Monday, August 31, 2015

Who Watches Big Brother?

Having an older brother is a wonderful thing. Such a wonderful thing, in fact, that there is a national organization that attempts to generate this relationship for those less fortunate in the sibling department. I feel grateful on just about any day because I had someone out there in front of me, breaking the waves and stomping down a path. Precious little of my development as a youth was not at some level pioneered by my big brother. I went to the same preschool, elementary, junior and high school he did. When it came time to troop off to college, I thought I might try Santa Fe, or maybe Colorado Springs, but I ended up at the University of Colorado. I graduated. Just like my brother before me.
It could be argued that I strayed from the path laid out for me when I didn't end up in law enforcement, but by picking a career in public education I figure I made a pretty strong course correction toward serving my community. My sense of duty and dependability may have come from my parents, but it has been reinforced on a regular basis throughout the years by the dedication I witnessed in my big brother's commitment to his friends, family and jurisdiction.
And I never would have known what was really cool without my older brother around. Like the Beatles. He gave me my first Beatles records. And Pink Floyd. He gave me "Wish You Were Here" when I was thirteen. I was encouraged to listen to it through headphones. He's the one who drove me to my first concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheater. He's the guy who taught me to "chug nachos" and then ride in the front car of Mister Twister. He's the guy who gave me my first car, his beloved red Toyota pickup. He's also the guy who didn't disown me when I dropped that red Toyota pickup off the side of a winding mountain road. He's the guy who had me stand with him on his wedding day and hold his daughter just hours after she was born.
He's the guy.
Today is his day. A moment to reflect, as he likes to remind us, of "another trip around the sun." Thanks for showing me the way. Thanks for making the path a little more clear. Having an older brother is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Us Instead Of Them

The headline read: Why the U.S. is No. 1 - In Mass Shootings. At last, I thought. An answer. Then I was struck by a Marilyn Manson lyric: "The death of one is a tragedy, but the death of a million is just a statistic." Not the most original concept, but certainly in the aftermath of his somewhat contrived connection with the Columbine High School massacre that serves as something of a jumping off point for this discussion, it rang through to me. I was moved at this point to try and discern what, for the purposes of any further discussion, what a "mass shooting" is. More than one victim? The always despicable murder/suicide would therefore be classified in this category, and catastrophes like the one sixteen years ago in Littleton, Colorado are the kind that get their own spot on the History Channel web site. The next link in that chain might possibly be the movie theater shooting in 2012 in Aurora, Colorado. Or any of the other shootings that have taken place since 1966, the time frame that exceeded four deaths, the FBI's measure for what it considers "mass." The article discussed the findings of University of Alabama criminologist Adam Lankford's assertion that America's "exceptionalism" is what keeps us constantly in the lead in this particular category.
That and the guns. Of one hundred seventy-eight countries surveyed, the per capita number of guns in the United states was 88.8 firearms per one hundred people. Two hundred seventy million guns. Second place went to Yemen, with 54.8 per one hundred people. That means that in Yemen, if you wanted to shoot someone, you might have to wait a day until it was your turn to have a gun, then take your best shot. In the United States, you probably won't have to wait that long. Or at all.
America is generally proud of its first class status, but this is not a list at the top of which we should stand tall. I know: Blah blah blah Second Amendment blah blah blah cold dead hands. The problem continues to be those cold dead hands. To that end, Wal Mart is discontinuing the sale of semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15. Like the one purchased by James Holmes that jammed during his rampage through a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. Dark night indeed. Maybe if all the AR-15s purchased from Wal Mart or any other retailer would come pre-jammed, maybe a few more innocent lives could be spared. Maybe gun ownership is enough. Using them for mass killing isn't what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Live On The Air

Earlier this month, as Bay Area camera crews were deploying at Pier 14 to report on the tragic events of a month before that, when Kate Steinle was shot and killed while walking that peaceful bit of scenic San Francisco, a masked gunman rolled up and robbed the reporters and their camera operators. One of them was pistol whipped, and it all happened on live TV. This was not the first time that a news crew was attacked. While reporting on a Powerball winner whose ticket came from a local doughnut shop a different reporter and his cameraman were robbed of their equipment by two men in masks. Television news may not be the glamorous career it had first appeared to be.
Especially now. Across the country in Virginia, a pair of television journalists were shot and killed during a live broadcast. In this case, the shooter turned out to be a disgruntled former co-worker who then crashed his car and shot himself. But not before posting first person video of the event on his Facebook page. I suppose we should be happy to know that keeping the public informed was one of the last things that went through his head. Along with the bullet.
So it turns out that TV News isn't all the hype and glory that we might once have thought, after watching Network and Broadcast News. Somewhere along the line, things became a little more dangerous than Ted Baxter reading the headlines. It's now more on a par with Les Nessman covering the Turkey Drop for WKRP in Cincinnati. But that was radio. One might think that having live video on you at all times might keep you safe.
Unless you're a reporter covering Donald Trump. Donald's shots are currently of the "zinger" variety, but he isn't showing the fourth estate much respect at all. Seldom is the phrase "biting the hand that feeds you" seemed more apt. The Donald had Univision anchor Jorge Ramos removed from a campaign event in Iowa. This came after he told Mister Ramos repeatedly to sit down and "go back to Univision." Somehow, this makes slightly more sense than his attacks on Megyn Kelly, but at this point, maybe it would be good if we just turned off the cameras for a while and gave ourselves some rest.

Friday, August 28, 2015

In The Bottle

I am nothing if not a singular apologist for social media. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it. I am not an apologist for social media. While I fully appreciate the way that technology has allowed humans to connect in ways that would have seemed ridiculous and obscure thirty years ago. Being able to share ideas and pen pal letters with classrooms across the globe with counterparts they have only encountered online is a genius thing. On the other hand, I do have to spend a certain amount of time, mandated time, each year explaining to children why we have to be extremely careful about with whom and where we share information. The cell phones in ten-year-olds' pockets that cost more than the computers in the lab are highly sophisticated machines that are designed with the idea of keeping the bearer of that technology in touch with the world. No worries there. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it.
We should expect that with kids. We wouldn't send them out with a lighter and tell them to start up the gas grill without some very specific training and admonitions. Come to think of it, we probably wouldn't even give them the lighter. Matches, maybe.
What about adults?
"Life is short. Have an affair." That's the slogan of the networking site, Ashley Madison. This is a web site that actively promotes infidelity. As a proponent of technology (see above) this is just about the lowest form of in-your-face-what's-wrong-with-this-world-sign-of-the-coming-apocalypse moral decrepitude that makes people old and young wish that there was something wholesome left in this world. The Ashley Madison folks even had a "money back guarantee: "Your money back if your infidelity is not completely satisfying." What could go wrong?
July of this year, a group calling themselves "The Impact Group" hacked into the membership files of Ashley Madison. Whoops. No more discretion. Now that data was free to roam about Al Gore's Internet in ways that even Al might not have imagined. What were the human costs? So far, two people have committed suicide as a result of having their private lives being made very public. The door is currently kicked wide open for more extortion, scams and bad behavior brought on by what was probably a lark that turned into a twisted trail of broken hearts and dented dreams. Karma? Perhaps, but it brings to mind the image that a fellow teacher once suggested to me about ketchup in a bottle. If you don't want ketchup all over everything, don't take it out of the bottle. There is no clever way to get the ketchup back inside once it's out. In this case, your personal business is the ketchup, and the Internet is the paper plate that will now become covered in that ill-advised attempt at using far too much of a condiment. Messy. Ugly. Marriages and relationships ended because of poorly managed ketchup.
Keep it in the bottle.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Forward Into The Past

If you had a time machine, would you go back to Germany in the early 1930's and kill Hitler? Maybe you would go even further and put a great big hole in the Mayflower, ensuring at least another decade or two of peace and quiet for the Native Americans who were doing just fine without a Thanksgiving Feast, thank you very much. Or maybe your sights are just a little shorter, and you happen to be very interested in movies and entertainment. You might figure out a way to halt production on any of the "worst upcoming movies in the next five years." Sure, you could prevent genocide, but if in your mind any movie made starring Adam Sandler is on a par with the attempted extinction of a race of people, then you understand what we're up against.
Please understand that I once enjoyed a bit of Sandler with some seventies soundtrack embellishment. I enjoyed "Big Daddy." I liked "The Wedding Singer." I laughed at "Happy Gilmore." And I truly enjoyed and respected "Punch Drunk Love." I truly believed, in 2002, that Adam Sandler had hit upon something that might take his acting skills and his whole act to a new level. I was wrong. Now he has become a punch line in the story of his own career. I was even tempted to see "Pixels," because it sounded like a very amusing premise: a group of aging video game players have to save the earth from aliens who descend upon the Earth in the shape of all those arcade hits from long ago. Except it starred Adam Sandler, and so I stayed away.
If only I had access to that time machine. I could go back to 2002 and sit Adam down. I could show him clips of the bile he has been serving up for the past decade or so and tell him that there is no reason he couldn't follow his comedic muse and still maintain a certain level of quality. He could even keep finding ways to keep his buddies gainfully employed. Hire a writer. Or two. Get somebody to direct you who isn't afraid of you.
And don't give up and stick your movie on Netflix because your new movie has been deemed offensive by those Native Americans whom we spoke about earlier. Come to think of it, if there was a way to keep any of Sandler's relatives off the Mayflower, maybe we could change history for the better. For good.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Founded On Dumb

Lawyers for accused terrorist Ayoub El Khazzani reported that their client was "dumbfounded" by allegations that he was on a train last weekend to commit an act of terror. The fact that he was armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, Luger automatic pistol, nine cartridge clips and a box-cutter wasn't fully addressed by the defense team, but I'm guessing that showing up on any sort of public transportation with a box cutter is sending a pretty clear message. That message, according to Mister El Khazzani, would seem to be, "Hey, there are a lot of boxes that need opening on French trains, and if my box cutter gets lost, I can always use my semi-automatic pistol or my machine gun to get them open." That is, unless he had been more successful in his alleged terrorist attack, in which case some rowdy group of militant-types would have claimed responsibility for the acts of this lone gunman. Instead, he turns out to be just that: A lone gunman. Unfortunately for Ayoub, the three American tourists who chose to act together put a pretty solid hurting on him after he got off just a few shots, wounding just one. Not very terror-filled, sorry. At least we now have an answer to the old riddle: When is a terrorist not a terrorist? Of course, I'm willing to bet that when those three college boys were beating him unconscious with his own rifle, there may have been some terror on board that train, but I expect it was pretty centralized. It could also be that the beating he sustained may have been the cause of any "dumbfoundedness."
Meanwhile back here in the states, down Alabama way, Donald Trump was busy stumping for whatever office it is that he seems to be running for currently: CEO, Fuhrer, terrormeister. While wearing his "Make America Great Again" cap and spouting his newly enhanced vitriol, voices in the crowd were crying out: "White Power!" One of these voices later added to the throng of media which now flocks to each and every Trump utterance, “Hopefully, he’s going to sit there and say, ‘When I become elected president, what we’re going to do is we’re going to make the border a vacation spot, it’s going to cost you twenty-five dollars for a permit, and then you get fifty dollars for every confirmed kill. That’d be one nice thing.” That was Trump fan Jim Sherota, a local on hand to cheer the man and his vision. Cheryl Burns, visiting from California with time on her hands to take in the spectacle had this to add: “There is no more California,” she said. “It’s now international, lawless territory. Everything is up for grabs. Illegal aliens are murdering people there. People are being raped. Trump isn’t lying about anything — the rest of the country just hasn’t found out yet.” I live in California, and I didn't know that. You know how I feel?

Dumbfounded. Terrified.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Less Filling

“Never send care packages to the so-called starving families in Europe because they’re not starving at all. Can you afford to live in Europe? No. You can’t even afford to visit Europe. And you know what they do with the care packages you send? They whack them with their polo mallets and kick them in their swimming pools and have a good laugh at your expense.” These are the words that I put away in my memory, along with a great many others, after listening to that National Lampoon record over and over in those formative years. The ones we call "teenage." Those were heady times, back when my world view was still forming, but comedy albums were essential for the generation of that view. Those of you who have kept track of that vision over the years shouldn't be surprised that mine comes with a laugh track.
But now back to that whole starving children concern. I was never truly badgered by my parents to clean my plate, at least in as much as it could have saved lives in some foreign country. In Europe, Asia, or even down the street from where I lived. This lack of hectoring may have been due, in part, to the way my brothers and I devoured the meals set in front of us. We were good little eaters. And my mom was pretty good about putting permutations of meat and cheese in front of us so that we only had ourselves to blame if we went to bed hungry. There wasn't a lot of food being pushed around the plate, unless it was on it's way to one of our gaping maws. Starving children, indeed.
But if there was a place that I had been led to believe was full of children in need of a square meal, it was India. Imagine my surprise when, this past weekend, I opened up this story about "the obesity epidemic" in India. Soda, candy, Flamin' Hot Cheetos and all that good junk is finding its way into the formerly malnourished bellies of the teenagers in Delhi. Okay, so maybe malnourished is still pretty much the case if you take that as "bad nourishment." Man cannot live on Flamin' Hot Cheetos alone. More good news: The United States is no longer number one on the list of childhood obesity. That distinction now belongs to Greece. Italy is number two, followed by New Zealand and Slovenia. Estados Unidos shows up as number five. Sure, we're still in the top ten, but it looks like all those carrot sticks and Wii Fit seems to be paying off.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bon Voyage

First day of school? Probably somewhere in the low three thousands by now, and those are just the days I've been teaching. There are a few thousand more if you include the days I spent on the other side of the fence, being a pupil. Now it feels more like hitting the reset button. Last week, along with the rest of the teachers and staff at my school, I scurried about preparing for this eventuality: the day when the kiddos come tumbling through those doors en masse. We meet on the playground, after we have double and triple checked those class lists just to make certain that we really are going where we thought we were going. Downstairs? Third, fourth and fifth grades. The Kindergarten and first grade rooms are all upstairs. Second grade? Just down the hall. We all know because we have spent the better part of a week, some of us more, making those rooms ready for all the learning that will take place inside.
New paper goes up on the bulletin boards, like leaves falling from the trees, it's a sure sign of autumn coming. The pencils are as sharp as they are ever going to be, and all the name tags are still firmly affixed to the top of every desk. Nothing is tattered or torn. Books without covers have been replaced with shiny new ones in hopes that the new class will handle them with love and respect. These are the wishes of every student and every teacher in the building: love and respect. If we start out the year that way, there's nothing we cannot learn.
I know all this potential will have some big twists and turns in the next nine months. Before this school year is through, there will be tears. There will be disappointments. There will be victories. There will be joy. And Spring Break will take forever to get here.
That's okay, it's pretty much the way it's always been. Sure, we don't have chalk boards anymore, and the computers the kids carry into the school, the ones we make them turn off and put away while we hand them vastly inferior models that don't have nearly as amusing or diverting software, make me wonder how I can teach these whippersnappers anything.
But I'll figure it out. That's part of the reason they give us one hundred eighty days to make it work. By the time we pull this train back into the station in June, we will have seen the world, or a nice slice of it, and we will all be richer for the experience. Every journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step. Today is that step. Bon voyage!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Anchors Aweigh, Baby

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is nearly two hundred years old. That doesn't mean that it is part of the firmament and can never be challenged. Section One, for example, reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." All that talk about liberty and protection of the laws, that's good stuff, right? 
What it means is this: If you were born here, you belong here. You're a citizen of the United States because that's where you were born. It even counts for Hawaii. It hasn't always been a popular notion. Not everyone thought, after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed and slavery was abolished, that newly freed slaves ought to be citizens. What to do with nearly four million new immigrants who were very tired, hungry and poor, looking to breathe free? Pass another amendment to the Constitution that would allow them to become part of this ever growing republic. According to one well known politician, "no sane country" would allow automatic citizenship. That very conservative sounding thought comes from the mouth of Senator Harry Reid, Democrat from Nevada. Of course, what sane country would produce Donald Trump?
It is the Donald's opinion that Heidi Klum is no longer a "ten," and that this whole Fourteenth Amendment business will not stand up in court. Having recently spent some time on jury duty, I have to imagine that he's pretty up on his jurisprudence. Mister Trump, whose name comes from playing a card that wins a trick, and in this case the trick is on us. Or maybe it's all part of an elaborate plan to be rid of that awful wife of his. But his kids, born to the Czech immigrant would still get to hang around here, right? But not if he keeps mouthing off at Bill O'Reilly. Bill gets the whole wall thing, but not the mass deportations. Can somebody please call Herman Cain and get him into this mix? At least he brought pizza. Good old American pizza

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Guilty Pleasure

Imagine, if you will, that you are a college student somewhere in the Midwest. Your prospects, as a tubby glasses-wearing fellow seem limited in the extreme. Until one day, you have this genius idea: What if I ate nothing but one particular fast food for months at a time? This kind of diet nearly killed Morgan Spurlock, but did win him a best director award at Sundance. This Midwest kid did manage to lose a bunch of weight. Enough to impress a former dormmate who wrote about him for the school's newspaper. That article was in turn picked up by Men's Health magazine, and from there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Madison Avenue where a weight loss program that was tailor made for a before and after campaign was born almost out of necessity. This guy lost a whole extra person. A big one. He subsequently became the face of that fast food chain, starting way back before the turn of the century.
The story doesn't end there. This fellow used his new found fame and wealth to establish a foundation to create awareness about childhood obesity and find ways to help stem the tide of this national trend. This guy was a celebrity, due primarily to his willingness to consume the same basic meal over a span of years. If the story ended here, it would be heartwarming, but since it is America and our heroes seem to have a ticking time bomb affixed to them, it makes sad sense that there would be an end to this inspirational tale.
Jared Fogle plead guilty to paying for sex with minors and receiving child pornography. This came just a couple of months after the executive director of the Jared Foundation was taken into custody on similar charges. At this point, decorum suggests that we limit any further discussion of five dollar footlongs. It is now a sad story, and one that cannot end well. I will assume that the "black card" that Mister Fogle bragged about two years ago that would give him free meals at Subway for life has been revoked. And his marriage has ended. Jared's own children will probably never see him the same way they used to. Child pornographer is not the way most people want their story to end, but you can probably stick a fork in this one, because it's done.
But I can't help wondering if he had never bothered with the sub sandwiches or the interviews or the TV ads. Would he have had a happy ending, instead of that happy but ugly middle? F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American lives. Jared got his. Unfortunately, it was followed by a third. The end.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Look

Generally speaking, I'm a fan of nerds. Not the "grape and strawberry" pebbles that get passed of as candy treats to unsuspecting children, but rather those individuals who society has deemed "overly intellectual, obsessive, or lacking social skills." This epithet has been used as a pejorative for as long as I can remember, even before the Fonz was the arbiter of what "cool" was. As a matter of fact, as it was explained to me back in the day, only nerds wore Fonzie T-shirts. 
I had a Fonzie T-shirt. I would love to say that I wore it proudly, but I didn't wear much proudly in my youth. I listened to the increasingly harsh words from my peers, or perhaps my betters if we were to take the social strata of junior high school as the measure. I seemed to always be at least a note or two behind when it came to pop culture's evolution. I couldn't understand, for example, how wearing sneakers with four stripes on them made me any less cool than those around me who wore only three on theirs. It did not fully occur to me that the difference between our shoes was the brand name and hence the price. Mine came from Penny's. Theirs were Adidas. For real. Having that conversation with my mom only seemed to cement my social status even further. "Would you really want to be friends with anyone who would only be friends with you because of the kind of tennis shoes you wore?" 
If I were to have answered my mother truthfully, I probably would have said something like, "If only that was all that it took." I knew that having the right clothes and shoes was just the beginning. Perfecting the attitude that went along with that look was  a leap that I was ill-prepared to make. As desperate as I was for acceptance, I was unable to remain unfazed by the seeming ambivalence of the in crowd. All the reassurances in the world could not keep me from feeling that those were the words that were keeping me stuck at the bottom of the adolescent pecking order. I was encouraged to be myself. That is precisely what got me into trouble. 
I played tuba in the concert band. My glasses were as thick as the tangles in my hair. Even my vain attempts to become part of the sporting life put me on "B" mat wrestling and a spot as backup shot put on the track team. Unbuttoning that one extra button on my polyester shirt just made me all the more horribly self-conscious. Who was I fooling? I would much rather be at home playing Atari or memorizing Monty Python records. The dress code in my basement was considerably more lax than the one generated by those disapproving teens who surrounded me at school. 
This is probably why I light up when I hear some kid out on our playground giving someone else grief about how "you got your shoes from Payless." Good for them, I say, since that family is saving things for the really important things in life. Like Atari cartridges and Monty Python records. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rumble In Our Hood

Hours later, things were normal again. All the dishes had been put away. It was just another evening at the Caven ranch. Forgotten was the terror of the morning that came before it. You see, out here in California, the earth's crust tends to shift and move, causing those of us who understood the firma part of terra firma from their youth in much more stable states to imagine what someone once called "The Big One."
Earthquakes aren't anything new to me. Not after twenty-three years of surfing the edge of the continent while we all consider things like faults and Richter scales. This particular morning, after a flurry of guesses from my wife and myself, we got the news: 4.0. Initially, the scientists wanted to pet it at a much more exotic 4.2, which would have made it feel, well, more scientific. I was standing in my kitchen, putting soap in the dishwasher, wearing my bathrobe. When the house began to shake like it had been hit by a truck, my first reaction was frustration: "Great. Now I'll have to fix whatever is broken because this act of nature," and that thought trailed off. It was replaced abruptly by fear: "Earthquake. That's right. Earthquake. Do something, you ninny!" That adrenaline rush was pushing me toward all those clever solutions to this dilemma. I was going to stand in a doorway. No. Wait. They don't want us to stand in a doorway anymore. Where do they want us to stand? Stupid them. Earthquake experts who can't tell us when the next one is going to occur, and can't agree on where we should stand to be safe when the earth does quake. Frustration was back.
I was about to get back on the fright train when the shaking stopped. As quickly as it had appeared, it was gone again. Then I called out to my wife and son, who had been resting peacefully in their beds when the planet proved to be less than stable. My wife returned my call with an all clear, but I needed to see if my son, who has slept through all manner of disruptive phenomenon, had stirred when the walls of his room began to sway left and right. He was awake, fumbling for his phone to dial up the United States Geological Service. These are the folks who are in charge of killing any buzz that we all might have had about living through "The Big One."
That wasn't it. Not even close. Sure, it made me frustrated and anxious and frustrated again, but it didn't get anywhere near that six or seven that would make us all get our pictures in the news. When asked if this was some sort of harbinger of what might be the Big One still to come, the USGS folks rolled their geological eyes at that notion and essentially reiterated that earthquakes come when they please and don't tend to let us all in on their whereabouts or points of origin until after the fact. When the dishes are back in the cupboard and everything seems so normal and firm beneath our feet again.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Name Sake

These days, the people I work with have a Mr. or Ms. in front of their name. This is so very much the convention in the world of teaching that I have on many occasions had experiences similar to this: At our staff Christmas party, held in my home, as libations have begun to flow and inhibitions have lowered substantially, I have met a weaving co-worker on their way into the kitchen. "Mister Caven, where do I find the wine opener?" I'm guessing that after a good portion of that first bottle of chardonnay has been consumed and/or spilled on the carpet, the formality needed on the second diminishes substantially. Or the third. You get the idea. Still, I maintain to any child who asks me while I am in classroom mode that my first name is "Mister," because it's just easier that way.
But I have worked with a Snake. And a Rat. These were not their Asian zodiac signs. These were not their Christian names, either. Snake was a bartender in one of the quintessential watering holes of 1970's Boulder: Tico's. While I can't say that I worked alongside Snake in any sort of Bryan Brown/Tom Cruise Cocktail fashion, but in my capacity as a dishwasher, I did everything I could to keep him in clean glasses. Sometimes, when a rack of steaming hot stemware came out of the Hobart, I would carry it over to the side door of the bar, where he would give me one of the coolest nods in the world, fitting for a guy named Snake. A bartender named Snake.
I only worked at Tico's for a summer. I wasn't there long enough to get a nickname. It was my next stop in the food chain that I stuck around long enough to get that distinction. At the Arby's where I worked, everyone had a nickname. New employees were referred to as "Tuna," even though they wore name tags with their first names stuck to them in meticulously created Dymo label. Managers, or "Kingfish" as they were called, wore specially made tags with their names permanently etched onto them. Not their Christian names. The guy who hired me wore a tag that said "Rat." I also moved roast beef sandwiches around with "B.C." and "Babs," and we were all watched over by the benevolent eye of "Waldo." I had only been there a couple of months when I got my hands on the label maker and made my own tag: "Davo." It was a break in precedent. Tuna didn't have nicknames, but somehow I managed to usurp the dominant paradigm. Eventually I would earn my own managerial name tag with that moniker forever carved in plastic. Rat would eventually prove true to his name, and while I have had occasion to look up Waldo, and have always wondered what happened after Rat broke up with Babs for what must have been the leventy-seventh time, I haven't spent a lot of time wondering about the fate he met.
What is in a name, after all?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Super Size

China: not the stuff on your table, but the super power to whom we owe a bunch of money. The good news is that we're paying that down, little by little. Still, as debt goes, one super power owing money to another super power doesn't always make for the best relations. I'm guessing this is something like Superman borrowing a few bucks from Batman to cover rent on Clark Kent's Metropolis apartment. Sitting around that big table in Justice League Headquarters, "Pssst. Bruce. Can you spare a couple of Batbucks for an old friend? Mild-mannered reporting doesn't pay like it used to."
Sure, if Lex Luthor decided to turn his latest weapon of comic book disruption on the citizens of Gotham City, you can bet that Superman would forget about who owes who money and head on over to put a hurt on Lex and send him back to the maximum security facility for hair-deficient super-villains where he belongs. Just like we're going to do whatever is asked in the wake of the explosion in Tianjin. With more than a hundred already confirmed dead and families still looking for missing relatives with poisonous gas and fires still raging, the tragedy continues. Superman doesn't just phone it in. The United States is in it to win it. Hearts and minds.
In the meantime, a good friend of mine spent an evening talking to a girl from China who stopped by these States of America long enough to shed some light on the education of the proletariat. Five and a half days a week in school. School lasts until after dinner, and during nap time you have to nap. No texting or looking at Youtube. Two hours of homework time is done at school, where there won't be anything else done like reading Harry Potter. Maybe some doodling in the margins of the oppressively boring workbooks. We will even head on over to make sure that they learn to speak English, so when the time comes for America to roll over, they will know how to announce it.
I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't do everything we can when it comes to humanitarian aid, no matter where or when those humans are in danger. I am thinking that maybe the Chinese Bat Signal might be a little hard to see through all that smog.

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's Okay, He's With The Band

I have always enjoyed Joe Walsh's take on the mercurial nature of the Eagles. He figures he's the only real member, since he's the only one who never quit. Or got fired or shunned or excommunicated. He, compared to some of the other birds of a feather, has worked and played well with others. Even if that working and playing sometimes came at the expense of a hotel room or two, Joe Walsh was a team player.
That's kind of unusual for rock and roll. Take, for example, the guys in Creedence Clearwater Revival. Tom and John Fogerty were brothers when they signed with Fantasy records back in 1964. Eight years later, they weren't in a band together anymore, and they never mannaged to reconcile their differences before Tom died of AIDS in 1990. A reunion of the original lineup cannot be revived or revisited. CCR belings to a gaggle of groups in that category: Beatles, Beach Boys, NWA. The noises that John Lennon, Dennis Wilson, and Easy-E made can't be made again. Recreated? Maybe, but not reunited.
That's probably why Robert Plant passed up eight hundred million dollars for a Led Zeppelin reunion. That's nearly a billion dollars for getting together with some old friends and playing some old songs. The last time the group got together as a group was thrity-five years ago. In 1980, drummer John Bonham died and took his sticks up that Stairway to Heaven. Since then, there have been big wads of cash thrown in the surviving members' general direction to get some of that monsters of rock guitar herro meetalhead music. Live. With Bonzo's son filling in on skins. Three shows: London, Berlin, and New Jersey. Most of a billion dollars. Come on guys. You all just put aside your differences a couple of years ago for "Celebration Day." Of course, they're still selling records, so why bother to tour? 
It's been twenty-one years since Pink Floyd put a new album out, and it will probably be a little longer, like forever before there is another one. "I'm done with it. I've had forty-eight years in Pink Floyd -- quite a few of those years at the beginning, with Roger," says guitarist David Gilmor referencing bandmate Roger Waters. "And those years in what is now considered to be our heyday were ninety-five per cent musically fulfilling and joyous and full of fun and laughter. And I certainly don't want to let the other five per cent color my view of what was a long and fantastic time together. But it has run its course, we are done - and it would be fakery to go back and do it again." Fakery. Ouch.
And maybe, aside from Syd Barret's absence, it might be worth pointing out that rock and roll used to be for the young, not just the young at heart. Oh, and good seats are still available for the "Who's Left: Fifty Years of the Who" tour. With Ringo on drums?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Answering Machine

I'm a lonely guy. Maybe not in a league with those depicted in the film by the same name, but I do spend a good deal of time wondering where everyone else went. Sometimes I play like I get abandoned, but the truth is more like I choose to stay behind when there are crowds involved. An interesting irony, coming from a guy whose favorite place beyond his couch is wandering around the throngs of humanity in Disneyland. And there's that job where I wade into a sea of kids five days a week. How could I be lonely?
That is a question best left for professionals and those who are paid to discern such things. Instead, I feel the need to dwell on this one aspect of my supposed suffering: the telephone. If you have ever reached the voice mail at our home, you know that we have made a little joke about the fact that most of the phone calls that come to our home are not for me. Maybe that's why I like to answer the phone, just on the off chance that someone might be coerced into chatting with me. Sometimes this comes as more than a little distraction for those who have specific business with my wife or son. For those of you who have encountered this gauntlet, you have my apologies. Then came technology.
First there was the cellular telephone. This meant that people who had the full intent of speaking directly to the person they had in mind when they dialed. No more wading through the absurd pleasantries of the wacky dad or husband. Direct contact with the person to whom you had placed the call? That sounds pretty convenient. Sounds lonely to me. For me.
Then came the real death knell for my fun time on the phone: caller ID. Now you could tell with a glance who was on the other end. Answering the phone became less of an art and more of a chore. Now when I say "Hi, who is this?" I am mostly just playing around, unless the party on the other end has been clever enough to mask their identity. These are the ones I get. Sure, they're mostly telemarketers, calling as they will around dinner time, but the opportunity to chat it up with a sales rep from a carpet cleaning service is one I still leap for. And yes, I know this makes me appear just a little desperate. I'm okay with that. I'm just hoping that Diana from Stanley Steamer calls back.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Opening Day

That muffled thud you heard was the sound of my remote control hitting the floor, as it has finished useful purpose for the next few months. I switched over to the NFL Network, which is where you will find me most of the time for the next five months or so. I know: It's only training camp and exhibition games, but this is how it starts. There will be plenty of action to keep track of, both on and off the field.
Will Tom Brady be able to put concerns about his pool cover? Will Ray Rice play football again, or will he and Adrian Peterson throw in with a new Mixed Martial Arts crew that specializes in cage matches with little kids and women? Maybe Ronda Rousey could settle both their hash at once. I might pay to see that.
But that would mean changing the channel, and I'm not sure I am ready to do that, especially when I've got grown men beating on each other, and not always in any sort of sanctioned way. New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith got into a bit of a scrape with a teammate last week over a plane ticket. Apparently, Geno owed IK Enemkpali six hundred dollars for a plane ticket and told him that he wasn't going to pay him back. Smith punctuated his assertion with the words, "well, you're not going to do anything about it." And he waved a finger in his faace. I'm guessing that particular combination in the midst of a confrontation with a six foot four, two hundred forty pound professional linebacker, whose job is to pick quarterbacks up and put them on the ground, didn't help resolve things. That would explain Geno Smith's broken jaw.
This is where I start to switch my perspective, from NFL fanboy to elementary school teacher. What lessons could be taken from this series of incidents? The good news is that this was one football player hitting another, not a defenseless wife or child. The bad news is that the whole enterprise could have been avoided. Should have been avoided. Will the lesson that Geno Smith learns via sitting out six to ten weeks with his jaw wired shut be enough to get him to reconsider how he pays his debts and deals with his teammates? Will IK Enemkpali be happy with the consequences of taking his star quarterback out of the mix for half a season? Will the San Diego Chargers move to Los Angeles?
It's still early.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Promise Keepers

Does anybody else remember when Geraldo Rivera invited a group of skinheads to be guests on his show back in 1988? It didn't take too long before one of the other invited guests, chairman of the Congress On Racial Equality, was up out of his seat and ready to duke it out with his moral and political opposites. The resulting melee became the stuff of syndicated television legend. Twenty-seven years later, Geraldo is still working some of those same angles, most recently in the streets of Baltimore, as riots and unrest provided night after night of TV designed to frighten and incite. There aren't many who are better at generating scenes roughly akin to putting a porcupine in charge of a balloon factory.
It would be my guess that the brain trust behind the "Oath Keepers" are big fans of Geraldo's work. They are serious about their oath, the one about defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. How do you protect a bunch of ideas written on a piece of parchment that is itself under constant heavy guard? Send some guys with guns out into the streets to make sure that nobody messes with the ideals set forth by those proponents of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. On the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, the Oath Keepers were there, according to those who spoke to reporters, to protect a media organization. Which media organization? That wasn't immediately clear, but for the members of local Missouri law enforcement, their presence was "unnecessary and inflammatory."
Seriously? Heavily armed men showing up on the streets at a moment of heightened emotion and stress will have a calming effect? If they are really there to protect our freedom of the press or the right to bear arms or maybe that trial by jury thing, which it turns out is a pretty good deal when you get in trouble for messing with somebody's Constitutional Rights. The Oath Keepers promise not to disarm the American people. This would be kind of a problem if there was an American threatening a journalist from some media organization with a gun. What a dilemma.
Turns out the media organization in question was, the web site that insists that the shuttle disaster was caused by criminal negligence. And other things. Which makes me wonder what sort of conspiratorial forces must have been at work when someone emptied Al Capone's vault before the real secret could be revealed. If only Oath Keepers had been there to protect the Constitution. And the broken bottles and bad ideas inside.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

You Know: For Kids

When I was a kid, in another time, another place, my parents brought a record into our house called "Free To Be You And Me." Somewhat abruptly, it became a part of my record collection. I was ten years old. It was 1972. It was full of feel-good stories and songs about gender neutrality. This was the dawning, not of the Age of Aquarius, but the age of Aphrodite. This is when Ms. Magazine first hit the stands, and consequently a lot of other things hit the fan.
But not at our house. There was a pretty free and easy sense of how this whole women's lib thing was going to go down. The apocryphal tale told about my mother's awakening to feminism is when she uttered the immortal cry, "I'm going to get a subscription to Ms. Magazine," and with a comic beat that will live forever in our family's legacy, "Can I?" In a household filled with male energy, my mother dealt with three sons, a husband and a male dachshund and their demands. We all agreed that this Women's Movement was a great thing and we were all in favor of it as long as there were still cookies in the cookie jar and dinner on the table.
Maybe that's a little simple, but like so much else about living in the liberal enclave that was Boulder, Colorado in the early seventies. As a fourth grader in that corner of the world, I was fertile ground for this new ideal: Boys and girls are equal. We would grow up in a world where there would not be dividing lines between the games boys and girls played or the toys with which they played. Free to be you and me. To wit we ended up with sensitive guy and feminist hero Alan Alda singing a song, "William Wants A Doll." No less a persona than Hawkeye Pierce was telling me that it was okay for me, a boy, to want a doll. I wouldn't be a sissy if I did. And someday, when I became a dad, I would be a better man for the experience.
Well, as it turns out, I had some dolls. Only they were action figures: GI Joe, Captain Action, Major Matt Mason. None of my dolls needed to be fed or have their diapers changed, but I was assured that if I chose to have one of those kind of dolls that ate and wet and so on that Alan and his good friend Marlo Thomas would back me up.
I never did get one, but now that it is 2015, I am pleased and happy to report that Target stores have finally caught up to Mr. Alda and Ms. Thomas. They are "moving away" from making gender assignments to products in their home, toy and entertainment sections. Pink sheets, blue sheets? Doesn't matter. For Target, they are just "for kids." At this same moment in time, my wife has been interested in getting herself a Black Widow action figure. They are not easy to find. What's a girl or boy to do?
Make it yourself. Free to be you and me, barring certain legal and copyright entanglements.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Aisle Of View

The young man rolled his bicycle through the aisles of the hardware store. He seemed to be looking for some of the same items that my wife and I were. Not like we were following one another, but rather he was moving in one direction while we went in the other. This allowed us to cross paths a few times before we reached the back, where the nuts and bolts are kept. While my wife went to ask a helpful hardware man in a red vest to match up our hardware, I waited in the aisle as Mister Bike passed by one more time, and stopped.
He looked at the shelves next to him, and then at the young woman who stood in front of him. "Can you help me?"
For a moment, the woman stammered, looked left, then right, and made a gesture as if to say, "I don't have a red vest."
Mister Bike asked again, more politely, "I was wondering if you could help me out?"
Now Pretty Lady spoke, more explicitly, "I don't work here."
"I was wondering if you could help me out with your phone number?"
And there it was: Pickup in the nuts and bolts aisle of the hardware store. There was a moment or two of indecision, which I was acutely aware of but tried not to pay direct attention to because my wife was still working on our issue, but Pretty Lady took an embarrassed breath and then acceded to Mister Bike's request. It was beautiful. It was tacky. It was beautifully tacky.
I had no idea that such things really occurred outside of TV and movies. Well, to be fair, I did witness a few instances of a similar behavior from my best friend and college roommate, but it always seemed to me that these exploits were better suited for TV and movies. Had I taken the time to write them down in some sort of clever order, I might be working for some cable channel, cranking out meet-cute scripts that would amaze and amuse anyone who happened to land on that moment I had bothered to catalog.
Or maybe everyone has a moment like that and I just happened along at the precise moment when Mister Bike and Pretty Lady began their journey into happily ever after. Silly me. I thought all those moments now took place on Al Gore's Internet. Or maybe this kind of thing happens all the time, on street corners and shopping malls all across the globe. Mabye it even happened between my wife and I, once upon a time. I just negelected to write it down.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

On The Download

Did you get Windows 10 yet? I signed up for my free upgrade months ago, at my son's behest. At the time, I had been staring at the notification in the bottom right hand corner of my screen for a few days. I could not believe that Bill Gates was going to simply hand over important technological breakthroughs. For free? I have spent a great deal of time and effort teaching my son that anything that sounds too good to be true probably isn't. That's how they get you. Sign up for something that says "free," and you can almost guarantee that sooner or later you'll end up paying for it in one way or another. My son, with the patience of a child who has grown weary of his father's lessons, listened to my well-founded paranoia and told me to lighten up and sign up.
I did. Then I waited. The little icon in the corner of my screen kept taunting me with the enticing and nearly constant reminder of the July 29 release date. When that day came and went, I started to get fussy. "See, I told you," I lamented to my son.
"Dad, you can just go to their web site and download it right now." Easy.
"No, I'll wait." Somehow, I figured that if the free download never came my defeatist mentality would be vindicated. So I waited. Every day, I assumed that I would find some new notification or I would discover my screen in a weird state of flux. When I didn't, I clicked on that icon, expecting to be told that there was some problem with my account and I would be cordially invited to purchase Windows 10 at some low discount price. But not free.
Then, last Thursday night, it was my turn. All of a sudden, I was being asked to click on a few buttons and watch while my former Windows 7 magically transformed into a platform three generations removed. I was getting updated without having to buy a new machine. It turned out to be reletively painless, and much to my son's chagrin, free.
To be honest, I haven't discovered a lot of the bells and whistles that are supposed to be out there. I hear there's something called "Cortana," a personal assistant that I can only assume is on a par with Siri and her ilk. For free. If I remember right, Skynet was a free download too.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sweet Nothings

What do you get for the girl who has everything? The logical answer, it only occurs to me at this moment is: Nothing. That would be something that she doesn't have, and therefore logically it follows that to give the gift that will truly be appreciated and acknowledged, I should do just that.
Except I won't. I like giving her presents, because she seems to enjoy my attempts at getting it just right. Or nearly right. I buy sweaters that are too small and shoes that are too big. I bought her a punching bag once upon a time, and it turned out to be most appreciated - by me.
What to do then, for this woman on the celebration of the day of her birth? How about this: On a pretty regular basis, she greets me in the morning with a detailed account of the dream she has had the night before. The theme of creative architecture is one that runs deep within her. It could be that she is manifesting her plans for world domination in her dreams only shortly before they appear in front of us all in real life. It could be that she just wants more room for her shoes. I won't be buying her any more shoes, but I can do something about that room thing.
Lately, we have been experimenting with the attic. We put a floor up there, with the nagging possibility of eventually finding an easier entrance and egress than the tiny ladder that we have to climb up through a closet. That will have to remain part of the subconscious while we gather ourselves for a more practical assault on a stairway. The same can be said of our floundering attempts at making our basement more habitable, but so far we have only succeeded in generating a space for teenage boys to occasionally flop down on bean bags that have been dragged down there along with several extension cords so they can have the experience of playing video games together in what must seem like a rough approximation of a post-zombie-apocalypse bunker.
Can't go up. Can't go down. I guess we'll just have to settle for the bathroom. For the past several years, there has been a wish for an upgrade of some measure in our master bath. The fear of changing plumbing fixtures now far behind me, I felt that I could challenge myself a little by tearing up the floor and replacing it with something that will be new to us, which will be magic compared to the linoleum which greeted us upon our arrival eighteen years ago. And she'll get that sink that she has been wishing for almost as long.
A dream partially fulfilled, since the bathtub and tile continue to be of a vintage known only to the previous owners of the house, and perhaps before that. In time, that too will feel the move and shake of our homeowner's whims. For now, half the bathroom will be the nothing that I give the girl who has everything. She's got me, after all. Happy birthday.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Limited Exposure

Lenny Kravitz broke the Internet. Okay, maybe that's not exactly what happened. First, Mister Kravitz broke a seam on his leather pants, and then the Internet was broken. Not by Mister Kravitz, but rather by the hordes of onlookers rushing forward to click on the links to the wardrobe malfunction that occurred as he squatted down to emphasize his guitar hero credentials. Because there was video. I will pause now, in case you happen to fall into that sliver of a percent of Americans with access to Al Gore's Internet who didn't find some way to gaze upon the result of the sudden release of stress on a seam meant to hold your standard rock star and his nether region in place for the duration of your standard rock show. You will need only three words: Lenny Kravitz pants.
I'll wait here.
Okay, now that you've satisfied your purient interest, I feel the need to point out that what you saw, if you actually did take the time to search out Mister Kravitz's naughty bits, that what you saw was one hundred percent more of Lenny's altogetherness than anyone at the Dinner Key Auditorium saw of Jim Morrison's hidden talent back in 1969. It was also more explicit in its display than Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at Super Bowl XXXVIII back in 2004, though probably not nearly as intentional. Certainly there is a much longer tradition of women falling out of their carefully considered fashion choices, but we should all consider this a return to the roots, if you'll pardon the pun.
And it's 2015. This is how we deal with things like this now. I am not guessing that authorities in Sweden will bar Lenny Kravitz from entering or exiting the country. He probably won't have to pay any fines or serve any time. The number of people who accessed the video of Lenny is probably on a par, thanks in no small part to my referencing it here, to the audience of Janet Jackson's indiscretion. YouTube will not be asked to pay any half million dollar fines, as CBS was asked to pay eleven years ago for their part in bringing Ms. Jackson up close and personal and straight into your living room. Jim wandered off to France, where he got fat and drunk and died in a bathtub. Or did he?
Maybe Jim Morrison is alive and well and living in Stockholm, where he occasionally drops by the Grona Lund theme park, just to take in a show. And maybe he caught Lenny's act the other day, if you know what I mean. And smiled.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Dis Course

There was a moment, many elections ago, when Jon Lovitz appeared as Michael Dukakis across the stage from a babbling Dana Carvey doing his best Thousand Points of Light George Bush. When the Bush-speak flurry subsided, faux Dukakis lamented, "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy." Maybe that was how things were destined to turn out, regardless how Saturday Night Live affects or impacts the electoral process in this great land of ours. But this is they way of political discourse in America these days. Me? I blame Roger Ebert.
I should say from the outset that I have great respect for the written film criticism of the late Mister Ebert. I spent an afternoon entranced by the nearly shot-by-shot breakdown of Casablanca. As a film lover and student, I was amazed at all the insights and thought he was able to pull out of this chestnut. It was most satisfying, especially when contrasted with his regular appearances in the "balcony" on PBS's Sneak Previews and later in syndication At The Movies. Roger split time on these shows with his frenemy Gene Siskel, another noted Chicago newspaper film critic. Putting these two guys on television immediately elevated their commentary above that of their suddenly second-tier colleagues who didn't have the kind of face time these two Windy City guys were presented. It was at this moment, when film criticism switched to Pauline Kael's periodically cruel but incisive examination of the art of film to a Consumer Reports model of "thumbs up or thumbs down." The how and why became less important than the direction of that one digit. Taking apart a film, good or bad, in search of the qualities that made it more or less entertaining was now distilled to a gesture.
Which brings me to the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Back in 1858, before C-SPAN or PBS or even Roger Ailes, political debates were not exercises in sound bites. They were sound meals. Opening remarks for each of these candidates for a seat in the United States Senate lasted an hour or more. Then rebuttals would go on for half an hour. There was no rush to get good tape for the nightly news, since it didn't exist. Points were made in great blooms of oration, with to occasional bon mot or accusation. As many as ten thousand people attended these debates to watch them live. The Quicken Loans arena holds twice that number, but I'm not guessing those in attendance experienced more of the Siskel and Ebert side of things than Lincoln and Douglas.
And who should I blame? Siskel, Ebert, Lincoln and Douglas are all gone now. We are stuck with the GOP clown car. For which I give my personal thumbs down.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Keeping It Real

The Real World was a television experiment that began on MTV, the former Music Televison, and has been playing more or less regularly on screens for the past twenty-three years. Another way to look at it would be this: If one of those original New York cast had conceived a child, that child would now be about the right age to show up as a new cast member on yet another season of the reality show. Reality and TV. Back in 1973 when PBS aired "The American Family," those words didn't get tossed together with such facility. Even though the Vietnam war was winding down on their Motorola, and the situation comedy MASH was just starting its eleven year run, oulasting the war it was recounting by eight years. Really.
Now that we live in the twenty-first century and everyone is on video all the time, and we have access to the footage on our phones that we now carry in our pockets, reality TV is everywhere all the time. Television news isn't brought to you by camera crews and reporters. It comes to you via closed circuit cameras and GoPros and iPhones. Alert viewers aren't just phoning tips, they're providing content. Dan Rather is now busy interviewing Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo.
That's what I was thinking about after catching the last half hour of The Truman Show. What seemed a remarkable conceit back in 1998 now seems pretty tame. There are plenty of kids being born and raised under the unblinking eye of social media. You want the Real World? How about feeding the dog? Taking out the trash? Reality TV. Kardashians? Really?
Then I remembered that other movie about TV from 1998: Pleasantville. Remember before Tobey Maguire was Spider Man, and he wanted to go live inside his favorite TV program? Who wouldn't want to live in that simpler time, whether it was Pleasantville, Mayfield, or any of a number of different Springfields? Even in the 1950's, those places never really existed. They were sanctuaries, neighborhoods, black and white enclaves that were more white than black, but it didn't matter. What mattered was that it was a simpler time in a simpler place. Police violence? Only half of the constabulary of Mayberry carried a gun, and he only had one bullet. All the kids were above average, and even the most difficult disagreement could be settled in twenty-two minutes, once you took time out for the commercials.
Who needs the Real World?

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Spoiled Alert

Spoiler alert: The answer is "The Doughnut." If you were wondering what the question was, you probably didn't fall prey to clicking on the article about breakfast. The headline asked "Is it healthier to skip breakfast or just eat a doughnut?" My first reaction was to wonder how such a wordy headline got past the normally eagle-eyed Internet editors. Didn't they understand that headlines are supposed to say in as few words as possible what the article is about, leading the reader into the story? It reminded me of the tell-all trailers for movies that have been coming out. You know the ones. Two and a half minutes of your film's best jokes or biggest revelations? Chris Pratt riding with Veloiciraptors or the fact that John Connor turns out to be a Terminator. These moments didn't come as a shock. They came as part of a package designed to draw people like my son and I into the theaters to see if that could really be all there is to it. No shame, no gimmicks. Just good old-fashiioned advertising.
Years of M. Night Shyamalan endings conditioned me to expect the unexpected. That's why I now expect the guy who is helping the kid who sees dead people to be dead. I expect that that eighteenth century village will actually be a little enclave of modern-day hipsters trying to fool their kids into believing there are monsters waiting for them just outside in the forest. And that's why I expected that the doughnut was going to be the best chance we had for a healthy breakfast versus no breakfast at all.
Doughnuts? Isn't that what Homer Simpson eats? Homer Simpson is stupid. Why should I believe that eating a piece of sugary dough boiled in grease and covered in more sugar would be better for me than eating nothing at all?
Because Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's dad. Rosebud is a sled. That naval officer that looks like Kevin Costner who was investigating the death of the secretary of defense's mistress turns out to be a Russian spy. It's all so obvious. Everything I needed to know about eating breakfast I learned from watching movies. And being very, very suspicious.
As it turns out, a healthy lunch includes a moderate-sized portion of broken glass. Hard to believe, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Hot Rod

Last week saw the passing of Rowdy Roddy Piper, who I will miss on those evenings when this or that cable channel will toss "They Live" into their movie rotation. Hot Rod was only sixty-one years old, and at last check, he still had plenty of bluster left in his sails. He was the guy who made it okay for me to like wrestling again.
I grew up watching All Star Wrestling on Channel Two out of Denver. I watched guys with names like "Mad Dog" and "Wahoo" battle one another and countless other good guys and bad guys on Saturday afternoons. It never occurred to me back then to wonder where these bouts were taking place, or how the relentless pursuit of that championship belt could possibly be worth all the beatings they took from one another and the occasional sleazy manager. That is to say that all the action was not limited to the ring. Periodically, there was as much bashing and crashing going on during the interview segments between scheduled events as anything that happened within the squared circle. But never enough to obscure the promotion of the upcoming slate of over-sized characters coming to an arena near you.
I learned, following in my older brother's footsteps in junior high school, that real wrestling almost never involved folding chairs. There were rules that kept us from doing the kind of damage I had watched all those superstars do to one another. We didn't wrestle in a ring surrounded by ropes. There were no turnbuckles. Even if we made it to the district championship, there was no steel cage. It gave me pause: Maybe Mad Dog and Wahoo weren't really pounding and beating on one another the way they appeared to be on television. Maybe, just maybe, it was fake.
By the time I was in college, MTV had created the "Rock and Wrestling Connection," thanks in no small part to the promotional talents of Cyndi Lauper and her manager Dave Wolff. This is how I was introduced to the kilted one, Rowdy Roddy Piper. Roddy was a wrestler, but more than that, he was an instigator, a provocateur. He may not have shone as brightly as eventual Governor of Minnesota Jesse "The Body" Ventura, or given guest shots in Rocky III like the Hulkster and Mr. T, but he did land in John Carpenter's sci-fi indictment of the Reagan years. It was like Occupy Wall Street twenty-five years ahead of its time.
I stopped caring if wrestling was real or fake. Rowdy Roddy was great at whatever it was that he was doing, with a wink and a smile. He wasn't a fake. He was a real good guy. For a bad guy, that is. Aloha, Roddy. You stomped around the ring and the Terra.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Fear Itself

While my wife and I sat in an audience of soon-to-be empty nesters, we conisdered our place. In that auditorium with dozens of other parents who were experiencing very similar feelings: fear, grief, sadness, excitement, joy. As we listened to any number of speakers and presentations about the challenges and opportunities that awaited our children. Our children. We watched a student-produced video about the dangers of binge drinking. Did I mention fear?
Suddenly, I was confronted with the realization that all that frightening reality was sitting out there, just waiting for our children to fall into it. Our chldren. Sure, most of us had experienced our own version of that loss of innocence, first on our own, then with our children. Our flesh and blood. The idea that there were horribly sad fates awaiting some of the kids that had made it so far was numbing. Hadn't we all just celebrated that moment of elation when our sons and daughters had come of age? Graduated from high school? Been accepted to a college? Wasn't this supposed to be our victory lap?
Alas, no. Binge drinking. Sex. Tuition. All of these possible paths and we were being asked to give advice and counsel, but not to try and control the inevitable bad choice or two. I thought of my own wayward youth. Not the one I raised, but the one I experienced. My own son has walked a pretty straight line since he started picking his own clothes, driving his own car, choosing his own friends. I did a decent job of coloring inside the lines. I was a good boy, but by the time I was eighteen, I was flouting convention. I was pushing the bounds of good behavior, and giving my parents fits. Not juvenile delinquent type fits, but I know there were some sleepless nights, way back then.
Now those sleepless nights are mine. I wonder what lies ahead for my son. I remembered what one professor, who also happened to be a parent of a student at the university my son will be attending, said about being a "helicopter parent." He amended that image with the updated "drone parent." Try as we might, we will never be able to keep an eye on every aspect of our children's ever-expanding universe. That's why we drove them down to college orentation: Not to be told how to cling more desperately, but to learn to let go. I thought about the fear that kept me from staying at the first college I attended. I realize I have the opportunity, thirty years later, to give my son the chance to feel that fear himself, and to overcome it. Bon Voyage.

Monday, August 03, 2015

What God Wants

Hard to tell without precise punctuation or tone of voice, but Ted Nugent's assertion, "God are people stupid" seems to be more of a rhetorical question than anything else. It does make me wonder if there should be a question mark at the end of that. "God, are people stupid?" This makes it more of a spiritual inquiry. Would the higher power be so very kind as to fill us all in on just what the master plan is, at least as it pertains to the relative intelligence of his day six project. Are people stupid? God would know.
If there is a God. If there is a god, capitalized or not, would he or He or the Cosmic Muffin be involved in the affairs of one man? Ted or otherwise. Okay. Mostly Ted. He was having his crisis of faith in regard to the matter of Cecil The Lion. If you haven't been keeping up with your theology and/or big game hunting news, Cecil was the pride of Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, if you'll pardon that little lion pun. Cecil was killed by an American dentist, Walter James Palmer in the tradition of Great White Hunters. Except that he didn't reckon on everyone, including Mia Farrow, getting wind of it. That's what social media does. It amplifies stink. Americans have been hunting and killing things for a long time. They have been doing it longer than they absolutely needed to, since I'm guessing that your average dental practice in Minnesota probably puts food on the table without having to resort to tracking and killing dinner. He apologized to his hometown paper, which seems like an odd place to start, since Cecil's cubs are probably waiting around now to be adopted by the neighborhood meerkat and warthog as they mourn their father's passing. No word on a retroactive apology for the black bear Doctor Palmer killed back in 2006 in what was, no doubt, a case of mistaken identity. Or something.
Which brings us back to the Nuge. You may remember Ted Nugent from my youth, when he was the cartoon version of all that was loud and raucous and rollious. Zee Wango and Zee Tango, don'tcha know. Over the past decade or two, he might be more familiar to you as the cartoon version of Fox News. Yes, I understand that is somewhat redundant, but he did suggest the president of the United States "suck on my machine gun," as well as referring to our chief executive a "subhuman mongrel." Why this man is not one of the leventy-seven Republican candidates is anyone's guess, but Ted took some time from his busy schedule to defend Walter Palmer. Defender of the defenseless. And if you thought that meant Bambi, you probably haven't studied up on wildlife management like has. He's smart. He'll tell you so.
So, in answer to your question, Ted: Yes. Some people can be very stupid. They just don't notice because they are. God.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Long And Winding Road

From across the parking lot, I thought I saw the words: Magnolia Road. This kind of experience happens to me a lot when I travel back to Colorado. Not necessarily the Magnolia thing, but when I see a Denver Broncos T-shirt on a kid passing by, I do a double take. Or when I am riding down the street and I look up to see a Colorado lisence plate on a passing car. As it turns out, I should expect that I would see Centennial State objects and memorabilia in and around the state where they are generated. All the cars have Colorado lisence plates, and while not all kids wear orange and blue there certainly seems to be a preponderance of them about the Denver metro area. Still, the "Magnolia Road" sign gave me pause.
Traveling up Boulder Canyon, there is a winding mountain lane that rises abruptly into the mountains, up into the trees and rocks and thin air. This was the path my family took innumerable times, when it was still just a dirt road, on our way to our cabin in the woods. During the late sixties and seventies, this is where we spent the summers. I lived up there with my family during the hippie days, when our neighbors lived in teepees and geodesic domes. They wore tie-dye and their hair long. They smoked pot. It was on Magnolia Road that I first came into contact with marijuana.
That's why I was taken aback when I saw that the sign across the parking lot had a smaller line, visible as I walked closer. At the bottom it read: Cannabis. I was standing in front of a pot shop. I was in Colorado, and just as much as Bronco T-shirt and green shilouette mountains can be found on lisence plates, there are pot shops all around. This one just happened to be named for my childhood haunts. Intrigued, I stepped inside.
I was greeted by an enthusiastic host, who explained the separation of medicinal and recreational pot, and how I had stumbled into the phramecutical side, but if I was interested, he was happy to show me next door where marijuana was being sold, legally, for recreational purposes. There I was met by an equally gregarious employee who asked to see my ID before opening the locked door to the showroom. I shared with her the travels that had brought me here, explaining that I was happy and intrigued by what I felt was progress. Forward into my past.
I was shown the buds and pipes and edibles and other paraphenaila. I knew that I wouldn't be buying any pot, since my days as a consumer were behind me. Sometime between that initial smell in the mountains and a hazy period of years in college, I had my fill. That didn't keep me from buying a hemp T-shirt, green with the store's logo printed on the back. It was my souvenir of a time long ago. And right now.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

This Day

It was a century ago
not a hundred years
but forever and a day.
This day.
The sun shone down
after early clouds
upon that green meadow.
This day.
The crowd below
waited and watched
what would happen.
This day.
We brought together
all these people
not just to watch.
This day.
It was a gathering
of the tribes
our friends and family.
This day.
We started something new
already filled with memory
and nascent dreams.
This day.
We laughed and cried
and kissed to make
the moment last.
This day.
That moment
that day
that kiss.
This day.