Friday, September 30, 2016

What To Watch?

The big winner of Monday's Presidential Debate? Me.
I managed to steer clear of the televised fracas for nearly all of the sixteen hours of coverage offered up by the "major news networks." My avoidance was willful, though aided by a couple of things: I live on the West Coast, so when I rolled in from work a little after six in the evening, the show was pretty much underway. When I walked through the living room, my wife pretended to care about what the talking heads were saying, but she was working on her own form of avoidance by checking in on Facebook while the concerns of the day were being hashed out before a terrified audience. What if the other party's candidate won? Dogs and cats living with each other. Chaos. Fire and brimstone. The kind of thing that makes people go out and buy those bumper stickers that say, "Don't blame me, I voted for the other guy."
Back to this debate thing. Was anybody really watching this production with the intent to make up their mind about for whom they would eventually cast a ballot? Wasn't this just hyper-reality TV with the sound turned way, way up? Weren't we watching to see if someone would fall flat on their nearly presidential face? That sort of thing only happens to vice presidential candidates, and then for some reason we end up seeing way more of the losers than we ever would have imagined. How can this be?
Before the discussion of one another's voting records and choice for favorite International Coffee, my wife had to toddle off to some other venue, leaving the television machine in my hands. I promptly switched the channel to Monday Night Football. Without a vested interest in either the Atlanta Falcons or the New Orleans Saints, I still felt compelled to stare at the goings-on down there on the field as if there was something truly important at stake, like who would end up in the cellar of the NFC South. Even that wore thin quickly, and I found myself being pulled by the siren's call back to the news channels and their expert analysis.
But I resisted. I went to bed that night without any sort of anecdotal knowledge of what had transpired at Hofstra University. If there had been any sort of revelation, I was certain that I would hear about it the next day. Or not. In a high-scoring affair, the Atlanta Falcons edged their Louisiana rivals and kept their fans from having to shop for red and black paper bags to wear over their heads. The Saints? They probably wished they had stayed home and watched the debate.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Nineteenth Hole

Jesus and Moses went out golfing, it being the seventh day and a day to rest, they decided to do it on the links. Coming up to the second tee, Moses notices that Jesus has out his nine iron. "Hey, your holiness, you sure you got the right club there?"
"Don't you worry about a thing. This is what Arnold Palmer would do." Sure enough, Jesus knocks the holy crud out of the ball, but it slices into the rough. Moses shakes his head as he walks up to set his ball down.
A few holes later, Jesus finds himself with a rather tricky lie on the edge of a sand trap. Once again, Jesus pull the nine iron.
"Really, Jesus?"
Jesus looks back over his shoulder at his partner, "It's what Arnold Palmer would do." With that, he takes a big swing, clearing a stand of trees but landing and then rolling into an adjacent bunker.
Moses sighs and moves down the fairway to find his own ball.
With all the tricky play and alternative clubs, other golfers have begun to back up behind these two, and Moses is becoming a little self-conscious. That's when Jesus uses that same iron to send the ball a mile, and straight into the lake. He takes off his shoes and socks, and walks down to the bank, then very serenely, Jesus walks out a few feet on the water, rolls up the sleeve of his robe and leans down to pluck the errant ball off the bottom of the lake. "Can I get a ruling here?" he calls from ten feet off shore with barely a ripple beneath his toes.
One of the other duffers who has been watching all this looks on in astonishment. "Wow. Who does that guy think he is, Jesus Christ?"
"No," says Moses, "He thinks he's Arnold Palmer."
Aloha, Arnold. You stomped on the Terra, but you always replaced your divots.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Who Cares?

You may be sitting out there, staring at your screen, trying to figure out why I have not as yet had anything to say about the marital discord of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Let me put your mind at ease: I do care. Really. Not as much as I care about the upcoming election. Not as much as I care about car stereos that I used to own. Not as much as I care about lawn darts. With all of this being said, I suppose I can understand why you might be sitting there, staring at your screen wondering when I would get around to discussing the marital discord of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Well, fret no more, because here it comes.
The first thing that I have to say about Brad and Angelina's looming divorce is that it is none of my business. Absolutely none. Which is part of the reason why I feel so free to comment on it. I have nothing to gain or lose by speaking my mind on the relationship struggles of two of Hollywood's biggest stars. That's the reason I feel comfortable saying that it's amazing that two of Hollywood's biggest stars bothered to get married in the first place. Back in the day, when they were just two happy-go-lucky kids on the rebound from their previous high-profile relationships. Remember, before Angelina Jolie was named special envoy to the United Nations, and started adopting all those kids and solving the refugee crisis all on her own, she was wearing a vial of Billy Bob Thornton's blood around her neck. Typical girl-next-door behavior. If the girl next door happens to be Dracula's daughter. Or Jon Voight's daughter. Maybe this isn't the model of stability we were looking for.
And what about Brad? He had previously been happily ensconced in a romance with America's late twentieth century sweetheart, Jennifer Aniston. He broke her heart and sold a ton of magazines when he ducked out on poor, sweet Jenn to cat around with that hussy. The hussy previously known as Mrs. Billy Bob. And so, with all of this background, why would we expect from these two speeding locomotives anything but a train wreck? Well, because it's Hollywood and we would all like to believe in that happy ending. Instead, we got a Hollywood ending. A messy, finger-pointing, tabloid ending with everyone wondering what could possibly have gone wrong. Who is to blame? I can tell you: Me. I am to blame because I care. Too much. Too much because I care at all.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Talking To

Conversations are, for me, like getting to lick the bowl after mom has made chocolate frosting. They are generally a treat, and when mom was in a generous mood, she would leave more around the edges, leading to a more satisfying experience. When she didn't, then there was a lot more scraping with a spoon and the rewards were much more limited. These are the kind of conversations that tend to circle around topics like the weather or the day of the week. Discussing concrete realities that are best described by math don't tend to bring a lot of joy. Still, the opportunity can still be a value-added enterprise. Having a two minute discussion on the plight of the local sports franchise is a way to connect with those who might otherwise be ignored. "Whew, it's another hot one, isn't it?" or "Almost Friday," send a message that we are, somehow all in this together.
And then there are those interactions that are best described via our frosting analogy this way: Mom tells you there is a can of Betty Crocker  ready-to-spread double fudge that she just doesn't need. It's yours. Dig in. This is how I feel when I get to go to my annual eye doctor appointment. For some years now, I have been happy to heed the call when his office rings me up. Sure, I still harbor some of those little anxieties about getting older and losing my once vibrant health. In this case, I fully expect to be told that my eyeballs are fine, it's just the optic nerves connecting them to my brain that are frayed and in need of replacement. I don't expect good news from doctors.
Except this one. Starting with the simple exercise of the exam, looking at a scramble of letters in ever-decreasing fonts, he gives me praise for each line attempted and commiseration for those missed. Since it's our family eye doctor, there is always an inquiry into the health and well-being of the rest of the brood, and then we are off like a shot into topics ranging from favorite cheeseburgers to Mel Brooks. I came to the realization that I may have been having all these entertaining dialogues with my dentist if not for the fact that he had his hand in my mouth so much of the time. As long as we kept to the pace of the exam, Doctor Thornton and I were free to wander, conversationally. On a visit about a year ago, we did a full half hour on the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and still had time to upgrade my prescription. Ultimately, once the checkup had been concluded and we moved on to the business of choosing new frames, my wife came in and we spent another half hour kibitzing with the staff and trying on a hundred different spectacles. The good doctor had moved on at this point, chatting up his next patient. Lucky stiff.

Monday, September 26, 2016


Last winter, I spent most of a lunch period trying to coax a first grader off the floor of his classroom and into the cafeteria. I used all my best moves: quietly cajoling, being stern, counting, calling home, pleading. Christopher would have none of it. He had fallen apart, and none too quietly. He was in near hysterics, having kicked off one of his nice new sneakers and was frothing about on the floor in tears. Most of the noises that came out of him were not precisely verbal. After a fifteen minutes of waiting for the storm to pass, I finally figured out what his main issue was: his shoes. They were nice new shoes, the kind that kids his age were anxious to have because they did not come from Payless. These were the real deal. They were also at least a size too small.
And once I was able to make this connection, Christopher was begging to take his shoes off. His teacher had been encouraging him to put his shoes on so he could walk to the cafeteria. If you walk to the cafeteria, you can have your lunch. If you have your lunch, you can go outside. If you go outside, you can play. Christopher didn't want to play. He wanted his shoes off.
To be fair, there was probably no way to know this before it happened, since Christoper is mercurial on his best days. Christopher is the last kid off the playground after recess, since instead of walking to his line he is off chasing a ball or another student, usually with some mild bad intent. Christopher is a challenge when his shoes fit.
Eventually, I got him up off the floor, in his socks, and we walked to the office where his mother had arrived to pick him up. She had become used to coming by in the middle of the day for one reason or another, but this day I made sure to let her know that there was no particular malice in his actions. He wasn't able to communicate his discomfort. He needed words.
Now he is a second grader. Christoper is still a handful. He still needs to be corralled on any given day, but he is working on his words. This past Tuesday, I was waiting out in front of the school with him as he was the last of the kids to be picked up after dismissal. He had a good day, and he showed my his behavior contract: Three stickers. Good job, Christopher. As I watched him flit about on the stairs, I tried making conversation. I noticed he had Marvel super heroes on his backpack. I asked him who his favorite Avenger was.
"Hulk," he replied, without hesitation.
I noticed that The Incredible Hulk was not one of the characters represented on his backpack. This was an organic idea. "Why is that?"
"Because he only becomes the Hulk when he gets mad."
Way to use those words, Christopher. You've come a long way.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

And Things Were Going So Well

This may come as a shock to you, especially if you were under the impression that once we elected an African-American president that racism had ceased to exist. Many people believed that the elimination of racism could be traced back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. What a relief for those of us who lived through the latter half of the sixties to find out that all those riots and so forth was all just bad sportsmanship. What folks needed to understand was that we had it fixed, and they didn't need to go messing it up all over again just because of some perceived slight.
The perceived slight of being shot and killed by a police officer, for example. When adjusted for populations, African Americans were killed at a rate three times higher than their white counterparts. Does that sound like a problem? One that needs fixing?
Okay, so maybe it's not racism. Maybe it's just really bad policing. Still sounds like a problem that needs to be fixed. Or maybe it's a new problem. Maybe we had that whole racism thing all wrapped up in a nice neat bow, and then somebody came along and threw a monkey wrench in it. And who might this person be? According to Kathy Miller of Mahoning County Ohio would like us to believe that it was that African-American president we elected.  “I don’t think there was any racism until Obama got elected. We never had problems like this. … Now, with the people with the guns, and shooting up neighborhoods and not being responsible citizens, that’s a big change, and I think that’s the philosophy that Obama has perpetuated on America.” 
Got that?
Oh, and Ms. Miller was, until oh-so-very-recently the campaign chair for a Mister Donald Truh-uh-ump in her home state. She resigned somewhat abruptly after she made these observations on race relations in America, including the assertion that, “If you’re black and you haven’t been successful in the last 50 years, it’s your own fault.” And perhaps now would be an excellent time to mention just how not-black Ms. Miller is. And will be. And always has been. All of this rhetoric seems to be part of the Trmpuh campaign's watch words for potential minority voters: "What have you got to lose?" 
In Ms. Miller's case, the answer was obvious: Her job. Now if somebody could just do the same for her boss.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


I missed my wife when she went away to her college reunion. I spent a lot of time wandering around the house, bumping into things, looking for things to do, and when televised sports finally wore out their appeal, I turned to the next logical outlet: Al Gore's Internet. I sat on the couch with my laptop next to me, and each time something occurred to me as a "Hey, I wonder what happened to," or "What is up with that?" I typed and clicked and found a wellspring of infotainment that I knew existed but rarely fully accessed.
That's because I live in a world with precious little time to devote to surfing the web. When I turn on my computer, it is usually with intent, and that intent is usually business related. I teach technology to five year olds, so finding a web site that delivers content and fun for them is an exciting find. Okay, "exciting" may be overstating, but gratifying nonetheless. Then, if there's time, I check my email and hope that someone has sent me a link to a cat video or an offer to help some poor Nigerian Prince. The idea that I might hop from page to page, looking for connections to bits and pieces of my fragmented memory and imagination doesn't figure into my daily routine. This is a good thing, since the world wide web has only become more and more dense since we got our first AOL account so many years ago. And I mean that in as many ways as "dense" as the word will allow. Back in those days, I used to have a bit that I would do when watching the coming attractions at our local movie theater. I would insist loudly that I would only buy a ticket for a movie if it had its own web site. That was funny, twenty years ago.
Now everyone and everything has a web site. I could not begin to see the entirety of what the web has to offer in just the few days that my wife was gone. Unless I lived in North Korea. Earlier this week, someone in Pyongyang's IT department messed up and dropped the veil on that republic's Internet. There were only twenty-eight domains listed. Of course, just as soon as the door was cracked open, it was nailed shut again, so the half hour I might have afforded myself getting to know the length and breadth of North Korea's Internet will have to be put on hold. But it did make me think: I'll bet those North Koreans get so much more done without all that unfettered pointing and clicking.
What a relief.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Raking Muck

Whenever I hear "Boulder, Colorado," my ears perk up. It's my hometown, after all. I still have a good piece of my heart there, and not just because I spent my formative years traipsing about the tundra there. I have family there. When something happens there, good or bad, exciting or not so much, I wonder how it will affect them. Natural disasters like forest fires and floods are the most frightening alerts that come my way, but happily so far these reports have all proved to be more fret than actual fear. My family does a pretty good job of staying safe. While I watch news reports of smoke pouring over the front range of the Rocky Mountains, or tiny-minded college boys swimming in the rising waters, I wonder how things will be when I return home for a visit.
Will I see the scars on the land? Will the forests still be scorched? Will I recognize the place? This doesn't take into account the urban renewal that exists in all towns, but most profoundly for me in this college town at the foot of the Rockies. All that geography is still stored in the back of my mind, and sometimes when I am having trouble sleeping, I go for drives on the streets of my youth. I imagine what used to be and every so often what is, once I have seen it and made corrections to my internal map.
And then there was this two-night CBS show about the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. In some horrible commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of this little girl's death, the Columbia Broadcasting System turned its inquiring eye toward that college town at the foot of the Rockies. Twenty years ago, a little girl was found dead in her family's home on the north edge of town. I know the neighborhood well. It was where my father had a paper route once upon a million years ago. It was just up the hill from the University from which I graduated. I know those tree-lined streets well, and even though I had already moved away when the story hit the tabloids, I can remember feeling a connection to the people who stayed. Murder of any sort is a pretty rare occurrence in Boulder, and anything this tawdry was certainly way out of character for where I grew up. There was months of speculation and cable news coverage of every detail and every lead that panned out to nothing. For years, rumors and theories swirled around, and each time some "fresh revelation" was made, cameras showed up and videotape rolled. I watched, not because I was invested in the case, but because I got to see pictures of where I used to live.
When the show aired last Sunday and Monday, I told myself that I didn't want to watch. I didn't believe that Scotland Yard and the FBI would combine to crack the case after decades of rumor and innuendo, but I could watch the city of my birth slide past in the background as they made their own conclusions about what really happened that night so very long ago. Not for very long, however. Dredging up tabloid awfulness in the name of justice made me glaze over at some point, and I fell asleep. And I dreamed of Boulder and its majestic Flatirons and glorious sunsets and all the places I knew and loved and the people I knew who still lived there and couldn't wait for this dark cloud to pass again. In my dreams, I was driving back home again. Without a cloud in the sky.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What's On?

Somewhere in the haze of televised sports that consumed my bachelor weekend, there was a moment of something different, a palate cleansing sorbet. While the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings were battling it out in the big purple terrarium built just for the occasion, I flipped up the dial to see if I had been missing anything important.
The Emmys? Organized television was handing out their awards, and I wasn't paying attention? How could this be? It could be that since I have chosen to let my wife and son be my duly deputized Game O' Trones watchers that I don't have to care about the trophies handed out by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. This does fly in the face of my general appreciation of all things pop culture, and so I felt mildly compelled, during a commercial break which featured yet another flurry of trucks and beer, I took a few moments to check out the Emmy broadcast.
To say that it was meaningless would be a disservice to myself and the Emmys. There was, I am sure, a lot to see if you were a fan of any of the programs up for an award. I could not count myself in that number. Instead, I found myself gazing upon a group of well-turned-out men and women, sitting in nice neat rows watching as one or two of these well-turned-out men and women arrived on stage to announce or receive appreciation from their peers. I remember thinking, "Well, maybe this is where you go in a tuxedo after you graduate from high school." I knew that if my wife had been with me, there would at least have been some attention paid to the finery, the gowns and the glitz.
That's when I saw him. For best director of a drama series, Miguel Sapochnik. Miguel came trotting down the aisle to pick up his Emmy with no tie, white shoes, and in need of a shave. On this gala evening, he showed up looking more like he had spent the weekend hanging out watching sports in my living room than eagerly anticipating his chance to shine in front of his peers. But there he was, the best of the  hebest as voted on by those peers, many of whom took the time to pick out a tie and a pair of black shoes.
A man after my own heart. I don't know much about Game of Thrones, but suddenly I'm a big fan of Miguel Sapochnik.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Goin' Down To The Crossroads

The first thing that struck me was the headline: Eight People Injured During Stabbing Attack At Minnesota Mall. The second thing that gave me pause was the picture of the crowd outside that mall. All eyes were turned toward Crossroads Center. Here is what my mind did: "Hey, there was a Crossroads shopping center in Boulder when you grew up. I wonder if there is any connection?" The cluster of retail outlets that used to be called "Crossroads" is now called "Twenty-Ninth Street," but there is still a mall at the intersection of 28th Street and Canyon Boulevard. All those interested in getting their shopping mojo on will head to this intersection. It would seem that this naming convention, Crossroads, is prevalent across these United States. That is where commerce takes place, after all.
From Minnesota to Texas, from North Carolina to right here in sunny California, people flock to places where you can get a muffin and a new pair of jeans. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Which may be why bad guys find such a target-rich environment when they decide they want to wreak havoc. Havoc has been wreaked not just in St. Cloud Minnesota this summer, but two people were attacked and killed at a mall in Taunton, Massachusetts. Keeping in mind that this is still months before Black Friday, when such mayhem seems much more likely, if not encouraged.
The line between havoc and terrorism is a fine one, and it would only take a phone call or an email to make the mess in Minnesota into an international incident. Stabbing at the heart of the darkness known as capitalism seems like a pretty terrorific idea, but slicing and hacking your way through a crowd seems so inconsequential in comparison to assault rifles and plastic explosives. It's only a matter of time before ISIS figures out how to unleash a zombie horde on a Crossroads near you. That's when we're going to all wish we were carrying our machetes. Thank goodness I live in an open machete carry state. It comes in handy when I feel like sharing my muffin.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rubber Side Down

I knew that I would be waking my parents from a sound sleep. It was past midnight during the week, but I needed their help. My roommate and I had gotten a wild hair to take a drive up into the mountains and visit the cabin I had told him so much about. After midnight. After most clever folks had packed it in. We were still going. So we went, and a couple miles from our destination I hit an icy patch and slid off the road into a tree. My Volkswagen was worse for the wear of a blue spruce. The front right fender having taken the brunt of the collision. We pushed the car back on the road and inspected the damage. My VW looked to have a serious case of Elvis lip, with the passenger side curled up onto the wheel. For a few minutes, we worked with branches and a tire iron to try and repair the crumple zone. When I figured it was drive-able, we decided to abandon our initial destination in favor of turning around and heading home. That's when I head the noise.
It was loud enough that it could be heard over the stereo,which was already turned up, and as I drove back toward civilization, I became more concerned. At the top of Boulder Canyon, I had made up my mind: I really shouldn't be driving this car down a steep, winding road. I pulled over at a gas station and went to the pay phone.
My roommate got out behind me and asked what could possibly be going through my head.
"I'm calling my parents," I announced. This made sense to me. Not so much for my roommate. There was no way that this little accident was going to go down like a minor inconvenience. It was the middle of the night, and the wild hair that had us making the trip in the first place sprang from a series of cocktails, not simple joie ve vivre. We weren't going to get away with this one. Were we?
Here is what I knew: My parents were more invested in my safety than they were in correcting my stupid mistakes. When my father picked up the phone and grumbled at first, "Where are you?" I recounted a benign version of our drive, but the circumstantial evidence was sitting there in a nice neat heap, as large as the pause before he asked, "Do you need me to come and get you?"
"Yes please," I was as sheepish in my reply but not nearly enough. I know this now because I have received a few of these phone calls from my son now. His have been speeding tickets, and he was a passenger in his roommates truck when it rolled off a road down south of here. I didn't have to go pick him up. I just had to reckon with the reality of the near miss. The way a parent's heart leaps to their throat when a conversation starts, "The good news is I'm okay and," then I am left to try and remember who first suggested that any crash you can walk away from in a good one. Chuck Yeager? And that's what I did to console myself, much in the way I am sure my father talked to himself and my mother as he was pulling on his pants and looking for his shoes in the dark.
And that's when the phone rang again. It was me, calling my father back to tell him my roommate and I had managed to pull the fender up off the wheel in to a yawn instead of a sneer and we would be able to make our way back to town without further incident. "You're sure?" he asked.
"I'm sure." Now I had achieved maximum sheepishness and made the drive home without further incident. Leaving only blue paint on the tree and a memory that would make being a parent of a teenage boy just a little easier.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Chutes And Ladders

It's a pretty dependable shtick. When addressing a group of students, I pause and reflect, then with great seriousness I tell them that I may have overestimated them. I might have expected that kind of behavior from a bunch of second graders, but third graders? Maybe my expectations were just too high. This tends to work well in most situations where you simply subtract a grade from your target audience, and then wait to see if they take the bait.
Which they invariably do. It usually starts with the most conscientious of the bunch: the ones who pretty much on task in the first place. Their friends fall in line pretty quickly after that, then the challenge is waiting to see if the wave of shame will catch up to the ones hanging from the light fixtures. Over the years, my willingness to wait out miscreants and their acts of elementary school defiance has increased exponentially. I have grown past the need to control every moment in my classroom. I recognize that by inviting these little agents of chaos into my room, I have come to understand, tacitly, that there may be a class period every so often that goes nothing like I planned and the fifty minutes I had so tightly planned and rehearsed may go out the window because there was a disagreement at lunch, or trouble at four square. These are the things over which I have no control. But it doesn't usually stop me from trying.
That is the reason for that management gambit. Since most of my young charges are in a great big hurry to show how grown up they are, the mere suggestion that they appear as anything less than their full grade potential is troubling for them. And, as I have said, it is amazing how well this tiny bit of manipulation works. Right up to fifth grade. Something about being at the top of the heap, looking down tends to warp the perspective a little. In my experience, your garden variety fifth grader is every bit as concerned with their social standing as the rest of the kids below them, but when you get them into a pack, the dynamic shifts. So impressed with their relative maturity, fifth graders don't seem to flinch as hard when called out for their relative immaturity. Instead, they seem to revel in it. Maybe it's as simple as having hung around long enough, they have reckoned that there are a certain number of things that grownups say just to get them to do things.
In which case, I may have underestimated them.
Always so much more to learn.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Tree Of Liberty And Fertilizer

 The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” -Thomas Jefferson

"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." - General George S. Patton

Whose blood will be shed? It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think that it might be their blood that is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something that we, through our apathy and our indifference, have given away. Don’t let it happen.” - Matt Blevin

You are probably familiar with those first two names. Maybe not the third. Mister Blevin is the Governor of the Bluegrass State, Kentucky. Last week, he was awarded the Distinguished Christian Statesman Award from the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship, a ministry of Evangelism Explosion International. Governor Blevin is a champion of the downtrodden conservatives. “It’s a slippery slope. First we’re killing children. Then it’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Now it’s this gender-bending kind of ‘don’t ask, don’t be a bigot, don’t be unreasonable, don’t be unenlightened, heaven forbid, just keep your mouth shut.’”
I don't know about you, but that last flurry, "don't be unenlightened" caught me by surprise with its double negativeness. Or is it triple negative? He would like us off that slippery slope, and he doesn't seem to favor "don't ask, don't tell." Does this mean he is in favor of enlightenment, or he would rather have us keep our shoulders to the wheel and not look up from our struggle? The struggle for which we must be willing to shed our blood and the blood of our children, but not our unborn children, to maintain.
All of this made me think back to 1984, a simpler time when shots being fired in anger were primarily done in other countries while we worried over a nuclear stockpile that we couldn't figure out a way to use. After more than a hundred years without a shootin' war on this continent, some people were anxious to get the party started. So they made a movie called Red Dawn, in which a group of high school football players successfully repelled a Communist invasion of their rural home. It was a stirring, neo-conservative wet dream, starring Patrick Swayze. That was good enough for about thirty years, but because that certain segment seems so intent on getting the revolution re-started, they remade it in 2012. This time, the star was a great big Australian guy best known for his long hair and big hammer
Okay, so maybe Governor Matt doesn't want us to take up arms against those with whom we disagree. Maybe. But in those tiny brains that take orders from Orange Dawn and sucker punch people in the face as they are being lead from the meeting, we really don't know how this message will be received. How could any of this possibly be misinterpreted? 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

One Hand Clapping

Was it some sort of eerie coincidence that put the departure of my son for his second year of college on the same day as my wife's for her college reunion? That collegiate connection suggests something darker, more sinister. A conspiracy of some sort, generated to poke holes in all that family security we had piled up over the past three months. Now we really can say that summer is gone. I am working hard to remain relaxed and confident with my place in the universe. I am also struck by how much coincidence, conspiracy and confidence look the same. Eerie, I tell you.
Or maybe it's just that time of year, when the leaves begin to turn, and fall to the ground reminding us of life's impermanence. Nothing golden stays, after all. All things must pass. There are no atheists in foxholes. And any one of a million other sentiments created with the intent of bringing comfort to the lonely.
This is a tough one, since I have spent most of my adult life trying to limit these periods of alone time. I got a wife. I raised a kid. And how do they repay me? By going off into their own little worlds of fun and excitement while I bounce off the walls in this house that used to be so full. Or had the potential to be full. The truth is, on any given day, it sits empty for long periods, waiting for the family to come back and fill it up. Last year, when the boy went away to school for the first time, the nest was empty except for us parental birds. We stayed away from the back of the house to stave off the obvious void that had been created. This summer, we celebrated each coming and going as we went about our mom/dad/son business. When one of us was gone to work or play, there was always a moment at some point during the day or night before we went to sleep where we would gather and reflect, however briefly, on the events of the day.
And now, since we built this amazing foundation, we feel determined to test it.
I am happy that my family is out there in the world, expanding our collective experience and introducing others to the wonder of our clan. I am glad that I have this chance to ponder my own quiet existence. I just wish it wasn't so darn quiet.

Friday, September 16, 2016


Have you noticed? I haven't said that word for days. Not a peep. Not a squeak. Not a Trump.
Oh. Sorry. I suppose it would be better if maybe we could all just close our eyes until November 9, then open them up again to whatever brand new day awaits us. Kind of like when I was a kid and held firm to the belief that if I went to bed at noon on Christmas Eve, Santa would stop by our house much sooner. Instead, I would just lay there on my bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting. And waiting. And so on. Election Day feels like it might never come, and as we stare at the clock alternately with the twenty-four hour news cycle, it feels like the days between now and then are growing ever longer and we may be doomed to an eternity of picking nits and making a fuss about whatever happens to be on somebody's Twitter feed. Our Presidential Election has become a reality TV show.
It makes sense, sadly. It has all the earmarks: obnoxious entitled families squabbling over the tiniest scrap of recognition. What are we trying to accomplish? Elect a commander in chief or boost ratings for some basic cable network?
Wait. Don't answer that. I am afraid I already know the answer, which is why I found the news that Donald J. Tsrump wants to have a debate without moderators so completely expected. After all, one can hear the idjit block complaining, there were no moderators for the Lincoln/Douglas Debates. Totally old school. This would probably give the edge to Mister Twitter, but it is worth noting that eight years ago, Ms. Clinton suggested that she and a certain upstart young senator from Illinois do that very thing in their quest to become the Democratic nominee for President way back then. When the going gets tough, it would seem, the tough go without moderation.
And what, you may ask, has been in moderation this election season? I suppose we can only be thankful that tomorrow is, as Scarlett O'hara once noted, is another day. And we can also be thankful that this whole mess won't end in a steel cage match.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How Long?

Take a moment.
Try to remember where you were thirty-five years ago.
Living in an apartment? Still under mom and dad's roof? Maybe you were travelling. Maybe that was when you had that roommate that insisted you join the co-op so you could get great deals on organic produce even though your diet consisted primarily of pizza, beer and Tylenol. Whatever the conditions were that you found yourselves in, they were probably a notch up from those enjoyed by John Hinckley, Jr. Three and a half decades ago, Mister Hinckley was beginning his stay at Saint Elizabeth's Hospital where he was sent after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. Not guilty of the attempted assassination of then President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.
Oh, and not guilty of wounding a police officer, a Secret Service agent, and Reagan's Press Secretary. You might remember that last guy: James Brady. For whom the press briefing room at the White House is named, as well as the Brady Bill. The Brady Bill which became the Brady Law in 1993, twelve years after John Hinckley Jr. shot his four victims. During those twelve years, Mister Hinckley was hospitalized under constant care and supervision. During those twelve years, a debate about gun control gained momentum until President Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law.
It would be another twenty-three years before John Hinckley Jr. was released from state care. In thirty-five years, how has the world changed? Well, there is a national system of background checks for firearms purchases. We can all take some solace in the thought that the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan may not have been as easy to carry out now as it was back then. In part because Ronald Reagan and James Brady are no longer potential targets for anyone with a grudge or Taxi Driver obsession. Are there still ways around that five day waiting period and all those intrusive questions about your criminal history or that little bout of mental illness you experienced in your twenties? Of course there are, but if we have managed to save one Secret Service agent or one Presidential Press Secretary from being maimed or killed, then we have been doing our job.
John Hinckley Jr. is now sixty-one years old. It has been determined that he is no longer a danger to himself or the public. Now if we could only get that kind of screening process for all potential gun owners.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

In The House

I forgot to go to church last Sunday.
I forgot to go to church the Sunday before that.
As a matter of fact, it's been forty years since I went to church. That's about the time my family gave up on the house of worship thing. After spending many years getting used to the architecture and sounds of the First Methodist in Boulder, we walked away and put our church-goin' days behind us.
Well, not completely. My mother might have preferred if we had found a way to stick with a service now and then if only to keep up appearances. If what we were after was being devout, this was the wrong family in which to make that claim. We kid, you  see. We are kidders. When you are trying to show up as a god-fearing group of individuals, it helps if you can get through dinner without milk coming out of somebody's nose.
Which didn't mean we didn't think about it. We talked about it too. My father maintained that having a house of worship was antithetical to his vision of spirituality. My mother kept going to bible study with her friends. For us three boys, we were happy to sleep in on Sunday mornings. Instead of going out for doughnuts after church, my parents were now hosting brunches on the Sabbath. In the 1970's in Boulder, this was a more commonly accepted form of conduct on the Lord's Day. Loaves and fishes. Lox and bagels.
During this time, there was also a great deal of movement among my peer group toward Christian Youth Organizations. My congregation was having Eggs Benedict. Not that Hollandaise sauce is a sin, even if the way my father made it was sinfully delicious. There was a lot of music played during those brunches too. A lot of it had a spiritual bent: Odetta, Mahler, Andrew Lloyd Weber.
But we didn't go to church. After my older brother's wedding, I didn't find my way back inside the First Methodist Church until my father's memorial service. When our son was born, my wife figured she should try and get our little boy some of that old-time religion, even if it came in a New Age package. I stayed home. Without my active support, going to church never became a thing  Many of the discussions around our house reminded me of the debate that took place in my parent's so many years ago. Sometimes we have brunch. Sometimes we sleep in. And we talk about what it might mean for us to go to church.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Running through my neighborhood last weekend, I spied with my little eye a car coming toward me. Not just any car. It was a Buick Skylark. It wasn't that I was or have been such a fan of that particular make or model, but as it passed by, I noticed the logo on the front and the script font on the side. Suddenly, there was romance in the air and for the first time in a long time I was in love with a car. If this had been my son, the car fiend, it would have made sense. He swoons for motor vehicles of all manner of rolling stock in all shapes and sizes on a regular basis. Really regular. Me? Not regular at all. I haven't loved a car since I was younger than my son is now when I experienced that kind of coveting. I really wanted a Dodge van. I wanted to paint scenes from Star Wars on the side. I wanted to have a pair of those amber bubble windows at the back. Shag carpet on the inside. It would have been magnificent.
Or the Plymouth Arrow. Not because of the design or the mechanical specifications, but because it reminded me of the Harry Nilsson song. Which brings me back to that Skylark. I have no idea what sort of maintenance or history there is behind a Skylark. I could look it up, I suppose, but it was the name that got my metaphorical motor running. Back in my teens, I settled for a Vega. That would be the brightest star in the constellation Lyra. No cool song. No bubble windows. No shag carpet. It was the car I could afford. Afford rhymes with Accord. I owned one of those, too. I owned a car named for a peace treaty.
It wasn't an El Camino. Such a brilliant name for a really scary looking car. Or was it a truck? Or a Black Keys album? Telling people now that I owned an El Camino would be a badge of some strange honor. Or how about an Impala? I was in my late twenties before I understood that an impala was not some kind of ferocious jungle cat, but rather a sprightly hooved mini-deer that was constantly on the run from some kind of ferocious jungle cat.
And up above it all, soared the Skylark. Solid. Majestic. With a poem by Shelley, too. No wonder I'm in love.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Under God

I took a whole college course on the existence of God. At the end of the semester, there was no clear determination, and extra credit was not issued if we were able to prove conclusively one way or another whether or not some hairy thunderer or cosmic muffin was in charge of all life in the universe. It was really about the discussion, debate, and philosophy of the arguments for and against the Big Guy Upstairs. It should be noted that all of this intense questioning came at a time in my life (freshman in college) and in a place (liberal arts college) where such introspection is valued. For a grade. I recall that my fresh(man) perspective was tweaked by a specific argument that suggested that simply by invoking the idea of a deity, we give it a pathway to existence. Much in the same way you can't not think of a zebra with purple stripes once the thought has been put in your head. Sorry about that. At least I didn't say something like "Trump's second term."
So that's the thing about having a thought, it tends to make things occur. What may have been just a whim on someone's part may become a concrete reality with layers of what if dripping off of it. I started thinking about this as I continue to encounter more professional athletes choosing to sit, kneel, or do anything other than stand during our National Anthem. It has become a protest rather than simple laziness because people are talking about it. The President. The Commissioner of the NFL. Even Colin Kaepernick's biological mother has an opinion about what to do when the Star Spangled Banner starts to play. It is a thing now.
As the sidelines of NFL games become a place for expressing solidarity with the oppressed, it gives me pause to think of the times I have stood at attention, playing my heart out for a song that my high school band director pointed out on several occasions that no one ever paid to hear performed. Our national anthem is a value-added piece of music. It gets played shortly before grown men launch themselves and various athletic apparatus at one another until the other side is vanquished. We are staging little battles on the gridiron, diamonds and courts as a reflection of the wars we have fought and won all those years ago. What would real patriotism look like? Standing for the National Anthem suggests that it exists, just as much as taking a knee. It is an observation, and the movement is growing. Eventually, there will be dozens of options for showing your true colors. But does it really matter? How would we know?
All those people standing, I guess. Because of an idea.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Smart Guy

There's a new iPhone coming out. I think this is the iPhone 674, making it the six hundred and seventy-third time that there were lines around the block for a new iPhone. There were probably lines for the first iteration, but that rabid must-have-at-any-cost sensation didn't exist way back then. It was, after all, an iPod on which you could make phone calls.
I kid, because I'm a kidder, and because I don't own one. None of the ever-escalating versions of this smart phone. Not the one that came in champagne gold. Not the one that comes in piano black. I do own an iPod. It has served me well for technological generations, which could mean months in the Apple world. I appreciate its design and the features it offers. It plays music that I put on it and in a pinch it can play FM radio bands. The screen is small, so I don't watch videos on it, but I have heard stories about people who do. Later versions of this same machine would allow me to do just that with the ease of a screen that is a fraction of an inch wider than the square that I glance at now when I am searching for a song.
The iPod I have now suits my needs in very practical ways, and I shiver at the notion that I might someday need to replace it. Since it is of a certain vintage, it is now a collector's item, and the somewhat substantial price that I once paid for this little square music box would new require me to pay collector's prices to renew my fixation. My son, who is as tech savvy as I ever would want to be, uses his phone as his everything device. It's not an Apple product, nor is it the most recent version of any of the available non-Apple clever phones. As his life tends to revolve around the words and images that come to him through that machine, He didn't buy it because it came in decorator colors or because it had a bigger number next to its version. He bought it because it did the things that he needed it to do.
That seems like a pretty smart thing. I suppose that would be a good way to determine just how manipulated we are by the stuff around us: Is your phone smarter than you? And could we get a headphone jack, please?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Th Boys In The Band

What becomes a legend most? What becomes a legend most often? Usually something outrageous. It helps to make a dent in the public's awareness if you really want to transcend the ordinary. To be a groundbreaker, it would seem, you need to break some ground. Back in the late seventies and early eighties, the rock group known as Van Halen was just that. They were a breath of fresh air in an otherwise moribund hard rock world. Named after the brothers Van Halen on guitar and drums, they were accompanied by Michael Anthony on bass and everybody's favorite cartoon frontman, David Lee Roth. Together they stormed out of the clubs of Los Angeles and sold seventeen million copies of their first album. They truly were The Monsters of Rock.
And not just because of their sales. The boys in the band garnered a pretty hefty reputation for partying as hard as they rocked. In 1984, MTV held a "Lost Weekend with Van Halen" contest. A million entries were received, but there could be only one winner. Twenty year old Kurt Jefferis, from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania was that lucky guy. Kurt and a friend went off into the heart of darkness in the back of a limousine. His tale of excess an woe gives us a window into the world of what it must have been like to live the life twenty-four/seven. And he and his buddy only managed to hang out with the band for two days. Apparently, people really do win on MTV.
That was sort of the high water mark of Van Halenia. Other louder, faster bands came along with more hairspray and more attitude, but none of them quite matched the bombast and chicanery of Van Halen. To wit: When on the road, the band had a sixty-three page contractual rider that gave promoters specific directions on the care and feeding of Eddie, Alex, Michael and Dave. The most infamous portion of which was the strict prohibition against brown M&Ms. This was seen, especially at the time, as the height of snottiness. Why couldn't these brats pick out the offending candies, or better yet, just get over themselves and eat what was put in front of them?
Well, it seems, thirty years later, that the guys were actually more clever than you might expect. Travelling with all that gear, lights, pyrotechnics, instruments and assorted other equipment, it was an easy way to check to see if the venue had taken the necessary care with all the above. If there were brown M&Ms in the bowl, they probably hadn't done what they needed to do with the sound system, or the stage. It was a way to check up on the promoters. Drunk? Probably. Crazy? Like a fox.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Heidi's Dad

My father made a lot of sound a fury about the way he held down his end of the cul de sac on which we lived. He was the "fun dad." He was the one who dragged us all on our sleds behind the family station wagon. He was the one who, on the occasion of my twenty-first birthday, threw open the doors to our house and invited many of those same kids who he pulled all those sleds until their runners began to scrape the asphalt. Many of the people he served that night were more than a few years shy of being twenty-one themselves. It still gives my mother shivers. In another time, like now, he would have been arrested.
Instead, he was the "fun dad." Many a youngster came to my father to be humiliated in a game of ping pong. It was not a mystery why, once his own brood had left the nest, my dad went in search of his own lost youth. Not all the other dads on our street operated the way he did.
At one bend in the road, sat my friend Heidi's house. Her dad ruled through intimidation and fear. Not that he had ever done a single thing to deserve his reputation. Quite the opposite. There were plenty of kids on our street who had never heard him speak. I spent a good deal of time hanging on the edge of their world, but I can't remember a conversation of more than a dozen words. When I dropped by with my little black dachshund to go for a walk with Heidi and her little brown dachshund, he was always pleasant to me. His style was in stark contrast to my father's. Which probably meant that Heidi wasn't embarrassed nearly as often as I was. Except for that one time.
The herd of kids in our neighborhood moved up and down the street in a fairly fluid mass. Older brothers and sisters brought out their siblings and eventually there was a touch football contest or an epic game of capture the flag staged from one yard to the next. Sooner or later, there was a break as we decided what to do next. When that happened, there was a gathering of all those youngsters in somebody's driveway, and on this particular evening, we landed on Heidi's. There was a lot of good natured kidding and a bit of verbal abuse that rose above the school yard standard. This was the way we established dominance and our pecking order. This went on for half an hour or so, and as dusk came, Heidi's dad opened up his front door. To pick up the evening's newspaper. That was all. The driveway and front lawn emptied in a flash.
As a father myself, I really envy that power. As you might expect, my own parental style skews toward that of my own dad. But every so often, I wish I had the power to clear a driveway or front porch. My son's friends just laugh. Your dad's so funny.
Heidi's dad was too, as it turned out. He didn't make a show of it. Later on, about the time I was in college, I realized that there was a very wry, sardonic sense of humor hidden inside there. It wasn't on display for everyone. Just those close enough to appreciate that occasional sideways glance and telltale smirk.
And now he's gone. The man who commanded respect simply by stepping out on his stoop to pick up his paper has moved on to that big cul de sac in the sky. Somebody else will have to hold down that corner. Heidi's dad never stomped on the Terra. He didn't have too. What a clever guy. Aloha.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

De-Lovely, De-Licious

It comes with fries. That's what "deluxe" means. I learned this when I was a mere slip of a lad, at our family's favorite place to unwind on a summer night, The Branding Iron. After years of ordering "just a hamburger," I used my newly burgeoning reading skills on the menu to scan down just one item. Just below "Hamburger" was "Hamburger Deluxe." Reading was a revelation of sorts, but reading a menu was all kinds of new and interesting. I learned that putting that extra word after "hamburger" allowed for an extra dollar to be added to the price. The power of adjectives. Suddenly, a world opened up for me: My older brother had been ordering a Hamburger Deluxe pretty much straight along. I had assumed that, because of his age, the proprietors felt he should get his burger on a plate with lettuce and sliced tomato and pickle. And a fistful of french fries. The hamburger I got came in a red plastic basket on top of a piece of wax paper. No frills. Not deluxe.
And that's when I started to order my hamburgers deluxe. That lettuce and tomato stayed right where they were, holding down the left half of the plate. Before I went to work on the french fries, I gobbled up those three crinkle cut dill pickle slices. It was my bow to the extra dollar my parents were paying. I reasoned this because I had noticed that, upon further review of the menu, a side order of french fries could be purchased for seventy-five cents. I figured those pickle chips were my nod to the value of the food I was being served thanks to mom and dad's largess.
And that plate. It was such a a step up from that red plastic basket.
Now I order my hamburgers with.cheese. I put the lettuce, tomato and pickles and even some onions on the top before I flop that bad boy over and put on the mustard and ketchup like I always used to. Only now it's deluxe. Abundant. Excessive. Luxurious.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Junk Food

There were thirty-five questions. I answered thrity-two of them correctly.It was one of those online click-bait quizzes, but I couldn't pass it up. Of the fifteen minutes it took for me to complete the assessment, most of that time was spent waiting for the next question to load. It was a multiple choice test, which seemed like an unfair advantage to me, since for this particular subject I might have preferred an essay question or two. It was about film, and I have always been a fan. I studied film in college. I worked in a video store. I pay obscene amounts of money each month to have dozens of movie channels empty their content into my living room. When I played on a trivia bowl team after I graduated, I was "the movie guy."
Okay. You get the point: Me. Movies. Knowledge.
I have seen films by Stan Brakhage and I can speak with some mild authority on non-narrative celluloid images. From Lumiere to Scorsese, I have made a study of them all. And with this wealth of film knowledge, what movie have I seen so many times that I can still chide myself for missing those three questions? Road House.
Please understand that there are a great many movies that I have committed to memory. Sections of my brain that may have been used at one time for complex calculations or reciting epic poetry are being used to store images and dialogue from all those miles of motion pictures that I have seen. These are the ones I have seen over and over again. I am proud of my recall of the sets and camera angles of Citizen Kane. I wrote papers on the mise en scene and montage of Alfred Hitchcock. I have dreams that recall the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But I don't think I could do as well with an online quiz about any of those bits as I could with the story of Dalton, the Cooler.
There is an easy comparison to be made between my diet and my choice of movies. I know that eating more kale will make me live longer, but cheeseburgers bring me so much more joy. I know that Bergman was a genius, but I don't get giddy satisfaction reeling off lines from Cries and Whispers. I have Dalton's rules for being a bouncer hanging over my desk. It's not going to help me get a job. Since my retirement from active trivia competition, I won't even get the movie trailer bonus. It's just an absurd chunk of dated knowledge that brings a smile right before I realize that I am just a little embarrassed to admit it.
But not enough not to mention it here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Teacher's Pet

So, here's the thing: As a teacher, I am very interested in checking for the understanding of my young charges. It is vital that after I present a new idea, I double back and ask a student or two to share what they have learned. If I missed that connection, I need to reestablish it by making sure that what I am teaching is what they are learning. This is especially true when I give a test, and it turns out that most of the kids in the room failed. I could be disappointed with them and wonder how they could have missed such easy questions.
Or I could realize that I was the one who failed. I didn't teach.
Which brings us to everyone's inevitable bad teacher: Donald Turnip. After giving what the Orange One assumed would be a groundbreaking speech on immigration, the public gave a collective shrug of their shoulders. Sure, there were those sycophants in the front row who continue to foam at the mouth and cry for the wall to be build even higher, but the ones sitting a little further back, flicking one another with pencils and folding paper airplanes were not impressed. The presumptive GOP candidate says the people "didn't quiet understand." because of the rabid response of his minions. The ones who shiver at the notion of "strong, impenetrable borders." The ones who are signing up to take their wheelbarrows and trowels down to Nogales to start construction. The ones who are still harvesting  those seeds of fear and discontent that were sown more than a year ago. Before his anti-Muslim rant. Before his plan for "extreme vetting" of immigrants auditioning for entry into our country. We just don't get it.
The ones who do get it are honking the horn still louder. Marco Gutierrez, co-founder of Latinos for Trump, took to the airwaves after his Coifness's speech to warn us all of a future where there would be "taco trucks on every corner." Mister Gutierrez is also a member of Jews for Jesus and Porcupines for Balloons. He understands. Why don't we?

Monday, September 05, 2016

Nothing Is Truly Free

I have gone to shows for which I had little or no interest in the headliner, but I have become a fan by the end. The stakes aren't very high, since the tickets were free. Winning a pair of seats to a concert is a great way to fall in love with a new artist. New to me, anyway. Sometimes there is that awkward piece of trying to fit in with those already indoctrinated to the ways of the fanatic. Oh, this is the part where the band leaves the stage and the singer does that acoustic bit for which he is so well known. Of course they finish the night with a singalong version of Carmina Burana. The next time I attend a show,
This works well for concerts. It's not quite the same for sporting events. As mentioned here recently, my mild antipathy for the Oakland Raiders, but I try not to let that flavor my interactions with the kids in my Oakland School. I understand that this is their turf, and when the local sports franchise is in a giving mood, it's best not to be a holdout and insist that our free T-shirts come in some other colors besides silver and black. Free T-shirts can be any color they need to meet that first criteria: free. Which is also why, when the Oakland Raiders Foundation offered up thirty seats to their final preseason game to my last year's fifth grade community leadership group, I could not say no.
Well, I was physically able to do so, but I felt morally obligated to make sure that these kids who had worked with me over the course of the last ten months on two separate service projects got to attend a game in the stadium that most of them simply drive by with their parents. The chance to attend a professional sporting event of any kind, let alone one to watch their beloved Raiders, was something I would not pass up.
This meant that I would be attending, with the love and support of my wife and son, to make it as much of a family affair as possible. It was great to see the old crew together again. It seemed as though they had aged much more than a summer's worth. Maybe it was those first two weeks of middle school. They were all happy to see me, but were just as glad to be chatting with their friends or checking their omnipresent phones. Incipient teens, some of whom I remember showing to their Kindergarten classes on that first day of school. Seven years ago.
Down on the field, the game wore on. As football games go, it wasn't much of a spectacle, but for the kids in the stands, it was a magical night. I'm glad we got to go.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Across The Border

My wife has spoken longingly at times for a chance to take our family south of the border, returning to some of the sights and sounds of our collective youth. When I was young, my family made two separate trips to Mexico, where we visited Mayan and Aztec ruins and traveled extensively through the coasts and into the capital and experienced the culture and flavors of our neighbors near the equator. My wife spent many of her formative years down there, as the daughter of a Peace Corps member and later as a part of a student exchange program. Later, when we met up in high school, it was her father that taught all of us in marching band how to order water without ice and other important phrases in Spanish to make our trip to Mexico City and Acapulco more safe and culturally responsible. Is it any wonder that one of our stops on our honeymoon cruise was the clear waters off the coast of Tulum?
Then there was that sad lethargy on my part. The part that says, "been there, done that" as an excuse not to stretch my limits. Why not just go back to Disneyland, after all? Even though I've been there and done that to the point that sometimes I worry about having traces of Mouse DNA spliced into my genetic makeup. And yet, I do wonder if my son would have gotten more value out of his high school Spanish classes if he had more practice than ordering his burrito at our local tacqueria. I am a bad and lazy parent for not figuring out a way to enliven his world view by taking him anyplace where the Coca Cola isn't sweetened with corn syrup.
Which is why I feel shame for not making it back to Mexico before Donald T. Rump. Now that the Sunset Don has made his appearance down there to present the Art of The Wall to officials of the Mexican government, I wonder just how welcome Americans as a group will be. If there were trust issues before, I suspect that things may not be getting better anytime soon. Murderers and rapists on both sides of the border will look at the site of the potential wall and wonder what will keep bad people out. Or in.
Suddenly I recalled a bit from Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Slapstick. At one point in the story, after spending years behind closed borders, an emissary from China reappears. The diplomat is only a few inches tall and he has only shown up long enough to tell the rest of the world that his country is fine and they should all go about their business and not worry about what is happening to all those miniaturized Chinese. Eventually, they become so small that they can be inhaled which starts a plague that destroys the world. Making China the world power in ways they never fully intended. The future is a creepy place.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

These Are The Things For Which I Will Not Stand

Donald Tsump has a solution: Find another country. This was his Sour-Patchness' suggestion for how professional quarterback Colin Kaepernick might deal with his concerns about standing for our national anthem. The first thing that occurred to me was this: Colin Kaepernick is a citizen of one of the greatest democracies that have ever been visited on this planet. It's the one with the Freedom of Speech thing. The one that comes just before the Freedom of Guns thing, so it sometimes doesn't get the play that it could. And it's important to mention at this point that Mister Tarrmp has that same freedom, which he exercises most effusively. And when Mister Kaepernick chose to exercise his freedom of expression by not standing up for our national anthem, he gave millions of people with access to a keyboard or a water cooler an opportunity to express themselves about how they felt about all this freedom of expression.
It's a celebration of freedom, right?
"Know your rights: All three of them." - The Clash
Those punks from Britain suggested that you have a right to free speech, "as long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it."
Or, as Betty Bowers tweeted, "FUN FACT: Most people saying Colin Kaepernick is unpatriotic for criticizing America are wearing red ball caps that say America isn't great." Come on guys, here's that thing we can all agree on: Having this conversation at all is proof that our version of civilization works. No one has lost a tongue. No one has had their kneecaps removed as punishment for refusing to stand during our national anthem. Not yet, anyway. We don't even deport folks who have issues with the way things are being run around here. Not yet, anyway.
I can remember having a lengthy discussion at a faculty meeting about whether or not we should say "one nation under God" when our classes recited the Pledge of Allegiance. It was hugely ironic that we would debate how we should repeat the Pledge of Allegiance. But we're Americans, and that's the we we do things 'round these parts.

Friday, September 02, 2016


The doctor assures his hunchback assistant, "I will not be angry." We know this isn't true, and not just because the assistant has carelessly switched the brain of renowned scientist Hans Delbruck for that of "Abby Someone." Abby Normal. We have already seen the doctor blow his top when a student carelessly mentioned the doctor's grandfather's work, to which the doctor asserts that "My grandfather's work was doo-doo!" He punctuates his momentary lack of composure by stabbing a scalpel into his thigh.
And just like that, the storm is past. Such is the frothing genius of Gene Wilder, who died this week at the age of eighty-three. It has been a long time since Mister Wilder has produced anything in the neighborhood of the hilarity I was afforded by his performance as Doctor Frederick Frankenstein. Frooderick Fronkensteen. And so on. Gene Wilder had the great good fortune to show up in a world that allowed him to work his magic with Mel Brooks, and the two of them combined to create a pair of the funniest movies of all time. Don't believe me? Ask Rolling Stone. I'll wait.
"Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein" should provide the comedic cornerstone for any young person's life, and they certainly did for me. Toss "The Producers" on the top of that impressive foundation and you have a pyramid of comedy that has withstood the test of nearly half a century of usurpers and wannabes. Just to the left of that we find "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," where the mad genius was alternately treating and tormenting children as they stepped into a world of pure imagination. In the end, as young Charlie and his Uncle Joe attempt to understand how they could possibly have missed out on the big prize giveaway, Gene Wilder once again displayed his volcanic capacity to rise to fever pitch in just a few short breaths and then turn just as quickly to a moment of compassion. "I said good day!"
Gene also gets great huge points for falling in love with Gilda Radner and keeping her memory alive through Gilda's Club, a support group for people living with cancer. And he was in Silver Streak. And Stir Crazy. There were some others, but I was lucky enough to own the soundtrack album from Young Frankenstein, which included great long bits of dialogue from the film, before the days of on demand video and YouTube. I memorized it, and it enhanced or corrupted my DNA forever. I didn't learn "Puttin' On The Ritz" from Fred Astaire or Taco. I learned it from Gene Wilder.
Gene stomped on the Terra. He will be missed. Aloha. Give Gilda a hug for me.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Mouthing Off

"America needs you, Harry Truman," sang the musical group Chicago once upon a time. This was a song released back in 1975, at a time when we had just lived through Watergate and Vietnam, and the ghost of Harry Truman was infinitely preferable to the corporeal thugs that were lurking around Washington at that time. The wish was for some straight talk, someone who didn't mince words.
Now it's 2016, and we are on the cusp of electing another leader for this great land of ours. My guess is that somewhere back in the seventies, Donald Truhump heard about Harry Truman's plain-spoken ways and he got it into his head that straight talk meant that it should come right of the top of his pointy little head, without a filter.
Whether he is speaking in front of a crowd or furiously typing with those little tiny thumbs of his, this "from the hip" style continues to plague him and his campaign. This wouldn't be such a problem if he wasn't taking great wide swings at people and things that he knows nothing about. This past weekend, for example, when he chose to use the occasion of NBA player Dwayne Wade's cousin being shot and killed in Chicago as an opportunity to "connect" with African-American voters. The twit tweeted, "Dwyane Wade's cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!" If you haven't been listening to what his creamsicle-ness has been saying for the past week or so, the Republican Candidate for President of the United States has been asserting that African-Americans don't have anything to lose if they vote for him. It that's not a brand new kind of campaign strategy, I don't know what is. "Abandon all hope, ye who enter into the voting booth and flip the Terrump switch." 
Okay, so with a little reflection, we can all figure out what he meant by that, but isn't this the problem? Even his own handlers have a hard time straightening out the Trumpspeak for those who are used to rational discourse. It is not a surprise that the phrase "shoot from the hip" describes careless aim, but it sure does mean "quick on the draw." 
We live in wiggly times when our presidential candidates can be appreciated for how quickly they spout whatever nonsense comes into their head. We are told that this is a country that has become too sensitive, too politically correct. I don't buy that. It's always somebody else's toes that needs to be more forgiving to the boots that trod upon them. Sorry, clodhoppers, you need to watch where you're going. And what you're saying. That's what plain speaking really means.