Sunday, January 31, 2016

Optional Routes

I have a home in Oakland. It's where I hang my hats. It is where at least a piece or two of my heart resides. I confess that I maintain what is, for some, an unhealthy connection to my childhood home in Boulder, Colorado. I see you. You can put your hands down now. When I think of street names and maps, I still have an easier time getting around Boulder in my head than I do on the real streets of Oakland. Of course I have also internalized the geography of Disneyland, and I am more than a little nervous that all the new Star Wars additions will make navigating the Magic Kingdom a challenge again. That seldom used path at the back of Fantasyland that brings you back around behind Big Thunder Mountain, for example.
It could be that wherever I am, I will always pine for a simpler time, a place that doesn't really exist. Not anymore. I thought about this as I looked to the south, from the front steps of my elementary school on any given morning, you can see the lights coming from the Oakland Coliseum. Currently it is called "Oh-dot-co" stadium, It is the home of the Raiders and the Athletics. Both teams have long and storied tradition here in the East Bay, having won multiple championships and cementing themselves in the hearts and minds of many of the residents. It depends a lot on how many games each one of those teams is winning at the time. Everyone loves a winner. But it should also be pointed out that in the big book of die-hard fans, those who love their Silver and Black are right up near the top.
Which is why the current non-committal nonsense coming out of the ownership of the Oakland Raiders doesn't make a lot of sense. When Mark Davis, son of Al, starts rambling on about a "Raider Nation" that has no particular location affixed to it, it causes a disturbance in the force. "Don't make us leave," is how they taunt the locals, who bring their signs to games and public gatherings, pleading for their team to stay put. But it's a business, after all. There are people and municipalities across the country who are falling all over themselves trying to get a professional football franchise. For the chance to pay for the rights and facilities to get a professional football franchise. Never mind that crowd of rabid men, women, boys and girls in their black t-shirts and silver face paint in Oakland. If you want your football, you'll have to come up with a little more scratch.
Just a little further south, in the shadow of Oh-dot-co is a closed Wal-Mart store: the place where a lot of that officially licensed silver and black swag was sold. That store was closed, along with two hundred sixty-eight others across the globe, last month. Right about the time that the Raiders were cleaning out their lockers for what might have been the last time, the four hundred employees who once worked just down the street were hanging up their blue vests for the last time. There was some speculation that raising the minimum wage in Oakland may have forced the hand of the uber-retailer, but the fifteen dollars an hour paid to those now unemployed four hundred souls hardly seems like a deal-breaker for a monster like Wal-Mart.
Which makes me wonder why Disney couldn't just drive on up the coast and buy the whole city. If they sold mouse ears in silver and black, that would help make us feel at home.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Connective Tissue

Watching cable TV can be kind of a vortex for me. Once I land on a particular show or movie, I start making connections from one film to another, one star to another, one director to the next, making a latticework of everything I have seen in the past week. Or more. For instance, the other night I was checking in on the movie channels and saw that the last hour of Schindler's List was unspooling just a few notches down the dial from Jaws. Steven Spielberg, director. Shortly thereafter, American Graffiti started up, linking me to the Richard Dreyfuss vein. And there was Harrison Ford, before he was Han Solo, when he was Bob Falfa. He was driving a hot rod on the same streets as Terry the Toad and Debbie. Debbie had last been seen at our house in the form of Mary Lou in The Man Who Fell To Earth. That was Candy Clark cruising with Charles Martin Smith, who we had just seen chasing Jeff Bridges' Starman across the desert southwest. Which bounced me over to the Karen Allen column, which made me think of Harrison Ford again, this time as Indiana Jones. Directed by Steven Spielberg.
I know. It's a tight little group, not because of some bizarre conspiracy or coincidence, but because of the pretty closed group of pop culture that I allow to come streaming into my living room. Kind of like that tight knit circle of friends that make up the conservative wacko nation. You've got your Donald J. Trumplestiltskin. You've got your Sarah "Never Met A Job I Couldn't Quit" Palin, And now you've got your Sheriff Joe Arpaio circling the drain right along with them. Again: not a conspiracy or coincidence, just a group of like-minded folks getting together in attempts to make America what it once was: A vast arctic region covered with ice and snow. Sheriff Joe is certainly not the last to jump on the scary bandwagon that is the Trump machine. His appearance does sound an alarm in my head that says, "Wait a minute. Haven't we already established that these people are a danger to themselves and others?" I've been writing blogs about these characters for years now, and somehow they can still raise a crowd. A crowd of excited conservative types who like their talk as tough as it is nonsensical. Sheriff Joe showed up on Iowa to toss some of this verbiage around about illegal immigration, and how he thinks that Trumplywinks will bring about a restoration of the order that preceded the current chaos down on that southern border. Never mind that those Hawkeyes probably don't get too up in arms about the flood of bad guys coming in from the Show-Me-State, but every little bit of paranoia helps when it comes time to rally the troops.
The difference between these associations? One is make believe. One is a fantasy land. You figure it out.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Upon Further Review

Win a few, lose a few. It's not if you win or lose, it's how you play the game. I was brought up believing these words. I have never been part of a dynasty, but I confess that in the big book of winning and losing, I prefer the former. I have played on teams that had to be satisfied with the effort they put in. I have been awarded a number of "Participant" ribbons in my day. I try to steer clear of bandwagons, and whenever practicable, I root the conference. Complaining about the surface or the referees seems petty in the end. I'm also not one to diminish the idea of good luck or even the superstitions that go along with a winning streak. It's the way we can participate when we're not on the field. But once a game is over, it's over and there's no going back. Unless you happen to be one of those fans. The kind that lives in the "what if" world of possible pasts. If only there was a time machine that could take you back to 1986 to tell Bill Buckner to keep his fee together. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
So here's my vision of that hearing room, not so long ago...
Brady: Point of parliamentary procedure!
Belichick: Don't screw around, they're serious this time!
Brady: Take it easy, I'm pre-law.
Gronkowski: I thought you were pre-med.
Brady: What's the difference? Ladies and gentlemen, I'll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with the inflation of our footballs — we did. [winks at Commissioner Goodell] But you can't hold a whole football team responsible for the behavior of a few, sick perverted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole National Football League? And if the whole National Football League is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our sports institutions in general? I put it to you, Commissioner Goodell: isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do what you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!

[Leads the Patriots out of the hearing, all humming the Star-Spangled Banner]

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Story Continues

It didn't catch up to me until the sun set on my weekend. Sunday evening as the sky turned in a command performance of orange and blue, the Denver Broncos were heading to the Super Bowl. Their opponent was yet to be selected, but all the fan rays I could possibly have mustered for the week had already been spent on the AFC Championship Game. My wife understood. She had been sitting next to me as my team battled the New England Patriots for the full sixty minutes of regulation time, coming perilously close to slipping into the terrifying world of overtime and its arcane rules and not-so-sudden death. My wife understood because she has been sitting next to me for all these years, as I have watched the rise and fall and rise again of this professional football franchise, as if my life depended on it.
It doesn't. I know that now. But on Sunday afternoon, as the shadows grew long, and the game came down to that final play, my emotions heaving from one side of the spectrum to the next. It is why they play the game. It is why we watch the games. It is why my wife, after years of watching from the sidelines, has found herself on that couch with me, sweating every kick, every first down, awaiting that final score. The gift, for her, was the story: Peyton Manning. The hired gun. The Sheriff. The old man brought in to bring the Broncos back to the glory days. Elway days. This year has not been kind to Mister Manning. Injuries and age have combined to limit his once preternatural skills to that of your standard, garden variety professional quarterback. To the point that he was sent to the bench at the season's mid-point, where he languished while his young upstart padawan led the team to the brink of the playoffs. Would this be the end of seventeen years calling plays, throwing touchdowns, and trying to get back to that spot at the top of the heap?
Well, no.
In a glorious bit of teamwork and ego check, Peyton held on and rode a dominating performance by his defense to victory and a trip to Santa Clara. Rising up and kicking the dirt off his face, kicked there by the pundits and the powers that be, Peyton Manning rode off into that sunset with one more chance to go out a winner. Never mind that he holds more records than just about anyone else who played the game. Never mind that he has won more games than just about anyone in that same group. The old man, younger than me by some thirteen years, is going to play quarterback in the Super Bowl. I want to believe that it was, in part, my fan rays that made that possible. And the chili my wife served us in orange and blue bowls. And the way we cheered and screamed and tensed and relaxed at all the right moments.
It makes a great story. A story that's not over yet.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


I wasn't out in a field trying to herd cattle into a barn during a hail storm. That's what I told the nice lady on the telephone. She got points for appreciating my patience. She was the fourth person I had talked to since the day began. On the phone. About our cable TV. And Internet. And phone service. It all started as a demonstration of customer loyalty. Or something like that.
A few weeks back, I had called the cable company to see about getting a break on my monthly bill. The fellow in the Customer Loyalty department suggested that I wait a month or so until the start of their new fiscal year, when there would be more deals available. I wanted that: more deals. I wanted to keep the hundreds of cable channels coming into my TV and the blinding fast Internet speed, and a telephone line that would connect me to the company that would give me these things. For a price. I just wanted to be able to talk about that price a little bit.
I have been paying my cable bill, on time, for thirty years. I figured I was due some of that loyal customer love, but first I had to call them up to remind them how loyal I have been all these years. I mentioned this during my first call of the morning, which I figured would be the only one I needed to make. The first nice lady I spoke to listened to me opine about my place in their corporate earnings, and she felt she could help me out. Once I got what I wanted, I pushed the issue just a little more. How about a little something for the effort? Free Showtime? Why not?
The answer to my rhetorical question came a few hours later when I sat down on my couch to watch my new, cheaper TV. Except there was no Showtime. Or HBO. The new deal seemed to have left be with less to watch than more. That wasn't the deal I was after. So I called back. After wading through the first wave of droid prompts, I started talking to a nice gentleman who clicked and clacked a little bit and then opened up my account. Apparently there had been some confusion about which buttons needed to be pushed and which wires got crossed. He made sure that before we hung up that I was happy about what I was seeing on my television. Problem solved, right?
Except that while I was on the line with the cable company, my mother in law was trying  to get in touch with my wife, and had to resort to calling her cell phone because she wasn't able to ring through or leave a message. Our special features were gone. We had our movie channels, but no caller ID or voice mail. I got back on the line again to run the gauntlet one more time. This time, the customer service person listened to my situation and quickly passed me off to a technician. She was very enthusiastic about helping get to the bottom of this now hours-long dilemma. She thanked me for my patience, and that's when I let fly with my comment about herding cattle in a hailstorm. This only served to pump her up even more.
She fixed the problem. We got our voice mail back. We got our caller ID. We got our Showtime. And she gave us a one hundred dollar credit on our bill. Suddenly I felt just great about the time I had spent chatting up the cable company from the relative safety and calm of my living room. For a hundred  dollars, I could make a few phone calls. Or herd cattle in a hailstorm.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Caring Is Sharing

Jack Sprat could eat no fat. His wife could eat no lean.And so, between them both you see, they licked the platter clean. Well, that's a little graphic, isn't it? The image sticks with me now, more than when I first heard the rhyme in my youth. Now that I'm married, of course, it sounds like the working model of that whole "opposites attract" ethos that get floated around from time to time. I have also referred, from time to time, to the Pushme-Pullyou nature of human relationships.
The trouble is, to quote John Cleese in one of the funniest episodes of Cheers ever made, this is "the song of the truly desperate." It means that my distaste for kale can't really be made up for by my wife's fondness for this super food. It means that when  my wife says she wants to paint the bathroom blue, I still have to wait and see what shade, or shades, she really has in mind. There is this great big negotiation that takes place every day between people in relationships, and it would be great if there was come arithmetic means to describe these interactions, but it's never that simple.
Unless there was a way to figure out how to share a bag of Hershey's Miniatures. Milk Chocolate, Mister Goodbar, Krackel, and Special Dark. Sure, it would be easy enough to hope that your wife would just sit back and let you peel and eat all those chocolatey treats while she sits back in her chair with a bowl of broccoli slaw all for herself. That's not really going to happen. It wouldn't be right. Nor would sorting out those krispy Krackels and saving them aside for her dessert. They're mostly air. It's probably important to be equitable about how we divvy up the Goodbars, since they have all that peanutty protien. The milk chocolate? Well it is the vanilla, for lack of a better descriptor. In my house, my wife gladly surrenders those because they don't necessarily add to the infinite variety of life. They are just chocolate. It's the Special Dark for which we both pine. It's Special. It says so on the wrapper. If we're trying to love, honor and cherish, how can we keep this property community? True, unconditional love or its literary equivalent might make you think that caring is sharing, and vice versa. That's not always the case. Sometimes you get that whole gift of the Magi thing going on, which leaves the last piece of chocolate sitting on a table while we politely defer to the other. Out loud, at least
Secretly, we wish we could have all the Special Dark. And the Mister Goodbars. And the Milk Chocolate. The Krackel can be saved aside for guests. That's because we care.

Monday, January 25, 2016


Vern: You think Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman? 
Teddy: What are you cracked? 
Vern: Why not? I saw the other day, he was carrying five elephants in one hand. 
Teddy: Boy, you don't know nothin', Mighty Mouse is a cartoon, Superman is a real guy, no way a cartoon could beat up a real guy. 
Vern: Yeah, maybe you're right... would be a good fight though! 
Teddy: Tssh. 

I am suggesting that this conversation has been going on for decades, and it will continue for decades more. Comic book movies will ensure that. This spring, Batman will try to beat up Superman. Captain American will try to beat up Iron Man. Something about absolute power corrupting absolutely, or maybe super power corrupts superly. So, if I'm hanging around Gotham City, and I have grown tired of how easy it is to round up the garden variety bank robbers and thugs, I will probably pine for those instances of Penguins or Jokers escaping whatever confines they have been condemned to over the years. I might even start looking at the Daily Planet to see what's happening down the river in Metropolis. If I were the kind of guy who dresses up like a flying rodent, I might start looking over my shoulder, and start to gauge my super-ness by the guy in the blue tights. Just as we wonder if God can make a boulder so large that he can't lift it, Batman probably wonders if there isn't something he could pack in that utility belt that would level the Justice League playing field a little bit. 
Iron Man and Captain America have been alpha dogs in the same pack for a long time. Sitting across from Tony Stark in Stark Tower, knowing that you owe him for your resurrection from an ice floe must pain Cap. He's a team player and all, but having to play catch-up with a billionaire playboy philanthropist must wear on a guy over time. And don't think the billionaire playboy philanthropist doesn't feel it on his side. Keenly. He needs a red and gold shell to keep up with the super antics of his super soldier associate. He might be a little green under all that red and gold.
And so it goes, in the world of superheroes. We wonder when this costumed crusader will tip this way or that. We worry about allegiances and alliances that will undermine the stability provided by a group of extra-human crimebusters. 
But it's not real life. We shouldn't be as worried about the big screen conflicts of spandex clad superfolks as we are about the podium full of contenders for the big prize in November's real life election. Red Man versus Blue Woman. Thunderhair versus Old Guy. Computer graphics would help a lot. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

It's What I Do

When I read the article, I was sitting in my classroom, preparing for another day. I had already made sure that all the chairs had been moved back from the library so that children would have a place to sit. I checked the date on the board to be certain that I had the right day of the week written there so as not to confuse the kiddies. The ones who bother to read what is on the board, that is. I made a cursory check of all the plugs and machines in front of which students would be sitting. The lights were on, the teacher was home. Next door, another teacher was busily stapling homework packets for the coming week. We were preparing for the day. It was still dark outside. I blew my nose and coughed, surrendering to the age-old question: Am I sick enough to stay at home?
Most days I don't bother too long with that question. The notable exception would be those halcyon days of kidney stones and pain medication. Those are the ones I fail to negotiate. Surrender. Missing a day of school is tough on a kid, who spends the rest of the week trying to catch up. It's about thirty times harder for a teacher, who misses out on all the things those kids do and say in their absence. Staying on top of the flow of the academic year is a challenge for educators who are in attendance every single day. The idea of substitute teachers is a calming one, and there are thousands of them roaming around this area, and millions more across this great land of ours. The problem is that with a few exceptions, it's like a box of Forrest Gump chocolate covered shrimp. You pretty much know what you're going to get: chocolate covered shrimp. Which is great if that is what your lesson plans calls for, not so much otherwise.
What to do? Push the fluids, get your rest when you can, pound down those antihistamines and pack a pocketful of cough drops with the idea that you can make it one more day. Friday is coming, and then you can hold still for a couple days while your immune system plays catch up. Meanwhile, the treadmill of education continues to run under your feet and the district benchmark or the oratorical fest looms on the horizon. Will I be ready? Will the kids be ready?
So I blow my nose and get ready to face the day, knowing that there are teachers who have figured out how to balance their mental health days with their sense of responsibility. I know that those teachers in Detroit are not actually sick, but participating in a work action, or non-work action, in order to bring attention to the deplorable conditions of schools there. They are sick, in a metaphorical sense: sick of working in overcrowded, rundown classrooms.
My classroom is pretty nice. Some days it gets a little crowded when we get extra students. We get extra students because teachers call in sick and they can't get a substitute. Going to work or watching daytime TV? I'll dose myself up and give it the old elementary school try. It's what I do.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


I say this a lot, and I thank Shel Silverstein each time I do: "Some kind of help is what helping's all about, and some kind of help is the kind we can all do without." These were the words that went through my head when I heard that Sarah Palin was doing Donald Trump the favor of endorsing him in his run for president. "Are you ready to make America great again? We all have a part in this. We all have a responsibility. Looking around at all of you; you hard-working Iowa families, you farm families and teachers and teamsters and cops and cooks; you rockin’ rollers and holy rollers! All of you who work so hard, you full-time moms, you with the hands that rock the cradle. You all make the world go round and now our cause is one." 
It might have been Tina Fey. In that kinda change-y, sorta folksy, pretty rambly kinda way that former governor, former vice presidential candidate, former sportscaster, former beauty queen Sarah Palin has, she whooped the Iowa crowd into a tumultuous frenzy. Or at least she got herself pretty charged up. "When asked why I would jump into a primary — kind of stirring it up a little bit maybe — and choose one over some friends who are running and I’ve endorsed a couple others in their races before they decided to run for president, I was told left and right, 'you are going to get so clobbered in the press. You are just going to get beat up and chewed up and spit out.'" It should be noted at this point that his royal Donaldness did not flinch. He waited for the Maverick to bring it home. "Now, finally friends, I want you to try to picture this. It's a nice thing to picture. Exactly one year from tomorrow: former President Barack Obama. He packs up the teleprompters and the selfie-sticks and the Greek columns and all that hopey, changey stuff and he heads on back to Chicago, where I’m sure he can find some community there to organize again. There, he can finally look up. President Obama will be able to look up, and there, over his head, he’ll be able to see that shining, towering, Trump Tower. Yes, Barack, he built that. And that says a lot."
A lot, indeed. I would like to believe that the appearance of everyone's favorite straight shooter from Alaska would sound the death knell to the Trumpocracy. So far I have been terribly wrong. It's Bizarro World politics where everything you know is wrong. Hopey changey bad. Greek columns bad. Trump Tower good! 
Meanwhile, across the frozen tundra comes a cry: Sarah Palin's son Track has been arrested on domestic violence charges. Apparently, the young Palin was intoxicated and carrying a firearm at the time. Where was this boy's mother?
In Iowa, ushering in a new Bizarro Day. 
Good night. Drive safe.

Friday, January 22, 2016

How Do I Make The Cut?

"You can see the stars and still not see the light." That's what the man said. Or sang. He probably said it out loud at least a couple of times just to get the feel of it. Glenn Frey, that is. He died over the long weekend. His was a voice I grew up with. Other than my own, that is. I learned that nasal twang and careful harmonies with his partner in crime, Don Henley. I liked to turn those records up loud and sing along. I was no match for that plaintive Henley wail, but something about Glenn's voice made me believe that I could fly like an Eagle, or sing like one under carefully monitored conditions. Now that voice is gone. For the record, he didn't make it as far down that road as David Bowie.
Or Alan Rickman. Alan passed just days after Bowie, and as a result was not necessarily afforded the attention that he might otherwise have garnered. Alan was, I believe, responsible for Bruce Willis' rise from the small screen to the big. To be a great action hero, you have to go head-to-head with somebody really bad. Hans Gruber was really bad. Exceptional, in fact. To quote Hans, "I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite." My wife wondered if Mister Rickman had ever played a hero, and I said, "Of course: Severus Snape." 
And these were two more lights that went out. Lights in my firmament. Why would I care more about these characters than any others? Why don't I write about all the less luminary who pass on? It's a way to keep track, like rings on a tree. The wider rings show years of growth and the skinny ones let us know when there was a drought. This year hasn't been so much of a drought, but a downpour. Stars keep falling from the sky.
Why does it matter? Because these were the lights that shone the way for me. Some more than others. I will not be writing a tribute to Lawrence Phillips here in this blog. Though he had a moment of brilliance on the gridiron, he never connected with my world. Could be a Nebraska thing. Could be that killing  yourself in prison doesn't get you to the front of my list. But he lived a life and for some, he stomped on the Terra. 
But not like Alan "Cancel Christmas!" Rickman. Or Glenn "Take It Easy" Frey. It is because of the Eagles' guitarist that I have made a point not once but twice in my life of standing on a corner of Winslow, Arizona. There won't be any more of that kind of fun coming out of those jars anytime soon. Alas. Aloha, Alan and Glenn. In your own inimitable ways, you stomped on the Terra. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Word Of Don

"Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." That's how the King James version reads. Second Corinthians, chapter three, verse seventeen. It's in the Bible. Some call it "the Word of God." Or "The Good Book." Whatever we call it, if you quote it during your speech at Liberty University, you probably want to include some of that in your prepared remarks. They've been training champions for Christ at Liberty University since 1971. That last piece of information didn't come from the Bible. It came from their web site, which doesn't count as the revealed word of God, since I'm not sure how up He is on HTML. 
So there's Donald Trumpf at the podium, on Martin Luther King Day, speaking in front of those christian soldiers, and he mentions "Two Corinthians. Three seventeen. That's the whole ballgame." A lot of people might have taken a moment or two to prepare enough to refer to it as "Second Corinthians" instead of "Two Corinthians." And he used his impressive knowledge off The Good Book to make a connection between Liberty University and Christianity. Where there is the Spirit of the Lord, after all, there is Liberty. Get it? Liberty University? Spirit of the Lord? That's where he was, and he was working those future champions for Christ into a tumultuous frenzy, but reminding them that Christianity is under siege. His Donaldness was probably referring to that whole gay marriage thing more than the beheading of Christians in Syria, but if it gets him a point or two in any poll, he's happy to oblige with a sound bite or two. “I don’t know what it is, we don’t band together, maybe. Other religions, frankly, they’re banding together and they’re using it,” Trump said. “The power we have, somehow we have to unify, we have to band together, we have to do in a really large version what they’ve done at Liberty, because Liberty University has done that. You’ve banded together. You’ve created one of the great universities, colleges, anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, and that’s what our country has to do that around Christianity. So, get together folks and let’s do it because we can do it.”

Because, sports fans, it seems to Herr Trumplemeyer that Christians haven't been bonding together enough. Not like those "other religions." Maybe Trumpenstein could have pondered another translation of the verse he chose to lay on his potential votes. The  English Standard version of the Bible suggests the word "freedom" instead of "liberty." I leave you to ponder the semantic difference while Donny packs his bags and heads off to his next stop. Hopefully there won't be a quiz.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


I don't understand. I really don't. There is a significant portion of American citizens who are afraid. Not of heights or public speaking. Not spiders or snakes. They are afraid of their own government. That same creaky wagon full of suits and ties that can't get come together long enough to do much more than argue with one another until it's time to head out on the campaign trail to beg for the opportunity return to arguing with one another. That government. It makes sense that we should all be frustrated by the dysfunctional mass of bureaucracy, but fear? These are the people who are going to take our guns away? I'm not convinced. I'll believe it when they can decide to get rid of pennies.
What does all this fear generate? Stuff like this: Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida who is currently part of a cabal who would like to be the second member of their party to occupy the White House this century, bought a gun. On Christmas Eve. It was a gift, not for a constituent, or a friend. It was for himself.And his family. Marco Rubio bought a gun, he says, to protect him and his family from terrorists. “I have a right to protect my family,” Rubio said in an interview on  “Face TheNation” last Sunday. “I have a right to protect my family if someone were to come after us. In fact, if ISIS were to visit us or our communities at any moment, the last line of defense between ISIS and my family is the ability I have to protect my family from them or from a criminal or anyone else seeing to do us harm. Millions of Americans feel that way.
Millions of Americans he says. Millions of Americans who do not have access to Secret Service protection. Of course, it should be noted that Senator Rubio does not currently enjoy this protection. He will only receive that kind of attention if he remains a "major candidate" within one hundred twenty days of the election. In the meantime, that good guy with a gun theory will be tested as he navigates the mean streets of Iowa and beyond. And all the while, he will have to live with the knowledge that people like Hillary Clinton already has an armed detail surrounding her at all times. 
And so does Donald Trump.Makes you wonder just exactly what Marco wants that gun for. Maybe it's dare. Maybe someone will dumb enough to try and take that gun away. Maybe that someone will be Donald Trump. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What's That Book About?

For Christmas, my wife did me the sweet and embarrassing honor of giving me my collected works in a bound volume. Not my entire ouvre, but a year's worth of the blogs not unlike the one you are reading right now. The major difference being that the gift my wife gave me had a cover and pages and weight. This thing that I sit in front of once a day and type until my point is made or the end of my patience is reached doesn't have any of that. There is a beginning, which is what you are currently reading.
There is a middle, which is about to start, and you'll have to forgive me for being all post-modern on you all, but this idea of having a book made of the things I write is generally confounding to me. I have made books in the past. In fourth grade, I generated a series of children's books. Written by children (me), for children (the kids in my class), it never occurred to me that there was some other way to express oneself. The painful insecurities I felt as a round kid with glasses were not felt as writer and illustrator. The world of my imagination was one I could control. The misfit characters I chose to star in my stories always ended up proving themselves in the end, and they lived happily ever after.
By the time I was in junior high, this wasn't the case. The young men and women who appeared in the fiction I wrote led bleak lives of quiet desperation. These were stories of suffering that I chose not to share with anyone. Many of them were written on the manual typewriter on which I was also writing my homework. These stories piled up in a desk drawer and were eventually lost to the ages. Somewhere in there, I did manage a great burst of self-revelation/navel-gazing in ninth grade which I shamelessly referred to as "The Great American Novel." I passed that one around to a select group of friends in hopes of gaining connection or sympathy or attention that I didn't feel I was getting by being the round kid with glasses in ninth grade.
In spite of the grandiose title, even that attempt at volume was nothing longer than Stephen King's grocery list. I was committed to the short story, and a new electric typewriter helped me churn those out with greater alacrity. That and the steady stream of depressing poetry that seemed to pour out of me was carefully filed away after my English teachers had a chance to reflect on them. It would be several more years before the select few of these would be archived on a floppy disk, transcribed by yours truly in a flurry of self-preservation that eventually became my first attempt at publication in anything outside of my circle of friends.
I have always found a receptive audience in my family, and friends, but the idea of burdening someone with a book of words that were jammed together with some larger collective meaning or heft stopped being on my list of intents about the time I graduated from college. The dreams of being a published author harken back to the day I got a literary magazine to publish a few of my dark rhymes. It should be noted that the next time I was published was when my wife entered an essay I wrote in a competition about Home.
Then came this blog, where I stack up a page a day, and it was that same lady who first took it upon herself to gather together from all the disparate thoughts and musings my stories about being a teacher. Ten years ago, that made quite the pamphlet. And now, as we close in on the end of this entry, I have a phone book of all my blogthought for a year. It's not like the Manhattan White Pages, more like the one I remember from my hometown. It's a lot of words. All in one place. And while I can't lay particular claim on any of them as mine, I can take pride in the fact that I chose the order in which they were arranged. A book. Mine.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Bouncing Back

Being a teacher can be very rewarding. It can also be very stressful. Which is part of the reason I add to the list of perks on my job the opportunity to hang around with a group of children. All day long. Yes, I can also just as easily drop this on the "stressful" side of the equation, but the thing that keeps me coming back is the resiliency of those short people around me. When you're old, like I am in comparison to the majority of the life forms around me, you can sometimes set an edge from which you can't retreat. If you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, sometimes there is no getting back to center. It takes a good long while to lighten up.
Kids are not that way. Their memories are not as long, and not as filled with bad days and unresolved conflicts. The grudges they hold are more of the recess-long variety. If a third grader is inconsolable at the beginning of lunch about the loss of their best friend due to some misunderstanding about jump rope or four square, chances are that before the bell rings everyone will be friends again by the time they walk inside.
This is also true for those moments when a student doesn't see eye to eye with me. Part of being a grown up is telling kids "no." I have been hated for that. For hours at a time. But somehow, by the end of the day when they are all trooping out, that crabby face that had been cursing my very existence is suddenly full of smiles once again: "Bye, Mister Caven! See you tomorrow!" The amazing elasticity of moods is fascinating to me. I might still be grumbling and moaning all the way home, through dinner and through the night until I found myself back on that wrong side of the bed the next morning. Ah, the persistence of memory. For the most part, kids can shrug it off.
That's probably why it took a group of first graders to help out Minnesota Vikings' kicker, Blair Walsh. Blair missed an easy field goal in the last seconds of his team's game against the Seattle Seahawks. It doesn't take much for me to label the attempt "easy," since I was safe and warm watching on television, having never before attempted a field goal of any distance, let alone one in subzero temperatures in a contest that would advance my team to the next level of the playoffs. Or send them home. Vikings fans were probably even less charitable.
Except for the first graders at Northpoint Elementary in Blaine, Minnesota. They wrote letters of encouragement to Walsh, who was so taken by their words of support that he dropped by their classroom to thank them personally. I believe that all of our lousy days could be brightened immeasurably by letters from first graders. "Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. One time I made a mistake when I was doing a cartwheel. I felt embarrassed. You can still help the Vikings win the Super Bowl next year." We've all made a mistake doing a cartwheel. It's going to be okay. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What'd Ya See?

I respond to a lot of ridiculous levels of shame. I feel bad when I think about that telemarketer sitting in a cubicle, hoping that just one person will pick up the phone when they see that number on caller ID that doesn't look familiar. I answer some of those calls because I don't want the poor stiff at the other end of the line to feel as though their efforts were a complete waste of time and energy. That's how they're putting frozen pizza on the table, after all. I am also completely susceptible to dental guilt. When I hear the hygienist tsking behind her plastic face shield as she scrapes and probes, stopping every so often to make a note, I sink a little deeper in my seat. I know that I brush and floss twice a day, and that I have become ever more conscious of those between-meal snacks, but it can't protect me from the heightened expectations of that prone position, hoisted on my own tartar.
There is another wave of disgrace comes pounding through this time of year when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announce their annual list of movies that everyone should have seen by now. It used to be easier when there were only five. As an avid moviegoer, I could usually count on having at least three in the bag before the nominations were announced, and the month before the actual ceremony could be used to fill in the one or two prestige films that had somehow escaped my net. This year there are eight. I can console myself a little with the fact that the rules allow there to be ten movies in the running. Maybe one of those that missed the cut could have been Star Wars. And the latest James Bond. Or the most recent Fast and Furious installment. Then I would be sitting pretty.
Instead, I'm sitting squarely on my three, wishing that all that Rocky love could have splashed off Sylvester Stallone and onto the movie he was in. Or that the Pixar folks could have managed a deserved move from the animated film slums to the penthouse located at the end of the show. Which elicits a sub-group of the grief I give myself. I used to see all those animated films. I don't have a ten year old at home anymore. I don't drag myself out to see the best in anime or animation that wasn't created just over the hill in Emeryville. Shame, shame, shame.
I've got a month and a half to try and bag those five movies that have so far eluded my grasp. For my own humility, I will refrain to name them here, but I intend to study up and at least watch the trailers for the ones I can't track down at the local superfaplex. I don't know if faking it will eventually bring me greater shame, but then I can focus on the guilt I will feel for pretending to know what I'm talking about, which is a nearly constant condition for me. Or maybe I can simply console myself with the knowledge that I conscientiously avoided all five Razzie nominated worst pictures of the year. Sweet relief.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sure Thing

I didn't donate to our company's "Lotto Day" way back when I managed a warehouse. I let everyone else who had a loose dollar or two line up at the shipping manager's desk to get their name put on a list that would be used the following Monday to divide up the millions of dollars in winnings that would fall into their collective laps. The list, sadly, was never put to that use. Mostly it was used to remind those who had previously donated to what my father so lovingly referred to as "The Idiot Tax" that it was time to pony up once again to take a chance on that one big windfall. Week after week, month after month, it went on. And on. "Don't forget: today is a Lotto Day!" came the announcement of the PA. Those who had already had their break took an extra one just to be sure that the didn't miss out on that one chance in a million.
So, to paraphrase Jim Carrey, I"m saying they had a chance.
I didn't let it worry me much. Mostly because beating the kind of odds that are in place for mega jackpots help to define the abstract realms of probability. Chances of being attacked by a shark are approximately one in one eleven million. Chances of being struck by lightning are considerably less: one in seven hundred thousand. Odds of winning the big Powerball jackpot? One in two hundred ninety-two million. You could get bit by a dozen sharks while being zapped from above and still have room in the luck department to win a buck or two. It's not very likely. At all.
Still, we plug away, imagining ways to spend the money that we haven't won. I figured there were a lot of folks in Oakland who were hoping to get a slice of that billion dollar pie so they could buy the Raiders a new stadium. Or maybe they could buy themselves a little country somewhere that could run its own regular cash giveaway. I figured that if any local municipality wanted to fund a thousand dollars a week to spend on Powerball tickets, at the end of the year they would have spent fifty-two thousand dollars at a chance to win a billion. Give or take. That sounds like the kind of government program I could get behind. Or maybe I could buy the world a Coke. Or maybe I could see about getting the Beatles catalog back from Sony. It's fun to spend a wad of money that no one can really imagine having.
If I played the Lotto.

Friday, January 15, 2016

On And On And On

A twenty-four hour news cycle is hard to fill. Each day we are treated to squirrels on water skis and massive fails of one sort or another in order to get "news" into all the cracks. Myself, I find it hard some mornings to stitch together meaning to put down here in order to meet my daily word count. I could delve further into our debt to China or the work that is being done to save indigenous species on continents other than ours, but that would involve a level of concern and research that might push me out of my comfort zone. And that brings me to Lord J. Trumpington III. Donald. The internal filibusting machine. That who no one could ever agree with long since you never know what surly invective will come roaring out of his face. It seems as though the longer he stays at this whole Presidential thing, the worse it becomes.
Let's take a step back to the beginning of the week, when his gaze landed on Wild Card Weekend. Donald Trump took this opportunity to announce, "Football has become soft like our country has become soft." This was not his belated weighing in on last year's Deflategate, though that would have been a decent metaphorical way to go. Instead, he took this opportunity to point out how things aren't like they used to be, with ferocious tackles and forearm shivers that led to players being scraped off the field and carted off in a war of attrition that defined a rougher, tougher, America. Back then, it was a country that wasn't afraid of getting punched in the face, and if there was a decapitation, it certainly would not have resulted in a fifteen yard penalty. "The referees, they all throw flags," the Trumpster moaned. The one-time owner of a professional football team seemed mystified by the NFL's need to protect its most valuable commodity: its players. After decades of chewing players up and spitting them out with brain damage, the NFL has finally taken some vague steps toward limiting the carnage. Wussies.
And while we are on the subject of things without Lord Trumpenstein could do, there's the Environmental Protection agency and education. They don't tend to throw flags as much as they get in the way of money that could be going anywhere else. The celebrity businessman promised "tremendous cutting" if he were to be allowed the privilege of his presidency. Not for the estimated eighty billion dollars his immigration proposals would cost over five years, Or for the fifteen billion dollar wall between the United States and Mexico with the additional seven hundred million dollars annual maintenance on such an edifice. Why would Donnie Trumpski make such a push for cutting the EPA and education? Because it is the thing that drives the twenty-four hour news cycle. His mouth could power large communities with its ferocious bite. It just keeps churning and churning. Somewhere, in a place where the satellite news never quite reaches, there are people making calm decisions and declarations about what will happen in the next four years. But that's not how Trumplestilskin works. His hair can be seen from space. He won't go quietly.
But I wish he would.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Something For Nothing

Most of the time, when a flyer lands at my house, it goes into the recycling bin. Whether it's a menu for the new Chinese restaurant down the block, or exciting offers on home repair from a local contractor looking to drum up some new business, into the recycling bin. These are unsolicited advances from folks who want to get my attention. It's advertising. How would I know that I wanted lemon chicken or a new roof unless somebody was out there stuffing my mailbox with reminders?
It may have had more to do with the mood that I was in than the actual content of the folded paper I pulled from my mailbox. It announced a sales event at our local Hyundai dealer, and I was encouraged by the flurry of bold type across the front and back to peel back the tabs inside to see what prize I may already have won. At at time when two dollars could have purchased me a chance to win nine hundred million, it seemed like pulling back a few inches of cardboard to see if I had won a new car was a cost I could afford. As I peeled each section back, I heard the voice in my head that said there is no such thing as a free lunch let alone a free car. Then I stopped.
The yellow underneath the tab I had just pulled was broken up by red ink. Red ink theat read "winner." I had matched the numbers and torn the paper, now all that was left was for me to call the prize verification number on the back to see if I really was a winner. The winner of a forty inch Toshiba TV. How could this be? The numbers matched, and lined up perfectly with the TV, not the car, but very emphatically not the Wal-Mart gift card either. I presented the evidence to my wife. "Honey, can we drive down to our local Hyundai dealer to pick up our new TV?"
It was a Friday night, and it didn't take much convincing to get her up off the couch and out into the night full of possibility. On the drive downtown, we talked about all the ways that this could be a scam. But wouldn't it be nice to pull up and open up the hatchback just long enough to slide our gift of a TV into the back and drive away? Or maybe we would have to sit through a sales pitch or take a test drive to qualify, but my wife and I both looked the thing over, up and down, and the fine print insisted that there was no purchase nec osessary.
No purchase was required, that was what Walter assured us. Then he went on to point out how even though the numbers we had matched on our game board were located directly across from the picture of the forty inch television, there was no definitive connection between those numbers and the prizes listed. Walter, who made his living traveling from one dealership closing to another, was quick to point out the little trick that had brought us in. Yes, he assured us, we were winners. It was probably most likely that we weren't going to win the TV. The good news was we weren't stuck with the Wal Mart gift card. They were giving out Target gift cards instead. As long as we were there, and we had nothing else to do, we decided to take that test drive. We drove a hybrid Sonata up into the hills of Oakland. We tested the stereo, and found E Street Radio. Satellite radio. Nice. Everything else, however, just felt like driving somebody else's car. Somebody else's new car, but not ours.
We traded their keys for our Target gift card. Five dollars off our next purchase at our local discount retailer. Which is where we headed after our flirtation with winning. Five dollars off a forty inch TV? Nope. Five dollars off new work pants for me and a bunch of Star Wars novelty foods we decided to mail to our son in a care package. Who's the winner here? The guy getting the Yoda mac and cheese.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Giving Tree

As my frontier lineage has trained me, I wandered into our back yard to survey the land. Hands on hips, looking into the morning sun, squinting to see what God hath wrought. The rains have been coming in steadily over the past month. Not enough to relieve four years of California drought, but enough to return our little acre. What amounts to our lawn was green and lush. If you didn't look too close, you might mistake the mass of tangled weeds for grass. It looked like spring down there. The trees told a different story. They said it was winter, with a prodigious lack of leaves to mark the  season.
I looked up the hill at what used to be our apple tree. Our orchard. The place from whence all our applesauce once came. Our apple pies. Our afternoon fruit snacks. It was now just a snag, a sliver of its former self. The limbs had been trimmed months ago, once the tree had been declared oflficially dead. It was not a decision made lightly, since our family had grown used to the autumn harvest and the variety of apple-related treats it would provide. But that's where we left things, and this past September there was no harvest. Only a snaggly shadow of the giving tree that had given its all. Now I was standing next to it, sizing it up. Without its lofty branches, what was left barely came up to my eye level.
I leaned on it. It moved easily in the moist soil. I pushed just a little harder and heard a muffled pop. From down below, the rotted roots simply gave way and it toppled to the ground. Now all that was left of our apple tree was a shallow hole in  the ground and some lumber. I went inside to confess my sin to the lady of the house. She was forgiving, but wanted to witness the end. There wasn't much to see. Just years and years of memories. Shade and climbing and sour bites and leaves rustling in the wind. It was the first tree our son climbed. It would be a whole lot easier now.
I went to the garage and brought out the saw. Rot and drought made my job an easy one. There were now two big chunks of apple tree to toss into our compost dumpster. At the end of the week, it would be rolled to the curb. Eventually, mulch would be made of our tree. Eventually, bits of it would be spread about the city in its new, less organized form. Entrop-tree.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I don't sleep through much, and the sounds of my wife weeping in bed next to me is certainly one of the things that will keep me from sleep.
"What's the matter?"
"David Bowie."
I tried to shake the slumber from my brain to access what she was telling me.
"I couldn't sleep, so I was going to check my email. David Bowie died."
It took me several more attempts to make this leap: Somewhere, in the middle of the night, David Bowie had died from cancer. I was finding out about it because there was an Internet device next to our bed. I was sad to hear this. I was shocked, since the last news I had about David Bowie was that he had a new album coming out.
That album, "Blackstar," was released on his birthday, January 8. He shared a birthday with Elvis Presley. And Stephen Hawking. This little fact may have more to do with the person Bowie was than anything else on his Wikipedia page. The man with the theory of everything rock and roll. The man who sold the world. The man who fell to earth.
Or maybe he wasn't a man at all. Back in the early seventies, Bowie told a number of different publications that he was gay. At the time, this was viewed as one more reason to consider him "out there" and avant garde. Ziggy Stardust was a Martian. Aladdin Sane. The Thin White Duke. Who was David Bowie? He was David Jones, but in order to keep from being confused with a member of a band that was largely made up, he made up his own persona to take out into the world and show us all what it was like on other planets.
He also showed us life here on our planet. A lot of people believe it was Ronald Reagan who got the Berlin Wall to come down. I know different. It was David Bowie. He could beat them, just for one day. He could steal time, just for one day.
David was an artist and a chameleon long before there was a Madonna or a Gaga. He put us all on and wore us out. Who cares if his records didn't sell? He helped bring us Lou Reed. And Iggy Pop. And DEVO. He had an eye for the eccentric, off center, off kilter. As long as you could dance to it. And he did. Even when he was just walking into the room, he could dance. He could sing with Bing Crosby. It was David Bowie's sound and vision that changed the way we all looked at rock and roll. And theater. And movies.
Art. David Bowie was an artist. And he didn't so much stomp on the Terra as glide effortlessly above it. He will be missed. Aloha, Major Tom.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Push The Button

The Beatles won't go away. Try as we might, we can't forget them. Their music continues to find its way into the ever-increasing flood of pop music, mixing and twisting and turning and then finding its way to the top. Consider the event that was made of the Fab Four's catalog being made available to streaming services over Christmas this year. It wasn't an also mentioned article in Rolling Stone, but a featured piece in the Wall Street Journal. You can now listen to "She Loves You" on your iPhone. Not that you couldn't before, but you had to buy the song from iTunes and then store it on your mobile device to be able to hear all those songs from fifty years ago.
I have the same whiny gripe with the Beatles that I do with Star Wars. I bought the original trilogy on VHS when they first became available. Then there was the re-managed vision that had Han shooting second and other digital enhancements. I bought those too. When my wife and I were given a Laserdisc player for a wedding present, I purchased another round of Skywalker. Then came the prequels, and my son's fascination with all things Clone. We have a six pack of DVDs that tell the story of Anakin and his troubles growing up on the dark side. Over the holidays, as we waited in line to see the awakening of the Force, there was renewed discussion about getting the whole batch on Blu-Ray. This is when I noticed the sign in our local Best Buy suggesting that we reserve our digital copy of Star Wars 7 today. Why bother having another disc? Just pay for the right to push a button and have all that galactic fun come pouring into our living room or laptop or phone. Here it comes: the future.
The future where I find myself wondering why I would care that the Beatles' catalog is now available for that same cloud-based experience? My brother gave me my first Beatles record when he was buying a replacement for the one he had all but worn out: the one he was giving me. That didn't matter. All those crackles and pops became as recognizable as the harmonies and the guitar licks. Eventually I amassed my own library of the lads' albums. I lugged them from home to dorm to apartment after apartment, eventually landing in California along with the rest of the vinyl I had brought along. By that time, I had begun to replace those LPs with CDs. Compact though these discs were, they still took up a great deal of space on shelves and later drawers of our fancy filing system. It was real estate. The twelve studio albums don't exactly compare to artists whose careers extended on and on into the seventies, eighties, and beyond. I have some of those, too.
Only now, I don't need to. I could just push that button and have streaming Beatles. No more lugging around crates of vinyls or drawers full of CDs. I don't even have to give up hard drive space on my computer to store the collective works of John, Paul, George and Ringo. They're out there. Somewhere. In a fluorescent rainbow cloud. Everywhere. Which brings me back to that Wall Street Journal article. This wasn't music news. It was business. One of the hallmarks of Beatlemania has always been the way they have managed their music and careers. From Brian Epstein to Apple Corps to Michael Jackson to Sony, the way this sacred music has moved from their minds to your speakers has always been an art unto itself. Mick Jagger only wishes he had that kind of impact with a dozen of their studio releases. The Who, or "Who's Left," are going on tour this spring to celebrate their fiftieth year as a band to remind us of how great they always have been. The Beatles? You just have to push the button.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Just Doing Our Part

It started with a segment on The Daily Show, with correspondent Jordan Klepper offering up some supplies requested by the Oregon Militia. After watching, my wife and I wondered why they didn't take the joke just a little bit farther. Why not go ahead and post the address for everyone who has some supplies to send these patriots on the screen? From their web site
"Ammunition (caliber , .223, 9mm, .40, 12g,), Camo, Body Armor, Binoculars and Telescopes, Black wool sox, MRE's, Freeze Dried Food, or other Field Rations,Tactical Gloves, Tactical Helmets, Backpacks / Rucksacks, Medical Supplies (Saline and IV Starter Kits are badly needed), Reloading equipment (components as well), Sunscreen / Sunblock, Chapstick, Gift cards for any sporting or military type stores, Donate to the Oregon State Militia now! Donations of ANY equipment or supplies will be gratefully accepted."
My wife and I were wondering if they would turn away ANY equipment or supplies. We have a wireless router that has stopped working as a wireless router, but seems to work just fine if you plug into it, as long as they are sitting up there in the tundra waiting for their standoff with authorities, maybe they could spend some time getting it to work. That way, they could keep up with their email and their Facebook profiles, like all good militia men do. And that gift card thing. Can angry anti-government patriots really be choosers? For example: If you had an extra $3.99 on your Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card that you used to buy yourself that duvet cover, you could send along the balance to those folks up in Oregon. If you got that bottle of foaming bath gel in the bottle shaped like a snowman and you're not sure it's going to fit in with your new duvet cover-inspired decor, why not send it along to our brave militia men? Maybe you've already got a bayberry scented candle that looks like a pine tree. You know that those courageous patriots still need a cheery light to warm their dark nights. You know where you can send them. 
General Mail
Jon Ritzheimer or Blaine Cooper
Burns, OR 97720
God bless you, your scented candles, and God Bless The United States of America. 

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Imperfect Storm

That idea of a "Perfect Storm?" Well, it's kind of a misnomer. The notion that a bunch of circumstances that pile up on one another can end up getting George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg killed. I'm pretty sure that cooler heads would have determined this a "surefire dead heartthrob storm" upon further analysis. Because that's what these situations generally call for: further analysis.
Take for example my most recent bout with kidney stones. Though it seemed to have crept up on me from out of nowhere, I looked back over the past few weeks and did some further analysis. The first thing that occurred to me was that one of the major contributors to my somewhat chronic condition as victim of the periodic but dreaded kidney stone is soda. Pop. I had been making great, drastic strides in ridding myself from the demon Coke when my son showed up over his Christmas break. We went out to a bunch of movies. All of these required a large Coke. Or two. We also went out to get a cheeseburger or two. Or three. Not all at once, but each visit to those various cheeseburger dispensaries provided me with the chance to get yet another large Coke. And refills. That's something that these newfangled Coke-squirting machines allow us to do: Walk right up, just before heading out on the town with a great big stomach full of meat and cheese, and get yourself a top-off on that twenty ounce tub of cola that had only recently been drained the first time. Don't leave for home without it.
I didn't. I had a lot of Coke over a two week span. It eventually did that thing that massive amounts of Cola does to a person with my particular condition: it left deposits of phosphoric acid. Add to that an increased workout schedule, with all that free time I spent waiting around for my son to wake up so we could go to movies and get cheeseburgers. I didn't hydrate the way I should. That dark cloud you see on the horizon is that Perfect Storm forming.
My son packed up his car this past Sunday at noon, and by one o'clock, I had begun to feel a stabbing, burning sensation just over my left hip. He was gone, but I had this wonderful memory of all the fun we had. And Coke. The fact that I could tell the doctors and nurses to whom I got to speak to over the next couple days this rather point-to-point cause and effect tale of abuse only made the pain a little more embarrassing. Yes, I avoided the emergency room, but since I only had myself to blame, I could only shake my head. And blame Coke.
I won't say that I am going to go cold turkey on Coca-Cola. It is one of my few remaining vices, and while I audition new vices that are perhaps more friendly to my kidneys, I will look back with fondness and an appropriate amount of shame on the way I went out to the garage, found a good sized sturdy box, emptied just the right amount of gunpowder inside, and placed myself carefully upon it before I lit the match. Coke was my own petard. Boom. So I have a souvenir from all that fun and frolic, and a couple of days' bed rest to recover from it. Outside, the rain came down. The perfect storm.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Common Sense

Common Sense Gun Control. That's what we are talking about here. What about background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun? I know the idea of background checks makes some people nervous. Or worse. It's just the first step in a campaign to take all our guns away. Standing here in the crowd, without a gun of my own, I don't feel that fear. Standing here in the crowd without a gun, I feel a sense of relief. Knowing that the President of the United States would like us all to know more about who can and cannot own guns. That's what background checks will do: give us all a little more knowledge about the people who want to own guns.
Immediately following this suggestion will be the surrender to all the bad guys and idjits who get guns without following the rules. This is, in part, why they are bad guys and idjits. You don't get to be a bad guy or an idjit by following the rules, right? There are licensed and unlicensed gun dealers. Sixty percent of the nation's gun sales are done through licensed gun dealers. That's what statistics tell us. It does not take into account those guns that were lost or stolen or given away. Or borrowed. Why bother going ahead and making more rules for people not to follow? Those guys are idjits.
What if there were some rules that kept just one of those bad guys from getting a gun? If I were a gun owner, I would be proud to be associated with a group of upstanding individuals who would like to separate themselves from the bad guys and the idjits. How does that happen? I'm not guessing that making sure everyone has a chance to own a gun will do that. The right to bear arms is just as secure as the right to free speech. With great power, comes great responsibility. I don't think that counts just for Spider Sense.
As I mentioned earlier, I don't own a gun. This may explain why, when  my son was very young and walking to school, he did a very responsible thing. He saw a gun laying on the ground under some bushes. He remembered what he had been taught at home and at school, and he did not pick it up. He found the nearest grown up and told them what he had seen. The grown ups took care of it, and everyone was safe. He wasn't much older than  the kids who died at Sandy Hook Elementary. He is now just a little older than Zaevion Dobson, who died shielding his friends from gunfire just before Christmas. Zaevion was using his common sense, his great power. Do I know that a background check would have stopped any of those shots from being fired? I do not.
But I don't care for the alternatives, either.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Lawn Darts

It was definitely another time, another world. That was a time when you could find foot long plastic darts with weighted steel tips. For Kids. My brothers and I were some of those kids. We were also allowed to have a bow and arrows. Not the suction cup type arrows either. Real steel tipped instruments of death. And there were fireworks and a great many other potentially bad decisions and questionable practices by both parents and kids. The most important thing: we all walked away. Some bumps and bruises, a  few singed eyebrows, but we all walked away.
We rode our bicycles without helmets. We rode them to the 7-11 without bike lanes. I had a steering wheel on my Stingray for a while. On my trial run up the street, I turned a little too abruptly and found my face merged with that street. Bloody nose. Some scrapes. A note to myself about turning too abruptly with a steering wheel on my Stingray. This did not stop me from riding my Stingray with a steering wheel. I'm not sure if a helmet would have saved me, but bike helmets were not really an option. Bicycles with handlebars would probably have been a safer alternative for the kids on our street.
It probably also would have been a safer alternative to not drag a group of six or eight kids on sleds behind our family station wagon. That alternative would be not dragging a group of six to eight kids on sleds behind our family station wagon. But we did. My father did. I am relatively certain that this activity was dreamed up or at least decided upon by my father, just like the lawn darts and the bow and arrows. Or maybe it was just another time and another place. Like when we took that basic principle of a vehicle pulling kids on a sled and extrapolated it to the more extreme: a tractor pulling a car hood with six to eight kids stacked on it like cord wood. What could go wrong?
Don't answer. The reality of those times was different. The reality of these times? A fifteen year old Michigan boy died when the sled he was on crashed into a tree. The sled that was being pulled by the family SUV. The family SUV that was driven by his older brother.He didn't walk away. He died. And now maybe I know why they don't sell lawn darts anymore.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Root And Holler

It's hard for many of us to decipher the full meaning of written words. Consider, if you will, the number of different inflections and tones that could be taken with that last sentence. Depending on which word you might lean on for emphasis, you might take this as friendly advice or sarcastic intrusion. Either way, my point is clear: until you start sneaking in those always important and necessary emoticons, there is no way to sure what someone means, especially in a world that only has enough time to read one hundred forty characters. I am currently addressing the hole that Carly Fiorina has dug for herself on Twitter.
"Love my alma mater," Ms. Fiorina tweeted, "but rooting for a Hawkeyes win today." That was what she chose to type, without a smiley face it should be noted, last Friday just before Stanford took the field to take on Iowa in the Rose Bowl. To be clear: Carly Fiorina graduated from Stanford back in 1976. She returned in 2001 to deliver the commencement address. Up until January 1, 2016, we would have all assumed that Ms. Fiorina was a member in good standing with the alumni association and keeps her credentials close on her very own cardinal and white lanyard. Maybe it was just a goof on her part. Or maybe it had something to do with the upcoming presidential primary in Iowa. The Iowas presidential primary that is set one month from the date of Carly's tweet. The presidential primary that finds her tied in the polls with Chris Christie. That's the good news. The more unfortunate news would be that leaves her tied for eighth place. So why not make a quick cast upon the sea of college football fans who may have been sitting at home on New Year's Day, preparing their chips and dip before the big game? "Hey, looks like maybe this Fiorina lady may just have what it takes." Unless you're looking for loyalty and integrity.
Unless the Tweet in question turned out to be "tongue in cheek, for heaven's sake." At least that's what she maintained in an appearance on  CNN's "State of the Union" two days after Stanford mopped up the field with those feisty Hawkeyes. I understand completely how something like this could happen. It would never occur to any of us that it was a simple pandering for votes. Go ahead and insert the appropriate roll of eyes and/or emoticon here.
We can only assume that Donald Trump's entire campaign has been tongue in cheek.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Nest Egg Concept

The Desert Inn has heart. Or at least that is what Albert Brooks hopes to promote when he goes to the casino manager's office in "Lost In America" after his wife, played by Julie Hagerty, loses their nest egg at the roulette wheel. Albert patiently explains how he and his wife are dropping out of society, but first they stopped in Las Vegas to get one last massive jolt of society in Sin City. He did not plan on his wife losing his life savings. So he decides to go and get it back.
If you haven't seen the movie, I won't burden you with the outcome. I will, however, burden you with the challenge of going out and seeing this comic gem. After you have seen it, as I have several times, you will understand why I thought of this moment when I heard that the New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman is filing a lawsuit against FanDuel and DraftKings. Mister Schneiderman would like for all those citizens in his state who lost money playing daily fantasy sports with either of these web sites to get their money back. The basis of his argument is that what these two companies have been offering to their somewhat naive customer base is illegal gambling and not the "game of skill" they are promoting. Or were promoting more widely until all of this legal trouble began. When the football season began, you couldn't watch more than a quarter without being reminded of the easy money to be made on the daily fantasy racket. Did I just say "racket?" That sounds a little pejorative, but then again, I never studied law.
I did, however, lose a lot of money on stupid bets back when I was a kid. "A lot" would be defined by "lunch money" back then, but it was still significant to me. I learned that if I wanted lunch, it was probably best not to bet on the outcome of events over which I had no control. This was only after a period of time in which I believed that I could get twice as much lunch if I just got lucky. I never bothered taking my case to the Attorney General, let alone my teachers or mother and father. They would have laughed that laugh that goes along with tough lessons learned. And I would not have gotten my money back.
In New York, present day, AG Schneiderman would like to get five thousand dollars in fines to every customer these guys have. With more than half a million customers, that's a pretty good chunk of change. It might even make someone a nice little nest egg. I would only encourage the State of New York not to try that stuff at the Desert Inn. They might comp you a room or buy you breakfast, but you're not getting your nest egg back.

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Future Is Out There

Someday I will look back on New Year's Eve 2015 as the day I met Colby Smart. You say you don't know Colby? It could be that you haven't spent as much  time dawdling in front of Trader Joe's on a sunny winter afternoon. To be clear, I was the one committed to the  dawdling. Colby was hard at work. He had an Harmful of petitions, and he was working hard to get as many signatures as he could. Someday, I believe, Colby will be a mover and a shaker.
How do I know this? It might be as simple as that name. Is there another name that screams success more than Colby Smart? Cheesy intelligence, right? While a lot of guys his age were busy shopping for party supplies or hooking up their look for the night to come, he was out there on the street, looking to bring some love to those ideas and values that he carried under his arm: legislative transparency, rerouting the funds raised by selling those outlawed plastic bags, and the list went on. He had eleven of these things, and he was pleased and happy to have my wife and I stand there and scribble our names, address and zip code on every single one of them. My wife, who had been to Trader Joe's earlier that week, was quick to point out which of the Trump's dozen she had affixed her signature to. This did not slow Colby in the slightest. He shuffled through his raft of paper until he found the permutations of the initiatives that he felt she needed to know about. And during that transaction, I busied myself with my own flurry of penmanship practice. I did make a point of looking up at the end of each exchange to ask what I hoped were pertinent questions. I wasn't just signing my name to be signing my name. I wanted to be part of the change that Colby was pushing.
When I looked at those clear, bright eyes, I wondered how long it had been since I felt idealism like that. I could feel the thirty years between our ages in the surge of wisdom that I felt the need to share. And to his credit, Colby stood there and took it all in.
The whole transaction  took about fifteen minutes. When it was over, I had shared my own points about where I wanted the state and the country to land. Colby had shared his, and my wife had made a check on her smart phone for a web site that she felt he should know about. Then  we were on our way again, and Colby asked the next pedestrian coming down the block, "Are you a registered voter?" That's the future out there. I knew him when.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

He Went Up To Eleven

There are a few less people coming along with us on this ride  for 2016. Legends like Lemmy Kilmister won't be hanging around backstage this year. Lemmy passed away last week from an "extremely aggressive" form of cancer. I'm guessing it would have to be the nastiest form of the nastiest possible disease to bring down hard-living head-banging Lemmy. He was seventy when he passed, but the rock and roll world still couldn't believe it. The members of Metallica and Alice Cooper paid tribute to his legacy. Dave Grohl got a tattoo in memorial. Queen's guitarist, Brian May, wrote this: “Words don’t come easy, especially when you know Lemmy would have laughed at us all trying to say dignified things about him being a hero. Any time I attempted to say anything complimentary to Lemmy to his face, he would fix me with a kind of amused, contemptuous stare. But a kind of hero he certainly was. Unique in just about every way imaginable.”
So who is this semi-major demi-god of heavy metal? If I told you he was the bassist and lead singer for Motorhead - a band that put an umlaut on that second o just to keep us all guessing. And if you're still not sure who this guy was, well, you are not alone. I consider myself a fan, but if someone put a gun to my head and demanded that I tell them the titles of two of that band's songs, I would probably survive. "Overkill" and "Ace of Spades" would spare me from some worse fate, but I would be in need of a connection to Al Gore's Internet to come up with any more.
But that doesn't mean I don't have love in my heart for Lemmy. He is the kind of guy who would have watched "Spinal Tap" and wondered where the joke was. Not because he didn't have a sense of humor, but because it probably seemed a little tame compared to some of his war stories. Of course, Keith Richards probably looks on with a mild bit of chagrin, as much as Ozzy Osbourne or even Sir Paul McCartney. Being a survivor in the world of rock and roll is not an easy thing, and when you consider the average age that the grim reaper tends to reach down and pluck some of those bright lights. Mostly what I can thank Lemmy for is the memory of my younger brother, full of Coca Cola and microphone tilted back over his head, screaming into the night, "Ace of Spades" on Guitar Hero. Not the definitive version, but I know when I get sad and lonely, looking for that gritty rock and roll inspiration, I'll be listening for him, channeling Lemmy. Aloha, Lemmy. You stomped, rocked, rolled, threw up on and fell down on the Terra. Then you got back up and did it again.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Back Home

I'm going to miss that car in the driveway.
Three weeks was just long enough  to get used to have the kid hanging  around again. I did some bigger loads of laundry. It took only a few days to fill up the dishwasher. There was an extra pair of shoes under the coffee table. These sound like petty annoyances, but they were really sweet remembrances of a time not too long ago.
We have had a couple of conversations, my son and I, about how part of him is looking forward to "going back home." That home is the apartment he is sharing with five other guys, engineers who are seeking their own degree. In the meantime, they play video games, order pizza, and even  study a little. Everybody's parents wish they could manage the ratio of video games and pizza to studying, but that's what parents want. What my son wants is still evolving.
That "home" thing for one. A few months ago, there was only one for him. Now there are two. Oh, he was quick to point out that the house in which he grew up will always be where his heart is, but his stuff is someplace else. I was reminded of the way he used to take an action figure or a toy car with him everywhere he went. Now it's his phone. His connection to his friends on Al Gore's Internet is his constant companion. It is also the way he stays in touch with his parents.
Our neighborhood is much larger now. It goes wherever the 4Gs go. We get text updates on a regular basis, and we talk a little less often. It's nice get pictures of the places he goes and the things he sees. His mother and I are glad we know most of what goes on his life. But we don't see it. Not like we used to.
It has been nice to go places with him. It's been nice to go places with him. It's even been nice to pick up after him. I don't resent the plate left out or the stray sock or two. These are the reminders of what it was like to be a full time parent.
I'm kidding myself a little there. I can  here my  mother chuckling at the notion. You never really stop being a full time parent. Even when your kid moves out and takes their stuff. Most of it. I left a Twinkie in my mom's refrigerator when I left. I came back to visit it on the off chance that after twenty years it was still there and I could find out for myself if that myth about the shelf-life of Hostess treats was true. My mother is a saint. Me? I'm still working on it. I should probably start by checking the refrigerator.

Friday, January 01, 2016


What is it we cynics say? "Nothing changes on New Year's Day." Okay, so not everyone would put Bono on their list of top ten cynics. Probably not even your top one hundred. It should also be pointed out that scheduling and logistics don't allow for much room on their calendar. Taking that old one down, the one with squirrels on it and replacing it with the one with kittens can make an imperceptible change. Just like a butterfly's wings. How big a butterfly?
2016 is a Leap Year. Coincidentally, or perhaps on purpose, the extra day afforded us will happen during an election year. Three hundred and sixty-six days of Donald Trump? Well, that includes all those post-November 8 days after the ballots have been meticulously counted and/or discarded if you happen to live in Florida. Or maybe the spell that his Trumpishness has cast over a portion of the American electorate will finally be broken. I am one of those who insisted, months ago, that we would all collectively wake up from this terrible dream. I posited reality versus Herman Cain four years ago, suggesting that the New Year would find Mister Cain heading back to the board room of Godfather's Pizza. I can only take a tiny bit of pride away from that assertion, since common sense could have pieced that one together. Somehow that extra day four years ago didn't give the Republicans enough of a head start finding someone more electable. Sorry, Mitt.
There are plenty of other reasons to flinch in anticipation of 2016. New laws go into effect today, such as the need for vaccinations for all students entering California schools. Cheerleaders for professional sports teams need to be treated as employees under state law. If these new bits of legislation sound a little "duh," then imagine how things used to be way back last year. Unvaccinated cheerleaders roaming around without any medical benefits? Thank goodness we have finally restored some order to this chaos.
California is not the only place where change is taking place. Kitten calendars are going up all across this great land of ours. And across the globe. Maybe by putting up a new calendar in that sand covered bunker somewhere in Syria will help those ISIS folks to lighten up a little bit. I don't think a kitten calendar in Trump Plaza will change anything there.