Monday, October 31, 2016

All Hallow's Eve

I don't remember if it rained that Halloween. The weather outside was not the issue. It was the weather inside that was the issue: dark and stormy with a one hundred percent chance of grief. We were mourning the loss of our roommate and beloved fellow traveler on the highway of fun which came to an abrupt end the week before. What better way to commemorate the end of the party by throwing one?
We started early, with our tribute to our fallen friend, before dinner. We were drinking before the first guests arrived. If we did eat, it was the Cheetos that we had dragged home along with all the alcohol we could carry. When it came to dragging alcohol home, we were champs. When at last there was a knock on the door, the first in a steady stream of well-wishers and fellow mourners began to file in. We had done this dozens of times before, but never with a dead guy as the focus. Parties were a way of life in that apartment. Work and school were just annoying interruptions sprinkled into the cycle of festivals we maintained. No weekend was too long or too short, and if Bruce Springsteen's birthday fell on a weeknight, our neighbors would just have to understand.
There was also the little matter of our lease. When we moved in, we were splitting the rent three ways, with a little larger share taken on by our departed friend because he got his own room. Now we were faced with the potential of having to make up that difference ourselves. As a full-time student, part-time video store employee and itinerant hungry drunk boy, I knew that the chances of me figuring out a way to swing that was out of the question. Unless that question started with, "Mom and Dad?"
So there was this thought, not a clear one, but a thought that if we simply ratcheted up the misbehavior a notch or two that we might be asked to leave rather than begging for release from our commitment. We had already done this, showing up to the leasing office with our grim faces, sackcloth and ashes. Our landlord wasn't flinching. This was a college town, after all, and the middle of a semester was not the time to have an empty apartment. The company wouldn't allow it. Policy, and all that.
It was with this corporate torment along with our very real grief that we hit the dance floor in our living room that night. We raged into the night, conspicuously aware of our predicament: We were survivors. Though we wore this distinction as a badge of honor when it suited us, but its weight dragged us down. Finally, when everyone else had filed out, toasts made and tears shed, we were left in that wreck of a living room. Alone again. Sometime just before noon the following day we made our way into the light of a new day, a new month, and began collecting the bottles, cans and crushed Cheetos that bore witness to our attempts to pierce the veil. We couldn't bring our friend back, and we couldn't dull the pain. We were stuck right where we were.
A month later, our landlord agreed to let us go. Apparently the chance to get in and hose down our apartment to get it ready for the next crop of underclassmen felt opportune for them. There was no eviction. There was no cathartic last bash to send the demons packing. We packed up our stuff and moved to separate corners of the city: me on the south, my friend on the north. Though we got together from time to time to experience the wild times one more time, it never felt quite like that Halloween.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Eye Of The Beholder

I have read some of the fan outrage at the "brutal deaths" that occurred on the first episode of The Walking Dead's seventh season. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but let's just say that some people died. Since the title suggests this is half the premise of the show, it really shouldn't come as a surprise. It is the fictionalized account of a group of survivors. In six previous seasons, the body count has been profound, and as our little band has made its way through the post-apocalyptic wasteland, the body count has been significant. Four of the original seven main cast has been sacrificed to the sake of story. Of the fourteen members of season one's supporting cast, only two are still walking.
I suppose I have to applaud the writers of this television show for keeping folks interested in watching what is a slow and steady march into the gates of, well...The loss of a wife or trusted friend has been tempered with the regular and explicit dispatch of dozens if not hundreds of zombies that seem to remain an issue despite our courageous band's best efforts to find safe haven. Even though we all understand in this world your are just a sprained ankle or a stray arrow from a crossbow away from being part of the latex-shrouded extras.
It brings to mind something about which my father once complained. He was trying to relate his disgust and dismay at the movie he had just been to see. He went on and on about how violent and depraved it was. "No redeeming social value," he sniffed. The title of the film? Natural Born Killers, directed by Oliver Stone from a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino. The redeeming social value aside, I wondered what my father might have been expecting when he paid for is ticket and walked through the lobby in the direction of the marquee that was full of that phrase: Natural Born Killers. If he had been anticipating a nature documentary about carnivores in the wild, the posters with a bald, sneering Woody Harrelson could have been a tipoff that it wasn't going to be a Disney movie.
When people tune in to watch "The Walking Dead," what part of that message are they missing? Sure, I can remember what it's like to lose your favorite character in whatever tragic or amusing accident or assassination. My wife and I drifted away from ER after all those years of must-see TV. We didn't recognize any of the hard-working and even harder living doctors and healthcare professionals who went in and out of those sliding emergency room doors. There were apparently only a certain number of times that getting a blood chem and a chest tube stat that can sustain a viewer's interest. Our interest, anyway.
So you say that things have become too brutal on the show about brain-gobbling zombies and their warm-blooded prey? You could try testing your mettle with something a little edgier. Kevin James has a new show.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Obsessed With Sex

Newt Gingrich would like us to know that we are, or at least those of us who would bother to bring up Donald J. Tremp's more prurient topics instead of the more salient points of his public policy. That's what he was telling Megyn Kelly in a testy little back and forth on Tuesday evening. While most right-thinking Americans should have been focusing their attentions on baseball, Megyn and Newt were arguing about who had the problem and why. For her part, Ms. Kelly responded to Gingrich's assertion thus: “I think your defensiveness on this may speak volumes, sir,” she said. “No, no, let me make my point. And then I’ll give you the floor. What I said is if Trump is a sexual predator, then it’s a big story. And what we saw on that tape is Trump himself saying that he likes to grab women by their genitals and kiss them against their will.” 
Advantage Megyn, and not just because of her journalistic standpoint. She was speaking as a victim of sexual harassment herself. If there was a gap in our collective understanding of what has been going on in presidential politics for the past six months, it could be that Newt actually has a point. Maybe we are far too concerned with the personal lives of celebrities and consenting adults. Sex sells. Ask Don Draper. Or better yet, think of how many people tuned in each week to watch this duplicitous rake love, leave, crash and burn in ways that would make Don Trumper green with envy. Which would be kind of nasty, since all that orange would make brown mixed with the green.
Are we ignoring Bill Clinton and all his crimes and misdemeanors? Probably, but since it is his wife who is currently running for the highest office in the land, why not focus on her economic plan or her experience as Secretary of State? 
And here's the feedback in which I am currently stuck. With all these accusers coming forward to point a finger at our not quite admitted adulterer, Donald P. Trumj. He wants to dismiss one as "a porn star." Well, at least she's a star. I can't imagine anything less. Especially if it didn't happen. And then the rejoinder“Oh, I’m sure she’s never been grabbed before.” And just when did you stop groping porn stars, Mister Truhhh?
I'm sorry for dragging you all through this most unpleasant dissertation, and I hope that soon we will return to the more polite and well-regarded conversations about how much we all hate bananas, but sometimes, a banana is just a banana or a substitute for something much much worse.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Police Line

"Didn't you see the yellow Police Line tape?"
I had, in fact, and the reason the officer was asking me about it was that I had ducked underneath it and was attempting to make my way across the intersection without having to go eight blocks out of my way to get to school.
"I wouldn't want to have to cite you," continued the man in blue.
I apologized and looked for a way around. "I'm trying to get over to Brookdale and I," he cut me off.
"You need to go back up to the corner behind the tape."
I probably made some sort of face that read as frustration, but I was working to stay within the letter of the law. It is my way, after all.
Did I mention that it was raining?
The officer sighed and directed me back up the street, "Then cross over to the other side. Do you see all these tow trucks? I don't anyone to be injured."
I appreciated his concern, especially since it seemed as though it could have come in handy for the occupants of the car that was being loaded on the flatbed trailer.
I retreated back up the street and found the other side blocked by the two inch wide strip of yellow tape. I contemplated the ersatz barrier and considered my options. This was the way I had been instructed to go, and it was free of debris and additional police activity. I bent down and rolled my bike into the danger zone.
For the next thirty feet, I expected to be hollered at and told to turn back, pending the issuance of a citation. When I made it around the corner and went back under the tape on the other side, I considered the stress that the officers were under and the relative politeness with which my transgression was met. At six on a rainy morning, after having been on the scene for five hours, he was probably tired and ready to get home to someplace warm and dry. Away from the scofflaws trying to pick their way through their perimeter.
Would it have killed me to go the extra mile around?
Would it have killed him to give me a helpful direction?
Would the mess be cleaned up by the time I rode home?
Compared to the victims of the crash, I was worried over nothing.
I rode on into the darkness.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Facts Of Life

"Yes dad?"
"It's time we sat down and had a little talk."
"But dad, I'm right in the middle of -"
"Never mind about that. Come on over and sit down."
"Okay, dad."
"Now, you're getting to be quite the young man all of a sudden. Am I right?"
"I guess so."
"And you're starting to notice the girls. Am I right?"
"Aw Dad, I don't know."
"And they're starting to notice you, I bet."
"C'mon, dad."
"Well, it just makes sense, you know. You are my son, after all."
"I think it's time for you to know a few facts of life."
“We all know guys that have had conversations with other guys that go a little bit in that direction.”
"What direction is that?"
"You know. 'Locker room talk.'"
"When you see a pretty girl and you, um, might want to take her shopping - for furniture."
"And you want to move on her, and maybe grab her and kiss her, you know."
"Well you go right ahead, because when you're a celebrity you can just get away with that kind of thing."
"You bet."
"Even if they're married?"
"Especially if they're married."
"Gee, I dunno."
"Well son, I'm glad we had this little talk."
"Yeah. Me too. I guess."

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Hack, Hack, Hack

How you doin', America? A few days back there was an attack on the very fabric of our society. Hackers disrupted Al Gore's Internet last Friday and it made for some pretty tough sledding out there. People were without access to their Twitter accounts for several hours. Spotify and Reddit were also impacted. If you didn't notice, you're probably not my son.
My son's contact with his world comes through his phone, and access to these forms of social media are the means of his communication with his peers. The idea that he might have to speak directly to another human being is a daunting one for him, and many of his generation. Faceless authorities tell him what to buy as well as when and where. He has become a fount of information for those of us too old or slow to lift our phones to our face and type on those tiny keyboards. His knowledge of engine compression is impressive for a father who spent years collecting pop culture tidbits if only for the chance to regurgitate them at some opportune moment and appear clever.
Which is really the purpose of Twitter, after all. Denying celebrities and a vast nation of would-be Oscar Wildes. I suspect that for those anxious moments last week, there were millions of pithy comments that had to be cast aside or set on ice for use later when connection with the pithyverse was reestablished.
Even more frightening was the fact that was out of commission for a similar amount of time, which means that the fifty-four ounce bag of Skittles you needed for the weekend was put in jeopardy. Do what you will with the National Security Agency and its vast storehouse of confidential material, but don't mess with my Skittles pipeline.
In real life, my world was impacted when the kids in the school's computer lab were unable to reach the website I had so carefully selected for them the week before. Explaining to a ten-year-old that there were bad people called "hackers" who were trying to disrupt digital communications turned out to be surprisingly easy. This is, after all, the world in which they have been brought up. They were born into a society that curses their handheld computers that don't receive signals from outer space as quickly as they might like, and they look forward to a time when all information can be digested in pill form, bypassing that whole listening function.
Then it was over. As quickly as it came on. Firewalls were restored and IP addresses were returned to their regular dependable state. And my son breathed out again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Joy In Mudville

"Do they still play the blues in Chicago?" That was the musical question asked by Steve Goodman back in 1983, when the team from the north side was in the midst of another season of mediocrity, finishing the year with seventy-one victories in one hundred sixty-two games. It was the next year, 1984, that Cub fans sat up and took notice. They got twenty-five more wins and took first place in the National League East. Steve Good man passed away just days before his beloved Cubbies clinched the division.
From there, it was a short five game series loss to the San Diego Padres before returning to the lower echelon of the NL East the next year. That one season was enough to make me believe the words of Mister Goodman:
"You know the law of averages says
Anything will happen that can"
That's what it says
"But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan"

I bought my first Cubs jersey, and placed a renewed emphasis on the story of my grandfather's obsession with the team that would eventually break apart his tenuous marriage to my grandfather, sending my father packing west to Colorado where would eventually marry my mother and raise up a whole new crop of unwitting Cubs fans. All because of that last trip to the World Series. The Cubs certainly helped pave an interesting curve in my family's path. 
Now, seventy-one years after that fact, the Chicago Cubs return to the World Series for the first time since anyone can accurately recall. This is an opportunity to tear down another ivy-covered wall that has kept them from winning it all since 1908. More than one hundred years. No one I know can remember that one, but now is the time to create new memories.
As I sat on the couch, talking on the phone to my older brother who carries the torch just a little higher than I do, we relished the moment and spoke of the past. We both took great solace and pride that our wives would happily encourage us to take off to see a World Series game without formfitting our marriages. These women understood, or at least they pretended to, which worked for us both in a pinch. It took me a while to move past the award ceremony and the post-game celebrations an interviews. In those moments, I sensed an extra weight on the couch with me: my father on one side and my grandfather on the other. A third generation was witnessing the impossible. There was joy in Mudville. 

Monday, October 24, 2016


She came to me through a throng of much younger children. Hers was a face that I recognized but had no name to give, having made room for all this year's kindergartners and that record had been deleted along with so many other things from the past four or five years. Did she have a sister or was she -
And then she was clinging to my arm. "I'm afraid," she said and looked it. Trailing just behind her was a young man who I suspected might be the source of that fear. He didn't appear angry or upset, just very nervous. Not afraid like the young lady who was creeping around, using me as a shield to diminish contact with the swirl of elementary humanity that flowed around us. It was just after dismissal and we were swimming in the sound and fury that is after school. I checked my surroundings and turned to face my cowering friend. I asked the dumbest question I could come up with: Are you okay?
"I took some drugs," she stammered, "and I don't like..."She was behind me again. Happily, the kids passing by on the left and right didn't seem to be taking in any of the minor spectacle taking place on the sidewalk in front of their school. I turned my attention to the now embarrassed boyfriend.
"What's going on here?" I tried to ask in as relaxed a way possible, but being somebody's dad and a teacher gave most of what I was going to say an edge I couldn't sand off.
The kid had the standard issue hipster seventeen year old facial hair and a manner that suggested that he knew he was in over his head. "She's just a little stoned."
"A little." I said this as his girlfriend continued to find solace in my shadow.
"It's her first time," he confided.
This is when we noticed that she had her cell phone out and was dialing 911. "Hello? Yes. This is an emergency. I've taken some drugs and," She was on the line with a trained expert, why not let her try this avenue? This was my reasoning as I attempted to maneuver the poor stoned girl to a sitting position. Her boyfriend wasn't so sure this was going to work out well. For him.
She continued to lean on me even as she continued to speak to the operator. She was able to give the address of the school, which told me that she must have spent some quality time in our hallways to be able to recall the address of her elementary school.
Meanwhile, the flow of our current students had slowed to a trickle, and at last there were just a few kids hanging on the stairway at the front of the school. That's when the ambulance showed up. Just a few yards in front of the fire truck. My wish for less of a scene was partially granted when the fire truck turned off its siren after assessing the situation as less than dire and moved on. This left just one large emergency vehicle with flashing lights to explain to the kiddies who looked on in wonder. "Who's hurt?" They all wanted to know.
There was a sudden rush of renewed paranoia from my little friend who did not want to get up off the wall on which we were sitting to go lay down in the back of the ambulance. I was extremely grateful for the relaxed manner that the paramedics used to coax her down the sidewalk and eventually up inside where the caregiving could commence.
While this was taking place, I took the boyfriend aside and said, "I don't suppose you need the elementary school lecture about making better choices next time, do you?"
He shook his head. After a few moments of quiet consultation with the driver, he finagled a ride up front to the hospital. His life had just taken a tough turn, but certainly not on a par with his paramour. As the ambulance pulled away I wondered what effect this event might have on their relationship. Was I watching their last ride together? Would they look back on this and laugh?
Maybe. If they were both stoned.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

More Excuses

I had considered watching the third and final debate between the presumptive Presidential candidates on Wednesday night, but baseball interfered. More to the point, the Chicago Cubs interfered. I was ruminating on how I had been a bad member of the electorate by sticking my head in the sand and insisting that there was no way that what was done or said on that stage in Las Vegas was going to change my outlook on the last couple of weeks before the rest of the country lined up to make their mark and ring down the curtain on one of the more regrettable episodes in our electoral history. Someday this will be studied at the Electoral College, but for now I will be puzzled by this: How did the brain trust behind the scheduling of three debates between the folks who would be president land them on evenings with major sporting events? Monday Night Football twice, and National League championship once.
Sure, I know that this year's National Football League schedule has been most notable for the number of topics that have been generated for our national debate fodder with all the sitting, standing and kneeling that has taken place before the games were ever played. I suspect there are those who would equate my reticence to watch the Presidential Debates in favor of spectator sports with taking a knee myself. Full participation in the democratic process would look like me sitting in front of all the pre and post coverage, as well as reading and digesting all the spin that comes in the wake of the babble that takes the place of substantive political discussion. But it's the Chicago Cubs!
As it turned out, that last Wednesday evening, I had a flat tire on my bike. I called my wife to come and pick me up. When the back end of the car opened up for me to put my crippled steed inside, I could hear the strained tones of the candidates warming up their rhetoric. I asked, politely, if we might avoid the train of soon-to-be-fact-checked statements on the ride home. When we got there, I went straight to the basement where I took some time to replace the inner tube and mount the wheel back in its proper place. I was aware that the debate and the baseball game was going on while I maintained my commute vehicle. My choice was essentially made for me: I would be watching neither Cubs nor Candidates.
When I finally walked into the kitchen, the show was still on. I knew the Cubs had a lead at this point, and so I surrendered to the meal my wife had thoughtfully prepared in earshot of the talking heads. I caught the last few questions and was struck once again by the antagonistic tone of what they had to say to one another. Pleasant, unemotional conversation aids digestion, after all.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Sound Of One Hand Playing

Mostly what I remember is the arm of the couch in my parents' basement. It was covered in short brown faux fur, and it was where I sat as I laid out endless games of Klonkide solitaire. This was the game I was taught by my mother, and I watched over her shoulder for many years, kibitzing about the red three on the black four until she finally hushed me and sent me away. As a middle child and a bit of a misanthrope, I took comfort in the endless repetition and patterns of the game. The summer that I spent waiting for my high school sweetheart to finish her day's work and I could go and pick her up, I sat there on that couch and played all those red threes on black fours. I flipped and dealt and flipped and dealt and every so often I came up a winner. All cards turned over. Never satisfied, I shuffled the deck and started over again. The next one would be the last.
Years later, when I discovered that my mother had solitaire on the computer she used to run her bookkeeping business, I used most any opportunity to sit down in front of that machine and play until my eyes got sore and my clicking finger got weak. There was still a huge advantage to not having to manipulate the physical deck of cards, which only exacerbated my interest in that one more game. It was about this time that a childhood friend of mine discovered my compulsive interest in solitaire. This was the guy for whom everything was a bet, a wager to see who could win this or that innocuous challenge. He wanted to sign me up for a trip to Vegas where I could beat the odds and bring home beaucoup bucks. I believe at the time he was even offering to stake me, seeing me as a good bet. I had put in the hours, after all.
That never happened. But when I did get my own computer, I found Freecell and didn't look back. Sure, I spent a few anxious moments exploring the time sink of Minesweeper  , but if I was going to play an obscure game of mild chance, I was going to go with a classic. Or at least one that gave me a reminder of those afternoons spent staring at the arm of the couch in the basement.
Now I am running Windows 10. Microsoft has seen fit to include their deluxe assortment of electronic versions of that arm of the couch. Now, much to my wife's periodic dismay, I can be found in those odd hours of the day that can't contain work or real enthusiasm staring at the various permutations of fifty-two cards. Some of them are face up, some of them face down. The trick is to unravel the knot that keeps them that way. I am bringing order to chaos. No wonder I enjoy solitaire so very much.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Won Loss

We have as yet to reach halftime in this, the 2016 professional football season here in the lower forty-eight. That has not stopped the rush to judgement that is every spectator's right, informed or not. There are teams rushing about for trades and deals to shore up their injury or talent-depleted ranks. There are so many coaches on the proverbial "hot seat" that decorum prohibits listing them here. In terms of the National Football League, I suppose this makes a modicum of sense. These aren't just grown men playing a game, these are grown men playing a game for a living. Many college teams allow a grace period, one they refer to politely as "a rebuilding year." This happens when a prodigy or two passes through and moves on via graduation or an opportunity to go and play a game for a living. It also happens when a coach transcends the earthly bounds of the college ranks and finds himself in the heady and somewhat more fractious world of professional football. If you're a professional, that "rebuilding year" takes place on the fly. Winning is everything and everything is important right now.
Which brings me to the part of this essay in which I am grateful that this mindset does not exist everywhere in all facets of our lives. This is the part where I hope my younger brother hasn't switched off because of that first paragraph about football, but if he stuck with me this far, the reward would be this: The lesson we take away from this is not how sports imitate life outside of sports, but rather how pleased I am that we all seem to get more than that one chance. Everyone has a bad day, and even when happenstance drops a string of them in your path, it is nice not to have to look over your shoulder, fearing that always dreaded "vote of confidence from the owner." And maybe we can take solace in the idea that this is not a peculiarly American concept either. When your job is winning games and you don't win, it probably means that you are on your way out as soon as you start losing. As a teacher, I know that there is a point at which the test scores of my students might figure into my continued employment, but not in the same way having a group that fails to score touchdowns will put me on the dole. Circumstances for most of us who are not putting on a weekly show of just how clever we are allow us to find excuses and ways to beg for more time.
And yet we all struggle with that "what have you done for me lately" mentality because it is 2016, and we are not getting any younger and the universe is expanding and the sun will go supernova before we know it and if we don't have that trophy in our case before the next meeting we will have to make some changes. The goal, as Billy Beane put it in Moneyball, is to win that last game. If you don't, the rest of the season doesn't really matter.
And we all start over again from the beginning.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Watch Out For The Wires

1 the system of ropes, cables, or chains employed to support a ship's masts ( standing rigging ) and to control or set the yards and sails ( running rigging ).

2 the ropes and wires supporting the structure of an airship, biplane, hang glider, or parachute.

That's the first definition of the word, and while it makes sense that a seagoing chappie like Mister Terrimp would have a fascination with all things nautical, but it's not my guess that he has been crabbing about the ropes, cables or chains supporting a ship's mast. Nor is it likely that he is worried about the wires supporting the structure of an airship. No, the rigging Mister Cheddar is referring to is that much more despicable kind: verb manage or conduct (something) fraudulently so as to produce a result or situation that is advantageous to a particular person.
Usually, it's a sporting event that people get upset about, since elections are so carefully watched and monitored. Like the "Phantom Punch" that Muhammad Ali used to knock out Sonny Liston in 1965, Or maybe it's even further back, like the Fall Classic of 1919, when the Chicago White Sox decided to put the fix in on the World Series, turning their pale hose black for all time. In some ways, rigging is a peculiarly American institution, both from the observing and participating side. It was, or will be, Captain James T. Kirk, from Iowa, who gained fame as a Starfleet cadet by changing the parameters of the No-Win Scenario: The Kobayashi Maru. He changed them so he could win. A born leader.
Which brings us back to Donald T. Krump. His insistence straight along that the process in which he has had so much success, first in the primaries, at the convention, and now in the general election, is rigged against him certainly holds less water than if he had been booted out in the first round or two. Instead, he seems to be experiencing a great deal of success, especially when you believe just how awesome the odds are stacked against him. How can a seventy year old white billionaire expect to get a fair shake in this country? 
I dunno. I guess it must really be rigged

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Saturday Night Dead

If you were to ask Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live since the earth was cooling, just how funny that little play on their title is - get it? Saturday Night Dead? - he would answer in the the less-than-affirmative. Which is probably why he didn't lose a lot of sleep when Donald J. Trumk tweeted, "Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me.Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!" Over the course of the past forty-one years, there have been plenty of critics who have announced the demise of the show. Almost as many as have asserted that Alec Baldwin was finished in Hollywood. I haven't watched a live Saturday Night since my bedtime started to necessarily correlate with that of my son's. I can't name the cast or the bandleader. When there are universally recognized funny bits, I knew that I could catch them on Al Gore's Internet or my trusty digital video recorder. Neither of these outlets have been exactly worn out by keeping up with the hilarity that has ensued.
But I don't know if I would trust Donald Trush as my media consultant. He reminds me of  Mikey in those LIFE cereal commercials from way back when. He won't watch it. He hates everything. Of course, at this stage of the game, Mister Truh has good reason to hate everything, since everything is going against the presumptive Republican human being presently. That would explain the scorched earth policy of his campaign. Drug tests for participants in presidential debates?
That's funny. Almost as funny as the time my friend was told that he would have to take a drug test to get his job. His reply? "Great! I know my drugs." His employers were not as amused, but he ended up getting the job. My friend never imagined that the process might be rigged in any way, or that the media was behind any of his struggles. Mister Trup? Not as much. 
What The Trumpinator doesn't fully reckon is the  media's job in the time of great national emergency or presidential elections: to report the utterances, idiotic or otherwise, of those involved. If he didn't want people to make fun of him, he should probably keep his mouth shut.
We should all be so lucky. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Lessons From A Blue Hedgehog

I used to play more video games. Before I became a father and began to feel the evil time-suck that robs all who fall under their spell of their free will and self-determination. Back then I really liked sitting on the couch with my jaw slightly agape, flinching when the movements generated by my thumbs brought unexpected results on the screen. I spent many happy hours trying to beat a particular level or competing for bonus points in a virtual world in which I was a puppetmaster. I knew that at the end of the day, when my eyes were tired and the console was overheated, I knew that tomorrow was another day and the lives I had lost could be mine again just by turning the machine on one more time.
The video game that occupied a great chunk of my life in the early nineties was Sonic The Hedgehog. I  learned a lot of important life lessons from that whirling blue speed demon. Most importantly, he reinforced a foundation principle in my life: Going from right to left as fast as you can is important while picking up as many golden rings as possible. Sonic and I share this work ethic. Depending on your perspective, I am always going from left to right and picking up the odd gold ring and loose change from the street. Sometimes I feel stuck in the rut of one particular level or set of circumstances, which gives me the opportunity to go back and find that one spring or trap door that I may have missed somewhere along the line. In all those runs, I don't know if I ever managed to grab every single one of the rings in front of me. I don't know if anyone ever really gets all the rings in front of them.
I also learned the importance of friends. Going from left to right as fast as you can picking up as many gold rings as possible is a whole lot easier when you have more hands. Having Tails by your side really helps maximize the rings and increases your chances of success. Having a partner in your left to right adventures is invaluable.
And no matter how difficult the boss at the end of the episode is, you will always be able to bounce back if you've got at least one golden ring. Don't go into a fight empty handed. And if you get squashed, remember the reset button.

Monday, October 17, 2016

How Much?

Powers of ten. I get that. stacking up zeroes after a digit and counting them makes real-life sense to me in terms of what my world has to offer. Most of the time, however, my life centers on things that don't rise much past that second power. Hundreds of kids. Dozens of choices. Scores that hover somewhere below that cutoff of one thousand. I can imagine things that come in thousands, but they are almost always grouped by those nice safe hundreds.
Way back when I took physics in high school, I was asked to consider things with magnitudes far in excess of that relatively small threshold. Forces of nature that needed to be described, or speeds. Most of my experience with speed kept me well within my comfort zone of ten to the first or second power. Then there was the speed of sound. Three hundred forty meters each second. In a minute? In an hour? Sound has a speedy cousin named light, and it's zipping around at three million meters per second. Powers of ten faster than the noise it made. How can this be? The TV is sitting just a few meters away, but I'm almost certain that the light and the sound are landing on me at the same time. How can this make sense? Only if I can imagine how big a living room I would have to be in for it to make a difference.
NASA likes to deal with the really big numbers. They're kind of showoffs in that way. They would like us to know that there are two trillion observable galaxies in our universe. That's twelve zeroes. Those NASA guys like to pile it on. Since there are seven billion souls on this planet, give or take, we don't currently have enough astronauts to go and visit them, this really feels like one of those science exhibition of cleverness. Not that anyone is sitting around in an office down in Cape Canaveral counting galaxies. They're doing math junk like approximating and estimating. They probably even use computers and junk to help them. If you happen to be a human working on your own, counting to a trillion would take you 31,709 years. By the time you got around to two trillion, a lot of those stars would have winked out, exploding with forces best described by these titanic numbers with units that remind of us of those brainiac physicists who seem to make their hay out of stretching our view of the world in which we live. Our universe.
Back in my neighborhood, I'm still numbering things by the dozens. Cars, people, trash cans. These are the things I can see in my observable universe. That's a close enough look for me.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Believe It

Bill O'Reilly told Donald Tsump that he was lagging behind in the polls with women. That's when Mister Locker Room replied, "I'm not sure I believe it."
Let's take a moment or two to take apart this interaction. First of all, what is Fox News doing lately? With the possible exception of Sean Hannity, who seems to be in his element defending the indefensible, the rest of the crew that Roger Ailes once put together seems to be finding exception with the presumptive Republican nominee. Megyn Kelly took down Mike Huckabee and his amusing tale about sharks and coarse men, and laughed when it was over. At each moment when things seem their most surreal, a new level of surreality is reached. Down is up, up is down, red is gray and yellow white, and we decide which is illusion.
Then there's the theater in which this is all playing out. Shakespeare would have blushed to think that Lady Macbeth and King Lear would show up on the same stage. This is the place where legacies are extended or recreated. I have lost complete track of the substantive points of the campaign, policy measures and suggested reforms, and the rest of the country seems to have slid off this precipice along with me. It was Dwight Moody who suggested that "Character is what you are in the dark." If this is true, who are we under the bright lights of the twenty-four hour news cycle? Are we just watching outtakes from the next season of Game of Thrones?
Or are we merely waiting for this circus to pull up stakes and move on? And what will be left in their wake? The Democratic Process is a strong one, and has certainly suffered its slings and arrows over the history of our great republic, and those that came before. We will continue to fine tune this beast and refine our practices until we can come up with something that resembles political discourse once again.
And from somewhere, far away, I hear a voice say, "I'm not sure I believe it."

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Really Big Shoes To Fill

There are some crimes that are victimless. Bad choices that end up annoying or disturbing the status quo, but more often than not simply tweak other's sensibilities. I could be talking about cat juggling here, but instead I would like to address the recent outbreak of "creepy clowns." Certainly the children who have been terrified enough to stay home from school rather than take a chance that the mountain of rumors and innuendo that circulated like a Facebook Firestorm last week turned out to be real and true. Nobody got hurt, but the anxiety and stress generated by idjits with access to social media as thick enough to be served as birthday cake icing. 
We had a school full of crying children who were goaded along by their peers who may have believed the hype at first but suddenly found an advantage to spooking those younger and more gullible than themselves. The more the adults tried to reassure the kids, the more they were certain that the grownups were all in this together. It made for a very long day. And week. And month leading up to the day when all creepy clowns make their last, best stand: Halloween. Since that very tumultuous Friday, things have calmed down quite a bit, with attentions turning to other things far more interesting than a prank played by middle and high school students on their younger siblings. The scariest thing in the world is not someone who looks like a clown who will chop you into ribbons, but someone who looks like your next door neighbor who might chop you into ribbons. 
Not that I'm advocating a fear of your next door neighbor, but all that late-night rattling around in the garage may have some kind of nefarious edge to it. But who is truly suffering here? Clowns. While arrests are being made all across the nation, the business of clowning has been greatly impacted by the actions of those who pretend to be clowns, the creepy kind. Jub Jub is used to booking eight to ten gigs a month, but since this hysteria began, those have dropped off to nothing. Even McDonald's is putting their clown on ice for the time being, until things start being fun again. 
In the meantime, we can only roll our eyes and sigh while the world vents its cathartic steam around the notion of homicidal maniacs with red noses and painted smiles. And we await the next truly frightening possibility, coming at us a week after Halloween: Attack of the Fifty Foot Cheeto. Now that's terrifying. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Out In Front Of The Storm

What a relief.
I sat down last night and filled out my ballot. No more head scratching tense moments for me. Now I'm just going to sit back and let it all unfold in front of me. Like a huge golden opal. I've made my bed, and now I expect I'll have to lay in it. Lie in it. You know.
The future is now because I can tell people who call me on the phone, asking me how I intend to vote that the intentions are a thing of the past. I am a man of action. Can we count on your vote? Well, you can count my vote, but you don't really need to count on it anymore because the check is in the proverbial mail. That ship has sailed. I have immersed myself in the democratic process and come up with what I believe is a winning ticket.
I did not vote for Donald J. Trupmiwether. I voted for the lady, the former Secretary of State. When I did, I thought of the conversation I had with a fifth grader who wondered why we couldn't have different choices for president. "Why does it have to be one of those guys? Couldn't they get somebody better?" I understood his struggle, which was mirrored by my own son who will be voting in his first election. "She's a liar, isn't she?" asked my fifth grade charge. I knew why he would say that. Grownups have been saying that about Hillary Clinton for months now. Years. Why should we trust her?
Because of the alternative. The fishy part of Hillary Clinton is still infinitely preferable to the hateful fear mongering taking place in the camp of the Republican challenger. Then came the next logical question from the eleven year old: "Why can't we just keep Obama until we find somebody good?" I tried to explain the twenty-second amendment and how, after Franklin Roosevelt, it was decided that eight years was plenty of any one man or woman. "President for life is a little like a king. And we don't want a king, do we?"
He had to think a little on that one. It sure would take the strain off having to watch all these debates and listen to all this political mumbo jumbo for months at a time. As I folded up my ballot and prepared it for mailing, I was pleased with myself for doing my civic duty one more time. Until we elect a king who will take care of all that paperwork for us. For now, I'm done. Start watching those early returns.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tomorrow Was Another Day

"Don't suspect a friend, report them." Thirty-one years ago, Terry Gilliam made a film called Brazil. It was Orwell and Monty Python all rolled together in a nice squishy tart full of bizarre moments and frightening visuals. The idea that somehow we were marching toward this totalitarian state with terrorist bombings and and our freedoms hanging in the balance made for some pretty tremendous science fiction back in 1985.
Just like those communicators that Captain Kirk and his crew carried around with them everywhere used to be science fiction. I'll bet his old flip phone didn't even have Candy Crush Saga on it. Kind of like when Terry Gilliam made his little movie, he had no idea how arcane the Transportation Security Administration would become. All those security measures and opened Christmas packages. Ridiculous, right? Kind of like taking off your shoes to get on a plane or limiting yourself to just three ounces of shampoo. Maybe that's why so many visions of dystopian future includes shaved heads. And of course there will be paranoia
Especially if you happen to be of the Muslim faith. “Whether we like it or not, there is a problem.  We have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on. When they see hatred going on, they have to report it.” Sounds reasonable enough. That's why Moustafa Bayoumi went directly to his Twitter account as he was watching Sunday night's debate to report: “I’m a Muslim, and I would like to report a crazy man threatening a woman on a stage in Missouri." It should be noted that by the outrageous and peculiar standards used to judge this xenophobic misogynist creamsicle, he had hardly reached full volume before the rampage was over. 
What I am suggesting is that we need no longer fear the dystopian future. It's here now. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


A couple weeks ago, I was called out for my blind allegiance to Bruce Springsteen. It was noted that Mister Springsteen was selling his book at Costco, which didn't seem like a big deal to me. I suggested that Costco was actually a whole lot more egalitarian than WalMart, and since seven years ago The Boss already admitted that deal was a mistake, I had a hard time accepting this as a flaw in his character. His otherwise sterling and remarkable character.
That's when the conversation turned to Botox. The man is sixty-seven years old. Why can't he just age gracefully? I started to defend Bruce, asserting that at this ripe old age he continues to play four hour shows without  an intermission and that maybe this was how he kept himself young. And wrinkle free. He's in show  business, so of course he maintains a certain amount of vanity. He's a rock star. Looks count.
Then, I stopped. I'm a huge fan. I know the songs by heart. Reading Springsteen's recently released biography, I have found myself nodding more in confirmation than gasping in revelation. I know the story by heart. I know the town of Freehold, New Jersey and recognize characters like "Mad Dog" Lopez as part of the legend. Part of the gospel according to Bruce.
Saint Bruce? Well, I like to think that I don't get swallowed up in pop culture adoration without any real substance or style to back it up. I want to believe that I don't make excuses for the man's faults and foibles with a blind eye. He's been divorced. He did make that deal with WalMart. He's made comments and written songs that have gotten him in trouble with folks who find themselves on the right side of that workingman's vision of the world. He called Donald Tarumpapumpum an idiot. He maintains a solidly blue collar persona with a bank account that suggests otherwise.
The opportunities for hypocrisy are enormous.
And yet, I cling to this ideal of a man that I have never met. I hold him up as a role model, not just for myself, but others. Is that right? I don't have a lot of patience for others when they worship their idols without reservation. There's always a dark side, some chink in the armor. What makes me think that Bruce Springsteen is above such human frailty?
Maybe because he isn't. Or maybe I'm just deluded. It's a good kind of delusion, though. The kind that will rock and roll all night long.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Getting It All Down

It was a day. I reflected back on it as I finished the housework that was left to me to be done when my wife skittered off to do whatever voodoo that she does on Thursday evenings. I am certainly not above doing some sweeping or scrubbing a toilet. It was looking at chores left to be done before I could call it quits. With a gaping hole in the seat of my pants.
That gaping hole had come about as a result of sitting down to wrestle with the inner tube that I was attempting to insert into the back tire of my bike. The back tire of my bike that I had stopped four times over the course of a two mile ride to inflate to a point where I could limp on home. I was on my way home from the day I had when I noticed that I was more than just a little under-inflated and I needed to stop long enough to get some air between me and the pavement.
This was after I had taken a few minutes to insert the names of all the kindergartners into the math program which I intended to introduce them. It was a task that had slid down my to do list as the day wore on. A day filled with extra students in different classes and teachers coping with multiple absences on our staff as we gathered our collective wits to put together a day just like any other day in elementary education. Without letting on that missing four of seventeen teachers puts a strain on any institution, we moved our larger than average groups of kids from one activity to the next. Lunch recess gave us all a sense that there was no hiding the reality of the situation. But we showed no fear. Even though we were hopelessly outnumbered, we couldn't let on that at any moment, if the children had chosen to storm the gates, all would be lost. All of this came in the midst of the furor over the killer clown invasion that, thanks to social media and older siblings, was the talk of the town during the first half hour before the bell rang. And it lingered well into the day.
Before all the little darlings arrived at school, it was quiet, and I took in each little shred of news with the notion that we could adapt and overcome most any obstacle. We are trained professionals, and we probably wouldn't know what to do if a day presented itself that was perfect in any way. Adversity is a way of life in public education. We are in the lemonade business, after all.
Getting to the the squeezing of those lemons started early, when I turned on my phone before the sun came up, as I rushed about having fallen asleep only half an hour before I was going to get out of bed and missed getting the jump start a day like this could have used.
Instead, I was just a few minutes behind and never quite felt caught up in the midst of flat tires and terrified children and crowded classrooms and chores that needed to be done with a hole in my pants. I'm glad I made it to the part where I got to write about it.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Depending On The Weather

A friend sent me a pitch for a heist movie: A motley crew of thieves gather to sneak into Walt Disney World during a hurricane to steal all the cotton candy. I suggested that this might come after their original plan to sneak in dressed as alligators was derailed by the extermination of all or most all reptiles in and around the happiest place on earth. Or is it the second happiest place on earth, since it was built after Disneyland, which was the original happiest place on earth? Or is it the happiest place on earth because it has three different lands that bring in that much more happiness? Or does all that separation of happiness cause the happiness to diminish?
Hard to say, but this past weekend's encounter with Hurricane Matthew did, in fact, cause the Orlando branch of the Mouse House to close for just the fourth time in its history. When I read that, like you I'm sure, I felt compelled to find out what were the other three times. I was intrigued to discover that the three previous closures were all hurricane related: Hurricane Floyd closed the place in 1999, and in 2004 the culprits were Frances and Jeanne both in September. For the record, Walt Disney World opened for business on September 11, 2001 but was evacuated and remained closed shortly after the attacks in Washington D.C. and New York City.
This brought back the memory of that late summer morning fifteen years ago, when my brother and his family were preparing to fly off to Italy for their first trip off the continent. There was a great rush of relief when it became apparent that no one would be flying anywhere anytime soon after 8:45 Easter Daylight Time. The trip they had planned and saved and dreamed about had to be postponed until order could be restored to the universe. Along with all that additional security.
Disneyland, located on the left hand of the country was closed on September 11. Having that extra three hours of awareness to prepare for terror helped out on that account. The Anaheim contingent was also closed after the Northridge Earthquake of 1994. Before that the only unscheduled closure was a day of mourning for assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
Kind of hard to be happy when you're in mourning.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Nothing's Shocking

Is there a statute of limitations on obscenity? Certainly changing public perception plays a part. The photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe don't  raise as many eyebrows as they used to, especially when compared to the images regularly found on Al Gore's Internet. What about adultery? Is there a moment in a marriage when past indiscretions figure into anyone's marriage vows. Bill Clinton knows a thing or two about that. He was impeached, and later acquitted, on charges related to his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. At the time, a lot of people on the Democratic side of the aisle wondered if these kind of dalliances were the stuff of presidential politics. Back in 1998, there were plenty of folks on the other side who saw it as a chance to get rid of Mister Clinton.
Now it's 2016,  and the political and moral landscape has changed, as have positions on the sanctity of marriage. Donald "Dice" Trump would like us to know that Bill Clinton said much worse to him on the golf course, but  the significant point to be made here is that 1) he is not currently running against Mister Clinton, he is running against his wife and 2) he is arguing to be compared to someone who was on the verge of being removed from office because of his philandering.
Oh, and then there's this: When a Republican led Congress moved to bring charges of impeachment against Bill Clinton, Bill's fellow Democrats aligned with him. That is not what is happening with Donald Trumpottymouth. His party is racing for the lifeboats because of comments he made to an Access Hollywood host, Billy Bush. Please, control your snickering. Of course, that was eleven years ago, back when acting presidential was the least of his concerns. Now, the presumptive Republican candidate would like us to know that he is a changed man. A presumptive changed man. A thrice-divorced changed man. The only other divorced man to be elected Commander in Chief? Ronald Reagan.
Of course, that was another time, when we felt different about things. That was way back when President Ronald Reagan wanted to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts, in part, because of the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. Democrats fought back with the First Amendment,  also known as Freedom of Speech. So who's to say that Donald J. Trumpadump wasn't acting presidential when he was describing his conquest of a married woman to a tabloid TV host? Time will tell.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Presidential Type

I hate to give away advice to the other side, but somebody should take Donald Trumbell's phone away from him. Sure, I know how attached we get to our devices. Many a morning this summer I have saw my son sleeping soundly next to his phone, awaiting that next alert, text or email. You really can't afford to be disconnected in today's fast-paced world. 
Or can you?
On Monday night, while his running mate was trying to make lemonade from the rotted lemons that his boss had left for him, Tronald Dump was lashing out in his own peculiar idiom: Twitter. Some samples? "Kaine looks like an evil crook out of the Batman movies." Or " I agree. Kaine looks like a fool!!” This is the kind of substance that one hundred forty characters allows, I suppose. Looks are something that El Hefe Trumpo has a special penchant for tweeting about. Especially women. Targets like Rosie O'Donnell and Megyn Kelly are special favorites, but he is not above tossing his special brand of invective in the direction of anyone who falls in his disfavor. Wives of his political rivals or members of the print media, for example. Appearance is everything to this guy, and even the woman his pageant elevated to that most exalted position in the Universe is not above his withering gaze. In the cockeyed world of Donald T. Jrump, Alicia Machado is as legitimate a repository for his bile as anyone running against him. 
And now, the hardest part to comprehend: There are people in this country who are openly supporting this behavior. Defending it. Never mind if it could possibly be construed as "presidential," could it be imagined as "normal?" If he was auditioning for a job on Howard Stern's radio show, this kind of anti-social media use would make some sort of scatological sense. Running for President of the United States? I'm not so sure. 
It's three in the morning. Do you know where your candidate is?

Friday, October 07, 2016

Here's Looking At You

For years, I have talked and written about the way I see the world: Through a lens. I started wearing glasses when I was five, so I don't have a lot of memories that don't have a filter of some sort, specifically the prescription through which I have viewed the unfolding events in my life. For most of my life, the second or third thing I do once I rise from my bed is to put glasses on my face. The rest of the day takes place with my safety goggles placed securely on the bridge of my nose. When I get tired, my left eye drifts in, and my corrected vision starts to blur. That's when I know it's time to pack it in, put my glasses on the dresser and call it a day.
Until it's time to do it all over again.
I get a little bunged up when I am asked to go more than a few minutes without my spectacles. Trips to the beach require a place to put my glasses. Sure, I'll take them off when I go swimming, but once I pop out of the pool or the waves, I want to know how I'm going to find my way home.
I wonder sometimes if I could. Find my way home, that is. The idea that everything around me becomes a blurry mass without my glasses is one I have never fully experienced, but certainly have been programmed to believe. It says right there on my driver's license: corrective lenses. I have wondered, more in my youth than now, if I were to be pulled over and not be found DW4E (driving while four-eyed), would I be immediately carted off to jail for scoffing so hard in the face of the law. I mean, there I am, operating a motor vehicle without vision enhancers. Poor vision and poor judgement is no way to go through life, son.
So each day goes by like my own private moving picture show, with my auto-focus on and now with the partition to make those little words on the page more meaningful. When I got my new glasses this week, I was amazed, as I always am, at how clean they make those things before I get my grubby hands on them. Pretty soon they are just another fixture and the nice folded cleaning cloth that came in my new case is abandoned for the utility of my shirt tail. This is the long haul, after all and I expect to be wearing these for at least the foreseeable future, which it turns out is also the advantage of wearing glasses for all these years: I can see the future. It's a big blurry mass, but I can see it.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Nowhere Man

He called to me from the street, "Hey Dave! You don't remember me, do you?" Even from across the lawn and up the stairs to my front porch, I recognized him. I didn't want to.
"Hey Dave!" He was waving. As much as I may have wished that this was an apparition from some undigested bit of meat or blot of mustard, there he was: Eddie. Gone, but not forgotten and now not gone anymore.
I walked down the stairs and met him at the gate, where I was preparing to leave with my wife. Just not quite soon enough. "Hey Eddie."
Eddie smiled at my recognition and offered up his fist to bump. Suddenly we were bros. "How's it goin', Dave?"
Hearing my name come out of his mouth was a surprise, since the entire time he lived next door to us, I cannot remember him uttering anything but a string of profanity and hate. Most of it, sadly, was directed at his sainted mother, who worked tirelessly to raise her two sons, one of whom appreciated this effort. The other one was Eddie.
Eddie was the teenaged drug dealer that lived across a parking lot from us. One of the biggest chores his mother faced was trying to keep him out of jail. This amounted to a great many late nights of yelling, screaming, and slamming doors. At one point, I showed up the morning after one of these outbursts and helped repair the broken jam after Eddie had stormed off into the night before. It reminded me of something my sister-in-law's father had said to his kids once upon a time: "If you go out the front door and leave it open, just keep going."
But for all those years, Eddie kept coming back. Until one day when he stepped into something just a little deeper than selling a little weed and making his mother and brother's lives miserable. The police came. They took him away. Not just overnight, but for a good long while. That was when his mother and brother packed up and moved. Away. They didn't bother telling Eddie. They were done with him.
Now, some years after that fact, here he was standing in my driveway like we were old friends. My wife came out and gave the same glad appearance of seeing our old friend Eddie. She gave him a hug and later thought how strange that gesture was. Eddie asked about our dog. The dog that he had sneered at just like everything else in our neighborhood. Now he was back for some odd and unsettling victory lap?
Why was he here? What was he up to? I felt bad for having these thoughts even as I got in our car and drove away. When we came home, the driveway was empty. Eddie was gone again. I felt sad for his missing family and for him missing them. If he did. Why else would he have shown up on our doorstep?
Maybe he had nowhere else to go.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Heightened Alert

Law and order. That's what Donald T. Jrump insists this country needs. Or, as he further insists, we will cease to exist as a country. The fear his cheesiness seems to be stoking is anarchy. If Hilary Clinton had her way, people would be opening their boxes of Junior Mints on the wrong end without a care. Is that the America you want to live in? What's next, giving up our streets to Evil Clowns?
Go ahead, laugh if you must, but the folks in Colerain Township aren't. They have had enough. They have decided to nip this terrorist threat in the bud. Those frightening apparitions in big shoes and red noses won't be messing up their high school football games anymore. Last week, a fourteen year old boy was arrested for making clownishly scary threats. A parent, interviewed at Friday's game where there was an increased police presence to foil such anarchic antics said, "One of these days, somebody's going to get hurt." This mother said this standing next to a football field. She  was talking about the delinquents who were making life difficult for people like her by dressing up in rainbow wigs and painting their faces in an attempt to creep out people like her.
Mission accomplished.
Meanwhile, the long arm of the law is doing its part by arresting five students for making clown threats. Colerain Police Chief Mark Denney was proud to announce that his department was able to use clues such as IP addresses to track down these miscreants. That and stepped-up surveillance of vehicles carrying more than twelve passengers. And what are residents of suburban Ohio afraid of, aside from the obvious and inherent creepiness of all clowns? That somebody might overreact and end up shooting a clown, according to the parent who was happy to have law and order restored to the sidelines of that high school football game. Sheriff of Pasco County, Christopher Nacco concurs: "We are warning teens and young adults not to get involved in this fad, of dressing up as clowns to cause fear because eventually someone is going to perceive their actions as a threat and take justice in their own hands." A great big, steaming mug of justice. 
So what do we have to fear? Fear itself and one of those squirting daisies. Terrifying.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Guidance System

The name of the town: Pleasant View. It's in Tennessee. I am sure that there are abundant vistas to take in and enjoy in this town located conveniently between Nashville and Clarsville. And that's just fine, but I think that moving forward, the views will be much more pleasant because of Molly Hudgens.
Ms. Hudgens is a guidance counselor at Sycamore Middle School, and last Wednesday she emphatically lived up to her job title. One of her fourteen year old charges came to her and said that he was planning on shooting a number of teachers and a police officer. Unless she could talk him out of it.
Which is what she did. It took forty-five minutes, but when she was done, the student handed over the loaded semi-automatic handgun to her without a shot being fired. By anyone. The boy was arrested by a school security officer on charges of making threats and possessing a firearm. Again, let me state that Molly Hudgens was not armed. She was able to do her job and kept everyone safe without packing heat. She took the heat out of the situation. The SWAT team didn't have to intercede, and no blood was shed.
Sweat and tears, yes. Blood, no.
I understand how this tends to deflate the version of reality that includes "a good guy with a gun." In this case, a good woman with a heart and mind was able to handle the situation. How incredibly refreshing and affirming. How incredibly brave.
I can remember some years back being in a room with a recalcitrant fifth grader who, according to a variety of reports, was carrying a gun in his backpack. It felt like there was a mile between myself and this boy who might have decided to surrender to the impulses of his neighborhood and take matters of life and death on his own terms. I took my time approaching this kid, because as much as I wanted to believe that I was in no danger, I knew I could be in a heartbeat. When at last I made it across the room and talked him out of his backpack, I was relieved to find a somewhat realistic looking pellet gun that wasn't loaded. It had the physical and psychological weight of a real gun, but the reality that had me dealing with scare and not a true threat was a relief I will never forget.
I like to think of myself as brave for that moment, but I was doing one of my least favorite but most important parts of my job. I suspect that Molly Hudgens would rather talk about the kids she managed to get out of trouble with their grades and on to a college of their choice. Maybe one of them will choose a career in education. Keeping kids safe, from each other and themselves.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Shock Absorber

"Shocked and saddened." These were the words released to the media as the reaction from the mother of a teenage gunman who shot and killed his father and wounded two students and a teacher at a South Carolina elementary school. As a teacher and a parent, I can understand how that might be, but I also wonder if there are words in the English language to describe the aftermath of such an event. Tiffany Osborne gave the statement through a spokesperson as she joined the ever-expanding list of parents of teen killers. I would imagine that the unimaginable grief of such an event would leave me a babbling, gurgling mess, hence the need for a family spokesperson.
Now the rest of the saga will unwind, and the details of the relationships between parents and their teen killer will be examined and reported as if there was a way to make sense of the whole mess. We can expect more shock and sadness as the story is told. "If only" this and "why didn't we" that. We can only move forward with a profound sense of regret. And still we will look for words to describe what cannot be understood.
Terrorism? Sure, in that there was terror involved. On the part of the children who had the misfortune of being such a short distance from the rural home of the Osbornes. All the bad chemicals that exist in a young man's mind that somehow pin together shooting rampage and elementary school will never be comprehended. Just shot your dad? Why not drive on over to where the eight year olds hang out and bust off a cap or two? Not that a shopping center in Washington state makes any more sense. Or a movie theater. Or insert your favorite target-rich environment here.
Would it be a better planet if we could say, "I always expected something like this would happen. This kid was angry and in need of counseling for years. It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that he chose to take a life or two on his way to an institution."
It's those kids, the six year old who will someday be asked if he wants to go back to school, the place where you get to do art and have recess and learn to read and strangers shoot at you. It's the teacher who was doing her job and was probably up to settling a playground scuffle, but forgot to pack the Kevlar vest on the day the nut-job showed up.
Feel free to count the minutes before some clever ape announces once again that something like this never would have happened if teachers had been armed. Shocked and saddened, indeed.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

How To Be A Millionaire And Never Pay Taxes

You.. can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You say.. "Dave.. how can I be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes?" First.. get a million dollars. Now.. you say, "Dave.. what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, 'You.. have never paid taxes'?" Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: "I forgot!" How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don't say "I forgot"? Let's say you're on trial for armed robbery. You say to the judge, "I forgot armed robbery was illegal." Let's suppose he says back to you, "You have committed a foul crime. you have stolen hundreds and thousands of dollars from people at random, and you say, 'I forgot'?" Two simple words: Excuuuuuseme!!"
Thank you, Steve Martin.
Now, another camp: Why have you never paid taxes, Mister Billionaire? "Because I'm smart." Gales of derisive laughter ensue. Yes, Mister and Missus Electorate, one of our major party candidates would like you to know that part of being a success in this world is learning to bypass the rules. And not just the ones about using a private email server that your husband just happened to have lying around in the basement. Mister Troump would like us all to know that, out of the harsh glare of the lights and cameras of a nationally televised debate, of course he has paid federal income tax. What sort of crummy American would he be if he didn't pay his fair share?
Judging by his own litmus, a dumb one.
What is the actual real nitty gritty bare bones truth of the matter? Hard to say, since he has been most reticent when it comes to giving up his tax returns. This hasn't kept him from going on and on about his own vast fortune, but if you were curious just how much it costs to keep galloping about the globe putting big capital T's on things, we might never get the answer. We, who will be making our choice in the matter of Clinton v. Traemp in the ever-so-close future, will be the ones to decide just how smart all of this mishegas turns out to be. I suppose if you were auditioning to be the owner of a new hotel and casino, that might be an admirable bit of chicanery. Instead, we have a Cheeto, baked to a delicate crunch, announcing to his potential supporters that he has never paid taxes. 
Is that really smart?

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Odd Request

"You gotta cigarette?"
It wasn't the first time I had been asked, but since I have done a lot of silly things to my body and stll never managed to work smoking cigarettes into that list, I could answer easily: "No."
That's when the circumstances of this particular request began to stack up on me. The woman who asked me seemed a little put out by my answer, even though it was just past six in the morning. It was still dark out. I was also riding past on my bicycle, which might have made for an easy inference that I wouldn't be indulging in that vice if only for the duration of my ride. It occurred to me just how fierce this addiction must be to be asking what seemed like a ridiculous question.
At seven dollars for a pack of twenty, that makes each one of those coffin nails worth thirty-five cents. I am not above that kind of charity, but since it comes with that unique back end of being a cause for cancer, I really don't know if I would be helping anyone out by giving them a cigarette. That's part of the reason why there are all those taxes on cigarettes, partly to make them so expensive that anyone in their right mind would never choose to start smoking. And maybe, anyone who had already started smoking would stop because it was just too darn expensive. In the meantime, all that tax revenue can go toward curing the health damages wreaked on lungs and gums and tongues via all that smoke.
Did you worry about Philip Morris going out of business? Don't. They're fine. Which made me wonder about this Soda Tax that we are about to vote on here in Oakland. If I had to pay a penny an ounce more for a bottle or can of Coca-Cola, would I keep drinking it? I might, if I hadn't already given it up for other medical reasons, but it sure does have my soda-swilling son up in arms. The days of cannon-balling twenty ounce bottles of Coke may be coming to an end, or at least they will become less frequent. The level of high-fructose corn syrup may go down as a simple act of economics, if not common sense.
Would I feel the same way if a few kidney stones hadn't put the kibosh on my soda intake at the beginning of this year? Do I really need big government getting in the way of my sugary drink consumption? Will I be riding to work next fall and hear someone call out of the shadows, "Hey, can I bum a can of Pepsi?"