Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sweet Ride

Before I ever owned a car, I was amazed and impressed with my older brother's car. Let me amend that: my older brother's truck. It was a red Toyota. It had fat tires and a camper shell. It was in the back of that truck that we hauled all manner of things, like firewood and supplies for this and that adventure. But mostly I remember riding around in the relative comfort and safety of the business end of that truck when I wanted to see how the world was going to look when I got to be my older brother's age. From where I sat, on a bean bag chair we had appropriated from my parents' basement, looking forward, over his shoulder and watching the road stretch out in front of us.
Getting a ride from my big brother was always a lot more interesting than getting one from my mom or dad. We went places in new and different ways, and every so often, I got to ride up front. Sitting shotgun in my brother's pickup had the most significant bonus over car trips with my parents: better music. It came pouring out of those speakers from the tape deck and reverberated through the little cab in ways that made me wish for a car stereo of my own someday.
Mostly I remember the drive-in. When summer came, the Holiday Drive-In opened its two screens and I waited for the invitation for my little brother and I along with a friend or two to pile in the back. Underneath the bean bags, lawn chairs, coolers, and assorted comforts from home, we lay still while my brother pulled up to the front gate. Over the idling engine, we could hear the guy selling tickets ask, "How many?"
"Two," came the reply from the driver's seat. My older brother was always clever enough to bring somebody else in the front seat with him so as to throw the rigorous drive-in security off the scent of the five or six teens and pre-teens hidden way in the back. Once the tickets were purchased, he drove us around to the far side of the lot where, as darkness fell, we unloaded across three or four spaces, making sure the speakers worked and we were still within stumbling distance from the restrooms and snack bar.
On one particular evening, we grew tired of the feature at theater number one, we decided to check out what was playing across the way. We dragged our accouterments to the fence and tossed them over into the next lot, leaving the truck for later. Much later. At the end of the double feature, we started to round up all our blankets and chairs and Styrofoam coolers, and my brother asked one of his pals to go around and drive the truck over so we could load up our gear. After a few minutes we saw the dim silhouette of the red Toyota heading toward us, lights off to deflect attention. We could hear a scraping noise, and I believe it was my younger brother who first noticed that something was trailing after the truck.
It was the speaker from the other theater, attached to the passenger door and still connected to the pole that was neatly pulled from the ground by the absent-minded friend. We stood there in the dark, wondering what fate might have in store for us if the aforementioned Holiday Drive-In Police were to stumble on this scene. We tossed our stuff in the back end, along with the speaker and the pole, and high-tailed it out of there into the early morning shadows. Magic Times.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


When you have been married as long as I have, you start using phrases like, "When you've been married as long as I have." It is all part of that not-a-sprint-it's-a-marathon experience we enjoy almost all of the time. Certainly after a couple decades there are moments when the humdrum existence of wedded bliss lacks the crackle and snap that we enjoyed once upon a time. It is the challenge married folks endure, when those magic moments spent staring into one another's eyes have turned into hours of looking at one another with the expectant gaze that says, "What next?"
There have been dozens of roses. There have been piles of little gifts. Keepsakes and mementos of the time we have spent building a home, building a family, building a relationship. We have a cabinet that is full of vases of various sizes and shapes that have held, at one time or another, some or all of those roses and bouquets for a variety of occasions. Large and small. And every week or so, I pluck one of the blooms from the rose bushes that grow in our yard, and place it on the table as a reminder of the romance that got us this far.
But it is a long haul, and sometimes the tank runs a little dry. Those moments like a wedding or the birth of a son are passed, and each milestone we reach at an anniversary rings a little louder and a little stronger, and yet even though the room seems a little bigger it gets harder to fill. The albums filled with "remember when" grow full. I love to hear my wife tell the story of how we first met. How we were friends for all those years before we ever dated. Like old married folk, I feel the need to jump in from time to time with my counterpoint. Sometimes we finish each other's sentences even when we don't want it to happen.
I confess that I do miss those days when each new gesture was a surprise. When I proposed, for example. That feeling is buried somewhere in the basement, with the cancelled checks and the VHS tapes. Every so often, I run across it, like the other day when I saw this video of a young couple getting engaged at a Bruce Springsteen show. There wasn't a crowd around my wife and I, and the Boss wasn't singing, and we didn't appear on a giant video screen.
But I'm pretty sure there were fireworks.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Like Magic

I did not read any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy until I was in my forties. As a young father, I took it on as a challenge offered up by my precocious son who wanted me to read it to him at bedtime. It was an onerous slog. The Fellowship of the Ring is a burdensome tome of more than four hundred pages filled with make believe words that cause young ears to perk up and ask, "did you say that right?" Sure, it's an epic tale of sorcery and adventure in mystical lands, but it's a capital C Chore to read aloud.
And it probably didn't help that I had some history with the books already.
I knew the story already, without having to read every page. I sat in the back seat of a station wagon, packed between two Tolkien fanatics who, on family road trips, would discuss plot points and character traits in glorious detail. Shelob this. Orcs that. Gandalf the Gray versus Gandalf the White. Hobbits, elves, and trolls, oh my! I became familiar with all Middle Earth had to offer traveling across the country with my brothers for Cliffs Notes. I knew how to kill Smaug before Peter Jackson ever exposed frame one of his film version. It was an education.
For Christmas in my seventh grade year, my parents gave me a deluxe hardback edition of The Hobbit. I waded through that one quickly, with all my prior background, it was easy enough to digest. It also helped me connect to my nerd peer group, who had taken to writing secret notes to one another using elvish runes. The contents of these notes consisted primarily of just how clever we were for gathering this knowledge and how little we knew about girls.
Now, decades later, I find myself on the outside of another tale of sword and sorcery. For the past couple years, friends of ours have looked at my wife and I aghast when we have confessed that we had not watched an episode of Game of Thrones. "Oh, you'd love it," we were assured. Over and over. Which had the effect of tweaking that muscle that had been dormant for all those years after leaving the back seat of the family station wagon. Resistance. That held until late this summer when my son joined the parade, encouraging us to take a chance on this saga. We sat down and watched the first episode, reminded that "it starts slow, but it's totally worth it." I watched the second episode with my wife and allowed for how it could become a habit.
It did for my wife. Not for me. Now my wife and son are totally immersed in season two of GoT and I am going to sleep an hour earlier. I don't miss a lot, since the recaps I get from the two of them fill in all the blanks I might have. I confess, however, that I am not looking forward to our next family road trip.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Victory Through Apathy

I have been playing Fantasy Football for some years now. Not enough to be fully competent, but just enough to stare at the numbers on the screen and anticipate the outcome of a week's slate of games. From Thursday through Monday night, all those catches and yards and fumbles create a statistical meringue that adds up to a score that sometimes gave me a win, and sometimes not so much. The past few seasons have had a lot of the latter. After careful consideration, I believe my strategy has been one of too much care, but not the right kind.
Try as I might, and with my wife's support, I have attempted to lessen the impact of the National Football League's hold on my emotions for six months out of every year. This roller coaster effect has been dampened a little by the recent success of my favorite franchise, the Denver Broncos. Winning a Super Bowl makes all pills easier to swallow, and even though I know that I will still sit on the couch on Sunday afternoons twisting and contorting my body with each first down and red zone opportunity, I can afford to toss some football karma to the sky.
I had a similar experience a few years back in Fantasy Football, where by mild cunning and a whole lot of luck, the team I assembled from rosters across the league found their way into the championship bracket. I ended up winning the whole megillah, and the ten dollars I had invested in previous years came back to me sixfold. That meant the next couple years I could put in my ten dollars without feeling like I was sacrificing basic needs. I was still able to have sour cream on my burritos.
Then came the dark times. For a good portion of the time that the Denver Broncos were experiencing their championship runs, my fantasy team hovered somewhere below the five hundred line. By the last few weeks of the season, I wasn't even checking my lineup. I left injured and suspended players in, and kept the stars on the bench. It was my Pigskin Flying Dutchman, not to be confused with the Statue of Liberty or the Fumblerooski.
All of this may be why when, on the evening of our league's draft this year, I simply spaced it out. Half an hour in, I remembered to log on and check the progress, and I found that the automatic machinery of fate had dealt me a perfectly respectable team. In the last couple rounds, I made a couple of picks that will no doubt come back to haunt me, since this whole enterprise would seem to run better on luck than any level of proactive management.
And so I'm looking forward to getting to know this new group, the ghosts in the machine. Will it be enough to win a Fantasy Trophy? I only care now because it seems like the right thing to do, but you'll have to pardon me if I feel a little apathetic. As my younger brother has suggested to me many times, that may be the key to success.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


Dottie is the one who came looking for me. She told me, in an exasperated and breathless way, about how I needed to come and open the custodian's closet because Annie's phone had "bounced underneath" the door. Not slid. Bounced. I asked Dottie, "Bounced."
Becoming more agitated by the second, just a second before rolling her eyes, "Yes. Bounced." She was emphatic.
I told my fellow teachers that I would be leaving my post at the front of the school for just a moment while I solved the problem. As I followed Dottie upstream through the throng of children walking out of the school as we walked back in. We met up with Annie at the top of the stairs. "I hear your phone went under the door of the custodian's closet."
A quick glance at her fellow fifth grade girl and Annie assured me, "Yes, Mister Caven. It bounced right under the door."
Now we were standing in front of the custodian's closet. The end of day rush was subsiding around us. Before I put my key in the lock, I turned and faced these two young ladies, remembering that I had known them since Kindergarten, and I felt the need for just the tiniest bit more explanation. "That's a pretty small space for a phone to slide under," looking at the half inch space between door and floor.
"It bounced under there," insisted Annie, "you always think I'm lying."
Well, not always. There was a time when I believed most everything that Annie and Dottie told me. That was before the second half of their third grade year when the two of them conspired to sneak off campus after school instead of going to their scheduled after school program. They went to the store and bought a bunch of candy and then headed over to Dottie's house because her mother didn't get home until late. When their parents arrived to pick them up at five thirty, they were not at the school. There was some trouble.
Then, the next year in fourth grade, there was a little more. Not a lot, but Dottie and Annie never fully distinguished themselves as completely trustworthy. It made sense that the two of them were playing around as school let out and Dottie knocked Annie's phone to the floor and somebody kicked it underneath the door. Accidentally. I suggested this to the girls who looked at each other for some sort of silent confirmation, and both vigorously denied that any such thing could have happened. I was stuck trying to figure out how a smart phone could defy the laws of physics and slide neatly through that narrow opening. When I unlocked the door, the phone was there, a little worse for wear and tear, what with all that bouncing around. I picked it up and handed it to Annie. After an awkward pause, I said, "You're welcome."
"Thank you," Dottie called over her shoulder. She and Annie were already on their way back outside, ready to test the laws of nature elsewhere in the universe.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Make A Dog Go Woof

You know the scene, if you are of a certain age or you have a certain amount of pop culture awareness: Lassie, the collie, comes running up to the young farmer who is busy fixing a tractor that never seems to be in proper repair. Lassie lets loose with a series of barks. She has what can best be described in canine terms as an expectant look on her muzzle. "What is it girl?" asks the young farmer. Another series of staccato barks. "Timmy's in trouble?" A firm but growing more anxious bark in reply. Lassie is losing patience with this exchange. "Timmy fell down the well?" A happy and relieved bark as the dog starts to turn in the direction of the well, looking back over her shoulder, waiting once again for this human to catch up to her alert. One more bark, this one is obviously "hurry!"
Though dull, the young farmer, Paul Martin was able to decipher what Lassie was trying to put across with her plaintive yelping. It is possible that Mister Martin possessed some sort of preternatural ability to comprehend dog speak. A rural Doctor Dolittle. While taking on this ability with mild aplomb, it should be noted that Paul Martin was not alone in this skill. Many of the human beings who came into contact with Lassie seemed to have a savant capacity to understand what was going on in her doggie mine. It could be that it was the dog and not the people around her who were special, and when she went off to that big kennel in the sky, Lassie took with her the secret of canine-human conversation.
I believe this is true because try as I might, the yipping from the dog next door continues to sound like noise to me instead of communication. It's not "I'm hot," or "I'm lonely," or "somebody fell down the well." More likely it has something to do with "It's three in the morning and I want someone to care about it." There is no danger, no fire in the barn. The beast has been fed and watered. It just seems to go off for fifteen to twenty minute intervals that can only be worse for those trapped inside with it. When it's all over, and peace resumes in the night, I wonder what must be going on inside that little empty head. Maybe the dog is just set for the wrong time zone, and a quick check of his control panel and some minor adjustments to his software would set him right.
Or maybe it's something more dire. Like spoilers from season seven of Game of Thrones.  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Caught In A Whirlpool

I used the phrase "gave up the ghost" last week when describing the circumstances surrounding our washer and dryer. Major appliances that have been in our service for many years now. Suddenly, or at least this is how it seemed, our washer stopped doing things that it had done so dependably for all that time, most notably washing clothes. To be fair, there was washing going on, but after that initial sequence, there was some rinsing but no spinning or draining. It was precisely this problem that generated the second problem: the dryer. In the very early hours of Sunday morning, when a lot of calmer, clever people are sleeping, I was out of bed and trying to coax our washer through those steps that it had begun to ignore. I stood there in front of the machine, wishing from the outside that my positive vibes would bring about spontaneous regeneration of purpose. "Oh, sorry," I hoped to hear the Whirlpool admit, "I was just pulling your leg there. I'm not broken at all. I was only looking for a little attention and now I can see that you care. You really care. I'll get right to that spinning and draining now because I wouldn't want anything to come between us."
It was early, and maybe I was imagining a little, because when I did open the lid, there was still a sloppy mess of wet clothes in a tub that showed no interest in spinning. I began pulling out shirts and socks and pairs of jeans, wringing each in the laundry sink happily located next to our now potentially defunct washer. From there, our still more than just moist clothes were ferried to our dryer. It should be noted at this point that our Admiral gas dryer has lived through three different washing machine administrations. It took a load of sopping wet towels and T-shirts and the rest to put such a strain on the tumbling capacity of this dedicated servant of our household that it became a gas fueled hot air blower. Don't let anyone try to tell you that all that tumbling isn't important. It's what gets those clothes dry. I'm here to tell you.
Had I been thinking clearly and not anthropomorphizing our appliances, I probably would have made a better choice than to put that kind of strain on the Admiral. I wasn't. Thinking, that is. I was expecting machines to solve my problems without thinking about their needs. I broke the dryer because I wanted to solve my washing machine problem by abusing it.
Cut to the next day when the repairmen showed up to undo the damage I had visited on our little helpers. They pulled a dozen socks from the gap beneath the washing tub and the launderizing machinery below. One of them was particularly mangled and was, along with his friends, the culprit. All those floating socks that found their way out of the wash chamber and into the recesses that caused the clog that kept the draining and spinning from happening. It wasn't their fault, really. I should know to load the socks in first, or at least that is what I know now. And I never would have subjected the dryer to the torture of all those extra pounds of water weight. Except I did. And I paid for it, in shame. And a repair bill that would not have replaced both machines.
But it would have been easier to treat them with the respect they are due.
I'm sorry. I hope to live long enough to show you that I know how to treat a washer and dryer. Forgive me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Observed Behavior

I know, statistics show that violent crime is actually going down over the last ten years and I should keep making a point of repeating this tidbit after every report of senseless death. It is extremely likely that even though the rate of violent crime is indeed down, the rate of reporting violent crime is up. Why wouldn't we be frightened by the "if it bleeds it leads" editorial stance that exists in our twenty-four hour news cycle?
Newark, New Jersey has had sixty-two homicides this so far this year. That means it hasn't been a great year for Newarkians, but they probably won't be pushing for any records when it comes to murder.
This may be because of the heightened awareness folks in that corner of the woods, what with their annual 24 Hours of Peace celebrations and all. The goal being to shine a light on the strengths of the community and the bonds that hold that city and so many others like it together. The rallies highlight culture and performing arts, all that is alive and vital in Newark. Increasing the peace is a difficult challenge when, all of a sudden, a spotlight is shone down on that place on that day.
Within hours of the festival, two denizens of the city were dead another critically wounded by gunfire. Not exactly the textbook definition of celebrating peace. Who is to say that these victims wouldn't have become victims even on a day that wasn't devoted to anti-violence? Statistics suggest that there will be a certain number of homicides over a certain number of days and it just so happens that some of them will coincide with the efforts to bring that number down.
Especially while people are staring at it.
Conscious observers may impact the outcome of such experiments. Conscientious observers may impact them, but in a way they hadn't fully intended. For those who have a bent toward breaking laws and causing pain, there might be just a little added something to the top of that trauma sundae by killing someone on the night when we are all supposed to not be killing someone.
It makes sense.
Sort of.
It makes sense in the same way that I feel compelled to return to those violent crime statistics while certain members of the press and the Republican Party would have us running for the shelter of our concrete bunkers and our well-appointed personal arsenals. We are safer now than we have been in a long time. Except for those who are dead.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Get Real

With under eighty days until voters here in the United States go to the polls to put an end to this long, strange performance art piece that has been our presidential election, we can only begin to imagine what twists and turns still await us. The trick is, we don't want to imagine too hard, since the way things have been rolling, we wouldn't want to put any ideas in anybody's head. There seems to be some room, admittedly, but anything that finds its way into those dark and scary places is just a seed for more craziness.
Like, for example: Donald Truhup apologized last week. Who could have seen that coming? "Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing," said the newly contrite tangerine metaphor for the Antichrist. As part of the restructuring of his campaign, Mister Prumt was trying out a new persona. He realized that he had caused some "personal pain," but went on to say that part of the reason why he rarely apologizes is because he is so rarely wrong. As I suggested earlier, the lines between fantasy and reality have become so blurred. Really blurred.
The Grand Old Party's last best hope may have come in the form of this reformation, not from the resignation of Paul Manafort, but because of the Dickensian rewrite of the essential character of their chosen one. If a series of revelations were visited upon Mister Tearump by spirits from the past, the present, and the future and when he awoke from his tempestuous dream, his whole world outlook had changed. No more snarky iinsults. No more insensitive comments about race, creed, religion, sexual orientation or any number of personal pain. A brand new day. A brand new Trumpsch. 
Can you believe it?
I don't know about you, but I don't. But that's kind of the way things have been going for the past two years. Curiouser and curiouser. But repentant? Let's get real, shall we?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Where To Start

I made a point to notice how empty the halls were. It was a Friday night, closing in on seven o'clock in the evening. I had arrived at school some twelve hours before, and the beehive of activity that was a building full of teachers preparing their rooms for the first day with their new classes had come to an end. There were still those who needed to put this item in its proper place, or arrange rows of desks and chairs in the most pleasing manner possible.
Empty desks and chairs. Just like the hallways. It is a rare occurrence to have that startling lack of children. It gave me a feeling of how the Rapture might feel if all those children had been sucked up into the sky by a forgiving deity, leaving us grownups to imagine what we might do with all those E-Z Readers and math workbooks.
It occurred to me that I hadn't heard a bell ring all week. Soon, there would be plenty of those as well. Clanging reminders of the time to begin the day, change activities, go to lunch, head home. There was structure to the day primarily because of that ticking clock. How many hours did we have left until there would be no more? After spreading countless acres of paper across innumerable bulletin boards and stapling miles of colorful border around them, I wondered not for the first time just how long those pristine vertical surfaces would survive without a nick or a tear here or there. The floors that had been polished to such a bright finish would soon be worn down by a trudging army of little feet. How much of this week of preparation would be noticed by the kids who would be going up and down those stairs, carrying their freshly laminated bathroom passes?
All that potential in one class list. First graders ready to show what they had picked up in that first, formative year of Kindergarten. Fourth graders already looking forward to the next year when they would rule the roost. These were all illusory figures who would soon become corporeal, manifested in the charges we were about to take with us on the journey called the 2016-2017 school year. Not all of them would make the trip. Some of them would bail before the end of the year, off to another school in another district, or across town. But the ones who were there on that first day would get to see us at our shiny best. Name tags taped to desks, bookcases full of carefully selected and categorized volumes. White boards up and down those hallways with one word written large: Welcome. Another year begins.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Demented And Sad, But Social

My wife said, "I guess all media is social media." Her voice came to me, as it often does, from behind the open lid of her laptop computer. Like so many of us, particularly those who live in our house, we tend to begin and end our days in front of a screen. There's all that news on which we feed. All those notes, tweets, messages and instametagrams, they won't read themselves. All those cat videos need to be considered and cataloged with the hours already compiled and discerned. There is so much media to be digested and then regurgitated in outward streams to keep the cycle moving. It's a full-time preoccupation.
There was a time, way back when we were young marrieds, and my wife and I would sit down in front of the television with our dinner to give ourselves the maximum amount of input for later dissemination. If we hadn't watched Must-See-TV that week, our conversations with others would suffer enormously. Keeping up with Ross and Rachel was a chore, but one we took on gladly. Around this time, I began to subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, which allowed me Cliff's Notes on pop culture that was starting to edge away from me. I was no longer living in the center of the demographic that would allow me to appear hip simply because I was standing where the media stream was aimed. I learned about Miley Cyrus, but I never cared about her. I cared a little about Lindsay Lohan, but I couldn't fully understand how she got to be so darn important. It was right about this time that Al Gore invented the Internet. Now my wife and I were compelled to find out more about people and things that millions of others were discovering and would most certainly be chatting about on the next trip to the water cooler.
I never worked anywhere there was a water cooler. And when our son came along, we moved our little family dinners back to the kitchen, where we could share pleasant, unemojied conversation so as to aid our digestion. We did a very nice job, I think, keeping social media and media of whatever other sorts out of those bonding moments. Then our son grew up and we all got smart phones, and tablets and laptop computers and now when we sit down in front of the television there are times when the three of us are juggling two different devices in addition to the communal screen to which we have all consented to pay attention. There is so much information and so very little time to gobble it all up.
It makes me think about those screen-free weeks that we used to try and participate in when my son was in elementary school. Little did he know that his parents were sneaking a peek at Jon Stewart after he went to sleep. A sad existence, but so full of amusement and distraction. We look up from our screens now and then to make sure the others got our text to watch the link on YouTube. Then back we go into the mire. Happy in our overstimulated blizzard.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


The headline read, "No Evident Connection Between Suspect And Victims In Face Eating Attack." I went back and re-read those words. It gave me pause. No connection? I would imagine that the connection of teeth to fleshy bits nose and cheek would count as some sort of connection. A rather intimate one.
Maybe I should back up a step, in case you aren't as prone to as I am to click on those odd and tawdry stories that have this kind of macabre tint to them. A nineteen year old Florida State University sophomore walked three miles into a suburban neighborhood where he found a couple in their garage where he attacked them. When officers arrived on the scene, Michelle Stevens was dead, as was her husband John who had the added complication of a rabid college sophomore on his chest, gnawing on his face.
I'll give you all a moment to decide if you want to continue with this discussion. A chance to digest, if you will.
What made this case even more disturbing, if this was really a frontier that needed to be mined, was that there was a similar occurrence four years ago in Miami: the case of the Causeway Cannibal. Another young man in south Florida who took a break from our collective reality and ended up making a meal of someone else's face. Not that face-gnawing is a practice limited to residents of Dade County. This behavior is linked to the use of "bath salts," or Flakka. In the same way that breakfast every morning is good, Flakka is bad. Like you would benefit from having breakfast every morning. By contrast, you would benefit from having Flakka, oh, let's say never. I am pretty sure that when you go out shopping for a chemical mood enhancer, the mood you're attempting to enhance isn't the hunger for human flesh. If you get stoned, you get an appetite for Cheetos. If you snort, vape, chew or swallow Flakka, you might end up doing your best impersonation of the Donner Party. Or being a walk-on for the road company of "Night of the Living Dead." Or the subject of some awful story people will read on Al Gore's Internet when they really should be doing something responsible like balancing their checkbook. Or writing a friend to encourage them not to rub, sniff, grind or otherwise consume Flakka.
Nobody did that for Austin Haurroff. His course of study at Florida State University will be interrupted. For some time. He currently enjoys our legal system's distinction of being referred to as the "alleged assailant." Not exactly the type of thing that looks good on your transcript. His status as a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity will need to be revisited. But he will always have a connection with John and Michelle Stevens. Forever.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Here It Comes

Right now it's all about tables, desks and chairs. We are moving things around in preparation for the first day of school. For kids. Teachers have already had a week of wandering around empty halls, looking up at the clock not in anticipation of the next bell but rather of that moment when there is no time left and like it or not the children will all file in. Or rush in with a summer's worth of energy and stories and friends who need to be caught up on every last thing that happened in the past two and a half months. There will be joy. There will be tears. There will be reunions. There will be school once again.
But for now it remains a somewhat desolate place, as if grades K through Five had been raptured up to Heaven, or Stockton, maybe. In the twenty years that I have been working at this particular school, I have probably had occasion to handle each and every stick of furniture in the place, from the main building to the office across the way. Every Fall it's the same drill: The desks in this room need to be switched with that one, or the ones down the hall need to be raised to fit the ever-expanding fifth graders. Coming to the teaching biz as a recovering mover of modular steel furniture, I possess a unique set of skills that allow me to take some of these mildly absurd requests and turn them into a reality. This allows the rest of our staff to puzzle over just how many copies of that first day worksheet they will need, or if they would like to have the kids sit in groups or nice neat rows. That's not my concern. Once the number of desks and chairs match the number of students on that first day's roll and they are all essentially level, I am on to the next crisis.
Like the paper on the bulletin boards. Soon enough, those vertical surfaces will be filled with the scribblings and mathematical assertions of the young minds we are attempting to coax into new and exciting revelations. For now, there are great expanses of primary colors, with border around the edges for that finished look. And as soon as these boards become filled with the work of our young charges, one or more of them will get it into their heads to see if they can't rip a hole in one of them. Or tear the border off as they run down the hall instead of being outside for recess. Or lean back in one of those chairs that have supported dozens of backsides for as many years until they finally just give out. Or that desk that seems to have lost a screw that keeps the front leg from collapsing, just out of the blue.
But for now, it's peaceful and orderly. It is the calm before the storm. The storm that begins on Monday at eight AM.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Lowest Form Of Wit

So there's this former mayor of New York, and he walks up to a microphone and says, "eight years before Obama came along, we didn't have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the United States." Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in November of 2008. Eight years before that was November, 2000. George W. Bush was the president back then. In September of 2001, seven years before Obama came along, America suffered its most catastrophic loss of life in one day when radical Islamic terrorists flew jet airliners into the side of both World Trade Center towers. The World Trade Center towers located in New York City. The former mayor of New York City could be forgiven for forgetting this little dustup, except he has made a career in the fifteen years since those attacks of reminding anyone within earshot about them. If there was such a thing as a "Mister 9/11" scholarship competition, Rudy Giuliani would have my vote. The former mayor of New York City will probably get my vote for the most unfortunate bit of calendar math over the past decade or two. The former mayor of New York City will not be getting my vote for President of the United States, nor will he be influencing that vote in the direction of his creatively-coiffed partner. 
Of course, it could be that he didn't mean it all. It could have been sarcasm. The former mayor of New York City may have been attempting to use sarcasm. To wit: " the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny." Since there obviously was a successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the eight years before Obama came along, he may have been trying to be funny. Or insulting. To whom, exactly, is unclear. Or perhaps Rudy has just become so rabid on the loco weed that they must be feeding him that he is losing track of his holiest of holies. All that frothing at the mouth seems to be SOP with the GOP.
Or maybe it was sarcasm in the same way that referring to Barack Obama as the founder of ISIS was sarcasm. Maybe we just don't get it. And maybe that's just fine. It's been eight minutes since the last idiotic utterance from the Tahrump campaign. Was that sarcasm? 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Watching The Clothes

On the last weekend of his father's summer vacation, my son decided to empty his laundry bag. The laundry bag that had been holding all those secret treasures, mostly dirty clothes, and had been carefully placed in a corner of his room since he came home in mid-June. Over the course of the past couple of months, I have been aware of a somewhat truncated cycle of T-shirts, underwear and jeans that comprise his daily wardrobe. It caused me to reflect on my own sartorial choices, noting that I didn't skew too far from that model myself during these lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. I probably wore a larger variety of T-shirts, having this break in the elementary school dress code to fill in with some of those favorites that otherwise remain at the bottom of the drawer.
But finally, the rest of the story emerged in the form of all those pairs of pants and sweatshirts and assorted socks that weren't ready to see the light of day. And now, suddenly, here they were. It made me wonder about my role as chief laundry officer for this ship, and I was reminded that my son had managed to do his own laundry in his dorm facilities for all those months prior. I could have simply let the pile grow until there was no getting around it. Once he was unable to get in or out of his room without having to move that mass, he would have broken out his own detergent and attacked the problem just like he had before he moved back in.
But the truth is, I was eager to have that odd bit of connection. I understood all those times I had gone back to visit my mother, and her eagerness to toss around a bit of my dirty laundry. It's a way we can show that we care, we parents. We're doing a load anyway, is there anything else that needs to be washed? Of course there is, but when you're a nineteen year old boy, discerning and locating said items becomes a bit of a scavenger hunt.
I am going back to school, but he still has a few weeks left at home. He has already talked about how next summer he might end up staying at school, to pick up a class or two or get a job near campus. And then he'll have to get his clothes clean all by himself. Just like he was already doing before I barged in and started doing it for him.
He'll be fine.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


As a public school teacher, I make a lot of sacrifices. Some of them are little, and easily maintained, like the absence of a first name replaced by "Mister." Some of them are not as easily managed. My language choices, for example. It's pretty standard English, but within the confines of the school building and throughout the school year, my use of expletives is limited to my living room on Sundays while watching professional football. Which brings me to to the topic of today's post: Being an orange and blue peg in a silver and black hole.
My allegiance to the Denver Broncos gets tested out here in The Black Hole of Raidertown. Twice a year for the past decade and a half, I gird my fanatical loins and go out on the playground full of die-hard Oakland fans. I confess that this has been made easier for me due to the impressive winning percentage that my team has been able to maintain over their team. I am also grateful for the generally good sportsmanship that exists between my pre-teen charges and myself. I admire the way these kids cling to their hometown team the way I maintain my connection to my beloved Broncos. But every so often, the National Football League  decides to open up their bountiful coffers and spread joy and pigskin passion to the communities in which they reside. Here in Oakland, that means we get a lot of Raider swag. Which makes sense. It's a promotion, after all, and the NFL is not in the business of being short-order cooks. If you're in Oakland, you get the big bag of silver and black shirts, and we are all pleased and happy because we got the big bag of free shirts from the NFL. Which brings me back to the sacrifice: Last week, the NFL and its partners in the Dairy Council offered up a great big sack of flag football equipment and curriculum to supplement each elementary school's Physical Education program. All we had to do was send a representative down to Raiders Headquarters to pick up our big bag of flag football. And that representative would participate in some training and some instruction to be able to pass along that knowledge. I was that representative.
So there I was, in my shorts and ESPN T-shirt, running drills and tripping over myself on the same field that Marcus Allen and Howie Long and all those other Raider greats practiced. Each time we came together to prepare for another drill, we were encouraged to shout, "Go Raiders!" as we broke our huddle. Of course we were. It was their field. It was their photo op. But I'm a good sport. I'm a good teacher. I wanted to make sure the kids at my school got that big bag of football fun the Raiders were offering. Near the end of the training, we were told that our big bag would be sent to our school sites by the end of September. Furthermore, if there were school sites that didn't send a representative to the training, they would be sent to those sites as well, they just wouldn't have a "to the attention of" name to put on the bag. My name wlll be on that big bag. That big silver and black bag. Ah, the sacrifices I make.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Jagged Little Pill

"My brain? That's my second favorite organ." - Woody Allen
I leave it to you to decide for yourself what your first favorite organ is, but Woody's comment was what flashed through my cerebral cortex as I sat in my doctor's office discussing brain chemistry. So much about what I am can be attributed to the way dopamine and serotonin flit about my skull in patterns that, according to my mother, may have been established before I was born. The blog you are currently reading is a byproduct of some of those obsessive compulsions: the need to stay busy, the need to fill the world with words that sound good to me in combinations I string together. 
Backing up a moment, it should be noted that my wife and I go to the same doctor, and we often have appointments one right after the other. My wife uses this opportunity to tattle on me, or to be more relaxed, to share her concerns about me. Which is a nice thing, considering the alternative. That means that when the door opens and I am asked by my doctor if I have any questions or concerns, I know that there are probably already a few in the pipeline. 
Like a lot of humans my age and gender, I have a few extra pounds that eating kale on a more frequent basis along with a decent exercise regimen hasn't managed to disappear. My cardiovascular system was aided by that running and growing up in the thin mountain air, along with some decent genes. Still, my blood pressure was a number that raised an eyebrow on most of the folks who have witnessed it. 
Stress? Could be. That must-do feeling that exists around most every enterprise upon which I embark would be a nod in that direction. Hearing a little about my job made my doctor suggest that maybe mood-altering pills could be handed out at the door of most public schools. And what if there was a pill that could scientifically and safely round the sharper edges of my day? What if, as my doctor described, the pendulum swings weren't quite so wide? 
My immediate reaction was to worry that I would no longer have anything to write about. Would it make any sense to check my blood pressure right before and right after I wrote a blog? Or maybe, as I started to relax into the notion, there was a sense of relief in letting go of all that responsibility for my own stress. That last sentence gives you an idea of how quickly things stack up in my mind. 
And so I am embarking on a trial. To see if there is a little pill that makes being me a little easier. A little pill that makes it easier for me to be me longer because I won't eventually burst like a tick on a hot stove from the internal strife my brain has created all these years. My doctor assured me that I can still keep all the stress in my life, if it is important to me, but maybe I will be able to see the big rocks coming at me and step aside without having the stroke beforehand. That last bit wasn't a medical term, it was more hyperbole. It makes me wonder if there is a medication I can take that will help reduce my stress about the medication I will be taking to reduce my stress. 
Life is funny. Stressful, and funny. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Up Above It All

The year was 1977. There were still plenty of polyester shirts going to discos. The Sex Pistols were taking their country by storm, with an eye toward conquering the U.S. Elvis Presley died. And George Willig was climbing the World Trade Center. Many of you may remember those polyester shirts, and some of you may still have your 45s of Silver Convention performing Fly Robin Fly tucked away in a box, awaiting the Disco Renaissance. And while you may have missed the reunion tour the Pistols pulled together, you can still catch their doppelgangers in a pub near you. Elvis? He's still everywhere, but mostly dead.
And what about George "The Human Fly" Willig? Once he got finished paying off the one hundred ten dollar fine, one cent for each floor he climbed, He signed his name on a metal plate on the observation deck, where it remained until the towers came tumbling down in 2001. He went on the Merv Griffin Show. He got jobs as a stuntman. He wrote a book. He easily consumed his fifteen minutes of fame and maybe just a touch of someone else's. He waited until after the Mother Ship landed at Devil's Tower, Wyoming before he tried climbing that. Later, he went to work remodeling homes in the San Fernando Valley.
You thought he was gone.
But he wasn't.
Just like Johnny Rotten, it's better to burn out than to fade away, but a young Virginia man decided to take up the Human Fly's mantle and began scaling the Trump Tower this past week. Stephen Rogata had arrived in New York City with the intent of meeting everyone's favorite Starburst Flavored Republican. How better to make an impression than to use giant suction cups to dangle precariously over the Big Apple's streets? Mister Rogata never made it to the top. He has yet to make good on his attempt to meet the man for whom the tower was named, but given the way Mister Truhhhmpah makes his choices for cabinet posts, why wouldn't a good conservative boy like Stephen get a shot? And yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's 1977 all over again. Has anyone seen my bell bottoms?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Murphy's Park

One of the things I missed out on this summer was a trip to an amusement park. No visits to the House of Mouse, or the Six Flags Great America Rollercoasterorama. The thrills I have experienced have been almost exclusively of the vicarious variety. Which is fine, especially when you consider what is at stake in a lot of these enterprises.
It was the late Michael Crichton who first hipped me to the frightening underbelly of amusement park. I went to Westworld back in the summer of 1973, and even though the resort depicted was for grown-ups, it didn't take much additional imagination to picture man-sized rodents running amok and flying elephants reigning peanutty death from the skies. It wouldn't take much to tip the scales in the direction of the toons. That's why the parade of Jurassic Park movies haven't done much to terrorize me, rather they are simply affirming the chaos theory spouted by anyone who made the mistake of putting themselves on a remote island teeming with man-eating reptiles. It's a recipe for disaster.
Which is pretty much what happened earlier this summer when a two year old boy was dragged to a watery grave by an alligator at the Walt Disney World Resort. It makes sense that a family from Nebraska would be ill-equipped to deal with the reality of ten foot long dinosaur relatives lurking just off the shore of their vacation cottage. What is surprising is the way Disney, which tends to avoid such acts of random savagery, allowed this event to occur. If you were to fall into the lagoon in Disneyland's Jungle Cruise, the biggest danger you might face would be the unholy repetition of the same banter that has been performed on those waters for the past three generations. Life and death are rarely found in close proximity in the Magic Kingdom, unless it's one of those Make A Wish kids, and it's not likely that being consumed by an alligator is on any of their bucket lists.
Still, it's the nature of amusement parks, even those run by Mickey and Minnie, to offer up a little danger. Michael Crichton's impulse for writing Westwold and Jurassic Park stemmed from that same impulse that we have all had to hold up our arms on the roller coaster. Even though the tired, pre-recorded voices tell us to keep our hands and feet inside the car at all times, we don't. It's the added thrill of not dong as we are told that makes the experience just a little more thrilling.
That thrill may have been on the mind of the ten year old boy who died as a result of a seventeen story plunge down a water slide in Kansas last week. Nothing spoils a trip to the local water park like a near-decapitation. Water slides are fun. Water slides are exciting. Do we really need one that is seventeen stories high? Wait in line for two hours for an eighteen second ride that might end in death?
Suddenly I don't feel so bad about sitting through Suicide Squad.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Trump Rules

As part of his ongoing attempt to make the United States great again, Donald "Jay" Terrump is hoping to get a chance to debate his Democratic rival, Hillary "Ar" Clinton. But our boy Donnie won't go into this thing without a sense of what he's getting into. "I want to debate very badly," said the Cinnamon Twist, unaware of just how badly he will probably debate. “I renegotiated the debates in the primaries, remember? They were making a fortune on them and they had us in for three and a half hours and I said that’s ridiculous,” Trumbop said. “I’m sure they’ll be open to any suggestions I have, because I think they’ll be very fair suggestions." Aside from the time, place and choice of moderators, here is a look at some of the suggestions Mister Twump would like to make:
Responses of more than one hundred forty characters will be redacted.
Masks must be worn.
You aren't allowed to question the mask. 
Respect the "no song" zone.
A score of Q to twelve will be considered a win.
Any penalty legislation may be in the form of pain, embarrassment, or any other abasement the rulee deems fit to impose on his opponent. 
The second card is turned upward, except on Tuesdays.
Be aware of your surroundings. 
An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule. When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare ''Infield Fly'' for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare ''Infield Fly, if Fair.'' The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul. If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly.
Rules? In a knife fight?
Nobody talks about fight club.
Other than that, he's pretty much on board with the whole thing. 
Should be fun. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Word From On High

My first question would be: How does one go about being in charge of anarchy? I understand that ISIS isn't exactly a group of anarchists, but they don't seem too affixed to a standard organizational tree. If anything, they seem to be out of their tree more often than not. Still, somebody's got to pay the bills, order the plastic explosive and keep track of all those frequent flyer miles that the group must rack up on their zig-zagging path across the globe in search of more and more recruits to subvert the dominant paradigm. Just not the guys in charge of ISIS. You've got to draw the line somewhere.
Like you've got to have somebody who will take care of that whole taking responsibility business. These days, whenever anything particularly heinous occurs, it's only a matter of time before somebody from the front office calls and claims that this or that horrible idea was ISIS's, which is an awful mouthful of a possessive.
This past week, a wacko swinging a machete attacked two Belgian policewomen. The thirty-three year old Algerian who was living in Belgium illegally was praised by the Islamic State group for following the somewhat open-ended instructions to attack citizens of countries that are part of a U.S. led coalition seeking to eradicate that Islamic State group. A third Belgian police officer shot and killed the attacker, who was said to have a criminal record, but no known terrorist connections.
Well, he does now, and that really is the nice thing about ISIS: their willingness to take on any nitwit with a gun or a bomb or a machete who happens to shoot, explode or hack his or her way into their good graces. It doesn't seem exactly fair that terrorists get to join the team more or less after the fact, since declaring jihad seems like a pretty public thing and shouldn't be grandfathered in or put in the record book with an asterisk.
Global Warming? It was ISIS's plan to poke a hole in the ozone layer way back in the 1970's.
Athlete's foot? Pretty much the same deal. Not quite as devastating as a suicide bomb, but way more annoying.
I suspect we can all anticipate the announcement from ISIS headquarters that they have been in charge of the Post Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles for years now. Gales of wicked and derisive laughter. Isn't it enough that I still have to take off my shoes to get on a plane? Thanks a lot, terrorists.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Good Morning, Star Shine

I don't generally put a lot of stock in the world of the astrological and zodiac signs, since I have one of those birthdays that sits on the cusp between two signs. Depending on which newspaper I read or which link I click on, my fortunes of the day may be radically different. This is also apparent, when I am asked by those inquiring to my sign and I give them one or the other, there will a loud "I knew it," and then the categorization of all my character traits can begin. It makes perfect sense to those who make these pronouncements that I would do or be such a person, since I am a Gemini. Presented with the possibility that everything they have just diagrammed is incorrect since I am really a Cancer only serves to rev up the rationalization for these scientific observations. Leading the true believers to assert that only a Gemini/Cancer cusp would make such trouble in the first place.
However, I can't wholly discount this birthday star sign nonsense, since I have the unique experience of having had my two longest roommate relationships with people who were born on the same day. It could be coincidence that my wife and my roommate from college just happened  to have been born on this day mere hours apart. Or it could be that I made some subliminal choice based on repressed knowledge gained from a glance at a driver's license way back when, but I can only imagine how well I would have gotten along with thirty-first president of the United States Herbert Hoover, or Tin Woodman Jack Haley had either one of those Leos been around to share a one bedroom apartment with me back in the day.
Or maybe it has something to do with growing up in Boulder during the seventies. Nature. Nurture. Hard to say which came first in the big chicken/egg picture, but since neither of those are sun signs, I can't give an accurate reading. What I can say is that both of these individuals held a key position in my live at times when my own tendencies were to stick to myself. These were friends who brought me out of my crabby shell or forced me to reckon with my own dual nature. Or something like that. They continue to be forces in my life that helped put me on the path on which I find myself decades later. I celebrate their birthday today with them and thank them individually for their contributions to my life. For your troubles and consideration, I wish you the best of days and encourage you to enjoy the galactic significance of having landed in my life. Just like a Leo, right?

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Games People Play

I know I should care more. It's an event, after all. It's an event that only happens every four years. Maybe it's because of all the katzenjammer antics going on in the other leap year associated event, the U.S. presidential election, but the Summer Olympic games  I have been able to keep up with all the fuss and drama leading up to the less-than-adequate housing for the athletes who have trained all their lives for this one moment in the sun. And the filth. Sadly, this portion of the coverage dovetails well with the rest of the summer's world news. Broken pipes and bad electrical somehow makes sense in a world full of things that are falling apart. Why not just build things that way, even if those things happen to be your Olympic Village?
Now the competition has begun. There will be cycling and swimming and running and jumping and gymnastics and basketball and tennis and karate and swimming and more running and jumping. The National Broadcasting Company will be using its pervasive network of channels to bring a seemingly unending blizzard of televised events, including fencing and equestrian events. My wife, at some point, will wonder aloud how she managed to miss all that coverage of her favorite parts of the Olympiad.
My favorite part? The marathon. Once upon a long time ago, there was this guy named Frank Shorter, and forty-four years ago he won that race. He won a gold medal. He was a resident of Boulder, Colorado at that time. We, who lived in his adopted hometown, watched in 1972 as Frank ran to glory. And he brought the sport of running to Boulder. It was not long after that moment of Olympic success that it seemed like everyone from the foothills to the flatlands was running. I was one of them.
I ran around Boulder while another summer games came and went. And another. Then I moved out to California, where I kept running while another series of Olympic events were staged in nations and on TV screens that never quite caught my attention like those '72 Munich games. This probably had a lot to do with the way international terrorism reared its ugly head in the midst of all that sports. Since then,  everyone has hoped that there would not be a repeat of such a scene. And there was, of sorts, in 1996 when a bomb went off in Atlanta's Olympic Village. Where my older brother was part of a multi-national security force. And for a while, I stopped running. Long enough to make sure that he was okay.
That was twenty years ago, and there has been a lot of running and jumping since then. A lot of gold medals have been handed out. I have missed a lot of televised running, jumping and medals. But I kept on running. I know I should care more, but some of the joy of competition has been drained from the experience over the past forty-four years.
And I keep running.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Artificial Intelligence

I don't mind artificial intelligence as long as it appears to be what it is: artificial. When it gets creepy, like that Hayley Joel Osment. You look like a kid, and a lot of what comes out of you sounds like a kid, but then there is a moment when there is new input. That input does not correspond to the pre-programmed responses and you get something like a robot chugging a glass of water with disastrous results. Circuits fried. System reset. Time to buy a new robot. Unless the robot in question doesn't look like a person, or a dog, or anything that resembles anything but a robot. It's a safety issue, really.
But we don't really want robots that act like robots. We don't want to talk to machines as if they were machines, and we are put instantly at ease by a machine that says please or thank you. The simplest form of this can be found on those holding pens you get flushed into when you call a number that more than three other people want to reach at the same time as you. Hold music isn't enough anymore. We need the calm reassurance of a pre-recorded voice letting us know that our call is important and it will be answered in the order in which it came in. Robots are fair, after all.
Especially when they are programmed that way.
It really would be much easier if the evil robot overlords would show up in a blaze of angry laser beams intended to burn all us users to a crispy carbon form for easy composting. We have been preparing for this for some time now. Instead of termination, I believe we will all succumb to annoyance and frustration long before lasers are fired in anger. Little by little, our humanity is being tested by robo-calls that have been engineered to act just like Hayley Joel Osment: Human-ish. The one I received recently had a pleasant southern drawl and a vested interest in the aftercare of those in my household who may have recently recovered from complications due to, well, I don't know exactly what because I was pretty clear that I had answered to phone only because I was desperate to do so in a household that didn't have anyone recovering from anything except a lack of phone calls for me. The fact that none of the delivery or information was impacted by my interruption, only a moment of re-calibration before the if-then protocol dropped the needle on the phrase, "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that."
"You're a droid," I asserted.
"I don't usually get that question," obsequioused the voice.
It wasn't a question. It was an assertion. I was purposely missing my cues to give up my personal information so that whatever service, supplies or hardware this company wanted to ship to me at my convenience. This resulted in the termination of the call. The good news was that I am pretty sure that I didn't hurt the feelings of the lady to whom I was speaking. Although I suspect that if the woman  who originally recorded all the bits and pieces of script, she might wonder about my reaction. Why should I take it so personally? She didn't. And from now on, their droid will talk to my droid. Until it escalates. With lasers.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Reunion Tour

My dad had two sisters, my aunts. They were both older than he was. He was, by their account, the baby. All three are gone now, but as the summer winds down, I got to thinking about the reunions we had at our mountain cabin over the years. I am certain that my perspective is skewed, but I was always a little surprised at how relaxed and normal my father was able to raise his own family in spite of the strained relations he maintained with his sisters. My aunt Peggy lived in town, and we were regularly treated to whatever new confection or concoction came into the grocery store where she worked. It was Peggy's daughters that became my parents' first line of defense when it came time to round up a sitter for the evening. All these associations were essentially benign, and they only caused the usual kind of trouble. Peggy's husband, Duane, was another matter. "Uncle Waywee," as we were encouraged to call him, was a Navy man who never seemed to have both oars in the water. In my memory, he consisted on a diet of pipe smoke and longhorn cheese. And bitterness.
Sunday afternoons on the front porch of our cabin with my dad's family stood in stark contrast to the enormous gatherings that descended upon our little spot in the meadow when my mom's family showed up for their annual get-together. Nobody seemed to look forward to these, including my father. He seemed hard pressed to show his relations the same kind of good time that he always had with his in-laws. When his other sister, Leora, made a trip out west from her adopted home of Boston, that strain only increased.
There was drinking involved. Not the happy, tipsy version that my mom's family generally provided, but the surly, slurred kind that turned bitter as the day progressed. The benefit of fifty years or so has given me some insight into what that may have been like for all involved. My dad was the success in the family. He had his house in the suburbs, a company car, and three boys who helped him build their mountain hideaway. His sisters didn't have that. Auntie Leora was divorced and was doing her best to hold on to her kids as they drifted away. Aunt Peggy was the bread-winner in her home and was just as happy to leave her husband in front of the TV on any given evening.
But this was a family reunion. A family that was watched over by Grandma Esther, "The Great Stoneface of Kansas." Esther had moved her family out of Kansas, leaving behind a Peter Pan of a husband and set up a boarding house in Boulder, Colorado where she raised her brood while looking after a host of tenants, mostly college boys. I have no memory of my Grandmother smiling, and I am sure that bringing her children back together didn't offer her the occasion.
My father tried to smile. He was a good host. Right up to the point where Uncle Waywee started into a beer-infused rant about equitable distribution of wealth. Which is giving him a lot of vocabulary credit, since most of it consisted of a refrain of "high and mighty" and related sneers at my dad's lofty position as printing salesman at a local publishing company. The job for which he had been aiming since he had a paper route as a teenager. My father let it go, but I know it wore on him. Which is why we sometimes missed those connections with his clan. And always looked forward to when we could all get together with my mom's family for a volleyball game or some horseshoes in the shadow of those big Blue Spruce trees.
And we would wait, just a little pained, for the next obligation.

Saturday, August 06, 2016


I knew I was taking a chance of disrupting our yearly neighborhood gathering. It's always so nice to block off the street and get everyone to show up with some salad or a desert and stand around the grill talking about the way we all get along on our little strip of Oakland. I decided that, if I was ever going to ask a Trump supporter about his views, I would make it the guy on the corner who happens to be the only other Bronco fan I know in this city. Maybe he's got a thing for orange, who knows? I decided to find out.
"So who do you like in November?" was my opening volley.
He grinned a little, and replied, "You're not gonna like it."
I gave him credit for knowing his audience, but I assured him that I was not looking for a debate, just curious.
"I'm a Trump guy," he confirmed.
"Do you mind if I ask why?"
"Well, Hillary Clinton is a politician. And all these other guys who have messed everything up over the past however long are politicians."
I could not argue with that assertion, necessarily.
"Donald Trump is not a politician."
And that was his line of reasoning. Politicians had messed everything up, and it would take someone who was not a politician to straighten them out. It made as much sense as anything that had come out of the Trump campaign for its entirety. I chose not to ask him what particular portion of the Trump plan was going to put things right. I promised him that I wasn't looking for a debate.
Not twenty-four hours later, I found myself back at my school site doing some early prep work for the coming year and ran into a fellow teacher who was busily putting things back into order in her room. We made a little chit-chat before she volunteered that she was still not quite over losing her chance to vote for Bernie. "I don't know what I'm going to do," she complained.
I suggested that she could vote for Hillary Clinton. That suggestion was met with a polite death stare that was followed by her assurance that she could "never trust her." She said she would never vote for Trump, but in her mind, there was no lesser of two evils. In this particular corner of the universe, there was no distinction between what Hillary was and did and what Donald J Framp and said.
I remembered standing in the glow of the streetlight the night before and my promise not to debate. I looked for what might have become common ground. Without pointing to events or utterances that I found personally objectionable, I looked for a way to resolve this vision of the world. I suppose I might have had more success arguing the existence of God, or at least the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And we have three more months to wait this one out. In the meantime, how about those Mets?

Friday, August 05, 2016

No Crying In Baseball

I have opined about this here before, but this one will definitely leave a mark. The Oakland Athletics traded away one of their stars just before the trade deadline. Okay, they traded a pair of their stars, but only one will really matter to me. I might miss Rich Hill, a thirty-five year old left-handed pitcher with some experience and some promise if he ends up throwing a no-hitter int he World Series for his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Like the way it hurt to watch Josh Donaldson hit home runs for the Toronto Blue Jays in last year's American League Championship Series. And every time the Blue Jays roll into Oakland, I am reminded of that green and gold T-shirt I have with his name on it. The shirt I bought because I am Donald's son, and I have a son named Donald. The shirt I bought because there was this really good third baseman who played for a really good team here in Oakland.
Just not good enough.
It's been a long time since the World Series was played here in Oakland. Fans of the Athletics have their history and their heroes, but most of it happened before I came here and adopted them. I was here for the Streak, when a mediocre team turned things around enough to win twenty games in a row. That one was special enough to get Brad Pitt to be in it, eventually. Brad hasn't made it out to the Coliseum recently. Not that there hasn't been some success in our ballpark over the past few years, but the most notable stories coming from down there have been about the rotten plumbing and sewage backing up in their dugout. Why would anyone want to stick around if they didn't have to?
That's why I will miss Josh Reddick. He was a right fielder who seemed to enjoy the mess. He could knock the ball around the yard, and his fielding abilities got him the nickname Spider Man and endeared him to my son forever.
And there were the pies. Josh may not have made the ritual of throwing a pie in the face of the player who hit the walk-off run for his team, but he made an institution out of it. Josh Reddick knew he was playing a game, which is why he switched his walk-up music to George Michael's Careless Whisper a few years back just to keep things from getting stale. Like the back of their dugout. It was fun having Josh around the clubhouse for the past few seasons. Now, my son has a green and gold T shirt that can be worn with nostalgic pride, and a "remember when?" smile.
Bye, Josh. Thanks for the memories. And the pies.

Thursday, August 04, 2016


Watching me watching the world around me. This is how I experienced Yosemite. This was after missing out on the grandeur of all that nature for all these years. This national park was my Grateful Dead album. People who look at my music collection have always been able to find the hole, that missing piece. For the longest time, that was the Grateful Dead album. "Wow," they would say, "You've got a lot of music here." Plenty of admiration. "But you don't have any Grateful Dead?" 
I never did. As much as I respected and admired the work of Jerry and Mickey and the rest, I never got around to buying that record. Or tape. Or CD. Or mp3. This is probably as a result of having spent a good deal of time in my youth surrounded by Deadheads who felt that I should share their commitment to the Dead. I appreciated what I heard, on cassettes and vinyl on endless recordings of live versions of all those songs. Dark Star. Truckin'. Ripple. On and on. Sugar Magnolia. Friend of the Devil. The sounds and words that made up all those tunes became part of my world. Vicariously. Somehow, I felt as if I were to buy into that whole scene that I would be surrendering to this thing that I didn't fully understand. I was stubborn. I didn't want to surrender to something so big, so vast. It felt like peer pressure, and so I avoided it. 
Until the day that I went ahead and bought that greatest hits CD. And now I can hear those songs and enjoy them for what they are. It was a silly principle onto which I held for no particular reason other than showing just how stubborn I could be. That would be pretty. Stubborn, that is.
Which is kind of how I felt when I got out of the car and set foot in Yosemite Valley. There I was, surrounded by all that rock and trees and waterfalls, and that's when I felt the eyes of my friends, and my wife, and my son on me. I knew they were waiting for me to light up with the joy that all that natural wonderment could give me. I looked up at those massive slabs of granite and felt awe. And gratitude for the patience extended by all those around me in the time it took for me to find my way here. Among the trees and rocks and waterfalls. In my head, I heard a song. 
You, who choose to lead, must follow
But if you fall you fall alone.
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.
It was beautiful. And I was happy to be there. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2016


The parties are all over. The balloon industry has met its quota for the next four years, and now we get down to the nitty gritty. The presidential election can now take place. Those previous two years in which people from both sides of the aisle were dong exploratory research and test marketing their brand are behind us. We are now faced with the awesome choice of Hillary or Donald, candidates so familiar to us that we are on a first name basis with them.
I'm not sure I want to be that familiar. I am reasonably certain that, if given the opportunity to meet one or both of them face to face, I would refer to them as "Mrs. Clinton" and "Mr. Trump." A  lot of this has to do with the inherent dignity of the office, not necessarily because of the inherent dignity of the candidates themselves. On the contrary: When my son, who will be voting in his first election this  November, looks to me for wisdom I have little to offer. Currently I am stuck on the parental echo of "because I said so." Do you really want Donald Trump to be president? Then you had better cast your vote for Hillary Clinton. But what about all that stuff about -
And I have to cut him off. Not because I don't want him to question the dominant paradigm, or to seek out the answer that will work for him. I am terrified. Each day that passes without Jim Henson popping out from behind that floppy orange mass of hair, explaining that it was all some massive prank and that he wasn't really dead but he has been zipped up inside the most awful Muppet of all, I become a little more afraid. Are all those people who have access to keyboards and typing those racist, misogynist, and otherwise hateful messages, comments  and tweets really going to crawl out of their dark holes and find their way to polling places across this great land of ours to generate the biggest mistake of our lives? I think of those dull British folks who woke up after their pub crawl to realize they had somehow managed to put their beloved country in a blender and sent it into an economic tailspin. Odds bodkins, that was a bit barmy, weren't it?
Scary, how that one little moment of throwing a tantrum in a voting booth can come back to haunt you for the next four to eight years. It still doesn't give me a good answer for my son, who continues to look for "the right person" for whom to cast his vote, but it does give me hope that this will all turn out to be one really bad piece of performance art.
Yeah. I'd vote for that.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Back Again

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was on my cable TV a few mornings back. Thirty-nine years ago, when I saw it the first time, I was caught up in the mystery and the science and the fiction and all those space ships. It capped off a year that had already taken me to a galaxy far, far away, and now I was being shown a spot just up the interstate from me where aliens were going to land. Roy Neary's story gave me hope that in spite of my lack of potential as an astronaut, there was a chance for me to head out into the stars.
That was when I was fifteen. I saw it as a great adventure. It was an amazing ride. Even way back then, I understood that beings from another planet had selected Roy, played by Richard Dreyfuss, was an everyman. He was a bit of a schlub. He was no Han Solo. He wasn't even a Luke Skywalker. But somehow, he was the one that the schwas picked. Not Francois Truffaut or Bob Balaban or any of those science types. Even that sweaty kid who played the keyboards for the mothership, he stayed home. Roy got to go for a ride.
It reminded me of Billy Pilgrim and the Tralfamadorians in Slaughterhouse Five. It was that same swirl of time and space that I found myself reveling in decades later. Only now I was sitting on the edge of my bed, I was married and I have a kid and a house of my own and Devil's Tower isn't just six hours away anymore. It would take me about as long to drive there now as it took Roy Neary way back then. And now I understand why it was so hard for him to make that choice. He wasn't a kid. He wasn't going off on some idealistic crusade. He was being called. Even though everything in his life, his job and his wife and his kids and his house, created a vortex to keep him here on earth. That's why he's crying at the dinner table. He's a mess.His marriage is falling apart. His neighbors think he's crazy. He has lost his job.Roy has come untethered from his spot at home.
Now I understand just how hard it was for Roy, and how much greater the adventure he was on really was. It's lasted for nearly forty years. And thousands of miles. Here to there. And back again.

Monday, August 01, 2016

What We Made

Every day
I am presented
with this blank page
You help me
fill it up
With a wink
or a smile
or a laugh
or a thought
Every year
I write a book
with your name
on the cover
Our name
on the cover
We share that
we agreed to
long ago
In a meadow
among the trees
and the flowers
and our friends
We made a family
of just two
to start
Thank you
for taking that walk
with me