Saturday, October 31, 2015

Strange Days

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Doctor Hunter S. Thompson
In many ways, this was never more true than it was in Boulder, Colorado in the mid-eighties. This was back when Newsweek called my hometown the place where "the hip meet to trip." This was also back when Newsweek was called a magazine, instead of a website called "The Daily Beast," but that's a topic for another time. And that time is also in the past. So much about what happens in my life has an element of looking back.
Back to the weird: It was in this hazy time called the 1980's that a great many people descended on that cozy mountain enclave where I grew up, seeking out a guilt-free, hedonistic plot of land to live their lives in the way they chose. This was decades before the legalization of marijuana, but that wouldn't have really been an issue. Smoking pot on the streets of Boulder might have amounted to an annoyance ticket back in those days: an annoyance for the cop who had to stop and take the time to write out the citation as much as the extra hassle for the person getting a buzz on.
Or at least that's what we were lead to believe by the media and pop culture mavens of the time. It became somewhat of a self-perpetuating legacy as this college town became a "wretched hive of scum and villainy," to borrow a sobriquet from a galaxy far, far away. But not as far away as people were traveling to get to the annual Halloween Mall Crawl.
Mall Crawl? It aptly described the way pedestrian traffic was forced to move once thousands of cavorting tourists and attendant looky-loos descended on the famous Pearl Street Mall. There were lots of arrests. There were plenty of accidents. And there were some very memorable moments. Ultimately, however, some measure of sanity prevailed and rather than continuing to allow their city to be overrun year after year by drunken zombies from out of town, the powers that be began to divert traffic coming into town. If you want to have a dazed and confused riot, have it somewhere else.
By the time I left, things had returned to some semblance of order. Halloween had returned to the Fun-Size Snickers bar that it had once been. Kids in costume regained more of the focus, and the holiday that once rivaled Mile High Mardi Gras was once again a relatively ordinary autumn night. That didn't keep people from trying to start it up again. Who wouldn't want a place to live out their nasty little fantasies, hanging from lamp posts, urinating in the streets? Over the past few years, there has been some mild efforts to return to those thrilling, chilling days of yesteryear. Thus far, the past remains in the past, and memories of all that sordid hooliganism remains in the memories of those who can barely remember it.
Maybe that's why they invited the Republicans to Boulder to debate. When the going gets weird...

Friday, October 30, 2015

WHO Are You?

The World Health Organization released a report on Monday that linked processed meat to cancer. Well, that just figures, don't it? I have been holding out hope that as we approach the future promised by Woody Allen's Sleeper that we would be informed that all those things that we had been warned about like smoking and red meat being bad for us turned out to be good for us. Well, as Robert Zemeckis' baseball prognostications showed us that relying on movies for reliable predictions may not be the best practice. Unless you're betting with house money. Since this one involves my digestive tract, I guess I had better pay attention to the scientists.
That fun bunch at the WHO have classified processed meat in the same category as asbestos and smoking. They were quick to point out that while they are in the same category, they aren't necessarily dangerous in the same way. I suppose that this means I should probably cut out those smoked asbestos and bacon sandwiches for lunch, and lighting up a big roll of sliced salami after work would be discouraged as well.
I have said for many years that I don't want there to be any mystery about why I will eventually shuffle off this mortal coil. The pizza boxes and the cheeseburger wrappers littering my hospital room should be adequate clues. As I have been working this particular bit to limited praise and acceptance, my wife has been working diligently to diminish this eventual reality. We have instituted Meatless Mondays, much to the chagrin of my son and I, but it has raised awareness while lowering cholesterol levels. Magic, right?
As I have grown older, I have let go of many of the things of my youth. The drinking and drugs and the nightly TV dinners. That was a lifetime ago. I'm not built like that anymore. I know that at fifty-three I don't bounce back as quickly, and I recognize that eating an entire Big Mac in one bite is a trick best left for those who are not subject to routine colonoscopies. Kale is a superfood, I am told, but I don't think they mean the taste.
I know the World Health Organization only wants the best for us, but it would be great if one of these days they made an announcement like, "We've been looking into Hostess products lately and it seems as though your best bet to live a long life is to eat as many frozen Ho-Ho's as you can in a day." I just hope I live long enough to hear that announcement.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Words You're Not Supposed To Say

“During slavery – and I know that’s one of those words you’re not supposed to say, but I’m saying it – during slavery, a lot of the slave owners thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave. Anything that they chose to do. And what if abolitionists had said: ‘You know, I don’t believe in slavery. I think it’s wrong, but you guys do whatever you want to do? Where would we be?” This is the justification Doctor Ben Carson is using to justify overturning Roe v. Wade. Without exception. This analogy was shared with NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet The Press" this past weekend. If the connection between abortion and slavery seems obscure, the first thing to remember is that it came from Doctor Ben Carson, currently riding high in second place of all those Republican Presidential candidates. There are those who believe the quiet manner in which Doctor Ben Carson delivers his sometimes obscure opinions makes him the relaxed version of Not Doctor Donald Trump. Some believe that all that time studying to be a brain surgeon left Doctor Ben Carson precious little time to reflect on the history of the country for which he would like to serve as President. 
To begin with, "abolition" sounds and looks a little like "abortion." And that word that he wasn't sure about saying, "slavery," is not one of those words you're not supposed to say. It is one of those things we're not supposed to do, since there is a Constitutional Amendment that keeps us from doing it, just as there is a Supreme Court decision that allows abortion. It's part of our history. 
When asked if there would be any exception to having Roe v. Wade overturned, Doctor Ben Carson said, I'm a reasonable person. And if people can come up with a reasonable explanation of why they would like to kill a baby, I'll listen."
Rape and incest?
Rape and incest, I would not be in favor of killing a baby because the baby came about in that way. And all you have to do is go and look up the many stories of people who have led very useful lives who were the result of rape or incest."
Okay, Doctor Ben Carson. When I did a Google search for "people who have led very useful lives who were the result of rape or incest," all I got were links to articles about your insistence that there are people who have led very useful lives who were the result of rape or incest. And it got me to thinking about how, when people owned slaves here in the United States, they were treated like property, and every aspect of their lives, including their reproductive rights were subject to the whims of their owners. I'm not sure this analogy means exactly what you want it to mean, Doctor Ben Carson. 
Of course this could be because he is mistaking The Holocaust for Slavery. If slaves had been armed, then there probably wouldn't have been any slavery at all. Or something like that. Keep saying those words you're not supposed to say, Doctor Ben Carson. You'll figure it out. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

None Of The Above

To be completely honest, I don't know if my son would be going to school at the college of his choice if it were not for standardized tests. For any other limitations he may or may not have experienced as a student in our public education system, he could take a test. Those number two pencils and bubble sheets were his friend. His struggles in the classroom were primarily based on his seeming inability to turn assignments in on time. The information was in his head, but getting that into some sort of recognizable form was done primarily through that somewhat suspect tool of modern education, the multiple choice.
I have spent years coaching students to take the pressure off sitting down with that test booklet and blank scantron. I tell them that the best thing about taking a multiple choice test is that the makers have given them the answer. Sure, you have to figure out which one of the four or five choices is the correct one, but it's there. It's a gift, right? Unless you happen to be one of those nervous types who starts to freeze up when they sit down in that way-too-quiet room. Or maybe they are the apathetic sort who wants to get done quick because there is a word search waiting for them if they make some crazy pattern out of the dots on the paper in front of them. Some will tell you that there is a discernible path those darkened circles make, others will tell you, "When in doubt, pick C." That was my son. I guess I can't really argue with that.
But our President might. He is suggesting that we, as educators, should take a step back from this form of assessment. "Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble," Mister Obama said in a video released on Facebook. "So we're going to work with states, school districts, teachers, and parents to make sure that we're not obsessing about testing." He wants to impose a two percent limit on the amount of time students are taking standardized tests in class. At home, in their spare time? Go crazy. Take as many as you'd like.
But if they aren't taking tests, how will we know which kids win? Maybe we could ask them to talk about what they learned. To each other. Maybe they'll understand it even better. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Every Day Observance

There is a very old saw about how when kids say, "How come there is a Father's Day and a Mother's Day, but there's never a Kids' Day?" the only correct answer is: "Every day is kids' day." At least that's how I learned it. Happily, this was not a boundary that was tested much by our son. He was always pretty clear on the fact that, as an only child, he generally had the swing vote when it came to most discussions, whether it was where to go on family vacations or what to have for dinner. It helped to have that extra hand when it came time for resolution. That's why there are three branches of government, after all. Checks and balances and all that rot.
A month ago, when our son moved out to start living the life of a college freshman, we had no idea how big a change we would all feel. It was, for me, seismic. I had to learn all over again how to be part of a couple, not merely a dad. Negotiations sometimes came to a standstill, but we persevered and now we feel like we found some of that mojo we left behind to become parents. Just in time for parents' weekend.
It would be difficult to say exactly for whom this occasion was created. Was it to give homesick kids something to look forward to, a date on the calendar for which they could count down. Or was it a way to bring anxious parents back to campus to reunite them under the guise of "homecoming" to make them feel better about having made it five weeks without insisting that their children come home to visit or that they could intrude on the carefully balanced life that had been so patiently constructed?
As it turns out, none of that really mattered. When we got together again, it was a happy time. Plenty of hugs and good cheer, and laughter to spare. We all went to lunch and wandered around the campus with no particular agenda, in spite of the lengthy list of activities provided by the university and its sponsors. It was a treat to spend a day wandering in our son's footsteps, seeing all the things that he sees on a daily basis, but we had only heard about in our sporadic phone chats. Long distance may be the next best thing to being there, but being there is really pretty awesome. We shared meals and stories and more laugh and took a long walk in the moonlight to the Architecture Graveyard. It brought back feelings of my own college experience, and opened my eyes to the future my son was building in his new home. He had places and faces and things to experience that we were lucky enough to be tagging along to see. It was a happy time.
And even though we will be living apart, knowing that his world is expanding in ways we might never fully understand, it was comforting to feel so included and invited along for the ride. Maybe every day can't be Kids' Day, but I'm glad we had that Family Weekend.

Monday, October 26, 2015


The lady behind us leaned forward and asked if I knew who the opening band was. We were there for the headliner, Florence and the Machine, so it was an innocent enough question, but the answer was not easily determined. This was the moment that I became one of those guys: I was the guy with the Smart Phone. Before I engaged Al Gore's Internet, I checked to see if there were any wi-fi networks available to me, saving those valuable G's for moments when I absolutely needed to know something and was out of range from any and all connections. Like my next trip to the Galapagos. Sitting on the concrete benches of Berkeley's Greek Theater, I was able to establish contact with a University of California server which allowed me to access this little tidbit: opening for Florence on this particular evening was Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger. As I latched on to this name, the sun was setting, and the lights came up on stage, where the "Ghost" was plugging in for their set.
For the first few songs, I ran through my usual appreciations for opening acts. They have to set up their gear in front of the sets and lights of the headliner. They have to play to a crowd that is still milling about, looking for their seats and acquiring their green wrist bands so they can drink for the rest of the evening. In the best case scenario, they are warming the crowd up for the star attraction, or at worst they are building animosity as the barrier through which the fans must go through in order to see the band they paid to see.
I won these tickets. I couldn't complain. So, as GOASTT's set continued, I returned to the World Wide Web to do some more research about the music to which I was being subjected. In my mind, I was trying to find comparisons. I thought of Stillwater, the band of myth created by Cameron Crowe. I thought of all the cool hippie bands that I had seen over the years. And then I landed on the Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger's Wikipedia page. It seems that this "American band formed in 2008" was created so that the couple who created it could spend more time together. The couple: Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Sean Lennon. It was at the moment that I read that last name that the sound coming from the stage suddenly began to coalesce. It was a big wall of psychedelic noise, but through it all came a sweetly nasal voice that was immediately recognizable as Lennon. I was in the presence of rock and roll royalty, and I would have completely missed it if I hadn't been that guy. I would not have known I was in the presence of Beatle-spawn. Yes, it makes me a little more of "them," but in this case, it was worth it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Once Again

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around?
When the snow melts away
Do the Cubbies still play
On their ivy-covered burial ground?
Good questions, those. Once asked by Steve Goodman, they are still no more easily answered now than they were more than thirty years ago when he first recorded "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request." But since the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant, as Steve so precisely reminded us, was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan we have nothing but the future to contemplate. Again. Another year, another baseball season has passed and the Chicago Cubs are once again no closer to that elusive World Series than they were back in April.
If this sounds like pessimism, please understand that I believe there is no more hopeful human being on this planet than your average Cubs fan. This year the team from the North Side powered through their season and through their wild card game and bounced the Evil Empire in the form of the Los Angeles Dodgers from the postseason before slowing to a crawl and ran out of steam in the National League Championship Series.
Good news? There is some: Another perennial loser, the New York Mets find themselves at the top of the National League, giving Jon Stewart a reason to enjoy his retirement. At the beginning of the 2015 season, the Metropolitans were listed as thirty to one for their chances to show up in that last game of the year. All kinds of wacky things can happen. That, and we are less than four months away from pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training.
Hope, Emily Dickinson once reminded us, is the thing with feathers. Or a Cubs jersey. Winter will now descend on Lake Michigan and the surrounding area, bringing everything to a standstill as those of us who chose to believe that bringing a goat to the ballpark or that Robert Zemeckis was some sort of baseball visionary will find a new place to hang our dreams and fanatical aspirations. Cubs fans invent ways to bring a light to the end of a very dark tunnel.
A lot of people, when disappointed for more than a century, might choose to reconsider their options. Going to the well for one hundred and seven years and coming up empty would make some folks wonder if they might be looking for water in the wrong spot. Not Cubs fans. We're a patient bunch. And a little bit sad. Be kind.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Karma Steamroller

It came to me in a dream. I was seeing a room full of sundry dusty items, most of which were heaped upon what I recognized as a gold Saturn station wagon. That was what tipped me in the direction of the theme for this room: Lost. I didn't recognize many of the items because of their shifting, dreamish quality, but the car was the one we had given up to the universe some years back, stolen out from under our Father's Day outing, never to be seen again. Other cars have been stolen from our sphere of awareness, but this one didn't show up as anything but a ghost just before dawn. From the depths of sleep, I was making relief out of the freshly opened wounds, the ones I though had long since healed. They stole my bike.
"They." The bad guys. By definition: thieves. I want to make it plural because such a heinous crime could not be carried out by just one person. I suppose to be fair, since that seems important now, I should implicate myself for leaving my primary mode of transportation in the hallway of the school. After hours. Unlocked. On the way out, at the end of a very long day as PE coach for a sea of elementary school kids, I stopped in the office to check out with my principal. I was only going to leave the bike there for a moment while I filled my boss in on the day's events. I left my helmet hanging, as it has for decades, on the handlebars.
I stayed longer than I had planned. When I stepped back into the hall, I looked left and right. No bicycle. The gift of all these years gave me a faint hope that someone might have rolled it into the faculty lounge, like they had once before to keep it from being stolen. "They" in this case would be the good guys, the ones who were looking out for me and keeping my stuff safe.
My bike. The one my wife gave to me on Valentine's Day so many years ago, with the lovely sentiment, "We may never own a new car, but you can have a new bike." That spoke volumes about our commitment to one another and the choice I had made to serve my community as a teacher. There was no company car attached to this gig, but there was all kinds of karmic grace.
At least that's what I thought before I had my heart forcibly removed via theft. Rip. Tear. Biking to work every day was an outward sign of my connection to the good I was doing. I can console myself with the idea that whoever took my Raleigh C40 Hybrid, my trusted steed for so many years, needed it more than I did. For a moment. Then the feeling of being abused by a universe that doesn't really care about fair returns.
I recognized the room in my dream. It was the basement of the Alamo.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Force Gets A Wake Up Call

If you're like me, and if you're reading this and you're not why they heck aren't you more like me, you search out any and all tidbits about the upcoming release of a little indie film called "The Force Awakens." So much so that I am subscribed to a forum called "Obi Wants To Know" that periodically sends out questionnaires about upcoming events and promotions pertaining to the release of this barely acknowledged cinematic trifle. I kid, since as you know aside from being quite the Star Wars nerd, I am a kidder. There is a great big clock in Marin counting down to the world premiere that blots out part of the beautiful horizon. Again. I kid. I'm a kidder. And I am a nerd who shivers with the anticipation of each new snippet of film that the makers feel like tossing our way.
Not everyone feels this way. Hard to believe, right?
There is a group that is planning to boycott the film. Not because they are so very committed to the original canon, or because they would rather have their childhood left alone by the Disney Corporation, but because they believe that when the Force Awakens it will wake up racist. Biased against whites. And not just because of that white armor that storm-troopers seem to favor, but because of what they perceive as non-colored folk. "#BoycottStarWarsVII because it is anti-white propaganda promoting #whitegenocide,"read one particularly inflammatory tweet. Apparently this is a pretty nasty little bandwagon upon which hate groups have found to jump. Why should we stay away from Episode VII? "(B)ecause it's nothing more than a social justice propaganda piece that alienates it's core audience of young white males." Hard to argue that "core audience" thing, but social justice? I'm pretty sure that if there had been any kind of social justice in the works, somebody would have figured out by now how to get Chewbacca a medal. 
But that's old news. What's happening now is that a bunch of rednecks with access to a keyboard are plunking down their thoughts about how "Jewish activist JJ Abrams is an anti-white nut." And just what is the anti-white nut? Is it the almond? I don't know, but for now I will choose to see this as a good thing because the best thing about a boycott is that it will make for shorter lines on opening weekend. If you're like me. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it doesn't. This is about most every aspect in life, whether it is my absurd insistence on picking up pennies or draping my Cubs wind jacket over the back of a kitchen chair in hopes that it would remind me to mend it, then deciding that it needs to stay right where it is because when it landed there initially, Chicago's North Side team found themselves in the playoffs. Moving it would mess with the streak. You don't mess with the streak.
It is this kind of voodoo that really pays off for people like myself who suffer from fanatical devotion to this or that sports team along with a certain degree of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I tried to laugh along with the rest of the audience when Robert De Niro's character in Silver Linings Playbook has his magical theories about how and why his beloved Eagles win or lose broken down by the fierce and determined eye of Jennifer Lawrence. As if there was some magical combination of rattles, rolls and lucky underwear that would influence the way the ball bounces or the metaphorical cookie crumbles. As it turns out, we have no direct impact on how that happens. Unless we happen to be involved in the actual cookie crumbling or initial baking of said cookie.
Which is why I cannot for the life of me understand why the Indianapolis Colts decided to go with a trick play on fourth and seven late in the third quarter, down by six points. Sure, if it had worked, next week there would have been dozens of imitators throughout the league, in college, all the way down to the pee-wee leagues. The magic didn't work. The silly formation was easily diagnosed by a group of professionals who used it as an opportunity to tackle the lone ball carrier for a loss, which quickly turned into a touchdown for the Patriots.
I played on the Patriots. Back in 1972. Not the NFL Patriots. The Young America Football Patriots of Boulder, Colorado. We had a playbook, or at least we had a stack of mimeographed sheets with x's and o's that were supposed to be memorized by a bunch of fourth and fifth graders, and then executed without hesitation and to perfection. The one at the very back was called "The Dipsy Doodle." In this particular play, everyone on the team was supposed to line up on one side of the center. This was supposed to confuse and confound the other team, who would have no way in their mimeographed stack of sheets to line up against our wacky arrangement of players. I used to stare at that sheet and imagine how amazed the spectators would be when we pulled off our amazing trickeration. I used to dream about how we could use that play to win the game.
We never used it. I spent all that time worrying about, practicing and perfecting that one special play, and we never used it. Probably because our coach knew that we were having a difficult time executing the easy part of our playbook. I never got to run the Dipsy Doodle. Then again, I never got embarrassed by it, either. Sort of a "win-win."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Teen Titans

What's the matter with kids these days? There was this nineteen-year-old at the University of Connecticut who ended up getting arrested after a ten minute rant about mac and cheese in the cafeteria. Did I mention this rant was a drunken rant? It ended up with campus police being called, arresting Luke Gatti for his obscenity-laden insistence that he be served his late night snack of choice: bacon-jalapeno macaroni and cheese. To young mister Gatti's credit, it's pretty amazing stuff. Maybe not good enough to get arrested for, but pretty delicious.
That was three weeks ago. About a week later, after the Youtubes gave everyone on the planet a chance to see just how awful a UConn Husky could behave, Luke decided to use the same venue to apologize for his creepy behavior. It should be noted that his apology clocks in at just about one third of his babbling assertion that he was owed pasta and fromage. All good, right?
Unless you happen to be a fourteen-year-old in Irving, Texas. This kid didn't want mac and cheese. He wanted to bring his homemade electronic clock to show his teachers. Ahmed Mohamed was arrested at his high school for bringing a "hoax bomb" to school. As a teacher, I suppose I can understand why people might be nervous. Things are exploding in schools across America on what seems like a regular basis. Better to be safe than sorry. Especially if the kid in question is named Ahmed? Or maybe this was a little too much fear and not enough thought.
Ahmed was invited to the White House. Luke was sent a lot of macaroni and cheese.
And the rest of our nations' teenagers? Well, they land somewhere in between. Some are drunkenly trying to assemble clocks from bits of broken Xboxes. Some are working feverishly in labs trying to come up with tastier versions of cafeteria favorites. Most of them don't end up in police custody, but thanks to social media, we now periodically send a star or two into the Internet heavens as examples of what our country has to offer: homemade electronic macaroni and cheese served in a timely manner. America's Youth: We salute you!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


It's a pretty hard and fast rule on my playground that when we speak to one another, we use respectful language. As much as we all might like to eliminate or at least diminish the trash talk that takes place in such venues, there is a certain amount of poor sportsmanship that squeaks through. Boys will be boys, and girls will be girls and all that, but it still surprises me how often I have to drop by and remind kids that no one is playing for money here and if they aren't having fun, they should stop. Of course, this doesn't take into account the very real possibility that all that smack they're tossing around is the fun part. Of course. Where would they get that idea?
For years, I have been pointing the finger directly at the grown-ups in this unbalanced equation. All those professional athletes who push and shove and spit and whine are giving children the idea that such things are not only acceptable but part of competition. It's not who wins or who loses, but how bad you made the other guy look on the way to the basket/goal line/home base. It will be on Sportscenter later, on an endless loop. So, Charles Barkley, who are our role models?
I hope it comes as no surprise that our friends running for president on the Republican side of things won't probably be on that list. The most recent interchange between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush will stand as my example for them not being good examples. “When you talk about George Bush – I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time,” said Lord Trumpington when he was being interviewed on Bloomberg TV. When asked to explain this assertion, The Trumpmeister said in his most emphatic Jersey way, “He was president, OK? Blame him or don’t blame him, but he was president. The World Trade Center came down during his reign.” Reign, administration, these are just words, right?
Jeb! Bush responded by tweeting, "How pathetic for @realdonaldtrump to criticize the president for 9/11.  We were attacked & my brother kept us safe." At this point, we can take heart in the fact that nobody's mother was mentioned. Not yet, anyway. Former White House press secretary under George Bush, Ari Fleischer, said that Trump is “starting to sound like a truther,” referring to proponents of the conspiracy theory that the U.S. government was involved in the 9/11 attacks. “Does Donald Trump also think since Pearl Harbor happened on FDR’s watch that FDR is responsible?”
Maybe not, but maybe it had to do with Elanor. Ooo - First Lady slam! 
Is it 2016 yet?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Holllyweird, Karloffornia

A lot of people will tell you that Clark Gable was the King of Hollywood. It's an easy enough assertion to make, what with that "Gone With The Wind" and "It Happened One Night" resume and winning an Oscar for best actor. Eighty-two films, back in the Golden Age, when stars were stars and publicists were publicists. I first became aware of Mister Gable not as Rhett Butler, but as a caricature in a Warner Brothers cartoon. Those ears. And later, my mother regaled me with stories about how he used to chase poor Vivien Leigh around with his raging halitosis generated by his full set of dentures.
I expect that Boris Karloff eventually surrendered to false teeth, since legend has it that removing his partial upper plate gave the Frankenstein Monster's cheeks that extra sunken appearance. As for the bad breath, one would suspect that since he was stitched together from the remains of a number of cadavers, it wasn't just his breath that stunk. But in real life, Boris was quite the urbane gentleman, and was hardly the monster he portrayed so many times on screen. He also made more than two hundred screen appearances in a career that stretched from 1919 until 1971, two years after his death. That's a pretty neat trick.
What I am suggesting here is that if there was to be a King of Hollywood, why shouldn't it be Boris Karloff? That's certainly the way I viewed the world back when I was ten years old. I watched a lot of really horrible movies on "Creature Features" just because I saw him listed in the TV Guide. I have also seen Bride of Frankenstein more times than I can count, and I consider his turn as the Monster in this film completely Oscar-worthy, but that's not how things got done back in the 1930's. Perhaps ironically, this year also found Mister Gable nominated for Mutiny on the Bounty, along with his co-stars Franchot Tone and Charles Laughton. It was Laughton's wife, Elsa Lanchester who played the dual role of Mary Shelley and The Bride. No Academy Awards for them. They were in monster movies.
The justice, it would seem, comes from the fact that Clark missed out on his second Oscar there, too. Boris Karloff was never awarded an Oscar, not even an honorary statuette. He did receive a Grammy for his recording of How The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It was that TV special that got him a chance to work with Chuck Jones, animator of Warner Brothers fame. And now it would be an excellent time to point out that Frankenstein's Monster also makes an appearance in that Warner Brothers cartoon, "Hollywood Steps Out" from 1941. Sure, I know we're comparing apples and oranges here, but I never lost a night's sleep because of one of Clark Gable's performances. The same cannot be said of poor Vivien Leigh.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

More Mores

What a time we have arrived at, this 2015. At a moment when Lamar Odom has pushed himself to the grotesque brink beyond what had once been considered "reality television," and Playboy magazine is re-imagining themselves as a gentleman's magazine in the most PG-13 sense, we await the next salvo in the pop culture wars. I blame Al Gore's Internet. I blame Al Gore. And his wife Tipper. Tipper and her concerned Parents Music Resource Center banning and labeling records they found offensive. And then, not much later after that, we were treated to a rather graphic Public Display of Affection from Al and Tipper on the eve of the 2000 election. That's e-L-ection.
Now, fifteen years later, the doors to impropriety have been wedged open solidly so that anyone with access to a smart phone or a mouse can watch videos by WASP video whenever the mood strikes them, or watch that clip from the Democratic Convention in an endless loop. Whatever floats your boat, metaphorically speaking.
I'm an old guy, and I remember when there were certain stores and even certain parts of certain stores that you didn't want to be in, at least when anyone you knew was looking. There was an adult section in the family video store I ran. Moms and Dads would stop by and pick up a Disney flick for the kiddies and maybe a little something from the big binder on the end of the counter for later after they went to bed. Consenting adults. In the privacy of their own homes. Never one to condemn or judge other's personal habits, I was still very much aware of who was renting what because there were records of such transactions. Computers, don'tcha know. And then there were those uncomfortable creepy moments when an otherwise mild-mannered favorite customer would take me aside to ask if I had any recommendations from our big book of filth. I could speak knowingly of the Golden Age of Hollywood and German Expressionism, but porn was not my forte. My suggestions in this area were based solely on the clever wordplay in the title. Clever to the tune of a seventh grade boy, or Blackie Lawless. What do I know about "adult entertainment?"
I know that too much stimulation will kill anyone. That's why they put that little "four hour" warning in the Viagra commercials. It's a corollary to the Arthur C. Clarke bon mot that "All new technology will be used for porn." Or something like that. Ah well, at least now I can get back to that interview with Jimmy Carter, and as far as sex on the television goes, I'm in agreement with Monty Python. It's really more of a safety issue. If only Lamar had been more of a Python fan.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

What Not To Fear

Zombies. As monsters go, they aren't particularly interesting. As evidenced by the cast of The Walking Dead, stumbling on a stumbling member of the not-so-alive no longer tends to bring a lot of terror to the fore. Instead, the zombie in question is dispatched in some nasty but hum-drum way: a petty annoyance and all a part of daily existence in a world after the Apocalypse. The thing about zombies is that they don't tend to show up one at a time. In this way, they are like Republican Presidential Candidates. Come to think of it, there are a lot of ways that zombies and Republican Presidential Candidates are alike, but I leave that for you to figure out.
I'm telling you that zombies, once you've gotten past that whole dead-but-not-quite thing, you're left with some pretty smelly, boring pests. They're easier to manage than rats, since they tend to be pretty easy to spot, and they don't have a lot of scurry in them like rodents do either. When they made up the word "shambling," they probably had these guys in mind. The folks on TV show refer to them as "Walkers," but that is being way too charitable. They don't tend to rush about, but the limb-dragging shuffle that most of them seem to have surrendered to is not going to cause much of a stir in the speed-walking community. You can outrun a zombie. It would behoove you to keep an eye out for other rotting corpses looking to make you part of their menu, but keeping a clear mind and a lookout for the rest of the herd will put you in good stead.
It is the rest of the herd that makes zombies a problem. All that moaning and hissing and, well, the smell. It can be a little disconcerting. That's how they get you, you know. It's that living dead conundrum that makes most of us shake our heads and try to rationalize: living or dead? It's neither fish nor fowl. For example, it could be concluded that by not being dead, I am a member of the undead. But we save that category for those in limbo, with a foot or what's left of it in both worlds. How do we distinguish? Well, the zombies are the dumb ones, that's for sure. Maybe that's why they seem to crave brains so much, lacking much of their own. See above for GOP comparison.
Zombies are the ones we run away from. Until they get so decayed that they end up in bits and pieces, clawing at the ground in vain hopes of getting back upright. But it's the still mobile version that holds the most potential fear. My son, at one point, had a zombie apocalypse plan for a hasty exit from any and all places that he would frequent: school, friends' houses, neighborhood gathering spots. He wasn't going to be one of those slow-witted victims left flailing helplessly at the onrushing mob of shamblers. He was going to be a survivor. Now that he's moved off to college, I expect he's got a whole new set of plans for how to avoid what for most of the extras in those TV shows and movies is inevitable. You don't have to get eaten, you just have to get mad.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Mister Caven Climbed Up On The Roof

I do wonder what our neighbors must think. Not the ones around my house, but the ones around my school. It is not a regular occurrence, but it happens often enough that one might wonder, "What is he doing?"
I'm climbing up on the roof. I go up there to retrieve errant balls and Frisbees and the like. I go up there to get things down that shouldn't be up there. It would be great to say that every trip up there has a specific purpose and I only put myself at risk when I absolutely have to, but that definition gets stretched at times. Should I have to climb on the roof to bring down a soccer ball that some kid booted up there because he or she decided that they wanted to see if they could get a soccer ball up on the roof? My initial responses would be, in no particular order:
"Looks like we go without soccer for a little while."
"Sorry about that. Maybe you can bring a soccer ball from home?"
"Maybe you would like to figure out a way to get the ball down?"
"Sounds like Buildings and Grounds needs to come out and raise the sidewalk or lower the roof."
"Isn't there someone else that could do that?"
The answer to that last one is "yes." There are plenty of grown-ups who are perfectly capable of clambering up the ladder we have and walking across the very limited slope of our main building's lid. I just happen to be the guy to whom the casual part of business casual means that I am willing to crawl around, fishing various bits of sports equipment out of drains. And then there's the shoes.
A number of times in the past few years, the call has been made to Mister Caven: "Can you please come and get Timmy's shoe off the roof?"
Of course I can, but I am even more puzzled than I am with the occasional errant soccer ball or hula hoop. Why is that shoe on the roof?
I have learned that it is better not to spend a lot of time puzzling about the why and how and to focus on the business at hand: Shoe Rescue. Parents and kids both seem alternately gleeful and embarrasses to have this kind of attention spread their way. It would be so much easier, at some point, to simply let the winds of time eventually wear the discarded footwear into dust, or by chance to have it blown fatefully into the waiting arms of some benevolent stranger.
That doesn't happen. Parents spend enough on their kids' shoes that waiting for any sort of weather event is intolerable, and so they come looking for me. It's nice up there, by the way. The view is pleasant and the ambient sounds of education are just a dull hum from high in the sky. Someday, I might stay there.
For a day or two. There's still so much left to do back on the ground.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


A month into this great experiment, I still have people calling to ask, "How's it going?"
"What?" I ask in limited dullness.
"The whole empty nest thing," and they wait for me to go on.
"It's okay."
And that's about it. I can't give them a lot of details. Some days are better than others and since it's uncharted territory I don't really know what to expect. Because my wife and I have continued to act as socially responsible members of polite society, I expect that it will appear that all is normal and the tilt of the axis of the earth maintains its roughly twenty-three degrees off center and that whole spinning on its axis thing continues more or less unabated.
But it's my wife's insistence that she wishes that things would go back to normal that makes me wonder. This is the woman who picked a house for us to live in and was the driving force in getting us moved in with freshly painted walls and completed paperwork, all while she was a precarious nine months pregnant. The first night we slept in our new bedroom, with mostly unpacked boxes in the living room and a son still waiting to be born, she laid awake, staring at the new white paint on our ceiling. "Can we go home now?" she asked.
That was fun. We all learned a lot and we are glad to know that in a pinch we can gather up our belongings and push them into a truck and with the help of a half dozen of our closest friends and family we can relocate across town. In a pinch. But do we really have to stay? Can't we just push the reset button and wait until we really need to move?
There aren't a lot of reset buttons in life. I know. I've looked. That night in our new house, I knew exactly how my wife felt. The beginning of another chapter in our great adventure felt like something for which I was never prepared. Having a few practice runs might have given me more security in the choices we had made, but that wasn't really practicable. We plunged on into the void. Into the mystic. The late nights and early mornings and birthday parties and pets and friends and home improvement projects that have gone on since then never really allowed me to feel that sense of a solid earth beneath my feet. It was always moving. Or maybe that was us.
A few nights ago, my wife pulled out our video collection, now cleverly transferred to a series of DVDs, and she watched a family in its primordial state grow into what we are now. We were all so much thinner, younger, smaller, happier than we might have remembered without the aid of audio visual cues. It made a great story. A story that continues now, in places and ways that are not as well documented but every bit as exciting. I look forward to having a chance to review this next chapter. When I'm older. When I'm ready.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Star Fall

When was the last time you saw Randy Quaid? We would all like to believe that your last memory of Dennis's brother was in the critically acclaimed "Brokeback Mountain," and not the 2009 opus, "Balls Out: Gary The Tennis Coach." But since Randy is the veteran of one hundred fifteen films, it might be hard to sort out your perception of one of Hollywood's most durable character actors. Maybe you remember his turns as Cousin Eddie in the National Lampoon Vacation series. Or you probably saw him as Russell Casse the itinerant drunk crop duster in "Independence Day." Did you see his Lenny to Robert Blake's George in the TV version of "Of Mice and Men?"
I remember some of his earliest work best. In "The Last Picture Show," he added just the right amount of schlub to Lester Marlow, Jacy's escort to the Christmas party. My favorite Randy Quaid performance was the Navy Seaman Larry Meadows, being escorted to the brig by Jack Nicholson and Otis Young in "The Last Detail." That was more than forty years ago, but I still remember just how much pathos that big, goofy guy packed into that role. If you haven't seen it, and you're a fan of early seventies cinema, you owe it to yourself to check out this slice of life from director Hal Ashby.
Of course, you might also be aware of Randy's off-screen struggles. Some say they mirror those of misunderstood Independence Day hero, Russell Casse. In spite or perhaps because of his celebrity, Randy feels that he and his wife are in danger. He believes the same bad guys who killed Heath Ledger and David Carradine are after him. That's why he fled to Canada, where he was detained by border guards in Vermont. Somebody had issued warrants for the couple's arrest back in California. Part of the conspiracy? Or part of a twisted bit of reality that had them squatting in a home they had previously owned. Perhaps Randy and his wife Evi are running away not from bad guys but from their own mismanaged finances.
How does someone who once sat near the top of his profession, an Academy Award nominated actor, featured in more than one hundred films, end up homeless? It would be so much easier to blame evil forces that have conspired to bring them low, rather than the sad potential of a downward spiral. Who knows, maybe Randy will eventually star in the big screen comeback action adventure, "Star Whackers." Or maybe he'll be signing DVDs out on the prison yard for the next few years. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I Want You To Want Them

I have purchased a lot of music in the course of my life. So much so that it has taken on ritualistic status. Tuesday night, after work. That's when the new records are sitting there, waiting to be perused. The sea of wooden bins at Rocky Mountain Records and Tapes that had that certain rustic smell that provided me with that sense of hunting and gathering, even when I was merely looking for the latest release from one of my favorite bands. This was, by no means, survival. This was pleasure. This was recreation. This was how I spent my down time.
Those shopping trips were a habit I developed in my college years, and after. Being able to drive allowed me to check multiple locations, making certain that that one copy of Klark Kent's EP didn't somehow slip through the cracks of this store and that and their ordering patterns. I did not want to be the one who missed the next big thing because I failed to go through the entire new releases section and genre specific sections that might have had that DEVO single I had been missing up until that point.
Before that, I used to buy my music at K-Mart. I write this not as a confession, but rather as a hard-wired visceral memory. I bought my first Cheap Trick album at the K-Mart store in Boulder. It was a bike ride away from my house, thus I was able to get there and back in relative safety, with one hand to do the steering and one hand to hold on to my new bag, slung over the handlebars. The first Cheap Trick album I bought wasn't their first release. It was "Heaven Tonight," the band's third studio album, and I rode down to pick it up because of the recommendation I had received from a friend of mine, a junior named Nick Bates, who seemed impossibly clever and mature from my sophomore standing. I was buying into what he called the "cartoon version of rock and roll" that these guys from Rockford, Illinois had to offer.
I found it in the Rock section, which filled most of the twelve foot aisle that contained all the vinyl that K-Mart had to offer, stuck between Housewares and Notions. The record itself seemed impossibly light given the gravity of what I had been told was inside. I was tempted, briefly, to pick up another record just in case this turned out to be some sort of practical joke on an underclassmen. This was 1978, and debut albums by The Police, The Cars, as well as new material from the Rolling Stones and another little California band named for the brothers Van Halen were awaiting my aural attention.
This all came flooding back to me when I read the headline that read: "Janet Jackson, The Cars, Cheap Trick Receive First Nominations For Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame." This, of course, means nothing, since even if the boys from Rockford make it through the nomination process to be inducted next year, the only true validation of art comes from those of us who appreciate it. Little did I know back in the late seventies that I would eventually be sitting in front of my computer in a different century, a different state, and clicking on the "buy" tab to purchase the latest Cheap Trick album. It has been an enduring love affair that has spanned more than thirty-five years, moving from vinyl to CD to mp3. I will be just as pleased and happy as all the Rush fans were when, at last, Canada's power trio landed in Cleveland to take their spot in The Hall. And I will maintain my respectful distance, since I remember my roots: K-Mart.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Call A Doctor

At last check, there were more than seventy-five candidates for the Republican Presidential Nomination. This was after forty-two of them had dropped out of the race because they couldn't raise the billion dollars required to stay in, or they ran out of red ties, or just couldn't get the cameraman to pan far enough to the left or right to catch them on the edge of that overloaded debate stage. Or maybe they were just afraid of being bullied by Donald Trump. 
This is hyperbole, of course, since there are only a dozen or so "serious" candidates, all waiting for that opportunity to get their chance to stand on the same stage and be bullied by Donald Trump. Up until quite recently, one of the safe choices was brain surgeon Doctor Ben Carson. That hissing sound you hear is the air being let out of his presidential aspirations. I blame the Hippocratic Oath
In much the same way that Donald Trump can puff up his chest and say that he is a billionaire, Doctor Carson shows up with his ticket to the convention bearing that title: Doctor. What better certification would one need to show up to a political arena than as a healer? Repairing the rifts that have causes so much suffering in the is great land of ours? Mend the wounds we have all experienced over the past twenty years? Somebody get me a doctor.
But probably not one who laughs nervously when asked to defend his assertion that charging a gunman would be the best chance any of us would have in the event of a mass shooting. The same guy who said, when asked to explain his theory that Jews in Europe might have survived the Holocaust if not for laws prohibiting guns,  “I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed. I’m telling you that there is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first.” Couple this with his assessment of the recent murders in Oregon, “There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking,but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away," and you might expect to see one less podium on that stage at the end of this month.
Then again, if the measure of front-runners in the GOP is how outrageous one can be without actually frothing at the mouth, then this may be the move the good doctor needed to make in order to overtake the ugly flurry that is the Trump campaign. 
And never mind the Hippocratic Oath. It was written a long time ago by people who don't understand today's reality. Yeah. I get it. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

How Much?

A lot of us got into the teaching biz because we wanted to affect change. There aren't many of us who got into it for the big paycheck. Maybe that's just the six figure checks that some teachers are banking in New Jersey, but it could also be a little bit of hyperbole on the part of that state's governor. People who want to make big money, at least in New Jersey become talk show hosts or singers. For the record, Governor Christie is making a six figure salary, and his family is pulling in a reported half-million. Nice work, if you can get it.
On this side of the contiguous United States, the salary is still somewhat negotiable. Not by me, but by my union. I tend not to wrap myself up in that process because I have been told by the guy signing people up for a newspaper subscriptions for free T-shirts that teachers don't make enough. I get it. I am doing this job because I want to make a difference.
For the better, in case there was some question.
In my first year, it was a romantic idea: riding into an urban school to bring my own particular and peculiar vision of how things could be to a generation of youth hungry for whatever it was that I had to offer. That creative writing degree, for example. My esoteric sense of humor. My tireless energy. My ability to wait for hours before I go to the bathroom. These were my calling cards. Those, and the fact that I felt I was "good with kids." When I said this to the recruiter for the district intern program, he laughed. At me.
That was nineteen years ago. I've been going back to school. Day after day. Year after year. Trying to affect change. Here's what I have figured out: I am not making the kind of change that I had imagined way back in the previous century. I continue to be surprised by the lack of change I seem to be able to affect on the children with whom I am supposed to be so good. Then I realize that I never went to school without learning something, even if it was that I didn't want to go to school anymore. What I learned was that the change is in me. I am not the fresh-faced idealist I was back in 1997. I am a veteran, but I have seen a generation of children pass through the doors of this school. So much so that I am now teaching a couple of children of students I had way back in those earliest days. Can you put a price tag on that?

Saturday, October 10, 2015


So, here's the deal: I can go down to the local card room and sit down to a "friendly" game of Texas Hold 'Em. For money. Real money. Real winners. Real losers. They are quick to point out that they don't participate in the play at any level, except to give folks a place to sit down and play a friendly game of Texas Hold 'Em. For a little fee. And they'll bring you cocktails. Just like they have since 1895, the year my house was built. It's historical.
And it's hysterical. Because, if the Oaks Card Club did participate as "the house," then it would be a casino, and it would not be legal. Unless that casino was on property owned by Native American tribes, then it would be legal, since they are considered sovereign nations and they make their own rules. Like they have to hit a soft seventeen. In a "way too little and way too late" kind of solution, we are letting Native American Tribes use legal gambling as some sort of karma leveling for the atrocities we waged upon their people and lands. Loose slots indeed.
But that isn't really what I'm confounded by. There are rules and laws governing those enterprises that make some sort of sense. Just like there are rules defining how much I can win or lose in my Fantasy Football League. I know that there are people making lots of cash by getting involved in the exploits of their favorite and not-so-favorite professional athletes. Using sports figures as avatars is nothing new. What is new is the way we have become suddenly used to how we play. Friendly little twenty dollar entry fees are no longer in vogue. That used to buy you in for a season. Now you can spend hundreds of dollars each week on the Fantasy Football Sweepstakes. Sure, some will win. That's the nature of things. Some will lose. Big. That is how we get big winners. And some will cheat. Big. DraftKings employees have won millions of dollars playing on their rival's site, Fan Duel. Sounds like insider trading to me. Of course these are all enthusiasts who love the game so very much that they can't keep their gaming impulses to their own jobs, so they feel the need to spread it around, right? Or maybe they are using an unchecked system of barely legalized gambling to profit from those same schlemiels who are buying fifty dollars worth of Lotto tickets each week in hopes of making it rich. Quick.
Why not just send the folks at Fan Duel or DraftKings a check. Sooner or later I'm sure they will send you one with an even bigger number of zeroes. What the heck. Take a chance.

Friday, October 09, 2015

His Sto Ree

The old saw has us believing that "history is written by the victors." The idea that history is subjective needs no further test than the discussion of the word: His Story. I went to college at a time when Womyn's Studies challenged our mndset as well as our spelling skills. So much of what we know is based on an agreement made by a relatively small group of individuals about what would be taught in our school. What is objective reality? Would it be okay to teach two plus two equals five in one state (I'm looking at you, Texas), while others stick with the traditional and safe answer of four, keeping the door open for larger values of three?
We can be pretty sure that Richard Nixon did resign from his second term as President of the United States. There is a lot of evidence to prove this. Exactly how and why this came to pass is subject to some debate. Not unlike the manned moon missions which have only recently become conspiratorial fodder, everything it seems is now up for debate. I don't get Columbus Day off because we now know that Chris was a lousy navigator and an even worse public relations risk. Fourth graders don't tend to take tours of our nearby missions because it turns out that they might not have been the peaceful stops on the Camino Real. Alas, so much of what I was once taught turns out to be whitewashed gobbledygook made up to make us all feel better about genocide.
Which brings me to Roni Dean-Burren. Ms. Dean-Burren is a concerned parent of a Texas high school freshman. She got a text from her son that included an illustration from his class' ninth grade history text book. Below it, he wrote this message: "we was real hard workers, wasn't we" and he closed with a frowny emoticon. Clever enough for her son to make this connection to the absurd suggestion that "the Atlantic Slave Trade brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations." Well how about that for a revisionist view of dispora? Mom took it to social media where it started to get the kind of attention it deserved. McGraw-Hill will be revising the text of their history.
Any bets on exactly how that will turn out? Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Ready, Aim, Misfire

It was Stephen Colbert who suggested most recently that we as a nation are perilously close to redefining insanity: We keep doing the same thing and we expect different results. He was referencing the shootings in Oregon last week, but it was a refrain to which we are all beginning to fall prey. Pun intended.
There have been forty-five school shootings so far in 2015. My quick math suggests that works out to be five a month, which is troubling since we just finished summer vacation and it doesn't seem that we got any sort of break from the carnage. Maybe your prefer your body count in an easier to digest form a la USA Today: The friendly folks at The Guardian have made a nice pictograph showing nine hundred ninety-four mass shootings in one thousand four days. You can trust the Brits to make us Yanks feel just a little obvious with out ninety-nine percent shooting per day ratio. That's the United Kingdom, where owning guns is not a right, it's a crime. They find this whole mess rather distasteful and confounding.
Back here on our shores, the politics are pretty simple: Red is pretty gun crazy and blue is apologetic for being gun crazy. Always that fine line. It took Jeb Bush nearly a week to live down his reaction to the shootings at a community college in Oregon. His wisdom on the matter: "Stuff happens." Very zen, Jeb, but maybe you're just a little north of that sincerity mark that would have put you squarely on message. You know, sympathizing with the victims, but insisting that some "good guns" would have made all the difference.
That's what Donald Trump believes. He even went so far as to assert that these kind of things are an "unfortunate inevitability." If you didn't want to be shot, why did you come to this country in the first place? He's got a concealed weapons permit because "it's a right, not a privilege." This should come as no surprise to anyone who has listened to this man for more than thirty seconds. Each sound bite from the Donald is a meal. His supporters wholeheartedly believe that a crazy person will get a gun and there's nothing you can do about it except get a gun and shoot first.
And ask questions later. Better yet: don't ask. We already know the answer.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Gotta Go

The phone rang, and for a change of pace, it wasn't a number I recognized immediately as calling for my wife. It was my son. This set off a different set of alarms than the ones that I had spent so many years preparing myself to deal with. The last couple of years have given me a new awareness of my son's whereabouts. When he was younger, we used to get phone calls from his friends' houses, letting us know that he was staying for dinner. Or spending the night. It was the second of those two calls that would raise the defcon status at our house. His mother and I would then spend the next several hours hoping that this would be the magic night that would give us all the relief of a night away. This was not a skill I was able to pass along to my son effectively. Instead, I seem to have passed along the homesickness virus that plagued me as a kid. The phone calls we got from our son in the middle of the night were painful for all of us. We struggled with "the right thing to do." Should we let him tough it out, or should we go up in the middle of the night and rescue him?
For a while, we didn't get those calls. Not because he conquered the fear, but because he just stopped trying to sleep over at his friends' houses. And then one day, he was ready. He found the combination and the way to deal with his fears and the only call we got was the one letting us know that he wouldn't be home that night. This was the beginning of a trend that would eventually leave us with any number of possible locations for him to land on any number of evenings. Many of these were just late nights in the backstage shop at his high school theater. He was building. He was creating. He was making a path for himself to college.
When the phone rang last week, he was calling from college. This was a treat for me, but I still had that gut reaction: Trouble?
"Hey dad." No terror there.
"What's up?"
"Could you help me out?" Here it comes: Money? Lonely? Worried?
"What do you need?" I was ready.
"I'm at Trader Joe's. Do you know where they keep the Cold Brew Coffee?"
The flood of relief. "Well, I -"
"Oh, here it is. Never mind."
"Good talking to you, son."
"Good talking to you. I gotta go."
Gotta go.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Love Means...

Love means never having to say you're sorry. That was the tag line from "Love Story," a little book and film from the 1970's. It's the kind of thing that used to go on posters and T-shirts back then. It was a simpler time. It was a time for silliness like Andy Warhol and bell-bottom blue jeans. Bad things happened. Wars were being fought across the globe. Disco was still dance music, and Coke was still a smile and not for grinding your teeth.
Some decades later, bad things are still happening, but the legs of our jeans have become thinner to the point of absurdity. Disco has died and come back to life as many times as Jason Voorhees. Andy Warhol is a venerated master. And love still means never having to say you're sorry.
If the opposite of love is war, as we learned back in those days after the endless slog of Vietnam, what do we say about the accidental air strike in Afghanistan that killed nineteen? Not nineteen bad guys, by the way. These were nineteen non-combatants. Twelve staff members for Doctors Without Borders, and seven of their patients, three of whom were children. Thirty-seven others were injured in the melee, brought to you by the United States Air Force. Just doing our job. Keeping the peace. What do we do now? Now that the doctors who had been attending to the wounded in the region have been killed as part of "collateral damage?" Would now be a good time to say "sorry?"
I will tell you how it works on our playground: We say, "I'm sorry," followed immediately by, "Are you okay?" This is used at each point of contact, intentional or unintentional. Accidents happen on playgrounds. "I didn't mean to hurt anyone," is not an excuse. We want the person who got hit on the nose with an errant four-square ball to know that even if we didn't mean to hit them on the nose, we are still concerned for their welfare. In Afghanistan? "The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation."
One thing is clear: Afghanistan is no playground. Nor is it a Love Story. My suggestion is that we don't sit around waiting for an apology from the ones who dropped the bombs. By then we could all be doing the Hustle in our elephant bells once again. 

Monday, October 05, 2015

Another In A Continuing Series

If I had been President of the United States for the past eight years, I don't know how I would have responded. Showing up at the podium for yet another acknowledgement of a mass shooting, I don't know if I could have held it together as well as our President has. Considering the number of these heinous acts has done nothing but grow since 2008, even the published timelines of these events go out of date on a ridiculously rapid rate. Who shot whom and why has ceased to be any sort of discussion. The fact that this has become a generally accepted part of our American culture is tragic beyond words.
And yet, that's what we are left with: Words. Names. And the faces. Casualties in a war that was never declared, but nonetheless we feel compelled to win. Arguing about guns and the Constitution is the way we make ourselves feel better about doing nothing to stem this bloody tide. Discussion of security measures like metal detectors and more police in the hallways of schools deflect the insanity of having the discussion of arming teachers. Wringing our collective hands about the state of mental health in our country feels like a proactive way to get to the source, but it's still a package deal. One lunatic with one gun can do so much damage.
There are too many cracks. The refrain, "He seemed like such a normal guy. We never would have imagined that he could do such a thing," has become such a cliche that it shows up in pop songs. TV shows. Movies. Video games. The lone gunman is an institution. As long as the targets happen to be bad guys, we make them heroes. When they are moms and dads and kids and fellow students, we recoil in fear.
How did it get this bad? I wish I had a mathematical formula that would reduce this to some kind of relate-able experience. There is no such algorithm. We are stuck with being shattered and shocked by the announcement of each new killing spree. We become numb to the effect it is having on all of us. The nation no longer mourns. We go about our business. Until it happens in our town. Then we stop and wonder how it got this bad. Local politicians promise to take a stand. Memorials and tributes pop up, only to be swept away months later when that town's name joins the list of those who have added to the roll. And once again, the President steps up to the microphone and announces another in a series. I know that I couldn't do it.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Scorched Earth

Donald Trump, to paraphrase an old bit, promises to return America to what it once was: A vast arctic wasteland covered with volcanic ash and snow. I do believe he is just the man to do this. He has done nothing so far to inspire anything but fear and contempt in me. I tend, like many people who have liberal bleeding hearts, to mask that fear with attempts at humor: See the funny man with the questionable hair and orange face make statements that hurt and defame. Isn't his hair funny? Isn't it ridiculous that he can get away with saying such awful things and doing such despicable acts? 
Well, I have been getting along just fine for the past few months poking fun. All the while I have been reminding anyone who will listen to me that four years ago Herman Cain was the front-runner in the race for the Republican Presidential Nomination. Herman Cain of the "Nine-Nine-Nine" tax reform plan. Herman Cain of Godfather's Pizza. Herman Cain of the Stephen Colbert punchline. Herman Cain of the "Herman Cain Show," and fan of Von Trumpenstein. 
It's all so amusing. Wouldn't it be hysterical if he won?
It's not funny anymore.

What would Donald Trump do if he was elected President? He would send the Syrian refugees taken in by the United States back to their homeland. "I'm putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration. If I win, they're going back." Direct. To the point. Full of that bluster and straight talk that put him where he is: In the national spotlight. The same mind that gave us this:  "Putin is a nicer person than I am. I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he's getting an 'A' and our president is not doing so well." 
And the hits just keep on coming.
It's not funny anymore. It's tragic. A year from now we will be asked to pick the leader of what we like to call "the free world." I confess that I still haven't made up my mind about the next election, but I am pretty sure that this is no longer a laughing matter

Saturday, October 03, 2015

One Hundred Percent

There are not a lot of things that you can say for certain are one hundred percent. The members of the United States Congress who believe in climate change, for example. There are plenty of other measures that are very close, but not quite the whole enchilada. Like the number of Republicans who don't believe in evolution, a number which has been declining in the past few years. Way to go, Elephant Guys! Since science may not be the best approach, maybe we should try something a little more absolute: math.
One hundred percent of the women on death row in Georgia have been executed. For the purposes of this experiment, it helps to have a very small sample: one. Kelly Renee Gissendaner was put down with a lethal dose of intravenous drugs just after midnight on Tuesday morning. There were witnesses. It helps to have all that certainty of having doctors and law enforcement types around to preside over the proceedings, just in case Ms. Gissendaner had tried to slip off the table and sneak out the side door while everyone else was busy trying to find the cotton swab to wipe the spot where the deadly chemicals would be introduced to avoid a nasty infection. You get the idea. There are no more women on Georgia's death row. The mission of that particular tentacle of the justice system has fulfilled its prime directive, and now they can rest easy.
Please understand that I have no interest in defending Ms. Gissendaner. She was convicted and sentenced to death in 1997 for conspiring to murder her her husband. The guy who actually did the stabbing, Kelly's lover Gregory Owen, also set the Gissendaner family car on fire and relieved the murdered husband of his wallet and watch to make it appear as a robbery. Mister Owen is serving a life sentence. He is eligible for parole in 2022. The number of people on death row for the murder of Douglas Gissendaner is now zero. One hundred percent. Nice job, justice guys!
So I will put this into the file that suggests that we are finally making inroads to gender equality. Equal pay for equal work. We can have women running for President of the United States. We can execute men, women and children if necessary. Justice is blind. One hundred percent.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Curious Yellow

Yesterday I discussed the inevitable but seemingly impossible end to the story of a bunch of clever kids and their cars: The Fast and the Furious. There are plenty of jokes to be made about just how fast and/or furious these folks may or may not be by the time they have been at the business of squealing tires and launching incredibly expensive cars out of even more expensive skyscrapers. If, after two decades of living life a quarter mile at a time they are all still up to the task, one wonders if they will be having to race their heavily modified motor vehicles on the moon just to create anything that seems new or vibrant. You know: for kids.
Speaking of kids, today I was reading about cartoons. Not that cartoons have been the domain of children waking up early on Saturday morning for a very long time, but it could be that this was only a sliver of the reality that I remember from my own youth. The Warner Brothers shorts that I watched as a kid continue to amuse me today even more than they did way back when. I get the layers. The same can be said of Rocky and Bullwinkle and all manner of other mildly subversive fare from the olden days.
I remember the first time I saw The Simpsons. I was watching Tracy Ullman's show and there was this jaggedly animated bit between skits that featured an angry yellow family that reminded me of Matt Groening's cartoons. Because they were. I remember thinking what a treasure this was, and how lucky I was to have discovered them. That was back in 1987. It was only a few years after that when Fox TV gave Mister Groening his own half hour to put the funk back in dysfunctional family. Twenty-six years after their premiere, everyone's favorite Nuclear Family has become less jagged and more round. Less harsh and more thoughtful. It had to. I watched them all when Otto's bus was first pulling out of the station. I watched the reruns to catch what I might have missed. And somewhere along the track, I think it was about the time I started having a son of my own to strangle, I stopped watching. I had switched to harder stuff, like South Park and Robot Chicken. And sometime after that, I lost track of them too.
Now I hear that Simpsons' showrunner Al Jean is thinking it's about time to pack it in. I bought my T-shirt way back when. I had a lunchbox. I got it. Now it's time to turn the page, even though I haven't read those comics for years.

Thursday, October 01, 2015


Franchises. I have worked for a few. I have entertained and enthralled dozens with my tales of the back room at Arby's. I got a name tag for that. And a nice brown vest. With a pocket in which I kept the keys to the register. After a stint at Target, where I was not even required to wear one of those hokey red vests, I found myself ensconced in the rarefied air of a locally owned video store. Customers knew my by name, thus badges were not necessary.  They knew me by reputation. I was the guy they could go to for advice about movies they had never seen, but was disposed to rolling my eyes whenever I was asked "what'snewthat'sgoodthat'sinthatIhaven'tseenyet?" You want to see what everyone else is watching? Be my guest. Sigh.
And I got away with that. For a while. Until our store was sold away to a lawyer from out of town who had it in his head that owning a video store might be a fun way to spend his time because practicing law turned out to be an awful lot of work. The lawyer turned us into a National Video franchise store. If you haven't heard of them, that's okay since they went belly up not long after the store in which I worked passed away quietly back in the late 1980's. It may have been the overhead. All those blue polyester shirts. And name tags.
So I know a few things about franchises. Which is probably why I had to click on the story whose headline read, "Vin Diesel Says The 'Fast and Furious' Franchise Will End After Three More Films." First of all, from Vin's lips to my ears, right? And it also got me thinking about what it must be like for him and the rest of the F&F crew to work for a franchise. It's probably a little different than my experience at Arby's, and even though I like to think of my video store experience as part of my film career, I don't guess that Mister Diesel is required to wear a name tag while he is on set. If you're curious, by the way, three more "Fast" films will bring the total to ten. Not content to stand on lucky number seven, probably because of the less-than-lucky fate of the late Paul Walker, And that one made a hemi-powered drone full of cash, so why not make them until that particular stone has been wrung dry?
The first episode in this saga roared across movie screens in 2001, and there has been a nearly constant biennial stream of fast cars and tough talk coming from the producers of this series ever since. That will mean that this franchise will last a little over twenty years. Nice work, if you can get it, even if it doesn't come with a nice blue polo shirt.