Sunday, May 31, 2015

Need To Know

My wife and I met in the bathroom a few nights ago. It was notable because it is a community gathering place of sorts for our family. It is where the toothbrushes are, after all, and since dental hygiene is such a priority in our clan you can almost guarantee that one will cross paths with at least one or maybe even two of the other members. It is where we catch up on the day's events, or plot future plans for world domination, or what we need at the grocery store. Sometimes in all the rush and bustle that ablutions entail, we forget or hurry past those most important pieces of information: Don't forget that controlling continents gives you reinforcements at the end of a turn, and that we need granola.
When the nexus of the bathroom won't provide us with adequate connection for the news of the day, there are always the ubiquitous post-its. Sometimes it helps to have a post-it to remind one another to refer to the post-it that is located just out of the regular day's path. The volume of information at our house has increased over the past few years to the extent that we found it necessary to turn one whole door into a white board, allowing us to maintain grocery lists and reminders of upcoming events. The volume of telephone calls that come through our landline for somebody other than me has made this vast vertical surface a godsend, as all I need to do is stroll over to the door and scribble a note to those parties whose parties need to remind them of the party that will be held in their honor. It's an advance I would recommend to CNN, once they get tired of their holograms.
Then there are those messages that don't carry the kind of import as say, a Blue Letter. How are you? I love you. I miss you. Let's do lunch. Sometimes these get lost in the flurry of the day and we have no specific mechanism for tracking them. Which is a shame, since they seem vital to the continuing function of all that business that is written down and transcribed on lists or recorded for posterity. I suppose I should remain grateful for those late-night rendezvous at the bathroom sink. Which reminds me: Are we out of toothpaste?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Only Living Boy In New York

I would buy you some Art, a Picasso or Garfunkel." This is one of the suggestions made by Barenaked Ladies in their hit "If I Had A Million Dollars." That would be a good deal, since that would be a way to get Mister Garfunkel paid and maybe tamp down some of the bitterness and vitriol he feels lo these many years down the road for his partner Paul Simon. Former partner. Somewhat infrequent collaborator. Trusted friend. Or perhaps, to borrow from the current lingo: Frenemy.
For history's sake, it should be pointed out that it has been forty-four years since the sweet-singing folk duo, formerly known as Tom and Jerry, broke up. This was after a personal and professional relationship of more than eighteen years, having met as kids in Queens.
In the intervening decades, both men have stayed busy. Art has had a career in film that has spanned a great chunk of that time, as well as a solo recording career that has carried him through, including the opportunity to recently induct Cat Stevens into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Art is no stranger to the Hall, having been inducted himself back in 1990. Along with his partner, Paul Simon has been busy too. He was at that same celebration back in 1990, with his buddy Art. And he was back again eleven years later to be enshrined all by his lonesome. Paul has done some recording on his own as well. Not many more than Art, but let's just say that they were "more well-received" than those crafted by the guy who didn't play guitar. If this was your former business partner, wouldn't you feel a little jealous?

In a new interview, Artie calls his chum "an idiot" for breaking up the group at the height of its popularity. It makes a pretty tawdry Hollywood story. To hear Mister Garfunkel tell it: “I’d just got married and moved to Connecticut, and there was a nearby preparatory school and so I taught math there. It was a weird stage of my life, to leave Simon & Garfunkel at the height of our success and become a math teacher. I would talk them through a math problem and ask if anyone had any questions and they would say: 'What were the Beatles like?'” 
Broken up, Art. Just like you. Along the way, he has been thrown the occasional bone, like a concert in Central Park or maybe a cameo on one of the many Paul Simon-hosted Saturday Night Lives. For a guy who stands just five feet three inches tall, he has cast quite a shadow. Bitter? Angry? Frustrated? All of the above. But when asked about another Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour?  “Will I do another tour with Paul? Well, that’s quite do-able. When we get together with his guitar, it's a delight to both of our ears. A little bubble comes over us and it seems effortless. We blend. So as far as this half is concerned, I would say, 'Why not, while we're still alive?'" And now, for the rest of the day, I give you this challenge: Try not to think about Art Garfunkel sitting in his living room, staring at the phone, waiting for it to ring. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Volunteer Ours

It didn't feel like a contest, really. It was a celebration. The school district was having a sit-down dinner to show their appreciation for all the parent volunteers who give so tirelessly to the students at all levels. Moms and dads and grandparents and aunts and uncles and some people from the community who saw a need and filled in, it was an acknowledgement of the village that it takes to make a great big machine like the one we're running keep running. When money needs to be raised or tables need to be moved or copies need to be made or kids need a partner to whom they can read, these are the people who pick up that slack in the line and hold it tight. I was pleased and happy to be attending this soiree with my wife, the president of my son's PTSA. She has made an avocation into what is at times a full time job, which is why we scoffed quietly to one another about the inscription on her certificate. The one that thanked her for spending "at least forty hours" volunteering in Oakland schools.
At least. Of course, we were sitting in a room full of people who don't really get that concept: at least. These are the folks who are showing up before school to help kids across the street. These are the ones who make sure that the baseball practice field doesn't get plowed under. These are the value added team members. And I wasn't there with my wife alone. The lady who runs my school's SSC was there, representing our weekly snack sale and monthly meetings that she ensures has a quorum. If someone had asked me to choose between my wife and the president of our SSC for volunteer of the year, I would have excused myself. As a teacher, I am pleased and happy for any extra adult hands in the mix. Some kind of help is what helping's all about. And yet, that is exactly what the powers that be at our school district did. There was a list of nominees for "Volunteer of the Year," and through some mix of math and science formulas known only to that select few, three winners were picked from that room full of enthusiastic supporters.
Sure, everyone got a T-shirt and a certificate, but only three received a trophy. The rest of us ate up our banquet-style chicken and drank our very sweet tea and left scratching our collective heads. If only my wife would have found some time to help individual kids with their science projects instead of making sure that checks were written to keep the science program alive. If only our SSC president would have been pulling aside a table to read to kids as she served them nachos and ice cream every Wednesday after school. If they would have known the criteria going in, would there have been more competition?
Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge the winners of those plastic crystal paperweights. On the contrary. They are completely worthy of our praise and our plastic. And the rest of the crowd, who searched for a seat in a room that didn't have enough seats or spaces at the table, who waited for the big announcement along with my wife and I? They made do, as volunteers do. They were patient and forgiving, and left without feeling discouraged. Most of them will be back next year, when I hope the powers that be have the good sense to give everyone a prize. For now, here's a round of applause for the ladies who I was rooting for, and everyone else in that room.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


I have spent a lot of time at rock and roll shows. Most of them have been big bands at big arenas. I'm not much of a club-show guy. I like me some pyrotechnics. I like me some lasers. I like it loud and I like me some greatest hits. I sing along. That's the way I have always been. The first big rock show I went to see was Elton John and when it was over my ears were ringing and my throat was sore. That was just about forty years ago. Since then I've seen all kinds of concerts, big names like Black Sabbath and J. Geils. I saw the Eagles. I saw Fleetwood Mac. I've seen the Electric Light Orchestra, even though I was told that they weren't really playing, just lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks. I saw Boston. Twice. Many of these bands are now on the nostalgia circuit, playing smaller venues and trying to make the most out of the gas they have left in the tank. I confess that I am a little leery of checking out REO Speedwagon one last time just to hear them tear through "Ridin' The Storm Out," just to have that synapse tweaked one last time.
Then there's that category of groups and artists that I have made a habit of seeing each and every time they pass by: Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Bufftett, Barenaked Ladies. There are a few more, but now that it costs me a week's salary to get in the arena, I find myself wondering if it would really be worth the investment to travel down the road and stay up late to catch U2 on their latest tour. That used to be just the kind of show that would get me up and out, waiting in line, singing along, and paying through the nose.
The Who is brining their fiftieth anniversary tour through these woods in the next few months. A friend of mine has suggested that any tour they make now could be called the "Who's Left" tour, but since I have already a couple of Who ticket stubs in my collection, I don't feel the same urgency that I might once have experienced. I did manage to get myself out to see Sir Paul McCartney a few years back, which I have given myself permission to check off as my Beatles concert. That leaves me with the one, the only, the dinosaurs of rock, The Rolling Stones. In all these years and all those tours, I have never managed to find a way to sit myself in a stadium, arena or amphitheater where Mick and the boys were getting together for one last bash at world domination. Word is that they are out there again, right now.  There was a lot of fuss made when they didn't manage to add a northern California date to their itinerary. If this were really a bucket list situation, I would make plans to travel to whatever outpost I could manage, and get my chance to say that yes, I have seen the Stones. I think about one of the worst days of my life, when I had a ticket to see the band, but I woke up as hung over as I had ever been and had to spend the day cleaning my parents' house which my friends and I had trashed the night before in a pre-show fest that would have made Keith Richards blush. They didn't hold the show for me. It happened without me. And I didn't bother to hold on to the untorn ticket. After all these years, it seemed like buying a ticket to see the Rolling Stones would just invite trouble. Maybe it's all about self-preservation. It's only rock and roll, after all, and I'm not sure if I like it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

National Pride

For many years, I identified as Irish. When it came time to celebrate our heritage in fifth grade, a friend and I raised our hands when our teacher came to Ireland on his big list of countries which might be represented by our predominantly anglo class. After all, I had spent years hearing tales from my father about his origins from the county Cavan, and how our relatives had escaped the Potato Famine by fleeing to America and dropping the "augh" from the end of their name to make it fit on the end of the forms at Ellis Island. This was only after they had aided Saint Patrick in the driving of all snakes from the North and South. The wearing of the green came so matter of fact for me that when it came time to pick a favorite basketball team, the Boston Celtics were the only choice for me. In one corner of my fifth grade room, David Murrow and I taped up our construction paper Irish flag, and offered up carefully sliced chunks of our Irish Shortbread. We decorated our desks with shamrocks and leprechauns so there would be no doubt who was there to represent the Emerald Isle. What I probably should have kept in mind as this institution was being formed, the one that I would carry with me into my forties and pass along to my son and anyone else who would listen, is the source. Most of what I learned about my roots came from my father. This is the guy who explained, with a straight face, that the reason he had lost his hair was the helmet that he had to wear when he was in the army.
Then, when my older brother turned fifty, my mother did us all the favor of tracing our path from the old country to the new, lo and behold, we had the wrong old country all these years. It turns out that The Old Country for Cavans was just a little further north and slightly to the east of the land of Ire, the land of Scots. It turns out that instead of serving my fifth grade classmates shortbread, I should have been feeding them haggis. The good news is that I don't have to return the family fortune to the right and true heirs of the castle, and none of the plans I have made historically or moving forward have much to do with the difference between Ireland and Scotland.
Until now.
This past weekend, in a landslide victory, voters in Ireland made same sex marriage legal. This just twenty years after decriminalizing homosexuality. In a predominantly and historically Catholic country. If I were Irish, I would be proud. And maybe now, for just a few days, I will be proud to wear my shamrock and my rainbow flag as a tribute to my adopted homeland. Hear that, Scotland? You're next.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Barack Obama is on Twitter. To be more precise, the office of the President of the United States has a Twitter account. I will pause here a moment while you race on over to that site to catch up on what our chief executive has to say, one hundred forty characters at a time. There are plenty of ways to reach out to the people of America, like reasserting his appreciation for the graduating cadets of the Coast Guard Academy. The ones he hopes will work with him to meet big challenges like climate change. It's also a way that the people of America can reach out to their commander in chief and let him know what is on their mind, in one hundred forty characters. If you're the type who has opinions and solutions that run a little longer than that, you might have to find a different outlet. Twitter has a bunch of rules, and if you're not into that whole parameters thing, you might want to consider Instagram or standing on the street corner, yelling.
It is the kind of thing that makes that whole Free Speech thing work. One hundred forty characters or just one big vowel movement. But there are always limits. Like jeffgulley49, who sent a picture of the president with his head in a noose along with the caption: Rope for Change. That got Mister 49 a visit from the Secret Service. Just like the way a kid at my school would get a visit to the principal's office if they sent a threatening message to their teacher. Limits. That is the bottom line. 
"We have nothing to fear but fear itself." That would work. Nothing offensive. Less than fifty characters. You could probably toss a video in on top of that and still get re-tweeted for days.
"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." You've still got some letters left, and it will live on in bumper stickers and T-shirts.
The Gettysburg Address fit on the back of an envelope, but it wouldn't make it onto Twitter. You would have to sit still for the two and a half minutes it took to give the speech, and then you might have to take the time to consider just exactly what it meant. 
Am I happy that our national discourse has shifted to Twitter? I can answer that in two characters: No.

Monday, May 25, 2015


David Letterman said he felt like he missed out on Al Gore's Internet. Compared to guys who showed up in his wake, like Jon Stewart and either of the Jimmys, Dave didn't have much of a virtual presence at all. Sure, he had a web site. So most plumbers. What he was confronting was the way we get our entertainment these days. There are plenty of amazing and amusing bits from the Letterman vaults, one of which he chose to showcase on his farewell show: Dave Works At Taco Bell. It was those kind of filmed pieces that took the late night talk show off on new tangents, to places they hadn't been with Johnny Carson or Jack Paar. His celebration of the ordinary, including his own mother, made watching her son's show a great big inside joke.
Back in the day, before DVR and twenty-four hour news, before point and click to review what had happened just moments before, there was staying up late to see what happened after everyone else had gone to sleep. When he moved up an hour and jumped to CBS, that secret society diminished still further. What seemed anarchic after midnight was being sponsored by Chevy and on after your local news. To be sure, Dave had earned his spot at the grown-up's table, but it also meant that he was no longer the upstart. There was no Monkey-Cam. Things didn't tend to fall from five story towers. NBC held on to Larry "Bud" Melman. Letterman and his staff had to make funny in ways that would appeal to those who might be persuaded to switch from Jay Leno if only to see a little hipper musical guest. Then Jimmy Fallon showed up and hired the Roots as his house band. And he got Bruce Springsteen to play himself in the inspired "Whip My Hair" duet with Neil Young. And the lip-syncing and general goofiness that pushed those boundaries once pushed by Dave. All ready for uploading with a Twitter feed that filled in the blanks for anyone who might have missed the show as it streamed through whatever portable device they might have connected to at the moment.
Just like bookstores stopped being just down the street, late night comedy might have a brick and mortar location from whence broadcasts originate, but it now blooms and flowers on Al Gore's Internet.
It makes me pine for those days when I went out with my brothers and my flashy new camcorder, some thirty years ago, and we ran over water balloons as big as a coffee table, and wandered around the University of Colorado asking strangers all manner of questions as "Mister Curious goes to Campus." We were making comedy, without the intent of putting it on a computer network for millions to view. We were having fun. Amusing ourselves. The thumbs-up we got all came from people who watched the tape in our living room. Do I regret never sending any of our tape to Dave and getting a chance to appear on "Stupid Pet Tricks" with our dachshund Rupert doing animal impersonations? A little. But mostly I am glad to have had the chance to laugh along, from the inside, for thirty-three years. Vaya con carne, Dave.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nor Free Lunch

Basketball has this thing: free throws. When a player is fouled or, for those who are less familiar with the game, mugged on the way to making a basket, he or she gets a chance to toss the ball through the hoop without being interfered with in any way. Unless you count those panting, sweaty folks lined up on either side while the attempt is made or the thousands of screaming fans urging you to "miss" or take up some other line of work, like masonry. It should be noted that the fifteen feet from the free throw line to the basket has remained constant for the time since the game was invented. The addition of a three-point line didn't change things, since each free throw is only one point. Because they are a gift, after all. An award. Sorry about that, we're going to give you a chance to make good on that attempt you were making when that rather rough looking fellow from the other team hopped on your back and started pounding on your forehead. That would make it hard to get the ball through the hoop from any distance. Here's a free throw.
In baseball, if a batter makes the mistake of standing in front of a ninety mile an hour fastball, he or she can be awarded a free base. That player is given a "walk" to first base. This is not a point, but if enough of these are strung together, they can turn into points, or "runs" even though the players who receive them tend not to break out past a brisk trot on their way down the base line. That is, if they are able to make the trip at all, depending on how and where the ball made its impact. It's a gift of ninety feet, like it has been for more than a hundred years. Way back in the late 1800's, Hughie Jennings made a career out of those free passes: Two hundred eighty-seven HBP. It took nearly a hundred years for anybody to get close to that, when Craig Biggio leaned in for two hundred eighty-five. Over time, was it worth it? In his last season, some in the baseball community ridiculed Biggio for not going for the record. Not exactly the type of thing they make movies about.
In the upcoming NFL season, what was the equivalent of the free pass and free throw will be made less of a gimme and more of a gotcha. The extra point will be kicked from the relatively safe distance of fifteen yards away. Safe, but not exactly sure, since the ball used to be placed on the two yard line. There were still extra points missed back in those days, way back last year. But not very often. That's why the brain trust that is the front office of the National Football League decided that there should be no easy play. Suddenly that chip shot that hovered at the ninety-nine percent will be moved back to something more like ninety percent. The reasoning behind this measure is to try and convince more teams to try the riskier two-point conversion which will still be placed at the two yard line. In which case everyone in the stadium including the opposing defense will know what is about to happen. More competitive? Maybe. More fascist? Almost certainly.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The N Is For Nowledge

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may wish that he had picked a different locale for him and his brother to go blowing things up. Last week, Mister Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in a Boston courtroom for the crimes he committed back in 2013. If they would have picked a city in Iraq, the brothers might be hailed as heroes, or at least as martyrs to the cause. Instead, Dzhokhar will be held on death row until the appeals process has run its course. Now twenty-one years old, it is likely that the convicted killer of three will be an older man before the clock winds down on this particular show, leaving lethal injection as the only way out of prison after being found guilty on thirty counts, seventeen of which carried the death sentence. In the eyes of the law, Tsarnaev just can't be dead enough. 
If the brothers had chosen instead to kill and injure runners at the Nebraska Marathon, however, things might have gone much differently. That is because this week Nebraska lawmakers gave final approval to a bill abolishing the death penalty with enough votes to override a promised veto from Republican Governor Pete Ricketts. Life in prison? Not a problem. But since no one has been executed in Nebraska for eighteen years, the challenge to this new vote seems slim. As red states go, it's a pretty interesting swing, made possible by the realization that having a death penalty and using it are two very different things. The cost of maintaining the endless appeals and the moral objections that many people both liberal and conservative maintain may mean the death of the death penalty. After all, what good is sentencing someone to death and they end up dying of old age before you can poison them?
I kid the Nebraskans, because it is my birthright as a native Coloradan. The embarrassing part here is that Colorado continues to keep execution of their prisoners as an option, even though only one person had been put to death since the reintroduction of capital punishment back in 1977. Boy, is my face red. Even if my football team's colors are not. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Name Game

It is nice when things live up to their reputation, and even nicer when they live up to the label they place on themselves. Take for example SPECTRE. These are the bad guys in James Bond movies, and if you weren't up on your acronyms prior to this, you should know that it stands for "Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion." It gets a little verbose, but the initials paint a nice, scary picture. You probably wouldn't call these guys up for a donation to UNICEF, however. These guys were just a little more accessible than SMERSH, or Spetsyalnye MEtody Razoblacheniya SHpyonov, translated roughly: Special Methods of Spy Detection. James knew what to expect from these guys, in part because they really existed. The same cannot be said of the foes of the Men from UNCLE, THRUSH. The United Network Command for Law Enforcement regularly locked horns with the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesireables and the Subjugation of Humanity. When you're making up teams for world domination, it's nice to know for which side you're being issued a lanyard
That's the nice thing about Hollywood. They will do us the favor of calling bad guys what they are. I don't expect that when Adolf Hitler was scribbling on the back of his binder back in high school,coming up with cool names for his Third Reich, I don't expect that he figured that the world would hear "Nazi" and immediately connect them with all the evil that they would eventually embody. The National Socialist Party sounds pretty benign, after all. Maybe it was the flag. Or the uniforms. All of which brings me to the Bandidos. You might recognize that name as the affiliation of bikers who got into a pretty ugly shootout in Texas where nine people were killed, eighteen injured and one hundred seventy were arrested. Pretty rough weekend, even for Waco. But maybe it should have been expected. Not unlike the reaction Hells Angels used to get, back in the day. All the brawls. All the way out parties. Lock 'em up and throw away the key. When Cassocks, Scimitars, and Bandidos show up in the same place, you should probably expect trouble. 
Satan's Sidekicks? Grim Reapers? Coffin Cheaters? I'm guessing that showing up with your colors flying would pretty much put the local constabulary on high alert. Or at least put in a call to the folks at SHIELD, whatever that means. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Out Of Print

My father wasn't in the ad game in the sixties. He sold printing. I spent my early years imagining that he was some kind of executive paper boy, wandering from office to office with newspapers he carried in a briefcase and made deals with his subscribers to buy even more newspapers. This was because I had seen a black and white photo of my father in his youth, carrying his big canvas sack with "Daily Camera" printed across the front, and I assumed from the way he lovingly discussed his ascent into the printing business that he had worked his way into a better dressed, upscale version of the job he had when he was a teenager.
It wasn't that simple, but then again, maybe it was. He used to look wistfully off into the distance and talk about the ink that ran in his veins, having moved from his first paper route on what was then the outskirts of Boulder to the press room of the local paper and eventually to the offices of a publishing company where he would regularly return to the press room and kick it around with the boys in the back. It was from these press rooms that my father dragged home reams and reams of paper, some of it in sample pads, other times he would bring home end rolls that were far too short to be used for a full press run but unimaginably long for any kid who wanted to roll it out in the living room. I drew on all of it. All that I could, that is. All that blank paper was an invitation, not unlike the blank pages that eventually lured me to writing on them. It was my avocation to fill them all.
Meanwhile, back at the office, my father's career had a nice, hometown Don Draper feeling. There were business lunches and cocktail parties. There really was a briefcase, and most mornings that I can recall, he put on a suit and tie to go out into the world to sell printing. More to the point, he went out into the world to sell the printing services of the publishing company for which he worked to those who might need them. This is how I learned about Celestial Seasonings. My father worked with this hippie kid, Mo Siegel, to print up boxes and advertising posters for his herbal tea company. This was about the time that Don Draper's story came to a rest, but the seventies were a very heady time for my father's printing business. If it were left to me, I believe I would set the fictionalized TV version of my publishing company drama in the 1970's. That's when he moved on up to the Ford Granada for the company car, Fine Corinthian vinyl.
And eventually, there was an office affair, one that sent my father spiraling off into career trouble as well as divorce. When my father went to meet his maker, he was still working on his third act. He was trying to find his way back home. That never happened, but he left behind a lot of memories. And reams and reams of paper filled with the drawings of my youth. It was an interesting ride. Maybe not Don Draper interesting, but pretty good for a paperboy from Boulder, Colorado.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


The time has come to talk about the elephant in the room. Actually, the elephant isn't in the room right now, but that's kind of the point. The elephant will soon be leaving the room. That's really the issue. And it's not really an elephant we're talking about here. The subject in question doesn't have tusks or communicate in infrasonic tones too low for our hearing to detect, though that might explain some of the challenges that occur when teenagers get ready to leave home.
Oops. I gave up my metaphor there, didn't I? Yes, I'm writing about my son again. I'm going to keep writing about him because he is the most important work I have done on this planet. I am proud of the way I have cobbled together a life for myself and managed to find my own way to adulthood, but I had some pretty good help on the front end of that. I took the shove my parents gave me way back when along with all the wisdom and expert advice they had to spare and applied it to my own life journey. Here I am, getting ready to shove my own little birdie out of the nest, and I can only hope that I managed to impart a fraction of that knowledge to my own offspring. Sometimes I feel like a filter rather than a font of wisdom, straining to find meaningful lessons to impart to a young man who seems to have learned more than I will ever know.
How did that happen? I was going to be the one who carried him to the car at the end of a long day. I was the one who still listens to the story of every day's adventure, waiting to cap it off with some fatherly words that would bring it all into sharp focus. I held his hand when we crossed the street not just to keep him safe, but to remind each other that we were there for one another.
Now we need to find new ways to do that. Long distance, the phone company when there was just one phone company, assured us is the next best thing to being there. I have tried to soothe my wife's worries and calm myself with this idea. Our son is not moving away. He is expanding the home in which the three of us live. His room won't be down the hall anymore. It will be down the road a few miles. It will make those good night hugs and kisses a little harder to negotiate, but I expect that we will manage. There is a lot of love invested here already.
The love is not a doubt, but the rhythm of that love is going to be hard to replace. Waking him up at noon on a Saturday or six on a Monday will no longer be in my purvey. I won't be shouting at the back of the house to turn that racket off and go to bed, unless it is my wife's racket which may be the thing that makes this whole thing work. It will be quieter by a third, and I will miss that. I have already in the past few years, as his high school life full of activities and social events took him to new places and different schedules, over which I had little or no control.
I couldn't hold his hand as he crossed all those streets. Now I have to know that he knows to look both ways. I have to believe that he knows how to hear those low rumblings that only he can sense. It is his father calling. Be careful. Be kind. Be smart. Be clever. Be safe. Be where you need to be. Be gone for a while. Be missed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Main Event

Things Mitt Romney couldn't win: The 2012 Presidential Election, Dog Owner of the Year, and the Heavyweight Championship of the World. I suppose you have to admire his vision. He aims high. He tends to miss wildly, but that doesn't mean he won't keep trying. In this latest escapade, he fought former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in Salt Lake City last week. After two rounds of showcasing more footwork than fisticuffs, Mitt threw in the towel before anything really awful could happen. Or maybe the awful thing is that it was allowed to happen in the first place. The good news is that a million dollars was raised for CharityVision, a group that aims to restore vision to those with curable vision loss.The fight was held in Salt Lake City, partly because that is the location of the charity, run in part by one of Mitt's many sons and partly because of that whole Mormon thing in which the Romneys also participate. It made the $150,000 tickets a little easier to move for the black tie (eye?) gala.
I think this is great, by the way. When someone can take their celebrity status and turn it into something that benefits others, I'm a fan. Take the Justin Bieber Roast, for example. While I was disappointed that this event did not end with the sacrificial flaying and incinerating of Justin, to raise bail money for teenaged drag racers, I was glad to know that he was putting his stardom to practical use. At a certain point, once you've bought and sold your own personal island in the tropics, you start to look for places for your excess cash to flow along with that of your friends and associates. And whenever possible, ask your fanbase to contribute as well. 

Sometimes it takes a little extra push, but this is where I think Mitt missed the fundraising boat. If it were left to me to organize a charity boxing match for Mister Romney, I would have asked for some of the forty-seven percent of Americans he claimed never paid taxes to pony up a few bucks to spend a few minutes in the ring with the once and future chief executive. Instead of buying a Lotto ticket for the next few weeks, why not step into the squared circle with the guy who insisted that these were the Americans "who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." This might take more than a couple rounds to get through all the folks who would like to take a shot at Mitt, but for a hundred dollars a shot, you could probably raise a matching million dollars pretty quick. Especially if they took the show on the road. Places like Baltimore, for example. Detroit? I imagine there are a few of that percentage hanging out here in the Bay Area who wouldn't mind paying to take a swing at Willard Mittsimmons Romney. For charity. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Eye In The Sky

I am glad that there is a conscious effort currently being made across the globe to seek out the bad guys and make sure that they are brought to justice. I was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of getting surveillance cameras mounted on our school after I had an early morning contact with a police officer who was looking for a bad guy on the run in the neighborhood. "Do you guys have cameras outside?" asked the patrolman. I sighed and confessed that I wished that we did. Maybe that would keep people from hopping the fence on long weekends to break windows and add their own flavor to the walls and doors of our building with spray paint.
It wasn't until several hours later that the ACLU portion of my brain woke up and shouted, "Waitaminnit!" Do we really need Big Brother peering into our lives twenty-four-seven? How do we keep our private lives private? The rest of my brain answered back, "If you're not doing anything bad, why would you have to worry about what those cameras catch and record for posterity?" I was grateful at this point that I was not standing in front of a police officer and I could maintain this relative fugue state for a few more conversational volleys.
The answer I came up with for my own rhetorical question: Editing. Who decides when to start and stop the tape? As a teacher, I am keenly aware of the volume of video being shot on cell phones of disruptions in class and the number of these incidents that seem to start up just a tick before the grownup blows their stack. This isn't an apology for any educator who loses their composure when dealing with kids, but it is a reminder about The Whole Story. We don't see it very often. The twenty-four hour news cycle, as expansive as it may seem, only captures and promotes the tiniest snippets of evidence to support their editorial point of view. Can thirty seconds of video really cover years that led up to the riots in Baltimore? Would a vest mounted camera on ever officer's chest keep them from making bad choices in the heat of the moment? No, and no. Video will not save us. It can only confirm those bad choices and momentary lapses of reason.
Upon further reflection, I suppose I would welcome the addition of video cameras on my school's facade, but only to be used for historical record. Until someone climbs up on the roof and steals them.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Too Two

I have read the reviews. The newest installment in the Marvel Comics universe, "Age Of Ultron" has been called out for being too big, too loud, too long,with too many characters. Too too. Of course, my fanboy reaction is to point out that we should expect this kind of spectacle from a team of super heroes who routinely have to band together to save the planet from annihilation from this evil plot or that global threat. Once you've saved the world, you get a certain reputation, and then you have to live to face it down. It is a saga, after all, and sagas don't tend to be crisp, character-driven think pieces of independent film. It was what eventually killed the Sam Raimi Spider Man films, the third of which even I had a hard time digesting. Too many bad guys, too many life or death threats, too many epic battles.
Wait a minute. Too much Spider Man? This coming from a guy who sat in the third row of "Spider Man 2" and waited for them to rewind and start the next show? Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Well, I would suggest, that if that good thing isn't so good anymore then the answer is "no," since it's not too much of a good thing. It's too much of a mediocre shadow of what was once a good thing. I should also point out that many critics turned up their noses at Peter Jackson's "King Kong," pointing out that it took his movie as long to reach Skull Island as it took the original to do that, capture the big ape, and drop him from the Empire State Building. And I wouldn't have skipped a frame. Not a pixel.
This is why I wonder if people who write movie reviews have spent much time reading comic books. Like the kind of time I put in, back in the day. These stories start out big: a planet blows up and the only known survivor is sent to earth as a baby in a rocket ship. A kid is bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly gains the powers of the arachnid what bit him. A ninety-eight pound weakling is injected with a serum that turns him into a super soldier. These are the origin stories. How do these super types get along with the rest of us over time? That question is still being answered on a monthly basis in comic book stores across this great land of ours. The fact that special effects technology has caught up to the point where we really do believe a man can fly, in an iron suit no less, says "it's about time" to me.
To me. I also really love those movies Richard Linklater makes. The kind where real people deal with real life and all its confounding simplicity. Which makes me wonder why no one has put him on the short list to direct Avengers 3. Of course, maybe Monty Python already did that with their "Bicycle Repairman" sketch. In a world full of Super Men and Women, it's the guy who can fix a flat that turns out to be the real hero.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Bitter End

If we were actual helicopter parents, would we allow something like "Senior Ditch Day" to even be considered in our household? First of all, let me point out that the potential for both of these occurrences are very real. We have this one kid, a son, who has been the focus of much if not all of our attentions and intentions since he came into the world some eighteen years ago. Since then, we have participated in ways both large and small, hoping to keep his nose clean and his future bright, which is infinitely preferable to the obverse.  Dark futures and runny noses are no way to go through life.
That's why we have been standing by with Kleenex and a flashlight, ready for any and all circumstances that would erupt to disturb any of the peace in our little kingdom. I will build playgrounds, make pancakes, attend meetings and even let my wife serve not one but two years as PTSA president in order to make sure that at no time does our little boy have to run afoul of any of the mundane disruptions to the flow of his orderly matriculation through childhood. And now, that's over. For official purposes, my son became legal in all kinds of ways. He announced the other night that now that is eligible to vote, he has no interest in any of the candidates who are currently running. That sounds pretty adult to me. He also, according to California Ed. Code, has the right to sign for and verify his own absences. Suddenly that hum of rotors becomes more distant. Mom and Dad, what do you think? Oh, that's right, you're not responsible for me anymore.
Dad, an elementary school teacher with a keen eye for Average Daily Attendance and its connection to funding for our academic institutions, and Mom who spends more time at my son's school than he does these days, talking often with the principal, have very mixed feelings about Senior Ditch Day. On the one hand, he is a kid who has never spent a day after school unless he was volunteering for something. He has been accepted into the college of his choice and it would be hard for us to argue that he held up his end of the bargain as far as getting through high school. It would also be somewhat hypocritical of me to insist that he attend every moment of every class until the end of his final semester, since I spent a good deal of time at the end of my senior year going out to lunch and hanging out on the front lawn playing football with my friends instead of showing up for those last most important instructional minutes in Ceramics and Pop Lit. I really don't have a leg on which to stand. Other than, "because I said so."
That's why we let it happen. Senior Ditch Day, Rite of Passage? For which I pull out my favorite family response: "Why not?"

Friday, May 15, 2015

Gentle Into That Good Night

This comes as a bit of a spoiler, but since the end is truly nigh and if you are reading this blog, then you have some passing connection with at least some things of a pop culture flavor, and the penultimate episode of "Mad Men" would certainly count for that. You remember "Mad Men," don't you? Before there were zombies and revolutionary war spies prowling about Sunday nights on American Movie Classics, there were advertising executives drinking and driving and hopping from bed to bed in a slick recreation of what we all have come to agree was the most alluring vision of the world as it was fifty years ago. And smoking. Did I mention smoking? Lots of smoking.
And that's why I am taking the time to whine about what has been a solidly diverting ride for the past seven seasons. But this? This next-to-last shocker of a revelation? Was it really necessary to kill Betty? I know, if you're not up on this whole "where are they, who are they" tracking for what is happening to which fictional character, then killing Betty may just be a meme that has no actual meaning beyond the sound of the words, but I'm telling you that it matters because of the way it was done: Lung cancer. After nearly eight years of Mad-Time, and nearly a decade and a half of history, it turns out that the one person to succumb to that great gray cloud that hung over this production was Betty Draper, long suffering first wife of Don Draper, who once sold Lucky Strikes with the claim that they were "toasted." Just like the lungs of the folks who bought them. Except that in real life, the actors are smoking healthful blends of herbs that only serve to make the experience we see on screen as more enticing. Who needs Joe Camel when you've got Don Draper? And his lovely wife Betty?
Out of this haze comes Betty, having missed a great portion of the past couple of seasons, being the ex-wife and all, and it turns out that her dream of going back to college and studying psychology is going to be cut tragically short in order to give us all the object lesson that smoking cigarettes will kill you. Fast. In about three minutes of screen time.
As I watched this episode with my wife, I had to clamp down on my impulse to shout at the screen when Betty fell down on the stairs on the way to her next class. She wasn't getting up. This was the classic "something's wrong" moment, the one that she won't recover from and the one that we were shown to justify what would happen so abruptly in the next scene: Doctor's office. Looks bad. Getting worse. No hope.
Of course not. This is the next to last episode of a TV drama, and sacrifices have to be made. But Betty? Why? Addicted to diet pills wasn't enough? Having Don and then Henry for husbands wasn't enough? Dealing with her own twisting psychology wasn't enough? Now she's the sacrificial lamb. Or Camel. I suppose we can only wait a few days to see what crueler fate awaits her ex-husband. Maybe Ken can run over Don with a bigger tractor. Or something. I just don't see how Betty deserved to go - in  a puff of smoke.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Age Of Consent

I need to be very careful now. Anything I say could be used as justification by my son to run off and join the Army. Or Navy. Or Marines. Or maybe he'll jump to the big leagues and get married. He can do that now. He's eighteen.
He doesn't need my permission to go see a movie. He doesn't need me to open a bank account for him. He is his own man. These are the eyes of the state I am using currently. If I turn my old parent eyes on this young man, I see a guy who could, in a pinch, do any of those things. But I don't think he will. There are far too many other things that he is interested in doing, being and seeing before he enlists in any of those more mundane activities. Sure, if he joined the armed services, he could travel the world and seek out new people and experiences while carrying weapons he has only seen on video games, but that isn't where he is headed.
I don't actually know that. It may be precisely where he is headed, but not right now. He doesn't know for sure what he is going to do. That is the magic of being this magic age is that he can make all kinds of adult-ish choices, but he doesn't have to. We are his safety net for a few more years while he makes his way in the world. His mother and I will pretend for the time being that he is going off to slay his metaphorical dragons while we stick close to the phone and monitor Al Gore's Internet for any actual dragon sightings so as to make certain that his path is clear.
Whatever path that is. It's another jumping-off point. It becomes more and more clear to me with each passing year that this parenting gig isn't a short-term one. It's a lifetime. I think of the words from the Alice Cooper song: "I got a baby's brain and an old man's heart/Took eighteen years to get this far/Don't always know what I'm talkin' about/Feels like I'm livin' in the middle of doubt." I wonder how Alice's parents felt about that, but he was twenty-two when he wrote it, so I'm not sure if that counts.
Of course it counts. This is my son, and when he turns twenty-two, I will be just as interested about what is going on in his life as I am now. I find him fascinating. His story is full of pending twists and turns, and I want to have a ringside seat for all of them. And hopefully I will be a spectator. A very pleased and proud spectator. I give him my consent to rise to the heights he chooses. Bon voyage!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Teach Me A Lesson

The most obvious one would be piano. I just stopped. Probably because I felt like there was nothing more for me to learn, since I obviously wasn't going to go pro anytime soon. Ever. I was learning to play piano because it was what we did. My mother played. My older brother started taking lessons when he was about nine years old. We had a piano in our living room. We had another one in the basement. They weren't going to play themselves. Well, to be precise, the one in the basement could play itself in that it was a player piano and if you pumped the pedals with enough gusto, you sounded just like Van Cliburn. The image I had of myself playing dazzling honky tonk and jazz riffs never came to pass. I stalled out somewhere amid the Mozart sonatinas, without ever becoming the Leon Russell/Elton John/Billy Joel or Preston that I felt might dwell inside me. If I had that kind of talent, it was buried deep inside. Very, very deep.
This was kind of like my marine abilities. Perhaps growing up in Colorado I didn't see any particular need from a survival standpoint to hone my swimming skills. I stalled out at "Minnow," and never went back. I still enjoy frothing about in swimming pools, and the lessons I did retain in that one summer were not lost on me: entering the water in as many silly and ridiculous ways as possible. Mister Man rides a bike. Mister Man trips over a curb. Mister Man leans against a wall that suddenly isn't there. Falling into the water was the main thing. Once I got there, I found that I could hold my breath and eventually push myself through whatever depths I found myself to the surface, and then make some amateur attempts at a crawl or paddle that would get me to the edge of the pool. Where I would then crawl out and toss myself in once again. Mister Man skills aside, I wasn't cleared to move on to Tuna, Halibut or Stingray. I would never get a Shark badge to sew onto my trunks, nor would I ever look back with much regret on any of those accomplishments, though both of my brothers found more success in this area.
I've just never been good at taking lessons. Lessons require practice, and I don't have the temperament. I would much rather have someone show me once and then I go off and figure it out on my own. This was nearly a deal-breaker for my wife and I, when she became somewhat insistent that I learn how to dance. Not just the floppy, loose-limbed gyrations that I had been passing off for so many years at parties and bars. She was asking me to learn steps. Just like learning the backstroke or scales, this seemed an unnecessary use of my time and energy. Wasn't my enthusiastic pantomime imitations of those movements sufficient?
As it turns out, they weren't. Not if I was going to dance with a partner anywhere near me. Not if I wanted to make it appear as though I had a partner instead of a bemused spectator. For a series of very difficult and uncomfortable minutes, I put myself in her hands, in hopes that I would no longer be stepping on her toes. I would love to tell you that I discovered that I relaxed and found that the joy I took from dancing with my wife made it all worthwhile. I still take a great deal of joy from each turn I take on the dance floor with my lovely and patient wife, but I can't say that she has taught me more than those very basic steps. Mister Man on the dance floor.
Someday I'll learn my lesson.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Poor Carly Fiorina. She just wants to be President of the United States. Is that so wrong? Katie Couric seems to think so. She's out to get our girl, just like she went after that other maverick a few years back. Why would she need to know what magazines a vice presidential candidate reads. Or doesn't read. Or if she reads at all. Isn't that kind of a sexist question to ask? Why isn't she asking all those male candidates these hard-hitting (sexist) questions? Would she really ask a guy who was polling around one percent if he was gearing up for a run for the second highest office in the land? Maybe we should have Katie Couric interview Katie Couric what the deal is to find out what the deal is with Katie Couric. 
Feel free at this point to note that Katie Couric is currently the "global anchor" for Yahoo News. Not ABC. NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX. Since the 2008 campaign, when she was the anchor for CBS, Katie has moved around a bit. Things change. Like when former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina signed on as an adviser to John McCain's campaign in 2008. 
Hold on a second. The 2008 campaign. The same one that brought us the "um, all of them" answer to what magazines and newspapers vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin gave to future global anchor for Yahoo, Katie Couric. Is this "Back to the Future" or what? Did she show up to the interview in a DeLorean? Of course, by this time, Hillary Clinton was already on her way to the curb to wait for her opportunity to become Secretary of State. And to wait another half-dozen years until it was time to rev up the web site development team to get herself ready for another shot at the highest office in the land. Not the second highest. Will Katie Couric ask Hillary is she's positioning herself for second place? 
In a word, no. Katie will probably ask Hillary about her personal e-mail server. And Benghazi. And maybe, just maybe, she'll ask how she will be a good grandma while she's busy running the country. That would be sexist. Or ageist. Or somethingist that would make it possible for Katie to continue her career as global anchor for Yahoo. Carly, in the meantime, will be working hard to make Katie and the rest of us forget her failed run for senate in 2010 and her forced resignation from HP in 2005. But we shouldn't probably bring that up. That would be failist

Monday, May 11, 2015


Basketball playoffs are heating up, baseball season is starting too, and the National Hockey League continues to stretch their season into the summer. When ice melts. What better time to talk about matters in the frozen north, specifically Foxborough, Massachusetts? Yes, the combines and the college draft and all the discussion connected to the National Football League has passed. There is a serious potential for Roger Goodell's ship to sail out of view for a few months. But since this is America, and there is no dark side of the moon, really, we should keep that logo on the tip of everyone's cerebral cortex. Yes, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl just a few months ago, but that's no reason for them to be old news.
That may explain why the findings of the National Football League's blue ribbon commission on cheating and such came out this week with their findings on Deflate Gate. If you haven't cared about this scandal before, maybe some of the highlights of the report issued this past week will intrigue you. Text messages between a part-time New England Patriots employee and an equipment assistant with talk of cash, free shoes and autographs. The part-time employee, a locker room attendant responsible for twelve footballs before the AFC title game, spending one hundred seconds in a bathroom after game officials had approved the balls for play. The Patriots' star quarterback and the equipment assistant suddenly exchanging phone calls in the days just after news of under-inflated footballs blew up. That's a little Deflate-Gate humor: "blew up." Get it? For me, the most interesting tidbit may be those one hundred seconds in the bathroom. It caused me to consider the number of seconds I spend in the bathroom, especially on game day. It also cause me to reflect on just how carefully statistics are maintained for all aspects of the National Football League. Whether all bathroom trips are monitored and recorded, or do they just count the ones during pre-game and warmups? What about during games? Ultimately, it seems as though there was some sort of shenanigans going on. What sort of penalties will be handed out is still anyone's guess, but when he was asked if any of this would taint the rest of the Patriots' achievements, quarterback and cell phone user Tom Brady insisted, "Absolutely not." Of course not. Just like that video tape hullabaloo from a few years back, the one we felt compelled to attach a "gate" to back then and called it "Spygate." That didn't detract at all from the undefeated regular season they had way back then. No word from the NFL or the Patriots about whether "Murdergate" will cast a shadow on any of the accomplishments the Patriots made with Aaron Hernandez on the field. My guess would be "absolutely not."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

When We Go Boom

My mom fell down. If you're of a certain age with a parent of a certain age, you know what that phrase means. Or can mean. In my case, it meant that my heart leaped to my throat, and I began to imagine all the things that might have happened. The happy news was that the bag of laundry she was carrying broke her fall, and while it's generally never a good thing for human beings to fall anywhere, and it turns out she is going to be okay. Bumps and bruises. A cut on her forearm. No broken bones. There was relief from all quarters as my family breathed out and the alarms were turned off. But we all realized we must be ever-vigilant.
This comes as a creeping annoyance for my mother, who prides herself on her independence and tenacity. These were also, coincidentally, qualities she helped her sons gather in abundance. Just like she gave us all her capacity to care. Deeply. I can understand how frustrating it must be to have her children checking up on her, making sure she is okay. That's kind of the way her boys used to feel when we were off on our next adventure or escapade. I know that any fear that I may have experienced upon hearing about my mother's tumble was nothing compared to what she must have felt when she got the call about me being hit by a car. Or the sight of my younger brother and I standing on the shoulder of the road where I had just recently driven my older brother's truck, nearly rolling the two of us down the side of a mountain. And on and on. I cannot complain about my mother testing my adrenal glands, since there were three of us, and only one mom.
That is why, on this Mother's Day, I would like to salute all the mothers I know who pick us up, dust us off, and help us start all over again. I know how different it was to have a scraped knee with my father. I got love. I got attention, but mom could make a boo-boo better than anyone. I know that I have never felt more out of my depth as a parent than when my son was hurt and I was left to make all better. I couldn't. That was what mom could do. It is their peculiar magic. Over the years I have adopted the language and mannerisms. I use the same cotton balls, hydrogen peroxide and band-aids, but it's just not the same. It is the magic touch that makes falling down okay. Not just because we know that we can get back up again, but because of the love we receive on the way back up. Thank you, mom.

Saturday, May 09, 2015


With more than three thousand six hundred fifty posts, I can now safely look back on what has been ten years of spouting off at this location. For you completionists out there, I can tell you that there is still a missing post, written several years ago about how my glasses and my piano playing merged into a fascination with Elton John and how it eventually led to some wistful reflection on my lost youth, as so many of my wistful reflections tend to be. It's not like you've missed seeing "The Day The Clown Cried" or recordings made during the Beatles' visit to Graceland. What you see is what you get. I don't know if this comes as a comfort or not.
For ten years I have been plugging away, sometimes storing up days in advance to make certain that there would be something new to read here each and every day. For the ten to twelve people who, like myself, are habitual. It's also for the casual browser who clicks on that "next blog" button up near the top of the screen, just to see what sort of entertainment is hanging just to the right of this place on the web. Some of it is quite entertaining, and there are plenty of things that I have read that I wish that I would have written, but this isn't a time for regrets. It's a time to pause for reflection.
I have said aloud to a few people that I thought maybe after ten years I could just stop and move on to something different. It was my wife who pointed out that she could respect that choice as long as I had someplace else to go with all of these words. "Have somewhere to go," she suggested. Pretty good advice from someone who knows me pretty well. Good news for fans of Entropical Paradise: I don't have that place to go. Not yet, anyway.
This is the place that I go to type out what I think and look at it. Sometimes other people look at it and tell me what they think, but mostly it allows me to take those ideas that were going to turn into conversational gambits and puts them in a less forced wrapper. You can choose to stop reading after you read that first line or two. You can do what my younger brother does and check the tag to see if it will cause him to have to consider sports of any kind, and then decide if it's worth the time and effort to find out what's hanging on the edge of my consciousness on any given day. If it's about the Bill Ding stacking clowns we had as kids, he'll be all over that. If I happen to include a few key words that will make my blog easily searchable, like Kate Middleton, then traffic will increase exponentially. At least until they figure out that this isn't a Royals-watching site. Most of the time, anyway.
It's my blog. It's my brain on the web. Come on in and look around. If there's anything that you've seen or read that pleases you, you're welcome. If you're on your way to find the Latino Pokemon blog, good luck and safe travels. See you again soon.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Cartoon Network

If history has taught us anything it has taught us that drawing cartoons of prophets can be a very dangerous avocation. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility last Tuesday for a weekend attack at a center near Dallas, Texas, that was exhibiting cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad even  though it offered no evidence of a direct link to the attackers. An audio statement on the extremist group's Al Bayan radio station said that "two soldiers of the caliphate" carried out Sunday's attack and promised the group would deliver more attacks in the future. Because there is already some precedent.
Speaking of that precedent, the massacre at the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was probably enough to give any thinking satirist pause before poking fun at Islam. At that time we were all about "Je suis Charlie," and that kind of solidarity was all about freedom of ideas as much as it was about freedom of religion and the press. The pen may indeed be mightier than the sword, but you've got to have a little bit of time to make that work. This is where terrorism tends to have an advantage. If you're a terrorist, you don't tend to announce your intent ahead of time. Instead, you shoot first and issue a statement of responsibility afterward. This is what tends to generate the terror.
That being said, it should be pointed out that blowing in the face of a pit bull, an especially vicious pit bull, is probably going to get your nose removed from your face. This is something akin to sponsoring a contest for cartoonists to come to a central location, present their funny pictures of the Prophet Muhammad, promoting it, and then being shocked when gunfire erupts. At this point, it should be pointed out that gunfire erupting in Texas shouldn't come as any kind of surprise, but that's a matter for another time. It should also be pointed out that this confrontation is some time in the making, since the woman who organized this fete, Pamela Geller has been at her anti-Muslim ax-grinding for years now. Note to Pamela: If you build it, they will come, if it has a cartoon of Muhammad in it, they will try to blow it up. 
Does it make the shootings in Texas any less tragic than those in Paris? No. There is no moral high ground here. The wounded and the dead just keep getting stacked up like cord wood in this jihad. It's been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years. Now we are apparently going to try to see how mad we can make the Islamic State before they really do start setting up camp here in the United States. How about next time we have a contest to see who can be the most tolerant? Maybe not in Texas. 

Thursday, May 07, 2015


It was many years ago that I adopted this phrase as part of a bit that I called "Non-Sequitur Theater": Dogs run forward in times of trouble. I mixed this in with "At distances of more than one hundred fifty feet, an alligator can outrun a man," and "Until 1980 there were no pianos in China." This was the obverse of a conversational gambit. These words were designed to confound and perplex anyone who would be caught in the crossfire. The trouble is, I cannot verify any of these phrases as true. I have thought, from time to time, that this would be a nice time to call in my own personal Mythbuster episode, but since Adam and Jamie gave the Build Team the heave-ho, I confess I'm not as interested. Instead, I am left to contemplate the vagaries of how these ideas came to rest in my head and be spouted as fact.
The alligator one is simple enough. People have been trying to figure out how to outrun these reptiles for quite some time. Most will counsel running in a zig-zag pattern, since it seems to confuse or frustrate the beast and allows even those less fleet-of-foot to escape the razor sharp teeth and powerful jaws of this oddly designed creature. I guess what I'm saying here is that of the three aphorisms, this one seems to have the barest connection to reality. The number of alligator-taunters in our swampy climes seems to be significant enough to generate some truth in this matter. I would, however, advise against testing this assertion just in case alligators happen to have converted to the metric system at some point and confused matters even more.
As for the state of pianos in the communist state of China, I have no idea from whence this notion came. It might have been that "the piano a despised instrument of the bourgeoisie." Or maybe it was that when the piano was first introduced, "people were spooked:  they thought there were human bones rattling around inside." Perhaps it was a math thing: Eighty-eight keys for all those millions of people, there just wasn't enough ivory to go around. And the 1980? I'm guessing that just popped up because that is right about the time I started doing "Non-Sequitur Theater." So that makes sense, right?
About dogs running forward in times of trouble, I can only say that it appealed to me at the time and still does as a lovely bit of homespun wisdom. I like to believe that it speaks to the fierce and dedicated nature of our canine friends, always willing to rush in where angels fear to tread. Or maybe they are simply too dim at times to notice that the door is right behind them and backing up would have saved them a world of worry and hurt. The most obvious part of this one is that dogs just aren't built for backing up. They can do it, if they have to, but they aren't predisposed to it. Come to think of it, neither are humans, but we manage to do it all the time. Kind of like what I'm doing right now, after years of lurching forward with these apparently nonsensical statements, I am now walking them back to try and give them meaning. Welcome to Sequitur Theater. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Progress Report

Ten years I started this blog by lamenting about the fact that I had never become a stand-up comedian. I was able to stave off any truly morose feelings by remembering the career trajectory of Gabe Kaplan. Little did I know that after a few years of hosting High Stakes Poker on The Game Show Network, after a couple decades of quiet and relative obscurity playing poker professionally, Gabe would once again choose to duck out of the spotlight. Or perhaps he had that path chosen for him. This is something that didn't occur to me as much a decade ago. I was still in the first ten years of my own job versus career struggle. At that point, I had spent longer at that job, teaching, than I had with any other. I could still imagine how things might turn out.
I was the father of an eight year old boy. I was teaching fourth grade as I looked forward to a new installment of the second Star Wars trilogy, the one that was going to close the circle and bring things to a close in a galaxy far, far, away. I didn't own a big screen TV or a cell phone. There were still so many frontiers left to conquer. So many things left to try.
And yet I continued to hit that rut and make it mine. Same school. Same house. Same wife. Same kid. This past weekend my wife and I finally painted over the scratches our dog had made in all the years she had been running in her sleep next to our bed. Same wife had been to Europe. Same son has rounded that corner and headed toward adulthood, with a brief stop in College Land. I believe he will still find a way to turn his father's dream of working at Disneyland into a reality, but that's all part of the rut that I know so well.
Not unlike the well-known rut I find here at Entropical Paradise. Five years ago, I used to wonder if I would have anything left to say after I had recounted every one of my childhood memories. I find that every time I go back to that drawer, there is something new to look at, even if I'm looking at the same fifteen minutes I was reviewing just a month before. This is the gift of consistency. I know my base. Consequently, however, I sometimes find myself curious about what is just over that horizon. Is it a chance to make millions playing poker? Is it inventing the next must-have app for teachers and students alike? Could it be that I was never really cut out to be Spider Man in the first place, and I am really more suited to be Captain America after all?
Or Captain Blog. It doesn't have the same ring, and it will probably never turn into a movie, but it might be a two-minute YouTube clip. Ten years ago, YouTube was a dorky little corner of the Internet for cat videos and porn. Now it's a great big corner of Al Gore's Internet for cat videos and porn, owned by Google. So, I should take heart. Things really do change.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

What Do I Know?

There are those who call boxing "The Sweet Science." It's a martial art, and it was a big deal all over again this past weekend. Mayweather versus Pacquiao? You may have heard something about it. Kids at school were talking about it. Fellow teachers and parents were talking about it. It was a great big deal. The anticipation was not unlike that before a Super Bowl or World Series. It was for the championship, after all. I was asked by any number of people what I thought the outcome would be. I said I wouldn't know. I don't follow boxing. Or rather I don't actively follow any of the martial arts. I am aware of Ultimate Fighters like Mac Danzig and Diego Sanchez. Not because I have watched any of their bouts, but because they are available on Al Gore's Internet. There are people beating each other up for the paying public to watch and cheer on most every night of the week. I find myself drawn to sporting events of most every stripe, but I don't watch mixed martial arts or boxing. Not anymore.
There was a time, way back when. The kids in my neighborhood would gather in the basement of the family that lived across the street from us to watch the heavyweights: Frazier, Foreman, and The Greatest. The Greatest was Muhammad Ali. The former Cassius Clay, whom my mother and father met years before on the streets of Denver when he was an up and comer. In the fight game, that is. It was on one particular Saturday afternoon when ABC Sports brought yet another title defense by Heavyweight Champion of the World Ali against someone not nearly as indomitable or verbose as he was. It was this portion of his career that he developed the "rope-a-dope" strategy, in which he would wait out his opponent by covering up and hanging on the edge of the ring. It made for very boring fights, especially from a guy who used to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Now it wasn't so much floating and stinging as standing around and waiting for the other guy to get real tired. Tired enough to let his guard down and get popped a couple times in the head. It was sometime during the late rounds that Mrs. Across the street neighbor leaned forward in her seat, adjacent to the TV and spoke for one of the few times I could remember: "That Muhammad Ali is one good looking man." Stunned silence from the rest of the room, no one more silent than Mr. Across the street neighbor, save for the steam coming out of his ears.
I wasn't invited back for any more heavyweight fights. Or bantam or fly. Or middle. Somewhere in there, Ali retired. So did Sugar Ray Leonard. And a great many more. I didn't watch them, either. I know some of their names. I just don't know enough to talk about it. Or write this blog.

Monday, May 04, 2015

A Matter Of Degrees

I still have this knee-jerk reaction to click on stories that mention Colorado. Maybe it's more of a mouse-finger-jerk reaction, but it continues essentially unabated since I moved to California more than twenty years ago. This is especially true when I see that it involves a student or school in the Centennial State, the land of my birth. I was a student there. I went to school there. When I left, I had no real inkling that I would eventually become a teacher, but I maintained a strong connection to the institutions and instructors who made me what I am today. That is probably why the story of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and their assault on Columbine High School rang so loud an long in my life. I went to Columbine. Not the high school, but an elementary school in Boulder, not Littleton. In all the ways Columbine High School was not Columbine Elementary School, there was still this connective tissue that ran through it all. Or maybe it was just me. And anyone who watched the events unfold in those days before the turn of the century. Way back when school shootings were national news. Before they became almost interchangeable. Pick a state, pick a grade level. There is a school where you can find victims.
There are people who went to school in Connecticut who probably feel the same way. They probably had the same wish I had, once upon a time, that this would be the last time. These would be the last kids killed in that place where they were supposed to be safe. The name Sandy Hook hangs in the air with the same dreadful weight as Columbine. It used to be that I could satisfy myself with the righteous position of gun control solving the problem. Then there's this: A fourteen year old girl was stabbed in the back at Aspen Creek school in Broomfiled, Colorado last week. I know this because it met my criteria for clickable news: Colorado. School. It was violence at a school, not twenty minutes from where I grew up. And went to school. Not once during those years did I think or worry about being shot, stabbed, maimed or hurt in any way other than the threat of getting beat up (never happened) or teased mercilessly (happened frequently). I lived in fear of being bullied, not of being killed.
I know. That was a different time. It was a different world. I suppose back in those days I could have looked to reports of school violence in California or New York and soothed myself with the idea that something bad could happens to students and teachers someplace else. Not where I grew up and went to school. This was the kind of thing I saw in "Up The Down Staircase." Inner city. Movie inner city. Apparently, I was wrong.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

I broke high school. Not for everyone. Not for always. It was a long time ago, and it really only affected a few hundred people, but I would like to apologize. I am sorry that I broke high school for that group of kids who came along in my wake and hoped to get away with some of the ridiculous things I did and wanted to follow in those somewhat mighty footsteps that I generated way back when. Sorry. Sincerely.
Not that I was such a star. Nor was I particularly popular. I filled a niche that had been waiting to be filled for some time, and with the opportunity arose, I grabbed it, wrestled it to the ground and choked the life out of it. That meant that anyone showing up in the classes right behind me were stuck trying to do a pale imitation of the mess I had created, or had to be satisfied by the restricted path that I had forced the administration to shove us all into as a result of my actions. I wasn't a juvenile delinquent. I was Pep Band President.
I should say from the outset that anarchy was the style of the Boulder High Pep Band long before I arrived on the scene. The first time I went to a football game with my older brother and saw what these guys were doing, I knew I had to be a part of that scene: crazy costumes, boisterous cheers with an attitude, and a powerful sound that belied their outward appearance. These guys could play. That's why it was so cool, to me, that when I found myself with the chance to join that same group. Qualifications: Ability to play a brass or percussion instrument. Check. Willingness to appear in a bizarre variety of dress and manner is a plus, but we had a few members who didn't always take the dressing up to an extreme. Some of us did. This was in large part thanks to my mother, who helped me design and execute a reindeer costume, and a Spider Man uniform, as well as any number of clever combinations of what we found in our store room or the local Army Surplus store. The other element necessary to be a part of this ragtag ensemble was a desire to be a part of a spirit building group. The Pep Band had to act, at times, as if they didn't care about what was happening on the field or court. But we did. Passionately. The Pep Band comprised some of the biggest sports fans in the school. We wore our athletic support proudly.
It was that anarchic edge that got us into trouble, however. When I say "us," I mean "me." I was the one who instigated the commando raid on the gym before the boys' basketball game. I was the one who suggested that we show up to our hated rivals' game dressed in black, carrying a coffin with a banner that read, "RIP Aurora Central" draped across it. I was the who sat across the assistant principal's desk shortly after those incidents and when I was asked what our next costume was going to be, I replied, "Clowns, Ken."
We never went as clowns. That was my way of brushing off authority, with the notion that the school needed us more than we needed them, so the idea of any sort of actual disciplinary action would be out of the question. I was flaunting the relative fame that I had achieved in my corner of the hurly-burly world of high school. I was a band geek but, to paraphrase Anthony Michael Hall in "Sixteen Candles," I was King of the Geeks. It was a nice ride, but it all came crashing to a halt when I missed that bus to the state championship basketball game. I wasn't there to help propel Boulder High's basketball team to victory. Actually, I was there. I sat with my friends, glowering at my band director and his sycophants who followed all the rules. The next Monday, there was an announcement made that the Pep Band needed a new president.
From that spring day on, the fun was drained from Pep Band. A lot of if was drained from me, too. There would be no more surprises or "acting out." Play the charts as written and don't get in the way of the cheerleaders. No one was coming to see the band. They came to watch high school sports, with the occasional and appropriate musical interlude to fire up the crowd. As far as I know, there was never another Pep Band like ours - mine - at Boulder High. For that I am truly sorry. There were plenty of band geeks who came after me who deserved to have the ride I had. I messed that up for them. But oh, what a ride it was. Sorry.