Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Give Me A Break

A fifth grade teacher at my school was sharing with me one of his student's feelings about homework. Would you care to guess what those feelings were? Time's up. "Why do you have to give us all this homework?" he cried. "I got homework in first grade. A lot of it. I got homework in second grade. Even more in third grade. And fourth and now fifth grade? When will it end?"

My colleague and I agreed that this was a world class rant that was a voice crying out in the wilderness, but a very calm and assured one nonetheless. How did he answer his young charge? By doing what grownups have been doing for eons. He told him that life was unfair and that he would have to get used to that. And getting more homework for the next six to twelve years was proof of just that.

When I was a fourth grade teacher, a "real" teacher as some of my fellow educators like to suggest, I gave homework to my students. I was pretty cool, I thought, because I didn't assign homework over the weekend. Looking back, I don't think the kids shared my feelings. They would have been just as happy to walk out of those doors at three o'clock with nothing but good thoughts in their heads and nothing but anticipation of the afternoon's play in their backpacks. Instead of the workbook pages and reading logs and math worksheets and whatever else I could dream up to torture them.

Or maybe I was building and sculpting young minds. I told parents that the homework that I gave them should never take them more than half an hour to complete, and if it did, they should call me and I would be happy to help. I was, I explained to them, their teacher. They were the parents. It was not their job to teach them. Homework was for practice. Kids would be repeating things at home just to keep their heads in the game so we wouldn't have to start all over the next morning.

I felt good about this because I knew that periodically I was taking work home with me. To grade. To prepare for the next day. The next week. Report cards can't be filled out over the course of your average school day. If I could stuff all that paper in my backpack and spend half an hour, or more, each night, then so could they.

Somewhere in there I had a reckoning. I began to see the lives, those afternoons, through the eyes of the kids. Those little reminders of what we were doing that day in class were burdensome luggage for them. I cannot say that as a classroom teacher that I ever had a kid show up with his homework complete after having some revelation: "Oh, now I get it!"

Meanwhile, grownups continue to drag their work home. Not in the form of worksheets or penmanship practice, just stuff that didn't get done. When the bell rings, we stick around and get it done. Or we show up early the next morning to get ready. Homework? I get it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


There is a meme floating around, on Al Gore's Internet, on signs found stuck into lawns across America. It reads, among other things: Science Is Real. It is the response to the suggestion that climate change is a myth, or a conspiracy. I have spent a good many words and lines right here making that same assertion. Science is real. Science is a foundation upon which we build our reality. That's what I will tell anyone who listens. Or reads.

Or thinks.

I also like to trot out that old chestnut from Arthur C. Clarke now and again: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This makes me feel very smart. And smug. Until just a little while ago when I realized that I have been quoting a science fiction author to explain the way science rules everything. Always. I have been quoting a science fiction author without ever mentioning that other half. The fiction. The guy who has been telling us for years that interplanetary travel is possible. And great big obsidian slabs mark the path to mankind's destiny. That didn't happen in 2001. Instead, there were these airplanes that flew into some buildings in New York City and we stopped going into space to fight among ourselves. Guys who make electric cars and used to run a record company have been left to figure out how we will reach the stars. 

Which doesn't mean science has stopped, exactly. We still get a new iPhone ever year or so. And the magic of having an app that will allow you to yell at a machine that will turn on your lights without having to flick a switch is not wasted on those who choose to believe. And all this time, I had neglected Arthur C. Clarke's other two laws. What, there were three? "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, they are almost certainly right. When they state that something is impossible, they are very probably wrong," Oh. And "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible." 

Maybe what Mister Clarke has been defending all these years wasn't science after all. Maybe it was magic he was talking about. When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. Not a lot of people are wishing for a solution for greenhouse gasses. At least not as many as those wishing for a new iPhone. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Where Is Monty Hall When We Need Him?

A lot of people on my side of the fence were less than pleased when Democratic leadership "caved" on the government shutdown and allowed the thing to start back up. They did this without getting an agreement on DACA. They could have held out for days, weeks even. Instead, they took what many felt was the coward's way out. They got in line and passed an interim spending bill to keep the lights on and checks going out to military families and social security payments. It will also keep the snowmobiles away from Old Faithful in Yellowstone.

While everyone over here was proud and happy to refer to that weekend as the #Trumpshutdown, there are plenty of folks on the other side happy to laugh and point at the #Schumersurrender. It's a ridiculously macho thing. A staredown. A competition. A contest. Winners and losers. Members of Congress got paid, maybe because some of them stuck around and tried to work over that weekend when the government was shut down. None of them were deported.

Meanwhile, DACA recipients and Dreamers numbering in the hundreds of thousands waited for an answer to their questions: When will I be deported? Will I be deported? Why are we being used as pawns in this process? All of which were met with deafening silence. The government started up again and still no answers were forthcoming.

So after all that brinkmanship, the actual negotiations continued. Yes, there was that schadenfreude moment when the "President" missed his Inauguration Anniversary party, reminding us all about the questions surrounding the attendance at his actual inauguration. But what about those bargaining chips? Those men, women and children who were hoping for a chance to become citizens of this great country.

Well, it turns out that the "President" has settled down a little since having to stay home from his soiree. He's now reportedly willing to offer citizenship to nearly two million Dreamers IF he gets a twenty-five billion dollar trust fund set aside for his pet project, The Wall. Which is confounding in itself, since the "President" has repeatedly insisted that Mexico would pay for the construction of this edifice. Twenty-five billion dollars is a huge IF. Confounding again because The actual cost of building something like this varies wildly and by political party. Are we about to put a price tag on the Dreamers, and if so, is twenty-five billion dollars a good deal? That works out to about seventeen thousand five hundred dollars a dream. Turns out that maybe it's not such a bad deal after all.

Sunday, January 28, 2018


If I had it to do over again, I might think more about the classes I chose to take in seventh grade. Back then, I was pretty sure that I was going to be an artist. A visual artist. I didn't think about living in a house. I was pretty sure that the folks at Disney Studios would take care of that for me once I was in their employ. So I never took wood shop. I met the requirements, but I was so focused on my sensibilities that I didn't use my common sense. Do I wish now that I would have picked up a semester learning about power tools and how to use them safely? My wife would tell you that this might have saved us a few hundred dollars having to replace machines that would not bend to my will, when I ended up bending them.

Then there was this other choice: foreign language. There were two sections of seventh grade Spanish, since it was to that my peers flocked. Word was out that Spanish was easier than French and Everybody was going to take Spanish. Except me and the nerds who signed up for German because we had heard that it was the hardest of the three languages being taught at Centennial Junior High. Grammar rules that required a manual thicker than a Manhattan phone book and words that stretched on and on in some of the most amusing ways that they served as a distraction to the challenge of keeping their spelling straight. The benefit I took away from all those hours of studying the dative and the nominative and the accusative allowed me to understand the Nazi dialogue in World War Two movies without resorting to the subtitles.

That, and I am still burdened by the following dialogue:

Tag, Anna. Wie gehts?

Gut, und du?

Auch gut.

Three lines that are etched in my brain more than forty years later, while I struggle to piece together the questions asked me by the parents of my students who hail from Guatemala, not Stuttgart. Add to this the shame of knowing that I spent a year in the Centennial language lab with headphones on, repeating the phrase, "hören sie gut zu, sprechen sie nicht nach," which translates to "listen well, do not repeat after."

My older brother, who took industrial arts and Spanish, can still sing Centennial's fight song. In Spanish. I buy replacement tools and hope I can find someone to translate.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

And The Beat Goes On

I have been so busy recounting the Twitter feed of our nation's chief executive that I have not been keeping up with one of the regular features of this blog: School Shootings. January 23 was a bad day in Benton, Kentucky. Two fifteen year old high school students were killed and eighteen more were injured. This was the eleventh shooting on school property since the beginning of the calendar year, and the fiftieth for the academic year. Some quick math suggests that we are currently logging such incidents at a rate of more than two a week.

Let me say that I have not been reading all the comments on these deadly moments in otherwise normal school days. I can imagine that a quick dip of my metaphorical toe into the rhetoric being tossed around would include the suggestion that if only there had been someone there to shoot back, things would have been different.

Things might have been different in Italy, Texas the day before if someone had shot the boy who ended up shooting the girl who ended up being airlifted to the hospital with a gunshot wound. School cafeterias tend to be pretty chaotic scenes on the best days, so I wonder what sort of marksman it would take to get off a shot without hurting any innocent bystanders. It would seem just as likely that armed bystanders would end up being part of the problem.

Which is why having gun-free zones seems like such a simple suggestion. Try to keep the flying bullets away from the place where the children are. Not a lot to ask of a civilized society. A civilized society with more than one gun for every person in the country? Maybe those terms are mutually exclusive. Expecting there to be a place where children would be free to concentrate on education and not finding cover doesn't seem like a lofty goal, but it's one that continues to plague us.

In elementary school, I have discussions with kids that go something like this:

"Why did you hit him?"

"'Cause he hit me."

"Why didn't you tell the teacher?"

"My mom told me that if anyone hit me that I should hit back."

If you exchange the verb "hit" to "shoot," you get the message being set over and over again to our kids. To adults. To America. Stop hitting.

Thus endeth  the lesson.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Nothing Golden Stays

"This Bud's for anyone whoever went to school, had a job or has a neck." That was how Robert Klein once described the pervasiveness of that distinctive red, white and blue labeled brew. His point, at the time, was that you could not sneeze in America without toppling over a Budweiser display. The majority of the litter at Iron Eye Cody's feet were crumpled cans of Bud. I lived up the street from one of our region's major consumers of that amber swill. This was a dad who kept cases of the stuff stacked in his garage, and as we grew older, we knew that if we were going to abscond with a six pack for the weekend, we knew where to go. It would never be missed.

My own tastes strayed from that baseline. Though I was born and raised in Colorado, I eschewed that state's "Kool-Aid," Coors. Instead, I went with the champagne of beers: Miller. It did not occur to me just how confused that particular comparison was all the time I was choking it down. Nor did I consider that the subtitle of this beer was "High Life," since that was what I was living for a good portion of the time I was pouring it down my neck. Mostly because taste was never really the point upon which I was fixated. It was a slow and steady march to the abyss of post-adolescent drunk. So unconcerned was I with the brewing process and all that rot, I switched to Miller Lite, nicknamed "the poorly spelled light beer from Miller." Plenty of my fellow beer drinkers were quick to point out that Michelob was superior in so many ways, but my response was that it was Miller Lite that pioneered the Briefcase Full of Booze, the case with a handle. Mine was a mission of quantity, not quality.

And all the while, Budweiser tankers were steaming across the globe, pumping their version of beer into any waiting mouth. That red white and blue label was the sign that might as well have read "America," and for the summer of 2016, it did. But that didn't mean that it was forever. This year, Miller Lite has become the number one selling beer in America, while Budweiser slipped all the way to number four. How did this happen? If I were still drinking, you might suspect that I had something to do with this. Since I retired some years back, I have noticed that the talk of craft brewing and hops and aging process has moved to the forefront. Millennials seem to be fixated on the way their beer is made and how it tastes. Brewing in shipping containers to speed the process of consumption seems no longer to be the biggest concern. People seem to be enjoying beer's flavor rather than the effects that accompany that flavor. I always assumed that I wasn't going to be tasting much after that fourth one anyway, so why bother?

Times change, but I confess I am a little chagrined to suddenly find myself somehow aligned with the number one beer in the country. Nearly thirty years after I stopped drinking it.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Splice Of Life

If you're looking for a Russia connection, here it is: this week would have been Sergei Eisenstein's one hundred twentieth birthday. If you never managed to find time in your collegiate experience to squeeze in a film study class, that name may not sound familiar to you. If you did, then you probably recognize Sergei as the father of montage. If you didn't, then you are still scratching your head waiting for some quick explanation for montage.

Ready? Here goes: Montage is the collecting and ordering of shots of film that are then spliced together to create a more meaningful projection. It is something we take for granted these days, since we have lived a life being bombarded by edits that come at us in a blur. In the 1980s there was a second revolution, of sorts, brought about with the advent of MTV. Instead of watching one steady image of someone doing one thing, we were treated to a buzzsaw flurry of pictures that may or may not have anything to do with what we thought we were watching. Sequences were fast and furious, meant to trick our brains into being entertained or excited.

That's not exactly what Eisenstein was about. His idea was to put images together that would create the most psychological impact. He wrote that there were five different forms of montage: metric, rhythmic, tonal, overtonal, and intellectual. If you are interested in finding out what all that means, I encourage you to read the books that Sergei wrote himself rather than relying on my undergraduate understanding. The most important thing to take away from all this is that he discovered that you could assign meaning to a series of pictures just by putting them in a particular order.

And now I will give you the Eisenstein short course that will allow you to appear clever at parties. In 1925, he made a film called Battleship Potemkin. If you must know, the story concerns a mutiny that occurred twenty years before that on a Russian ship, where the officers were overrun by their crew. It was made as an allegory to the 1917 revolution in Russia. It was then and continues to be a proud piece of propaganda. But the takeaway you need to appear clever is this: The Odessa Steps Sequence. Any time you see a baby carriage, or a broken pair of glasses, or stairs, you can claim that whatever film or television show you are watching was made by communists. Or communist sympathizers. Or film students. And you get big cocktail party points for recognizing it. Without any collusion.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


When there were three of us living in this house together, the place just wasn't big enough for our little family. We were, as my mother used to say, always underfoot. We eventually moved to separate zones, one on each end, and somebody in the middle when we needed our alone times. That didn't mean that we were ever truly alone. We could holler at one another when it was time for dinner, or when it was time to pile into the car. So there we were, back in yet another family-sized space.

Across the street, there was another family, living out their lives in what could also be described as a family-sized place. The square footage was not all that different from ours. They did have an upstairs. They had a back yard, as we did. They had a few more people living in their house. About nine more.

I say about because there was always a stray or two who found their way inside when the rest of the herd finally came inside for the night. Friends or neighbors who needed a roof over their heads, even a roof that was in need of repair. And a floor. There was a beam underneath that was broken and made the linoleum sag. With every pitter-patter of each little foot, that house got a little bit closer to being unsafe. It wasn't just the floor. There were plenty of exposed this and sunken that. Nine kids, two adults and special guest stars lived and worked and played in that space, spilling out into the street so as not to be caught underfoot. That meant that, on occasion, bedtimes were scattered or ignored completely. While we struggled to maintain our little triumvirate, across the street they were courting anarchy—with a dash of the Waltons stirred in for good measure.

Somewhere in there, about ten years ago, the family across the street moved out of that house. Some of them had grown and left for more spacious environs. One of the daughters moved in with her boyfriend just up the street. Every so often we hear stories of one of the siblings. Mom and dad have since split up. And the house that was a rental all these years is now up for sale. My wife and I peeked through the newly installed living room windows ahead of the Open House. Inside, things had been staged with throw rugs, new light fixtures and a dining room set. For four. I expect the beam had been replaced, and even if it hadn't, the traffic created by four would be just a third of what it had once been. Underfoot.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Recently, there was a wave of frustration that swept through our community. It was based on the fifteen million dollars of budget cuts that our school district needed to make in order to catch up to a shortfall created by the previous superintendent. The initial focus was on those responsible, but that did not generate a lot of satisfaction. Those to blame had already moved on to a new school district with budgets of their own to mismanage.

And now there is a petition circulating to get all those school libraries that have been closed open again. A local news channel did an "investigative report" on the state of school libraries in the district, and they discovered that thirty percent of those school libraries have been closed because the district could not afford to staff them. Dirty little secret, right?

Well, not exactly. The library at our school has lacked a librarian for most of the years that I have worked here, and that was a result of budget priorities set more than a dozen years ago. Our library is not closed as much as it is unused. As a library anyway. It has been used for all manner of parent education, staff training and meetings, and daycare for those parents who are attending our English as a Second Language classes. It also gets a good deal of use as a quiet testing center or a place to take small groups to practice reading. There are a lot of books in there, after all. At different points throughout recent history, we have been able to check books out to students when we have been able to find time to train teachers how and to create a schedule that allows kids a chance to come and browse as well as read, and still manage to get all those state-mandated minutes of instruction in, while keeping that schedule equitable for all grades and classrooms.

On top of this, stack the leveled libraries that are found in each classroom, as well as the walking field trips to the public library just a few blocks away, and we discover that access to books is not the core issue. The way we provide access has evolved. I treasure the time I spent wandering the stacks of my elementary school library, and the comforting presence of Ms. Benson, the lady I could trust more than the Dewey Decimal System. She knew where to find Curious George and that book on World War Two. It was her job. It was her joy.

Some fifty years later, when we are regularly reminded that print is dying as we glance up from our smart phones long enough to acknowledge it, we are being urged to open and staff all the school libraries in our district. Petitioned. Nowhere in the petition is there a discussion of how to fund this measure, but it has been suggested that five million dollars from another measure that requires class size reduction be used to pay for this. Without a suggestion as to how that missing five million dollars might impact class size.

Would I like to have a librarian at my school? Yes. Would I like to have kids visiting our school library and creating their own love of books? Yes. I would also prefer not to have to do an annual contortion based on the trickle of funds that find their way to public education. It makes the district and those who work there look guilty of keeping libraries closed. Priorities change and choices have to be made. Sometimes right in the middle of a school year.

Maybe we can agree to hold a bake sale the next time we need a new aircraft carrier or a Wall someplace. Then maybe we can afford to open the door to the library.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Thinking About It

My mother in law was admonished by her parents not to speak her native language when she went out in public. This was in attempt to mask their heritage. "Only English," they were scolded, as they headed out into the world that was mid-twentieth-century Detroit. My mother-in-law is eighty years old and she can remember the fear of feeling different, being the xeno in the phobe was not the way to school.

Years before, there was an American family named the Joads. They left their home and moved to what they heard was a land of plenty: California. They knew that the rest of the country frowned on these Okies, and worried that they would be chased out or worse if they didn't do their menial labor and move on without a fuss. The milk and honey from this land was not meant for them. Their eldest son, Tom, had been thinking about this. Here's what he had to say: "Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too."

Back here in the twenty-first century, I remember sitting with my little family at a hotel coffee shop as we prepared to make yet another trek to the Happiest Place On Earth. We were up moderately early so we could avoid the lines and maximize our fun. Looking out the window into one of the few remaining open plots of land in Orange County, we watched as a group of men and women ran back and forth, down lanes of strawberry bushes with cartons, filling them up, and racing them back. They ran both ways. The sun was still rising, and it was obvious that they were rushing to get as much work done as they could before it was high above them. I knew none of these families would be joining us at Disneyland. I thought about the fruit they were harvesting and went back to staring at the table, just a few blocks from that happiest place. 

I got an email from our school district's superintendent, reminding us of our rights and responsibilities as employees of a Sanctuary District. We were warned of a potential ICE sweep in the coming weeks, and what we could do to protect our students and their families from being rounded up because of their race, creed, religion or skin color. 

And so, like Tom Joad, I've been thinking about it. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Year One

Notes from the field:
Happily, the wi-fi is still working, and I am able to warm myself by the glow from the screen of my laptop. Presently, the federal government has been shuttered for fifteen hours. There are ominous signs, mostly being carried by angry women and men who had planned to march in the streets a year after the inauguration of this "President." The shutdown was kind of a bonus agitation tossed in on top of three hundred sixty-five days of fear, racism and futility. Like a great big advent calendar where behind each door was something obnoxious and vile. What will happens when night falls?
In Mar-a-Lago, they're stacking the chairs that were supposed to be filled with the fat bottoms of well-heeled investors in the campaign to elect the spokesperson for Trump Steaks. Some have begun looking for flights out. Others have begun to eat their young. It's obvious now that this crowd wasn't in it for the long haul. They expected the tax cuts to be all they needed to control the country from remote control for the next dozen years.
Now it doesn't appear as likely. A forgotten component in this equation has shown up to make things more difficult for the oligarchy: The people. It turns out that the American people, many of whom were fooled into believing that this amber reptile was going to lead us out of lethargy but has instead found a way to continue to line his own pockets while ignoring the sounds of those crying in the streets.
That's us. From the journalists who continue to report the bizarre goings-on because it is really happening to the factory workers who are losing their jobs even though their "President" promised to save them, the fight goes on. And on. There will still be a party overlooking the golf course in south Florida, but the guest of honor is stuck at work. At a job for which he is uniquely unqualified to do. At a time when the world could really use some competent leadership, we have an aging, Diet Coke swilling geriatric playboy who seems most interested in making America into some dystopian wasteland that he calls "Great." As the planet teeters on the brink of chaos in so many forms, the true art of making a deal seems lost on this casino owner. He is playing with house money: ours. And he doesn't have the cards. What should he do?
For this story to have a happy ending, we need to remember that this is just one man. A man who found a way into the Oval Office by losing the popular vote. If there were another election today, those results would be much different, and he would be back behind the desk of his real estate company, dealing with the mess that he left. That day will come. Soon. Hopefully there will still be an earth we can reclaim. It will take all of us. The people.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Answering A Question With A Question

I am not sure if it makes me feel any better, but a familiarity with the works of Lewis Carroll helps me to track the logic of the Trump White House. Let's take, for example, the dismissal by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders of the suggestion that our "President" might be racist. “I think that is an outrageous claim,” Sanders told reporters on Tuesday, adding that if he was who critics said he was, “why did NBC give him a show for a decade on TV? Why did Chuck Schumer and all of his colleagues come and beg Donald Trump for money? …Why did they want to be with him for years and years, whether it was various activities and fundraisers, and other sorts of things?”
Why indeed, Sarah.
In the history of show business, which is the milieu to which Ms. Huckabee Sanders was referring, there have been a number of aberrant personalities have held positions of responsibility and even stardom in places where their quirks and ugly behavior were tolerated in exchange for ratings. Or ticket sales. Or publicity for publicity's sake. P.T. Barnum, acclaimed by many as The World's Greatest Showman, once said,  “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”  He is also the guy who gave us the assertion that there is a sucker born every minute. 
And that would be the answer I would give the White House Secretary, whose job is to answer questions, not to ask them. It's that kind of squirrely logic that runs rampant in and around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days. Like kicking a reporter out of the Oval Office because the "President" did not like the tenor of the questions being asked, on immigration: “Just Caucasian or white countries, sir? Or do you want people to come in from other parts of the world… people of color?”
All of which is why, sitting in a movie theater last weekend watching The Post, the crowd around me murmured and chuckled knowingly at the attacks by the Nixon administration on the press. How does this keep happening? Maybe I should ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Name Calling And Finger Pointing

There is an art, I am told, to The Deal. Negotiations are often times very tricky, and having a strategy moving ahead is vital. This is what you get when you think ahead. Sometimes you have to get in the head of the other side, just to get a sense of what you're up against.
Or you could stick out your lower lip and pout: "No one is going to play if I don't get my way. Now."
Let's take a look at how things are progressing currently for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Democrats are for it. Republicans are, mostly, against it. Especially the "President," who insists that if this program were to continue he would have to get everyone to promise that his Wall would be built. The Wall that would keep immigrants from coming across the border because that's what walls do. Never mind the Wile E. Coyote-ness of the "President's" plan, that's just his vision of how to make America Great Again. Create an air-tight seal to keep the freshness in and the drugs out.
Since playing his cards, the "President" has doubled down on his rhetoric more than once, particularly when he wished for more Norwegians to come to our shores, yearning to breathe free, and fewer huddled masses from those countries he described (by his own admission) with "tough language." These were countries whose people would not pass the lily white litmus test that seems to be required for the comfort of our "President." Some, including myself, have found his responses to the world around him racist. 
Limping to his defense is Senator Rand Paul, from Kentucky. ″You can’t have an immigration compromise if everybody’s out there calling the president a racist,” Paul said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday. “They’re actually destroying the setting in which anything meaningful can happen on immigration.”
Destroying the setting? Did I miss something? By pointing out the way our "President," who just happens to be named after one of the world's foremost ducks, walks, talks, acts and drinks a lot of Diet Coke just like a duck, we are "destroying the setting?" Profuse apologies, but I don't think that there was really a deal in the air to begin with, but now it's our fault for not being more polite. Well excuse me
On second thought, I think I will hold my breath until I turn blue. Or we get a DACA agreement. So there. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Product

So here I am: Middle Age. Well, I didn't just arrive. I have been here for some time and I don't really mind, except for that whole "middle" part that  reminds me that the end comes on the other side of that. Somewhere. Which is okay too, since the idea of spending eternity wandering around looking at everyone I know getting older and slower makes me feel just a little more old and a little more slow myself.
And it occurred to me just the other day in the midst of all this middle that I am a product of all my previous relationships. I am very fortunate that I have had a box full of happy and nurturing relationships, starting at home when I was in my Beginning Age. More days than I can count, when I came home from elementary school, my mom sat down at the kitchen table when I came home and over a glass of Kool-Aid we talked about my day. When my father came home later in the evening, we would all sit around that same table and have dinner. Together.
What a surreal bit of suburbia that seems now. The five of us, mom and dad and my brothers and I, eating a casserole my mother had made from scratch while the dog waited with limited patience for his dinner. Up and down the street where I lived, the same thing was happening in my friends' homes. We moved through the day as a group, dads pulling out of the driveways in their race to the office, kids piling out the door on their way to the neighborhood school. Moms were at home, doing the things that moms did to make that cycle continue.
It wasn't until I got to junior high school that encountered children of divorce. It made me uncomfortable to think about these kids who were going home to kitchen tables without dads. They were spending weekends at their dads' kitchen tables. Some of these kids started making their way home with me. We would have a snack in the kitchen with my mom. Homemade cookies. Or maybe some of that chocolate cake. For a few minutes, they were living that dream with me.
When I moved out to go to college, I left the home I had known for my entire life. There was a store room full of boxes filled with my childhood. It was there for safekeeping. I went off into my twenties with the comfort of that kitchen table in my heart.
When my parents split up, I was already on my way to Middle Age. I graduated from college. I came home from California with my fiancee. We had those celebrations around that kitchen table. My brothers had wives. My niece was there. At grandma's house. That's where she learned to bake cookies.
Now I have my own kitchen table. It's where the cookies I bake sit while they cool. It's in the house where my son was born. Where he brought his friends. For a snack. The dream continues.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Trouble In Paradise

I remember my first few hours in Hawaii. My wife and I checked into our hotel, went up to our room where I collapsed on the bed. After a moment, I reached over and grabbed the TV remote. As soon as the television blinked to life, I saw the swirling opening credits of Hawaii Five-O. Jack Lord. James MacArthur. And Kam Fong as Chin Ho. I truly was in Paradise.
Eventually, we did go out into the lush tropical scenery afforded by our visit to the island. Our first stop was a record store where we purchased a fistful of cheap cassettes for playing in our rental car. Another wave of joy washed over me as we drove along the Pali Coast with the Trashmen roaring out of our speakers. What was the word? Surfin' Bird.
All around me were the mountains rising up out of the  jungle, behind which I was sure to find King Kong. Or the gates to Jurassic Park. At this moment, I was as far away from home as I had ever been, but I didn't feel nervous or worried. Somehow I had found myself in a place that brought me familiarity and comfort. This allowed me to do something that normally I would have found difficult if not impossible: I spent three days in a bed and breakfast. I am pretty solidly a motel guy. Give me my room key and a map to where the ice machine is and I'm fine. Contact with other humans should be limited to the desk clerk and with whomever I happen to be bunking. Yet, there I was, relaxing into both bed and breakfast in the middle of the Pacific. And we drove around the island with surf music looking for shaved ice, eventually finding ourselves on a beach. We swam in the ocean and watched the waves wash the sand. It was that sound that eventually lulled me to sleep there on my towel. For one of the very few times in my adult life, I took a nap.
Later that evening, after we had returned to our B&B for a shower and a change  of clothes, my bride and I went out for dinner. As I sat there, waiting for our waiter to return with our entrees, I absently tapped my left hand on the glass tabletop. It took just a moment for me to recognize something was wrong: the reassuring click of my wedding ring. I stared down at my ring finger: It was gone. For the first time since we arrived, I felt a chill.
Somewhere during that idyllic afternoon my wedding ring had slipped off. A combination of sunscreen, sand and surf took it away. My very patient wife went back to that beach with me in the dark and made the vain attempt of a search.
In a different version of this story, that would have been the vacation killer. But that didn't happen. My wife found me a replacement ring from a local vendor. With scalloped waves etched in black, it reminded us of where the original had gone to sleep with the fishes.
All of this is why I was so devastated when I heard that Hawaii had been destroyed in a missile attack over the weekend. Or not.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Our "President" says that the reason he has decided not to go to London is not because he is so universally disliked outside of his own country, but rather this: "Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for 'peanuts,' only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!" Never mind that the deal to move the embassy was made months before Barack Obama took office. Never mind that there are certain duties that heads of state attend and put themselves through in order to preserve a modicum of what we used to call decorum. Like those funerals for deceased heads of other nations. So somber and depressing, with very little time for golf.
Our "President" has been defending his "tough talk" about other countries while discussing immigration policy. Senator Dianne Feinstein has suggested that if our "President" can't stop being racist, that he has to go. I suggested at the time that if a seventy-one year old man is capable of spouting such bile that the likelihood of his turning over a new leaf in the last chapter of his life would be something even Charles Dickens wouldn't write.
And here is the kicker: There are still millions of Americans who proudly stand behind this man. Back him up. They don't even bother making excuses for him because he represents their own thoughts and ideals. Never mind the hate and fear, since that is fuel for the fire that burns within them. What seems forever ago, Michelle Obama suggested that whenever "they go low, we go high." In this game of ideological limbo, we seem to plumb new depths each day with our current "President." As long as there are people who are willing to say, "Yeah, but he's got a point," then we will be lost in a vortex of lower than low expectations.
When will the bright light of reality fall on the man behind the curtain? It already has, while his supporters continue to blame the light. It's not the light that is to blame, it's the corpulent, wispy-haired cockroach that doesn't even bother scurrying to the baseboards when it shines on him. He just looks back over his shoulder and growls something about "Where's the Diet Coke?" Again, this is not a story by Franz Kafka. This was a cockroach when he was elected and he will be a cockroach when he leaves office. My apologies to our former First Lady for my inability to keep going high. But I'm still miles above that cockroach.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Note Home

The question I ask kids at my school is this: "What happens when you talk like that at home?" It is hopefully a thought-provoking variant on the more rhetorical, "Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" It is my wish that, upon reflection, the kid in question will realize that the hurling of expletives on a playground is wrong on so very many levels. Sometimes the conversation turns this way, "You have such a great vocabulary, why not find some other way to describe how you feel?" Other times it is more direct: "If your mom would whup you, then you probably don't want me to tell her that you were using that kind of language at school."
This tends to bring about the desired result, at least for a little while. The fact of the matter is that once exposed to more colorful language, it is difficult to get kids to let go of the ones that raise eyebrows and blood pressures on grown ups, as well as the shock and awe of their peers. On our playground, I don't have to break up many fights, but I do have to check out bad words. It's part of the gig. "Billy said the B word," spurs me on into the fray. I have to find Billy among the churning mass of children, and once he has been located, I have to engage him in an interaction that goes something like this: "Billy, please use respectful language."
"I didn't do nothin'."
"Sally and Alice said you were saying bad words. Please stop."
"They're lying! I didn't say the B word."
"What happens when you talk like that at home?"
Depending on the shame factor, this can be the end of the conversation. Or it can go on and on until one of us tires of the tug of war. If it doesn't, there's always the quick version which takes place on the sidewalk in front of the school after the bell rings. "Hi, Billy's Mom. Billy had a little trouble today remembering to use respectful language." And then things get taken care of at home, where it really should have in the first place.
Our "President" has been accused of using vulgar language to describe African countries and Haiti while expressing his desire to limit immigration from these places. Invited members of Congress who were at the meeting where these comments took place relayed this experience to the press, which set off a flurry of denials and defenses, including the "President's" assertion that he used "tough" language, but not the terms reported by witnesses.
If only I could wait out on the sidewalk to talk to his mother.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


What my girlfriend did not know was how long I had already endured being punched in that particular shoulder. This was the shoulder that had borne the brunt of three years of junior high school. Three years of junior high school during which I occupied one of the lower rungs on the social ladder. That meant that my right shoulder was regularly made an open target for those who occupied a higher rung on that ladder to punch.
I had taken a lesson from my parents and internalized it: "If you ignore them, they will go away." I believed this with all my heart, because I could not believe that I would be interesting prey if I just sat there and took it. In the lunch room. In the classroom. On the way into school. On the way home. Sometimes I was clever enough to switch it up, and offer my left side for the ritual abuse that was dispensed by my fellow students, but there was a telltale sign, that expanding bruise that lived there for nine months out of the year. Fist sized and purple.
Why? It was explained to me that it was because I flinched. This was probably true the first sixty-four times it happened. Acting out of self-preservation, I flinched when I say some kid's meaty paw swinging at me. By reacting in the slightest, I was told that the penalty would be "two for flinching." These two were punches delivered with laser accuracy to that same spot on my right arm that would eventually become a badge of honor that I wore for the duration. Soon it became very apparent that it didn't matter what I did, I was still going to get zapped just for being on the path from the popular table to the lunch line. I wasn't flinching anymore. I was just counting the days until these brutal ninnies were driven out by some avenging horde of righteous defenders or they simply turned inside out under the weight of their black souls.
That never happened. What did happen was I moved on to high school where I found an oasis of sorts called the band room. I could eat lunch there undisturbed, amused and amusing those around me without fear of flinching. And when I became a senior, I even found a girlfriend. We would go out on dates. I drove her everywhere in my car. And it was wonderful.
Except for padiddle. Somewhere in the first month of our courtship, we were driving somewhere in the evening, and she shouts "padiddle!" Confused, I sat there behind the wheel, and became even more confused when she reached out and punched me in the shoulder. The right shoulder. She seemed shocked and amazed that I did not already understand the rules and consequences of this ritual. Apparently, if one spies a car with one headlight, you were supposed to shout this nonsense word, "padiddle." In her version of this game, if the girl in this equation was the first to spot the one eyed monster, they were encouraged to pop their boyfriend on the shoulder. "What if I see it first?" I asked, rubbing my once and future bruise.
"Then you get to kiss me."
So in the spell of young love and believing I had a chance in this game, as the designated driver who was busy watching all forms of traffic and not the cars everywhere around us, that I let this game go on. And on. And on. It wasn't until years had passed that I heard legends and stories of all manner of variations on these rules. Specifically versions in which no physical torment was involved.
I don't play either game anymore. My shoulder has healed nicely, thank you. And very little in this crazy world makes me flinch.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Collection Plate

In the past few years I have become somewhat callous in my ability to click the delete button when I see emails from the Democratic National Committee. I gave money, once upon a time, and put my email address down as part of the process, only to discover that mark will never be erased from the tablets of history. Ever. This is not to say that I have grown tired of the Democratic Party, necessarily. I still contribute to races and at moments when I feel the cause is immediate and I can make a difference with the cash I can spare. I cannot respond on a weekly, monthly or at times daily basis. Like so many people and places vying for my attention and donation, I need to prioritize.
That is why the call from Paula White came as such a daring assault. Ms. White is a gospel preacher who is calling on followers to send her donations of up to one month’s salary. Those who don’t pay up could face “consequences” from God as he demands the money as a “first fruits” offering. From her website: "The principle of FIRSTFRUITS is all about honoring God by putting Him first IN EVERYTHING. The reason is God lays claim to all firsts. So when you keep for yourself something that belongs to God you are desecrating what is to be consecrated to God." In other words, giving your money away unlocks the spiritual pathway, and choosing not to do so is disrespectful to the Creator. Since most of us don't have God's mailing address, Paula is more than happy to accept your gift to encourage the Lord's blessing. Not that you're going to come away empty handed. Besides the massive influx of light and joy, you're pretty much guaranteed to see a boost in your financial future, which is nice since that will make it easier to toss some more fruit in the direction of this conduit to salvation sooner rather than later. And, she's even willing to toss in a copy of her book, First Things First, in which she details the ways you can get your life under control by sending a big check to God or someone who knows Him personally to get you into alignment with the way things ought to be. They ought to be prosperous. For you. And for Paula. 
And if Pastor Paula looks or sounds familiar, it could be that you caught her act at our current "President's" inauguration. No word on exactly what he tends to sow this year. 
Now I guess I need to send another five dollars to the DNC just to get myself clean again. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Don't Read This!

If you are reading this post on your phone, stop. Now. Put the phone down. Walk away. I do not want to get mixed up in any of this.
"This" is the controversy currently being stirred by some of Apple's shareholders about the potential hazardous side effects from excessive technology use. In a letter to Apple, representatives from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the investment firm Jana Partners LLC urged the tech giant to address the “growing body of evidence” that suggests frequent digital-device use can have “unintentional negative consequences” for children and teens. 
If you are still reading this on your phone, don't say I didn't warn you.
So just what sort of unintentional negative consequences does the letter suggest might await our young tech abusers? Demonic possession? Unwanted hair growth? Pixelation? Nothing quite so entertaining or dubious. The folks at Jana cite studies suggesting that children who often use smartphones or other digital devices are more likely to be distracted at school, develop depression and sleep less.
If you are still reading this on your phone and feel distracted, depressed or drowsy, you have been warned.
The cynical response to this letter would be something along the lines of, "Sounds like you're describing every teenager on the planet." Stepping away from that less than helpful response for a moment, I find it ironic that all this access to technology hasn't brought all of us closer as a species. The ability to communicate with friends and loved ones would initially seem to be a boon to the mental health of a generation raised with screens. Unless those screens overwhelm and replace flesh and blood contact with others. Access to cat videos is another benefit that comes along with access to the complete works of William Shakespeare. Which one are you going to pick if you're feeling a little tired or anti-social?
If you have read this far on your phone, I cannot be held responsible for your unwillingness to fight the urge to continue. Just think about it, okay? And to the folks at Apple and those making phones and devices to help us, how about you make the "off" button a little easier to find?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Change Of Seasons

Bomb Cyclones, record cold, flooding. You don't need to read the headlines closely to know that global warming is a myth. It's just a change in the seasons. It's not fall or spring or winter and most certainly not summer. It's Award Season. While the rest of the country hunkers down and huddles closer to the big screen TV to watch what the intrepid survivors of this past year have to tell us. 
"So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military." These were the words of Oprah Winfrey, the woman who would be president if Golden Globes host Seth Meyers had anything to say about it. With Tom Hanks as her Vice President. That was a joke. Oprah and Tom are clever enough to steer clear of the political arena, even if what they do for a living crosses over into that territory on occasion.
The occasion in this case turned out to be the seventy-fifth Golden Globes, the opening of the self-congratulatory festival that begins with the Hollywood Foreign Press handing out its trophies and culminates with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announcing their winners in early March. Over the next few months, a lot of folks, in most cases well-paid folks, will be standing on stages thanking the people that made their dreams a reality. Some of them will take that chance to speak their mind on the topic of their choice, as once and future president Oprah did last Sunday. She reminded us all of the struggle that exists outside the spotlight that finally lands on those who gain stardom. Harvey Weinstein was clever enough to stay away from the festivities, but was remembered and mentioned throughout the ceremony if not by name but by deed.
Meanwhile, the rest of us got out of bed Monday morning and headed to the jobs that don't have award ceremonies attached to them. We took our causes and our concerns with us as we waited a chance to make our voice heard. Don't wait until someone hands you a golden statue. We live in the world about which Oprah spoke so eloquently. We make the change happen. No matter what the season. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hurt Feelings

Libel: a written statement in which a plaintiff in certain courts sets forth the cause of action or the relief sought.That's what the dictionary says. Our "President" is very interested in this topic of late, specifically since the appearance of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. According to author Michael Wolff, it's one nutty place to work. Like the way Steve Bannon says Donald Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 was "treasonous." Those quotation marks denote exact words spoken by a specific individual. Steve Bannon has not denied that he said this, and as a result the "President" has begun referring to his former chief strategist as "Sloppy" Steve Bannon. Those quotation marks are here to show the exact word used by the "President" in a series of tweets showing his disdain for the thoughts and actions of the guy who used to run things behind the scenes. 
And now those quotation marks I use around "President." I am using them to denote sarcasm. I am not serious about my reference to the man currently occupying space in the White House. I am deflecting the respect that I might use to describe the Chief Executive of the United States. Respect is earned. 
For the record, I am not really worried about being sued for libel by the "President" or any of his minions. I deal primarily in opinions here, and even if he manages to whine and cajole anyone into listening to his assertions that there should be a law against writing books like Michael Wolff wrote. If that were true, then maybe there should be a law against calling former employees "sloppy" on social media. Interestingly, most of the clever nicknames that the "President" uses in his social media rants do not appear inside quotation marks: Crooked Hillary, Rocket Man, Crazy Megyn and the aforementioned Sloppy Steve. Those quotation marks are the grammatical equivalent of saying "just kidding." 
What you have just read here is at least three more minutes worth of consideration about how ideas are expressed by our "President." Sorry if I hurt anyone's "feelings."  

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Self Aware

"....Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!" - "President" Donald J. Trump on Twitter
This is the kind of comic gift that the jesters that be were hoping for when the news came down that this VERY successful businessman and top T.V. star would be our forty-fifth president. On his very first try. Except for that time back in 2000 when he received more than fifteen thousand votes in California's presidential primary. And the VERY part of successful businessman is tempered by several bankruptcies.
Then there's that top T.V. star thing. There is no doubt that he provided us with a catch phrase every bit as lasting as "You are the weakest link," but "You're fired" may not have been the one he hoped to have emblazoned on all the coffee mugs in the Oval Office break room. He is certainly one of the most elevated stars of his stripe, surpassing pods like Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly by turning that video awareness into POTUS. As I have mentioned here any number of times, we get the government we deserve. Which means we wanted that guy from TV who shouts "You're Fired!" to run our country. Because we are a nation that loves its TV. And we love to see other people get fired. And that hair.
Which brings us to that genius thing. The dictionary does not assign a number or score, it tells us that a genius is "exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability." A score of one hundred forty would put him right there on the cutting edge of geniusness, but then he had to go and drop "stable" in on top. Yes, this was in response to some around him suggesting that he was all oatmeal north of the eyebrows, but does it really make one a genius to follow the path of Donald Trump? I don't tend to think of Einstein or Machiavelli. I think of Chance the gardener in Being There. If you're not familiar, this is the story of a simple minded gardener who gets swept up in Washington politics, and his words are taken for wisdom by those who yearn for it. And in the end, it turns out he knows a lot about gardening. That's all. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Sail Away

"I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had." - Come Sail Away, Styx
Way back when I first heard this song, I already had some childhood friends upon whose dreams I could reflect. When I was in high school, I was pretty sure that becoming Spider Man was a done deal in the lost dreams department. The guy down the street who had grown up playing basketball on his driveway had surrendered his vision of collegiate and NBA stardom. It was this time that brought out that first wave of dream killers: vocational counselors and picking a major. Have you ever considered just how many kids your age want to be a super hero? Your lack of super powers combined with a lack of available capital to finance something in the Batman vein suggests that you are angling to become a part of that slim margin of radioactive accidents that result in positive modifications to your genetics rather than simply melting your internal organs.
Oh, and you're not good enough to play varsity basketball in college.
So we started figuring out a way to make a living with the interests and skills that we had available to us when we were eighteen. I figured I would be an artist. That is how I chose to enroll myself in the college of my choice. And that lasted a little more than a year, coupled with a change of schools and a return to my hometown. I had some jobs then, running an Arby's and unloading trucks at Target. About the time I landed behind the counter at a video store, I figured what I really wanted to do was be a writer.
Ta dah! Here I am, more than thirty years later. Writing. Not for the paycheck but for the love of it. I teach school and I think of the dreams I had. In my childhood. And  now I have a son whose childhood dreams are being compromised. He is not going to be a train engineer. Not because he couldn't be, but because his dreams took him in another direction. It took him into theater arts, where he would build sets and run lights and sound and create a world to be inhabited by made up characters. Super heroes? Somewhere in there he got the idea that writing these plays might be a way to sustain those dreams. I have no idea where he to this idea.
I think of childhood. And dreams. Come sail away.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Just A Reminder

While I fret and worry about what direction I should take in my next blog entry, while the world bounces from one armed conflict to the next, while half of the earth's population sleeps and the other half schemes, the planet shrugs.
That's what happened early Thursday morning in Northern California. An earthquake registering 4.4 on the Richter Scale jolted us awake with a reminder: There's something bigger than you. Bigger than Presidents and the United Nations and Disney. This planet on which we live has a lot left to say about what will happen next.
Sure, my wife and I enjoyed the ride. It was a roller coaster, a wave, a late night exhibition of the forces of nature, but it could have gone so very differently. Just another cough in the direction of severe, our little house could have been ripped in half. An act of nature, or God of you prefer, but this isn't because we happen to be on the wrong side of some geopolitical discussion. We made the somewhat dubious choice to buy a house located just a mile or two from a major fault line. This location is not unique, by the way. The entire state of California sits on what has been called "The Ring of Fire," and not because we are such fans of The Man In Black. I live, along with a vast majority of Californians, in a place that could be reduced to rubble at any minute.
It's a quality of life thing, to be sure. Why stay where we are so obviously not wanted? Just a little shift of the earth's crust and we all go looking for higher ground. And while we're at it, at an elevation of forty-two feet above sea level, it's only a matter of time before my front yard becomes beachfront property. At least human beings can take some pride in their non-ability to manage climate for that one. Those polar ice caps that once brought solace to penguins and Santa Claus are becoming a thing of the past. Human beings thought up all kinds of ways to get them to melt, but forgot that the water needed to go somewhere. The same force that made the Grand Canyon is just biding its time. Sea walls? Levees? Keep piling up those sand bags. You're gonna need them.
So now I pause to tip my hat once again to Nature. She keeps us honest even when we feel like we know better. We don't . And Nature doesn't play favorites. And even more than North Korea, she is not open to negotiations. Deal with it.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Night Visitors

"Honey, I don't think we should be in here."
"Aw, come on sweetie. Your daddy's out of town."
"I know, but if somebody should catch us in here..."
"We can just say that we were in here looking for that earring you lost."
"Honestly, I don't think that will fool anybody."
"Well look, we're already inside. What's all the worry about?"
He reaches for a switch. "No! Don't turn on the lights."
He laughs. "If we don't turn on the lights, how are we going to find it?"
"Find what?"
"Your earring, silly." He pulls her close.
"Really? What makes you think you're going to find it there?"
"I don't want to leave an inch of this place un-examined."
"Oh, and you think I'll just - OW!"
"You backed me right into the couch."
"Why is that thing even in here?"
"The couch."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean it's an office. This is where business is conducted."
"Sometimes daddy gets tired and he needs a rest."
"Yeah. I'll bet."
"You should be more grateful."
"After all he's done for you. For both of us."
"Ah, here we are." With one hand, he brushes the papers and the pen and pencil set to the floor.
"I don't think this is such a good idea."
"Oh, you can trust me. Your dad trusts me." He lifts her with surprising grace onto the horizontal surface.
"Honey, I don't think - Oh..."
Now they are both on the desk. Words are replaced by sighs and moans. Then, suddenly - CLICK.
"What was that?"
"What? Not now. What?"
"I hit something with the heel of my hand. Felt like a button."
She sits up, "A button."
"Yeah. Like a doorbell or something."
"Oh no.'
"Oh no what? Does it ring the butler, or security."
"No. It was The Button."
He slides off the desk and doesn't start to buckle his pants. "That Button."
"We are going to be in such trouble."
- Author's note: Fear not, dear reader. Donald Trump does not have "a button on his desk" that starts World War Three. It is far more complicated than that. Jared and Ivanka's late night tryst in the Oval Office will not be responsible for Nuclear Armageddon. It takes a complex series of codes and commands to launch a nuclear strike. And those codes are in the hands of this "President."
Sleep tight.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Objects Tend To Stay In Motion

To start the new year, our "President" announced via social media "Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!" His assertion that this was because he had been "very strict on Commercial Aviation." I read this pronouncement just a click above an article about the twelve people who died in a Costa Rica plane crash. True, this wasn't commercial aviation, but two U.S. families did not survive. If our "President" really wants to take credit for everything that goes right in the air, how does he explain this one?
I know, I know. This was a foreign flight from a foreign airport in a small plane, and this is no way that it could possibly show up on his all-seeing radar. Or maybe it was simply a piece of evidence that didn't fit his narrow view of the world.
Like his continuing hoots and hollers about the stock market. No matter that the laws of physics almost always intrude on those of economics, as in what goes up must come down. People who are a lot smarter than me about such things suggest that we are heading for a correction, which is the nice economist-speak for what physicists call gravity. This is not to say that I wish that the stock market would crash. That would not be good for anyone, even those of us who tend to stay away from playing the market. It is a place to put money in the hopes that you can always bank on the principle of buying low and selling high. If everything continues to grow, then the opportunity to get in on the ground floor becomes more challenging. Which is why people in the business of making money with other people's money tend to wait for these corrections. They are a necessary part of the equation.
Just like flying, commercial or private. More airplanes in the air means more chances that something could go wrong. Horribly wrong. So, thank you for being so very vigilant, Mister "President." For the past eight years, by the way, during which there have been no fatalities associated with any U.S. airline. And on the topic of being strict, it should be noted that the current "President's" attention to commercial aviation has been to eliminate all those fussy regulations that keep things safe. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were no changes to the rules and regulations pertaining to what goes up.
And down. Thank you again, Mister "President" for all that you do to affect objects that are already in motion. Nothing.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

A Little Bit

I don't feel bad for Marie Osmond. Not exactly. She's got her health. She's got her career. She's staying busy. The part that started to bother me the other day was when I found myself watching Marie doing her job selling Nutrisystem. There she was, letting us know how you can lose pounds and inches with the shakes, boosters and meals offered by her employer. Marie says she has lost more than fifty pounds using this system of nutrition. That's a success story, right?
Except I remember her from her show back in 1976 with her brother Donny. She was a little bit country. He was a little bit rock and roll. They were a huge part of my Friday nights in those days. For an impressionable teen like myself, the Osmonds were show business. They could sing. They could dance. They could get everyone from Barbara Eden to Evel Knievel to guest on their show. They were on lunch boxes.
Yes, it was a simpler time. They kept my mind off of a gasoline shortage and disco, even if both of these topics provided fuel for this variety hour. These were the salad days for Marie, when she and her family represented not only what was good but also what was powerful in show business. Wholesome entertainment.
Then the eighties came, and those big smiles fell out of fashion. The Reagan years brought more irony and less polyester. The Osmonds became more of a punchline than a power, but they persevered. In 1998, Marie returned with her brother to host a talk show called, without a trace of irony, Donny and Marie. Barbara Eden and Evel Knievel did not appear on this show.
Now it's 2018, and Marie is beginning her fifth year as spokesperson for Nutrisystem. A whole generation who never saw all that singing and dancing, or even all of that talking, now sees what was once America's sweetheart as America's Before and After model. Not that there's anything wrong with that. As I mentioned earlier: she's got her health, she's got her career.
But I wonder now if she's still a little bit country.
Because I'm still a little bit rock and roll.
Some things never change.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018


When I was a kid, I lived on a dead end street located on the edge of a couple vacant lots. This meant that if we had a mind to, my friends and neighbors had access to everyone's back yard. The shortcut to some houses was over the back fence. I use this preface to describe the practical joke we played on Jehovah's Witnesses who came to our street one autumn afternoon. I mention the autumn afternoon as a reminder that most of the grownups had found their way up the hill to the University of Colorado football game. Unsupervised urchins of suburbia. We sent our youngest representative to answer the door when we saw the evangelists coming. Once they had met the diminutive head of the house, they left a pamphlet and walked down the front stairs. We raced to the back door and headed up the street a few houses, and piled over the fence and waited for the bell to ring.
We sent the same kid to the door. A bit of unease had come into the smiles of the Witnesses, who fumbled a bit for their newsletter and handed it to our friend who tried to ignore the muffled laughter coming from just around the corner in the kitchen. By the third house, they must have had some idea of what was happening, and at the fourth when the door opened on this same little boy one of Jehovah's Witnesses finally asked the logical question, "Where are your mother and father?" To which our little friend did not miss a beat replying, "I am my mother  and father." This time they did not leave any literature, but hurried off into that fall afternoon, probably making a note to skip this neighborhood in the future.
When I was a kid, we did some silly things. We made prank phone calls. We tormented each other and shot at each other with BB guns. Yes, there was a broken leg. And an arm. One kid got a dart stuck in his head. And we all survived. I say this because I believe we currently live in a world that would not tolerate such foolishness. It was the arrival of my family's lawn darts, a gift from the past from my older brother. I was pleased and happy with my wife's response: she wanted to go outside and play. A flood of memories, including those from my own fatherhood that found me wondering out loud to my son if this was such a good idea. I wear a helmet when I ride my bike these days, and the thought of a bare wire anywhere in my house gives me fits. Now I am the one coming home to chase kids out of my yard. Meanwhile, pranksters are "Swatting" one another, meaning that they make fake 911 calls about domestic disturbances to bring a police response. Or dropping bags of sand from highway overpasses on cars below.
Maybe we weren't so wicked after all.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018


Hello, and welcome to your reality, 2018 style: A number of hotels in Walt Disney World are quietly shifting one of their amenities to a more contemporary motif. Gone are the "Do Not Disturb" signs found historically on the door handles of rooms that were full of sleeping, playing, cavorting, tired, depressed, overly enthusiastic guests. Convention has it that these signs were placed on the outside of the door to preclude anyone who had a mind to interrupt any of the sleep, play, etc. would be discouraged and come back once the sign had been placed back on the inside doorknob. That was how the game was played. Heaven only knows how much sketchy behavior took place with only that little piece of plastic to ward off suspecting innkeepers.
This was part of the plan enacted by Stephen Paddock, the murderer of fifty-eight concertgoers on October 1 of this year. When he checked into his room on the thirty-second floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, he put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign. This kept maids, room service, and all other hotel employees from putting their nose squarely in Mister Paddock's business. His business was not gambling or sleeping or snorting or any of those other activities that tend to stay in Vegas. His business was killing, and on that particular evening business was horribly good. Police found twenty-three rifles, one handgun and thousands of rounds of ammunition in the room once they finally gained entry. There is still no clear motive for this crime, but what remains of Paddock's brain after he put a bullet through it has been sent to Stanford for study. One thing is clear, however: that little placard with the shushing bellhop certainly did its part. No one disturbed Stephen Paddock until he was already firing.
Which brings us back to the Magic Kingdom. Guests will now use "Room Occupied" signs to let housekeeping and maintenance folks know that they are still inside, hoping for a moment of privacy. But this won't keep them hotel employees from entering the room. This might lead to a few more moments in flagrante dilecto, red faces all around and complaints to the front desk, but maybe it will save lives. That is the world in which we live, 2018.
Sleep tight.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Let's Get Started

It's 2018. I will turn fifty-six this year. My son will be twenty-one. I will have been married for twenty-five years. This presents a unique algebraic opportunity to examine the trend in my life. For example, I had been married four years when our son was born. This is interesting to me, since it has seemed to me that those years that my wife and I spent alone in that one bedroom apartment were more numerous. It's a time thing, messed up further by the appearance of this young man on our front porch. The one claiming to be our little boy.
It's 2018. I still haven't acquired my forklift operator's certificate. It would have been a simple enough task way back when I worked at a book warehouse. It might have taken me a week to accomplish, but I got stuck doing other things, like personnel and two tours on the board of directors. To be more precise, I stuck myself to other things. Now I find myself longing for that little bit of validation that says, in a pinch, that I could operate that piece of heavy machinery, providing I had not consumed too much cough syrup just prior.
It's 2018. I have left this country five times in the course of my life. I have traveled to Mexico four times, which seems like a lot. The fifth time was a quick dash into Canada on a car trip back from New York City where my father took his sons to see Niagara Falls and a shopping mall across the border where I purchased a deerstalker cap as a souvenir. I left this continent once to spend a week in Hawaii with my wife. I lost my wedding ring. It could be this "I Love Lucy"-ness of traveling is what keeps me close to home.
It's 2018. I am six months away from finishing my twenty-first year of teaching. This is one of those time pieces that continues to boggle me. After spending a long time doing jobs that were not generally considered long term positions, I find myself being asked when I might retire. This was not a question that came up around my five year stint at the video store. Or the four years I spent moving and assembling modular office furniture. Those were my twenties. Of course no one asked. And yet I stuck around. I kept waiting for someone to tell me to leave. As yet, no one has told me to leave teaching, so there I will stay. For now.
It's 2018. We have approximately ten months before midterm elections. It would be nice if my son, whose first election brought him Donald Trump, could feel good about the ballot he will cast. This is a year that could change the current course of the country I am too afraid to leave. 2018 could be a new beginning. It could be a chance to remind us all just how great America always has been and will be for years to come.
It's 2018. Let's get started.