Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Only Thing Worse Than Being Talked About

Okay. I've been patient. I've been nice. It's been a while now since I brought up he who shall not be named, unless that name is somehow amended or mishandled in some way. Like that high speed train derailment: it's just so hard to look away.
This past week found our man Truhmp bringing up conspiracy theories about the twenty-three year old suicide of Vincent Foster. Mister Foster was an aide in the Clinton White House back then and at the time there was much ballyhoo made about the timing and circumstances surrounding his death. “There are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder,” Trump told the Washington Post, noting that Foster “knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.” That sideways, passive aggressive style is still in full view: "there are people," he insists. Not him. He's above that. But certainly not above bringing it up for his own political gain two decades later.
And then there's the tack he's chosen to take on Elizabeth Warren: by calling her names. Not just any names, either. He chose to call her "Pocahontas" in reference to her Native American heritage. To question whether or not the percentage she claimed qualified her for minority status may have been a worthwhile ax to grind four years ago during her senate campaign, but tossing around that particular epithet now offended at least one reporter in the room. How did he respond? By doubling down and saying it all over again. That's how Mister Trumplermort rolls. 
Right on into a North Dakota oil industry conference, where he didn't call anybody names, but assured his audience that, once he becomes president, he is going to crank up the drilling and lay off the regulation. Trumlepup's vision of energy independence for our country makes Sarah Palin look like a Green Party candidate. "This is your treasure and you the American people are entitled to share in the riches," exhorted the man who would be king. While playing very strong to that particular house, it didn't make a lot of sense. Oil prices  have fallen as much as seventy-five percent over the past two years because of a supply glut caused by too much U.S. drilling, not by overregulation. The same is true with natural gas, which remains at depressed prices. 
Or maybe he's just figured out how to make America great again: by following the advice of everyone's favorite Republican demagogue, Ronald Reagan who once asserted that "Facts are stupid things." It's those facts that are standing squarely in the way of making America what it once was: an Arctic region covered in ice and snow. 
Have you registered to vote yet?

Monday, May 30, 2016


Who should we memorialize? That was the question my wife asked last week as the calendar reminded us that it was that time of year. She wondered aloud about the names of those near and dear to us who are now part of our past: Aunts and uncles, friends and colleagues, famous and infamous. The list has grown with each passing year, and shows no signs of stopping. If anything, the way things have ramped up recently has been, at times, oppressive.
This is the age in which we find ourselves. There was a time when we were attending weddings. Then there were the baby showers. Celebrations of the joining of two lives, and the announcement of new lives beginning. That trend has begun to wane as I meet more and more people. It means there are more and more people to whom I must eventually bid adieu.
It was my father's habit to read the obituaries in the newspaper. As a longtime resident of his adopted home of Boulder, Colorado, he marked his passage through life by measuring his longevity against those around him. The family joke centered around just what he might do if he ever opened the paper to find his name there in glorious black and white. It is the tragedy of the way we live our lives that all those tributes and flowers show up after we're gone. I don't know if my dad would have imagined that he would fill the pews in the Methodist church. He got his oft-repeated wish to be scattered across the hills around our mountain cabin. We made sure of that, but I would imagine if he could have traded a few more trips around the sun for that ceremony, he would have made do with something less.
And how much sense does it make that once you are no longer in a rush to get anywhere, they let you run every red light in town?
If there is an afterlife, or a heaven, or a place to go after this, I suspect that all the fuss is still appreciated, but just like those red lights, is it really necessary? We have forever to remember, living on in the hearts and minds of those we met along the way. The memorial is a time stamp that marks a passage. A day. A year. A decade. Lest we forget. We are all veterans of one sort or another. We all deserve that moment. That wreath of flowers. The memories. They live on in photo albums and newspaper clippings. In those memories.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Not Yet

A couple weekends ago, my wife and I were on our way home from an event. We stopped to have lunch. And since it was between point A and point B, I suggested we stop at the animal shelter. We have been without a pet for some time now, and this was more of an exploratory mission than one with a specific objective. We were just going to look around.
Many weekends before that, we had made a similar adventure. This one was with our little boy strapped in his car seat, and it came on the heels of much discussion about whether we were ready for a dog, since we had already proved ourselves somewhat proficient with a baby. Why wouldn't we be just as successful with a new four-legged friend? We had spent months prior being inspected and eventually dismissed by the Bull Terrier rescue group, who found us wanting in the very particular and specific criteria that they had set out for the adoption of their very specific breed. We went to the animal shelter with the notion that maybe we weren't the purebred type, and our little family might do better with a slightly used canine. Not too many miles, with little or no cosmetic damage, runs well.
The audition process at the shelter was geared more to us, and we had a variety of enthusiastic potential pets to choose from. We took each of them into a little room, where we sat on benches and watched our wobbly little boy negotiate the floor with all that doggy energy. We were on our fourth or fifth applicant when we were introduces to a white pup with hints of dalmatian, shepherd, and a broad chest and forehead that reminded us just a little of the Bull Terrier from which we had been dismissed.
She was a good dog, and not just because she had the ability and patience to stop abruptly when the little creature in front of her bobbed and weaved toward her. She didn't slobber and she didn't flinch. She was amazingly well adjusted. For a shelter dog. The only thing we weren't sure about was her name: Missy. When we took her home, she became Maddie and she was our dog.
A couple of weekends ago, my wife and I stopped by the animal shelter, in part, because we had been nudged in that direction by our friends who wanted to know why we hadn't jumped back on the doggy train. "C'mon, you empty-nesters. Don't you want a dog?"
Well, I guess the truth is, "no." Not yet, anyway. We don't want a dog. We want Maddie. And though we were happy to meet a number of nice dogs and cats and even looked at a few rabbits, we aren't ready. Not yet.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sounds Like...

That last one is pretty cool because it was a screaming fun game and a rockin' album from Green Day. It's a win no matter what you choose. I do wish, however, that I would have gotten in on that initial wave of onomatopoeia. Had I been allowed to participate on the creation of phonetically engineered approximations of sounds found in nature, I might have done things a little differently. Brooks babbling and unicorns tramping are all well and good, but they don't have the gravitas of "gurgle."
Don't get me wrong, I respect the work of those who came before me. "Cock-a-doodle-do" is about as good as those of us born without a beak. It should be pointed out that in other lands, roosters sound just a little different. In Germany at sunrise you might hear "kikeriki." If you were in Finland, your waking ears would be assaulted with "Kuk-ko-kie-kuu" before your eyes had a chance to open. 
I guess the fascination I am feeling here is the way we assign letters to sounds that aren't made by humans. Or animals, for that matter. So many noises can be ascribed to the descriptor "boom." And don't get me started about how "The Big Bang" is an oxymoron. The creation of the universe rates at least a Boom if not a Kablam. 
Then there's the omnipresent clicking sound. The ones that a typewriter makes may have been forgotten, but they are distinct from those made by a light switch. There are so many sounds that get short shrift when it comes to their onomatopoeiation. I would therefore suggest that we consider adopting the sound dictionary of one of the all-time great sonic translators, Don Martin. If you don't remember Don, it's because you didn't spend the appropriate amount of time with your nose buried in Mad Magazine as a child. If you did, you would know that "brak grak" is the sound of a car being shifted into first gear, and "thoomp" is the sound Tarzan makes when he hits the ground. Sure, it would take some time to work words like "thwizzit" and "zeem" into our everyday lexicon, but it would be totally worth it to keep our language alive and kicking. 
And making noises like "spwatch." 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Brick By Brick

The story goes like this: When I first came to California to visit the woman who would become my wife, we went to Disneyland. This set a precedent that has been proven difficult to shake, but it also provided this insight into parenting that has hung around while we were busy making other plans. After a day of rushing about having the happiest days in the happiest place on earth, my incipient wife began to fret that she hadn't bought a souvenir for her young cousin. We spent the last hour and a half of our stay scouring the Main Street gift shops for just the right thing. I was admonished time and again as I picked up various toys and swag, "No weapons! His mother is worried about bringing more guns and knives and swords into the house." I pretended to understand why a five year old boy shouldn't have a gun or a knife or a sword to play with, and kept looking.
Finally, she found it: A Mickey Mouse slide rule, with Mickey's head as the slide that could do addition and subtraction and convert Fahrenheit to Celsius. We tucked it away and raced back to the north end of the state where we made our presentation. This clever young man inspected the gift for a moment, then pushed the slide all the way to the end as a hilt and held it up over his head, "A sword!"
Later, when we had a boy of our own to fret about, we heard from his preschool teacher how natural it is for boys to invent their own "power extenders." Tree limbs become light sabers and rifles. It's a matter of fact.
Still, we tried to buck the trend as much as we could. We were heavily invested in Legos, and each time our family made one of our pilgrimages to the House of Mouse, there was a stop planned to the Lego Store just outside the Monorail stop at some point during our visit. Building things, not blowing them up. That's where we sunk our fun funds. Turns out we needn't have been so fussy. A new study from New Zealand's HIT Lab at the University of Cantebury tells us that Legos have become more violent over the past few years. Well, not the blocks themselves, but what they represent and connote. They counted the ratio of bricks to weapons in packaged sets, and in the case of the Death Star set, the whole thing becomes a giant planet-destroyer.
I remember making my own catapults and missile launchers back in the proto-eversquare-days of Legos, and I did this without any of the very specialized pieces. If I wanted a sword, I had to build one. A machine gun? With plenty of straight edges, sure. And I did it all without a slide rule.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Teacher Training

Here on this spot you have read about my experiences as a teacher stuck in various forms of training. I have spent days in crowded gymnasiums and cafeterias watching countless Power Point slides and eating a predictable series of boxed lunches all in the service of becoming a highly qualified teacher that kids in our schools deserve. My chief complaint has never really been the presentations or the box lunches. There is a sense of "we're all in this together" which makes it easier to live through those days spent in uncomfortable chairs. And every so often we get a kernel of something that will work in our own classrooms as we prepare to head back to our school sites with a renewed sense of purpose, or at least a sense of relief that we have lived through another round of training.
Which is why I have begun to develop this mild fantasy of federally mandated firearms training for all teachers. Rather than being issued a new teachers' edition of math curriculum or handed a list of web sites to do more reading on this or that pedagogy, we will be given eye and ear protection and led to the firing range. Over the course of the next few days, we would be instructed in the care and cleaning of our state-mandated and provided handgun. We would also have plenty of time to discuss center of mass targeting and the use of lethal force. Once basic target proficiency has been reached, then combat tactics can be added in simulated situations both inside and out. Using file cabinets for cover as well as the theory of acceptable losses will be examined as we prepare to greet the new school year locked and loaded. There will be those, of course, who object to the use of handguns in the classroom, preferring something with a little more stopping power. Why should we limit ourselves as educators to simply subduing trouble when we can put it out of its misery for good? I have seen the future and I am afraid.
Now, I don't expect this to happen anymore than I expect Hillary Clinton to be inaugurated and proceed to eliminate all guns everywhere. Donald Trumpler won't be the guy handing out guns to every Kindergarten teacher, either. It's just the fact that it has become a part of the debate. At all. "Good guys with guns" is a pretty tough sell in this day and age of excessive force and wrongful death lawsuits. How bad would things have to get before they start to get better? A call from your kid's teacher saying that he was wounded in the crossfire in the cafeteria, but the good news is that he'll still be able to take that standardized test with his good hand.
Choose carefully, America. Choose wisely.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Back in the day, I subscribed to the ten stages of drunkenness, which I learned from listening to Jimmy Buffett: Witty and Charming (part 1), Warm Family Man, Patriotic, Clairvoyance, To Hell With Dinner, Patriotic, Witty and Charming (part 2), Break Out The K-Y, Invisible, Bulletproof, God's Own Drunk. On any given night, I was good for six to eight of these, sometimes clearing Bulletproof but never quite settling on God's Own territory. On a good evening, I could hover pleasantly around the second phase of Witty and Charming before English became optional. This was my party persona, and I would love to tell you that I practiced to make each stage separate and distinct, but that would be less than true. I made enough calls on Sunday mornings to check on that moment when the mess started to slide into sloppy, and I know that it is hard work to stay on top of a wave of binge drinking. It has swallowed up lesser men than me.
Which is why I retired. Really. There are plenty of folks whose names I can supply, on demand, who will attest to how much fun I was. For a while. Until I turned invisible.Then it became necessary to extricate me or my conversational hostages. Helicopter evacuation wouldn't be necessary, just a simple bag of Cheetos was enough to distract me, and the offended parties could slip out unnoticed. Nobody misses those days, but I do miss being witty and charming.
I had my chance last weekend at a work function. It was an end-of-year celebration for the tech-types, of which I count myself, held in the back yard of the district's Chief Technologist. My wife and I arrived fashionably late, and I carried in a six pack of assorted beers that were just getting old in our refrigerator. Our host greeted us and pointed us in the direction of the food and the cooler where our beer would nestle with the rest of the adult beverages. Unless I wanted wine, which was also offered. I politely declined, and made my way to the bratwurst.
It was next to the buns and condiments that I found myself in that tricky spot of standing next to other grown ups who were trying to make polite conversation while grazing. The back yard was small enough that my options were limited by the full picnic table and the lack of space to circulate. Soon my wife and I were surrounded by four more individuals who needed to be introduced because even though we worked in the same district, we knew each other primarily by school site. Now it was time to decide: should I shove the rest of my dinner into my mouth and listen politely, or should I engage? I chose the latter, and soon I found myself on familiar ground: Witty and Charming (part 1). All those conversational gambits that had worked so well with a drink in my hand all those years ago were still somewhat reliable and I found myself entertaining this small crowd with the love and support of my wing-wife, who kept the ball bouncing whenever I got stuck and I kicked it loose whenever she lost track herself. I nibbled at salad and felt the absence of a drink in my hand, but I kept going. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I half-expected to descend into invisibility, but it never came. I was funny and pleasant and managed not to offend anyone or their significant others. After a couple hours of this, my witty and charming wife pointed out that we needed to be on our way, since tomorrow was a busy day and all. We walked out of the back yard feeling quietly triumphant. I turned to her and said with mild hesitation, "I think tonight we were 'that couple.'"
She reflected for a moment and agreed. We drove home feeling what I can only assume is a stage of sobriety: Smug and Satisfied.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Afternoons will be measured out
measured out, measured with 
coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot
-Afternoons and Coffeespoons" by Crash Test Dummies
These were the words that poured into my ears on that  rainy Saturday morning. I was running my fifty-three year old body around the neighborhood, feeling that age and then again not. I know that there are guys my age running marathons. I know there are guys my age sitting on the couch, wishing they could get up and out to do anything that resembled exercise. In my twenties, I used to go out for a run and not come back until I was tired. In my fifties, that's how I start.
There was a time when I ran to keep myself busy. Now I try and find those moments when I am not busy squeeze in a run. There are so many other things to do now. This doesn't take into account how many miles I have put on my joints, including the surgically repaired left knee that didn't keep me from running consecutive ten Bolder Boulder ten kilometer races way back then. I had to move away to leave that behind. I found another race to run in my thirties, but that was never the reason I was training. I was running to prove that I could. One more mile. One more weekend waking up and hitting the road. One more evening when I found an hour to pull on my shorts and shoes.
Because as much as I am immersed in this whimsical notion of entropy, I fight it wherever I can, but I know how severe the effects of gravity alone can be on the bones of those past their prime. I am always pleased when I get to the finish line, when I make it back to my driveway. Nobody had to carry me home. I didn't have to call for a ride back to where I started.
I started running because my father encouraged me. I ran those races with him when he was in his fifties. In my wallet I carry a picture of the two of us crossing the finish line together. One of the last things I did with my father was go for a run when he came to California to visit. Maybe if we would have run back to Colorado together instead of getting in that little airplane, we could have slowed the descent.
 I tried to get my son to run with me, but he prefers his solitude. I went with him to the rec center at his college and we ran on the same track, but he wanted to keep his own pace and stride. His dad wasn't going to hook him that easy.
My father built a clock for my wife and I as a wedding present. I have been winding that clock for twenty-three years. It keeps a steady rhythm, but it needs to be wound once a week. With a key. That rainy Saturday morning I opened the door of the Regulator to wind it once again and the key snapped in my hand. I was done with that chore until we could order a new key from Al Gore's Internet. We could keep it running, it would just take a few days for shipping. Meanwhile I hear the ticking and I believe I can hear it winding down. Slowly.
Part of entropy is looking for metaphors to describe it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

By The Book

When I tell people that I am reading Susan Klebold's book, a lot of them look at me in wonder. Some of them are wondering who Susan Klebold is. Once I have explained who she is, the next curiosity is why I would subject myself to such a chore. Ms. Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold. Her son was one half of the deadly force that swept through Columbine High School back in April, 1999. She didn't write a book about the horror of that day, though there is some recounting of the events before, during, and after. That book has been written already. She wrote a book about grief. It's what survivors do.
In a world that searches for someone to blame, Susan and her husband Tom would be prime candidates for a truckload of it. It was their son that was responsible for the deaths of twelve students and a teacher, along with another two dozen wounded and countless hundreds who will be forever traumatized by the terror he wrought. Wasn't it their fault that this monster was unleashed on the world? How could they not have known that they were raising a killer?
As it turns out, it wasn't easy. Raising a child under the best possible circumstances is no walk in the park. Striking that perfect balance between love and respect, authority and permissiveness, and all those tricky maneuvers that create the perfect upbringing. But what happens when all that care and confidence gets replaced by nagging doubts and fears. If you trust your kid, because that means you've done a great job as a parent, then you open yourself up to all the things that could go wrong when those undeveloped brains start making choices that may not be in the best interest of the village. Hopefully these are thoughts that run in the vein of "maybe I can skip that math final," or "I wonder what Mountain Dew tastes like when it's mixed with rum." Those kind of choices have a pretty quick turnaround.
The kind of choices Dylan Klebold made took his mother sixteen years to process. This clever boy who played with Legos and loved to watch old movies with his parents shot up his high school. How could this have happened? Sixteen years hasn't made it any easier to bear, but Susan Klebold, mother of one of the Columbine Killers, has taken it upon herself to try and understand how murder, suicide and all that hate found its way into their "normal home."
It's not a secret, exactly, that mental illness played a part. Or, as Ms. Klebold refers to it, "brain illness." It's not a secret that trying to manage those developing brains and personalities is a challenge in the best of circumstances. When everything is "normal."
Until it isn't. Susan Klebold wrote "A Mother's Reckoning" to try and understand that moment when everything stopped being normal. So much of what I read in the "before" sections made me think about my own son that when things went so terribly wrong, I couldn't help but start to question my own exemplary parenting skills. Ultimately, that was not her goal in writing her book, but she maintains that if any life is saved by asking those tough questions, then sharing her experience will be worthwhile.
One of the first entries into this blog was titled, "Dylan and Eric didn't get it." I wrote it from the lofty view of being a father of an eight year old. What I knew then would fill a page. What I know now would fill a few more. I read the whole book, and I still don't get it, but I want to. That's why I read Susan Klebold's book.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

That's Really Super, Supergirl

There is a reason why they call it "show business." It is as much about making money as it is about making a show. That's the thought I had as I sat on my couch and watched the trailer for the new Ghostbusters. Everything old is new again, and while I can certainly appreciate the idea that there should be more roles for women in Hollywood, but do they need to be the same ones that men had? I remember when Bridesmaids came out, and my wife and I were briefly swept up in the warm-hearted notion that finally girls were getting to be just as foul as the boys.
But with a heart, you know?
Gathering those same Bridesmaids and strapping proton packs on their backs does not constitute a new wave in cinema. It is repackaging. Now with ninety percent more estrogen. Is that a win? I'm sure that's what Gloria Steinem had in mind. And Susan B. Anthony. And Hillary Clinton. Is it a good thing when we end up being entertained/repulsed by men or women in a completely equitable fashion?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe had a bit of its dirty laundry aired by Shane Black, writer and director of Iron Man 3. Apparently there was some concern in the merchandising department, about how nobody was going to by action figures of a female villain. This corresponded roughly to the fuss made over the past couple years about how nearly impossible it is to find a Black Widow action figure. Now, after appearing in half of the studio's super hero movies, it's become a little easier. Does having a poseable six-inch toy version of yourself to show how far we've come in the past fifty years? Probably not.
Meanwhile, I have a friend who recently suggested that his choice for the new James Bond would be nobody. A zero for the role of double zero seven. Just stop making them. But it's a business, after all, and as long as there are dollars in our pockets that can find their way to big studios' bank accounts, there will be more. Always more. So why not "Jane Bond?" I'm not the first to suggest it, of course, but when it becomes a great big hit and the toy sales go through the roof since the nerd-tribe who buys such things would be satisfied on a number of levels, maybe I could get just a sliver of a percentage of that action.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

From The Hip

We are currently living in a world that expresses wonder and, for some, appreciation, for those who "say what's on their minds." No matter how offensive or off-putting, we seem to be finding a new fascination with that whole Free Speech thing. Pointing fingers and shouting "fire" in a crowded movie house is now all a part of "telling it like it is." It is frightening to think that this is the world that seems to care more about saving Ozzy and Sharon's marriage than their own. We are more concerned with rationalizing our own habits than finding new, healthier ones. We are allowing ourselves to be driven by the Twitterverse and the twenty-four hour news cycle. Each new tantrum or tirade has to be louder and harsher than the next, and a War on Christmas seems completely worth our time to discuss while a war against Islam is actually being fought with guns and bombs.
This is also the world where the fifteen minutes of fame set aside for everyone is being stretched in horrible new ways by George Zimmerman. You may remember George. He was the self-appointed neighborhood watchman who killed Trayvon Martin over a bag of Skittles. Or he was keeping his turf safe from possible threats. He was acquitted of second degree murder in Florida three years ago, and has spent the last three years living a life that suggests that even the most competent of Florida juries can get things wrong. Encounters with law enforcement have not been uncommon for George since then. He has been less than a model citizen, but then again, that seems to be that which we hold in high esteem these days. And he was a painter.
So was Adolf Hitler.
You can't pick up any of the Fuhrer's work on E-Bay, but you can put in a bid on a real and true Zimmerman.  Or at least you could. Running dry artistically doesn't seem to have deterred George from finding ways to make his infamy work for him. He recently put another item up for auction: the gun he used to shoot Trayvon Martin. This is not the first time he has tried to make money off the nine millimeter handgun that was used in the commission of a felony. Sorry. Alleged and then acquitted felony. And meanwhile, he has taken to the interwebs to compound his failings as a human being by asserting in an interview that Trayvon's parents parents "didn't raise him right," and nothing about his own upbringing. That which delivered the domestic violence and road rage into our midst, as well as the death of that teenage boy.
Et tu, Georgie?

Friday, May 20, 2016


And still it makes me wonder: why aren't we getting the attention we deserve? Inside these doors are rooms full of knowledge and intrigue, full of ideas and energy and potential. Why aren't we better protected?
I'm talking about the school where I work. Last night, a window was broken in our atrium. The glassed in area at the end of our upper floor that bears that architectural design name. It could also be described by its function: target. Not unlike the bare facades that surround our playground, these windows stand as lingering temptations to passing bands of ruffians or kids with nothing better to do than to mark, break or defile whatever sits in their path.
Not whatever, since the list is limited to those items that don't bite back. The sides of moving vans that face the curb. The toys and bikes left absently in front yards. Unattended and unguarded, just like our school. There is this great big symbol of authority sitting out there in the dark on most nights with very little in the way of protection. Just a great big "Kick Me" sign posted just inside the vaguely patrolled perimeter fence.
The fence that is meant to keep kids in during the day, and to keep the bad guys out after the sun goes down. I know that it doesn't do much to keep the teenaged basketballers from dropping by after our students have cleared out. Not that the basketballers are the taggers and window breakers. It would be easy enough to make that correlation, since the path they take on their way in is pretty much the same, but I don't think it's in the continued best interest of kids who came to play to break things. That could mean that the fences get fixed. And grow still higher.
Just like the Death Star, however, no fortress is impregnable. After fixing one section week after week, it was decided to leave the one bent opening as it was to defray the expense of coming back week after week to fix the same hole. This is the part that makes us a Public School. We are giving the neighborhood access to the facilities, the play structure and the basketball hoops anyway. If you'd like to stop back by during the day, we're happy to try and find you a desk and a chair and an opportunity to show us what you know, and what you need to learn. If you're between the ages of five and eleven.
It was a pair of ten-year-olds who came rushing into my room to tell me that someone had broken a window with a rock. I thanked them and let them know that the custodian and I had already called it in and there would be someone out in the next day or so to repair it. The sun was just coming up and the glass would be replaced, along with that sense of safety.
Until the next time.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


I know. You're all just being polite. You don't know when to jump up and shout, "Hey. You forgot to mention your eleventh anniversary." Well, fret no further, since that time has already passed and to be quite honest I didn't even notice myself.
This is most likely due to the slender nature of eleven as a number. All that verticality and no curves to speak of. It carries none of the weight that its predecessor, the haughty and at times oppressive "ten." So you can manage ten? Why not eleven? What's the big deal?
I had a similar discussion with my son this past weekend on the advent of his nineteenth advent. He complained that there was nothing particularly notable about turning this age, since he had already passed the age of registering for selective service and voting. He had his driver's license for a while now, and it was going to be another couple years before that next plateau: twenty-one. We wondered a bit about the reasoning behind pushing that emancipated adult thing back off of the nice round twenty. Some sort of numeroligical significance? Maybe the powers that be just figured you'd be busy up until twenty and they wanted to be sure they had your attention before they turned you loose on all that grownup mishegas. And how do most of us celebrate turning twenty-one? Not by showing off just how responsible we can be.
At least that's how my friends like to remind me I behaved.
For her part, my wife was interested to hear that this blog had just passed another mild milestone. Then she swung a little harder and said, "Call me when you hit that next big one. One with a five or a ten in it." This was coming from the woman who, along with her husband, has mined Al Gore's Internet for clues about what special stone, metal or substance commemorates each anniversary. Finding ways to make each passing day special is a challenge, and if a day goes by without something to mark it as unique, then we should make something up. As Special Agent Cooper used to say, "You've got to give yourself a present every day."
If I've been able to present you with a gift in the past three hundred sixty-five or so days, then this has been totally worth it. If not, I'll be back here tomorrow, working on another one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Taking The Call

The phone rang just after ten thirty that night. We were awake, watching television. Caller ID told us that it was our son. Since we had been making and receiving calls from our son most of the day, primarily to share in his first long-distance birthday, we expected an additional update as the day wound down. We didn't expect to hear these words: bad news. His godparents were in the room with us, and they flinched right along with us. What was the nature of this bad news? The movie we were watching was paused and our collective focus shifted to the voice on the other end of the line.
What was the nature of this bad news? We waited in silence as my wife took it in for us. "Speeding ticket," she whispered as she continued to listen to the circumstances. Once it was clear that no one had been injured and though the citation had been issued and there was no way it could have been bypassed on account of being his birthday and all. I reached over an turned on the speaker phone. "Nobody was drinking, right?" This was the most forced rhetorical question that I could have asked, but I felt a parent's obligation to ask the obvious.
What I hoped was the obvious.
He was taking this great big turn into adulthood, and we had already been impressed by his openness and honesty. This was not a fault of his, nor was it in question. It was also part of the way we had raised ourselves, as a family. There was also the simple matter of accounting which led me to understand that my own teenage years had their share of missteps and misdemeanors. I was a good kid, and I took some chances and got some speeding tickets. To the tune of losing my license for nine months. That was in high school. Before I ever started drinking. And all the lessons I learned came at a price over the next ten years. Those were the lessons I hoped to impart to my son before he ever ran afoul of the law. Or anything else. I had hoped that all my experience would pave the way for him to avoid the scrapes and bumps I had encountered along the way. I was relieved to hear that the bad news would result in a fine. And a crushing blow to his birthday enthusiasms.
Somewhere in there, I felt some quiet satisfaction. Not because of the path my son was on, but because he chose to share it with his parents. That's something else we had in common. Back in those days when I was stumbling through adolescence, when I messed up, when I got pulled over, the phone call I made right after I got my bad news was the one that would share it with my parents. They weren't overjoyed or quick to pave over my wrong turns, but they were there for me. That's what I hoped to do for my son. In that weird, parental way, I couldn't be more proud.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Trash And Treasure

The mess stretched for more than a block. It looked as if the entire contents of a high school sophomore's locker had exploded across the street and down the sidewalk. I came across this littrocity in the second mile of my run. I wasn't in my neighborhood proper, but it was still an area of my concern. I slowed down and began picking up paper as I continued to move forward: a looseleaf page here, a photocopied worksheet there. In front of me there were hundreds more.
Also in front of me, fifty yards away, was a woman with a broom and dust pan. She was busily doing the same kind of gathering I was, only just a tad more efficiently. She was carrying an armload of debris to a Hefty bag that was already showing signs of bulging, and there was still plenty of waste to be collected.
By the time I reached her, I had my own armload of refuse. I pulled the earbud out of my right ear to be sociable. "Wow," I said winding up for an understatement, "This is quite the mess."
"Yes," she smiled. She could have been somebody's mom, but the purple hair made me think that might not be the case. I stuffed what I had carried into the bag and held it open for hers. I wasn't running anymore. I was exercising in another way. I was being sociable.
"It makes you wonder how something like this happens," I offered.
She paused, then, "I just looked out the window this morning and here it was. I live right over there." She nodded in the direction from whence I came, across the street.
"Looks like someone finished school," I ventured.
"Or got fed up with it," Ms. Purple Hair countered.
We continued to make piles of paper as we conjectured.
"Maybe they didn't get into the school they wanted."
"Or maybe this was whatever was in the car when somebody got mad and threw it out."
"Maybe it wasn't their car in the first place."
"Whatever the reason, it's a shame," I was starting to feel the weight of trying to carry on the conversation as I shoveled another pile into the bag. There was still another half hour of gathering left, and I was feeling awkward and wanted to get back to my run. "Thank you for what you're doing," I was unburdening myself.
"Thank you for helping."
As I turned to run away from this project, I remembered the paper drop at my high school, an annual tradition that saw seniors flinging a year's worth of assignments and memos and reminders into the courtyard. There were those who simply emptied their binders into the mix, while others collected confetti from other sources for months in advance. The result was a blizzard of litter that spelled tradition for some and overtime for custodians. It was socially acceptable.
As I ran past broken desks and mattresses abandoned on the next few corners, it occurred to me where I live. Everyday is paper toss day in Oakland. Not for everyone. Someone will pick it up, eventually. They have purple hair and probably won't be getting paid overtime. They get to bend over a couple hundred times and carry the garbage to the proper receptacle, making up stories about how it got there in the first place. Hopefully it's a good story. That would make it worthwhile.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bathroom Law

The thing that I remember most were the shrieks coming from the stall: "Get out! Get out, David! Get out!" That is how I learned about bathroom time is a private time. To be clear: Jenny was absolutely correct to be shocked and upset at me. She was five and she was in what we had learned was the "rest room," but she wasn't getting any rest because a boy had walked in, disturbing her quiet, private time. To be fair: I was five too, and I was on my first trip outside my kindergarten class alone. I was looking for the room that matched the letters on the wooden paddle that matched "Boys." In those vast, dimly lit hallways, I walked in circles with a full bladder searching for a place to relieve the pain I was feeling and the fear that was mounting in my terrified little brain.
No one was there to help. All those times before I had gone with my classmates, lined up and ready to do my business with the rest of the boys, then back to the line that was so safe and orderly. Now I was off on my own. I was walking in circles that kept me coming back to the door that said "Girls." That's where I saw Jenny go. I knew that Jenny had gone to the rest room at the same time I did, accepting the power and responsibility of the pass with solemn gravitas. At some level, I understood that there was a division here. She had her place. I had mine. I needed to do my business and return just like she was going to.
The problem was I had no idea where the boys were supposed to go. I was determined not to be that kid who showed up in our classroom with wet pants. I didn't want a call home to bring fresh underwear. I did not want to fail. And now, for the second time, I found myself standing outside the door marked "Girls." I pushed the door open.
That was a mistake. That was when the shrieking began. Inside the light was a little better than the hallway, which made it briefly welcoming, but Jenny's voice let me know that I did not belong. I may have seen her feet, but I don't remember seeing anything else. Just the clear message to get out.
I did.
It would be nice to say that I waited outside and then Jenny took pity on me and my predicament, showing me the way I had taken a wrong turn at the cafeteria and here was the boys' room after all. It would be a more tragic tale if I had become one of those wet pants phone calls. Neither one of those came to pass. In the end, I made the trip around one last time and found it myself. A triumph of some monumental proportions for a five year old on his first trip to the restroom. I don't know if I ever felt more relief, inside and out.
When I returned to the classroom, Jenny and I did not speak. We went to school together for another twelve years, sharing teachers and classes, but we never brought up that bathroom trip again. It probably wasn't a big deal.
It just felt like it to me.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Two Tickets To Paradise

It's prom season. If you're in high school, that means it is time to scrape together all that cash you've been saving from the extra shifts you've been working at the Kwik-E-Mart to pay for your tux. Or your dress. Or your Parisian Night Suit. And you're looking for that perfect spot for dinner. And someplace to land after the big dance. And the limousine to take you from place to place. And the flowers. And the pictures. And the (insert adding machine sound effect here).
We were fortunate. My son took a very low-key approach to his senior prom. He drove his own car. He put together an ensemble that included the family favorite Chuck Taylor hi-tops, skinny red tie, and a been-there-done-that smirk. His mother gathered flowers from our back yard for a boutonniere, and a corsage for his date, and he was off into that good night.
And it was a magical night. The dreams he harbored for what might have been were replaced by what was. His memories of that night will be the ones he gets to write about when he looks back on that watershed moment that sounds like an exclamation: Prom. What expectations weren't fulfilled become the stuff of regret to be worked out over the course of adulthood. What secrets there were belong to him and his date. Hindsight only serves to make the event loom larger in the rear view mirror.
Not that the lead-up didn't have its own monumental swirl of emotion. The weeks of anticipation and the moment of truth when the question finally has to be asked. All the surveying of her friends and his. Will she, won't she? In my son's case, the answer was somewhere in between. The potential for romance was tempered by that "friends" thing. Nothing wrong with that, since some of my best friends are the people with whom I attended high school dances.
But how could any one night live up to all that hype? That's probably why this is also the season of stories about the heartbreak of this or that student who was turned away from his or her prom because of a dress code or a rule meant to keep kids safe that ended up making things worse. This night of all nights turned into a petition or letter-writing campaign, or a chance to prove a point.
For some of us, just showing up was enough. At least that's how I like to remember it.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

All Those Years Ago

Nineteen years ago, I was still getting used to the "summer weather pattern" of the Bay Area. Morning fog giving way to bright sunshine in the afternoon was still kind of a mystery to me back then. The rhythms of my life were about to take an even greater shake than the periodic tremors that shook my newly adopted home: my son was born.
Back then, I was still finding my way. I had a new job, elementary school teacher, and a new house. I was starting fresh, but I had no idea what having this little creature in my life would mean. A lifetime later, I have a career as a school teacher and an ever-expanding list of fix-it jobs to do on our little corner of heaven.
And I have a son.
A lot has been made, over the years, of the way he managed to cheat my wife out of that first Mother's Day. I have sometimes wished that I could negotiate some ripple in time to correct that miscue. In hindsight, of course, this little boy was the gift for both of his parents, holidays notwithstanding. It was his vision of the world that shaped the next couple of decades. We learned about cars and trucks and things that go. We learned about trains and power units and all the rolling stock that found its way into our living room. We learned about Calvin Ball and the transmogrifier. We built a lot of Legos and put them away again. For a while. I put away my Sega Genesis when I became a father, and later we welcomed a Wii and then an Xbox into our world to learn to drive and play electric guitar. Sort of.
We learned all kinds of things through the eyes of our child. Mostly, we learned to be parents. Sometimes we got it exactly right, and we wasted no time patting ourselves on the back. Sometimes we missed wide right, and we tried to imagine how we could have missed something so obvious. We were learning as we went, and just about the time we figured out how to distinguish one Teletubbie from another, that chapter was over. Sometimes the curve seemed insurmountable. The things we had to understand to keep up with our kid was just too much, and that's about the time he started to explain it to us.
He never had to explain to us how special he is to us. There are no words for that. He is our son, and we revolve around him, even if our orbit is a little more distant now than it used to be. He makes his own food and finds his own way, but he doesn't forget to call and ask us if he gets lost or needs to know how many minutes to leave something in the oven. And we call him when we have an IT problem. Or we want to hear about his day.
He is our son, and all those years ago he burned through the fog to brighten our day. Happy birthday, my son.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bad Words

Donald Trump.
Rodrigo Duterte.
Men with vision. 
Men with passion. 
Men with a lot on their minds.

"In three to six months, everything has to stop … corruption, drug abuse, criminality.”

"If you don’t like my style because it sounds dictatorial, then, vote for (them), forget all about me.”

“There’s always a right time for the right reason, if it’s my fate to become president, it would be the right time to stop these things.”

"If I'm the president, I will declare a revolution. I will rebel against my own government and close down everything except your businesses and make a body to take care of your expenses."

“Criminals have no place in the city, except in jails, detention centers, and God forbid, in funeral parlors.”

“I am a womanizer but not corrupt.

"I was separated from my wife. I'm not impotent. What am I supposed to do? Let this hang forever? When I take Viagra, it stands up."

Which of these quotes came from the presumptive new President of the Philippines, and which came from the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States?
I'll give you a moment to puzzle over this one.
If you guessed that any one of the mutterings above came from Donald J. Trimp, then our problem is much worse than we had originally feared. 
Much worse. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

We're All In This Together

The name of the play my friend was in was "No End Of Blame," by Howard Barker. It told the story of life, love and loss in post-World War I Hungary. I would love to tell you that I was spellbound by every minute and captivated by the performances of my roommate and the rest of the troupe. I can't, because I was in my twenties and paying attention to anything longer than your standard Hollywood action film was a chore for which I was ill-suited. All the explosions in this one had taken place years before, and the drama was largely of the internal kind. The struggles of a veteran did not enter my conscience until years later, and my concerns became more worldly. I wish I could have that time back and experience the play for what it was without that haze of youth.
But that title has stayed with me. It keeps popping up in ways that I would not have expected, and now it occurs to me that it describes the United States in the past fifty years. Barker wrote it in 1981, about the time that Ronald Reagan was lulling us all back to sleep after a couple decades of strife. It came a couple years after Jimmy Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" speech, and while the two works are primarily connected in my mind alone, I can't help but pull them together to make a larger meaning. I should be honest about how much attention I paid to President Carter's speech at the time: not much. I was seventeen and if I was blind to the realities of the world in my twenties, I was precocious in my teens but my perspective was limited primarily to what I had seen, which wasn't much. Now, as I look back on Carter's words, I feel a little embarrassed.  Maybe I should have been listening more carefully back then: "Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past."
Over the past half century, we have become a nation of finger-pointers. We are litigious to a ridiculous extreme. There is no end of blame for what is happening in our country, but until we start to take stock of our personal responsibilities. I understand that by calling on others to mind their Ps and Qs that I have succumbed to finger-pointing myself, and for that I take full blame. If you won't take my nudging, roll these words around for a moment or two and see if you don't start feeling more empowered to do the right thing: "President Trump." 
I hope I have your attention now. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Road Rage

It was my brother-in-law who once posited that there is great comfort to be found in roads, since eventually they all end up connecting to one another. All roads lead to Rome, and that sort of thing. This is what I thought about as I drove up the highway from San Luis Obispo. We had spent the weekend with my son, my wife and I. We had been cramming Mother's Day in on top of his birthday, since the burgeoning grownup wanted to hang around with his pals on the actual day of his birth. It fell on a Saturday, after all. His parents were allowed an audience the week before.
And that's not really fair, since he was totally flexible about his plans and willing to accommodate the parents who brought him into the world nineteen years ago. He understood that he was going to be sharing his special day or so with his Mother on her special day. To accomplish this, we drove four hours on Saturday morning to get there to have lunch together. I was breaking all kinds of previously held beliefs to do this, most notably my personal edict against driving somewhere one day only to turn around and come home the next. The idea that we would have anything resembling "quality time" when there would be eight hours of driving out of thirty-six possible "us" time.
It was the time on the road that got to me. The Mother's Day and birthday stuff was great. It was the driving. On the way down, I knew that i was rushing because as much as I enjoy our rides in the central valley together, I was anxious to get the band back together. It was this highway that was keeping me from doing that. When we reached out destination, I felt relief. And the very next day, when it was time to pack up and leave again, I felt the opposite. I was reminded of the bleary weekends I spent during my freshman year of college, racing back home on Friday afternoon only to turn right back around again on Sunday afternoon. Here I was again, only now the destination was inverted.
On the drive home, I felt the miles roll by. I tried to hang on to the memories of our activity-packed two days together. I felt them stretch out behind me. I resented this road and the space that stretched out between us. I was grateful for the connection they brought us, but then it occurred to me that  same brother-in-law had moved sometime after making his declaration. To Hawaii. All roads do not lead to Honolulu.
I miss my son.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Get Out While We're Young

We all put in our hours. And it wasn't just the teachers and staff. It was the boys themselves. They came to us at the beginning of the year, having registered in our office on a day I happened to be stopping by over the summer. Last summer. While their mother signed forms and filled in blanks, the boys looked around their new school. I introduced myself as the computer teacher, and sometimes PE coach. They would be in the third grade, but not together. It was never a good idea to have siblings together. With Mark and David, this was especially true, but I couldn't have know that when we met.
They seemed so enthusiastic and well-adjusted. Most kids do on those first encounters in the office. Whether they were on their best behavior because they had been counseled to do so or maybe the truly were overwhelmed by this fresh start. It would be difficult to say what kept those first few moments together so pleasant when just a few months later we would all be scratching our heads and wondering what we could have done differently. How could we rein in the holy terror unleashed on a nearly daily basis by Mark or David. Or both at once.
They were rude. They were aggressive. They were defiant. They were loud. They were trouble. In and out of the classroom. They wouldn't calm down once they got stirred up, and it didn't take much to get them going. Sometimes they would set one another off. On any given morning, there was a call being made home on the behalf of one or the other. Mark and David's mother, who had seemed so happy to have found a new place for her boys to continue their education, quickly fell into a pattern of denial, and then avoidance. Those phone calls didn't amount to much more than the periodic early pickup from school when one of them had pushed the bounds too far.
Too far was where, most days, you would find Mark and David. They would show up early, and if there wasn't a screaming match coming from the kickball diamond, there were curses being hurled at four square, or pushing and shoving at the front of the third grade lines. The boys' teachers stretched their patience and their curriculum to make room for their challenges. Other teachers made room for them in their classrooms for those times when Mark and David needed to be anywhere but where they were supposed to be. And little by little, we all did what we could to help them find ways to express themselves in healthy ways. We worked to give them a place to learn. About themselves and all the reading and writing and arithmetic they had been missing while storming out of the classrooms where they were supposed to be. We had begun to break through, and the anger was on the cusp of being managed.
Then they were gone: transferred to another school. With just a month left in the school year, mom had gone to another office somewhere else in the district and signed the boys up to finish up there. I assume there will be that honeymoon period I experienced, however briefly. All smiles. Summer's coming. Another summer.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Trump: The Musical

How do solve a problem like the Donald? A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown! It's more of a musical theater issue than a political one. Unpredictable as weather, he's as flighty as a feather. He's a darling! He's a demon! He's a lamb! He's orange. It would take more than a nun to figure out what to do with all that Trumpishness. It would take an entire convent.
Or a professor like Henry Higgins. The challenge ahead of the Republican Party is simple enough. They need to make Donald Trump(sic) appear more presidential. It could be as simple as ditching that intermittent ball cap. Or perhaps the problem runs a little deeper. 
Now that the primaries are essentially over, and the brackets are pretty much set for the finals, the Grand Old Party will have to figure out a way to get their candidate to appeal to your average voter. He already has the foaming at the mouth reality TV crowd pretty much locked in. That group alone will not win a general election. Now the Trump Camp (also the worst place to send your eight year old for the summer) must figure out where they are going to scare up enough votes not just from the unaffiliated, but from those disappointed and disenfranchised.
He has already begun to try and reel in those who were once Berned. They may end up being twice shy. Those Sanders voters are more likely to sit out the general election if their guy isn't in the race than to hop the fence and vote for the guy with the great big wall So many metaphors. So little time. And all of those die-hard Cruz-ers need to be persuaded that the swoopy-haired bad man who made fun of their man. At the same time, who can imagine a kinder, gentler Donald J. Trump(inc)? Could Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering teach him to walk and to talk and act like a regular person before November?
Probably not. The guy who made his career in real estate and snarling "you're fired" at the camera will need a massive infusion of charm just to come up to the level of plankton. Scary, spray-tanned plankton with a comb-over. Where is Karl Rove when we really need him?

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Circle Of Life

There is a symbol more powerful than the river that flows through our lives: the circle: The eternal return. Tagging off on itself and renewing. The beginning is the end is the beginning again. That's what mothers do. That's what pizzas do.
Tombstone pizzas, ironic brand name notwithstanding or perhaps because of it, have been part of the life of our family for longer than my son has been alive. It could be that it was simply a remnant of the life I led as a bachelor. It was easier to import this frozen dinner than the Hungry Man entrees into my new relationship. My wife was quick to adopt this once a week ritual into our diet, and it became a way to track the passing days, not unlike the great stone calendars used by the Mayans.  There was comfort in those pies, covered in still more circular pepperoni. It was my wife who encouraged me to sample other brands, other toppings, but after some mild experimentation, we returned to the thing we knew, with the addition of sausage to our pepperoni.
When our son was born, and my wife assumed a higher level of nutritional concern for her household, we kept the sausage and the pepperoni along with the apple sauce and the steamed broccoli. When solid food was introduced to our baby boy, we started pushing little meat nodules across his high chair tray, introduced by the exclamation: Meat! It would still be some time before he would be getting his own slice, but at a very tender age we brought him into our tribe's circle. With his mother's blessing.
Time passed and those stone calendars rolled. Soon we were cutting our pizzas into more slices to account for the increased demands of our son's growing appetite. When he was a senior in high school, he was periodically eating a pizza himself as a "snack" before dinner. When he moved off to college, it was important to find a nearby source of Tombstone pizza. This and the applesauce were the staples that filled his shared cupboard. He has solidly entered his solo-pizza phase, but when he comes to visit we know that we can share. Sometimes it means putting another circle in the rotation, but that's how things go round and round.
So much of what mothers do is to look out for the health and well-being of their offspring. There are guilty pleasures like ice cream and trips to Disneyland. And there is pizza. Mothers know that there are healthier alternatives, but they also understand the power of the circle of life.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

God's Will And Hard Truths*

There is good news: We no longer have to pretend to "like" Ted Cruz. After months of choosing the lesser of two evils, we can now focus on Darth Vader. If he wore a big orange helmet.
Right up until that last minute, I thought that Ted was going to carry through with his grand scheme to achieve the vision he received from heaven to assume the presidency of the United States. Maybe God hadn't taken the power of reality TV into account, which sort of figures since reality TV is so obviously the work of the Devil.
Why did Ted Cruz shut down his campaign so abruptly after polls closed in Indiana? “From the beginning, I’ve said that I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory,” Cruz said. Murmurs rose in the audience. “I’m sorry to say,” Cruz said  as cries of “No, no!” rang out, “it appears that path has been foreclosed.” This brought an even louder “NO!”
Well, in a word, "Yes." After surviving for more than a year, the Ted Express is limping not into the station but pulling off on to a spur so the freight train called Donald can fly by. God's will, apparently, will not be done. At least not here on earth.
Here on earth Ted succumbed to math. As he continued to hang around, scooping up wins in Kansas and Maine but dropping New York, the scoreboard flickered and groaned, trying to keep up with the delegates that Trumpipe was accruing. The magic number of one thousand two hundred thirty-seven is now just over the rise for the Master of all Apprentices. Ted kept scrapping away, spending his contributor's dollars like it was campaign funds, since we all know how expensive red white and blue bunting can be. 
But in the end, there was no amount of money that could wipe out that two-to-one margin that had opened up. Fear not, however, because Ted's fight for liberty has not been suspended. It just won't be from the Oval Office. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I might vote for Hillary,” said Jason Winters, a machinist from Crawfordsville, Indiana. “She’s a criminal. She’s a murderer. But she’s better than an authoritarian dictator.”
And speaking of tough choices, it was Samantha Bee tweeted, "Shouldn't #TedCruz have been forced to carry his unviable campaign to term?" Will the last clown out of the car make sure to turn off the bubble machine? 
*And John Kasich dropped out too. In case anyone was wondering.

Friday, May 06, 2016

The Best Memory

“When your mom dies you’re the best memory of her. Everything you do is a memory of her.” – Alice Oswalt, seven years old.
These are the words young Alice chose to eulogize her mother, true-crime writer Michelle McNamara. It was doubtlessly influenced by her writing and her father's. Her dad, Patton Oswalt, was surprisingly free of words at the passing of his wife of thirteen years. The usually effusive tweeter has been hushed since April 21, when Michelle didn't wake up.
What words are there to describe that moment when, as Bambi's father so indelicately put it, "Your mother can't be with you anymore?" Like Patton, I tend to come up empty. 
This past week, as I have for years previous, I have had kids design Mother's Day cards to be printed out in our computer lab. In all that time, I have encountered a few sad moments when I have met the eyes of a little boy or girl, starting to well with tears. "What's the matter?" I ask this with mild certainty of the answer.
"I don't have a mom."
"Sure you do."
"I live with my auntie."
Some of these kids have never met their mothers. Some of them see their mothers for a moment here and there, to keep up appearances. Some of them are relieved. But all of them are sad not to have someone for whom they can make a card with hearts and flowers and frogs. "Why not make one for your auntie? She helps you be ready for the day. She helps you like..." And then I stop because I have no idea what I'm talking about. 
This past week, Eric came to my class and had his usual challenge getting settled and started. By the time the class was winding down, he had a stick figure with a curl of hair on top and the word "MOM" next to "ERIC." It was the low end of the expectation scale, but it was the minimum for this second grader. I knew Eric's mother and wondered out loud if he felt she might deserve a little more effort. Eric was done. He had moved on to the next thing, which was scrambling to be first in line.
What I didn't know at the time was that Eric's mother had died the night before. Eric didn't know either. He had spent the weekend with his grandmother. There was still a reckoning to be had. He spent the rest of the day in a second grade haze that will always be remembered as the day after his mother died. Just a few days before Mother's Day.
Eric will always have a mother, and everything he does will be a memory of her. He is the best memory of her.
Everybody cries. Everybody dies. Everybody poops. And everybody has a mom. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

In The Center Ring

Let's talk about the elephant that is no longer in the room. Last Sunday, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey had pachyderms performing as it has for the past two centuries. This was a big night not just because of the size of the act, but because it was the last one. In 1805, Hachaliah Bailey bought an elephant thinking that she would plow his fields like a horse. But she ate too much to make her a worthwhile farm animal, so instead he decided to take her on the road as a spectacle. Two hundred and eleven years later, the descendants of that first circus elephant are headed to Florida to retire. 
That's it. It's over. Pack up the tents and move on. Not that there are tents anymore. Now there are no more elephants. That's because it turns out that Hachaliah's beast may not have been one of burden because elephants are pretty clever. Those big heads have big brains and they feel every poke and prod of the barbed hooks that have been used on them for so many years. Considering their size, it's probably a good idea that they are a generally peaceful species with not grand design on our civilization. Like their mammalian counterparts in tanks in sea shows across the country, the time has come to consider what we are doing to our larger cousins. Conditioning them to flop around or stack themselves in awkward positions to delight the paying customers is a form of torture that we wouldn't turn on our pets. That would be cruel. 
And it's not like this is news. Even Walt Disney got it way back in 1941. Teasing Mrs. Jumbo's kid because of his great big ears was pretty awful, but stealing him away from her and turning him into some kind of clown was enough to drive a new mother to the extreme. Then she was locked up and kept away from her boy even as he learned to fly on his own. The parenting metaphor was not lost on me or my son's mother
This Sunday is Mother's Day. I can think of no more pleasant reminder of that day than the image of all those magnificent animals winding their way down to Florida and into a well-deserved cruelty-free rest. Elephants never forget, and that's how I want to remember elephants: wandering around doing what elephants do, not what we forced them to do for our amusement. It's about time. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Alternative Lifestyles

Elvis is alive. But you probably knew that. Or maybe you just suspected it. As inglorious an end as it may have seemed to have the King pass away on his throne, the news that he had faked his death came as sweet relief to his millions of fans. Not that cheating the grim reaper resulted in a world tour or a flurry of new recording. Instead, Mister Presley chose to leave the public life behind to take it on the road in the most inconspicuous ways.
Or maybe it was all a lot of hooey. I have heard of people who use the question of Elvis' mortality as a litmus test for relationships. Some believe it's probably best to pair up based on shared beliefs. For example, those who believe that Jim Morrison did not overdose in Paris, but rather he chose to live out the rest of his life after the age of twenty-seven without a care for how he looked in a pair of leather pants. Jim could grow his beard or cut his hair and write bad poetry  He didn't have to be the Lizard King or dance on fire. He could just go out for a cheeseburger or two and keep to himself.
Or maybe not.
Keeping our celebrities alive is a relatively new conceit, whereas the tragic early death of stars has been a mainstay in pop culture for decades now. James Dean. Janis Joplin. John Belushi. Kurt Cobain. The idea that this final leave of absence was really more of a sabbatical than a final destination was kind of a corollary to all the conspiracy theories that floated around all those poor unfortunate souls. It makes us feel better, I suppose, to feel that somehow it really is better to burn out than to fade away, but not all the way out.
That's why I have decided to believe that there is a Celebrity Relocation Program. They are the ones who staged the elevator incident with Prince, who is now taking a much deserved break and is probably going door to door handing out copies of The Watchtower to his neighbors in Minneapolis. Under an assumed name. With the requisite Unabomber hoodie and shades. David Bowie is living somewhere in the countryside in upstate New York, just a few doors down from John Lennon. Every so often Amy Winehouse drops by to borrow a cup of sugar for the pie she's baking. Chris Farley is waiting and he's hungry.
It's so much nicer than the alternative.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Root Of Some, If Not All, Evil

Bruce Wayne inherited his fortune. He is the heir to a fortune estimated at nearly seven billion dollars. This wad of cash was built over hundreds of years by his family before him who were merchants and then shipping tycoons. Eventually they diversified into manufacturing and chemicals, expanding their empire and their influence until young Bruce was the sole beneficiary of all that multiplying millions. How does Bruce choose to spend his ever-expanding bank? Well, there's the Wayne Foundation, which is dedicated to the elimination of trafficking and exploitation of children. A bachelor himself, Mister Wayne continues to find ways to make his money work for him and his community. He has even adopted a young ward, Dick Grayson who was orphaned like Bruce at a young age, and helping him find his way in a cruel world.
Tony Stark is also a child of wealth. He grew up in the shadow of his father, the founder of Stark Industries. Howard Stark was a mega-capitalist in the style of Howard Hughes. Except instead of aircraft, Stark's diversification ended up making piles of cash in the weapons industry. Young Tony grew up in a world that went boom. When his father passed away, that's what Tony Stark inherited. It wasn't until he had his own up-close and personal interaction with shrapnel that he began to reconsider building his roll with things that explode. His focus on alternative energy sources and artificial intelligence, some say, has helped him "privatize world peace." That, and he's Iron Man.
These multi-billionaires have found ways to move their bank accounts around in ways that give back to the world around them. Though there is no solid evidence, some suggest that like his Big Apple counterpart, Bruce Wayne is rumored to have connections to Gotham City's vigilante crusader. Fighting crime and subduing evil in a very hands-on way shows how dedicated these gentlemen are to leaving the world a better place than how they found it.
Donald Trump's net worth is estimated at just a shade below Stark and Wayne. What is he doing to make the planet safe? Well, let's just say that he isn't building bat caves or designing suits of armor. He reminds me less of a super hero than - well - Lex Luthor. Which may explain that whole hair thing.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Consumptive Nominee

Rounding this great big curve into what will likely be a summer of discontent, we are inching closer to what we refer to as "the presumptive nominee" for both major political parties. "Presumptive," since we can only presume that the object set in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Ask Wile E. Coyote about that one if you're unsure. The current schedule has the Clinton and Trump trains pulling into their prospective stations mid to late July. Democrats will be popping by Philadelphia in late July, and Republicans will have their gala a week before in Cleveland. I suppose the nice thing about all this presumption is that the swag dealers won't have the same concerns that major sports championships have when they have to find a place to get rid of all those Carolina Panthers -  Super Bowl Champions shirts. I do have a fond memory of my father's Jesse Jackson for President tee, but he was always a bit of an outlier.
Then there's a little matter of grammar. I found myself wondering about the difference between presumptive and assumptive. Both mean taking for granted that something is true, but the degree of certainty is what sets them apart. Presuming is more authoritative. Assuming, as we all know, makes an ass out of u and ming. In the world of politics, we presume that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for president. We assume that Donald Trrrrrump will be running on the Republican side. This is primarily because at this point, we can't really know what Donald and his minions will do right up until the moment the coronation takes place.
Sorry. Did I just say "coronation?" That may be hyperbole, but that is precisely the kind of verbal thrashing about that is bound to take place leading up to the moment where the powers-that-have-been in the Republican Party give up the reins of their tired old party to the billionaire Oompa Loompa who may just be running for president as a part of a new reality TV show: performance art. If that's the case, I applaud mightily, but I don't think that's how it's all going to go down. I assume that's not what is going on.
I presume that the path for Ms. Clinton will be a little more direct, in spite of Mr. Trumplet's suggestion to Bernie Sanders that he run as a third party candidate. Or why not just cross to the other side completely and give up your votes to the master of all those celebrity apprentices? Sanders supporters are currently being courted by the architect of the wall, but that may be a bit of a stretch. At least that's what I presume.

Sunday, May 01, 2016


I am a fan of comic books. I wouldn't call myself a collector, since I haven't bought or sold a comic in years. I have hung on to a large box of what could be considered by some collectibles in vinyl covers. I find myself poring over these in our basement from time to time when I am down there looking for a box full of Christmas decorations or T-shirts I thought had gone missing. I thank my older brother for having the foresight to protect my comics, the ones I held onto, way back when I moved to California. It is through his efforts that I have a preserved legacy of my youth spent looking through the racks at convenience stores and smoke shops. The comics I bought back in the day weren't from comic book stores. Those came about in the eighties, and by then I had already amassed the sequential issues I would own.
For the most part.
I had a subscription to Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider Man, not to be confused with The Amazing Spider Man. I made this commitment in my teens to one title because I was invested in Peter Parker the person, not the super hero. I was always impressed by Marvel's commitment to characters who happened to have incredible powers, rather than caped crusaders with incredible powers who occasionally interacted with normal humans. It wasn't a stretch for me to connect to Peter and his youthful angst as he worked through the struggles of being a nerd who just happened to have the proportionate strength and agility of a spider. I stuck with Spidey for years after that, even though I didn't renew my subscription. I picked up an issue (ish) here and there, happily noting how much things changes while staying the same.
And I grew up.
As a young man preparing to get married, I tried to lift the way Peter Parker proposed to Mary Jane Watson and drop it into the real world. It didn't work out too well. My own proposal to my wife took a bit of rewriting and negotiation to make it work in three dimensions. Years later, when I saw the romance between Pete and Mary Jane unfold on the big screen, I was swept up again. I started buying action figures from the Spider Man universe for my son. Then I decided to roll out the old comics to get him hooked. He had the toys. He had the movies. He looked with great appreciation at the art and stories I set in front of him. But he never made them his own.
It wasn't until Robert Downey Jr. showed up as Iron Man that the Marvel Universe opened up completely for him. He still didn't buy the comics. That is not how his world unfolds. He doesn't wander through the aisles or racks, thumbing through the stacks looking for that title that had eluded him for all these years. He has Al Gore's Internet. He keeps track of the wikis and the release dates and the spoilers in ways which the Mighty Marvel Bullpen could never keep up.
Next week, Iron Man squares off in theaters against my first comic fixation, Captain America. My son and I haven't had much discussion about which side we come down on, but the lines are already somewhat crudely drawn.
But there is a bright side.
Spider Man makes his first foray into this movie world with the rest of the Avengers and their hangers-on. I got a text right after the first TV spots showing Spider Man mixing it up with the others, cracking wise. It was from my son, quoting a line that came straight from behind the webbed mask: "Hey, you've got a metal arm! That's awesome!"
We can't wait.