Thursday, February 28, 2019

For Real

Standing out in the middle of the street, bending down to speak to parents dropping off their children, I became absurdly aware of two things: the shocking lack of traffic for a school day, and the fact that I was standing in the middle of the street under the ever-watchful gaze of our Crossing Guard, Mary. Mary forgave me, because she understands our teachers' struggle. But that lack of traffic. That was hard to shake.
I spend so much of my time trying to convince kids to get to school on time, and here I was trying to negotiate them away. "Just until the strike is over," I assured them. Still, this went against my programming. Kids in seats is the lifeblood of public schools, and here I was turning them back. It made my head hurt a little.
That, along with the feeling that somehow this picket line thing might become normal. We had all begun to find our places and our voices, and mine was to politely encourage our families to take a day away from those hallowed halls. I was fortunate to have plenty of translation help, since explaining our situation in English was a big enough challenge, attempting to describe why all those maestros were hanging around on the sidewalk in Spanish was not going to happen without support.
Which is what it turns out the whole gig is about. The neighbors who turned out to carry signs. The parents who brought food and kept their kids home. The kids who came out and walked with us. The folks driving by who honked their horns. The police officers who flashed their lights and sirens. Teachers are everywhere, and they have provided a base from which most everyone can climb.
Riding my bike home after our third day, I saw a little boy dressed in his Batman jammies, waving a sign that said "Support Our Teachers." I stopped and thanked him. And his mother thanked me. I felt like I could go another day, if I had to.
Because that is what we do. Talking to people. Kids and grown ups. Parents and teachers. Like all those civics lessons, but for real.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Spirited Discussion

It's about shaping young minds. That's what I do, when I'm not on strike anyway. And maybe I'm doing that even when I am standing out on the sidewalk in front of my school. "Mister Caven, what does 'on strike' mean?"
It has meant that I am watching the news more as a participant rather than a simple observer. Which is how the article about Dianne Feinstein filled up my browser this past weekend. It seems that a group of students decided to drop by the Senator's San Francisco offices on Friday to share their views on climate change and the Green New Deal. The fifteen minute discussion was not the friendly photo-op that one might have expected. 
Senator Dianne was not going to be kid-shamed into agreeing with this Green thing just because there were cameras there. "That resolution will not pass the Senate, and you can take that back to whoever sent you here and tell them," she responded after the students insisted the legislation was badly needed. "I've been in the Senate for over a quarter of a century and I know what can pass and I know what can't pass."
The "whoever" in this case was the Sunrise Movement, a group who say "We're building an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people." It is true that these kids did not ride their bikes over to the office, and there were adults there with them, but that dismissive tone wasn't lost on anyone in the room. Maybe they should have had an appointment. "I've been doing this for thirty years. I know what I'm doing," Feinstein said. "You come in here and you say it has to be my way or the highway. I don't respond to that."
Later in the day, she did refer to the exchange as a "spirited discussion" and said "I want the children to know they were heard loud and clear."
Twelve years, Di-Fi. The clock is ticking. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Peter And Paul

Pardon me for a moment while I lament the departure from this terrestrial plane Peter Tork. Yes, there are a few other things going on down here that could use my attention. Our "President" continues to aggravate the world. There's a teacher's strike going on in a neighborhood near you. And I want to pause here to note the passing of one of the Monkees.
Part of me would like to point out that the Beatles and the Monkees are once again on a par with one another in terms of surviving members. Peter's passing brings both groups down to the fifty percent level. I would then also point out that the Monkees' last tour  was in 2016. The  Beatles? Well, if you count that rooftop show for Let It Be, just about fifty years ago. The album the Monkees released a few years back, Good Times cracked the top twenty here in the United States. The New York Times said, "Fifty years later, the Monkees are still endearing."
So there you have it: Good News! Still endearing! Even after Davy danced off to heaven back in 2012, the so-called Pre-fab Four were able to come together and be the musical force that I knew they were half a century ago. Back when the Monkees were my favorite band. In the interest of transparency, I had second pick behind my older brother. He picked the Beatles. I picked the Monkees. When I ended up with Johnny Lightning to his Hot Wheels, I sensed that I may have gotten the short end of the die-cast car stick. 
But that wasn't the case with the Monkees. They were a hit-making machine. True, many of those hits were composed by songwriters outside the group, but Billy Preston wasn't an official Beatle when he helped compose Get Back
And now, Peter is gone. Bassist, banjo player, and the force behind Auntie Grizelda, has gone to the Hall of Fame in the sky. He was "the dumb one," to those only familiar with the TV show. He came to the group with musical chops and friends like Stephen Stills. Mister Stills is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. And he couldn't get into the Monkees. The producers didn't like his teeth. Don't be sad that Peter is gone. He's still out there, on greatest hits compilations and reruns in syndication. Peter Tork stomped on the Terra, and he will be missed. Aloha. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Reading Is Fundamental

Yes, there was a time when I questioned being in a union. Once upon a time, when my mentor teacher dropped by my classroom at the end of the day and dropped a big blue binder in my lap.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Your contract."
"You're a union member. Get to know your contract."
And that's how I learned that by accepting a job in the Oakland Unified School District, I had become a union member. Along with all the benefits of salary deductions and additional meetings, there was the T-shirt I was encouraged to buy. I was going to be asked to wear that T-shirt to show my dedication to my brothers and sisters. All the while, I was wondering why would teachers need a union? Coal miners? I get that. Black lung disease and working underground. Horrible stuff. That's when you need the union and all those aforementioned brothers and sisters. Misery loves company, but collective bargaining even more.
Since those initial impressions, I have settled into a moderately comfortable relationship with my union. I have paid my dues, in all the different ways possible. And I have enjoyed having people looking out for me and teachers like me in my district. As it turns out, all those pages in that contract require attention that I confess I don't really have to give. There are people in my union that do that. Accumulated sick leave? Ask your union representative. What happens when we take extra students in our room if a class has to be split up? Ask your union representative. When those questions get too big or complex, we work up the chain. Instead of asking for a raise, I wait for my union to negotiate one for me.
In exchange, I find myself out on the sidewalk in front of my school, shouting out slogans that strain to rhyme at the front of the building that I prefer to be inside. I do this because my union has asked me to. I hope that my participation in this endeavor will expedite negotiations, since it's been  a while since I read that contract. Happily, I'm pretty sure there's nothing in there about black lung disease.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Laying It On The Line

Somewhere in the early hours of that first day on the picket line, I was called over to speak into a microphone. This did not come as a shock to me, since I had volunteered the day before to be our school's spokesperson if the press showed up. And just my luck, a couple members of the media did appear on our little stretch of sidewalk. I spoke from the heart, and tried hard to stick to the high-minded rhetoric that I had been fashioning over the past few weeks. I talked about the importance of keeping teachers in Oakland. I expressed my hope that we were starting a new era of hope and faith in public education. I ran through my bit about the ridiculousness of a school district and its teachers fighting over the scraps left over from a budget picked clean by so many other priorities. I was asked what I thought about billionaires attempting to privatize public education, and that's when I pointed to the front of our school, named after the father of public education, Horace Mann. 
Sadly, I did not have a pithy quote from the late senator from Massachusetts. Now I believe I might go with something like,  “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Or maybe I could have substituted one from Bruce Springsteen, "Nobody wins unless we all win." Which is why I felt so oddly out of place taking a side: in or out. In the days leading up to our teachers strike, I considered all kinds of different factors, not the least of which was what this might cost me. The somewhat legendary strike of 1996 took place the year before I entered the teaching profession. I have grown up as a teacher hearing about those five weeks that became increasingly desperate and how lucky I have felt to have participated in work actions that were primarily for show and not for substance.
And there I stood, looking out into an uncertain future, with the expectation that this stoppage too would pass, but wondering just what it might take beyond those clever words all strung together for the entertainment of this guy with a microphone. After I had spoken my piece, he turned and asked a colleague of mine some of the same questions. I returned to the picket line, picking up the response to one of the chants that was hanging in the air: "Show me what democracy looks like - This is what democracy looks like!"
Day one. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019


Collaboration versus brinkmanship.
When I walked into my school on the day before I was to join the picket line outside it, I reflected once again on the sad nature of politics. Why, I wondered, aren't the teachers, parents and administration united on this struggle to put funding into our district? Our superintendent assures us all that she believes that teachers need to be paid more, and anyone who has walked the hallways and playgrounds of East Oakland knows that there is plenty of money to be spent on bringing facilities up to twenty-first century standards.
And yet somehow we stand across this gulf of the debate about how those funds should be disseminated and managed. I keep flashing on the bumper sticker from the 1970s  that read, "

It Will Be a Great Day When Our Schools Get All the Money They Need and the Air Force Has to Hold a Bake Sale to Buy a Bomber." So while teachers keep leaving our district in waves when they realize that their dreams of being the teacher who watches kids grow up around them while filling their heads with useful knowledge, educators fight over scraps.

From where I am sitting, I can poke and prod at the finances of my district over the past twenty-plus years. At no point was there a discussion that went like this: "You know, I think we may be spending too much on the kids. And those teachers are getting rich, so we really don't have to worry about their salaries." Instead, money has been thrown at programs and consultants in hopes that some magic could be found to break the cycle of underachievement and overspending. 
So here we stand, glaring across the bargaining table, hoping that the scraps that the state and federal budgets will somehow fill the gap between getting by and just getting by. As a nation, we are spending more than fifty-four percent of our money on our military: almost six hundred billion dollars a year. The sliver of that pie that goes to education is seventy billion. Which is why we need a bake sale or two to get us to the next bargaining session. 
Here we are, staring down other educators, arguing over ever smaller pieces of that pie. I am wondering why we aren't working together to figure out how to get the whole thing.  

Friday, February 22, 2019

For Shame

In a world where scandal doesn't seem too hard to find, it seems that there is no end of finger-pointing. He said this about her who was caught doing something he knew was wrong when she was supposed to be correcting the thing that had been abused by the party of the first part. And the chorus of boos rains down while cries for this or that person to resign as a result of the way things were mishandled. If you are reading this in Virginia, please let me know if there is still a government there.
As I have suggested here before, it seems that Democrats have taken those cries, for the most part to heart. Stepping down and out was rising progressive superstar Al Franken, who was caught in the initial wave of #MeToo. Fellow Democrats called for his resignation, and that is what he did. Meanwhile, Roy Moore pressed on with his candidacy for the Alabama senate seat that he campaigned for while accounts of sexual misconduct with minors piled up. Which garnered him an endorsement from the "President." The good news here is that a thumbs-up from the Cheeto in Charge had its somewhat predictable return: Moore lost, and then sued to keep the election results from being certified.
Meanwhile, all the stories of the "President's" sundry misbehavior before he became a candidate for the highest office in our land has largely gone forgotten in favor of the potential capital crimes in which he participated once he stopped being a game show host. 
And Anthony Weiner will be released from jail in May. The former Representative from New York left federal prison after being convicted of having illicit online contact with a fifteen year old girl in 2017. He will now register as a sex offender in his home state. Which may have a limiting factor on his interest in running for elected office anytime soon. Before he was convicted, Weiner polled just five percent in the Democratic primary for Mayor of New York City. 
Bill Clinton was impeached for lying to Congress. About an affair he had with an intern. He was not removed from office. Bill, if you recall, was a Democrat. 
So where is the shame? It would not appear to be a party-based reaction. Unless it's about finger-pointing. That's where we come together as a country. 
Sleep tight, America. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019


"I rounded first, never thought of the worst as I studied the shortstop's position."
If you are familiar with the works of Jimmy Buffett, then you know that what happens shortly after that is our narrator's leg snaps "like the shell of an egg." I am fortunate that this is not precisely what happened to yours truly as I attempted to play kickball with a group of second graders last week. No fractures. All my bones intact. My pride and standing in the community a little shaken, and a great big raspberry on my left knee.
The title of that song by Jimmy Buffett? "Growing Older But Not Up."
For the record, I had given the soccer ball that we were playing with enough of a ride that even after I picked myself up off the ground and limped on around the bases that I still managed to score a home run. It also helped that a number of the kids initially rushed to my aid, diminishing their fielding options by that same number.
Yes, it did occur to me that I could just lay there for a moment and let their concern wash over me. This was one of those humanizing moments that don't come up too often in an elementary school. Just like the way students struggle to comprehend that I have a wife and a son, that I go to movies, that I have played a video game, they don't know precisely how to react when their teacher falls down.
One little girl asked if I needed a band-aid. That's when I lifted up my pants leg to inspect the wound. The asphalt had done its work, and though it wasn't the bloody mess that some of them had anticipated, there was still a little gasp as they huddled around home base, wondering what might happen next. Did this mean there would be no more PE for the day?
It would take more than this scrape to keep Mister Caven down. I made a brief check of the rest of my systems to see if the rest of me was online. Glasses, cell phone, whistle, keys. Roger, ready and raring to go once again. Increasing my legend just a little bit in the eyes of my young charges, but making the next few days a little more challenging as I negotiated the rubbed raw portion of my leg through my routines.
When the third graders came out, I let them kick the ball. I coached. I'm old.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Aurora. Not in Colorado this time. They have had their share of trouble like this. Instead this Aurora is in Illinois. I recognize this place as a place where AllSteel office furniture is spawned. Five days a week for about four years, I saw that address on multiple cartons and crates as I opened them, emptied them, and eventually recycled them. I didn't work for AllSteel. I worked for a third party installer servicing the Denver metro area. Not far from Aurora, Colorado. It could be that I went with a crew to put in some chairs or some desks in this suburb of the Mile High City. Aurora meets Aurora.
I was also amused to find, mostly by coincidence, that Wayne's World was located in Aurora, Illinois. Wayne's World was a very popular series of skits on Saturday Night Live starring the very popular Mike Myers. Driving around town in an AMC Pacer, singing along with Bohemian Rhapsody, these cartoonish teenagers weren't installing furniture, they were making their way to the big time after being discovered on community access Channel 10. There was a lot of air guitar, but no gunfire.
That image of Aurora, Illinois ended this past Friday when the city joined the ever-expanding list of cities that have experienced a mass shooting. A factory employee who was on his way to being fired chose instead to kill five of his co-workers. With a gun a previously convicted felon such as himself should not own. Then he was either killed by officers who arrived on the scene or he killed himself. Six dead, an additional factory worker injured along with five responding officers in the gunfire.
So ends the amusing anecdotes and coincidences.
If there was an eerie link to the factory, like that it manufactured steel office furniture, then this story would take some sort of personal turn. Nope. The factory that was shot up manufactures water distribution products. And no connection to TV funnyman Mike Myers. No Bohemian Rhapsody. No laughs. Just another senseless waste of human life at the end of a gun.
The connection? Maybe that this all happened the day after the one year anniversary of the massacre in Parkland, Florida. Teenagers were killed there. Like the character played by Mike Myers in Wayne's World. Or maybe it's just another in a series. We humans long for connections and try to make sense of the way chaos interferes with our well-planned lives.
Enough is enough.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Fire And Rain

Twelve years ago, I was the father of a nine year old. I had just passed the thirteen year mark of wedded bliss. As a nation, we had yet to experience the Obama years, and were enduring Dick "Dick" Cheney's Monster Truck Rally of an administration. Robert Downey Jr. had yet to make a splash as Iron Man and Nelly Frutado was still a thing. 
Seems like forever?
Well, if you take that decade and change and flop it over the top into the future, that would tell you how much time we have left before climate change becomes irreversible. Allowing the maximum temperature increase one and a half degrees Celsius will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. 
I know. Look out the window at all that rain and snow. I wish we could have some of that Global Warming right now. Yuk, yuk, yuk. Tiny brains that do not understand the difference between climate and weather should keep their babble to themselves. For twelve years. Until we can stem the tides that come with rising sea levels and polar ice caps melting, keep your pointed heads under your tin foil hats and leave the science to scientists.
In twelve years, I hope to be meeting my grandchildren. At this point, I hope that I won't have to apologize to them for their ticking time bomb of a planet, left to them by people who didn't want to listen and who instead felt that global warming was a punchline to be used whenever the thermometer dropped below forty degrees Fahrenheit. Severe weather events, such as the hurricane to which our "President" responded by tossing paper towels into a crowd, are becoming more frequent. Droughts, floods, tornadoes: these are all part of our future. And worse. 
In twelve years, I would like to take my grandchildren to Colorado. To visit. Not to escape rising sea levels. In twelve years, I would like to look back at this warning as just that, and not a prediction of what is to become of our big blue marble. While there are those who scoff at the idea of "giving up our cars and our jet airplanes," there are plenty of us willing to make sacrifices to keep our planet inhabitable for a few more generations. If that means we'll be listening to Nelly Furtado's new album on communal stereos, maybe that's the sacrifice we'll all have to make. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Just Click Your Heels

It has always irked me that Dorothy could have gone home at any time during her stay in Oz. While travelling the somewhat treacherous path known as the Yellow Brick Road, any concerned Munchkin or Good Witch could have mentioned the deal about the Ruby Slippers to her and she could have been on her way. Magically. With her little dog. Without having been captured by winged monkeys or tormented by any of the strangers and trees she met along the way. But apparently it is important to teach young girls from Kansas a lesson by making her run the Technicolor gauntlet run not by a Wizard, but in his own words "a very bad man."
All of which begins to sum up my reactions to our "President" deciding to go ahead and declare a state of emergency in order to get his "wall" built. After months and months of holding the nation's collective feet to the fire and promising all kinds of different ways to make his multi-billion dollar boondoggle happen, he has landed on this new convoluted deal after having exhausted any sort of legislative deal with an increasingly less than cooperative Congress.
I wonder if Darth Vader would have caved in a similar fashion if denied funding for his Death Star. "You underestimate the power of and Executive Order."
"The President" has pushed the shiny red button labeled "National Emergency." This gives him what he believes is supreme executive power in times of crisis, not unlike Dean Wormer of Faber College. Which may or may not be true, but this means that he really didn't need to shut down the entire government for a month and leave nearly a million federal employees without a paycheck. While Congress did agree to write a check for nearly two billion dollars of new fencing and other security enhancements, there is still not enough money to seal us off completely from the outside world like the Dome that Stephen King once imagined. And Mexico has not made their offer to keep our foolishness from contaminating their airspace, so it looks like we have a good old fashioned Idjit Standoff.
Which means another flurry of lawsuits and counter lawsuits and plenty more legal and political machinations costing billions more dollars than the original ridiculous price tag of constructing a monument to one man's ego that truly defines the man himself: A permanent divider.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

People I Know

As I stood in the library, looking around the room as strike preparations were being discussed, I took note of the faces. None of them were in the room the last time strike preparations were being discussed. Not that it has been forever and an age since strike preparations were being discussed. In the decades that I have spent in Oakland as a teacher, I have rarely worked with a valid and ratified contract. Those of us who teach here have worked on extensions and promises based on never fully settling the last one before the new one comes due. Perhaps as a result of this instability, the Oakland Unified School District has a problem with teacher retention.
I recognize this each time I attend one of those district wide trainings or gatherings of educators. It used to be easy to look into the crowd and catch the eye of colleagues from credential programs or substitute gigs that have become permanent placements. Now, as a veteran, I find that those encounters are fewer and farther between. My twenty-plus years of experience tend to elicit "wows" or murmurs of curiosity. At my school site I am in a league with our esteemed cafeteria supervisor for longevity. By an interesting coincidence, I count among our staff one of the people I knew in my credentialing program as a contemporary. I have him by a few years since I have been at the same site this whole time. He served elsewhere before landing his current slot just down the stairs from me.
So I can say that in our case, Oakland retains teachers. The gentleman who works down the hall from my credential buddy has been with our school for fifteen years. And from there, the tenure drops off considerably.
It's a hard job, that's for sure, and most civilians won't argue that the pay is not great. Making the slow uphill climb to a comfortable wage takes patience and sacrifice. A lot of fresh faces come through our doors and leave before they make it to that plateau. A single income in the Bay Area won't buy you a house. Not if that income is a school teacher's salary. So you can live in that studio apartment and save your nickels and dimes and work an extra job while the dysfunctional funding of the district forces you to purchase supplies for your students - or you can set out in search for greener pastures.
Money is green, get it ?
I wish that I could state categorically that this looming strike is all about the kids and we're doing it for the students and the truth is this: If we don't keep well-trained, committed teachers on the job, the students suffer regardless of class size and school closures. I don't want to look around our library again in a year at a new bunch of faces that are surprised to learn that "being good with kids" isn't enough. Knowing that your experience and enthusiasm is valued and will continue to be rewarded is what makes this engine run. I am striking to keep that room filled with people I know.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

How To Get To The Future

The path to the future took a surprising turn this week when the governor of California cancelled plans to build a high-speed railway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It could be that tensions between the north and the south have become strained and the thought of this trans-state collaboration may have been too difficult to imagine in these troubled times. It could be that the time frame of fourteen years was unrealistic, or the price tag of seventy-seven billion dollars was too steep to pay as the state's traditionally burdened highway overpasses continue to crumble.
Or maybe this is just a pause before the inevitable reveal of molecular transport between San Francisco and anywhere else in the state. Or universe.
That would be a much happier announcement than the one we got, which allowed for a bit of high speed rail to be constructed between Bakersfield and Merced. If you have ever traveled the loneliness of Highway Five in the lower half of the Golden State, you might imagine a way to skip this chunk of the trip. You probably wouldn't want to miss Fresno or Visalia, you can always read about them online as your bullet train flies through the valley. One hundred sixty miles of don't blink or you'll miss it. Really. At a speed of one hundred fifty miles an hour, your in-flight snack will have to be cleaned up at the station because it will be over before you swallow all your Cheez-its.
Which was kind of the idea, since the idea was once upon a time to skip that middle part of the state. But maybe that was just a little too 2008 for Governor Gavin. His suggestion that we focus on this little chunk of the ride was his way of making good on the dream of California High Speed Rail. This is somehow more manageable. I know from my own living room experience laying down track with my son that you can always add to the end of the line if you have enough left over.
But even a governor who once saw a future with marriage equality and legalized pot can't see his way through to spending seventy-seven billion dollars to shorten a six hour trip to three on pre-existing interstate highways. Maybe this is the future we should be imagining. Unless he is eventually going to cede the middle of the state to Disney, and let them put in a monorail from Anaheim to the forests on the moon of Endor.
Or maybe it's just a way to stall that whole state-wide personal jetpack referendum. I can dream, can't I? Even if Gavin can't.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Tech Knowledge - Gee!

No one ever comes to my door, knocks lightly on the frame, and waits for me to answer.
"Mister Caven, I just wanted to tell you that everything in my room is working great. I really wanted to take the time to drop by and say how much I appreciate the way you keep things useful and alive."
Instead, I tend to get a sad-faced child, trailing wires and various peripherals wandering up to me while I am in the midst of teaching another class: "Mister Caven?"
Offering up the tangle of electronics, "This doesn't work."
The expectation seems to be that I will stop whatever it is I am doing and tend to the needs of this machine. Because it is not working. Kids don't care what may have precipitated this emergency. They just want it fixed. Much in the same way teachers call my room to ask me what is wrong with their technology. "Why won't it work?"
And I know I only have myself to blame. I have a bit of a reputation as some sort of wizard when it comes to things that plug into the wall. Before it ever lands in the electronic waste pile, why not let me have a go at it? I have rescued my share of Chromebooks, computers and projectors from landfill or worse. By jiggling a plug or pushing one more button, I have kept our school electrified for more than twenty years.
Not that I arrived here with that capacity. What I knew about computers and their associated brethren would have fit on a three by five card back in the mid nineties. What I learned over the years form practical experience is that the tendency for most users is the rage quit. By putting myself on that front line, I have created my own private circle of hell. I have my own special breed of tenacity to blame for the interruptions to my day. The suggestion has been made that if Mister Caven can't fix it, it can't be fixed. Which is flattering but patently untrue. There have been plenty of devices that have escaped my grasp to repair. Consequently, I work in a space that has become littered with bits and pieces of machines that have perhaps lived past their useful purpose, and are awaiting my learning curve to catch up to whatever it is that escapes me.
And the parade to my door continues.
Back to work. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019


There was a time, a lifetime ago, when getting together on Valentine's Day was the height of irony. "Let's go out and find Mister and Missus Right and get them married." We refused to imagine that someday we might be sending flowers to each other and celebrating with great big hearts. And yet, that is precisely where we find ourselves a quarter century later. I know who my Valentine is and though we still snicker at all the outward trappings of the experience, we have surrendered to the Hallmarkness of it all.
There was a time when I felt that I understood Charlie Brown and his suffering more than those who were able to make a love connection with that little red-haired girl or boy. To protect myself, I kept a cynical edge to all my interactions from late January through mid-February. I could not imagine things working out. Or could I?
I drew cards. I wrote poems. And yes, I bought flowers, only to have them received with words like "You shouldn't have." Meaning: You shouldn't have. Really. In their eyes I was coming on a little too strong. That's not the way they thought of me. We should be just good friends.
Which is about the time that I started hanging around with this girl on Valentine's Day who shared my disdain for all of this romantic tomfoolery. We would hang out and watch couples pair off, holding on to our valiant front, assuring anyone who listened that it was all just made up and it would end badly before two weeks were up. March would bring a fresh new awareness of the futility of love and all those schnooks would toss out all those heart-shaped boxes and bury the tacky jewelry at the bottom of a drawer someplace.
Until the next year, when hope for romance would fill the air and several aisles at Target. My wife and I maintain a healthy skepticism about this holiday, but at the same time, we have to surrender to whatever magic there may be, because way back when those were happy Valentine's Days even if they were a little tongue in cheek. And it couldn't hurt that it is a chocolate-centric holiday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


"Democrats are for open borders."
"Democrats are pro-abortion."
"Democrats are evil opposites of good people."
I am a Democrat. I know this because I check that box whenever it shows up on a survey. If someone asks me, that's what I tell them. I am writing it here because it is not a secret. I am not for open borders. I am not pro-abortion. I don't know if I am an evil person. It could be that holding the ideals that I hold is contributing to the decline of Western Civilization. Spiritually and and morally, I may be allying myself with Satan.
Not that we have been introduced.
I do not believe that immigration should go unchecked. I believe that there should be a more compassionate way to deal with men, women and children who are trying to enter America. As we choose to ramp up the penalties and raise up the barriers, we only make what is inside our borders more precious. That's what I believe.
I do not support abortion. Except that I do. Because I believe that I will never comprehend the choices of others. Just like those men, women, and children trying to cross our southern border. I cannot comprehend.
Is this evil? Is giving others the benefit of a doubt make me evil?
Does it make me a Democrat?
It probably does, as much as checking the box or raising my hand when someone asks a crowd of people. I don't think that socialism is evil. Which doesn't make me a socialist. I am a Democrat because after listening to my parents for enough years, it seemed like a good thing. I respected my parents enough to think they wouldn't steer me wrong. In the sixties and seventies, it certainly seemed like the right answer. Being a Democrat has given me the opportunity to be on the peace side of a number of wars. Not that Democrats always had the high ground. Harry Truman, a Democrat, is the only world leader to order the use of nuclear weapons during war.
I have learned, over the years, to make the excuses necessary to make those atom bombs forgivable. Maybe I don't know everything about being a Democrat yet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What If?

Last Friday, this question occurred to me: What would it be like to teach a class of kids who were all rapt with attention, hanging on my every word?
How would it feel to give a set of instructions to students who were eager to get on with the work of the day?
Wouldn't it be nice to have quiet hands raised for clarifying questions or salient observations?
The answers: Yup. You betcha. Of course.
The reality in which I live suggests that those answers won't be forthcoming anytime soon. Those questions were generated by years of working at a school that is historically under-performing. It is a school that has its share of challenges. More than its share of challenges. It sits in a very urban portion of a very urban school district. It's the kind of school about which TV movies are made. That lone, crusading teacher who comes along and turns that room full of miscreants  into a devoted team of scholars. You know the one. Year after year I thought that teacher might be me. Year after year I have had my list  of victories, some of them more Pyrrhic than others. Year after year I have felt discouraged when I realize that there are students at our school who are not learning all the  things they need to learn before they head out into the cold hard world of middle school. Year after year I am relieved to see that we have managed to bring some of the magic knowledge to the children sitting in our rooms. Those same kids that I was sure had no interest whatsoever in what their teachers were saying. Including me.
Year after year, I run into former students. Some of them have stood up to the challenges of middle school. Maybe somewhere in there we lit the fire inside of them. They may have had extremely long fuses. They may have wandered into their own TV movies once they left our campus. Some of them thank me for the time we spent together. They ask about their old teachers. Most of them are gone, but I'm still there. I'm working on another group of kids, working on my game and trying to teach them to raise their hands and think and ask questions.
And I'm going to listen, and answer. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Floor Plan

Over the past few months, I have traveled past what used to be a hole in the ground. It is now a three-story structure, still being framed but has a roof on top so we know that it has reached its full height. Interesting, since the first floor was built just below the lip of that hole. What I initially believed might be a patio on the east side has become the companion to the room on the third floor. Currently there are no doors or windows, so it remains a mystery just exactly which room is which. It is possible that that bottom floor will be a garage, with a basement attached. Would all the morning light coming in, would I want that room up top to be my bedroom?
I am perhaps overly concerned with the construction of this house, or townhouse, ,or duplex or whatever it will be when it is complete. This is the evolution of the mind wandering that I have been prone to for decades. When I lived in a one bedroom apartment, I used to wonder what life would be like when I ran past a building offering two. Before our son was born, my wife and I lived in a one bedroom apartment and sometimes I wondered if having an extra bedroom would mean that we could have some alternative: an office, a "man cave," a sanctuary of some sort. Once we had an occupant for that second bedroom on the way, we wondered if we might be able to stay in our little one bedroom for a year or two as we struggled to find a home for the three of us.
As is often the case, the magic worked out just about right and we landed in a stately Victorian with plenty of room for two bedrooms, an office and even that nominal man cave. There was an unfinished basement and an attic with plenty of room to grow into.
But we never really did. We hit a nice comfortable place where we had ample room to store toys and projects and hardware that might become something else. Something else but not somewhere else. When my son moved out of his room in high school, he drifted into the back room, the once and future "man cave." While we have done our share of hammering and drilling and sawing on the essential structure of our house, the footprint has only changed by a patio out back.
Which makes me wonder as I ride past that proto-house. Who will end up living there? Can they fill up all that space? Will there be a "man cave?" Time will tell, but for now it's all potential. A life waiting to be lived.
Good luck.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


“As we hear the stories and circumstances for those here, I hope we do not forget the pain and anguish and sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens." Proposed legislation "would not have stopped the many of the circumstances I raised. But a wall, a barrier on the southern border may have.” 
Those were the words spoken by Florida Representative Matt Gaetz. His remarks pinpointed illegal immigration, not guns, as a major factor behind acts of public violence that have plagued the nation over the past two decades. This was a hearing in subcommittee about mandatory background checks, and in the audience was Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed almost exactly a year ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In Florida. 
Congressman Matt's remarks caused Mister Oliver to shout, "That's not true," which along with two other outbursts prompted the Representative to ask the committee's chair to have the grieving father removed from the hearing. The chairman Jerrold Nadler from New York, for his part, declined to eject anyone but warned, “It is never permissible for members of the audience to comment or to vociferously object. This is a hearing for members of Congress and the witnesses. Everyone else is here as an observer.”
The gallery was filled with members of the March for Our Lives movement, the organization that grew from the survivors of the Parkland shooting. Parkland, Florida. This was the first congressional hearing on gun violence in eight years. 
And this is the part where I find myself wondering about the representative part of our democracy. Or maybe there's something about the Wall that I don't fully comprehend, like how it is going to keep the abundance of guns that are already here inside our borders from winding up killing Americans. And even if there was some magic that I don't understand, I wouldn't want to explain that to Manuel Oliver. 

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Like Me Like Me

I try hard not to attach much significance to the likes and dislikes of the cyber world. The initial shock that I have a blog has worn off most of the folks who might have dropped by and typed a comment on what I had to say on any particular day has long since worn away. There are so many different ways to make one's presence felt. One of those is the actual conversation that goes something like this:
"Read your blog the other day."
"Which one?"
"I don't remember. But it was pretty funny."
Which, for better or worse, is just enough encouragement to get me to that next day when I crank out another one. An email sent directly to me is also nice, like when my mother-in-law wrote to suggest that a recent post of mine should be on Facebook. I suppose that was a move to the big time, since I expect that Mark Zuckerberg reads everything that gets published there.
Then there's the tweets I make. I confess I do get a mild charge out of each little heart or promise to retweet. A heart is so much more endearing than a thumbs up, after all. These responses are almost always from strangers, but still they remain overwhelmingly positive. Then there is that pinnacle of online commitment, following. I used to take these as the highest compliment, until I began to examine just who or what was following me.
Bots. Made up people who are stuck out there in the ether to act as conversational speed bumps. The most obvious ones are those with zero tweets of their own and lots of retweets, regurgitating a particular point of view or voice that may or may not need amplification. I am always a little suspicious of a young woman whose timeline is MAGA heavy without posting any of her own words, interspersed with mildly salacious photos of "herself." I suppose the temptation is supposed to be flattery, since why would this fan of the "President" be lining up to listen to what I have to say about anything? Except to fish me in and return the favor of following "her" with the addition of one more follower for the big Tweet in the White House.
So, if you happen to be that Alexis or Jessica or Melissa that is following me and somehow I have mislabeled you as a figment of the twitterverse, I apologize. And I think you're amazing too. Except for that whole Make America Great Again thing.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Whither The Weather

As a child, it did not occur to me that I ought to be in awe of the clouds above my head. It was only later, as I began to look out the windows of airplanes, when I was fortunate enough to get a seat near one, that I was looking out at a landscape. A constantly moving and drifting landscape that I could imagine dropping down into and bouncing around in the clinging, cottony mists. 
When I moved to northern California, it did not occur to me that I might end up missing the billowy thunderheads of my youth. Sure, it rains here, but the sheets of gray that stretch overhead tend to cover like a blanket. When it rains, it rains for days at a time and we are left once again with the cirrus that pervade our skies until that blanket of precipitation returns. 
These days, I find myself missing those banks of cumulus that tumbled over the Rocky Mountains on their trip across the continent. I can remember how they used to park just behind the foothills and create towering reminders of just how big nature really can be. Taller than the mountains. Full of rain and electricity, waiting to drop their contents on a population who could see them coming, but never fully comprehending their power. At least I didn’t.
A few mornings back, after the skies had cleared and I was able to trust the forecast that did not include indoor recess, I rode my bike through the early morning, looking east. Ahead of me I could see the storm that had rolled through the night before. It appeared that someone had swept it aside and left it in great gray piles to be cleaned up later. Or perhaps the Big Daddy in charge of things used his omnipotent hand to clear a spot through which he could look down and check on his Oakland. Her Oakland. I made an audible "wow" as I looked off to the horizon and watched as hints of purple and orange began to appears through all that cloud debris. Because I have looked at clouds from both sides now and I can say that now I fully appreciate their architecture and purpose. 
I was looking at puffs of evaporated water on their way to meeting up with other puffs of evaporated water until they became heavy enough to condense and drop to the ground and turn someone else's recess into a wet mess. 

Thursday, February 07, 2019


I had a number of different conversations this past weekend with friends and family about what might happen next. The thought that prevailed was that whatever process now takes hold would probably take a couple years to work itself out, and so the hopes we may have harbored for some sort of deliverance through common sense or magic are all but dashed.
I refer to the John Oliver bit in which he reads an item that seems to implicate our "President" of crimes or conduct that should bring the house of cards tumbling down: "We got him!" Streamers, marching bands, sirens.
Well, not yet.
Instead we find ourselves in a world that is systematically lowering the standards by which we tolerate our elected officials. I point to the case of Virginia's governor, Ralph Northam. Governor Ralph, a Democrat, is currently embroiled in a scandal involving a photo in his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. It features someone dressed in a Klan robe, and another in blackface. Mister Northam admitted that he was one of the individuals pictured. He did not specify which one. He has apologized to his fellow Virginians for "behavior in my past that falls far short of the standard you set for me when you elected me to be your governor."
Some felt that behavior in his past falls far short of the standard for humans, and felt that he should resign. This group included a whole passel of his fellow Democrats. As witnessed prior to this incident, calls for resignation are different from an actual resignation. Should a thirty-five year old picture in a yearbook be the end of someone's career? Should behavior from a generation ago be the standard by which our public figures are measured?
I do not know the answer to those questions. I can say that I respect Al Franken for ringing down the curtain of his tenure in the Senate. He wasn't pushed. He jumped. His personal standards were the ones that were crossed, and he chose to leave before he did any further damage through sticking around or wading through the waves of hypocrisy.
I do not expect the "President" to have anything amounting to an awakening and have him go before the people of this great nation to apologize for all the stupid and insensitive things he has done and said while in office, let alone the litany of horrible behavior before he ever got there. He's in it to win it.
Whatever "it" is.
(He sighed with resignation).

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Out Loud

I can make a noise on a trumpet. Several of them, actually.
I can make a noise on a didgeridoo. A great big one.
I can also make a noise on a trombone. A funny one that sounds like falling down.
I can make a noise on a tuba, or its marching cousin, trombone.
I had several of these accomplishments verified over the weekend when I found myself at a music teacher's house. I sat for a moment in front of a drum kit and took a couple rudimentary slaps at it before I retired. There wasn't the kind of confidence there that I found in the brass instruments. I also sat and watched as two guitar teachers sat across from one another, plucking and picking with only the mildest of effort. They were able to carry on a discussion while they were making their noises. The instruments I found proficiency with were ones that required my mouth to be fully engaged. I was using my breath and vibrating lips to create the sounds that showed off my talents.
Limited though they were.
I confess I was a bit surprised by my ability to play a scale on a trumpet. Trumpet is a lead instrument, one that plays melodies. This was not my job in all the years I played the low end of the brass family through high school band. I was no Roger Bobo. Trumpet players were the cool guys. Tuba players were the odd ones. The ones who knew who Roger Bobo was.
Which was kind of the design and my choice. There aren't a lot of tuba players who volunteer for the job. Most of the people in my section were converted brass or woodwind types who were coerced into supplementing the low end of the register. These guys were slumming it, and at least one of them had no particular musical ability but was hanging around in the back row of the band room holding a Sousaphone and getting into all the home football games for free.
And now, some thirty-nine years after the fact, I can still make noise with my lungs and my flapping lips. This is perhaps not the coolest thing in the world, since there aren't a lot of parties which inspire me getting out the tuba and having the gang crowd around and sing along. It's more a matter of history and a talent I used to have.
Making noises.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019


Oh, how I fear that word. When I hear "should" I know that I will be called upon to do something that is out of my comfort range. If you are keeping score at home, that's a lot of things.
Things like dinner parties.
Or Pilates.
Or doctors appointments.
I hear this word most often from the mouth of my sainted wife who has nothing but my best interests at heart. I should save all my receipts. I should consider portion control.
I should do a lot of things. But I don't.
Instead, I tend to travel the mind-numbing rut that has put me where I am today: In a comfortable rut.
Then my younger brother came by. He came by in part because my wife often reminds me that I should see him more often. Here he was, with a few hours to spare on this side of the bay, and we exchanged witty banter as we often do. This felt good, as did the brunch I ended up cooking for the three of us. I have heard that we should have more people over for brunch. As it turns out, my brother had to drop by the club where some of his neon art was being displayed to hang one of the pieces just a little higher on the wall. It was determined that I should go along with him to help out. And afterward, I should go with him to check out an exhibit of neon art Legends.
Going to art exhibits and museums is precisely the kind of thing that I really should do. I know this because I have been reminded of it many times. After conquering the brunch challenge, I was up for another. We walked into the gallery, and were met by a woman who seemed anxious to share what she knew about all the art and artists in her space. My brother and I wandered about and took it all in. Inside my head I kept track of the number of moments I took to examine each piece, each painting, each installation. I didn't need to look too closely, because this was the downstairs gallery. The place we were headed was upstairs, where they kept the neon. As the only visitors, we felt obliged to keep a mild stream of commentary going, until we had run out of pleasant observations and things at which we could look.
Then we went upstairs. I listened as my little brother rhapsodized about the work he saw, and his connection to it and the artists who had inspired him and his own work. I did this because I knew I should. No one had to tell me. I walked with some mild purpose through all the displays and then we encountered the woman who was running this show. We had another flurry of art banter and commented on the connections between the artists and their art, including the upcoming show in which my brother's work would be featured.
And then we were done. On the way back to the car, I mentioned that I was never sure exactly how long I should look at any particular work of art. My brother, the artist, said that he understood that clock and I took some comfort that he felt his own need to be on his way after taking in what he could. We were there to look, not to study.
So now, when the discussion of getting more culture into my rut, I can say that I have recently been to two different local galleries. And I enjoyed them just about as much as you think I should.

Monday, February 04, 2019

E Coupon Attraction

I am a fan of Disneyland. I have also been known to enjoy a cheeseburger from time to time. Those last two sentences are examples of what is known as "understatements." When it was time to plan our honeymoon, my wife's father wanted to send us on a cruise, which I gratefully accepted when we added Disney World as a port of call. One of the proudest moments of my life as a parent was the moment when my son finalized his purchase of a year-round pass to The Happiest Place On Earth. The next little piece of information comes as a notice about irony: I am a fan. This is also an example of understatement, but it should be pointed out that something truly magical happens when I set foot on Disney property: My irony muscle begins to atrophy. I am at once swept up by all the sights and sounds and captivated by the cast members' insistence on bringing me the best and most magical day possible.
Which is why I shudder to think about some ne'er-do-well climbing off their car in Space Mountain while it is in motion. Last week, that's what someone did. Suddenly my mind went back to discussions I have had with friends and family about troublemakers who have escaped their restraints, mostly mild, to go hobnobbing with the animatronics. Stepping out into the world of Caribbean Pirates or a Mansion that is Haunted seems like a really amusing prank, but it means the usually smooth entrance and egress of these rides stops while bad boys and girls are rounded up by the Disney Police and then things can be returned to the hands of the imagineers. To some degree, I think it is odd that I would be one of those grumpy old coots sneering at "those darn kids," but that's where I live.
But Space Mountain? A high-speed turbulent roller coaster type ride in the dark? I have seen pictures of the inner workings of this beast when the lights are on, but only in pictures and on video.  You want to jump off in the dark? Bad choice. Of course what this means is that the attraction, a favorite for anyone tall enough to ride, had to be closed for days while security and safety were checked and enhanced. Space Mountain sometimes malfunctions for minutes or hours at a time, usually as a consequence of a passenger who required a "wet cleanup" in their car, but for days? I wasn't even standing in line and I am still offended.
And relieved.
Next time I go, things will be better. And magical once again.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Super Duper

The commotion is just about over, not that I have been immersed in it.
The supermarket specials on chips and salsa will now have to find another excuse.
Buying a new television will now need a different excuse than The Big Game.
Super Sunday has arrived, and in my house we are trying to be enthusiastic about what this might mean to the people that live here. Chili. That's a good thing. We will be cooking chili. The television will be on for any and all Super events, though as I mentioned before we have pretty solidly avoided the hype.
This was not always the case.
Three years ago, I talked my wife into driving across the bay to visit Super Bowl City. This was the year that San Francisco hosted The Big Game. Nominally. Super Bowl Fifty (L, 50, XXXXX, whatever) was held in Santa Clara, down the road apiece from the traveling circus that unfolded in San Francisco. I stood in line for more than an hour to buy a T-shirt. I did this with the pained consent of my wife who lovingly understood that this would probably be Peyton Manning's last rodeo and it might be a while before I had the slathering attention to pay to this spectacle.
Oh. And we brought my younger brother along.
I know I just got finished saying that I had retired from tormenting my younger brother years before this, but I suppose old habits die hard. I will say that in my fervor to pay attention to all things Bronco and Super Bowl three years ago, I set aside consideration for my own blood relative and dragged my brother to downtown San Francisco to witness the sound and the fury. My brother who is nothing if not affable, came along for the ride and treated the whole thing as a sociological experiment. How much Bud Light advertisement can one set of eyes take in, after all?
The answer would be: A Lot. As it turned out, there was not a lot of team-specific swag to be found in Super Bowl City. There was a lot of stuff that could be dragged home to commemorate the playing of The Big Game in the New Levi's Stadium. In Santa Clara. Forty-five miles away. We stayed until I made it through the Super T-shirt line, and then we weaved our Super way back through the Super crowd to our Super car and headed home.
Happily, that game did not disappoint. The Broncos won and the next day I went to jury duty. Since then, The Broncos haven't won a lot. My interest in the last game of the season has been primarily cosmetic and chili-based. As will be today. I'll find something to get excited about.
Puppy Bowl, anyone?

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Numb Skull

"In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can't last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Warming? Please come back fast, we need you!"
This was the Tweet that the "President" sent out to greet the Polar Vortex, a weather system cold enough that no mail will be delivered in parts of seven states as a result. Neither rain nor sleet nor vicious dogs, but this one will keep mail carriers indoors until the big freeze passes. Meteorologists are referring to this as a "deadly cold front" because of the extreme temperatures associated with it. The "President" is correct in his assertion that temperatures will be low. This past week Chicago was colder than parts of Antarctica
Rather than the glib sniff at the "hoax" of global warming, it might have been nice for the "President" to acknowledge the dangers associated with such weather. Frostbite, ice and snow, and dangers to those who find themselves outside during this winter storm. People die as a result of weather like this. Not billionaires living in government housing, with access to golf resorts in Florida, but poor and homeless folks who don't have access to heat. For days at a time.
What the current resident of the White House has ignored is the difference between "warming" and "climate change." The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tweeted this: "Winter storms don't prove that global warming isn't happening." The problem is a simple one to explain: The difference between weather and climate. A week of frigid temperatures in the Midwest will not keep the ice shelves from disappearing. Weather is an event. Climate is a condition. Extreme weather events over the past decades have been linked to climate change
But that's science, and that implies facts, and that's not where the "President" is currently holing up. He won't be experiencing below zero temperatures. He won't be exposed to those conditions. He will be someplace warm, and devoid of facts. 

Friday, February 01, 2019


I am an older brother. This means, for the sake of this story, that I have tormented a younger brother for a great many years. The good news for all involved is that these incidents are very much a part of the past and amends have been made. At least that's what keeps me able to sleep at night. Sometimes I like to think that, in a vacuum, I would never have made such sport of him. I like to believe that since we spent so much time being such good friends outside the influence of others that I was only reacting to the exhortations of those around me. The kids on our street, for example. My "best friend," to be precise.
It was with this friend that my younger brother suffered the most. Not that I was without blame. I certainly helped in the countdown when we announced to him that "We're all gonna die in five seconds: five, four, three..." And then we would collapse in a heap, leaving him to shake our lifeless bodies shouting, "Come on, guys! This isn't real." Which would have been an easy enough position to maintain if A) we hadn't done it to him with ridiculous and alarming frequency and B) he hadn't been five years old. Much in the same way that we insisted that we had exact robot duplicates of ourselves and we would be right back with them except we could only control them from the other room so we could never be seen with them.
Again: Silly. Harmless. And really awful if you're a five year old looking for some kind of connection with your older brother. In hindsight, of course, I wish that I had the strength of character to stand up to the pal of mine. I wish I could have been the one to rescue my little brother from this endless torture. I could have been this end. Instead, I was working under the pressure of knowing that if I were to stand up to my friend, then I was probably going to end up on the receiving end of whatever agonies that could be unloaded on me that were no longer reaching the original target. I was, embarrassingly enough, using my little brother as a human shield. I gave him up to deflect all of that childhood angst and rage.
And I'm sorry.
We laugh about it now, and I marvel at how resilient he is. I wonder sometimes if I helped make him that way. Or if he's just biding his time, waiting for the proper moment to strike.