry Drummond tells his old friend Matthew Brady, "All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away--by standing still." We don't grow older in any perceptible way until we come face to face with our youth, or the remnants of it. Becoming a parent made me realize just how much of a tag-team affair this life really is. It took generations to realize a Broncos team that could win the Super Bowl. It took fathers and grandfathers to link us to the past that included manual transmissions and a love for them. We continue to learn by watching time drift by. It's only when we close our eyes that we feel it.
I know that I feel time now the way I used to feel distance. I miss the way things used to be like I used to pine for the places of my youth. 
I haven't forgotten. I remember all the joy and pain and fear and laughter. It now comes in convenient bite-size morsels. And I savor every one. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Bait Shop

Sometime, when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, I think of one thing: "I could open up a bait shop." That feels like such a relief. Selling nightcrawlers to some of the most relaxed people on the planet: fishermen. I wouldn't even have to worry about whether they caught anything. I would have to endure the stories of the one that got away, but that would be okay. Most of the time I would sit out front, waiting for the sun to go down so I could hear about the day's travails. Fishermen's travails, mind you. Not the "Deadliest Catch" kind of travails,either. All the life and death stuff would be limited to a few trout and some drowned worms. 
But that's a dream. As was the suggestion my wife made to me a few mornings back: "What if you could get up in the morning and make a picture, and people would pay you for it?" She may have been reflecting on the episode of "Parks and Recreation" we had watched the night before, where Tom Haveford (Aziz Ansari) pays a commercial artist to paint a picture that he can pass off as his contribution to his office mural project. Or maybe she was contemplating the life we had both found as intermittently practicing artists ourselves. 
As a freshman in college, I chose Studio Art as a major. My faculty adviser was the head of the fine arts department, and I looked forward to many hours spent in and around studios where I would be splashing paint around, or carving great totems, or welding sculptures that stretched to the sky. That never happened. It turned out that my imagination was never a perfect match for my enthusiasms. I had great ideas for objects d'art, but not nearly enough d'edication to pull them off. For a year, I kept a model of what I envisioned as a towering edifice that described man's inhumanity to man. Or something like that. Maybe it was a rocket ship. I don't know. It never got big enough to be either one. It was just a wood model in a shoe box. 
Over the years, I have put in a lot of effort at painting that picture for money. Okay, maybe not a lot of effort, but it has always been my wish that I might someday get paid for my creative endeavors. I didn't get paid for the mural I painted on the floor of the loft in my friend's dorm room. I didn't get paid for the cartoon I painted on the wall outside of my own dorm room. By the time I was done with my freshman year, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to get paid for painting. 
Many years later, when we moved into our own house, my wife and I finally felt the freedom to paint on our own walls. We didn't get paid, but the entryway got a bit of whimsy with the appearance of broken bricks giving way to a bright blue sky overhead. My son's room got the most attention. My wife and I worked for the first nine months of our little boy's life to create a border that went around the top of that room, depicting the adventures of Little Pig. Later, when it became clear that trains were a life-giving force to our son, we painted a version of Casey Jr., the locomotive from Disney's Dumbo over the head of his bed. And then I pretty much put my brushes away, with the exception of the periodic touch ups I have to do on the side of the house. That's one color and doesn't require a lot of creativity, especially since we picked the colors out years ago.
Still, I wonder what life might be like if I woke up and went into art mode. My younger brother does that. When he isn't driving a bus or helping out in that community way he has. My wife does that, when she isn't administering her special brand of wisdom to the Parent Teacher Organizations of the world or getting someone else's website running or - come to think of it - I know a lot of people who are artists. They just do it in their spare time. And there's an art to that, too. Just like running a bait shop. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stayin' Alive

The other day on the radio, I heard the lady say, "At this point, more people have married Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola." It was precisely the kind of perspective that I can use on any given morning. With all there is to fear and fret about on our planet, it's nice to have someone come along and drop a little value-added into the mix.
This is also how I feel about ISIL attacking America. Currently, I don't believe that we need an ISIL czar, for example. I am not concerned with that horrible terrorist group landing on our shores and wreaking havoc. There is plenty of havoc to be raised in their own neighborhood currently, and so I don't expect to have to add automatic weapons to my survival stockpile. The survival stockpile that is already full and overflowing with haz-mat suits and ventilation units to protect me from all manner of airborne viruses and such.
Or maybe I should be more worried about that American-ISIL connection. Three teenage girls from Denver who had been missing since last week and were reported to be traveling to Turkey were picked up in Germany and sent back home, U.S. officials said last Tuesday. Remember when teenage girls used to run away from home to join their homicidal boyfriends right here in the good old USA? Apparently these girls weren't satisfied merely going on a killing rampage across the Great Plains. They were all starry-eyed for jihad. Maybe it's time for another reboot of "Red Dawn." I don't know what the Arabic word for "Wolverine" is, but I'm pretty sure Patrick Swayze won't be showing up in the desert anytime soon to lead this ragtag group of rebels.It does seem oddly possible that Charlie Sheen might decide to join up with ISIL. Charlie was a Wolverine, once upon a time. He drinks tiger blood. And in the oddest of coincidences, his dad played Charlie Starkweather in "Badlands," more or less. 
Now I'm a little bit scared. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gone Dog

A year makes a great big difference. I no longer get a lump in my throat each time I look at the corner of our kitchen where the water dish used to live. I don't tear up when I look at the spot on the living room rug where her bed used to be. One of her beds. We knew that she preferred the couch, but mostly she respected this line of demarcation. Until we left the house and she was free to plop herself down wherever she pleased. For a while she took to the lofty climes of our bed, where the ravages of time and her aging bladder took its toll on all of us. We became somewhat immune to the not-so-faint odor of doggie incontinence.
But I digress. I don't miss her for that. Nor do I miss her for the fistfuls of white fur that covered most horizontal surfaces in our home. Had we chosen to, we probably could have constructed an entirely new pet from the genetic material we collected after she was gone.
Gone. It's not a happy word. Maddie has been gone for a year now, and it has become easier to leave the house, but I confess that coming home is still a chore. I still desperately miss the greeting that awaited me each time I opened the door. Head slightly down to accept the scratches she enjoyed behind her ears, back end wagging. This was her way of showing love and deference to the leader of the pack. At my house, I don't always enjoy this distinction, but I could with her. She recognized me as the bringer of food, the scratcher of bellies, the guy who would take her out for a run around the block. I was also the guy who would have his patience tested by those same walks around the block, the ones that were off leash. When we left the gate open, she would go out into the neighborhood looking for somebody's trash to sniff and roll around in. When I went after her, she would run ahead a few yards, then look back to see if I was chasing. Most of the time she stuck to the same route: the one that went around the block. Time and time again, I played this game that always ended with her running back into the front yard, as if that was where she had been the whole time. Because that was essentially what she was doing. Her idea of her front yard was just a little different than mine. Her front yard stretched out to wherever the scents of whatever horrible thing she might find to ingest or froth about in. But she always came home.
Over the past several months, I have had to become used to leaving the front gate open. My son has a car now, and his arrivals and departures are far more frequent than Maddie's used to be. He can come and go, where Maddie used to have to wait for specific permission. Or someone who failed to latch the gate properly. Now she's gone. I can't say that she's gone for good, since there's really not much about her being gone that is.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Play Nice, Or Don't Play

One of the things I stress on the playground where I work is sportsmanship. It is kind of an obscure concept for five to eleven-year-olds, but we do the best we can. This is true of many of the lessons we try to teach in elementary school, but if we can catch them while they still have those stretchy and absorbent brains, we all might stand a chance when it comes time to solve simple problems in the adult world.
For example: What should happen when you don't agree with someone else on the playground? It is not okay to hit, or spit, on the person with whom you are having a disagreement. That would only make things work. We start with "I messages." We encourage kids to share their feelings about the situation that caused the conflict. For example: "I don't like it when you laugh if I miss the ball." Or "It makes me feel bad when you cut me in line." We teach best by modeling the behavior we would like to see. That's why I would expect that the best place in the world for this kind of instruction would be "The Show Me State," Missouri.
Unfortunately, we can't always expect what we teach to stick the first time. For instance, "I don't like it when you hang the United States flag upside down," would have been a much better opening line than simply grabbing it from a protester, inciting what could best be described as even more of a ruckus. Maybe, "It makes me feel bad when you put the handcuffs on too tight." Upside down flags? Handcuffs? What kind of playground was this? Well, it wasn't exactly a playground. It was just outside a sports facility in St. Louis. You might think that after having watched the hometown team surprise the reigning world champs, Rams fans might have been in a more forgiving mood. It could be that the lack of forgiveness was also being felt on the part of the protesters, who were outside the Edward Jones Dome calling for justice in the case of Michael Brown.
I suspect that people who pay upwards of one hundred dollars a ticket to watch professional football in any city don't expect to walk out of that experience and into civil unrest. I'm also guessing that citizens of Missouri might have become desensitized to the sounds of voices raised in anger, but I could be wrong. Maybe the best outcome would have been for both groups to enjoy their First Amendment rights and keep it at Freedom of Speech. I know we have that lawful assembly thing in there, but I'm pretty sure our founding fathers didn't include a "Freedom of Scuffling" in any of the original versions of the Constitution. They chose, as we do now, to use their words. Good modeling, Mister Madison!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Crank It Up

The natural progression of things: Boy gets stereo. Boy gets car. Boy gets car stereo. It's a story I know well, and it is currently getting another play in our driveway. This makes sense, since car stereo is the place where I would fully expect to intersect with my son's love of cars. For months now, my eyes have glazed over as my son has described all the moving parts of the automobile he would eventually own. He has entertained all kinds of notions about mufflers and ignitions and wheels and all manner of other modifications he could make to his once and future car. I changed some spark plugs back in the day, and certainly added my share of oil to the crankcase of my Chevrolet Vega, but I would not have labeled myself as a grease monkey.
I did, however, spend a good deal of time and energy connecting speakers and equalizers and cassette players and radios to the interiors of cars that I owned as wells as those of my friends and family. This was an extension of the enthusiasm I had for home stereo systems, generated in large part by hanging around with my older brother who was fascinated by all things tweeter, woofer, and component. Finding new and louder ways to play music at home and in our cars was our prime directive. The seventies and eighties were a magical time when it came to portable stereo. Not the Walkman kind, but the Carman kind. A couple of my friends offered to come over and help me install my new Jensen triaxial speakers in that misbegotten Vega. It took six hours and as many hacksaw blades, but they finally found a way to get them effectively mounted on the inside of my car. It was a traumatic experience, and I swore that if anyone was going to tear up the vinyl of my car, it was going to be me.
I added a graphic equalizer, then upgraded the radio and cassette player. I stayed busy connecting wires: blue to blue, red to red, and what's this green wire with a black stripe? I made them all work, eventually. More often than not, the stereo equipment in cars that I owned far outstripped the value of the cars themselves. As I have mentioned here from time to time, I don't really like to drive. But I do like to listen to music. By taking that music out of the house, my parents weren't there to tell me to turn it down.
That's why I went out in front of our house this past weekend to watch my son move his own music out to the streets. There was some mild frustration, and some equally mild cursing, but mostly the scene was familiar. I wanted to get my head up under the dashboard and start snipping and splicing, but I knew this was not my time. Not my car. Instead, I went inside and burned a CD for my son to test his new system: Aerosmith, Van Halen, Judas Priest. His car. My music. Once everything was hooked up and ready to go, he did the right thing. He turned it up.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Some Days Are Diamonds

The time has come, the Walrus said, to speak of other things: Of cleats and bats and stolen bases, of curve balls and rings. The Giants and Royals will square off in a battle between two wild card teams that few, if any, baseball pundits would have expected. That's what makes it so exciting. Underdogs, essentially, slugging out for the championship of the World.
Around my house, we're trying to rejigger our rooting expectations. Do we go with the Bay Area team, in spite of the fact that they seem to be making a habit of winning a World Series every other year? Or maybe we continue to pull for the Royals, who have gone nearly thirty years without a trip to the big dance? The team from Kansas City would also be the schadenfreude choice, as they were the ones who sent our Oakland Athletics home with a bang and a whimper.
Then there's the whole Kansas connection. Once upon a very long time ago, my father's father left his home in Salina, Kansas, explaining to his wife that he was off to Chicago to watch the Cubs play the Detroit Tigers in the last World Series that featured Chicago's North Side team. The Cubbies were my grandfather's team. My grandmother didn't care. She let him know that if he left, he would be coming home to an empty house. He went to the game. My grandmother moved her children to Boulder, Colorado where my father eventually met my mother and started his own family. That's where I came in.
If not for the World Series, there would be no me. That's why I wondered aloud to my son, after the Giants won their now seemingly obligatory National League pennant, how much it would cost to go see a game in this year's Fall Classic. He and I have seen our share of baseball together. We have the distinction of never having attended an Oakland A's loss. At times we have considered the potential of buying season tickets, just to test that streak, but now the number of baseball seasons we will spend together is dwindling. Why not make one last big show of our love for baseball? This was the musing I left my son with as we went to bed last Thursday night.
As Friday wore on, my mind filled with workaday concerns. Until just after three o'clock, when I received a text from my son: "Cool son thing - I checked out WS tickets. $600-$15,000." I wrote him back: "Well, there's always TV." Just like there's always baseball. Forever.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Foreign Correspondence

Foreigners. What do they know?
Well, for one, they know a foreign language. So they've got that going for them. They are also acutely aware of just how creepy we Americans are. For example, there is the simple conversational move of saying, "pardon me" before asking a simple question. What's the big deal? Do you have the time? I'm just looking for a little information here.
Well, if you're not from these shores, you may have missed that little piece of polite interaction that allows us to intrude into someone else's day only with a mild apology for interrupting whatever reverie they might be enjoying. "Pardon me, do you have the time?" It suggests that we, as the interrogator are asking a favor, since it is not the rest of the world's responsibility to keep us informed of the time. It also puts wiseacres like myself in the position of simply answering, "Yes," and walking away. We could be asking for just a moment out of their day, but it is still their day. It is not a huge intrusion, but we're not doing anyone a favor by asking them for bits of information that could be gleaned from the watch around your wrist or the phone in your pocket. If only you hadn't forgotten both of them in your mad dash to get out of the house that morning.
Still, there's a time and a place for civility, which sounds a lot like civilization, which is what America is still busy creating. European cultures have been steeping in their own juices since before we were busy wiping out the native population of this continent. A lot of us came here from Europe, but apparently we left our manners back home.
Or maybe it's just the arrogance that comes from being in first place. When you're a Super Power, you don't have to say you're sorry. Or excuse me. Or even thank you. Everybody knows it's your planet, and the rest of us are just here to roll our collective eyes at you. This might also explain our cuisine. Cheez-Whiz means never having to say your sorry. I looked it up.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Dignity. Above all: Dignity. That is what I would appreciate from my party of choice, the Democrats. Yet, here they were, filling up my inbox with topics such as, "painful loss," and "we regret to inform you." There was even one that showed up whining, "David, we're begging you." It was so nice of them to make their pleading so very personal. Money. They want it now. Great big wads of it. Joe Biden wrote to encourage me, "I trust that you're listening when Democratic candidates ask for help, David, and if I'm confident about where these elections are going to end up, it's because I have so much faith in you." Flattery, Mister Biden, will get you nowhere.
You see, I've given in the past. I contributed to senate races and both Obama campaigns, as well as a variety of ballot measures. I understand that the price of freedom is five to fifty dollars, all bundled up in stacks that will never match those great big checks that corporations disguised as people write every day. I used to donate money because it made me feel like I was a part of the solution. Now I feel like giving is not what they're after. The want me to give in. 
Surrendering to the inevitable is what I refuse to do. Of course I'll give you twenty-five dollars because I did it once before. You've got my e-mail, why not just keep pounding on the digital door until someone answers? Well, here it is: No. You can keep "pleading...PLEADING," and telling me that "all hope is lost," but I'm not caring anymore. The terrible sameness of politics as usual in these United States has left me numb to the suggestion that any one candidate could make a difference. 
That's awful, right? Well, if it's my fault that the senate ends up in the hands of Republicans, I will have to take that in stride. Short of running for political office myself, I just don't see how putting more money in this particular hole is going to make any sort of difference. Billy Connolly once admonished us, "Don't vote, it just encourages them." If we give them our money, it can only do something much, much worse. It could legitimize what they are doing. Or in the case of our congress, what they are not doing. The bottom line for me is this: They are not currently electing anyone. All of these histrionics are in anticipation of an election that will take place in a few weeks. This is all about raising money to tell us all about the election that is coming up in a few weeks. And how to vote. 
If you really want my vote, quit asking me for money. That's not how I work. I'm thinking that instead of begging and pleading for my spare change, how about a nice gift? For me. But I won't beg. That wouldn't be dignified. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014


"Community Schools, Thriving Students." That's what the Oakland Unified School District web site says right on the front page. This is a change from the past few years when we were touting the fact that Oakland was "the State of California’s most improved urban school district over the past eight years." We're still shouting that from our Linkedin page. 
We. What do I mean "we?" I mean that I am a part of that organization. Actually, I'm more than just one part: I'm a parent of an OUSD student and a teacher. My wife is the president of the Oakland Tech PTSA, and my son has attended Oakland public schools from kindergarten to his senior year in high school. We are consumers and producers. We reap what we sow. That is why I am so very pleased to know that graduation rates have increased across the district right along with our Academic Performance. Test scores are a great indicator of how we are doing, but it's that graduation thing that I'm most impressed with. We are taking kids from the ABC's to the ACT, and that's a good thing. 
Students are thriving, and that's a great thing. Now, to be clear, I did not take a job in teaching because I believed it was my ticket to the fast lane. I did not expect to have to rent storage units to house the pallets full of cash that I would be making. That's more of a Walter White kind of thing. It should be noted, while he was a fictional character, Walter chose a career path of methamphetamine kingpin over that of public school teacher. In New Mexico, where the salaries are below the national average.  Not like they are in California, where we are quite simply rolling in the dough. It's what you might expect from the most improved urban school district with thriving students. 
And yet, teachers continue to flee our district for other opportunities. Some in education. Some outside the halls of academia. Most of the time, when a teacher leaves their job, it's not because of the salary. You don't tend to spend that many years in school and not figure out that millionaires are not forged in classrooms. They leave for a myriad of other reasons, but mostly because they are "unsatisfied." Most of them are new teachers, with  less than five years of experience. Who fills those vacancies? Newer teachers with even less experience. As dedicated as fresh recruits can be, they will still end up going home at the end of a hard week and wonder if the job they are ready to turn around in a couple of days and do it all over again. After five years, for half of them, the answer is "no."
Would paying anyone more money actually make a difference? I think it might. I would like to live in a community with thriving teachers. I would like to believe that the improvements we have made over the past eight years aren't some randomly generated bump in a curve, but rather momentum being gained over time. Momentum that will not be slowed or stopped by an exodus of experienced teachers. The last raise we got was a year ago, amounting to one point five percent. Because of the economic windfall that blew California's way last year, that was bumped up to a whopping two percent a few months later. For starting teachers, that amounted to seven hundred eighty dollars. A year. Sixty-five dollars a month. Take that, you hard-working, thrive-inducing improvement makers!
I'm not in it for the money. But it would be nice.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Short Attention Span

I blame Michael Jackson. He was the guy who brought "long-form video" to the forefront. A million years ago, give or take, the King of Pop released "Thriller," a mini-movie that starred him as a shy high school boy who turned into a werewolf then a zombie. All set to the beat of the title song of an album that had already sold enough copies that families had begun to use it as pre-fab siding for their houses. At the time, I ate it up. With a fork and a spoon. It was directed by fan favorite John Landis, who had given the world "Blues Brothers," but more significantly to me, "American Werewolf In London."
Maybe I should blame John Landis. He paved the way for the eventual collaboration between Mister Jackson and Martin Scorsese. And so the world of film and music video became inexorably intertwined. Which was unfortunate, since my memories of music videos was based more on the notion that these were commercials from record companies sent into our living rooms in hopes that we might like the look of this new band or that old group.
Of course, my own experience with short films and music date back to clips from "Yellow Submarine," inspiring me to plan to make an animated short for the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye." It was heavily influenced by the "All You Need Is Love" segment from the Fab Four's psychedelic romp. Okay, wasn't so much "heavily influenced" as much as it was a blatant rip-off, and since I was ten years old at the time and my sketches never really advanced beyond the restaurant napkin stage, I didn't fall into trouble with Apple Corps' lawyers.
Years later, when my parents bought me a camcorder in hopes that my film studies might actually turn into some sort of useful vocation, I made a few sputtering attempts at making something that might show up on those proto-MTV years. Nothing was broadcast outside my living room. But that didn't keep me from watching all those early clips in heavy rotation. You remember the ones with that flat, grainy shot on video feel? If you don't, that's okay, because they won't haunt your dreams the way the do mine. Human League. Vapors. Flock of Seagulls. All the rest of the New Wave. The ones that came before "Thriller."
Then suddenly, it wasn't enough to have a three minute video for a three minute pop song. You needed that long-form video that would set you apart from the crowd. The crowd that wasn't being played as a special event. I have heard that music videos are still being made. I don't tend to watch them because they take me back to 1983. Who needs that kind of flashback?
Oh - that's right: me.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


It's that closed door.
Back in the olden days, my son was just a couple of open doors away in the middle of the night. The bathroom between our two bedrooms was a thruway. We passed through there whenever there was a bad dream or a nervous night. It was security, knowing that those doors were never locked.
As he grew older, the privacy we all needed was enhanced by closing one or both of the doors, but this was still the shortest distance between two points when nights became anxious or difficult. Sometimes, I would be awake and walk into my son's room just to listen to the sound of his sleep: a powerful sound.
I haven't heard as much of that lately. Not because my son hasn't been sleeping. He sleeps like a champ. It's because he's doing his sleeping in what has been, up until very recently, our guest bedroom. At seventeen years old, he has found a need for closed doors.
I get it. When I was a senior in high school, I lived in my parents' basement, and I tended to appear primarily for mealtimes and other vital social functions. For the most part, I was found via a shout from the top of the stairs. I would generally respond, unless I had my headphones on or I was immersed in some extremely delicate maneuvers on the Atari 5200. If I was home.
When I was a senior in high school, I had a car, and it was my ticket to ride. I went to school, and afterward I used up as much of that dollar a gallon gas that I could, visiting friends and hanging out with my girlfriend. While I had firmly planted roots and always managed to find my way home, usually bringing as much of my tribe as I could, I still spread my wings as often as I could to escape what I felt had become walls closing in on top of me.
My son has a car. The other night he told me he just wanted to get out and drive. It felt more than a little like the beginning of a Bruce Springsteen song than any interaction I am used to with him. "I gotta get out of here," he told me. Going to the back of the house and closing the door wasn't good enough for this one. This one required leaving the premises.
I'm the dummy who bought him the car in the first place. If it really bothered me or I thought he was going to get into trouble, I could have told him "No." I didn't have to. Mostly because he was telling me that he was leaving and he didn't rush out and slam the door behind him. There was no squealing of tires or blaring stereo. He wanted to be away. I got that. I gave that to him. For all of the slammed doors and squealed tires in my youth, I would have deserved a little payback.
When he came back, we talked. Not a lot. A little. His mother and I made sure that whatever had driven him away had calmed, for now. He's a good kid. He loves his parents and his home. It just requires a little more distance now than it used to.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Today's Hippies

Consider Steve Jobs. You remember him: he of the black turtleneck and zen business style? This was the guy who, along with his bearded buddy Steve "The Other Steve" Wozniak invented personal computers in the family garage. Now that little enterprise is the worldwide leader in stuff that we all need to have in order to be connected to one another at all times. Jobs, the college dropout, became one of the planet's wealthiest humans.
Across a vast body of water, another garage was being used by a group of Irish punks to create what would become the world's greatest rock and roll band named for an American spy plane. That would not be the B-52's. They hail from Georgia. And the B-52 is a bomber, not a spy plane anyway. Bono Vox and his mates worked tirelessly for years to become the sound of a new generation, and eventually the highest paid commercial pitchmen in the known universe. Or thereabouts. Quite a leap from a guy with a world class mullet who once announced that he owned no music recorded before 1977. We were all much younger then. We said a lot of crazy things. You don't expect to be hanging out with B.B. King at that point in your career. You kind of expect to be kicking and fussing until they drag you to the door: Take it outside, long hair.
I can remember my own brush with counterculture back in the 1970's. My father introduced me to this guy who had a plan to sell herbal tea to the masses. His name was Mo Siegel. All that Zinger and Sleepy Time made it possible for him to become a gazillionaire and eventually the commencement speaker at my high school the year after I graduated. Second place would go to the owners of the groovy leather shop "Phantasmagoria," who eventually transformagoriaed themselves into "Lawrence Covell Fashion." They sell designer clothes from the world's top designers to the people who can afford them. Now, just for old time's sake, they will sell you some of those groovy leather goods at a price adjusted for inflation. And the price of nostalgia.
Maybe that's the idea behind Apple paying to put the new U2 album in everyone's inbox. It's just their way of saying, "Thanks, and hey man we're still happenin'." Me? I'm thinking of investing in that guy who makes the string bracelets at the BART station.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Democratic Process

If you're wondering just exactly what sort of moral fiber will be found if you were to slice me down the middle, it might be best described as "weak." I say this as a matter of confession. I sold my vote. I sold my vote for mayor. I sold it to my wife. She has some very definite opinions about who should be running our city. Me? Not so much. I've had my notions, to be sure, but no clear choice emerged after several weeks of consideration. So I made my choice: not to make one.
After years of discussing our household ballots in order to make sure that we maximized our democratic capacity as a family, we reached a mild impasse here. I could have simply picked "none of the above" and mailed in my ballot without any further debate, but that wouldn't have been our way. In the interest of full disclosure, I decided to admit my ambivalence and ask my wife to make me an offer. "How about five bucks?" she parlayed.
I suggested that I was having a hard time making a decision, but five dollars was easy to turn down.
"Chocolate cake?"
Nope. But closer.
"How about brownies?"
I upped the ante: Chocolate frosted brownies.
I have been assailed daily via email by the dozens from this and that candidate or ballot measure. My analog mailbox is just as full of fliers and mailings begging for my attention and consideration. Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clinton have all been after me and my wallet, begging me to help stem the angry red tide that is the potential Republican takeover of the Senate.
I think they have missed the obvious opening. I'm cheap, but I'm not easy. I've got a great big sign hanging around my neck: Will shill for chocolate.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Air Strike One

They're back. It seems like we hardly had a chance to miss them, and now we won't have to: The Blue Angels took to the skies over San Francisco this weekend, reminding us all here in the Bay Area of just how mighty and majestic a certain amount of jet fuel can make us all feel, right down to our American toes.
The practice runs are the part that we are never quite prepared for, coming as they do in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable work week. This contrasts completely with the memories I have of how things were thirteen years ago, right after the September 11 attacks, when there were no airplanes in the sky. With all the airports in our area, it is a rare occurrence when there isn't at least one flight of some sort overhead, but those days right after the World Trade Center towers crumbled to the ground, it made sense that there would be nothing in the sky, but the silence was palpable.
That was similar to the way it felt last year when the sequester shut down certain excessive and frivolous activities of our government. Frivolous? Did I say that? How are the Blue Angels "frivolous?" Maybe it has something to do with the cost of fueling those jets to fly in formation over the relatively friendly streets of San Francisco. Maybe it has to do with the potential cost of military and civilian casualties in the event of a mishap. Perhaps these are outweighed by the show of force that these airshows allow. I won't forget the sight of a Stealth Bomber coming up over the Oakland skyline as part of its practice run across the bay. Just like the way we run to the windows when we hear the roar of all that exhaust and the periodic sonic booms, as opposed to the way that certain nations and their people run for cover when they hear the same sounds. For them, it's not a celebration of American Air Superiority, but an American Air Raid.
So maybe we should be a little intimidated. If some of the current thinking about our fascist president turns out to be true, then maybe we should be a little more concerned about Fleet Week as a form of urban pacification, rather than a showcase for all our best and brightest. Or perhaps we could achieve the same overall result by sending up a flight of drones: more fuel efficient and if they happen to crash into a neighborhood or park, at least the pilot would be safe.
Or maybe somehow I've missed the point.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Missing Pieces

Well, here's an interesting one: School district officials in Arizona are scrambling to fill staff vacancies by looking far and near. Mostly far. Like the Philippines. The Casa Grande Union High School District’s decision to go abroad to staff classrooms, while unusual, isn’t groundbreaking. For decades, districts from New York to Los Angeles have lured Filipino teachers to the United States for significantly higher pay than they could make back home as well as the cultural experience.  
Why is this interesting to me? Partly because of the location and the times. Last time I checked, Arizona wasn't a tranquil oasis of calm in the realm of racial understanding and cultural sensitivity. To this end, I applaud the folks down in Casa Grande, or "Big House," for expanding their definition of "qualified teacher" to include those who are not necessarily white nor American. This is, after all, the state where a federal judge ruled that they could ban classes promoting "racial resentment against whites." Maybe this is because the foreigners who are coming in are not from south of the border, but across the sea. Fear of a Filipino takeover seems to be pretty far down the list of concerns registered by Casa Grandians. Fear of empty classrooms was a more pressing issue. Shannon Goodsell, Casa Grande Union’s superintendent said that he had nineteen job openings over the summer.  No one applied.  Not even a fresh-from-college teacher in need of job experience.
With all the worries about immigrants taking our jobs, why is it that there aren't applicants lining up to keep American classrooms filled with Americans? Reality check: Nobody is applying for these jobs. Furthermore, teachers who are accustomed to disciplined students back home, idealistic Filipino teachers often are not prepared for the unruly state of classrooms and disrespectful students they find in some American districts or the isolated, rustic lifestyles they find in others. Add to this the periodic predatory menace of exploitative businesses who will recruit them and then charge exorbitantly  for documentation and processing, as well as demanding a percentage of their salaries. 
Their salaries. Maybe it has something to do with that. Who would want to dedicate their lives to the education of America's youth for less than the national average salary paid for a similar position. You'd have to be crazy. Or something.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fall Classic

Not that I am in the tiniest bit cynical or bitter, but the baseball postseason chugs on in the background as much of the rest of the country returns to the workaday concerns they left way back in April: war in the Middle East, war in the Ukraine, war in vast regions of the world that we could not previously identify on a map. And yet, we feel compelled to start lining up our allegiances for our favorite teams in the World Series. The "world" in this case will continue to be the contiguous forty-eight states we call "United," and a corner of Canada that we call "Toronto."
Now there are four teams left. The sensations and star power from Los Angeles have burned out as quickly as a post-game fireworks celebration. The Dodgers and the Angels will not be representing the lower half of California, while the upper half has survived in the form of the San Francisco Giants. If the Oakland A's had managed to find their way into the League Championship series, there was a potential still for an all-California World Series. That happened back in 1989, to somewhat disastrous results, so perhaps we should all breathe a sigh of relief.  Oddly enough, there is still a very decent chance that the world will be focusing their baseball attention to Missouri to decide who will be the global dominators of the diamond.
Part of me likes this permutation. The Royals, having beat the A's are the nominal favorite in our house, simply because it makes a better story to say that the team that beat my team ended up winning it all, so really what chance did we have? This is in keeping with the new concession idea I have in mind for the Oakland Coliseum: sour grapes. I don't think I want the Orioles and the Giants in the same series, since the color palette of black and orange is far too limiting, even though it does offer the most striking geographical split between east and west. East and west Missouri would be the opposite, pitting the Cardinals versus those plucky Royals. Giants versus Royals? It sounds a little like the title of an episode of "Game of Thrones," but it still doesn't seem as titanic as the World Series ought to be. The Orioles taking on the Cardinals? Too many birds.
So it goes. For a couple more weeks. Eventually our minds will clear and we can turn once again to the more pressing issues that dominate the headlines, such as the disparity between the meals served on charter flights to professional football teams versus professional baseball teams. If only ISIL had a squad in the mix.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Ask me about my zombie plan. Those are the words my son has put in front of me on any number of occasions over the past few years. He first began compiling his survival plan just after he got into high school, and he hasn't looked back. Except to glance over his shoulder in a nervous way to check for the shuffling hordes of flesh-eating cannibalistic post-humanoids who even at this moment may be creeping up behind him. He has extended his post-Apocalypse musings to cover most any environment he might possibly find himself in when the brain-gobblers show up: movie theaters, grocery stores, walking down the street, and especially in his very own back yard.
He doesn't stop revising, either. It's always good to have an alternative to the alternative to the original plan, just in case a propane tank erupts in a giant fireball, blocking your exit from Best Buy. Not many Best Buy stores are still powered by propane, but you can't be too careful. That's why the Center for Disease Control has created their own Zombie Pandemic plan, and they want to share it with you. As it turns out, this is their fun way of introducing people like my son to the world of disaster preparedness.
It might also be part of some vast government conspiracy. Sure, many of the tips and skills that might help you live through an attack of walking dead might also save you from such mundane experiences as an earthquake or power outage. Or the upcoming cold and flu season. It might also be in place as a code for those in the know: Ebola is coming to your neighborhood. If you have been paying attention straight along and stockpiling food, water and arrows for your crossbow, you will be set up when it comes time to don your respirator and go underground.
Of course, we have been getting ready for the end of times for quite a while now. We benefited mightily from the Y2K stash that a friend of ours had set aside. We are only now starting to run out of duct tape and plastic sheeting. And since we live in Northern California, we always have a great stock of canned goods for the eventual cracking and crumbling of the earth. Or when the riots occur right after one of our area sports teams wins or loses some big game. We are prepared. Ebola? Well, that's just another way to keep us on our collective toes while the federal government tries to figure out a way to thin the herd.
That's okay. We'll be ready.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Some Kind Of Help...

I am on the safety committee at my school. It is just a part of what I hope is an over-arching concern I have for the kids who call me their teacher. I am also concerned with our national security. I would like nothing better than to go to sleep tonight and not wake up with another report of the creeping terrorist threat that exists across the globe and will almost certainly find its way into our back yards before we know it. Or our playgrounds.
That is why I am applauding Lisa Carol Roche from Mississippi. It is awesome that in these troubled times we can still find a concerned parent and American. In her very active and alert way, Ms. Roche was patrolling the parking lot of East Central High School in Hurley where she was hard at work looking for ISIS. That is where local law enforcement caught up to her. Though she was initially contacted on suspicion of burglary, she explained to the officers on the scene that she was doing her civic duty to root out the terrorist threat in the parking lot of her children's school. She was taken into what we can only assume was protective custody, for her own safety.
It might also have had something to do with the sunglasses and others' personal items that were found on Ms. Roche when she was in the midst of her own very important investigation. It might also have been connected to her previous arrests for careless driving, felony fraud and felony embezzlement. Or maybe that's all just a convenient cover, designed to throw us all off the scent. In all my years of teaching, I have always been pleased and happy to have a dedicated and and committed parent on hand to help out when the going gets tough, and I can't imagine of the going getting any more tough than when Islamic terrorists start invading the parking lots of our nation's high schools. I just wish there were more like her. 
Oh wait. There are. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


I was a fan of Bruce Springsteen after the first time I saw him live. That was back in 1981. It was a time when the Boss could still play a couple nights at an outdoor amphitheater. Two sold out nights at an outdoor amphitheater, but things were starting to change. It was three years later when that would no longer be the case. In 1984, when the Born in the USA Tour rolled into town, it took two shows in a sold-out basketball arena to keep the customers satisfied. And then another two shows at a sold-out football stadium ten months later to seal the deal. It was thirty years ago that I became a Bruce Springsteen superfan.
I mention this because I understand that what I am about to suggest puts my opinions in a very particular light. "Born To Run" is one of the greatest songs ever written. There. I said it. Now, I will back it up. Objectively? Probably not, but this is my forum, so back up.
"There's an opera out on the turnpike," goes another tune on the same album, "there's a ballet being fought out in the alley." That's how "Born To Run" feels to me. It is epic, in that it is "a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation." The opening line: "In the day we sweat out in the streets of a runaway American dream," is not your standard pop song intro. Sure, there are girls and cars. Hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard. We ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines. And all the while girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors and the boys try and look so hard. Underneath, it is a song of escape. It is a song of redemption. If the lyrics didn't tell you that, the music would. The E Street Band has played this song more than any other in their voluminous catalog, and they play it with the same joyful verve today as they did back when they first recorded it almost forty years ago.
"Born To Run" sounds today like what Bruce described in the liner notes of his Greatest Hits album: "My shot at the title. A twenty-four year old kid aimin' at 'The greatest rock 'n roll record ever.'" So, you don't have to take my word for it. You can believe the guy who wrote the song. 
Or maybe you can trust me that when I was out on a run this past weekend and I heard the crowd roar and the song was counted off in my earbuds, I felt like I could go another mile. Or two. Maybe it was that that same energy that I insisted on bringing into the delivery room when my son was born. The first song he ever heard in this world, it reminds me that I love my family with all the madness in my soul. And before it turns into a full-throated singalong with one long "O," we are reminded that "were gonna get to that place where we really wanna go and we'll walk in the sun." 
Til then? Tramps like us, baby we were born to run. Best. Song. Ever.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Somebody Else's Trash

I probably stepped over that slip of paper half a dozen times. Generally, I stop and pick up scraps of litter that find their way into our yard, but each time I walked up or down the driveway I gave myself the mental note to actually bend over the next time and do the right thing. Of course, part of my reticence to do that right thing was based on the resentment I feel toward those who would toss their trash into our yard. Why should I be stuck with cleaning up someone else's mess? Then again: my yard, my mess.
As it turned out, it wasn't trash that had been generated from inside our compound. It was a Post-It, folded into fourths, making it much less than a handful. It was the elementary school teacher instinct that made me want to see what was written inside. This is what I found: Written in pencil, there was a list. It wasn't groceries, but some sort of reminders. Number one: Appreciate. Number two: want to be friends. Number three: want to see others. Number four: it's my issue not yours. I had apparently stumbled upon somebody's breakup checklist.
I was curious about that first one. Appreciate what? Maybe the time the dumpee took to listen to the dumper? Maybe the appreciation was all about the past and how now things had changed. It was a nice way to start, anyway. This allows the second point, about remaining friends, seem a little less harsh. It might even be construed as sweet, in a way. The notion of wanting to see other people would probably not be received as warmly, but with that setup, it creates an opening. Cap it all off by insisting that it's not the other person's fault but you own the problem. Tears and hugs all around. It is, as we like to say in Oakland, all good.
That is, if you stuck to the script. If you showed up and things got tense real fast and you forgot in which pocket you had stashed your notes, it might not have gone so well. There might still have been tears, but maybe not so many hugs. It might be the reason why, in disgust, someone would throw their Post-It over the fence. Into my yard. Where I would walk around it for a few days before I felt compelled to pick it up.
Or maybe things worked out so well that the couple decided to go out and celebrate, throwing caution to the wind and a Post-It into my yard. Where I still had to pick it up days later. The permutations are endless. The ending is always the same. My yard, my mess.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Son Rise

There is a tradition at my son's high school called "Senior Sunrise." Near the beginning of the school year, all the seniors gather at the school before their day begins to watch the sun come up and acknowledge the opening of what will be their final Fall together. For many, this will be a celebration that has roots all the way back to Kindergarten. My son will be rubbing elbows with pals he made back on the playground at his elementary school. There will be faces he remembers from middle school. There will be more friends who used to live in the neighborhood, and though they have moved away, they still cross paths in the hallways. Then there's the group of friends he has forged out of the past three years: his group. The ones who gather to talk about cars and music and cars and movies and cars and whether this girl really likes him or not and still more cars. Or maybe that's just my son talking about cars, but the bonds he has made while attending Oakland public schools are strong. I don't know if I can credit the district or the city, but I do know that my son has some very good friends.
It is the beginning of the end. It was an outright notice of the things that have been tumbling out of his mouth over the past month or two: "Wow, next year at this time, I won't even be here." That sound you hear is that of breaking hearts. His parents mostly, but I know that he's feeling it a little bit too. This is, after all, the same kid who waited until he was in high school before he allowed himself to be fully comfortable sleeping away from home. I remember the phone calls and the negotiations. I remember the tears. Now he talks about how much he is looking forward to going away.
I know he doesn't mean us. We're great parents. I know this because my son tells us this on a somewhat frequent basis. I know that if he did stay forever he might begin to resent us. There's a great big world out there full of cars that he has only read about. He has to go see them.
At the end of the school year, there is a "Senior Sunset." It is the bookend to the Sunrise. None of us will talk about looking forward to that ritual. Not now. There are still far too many moments to dwell on during this, his senior year in high school. His last year in Oakland Public Schools. Speaking as a member of that particular tribe, we'll miss him.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Too Many Daves

A long time ago, I lived next to Dave. This was a monumental experience for me, since I didn't make a practice of learning the names of my fellow apartment dwellers. Not that I wasn't friendly or polite, for the most part, but I was a college kid living in and around a series of other essentially nameless college kids who would become interchangeable over time, so learning their names seemed like an awfully big waste of time. Sharing a name with the guy who lived next door made us practically friends.
My roommate and partner in crime used to invite Dave over for what we suggested was a friendly game of Trivial Pursuit. My roommate and I were every bit as good at this game as Dave insisted that he was. What didn't help was the gin.
The gin was "Real Good" Gin as marked on the bottle. My roommate had taken the trouble to modify the generic Gin that we had purchased for a Saint Patrick's Day party first by adding green food coloring and then scribbling the modifier "real good" on the label just in case anyone asked. As it turns out, the only person who really seemed to enjoy the "Real Good" Gin was Dave. Whatever skills he might have brought to the Trivial Pursuit board were quickly diminished by the glasses of mostly gin (and tonic) that he swilled throughout the exhibition.
What we learned about Dave, aside from his name and abiding affection for generic liquor, was that he had been dumped by his girlfriend. That is how he came to land next door to us. Once he was fully in his cups, Dave would raise his quickly emptying glass and slur, "To Stacey." We also learned that he had moved to Boulder from another college town: Bloomington, Indiana. To hear him tell it, there was no more wretched a hive of scum and villainy outside of Mos Eisley Spaceport. That last bit is giving him more credit than he deserves, since his descriptions and analogies were never quite that colorful. We were made to understand that between Stacey and the torment he suffered in and around the University of Indiana, he had to flee.
And boy howdy, was he glad to have landed next to a couple of square gents such as ourselves. With a bottle of green gin. Somewhere in there, Dave did pass along a few interesting factoids about "Breaking Away," the bike film that was filmed in his hometown, and his deep and abiding respect for John Cougar Mellencamp. That was before the Cougar had been eliminated completely.
Eventually, Dave moved on too. He probably had another college town on his agenda. One with sketchy apartments in which to perch while he sorted out his Midwest dreams. Hopefully it was somewhere with a Trivial Pursuit game and plenty of Real Good Gin.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Update From Mudville

Here is how it feels to me: I packed my family up in the car and drove them across the country on what seemed like an endless road trip to our ultimate destination: Disneyland. At last, we are there and we wend our way through the parking lot to the front gates. Only to find that they are closed. That journey of hundreds of miles has left us standing outside the happiest place on earth, looking in at all that happiness.
It sounds a little like the Griswolds. I know. It's my family. Only it wasn't Disneyland. Or Wally World. It was the World Series. I packed my family up for one hundred sixty-two games of a baseball season. I got my wife and son on board even though they had both lived through the disappointments of years past. For the first few months, we cruised along, with the only danger in our path the ubiquitous walk-off pie. It was fun. We were winning. We had all those all stars. We were on top of the baseball world, looking down.
That's a dangerous place to be. That could be why the powers that be decided to climb even higher. Trades were made. Business decisions. The fans grumbled and scratched their heads. It was all for the best. We believed. That's when the wheels started to fall off the wagon. The pronouns changed from "us" to "them," but the faithful held on because that's what the faithful do. Even when first place slipped away and eventually we were left to play for a spot in the Wild Card game. Now it wasn't so much fun. Time had run out. The previous one hundred sixty-two games had become meaningless. If only we could get past the Kansas City Royals.
They didn't.
We sat in our living room after the marathon twelve-innings came to an end. I asked that the TV be turned off. I didn't want any of that Kansas City joy creeping into my dark mood. I know that the gates to Disneyland will be open tomorrow. I've already been there this year. I can go back again with my family if I choose, but I won't be going to see the A's play in the World Series. So for now, that's a wrap, and thank you all for coming along on this long strange trip. See you at spring training.

Friday, October 03, 2014


Come in, Mister Parker. Have a seat. Sorry about the wait.
"That's okay, I was just kind of hanging around."
Let's see, according to your file here, it appears you are having some trouble with the league?
"I'm not affiliated with the Justice League. Or the Avengers. I'm kind of a free agent."
Well, if you haven't considered the advantages of belonging to a union. We offer very attractive options, such as the legal representation you seem to be seeking currently.
"Thanks you Mister..."
Attlau. Byron Attlau. My firm has been representing people such as yourself for some time, and we are aware of most of the peculiarities of the kind of work you do.
"Mister Attlau, I'm really only here because my aunt would have a heart attack if she knew the kind of work I really do."
Really? What is it that your sainted Aunt, May is it, thinks you do?
"She thinks I'm a mild-mannered student and freelance photographer."
Dressed like that?
"This isn't how I go walking around the street."
Yes, I can imagine that you probably don't walk much of anywhere. Is it flying?
"No. Mostly crawling. And swinging. From a line of web that I can shoot from these special -"
That is unfortunate, since flight is something we can include as a pre-existing condition. But we seem to be straying from the actual reason for your visit. There was some, ah, trouble with your lady friend? A Miss Stacy?
Accidental death?
But that's not how the authorities are spinning it, if you'll pardon the pun. They hold you accountable for Miss Stacy's fall from a precipitous height. Snapped her neck?
"I tried to save her. I caught her before she hit the ground."
Maybe it would have been better to simply let her fall. Nature taking its course. Physics, don't you know.
"What are you saying?"
I'm just saying that if you start interfering with the course of natural events, you can sometimes end up on the short end of the stick. Tell me, was there any security video taken of the incident?
"I don't know."
Well, in this town, you can't be too careful. I remember when we helped a client up in Gotham City when it looked like he might be brought up on charges for killing some wacko in a purple suit. It wasn't easy, but once we got the public on our side, he pretty much walked away from it. Reputation intact.
"Are you suggesting that we should try and cover up what really happened? I'm innocent."
Aren't we all? I'm merely suggesting that with the right group behind you, this could all go away in a matter of weeks. A couple months, tops.
"Alright. What do I have to do?"
All you have to do is sign up here, and we'll do the rest. And in the meantime, please try and tone down the whole "amazing" thing. That red and blue suit, for one thing. Have you thought about going to something in black? Very slimming.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Oh My!

"Let me take you to that wonderland that only two can share." That is precisely the kind of prurient and salacious garbage that we really need to keep out of the ears of our youngsters. What precisely do you think the artist is encouraging with that sort of lascivious talk? I don't believe that it is an invitation to sample the works of Lewis Carroll, not that they would be any less objectionable. Some pop songs just ought to be kept off the radio.
Here's another example: "Wouldn't it be nice," asks one young songwriter, "if we could wake up in the morning when the day is new?" What sort of illicit canoodling is this guy suggesting? He continues, "and after having spent the day together, hold each other close the whole night through." Well, I guess I don't have to paint you any more graphic picture than that do I? With all those feverish rhythms and twangy guitars, it's a straight-up invitation to do exactly the wrong thing.
Then there's the song that goes, "The movie wasn't so hot - It didn't have much of a plot - We fell asleep - our goose is cooked - Our reputation is shot." Your good and wholesome reputation, that is. "Well, what are we gonna tell your mama? What are we gonna tell your pa? What are we gonna tell our friends when they say 'Ooh la la'?" You will tell them the truth: That you have sinned in the eyes of the Lord and you beg his everlasting forgiveness for this vile transgression. Listening to this vile rock and roll rubbish can lead only to ruin.
Instead, you should turn to more wholesome entertainment, such as the works of Olivia Newton John, or those nice Beach Boys. The ones who Ronald Reagan was so fond of. Turn your tastes back to a simpler time when songs were all about the innocence of life and the sweet harmonies of those fresh faced Everly Brothers. Or maybe we should just go ahead and let kids listen to Katy Perry after all. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Danger Zone

Are you afraid of a terrorist attack on the United States? Do you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, full of the fear that comes from ISIL or al This or That blowing up or knocking down something in your neighborhood? What if they were out there, planning and plotting the downfall of this American society? Well, to borrow an analogy from "Parks and Recreation," that's more of an Eagleton concern than a Pawnee concern. Or if you prefer to put it in a Simpsons mode, it's more of a "Shelbyville idea." The war on terror, meanwhile, continues, whether you're in Springfield, Shelbyville, or Detroit.
A bridge was taken down by in that rusted wreck of a city. The instrument of destruction was a trash truck. Two other vehicles were struck by debris, but no one else was injured, Michigan State Police Lieutenant Michael Shaw said at the scene. "If this would have happened maybe an hour later it would have been a lot worse," he said. Thank goodness the terrorists struck where and when they did. Except they weren't terrorists. It was an accident, and the driver of the trash truck was the only fatality. The only other casualty? Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was late for practice because of the traffic jam that was created. But it's Detroit, after all. If terrorists showed up and wreaked havoc for weeks in that jewel of the Midwest, would we know it? 
I kid. I like to kid about terrorism, domestic or foreign. Every time we laugh at terrorism, we win. Or something like that. I'm also just as happy to toss that same kind of callous disregard at the city where I live: Oakland. It would probably take just as long or longer to detect a terrorist presence in this city by the bay. They would have to show up in between riots and gang violence in order to get us to look up from our morning paper. When Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that ISIL is planning retaliatory strikes against public transportation targets here in the United States in response to the air strikes we have been lobbing in their general direction, the folks in Auburn Hills and Piedmont were probably quaking in their boots. Expensive, designer boots. 
Down here in the flatlands, we're just waiting for them to try something. You guys think you're so bad? Go ahead. Bring it on. But not this weekend. We've got Oktoberfest