Friday, May 31, 2019

The One That Got Away

I have made a little joke with friends from time to time about how I wanted to be remembered. Mostly regarding how it should not be a mystery about how I passed: "It must have been all the times he ate a Big Mac in one bite," or "After that much Coca-Cola, your kidneys would leap out of your body too." He was a Coke drinker and a Big Mac masher. I'm not sure if that would fit on a headstone, if I have one. It would serve me right if whatever monument ends up at my last mile marker it would read, "He stomped on the Terra."
Aloha, Dave.
Over the weekend, I read this: "After battling the disease of Lewy Body Dementia, Bill Buckner passed away early the morning of May 27th surrounded by his family. Bill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life. Our hearts are broken but we are at peace knowing he is in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." I'm not sure I would garner that last bit about the arms of his Lord and Savior, and I hope I can avoid dementia of any sort. At least the kind that could kill me. 
But if you've been alive as long as I have, or longer, once you read the name "Billy Buckner," you probably thought, "didn't he play baseball?"
Yes he did. 
And you might even remember that he played for the Red Sox.
And if you made it that far on the memory train, you probably got to the part where, in the 1986 World Series, Bill let the potential first championship for the still-cursed team from Boston slip through his fingers. Or between his legs. His error allowed the Mets to score the winning run, and go on a couple of nights later to win game seven, keeping the Red Sox on the Bambino list for another eighteen years. That was the accomplishment that was splashed all over Al Gore's Internet. Not his twenty-one years in the major leagues. Not his lifetime .289 batting average. 
The powers that be posted video of the one that got away.
For the record, Bill Buckner deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame, and he did in fact stomp on the Terra. He will be missed. 
Which is why I'm pretty sure I need to find that picture of me with a mouthful of McDonald's

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Slings And Arrows

Do you remember when Nancy Reagan bubbled over about her "tiny little gun?" Do you remember Nancy Reagan? There was once an American President named Ronald Reagan, and he was married (for the second time) to a lady named Nancy. To show her firmly held conviction regarding the Second Amendment to our Constitution, she gave a folksy little interview about how Ronnie (the aforementioned President) gave her a "tiny little gun" to protect herself when she was left alone in their Pacific Palisades home.
This was the anecdote that came abruptly to my mind when I read about how our current "president's" golf weekend in Japan was interrupted by the announcement that North Korea had fired missiles in what his underlings described as breaking the U.N. restrictions on such ballistic missiles. Which wasn't how Michael Bolton's boss saw it: "North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?"
Perhaps it's our "president" sending us a signal: As a guest in neighboring Japan, the American "President" chose to brush off what most of the rest of the world felt was some kind of provocation as a way to connect with the man he used to call "Rocketman" on their shared disrespect of the former Vice President of the United States. Never mind that those missiles might be used on targets across the Sea of Japan, Kim Jong Un was capping on the "president's" potential rival in the 2020 election. The election in the United States. Far away from the Sea of Japan. And all those potential targets in Japan. Japan's new Emperor Abe viewed those missile tests with "great regret."
Swampman. Low IQ. Totally worth it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Situation: Normal

You may have heard my stifled scream on Sunday morning, and for that I apologize. No need to panic, as it turns out. Order has been restored in the most benign way possible: turn off the machine, restart and try again. All is well again.
What was the problem?
No Google.
I know, right?
Being the ever resourceful tech genius that I am, I found a tired icon on my laptop's desktop for Microsoft Edge. Cautiously, I opened it to see if there was still an Internet. Feeling reassured about that experiment, I was still worried that some sort of Thanos Snap might have disintegrated half the web browsers in the universe. Stopping first to check my email, and finding it visible through what used to be Explorer, I proceeded to my next most logical alternative. Restart.
I held my breath for a moment or two as I waited for my computer to shake off the cobwebs and bring me back to what I hoped was the land of all that is good and Googly. I reflected briefly on the conversation I had with the daughter of a friend of ours. She wondered aloud why the home assistant was called "Google" instead of something more clever and lyrical like Siri or Alexa. I reminded her that by keeping the name branded, it allowed us all to speak the company's name several hundred more times each day and thus creating neural pathways that would be most certainly hardwired. This sent another wave of panic through me: What if our home assistant had failed as well? Would I have to turn on lights and appliances myself? Touching buttons and switches has become so very antiquated. Hurry up and boot, computer.
As I typed in my user name and password, I continued to hope for the best as my reflection continued. There was a time not long ago when I used to teach my students to use search engines as if it were some sort of level playing field, before google became a verb. Before Google got us all using docs and Chromebooks and forgetting a world of Bing and Ask Jeeves and DuckDuckGo. A time that included Netscape and Firefox. But this was all crazy fear talking. There would be Google again. There had to be.
The words you are currently reading are brought to you by the friendly faceless monolith with the cute doodles. Even before I started making my incessant entries into this cyber-salon, Google had gobbled this little corner of Al Gore's Internet. Like they have so many other avenues and on-ramps on the information superhighway. So I want to thank you all for hanging on while I sorted this all out, and hopefully something that terrifying will never happen again.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Magnificent Obsession

She's out there, waiting. I know this time of year all too well. When my thoughts begin to turn to my avocations, my obsessions. For years now - how many has it been? Has she always been there? There must have been a time when she wasn't that angry itch, waiting for me to scratch. The seasons change and the pages of the calendar fall to the floor, but no matter how things change, she's still there to wrestle with. To mock me. To make every attempt at controlling her a laughable charade.
Her? She? What? My white whale. My albatross.
I'm talking about our front gate. No other portion of our house or yard has required so much of my attention and robbed me of so many weekends. Sagging, sticking, slanting, it's never been quite right. When we first rebuilt the front fence, the gate was one long eight foot section that opened in one wide swing. For a month or two, until the weight began to strain the hinges and the corner scraped as it needed to be dragged over the grass to force it to stay open far enough to drive the car up the driveway. For a while, there was a cable running from the post to the end to limit the droop. Every departure and each return served as a reminder of the faulty engineering I had wrought.
There was that cathartic moment when I took a circular saw to the center of it and slapped some hinges on the opposite side. Half the weight, half the problem. Which was about the time we got a dog who was as concerned as I was with the gap between the two sides. Finding a viable latch that could withstand her insistent nudging and prodding brought me a dozen years of searching hardware stores for just the right latch. It was at some point during this era that a neighbor dropped by and left me with two eight inch metal plates he had drilled especially to help me keep the lower portion of the gate from being shoved so as to subvert the closure system. And that worked for a while.
Weather and age have proved to be our collective undoing, as all that fitting and making things just so only last as long as warping and the posts holding the hinges in place stay put where they were before and after the rains came. Friends who come to our house are timid about driving inside the compound for fear of losing their side view mirrors. I could do nothing to alleviate those fears except to stand outside holding the gate back and guiding them as they ease backward out into the street, free from the worry of damage caused by that gate. Her. She. The portal to the rest of the world.
This weekend, she got some new springs. It's a new direction, and I hope that their addition will settle my mind once again as I pursue any other imaginable concern. Stamp collecting. Gardening. Ceramics. Anything that might bring me a moment's peace. Anything that might take my mind off of her.

Monday, May 27, 2019

My Old Desk

This desk isn't going to clean itself.
Nor is this room.
As the end of official business comes crashing in on top of us, teachers like myself are beginning to look at the piles they have generated over the previous nine months and begin to assess the damage. What, amidst the tidal wave of paper that has littered my main work surface for the past year will follow me into the next? Is that the note I was going to send home with Jane after Christmas break? There is most of a ream of gold paper sitting on the right hand side, ready to turn into Jaguar Cards if any teacher comes to ask.
But they haven't. And consequently one of the paperweights that adorn my desk is the weight of the paper I have not used. And yet I have worked around this and other obstacles for weeks and weeks. Don't get me wrong, I can still access my keyboard and make out my screen. Even if it means that I have to shove things to the left and the right. That broken pair of headphones that only works on one side is my souvenir for rescuing it from students who insisted it was broken. Not completely, I assured them, and have proceeded to use that one tiny speaker to reference the sound that might otherwise have come from any other device I might have connected.
Just beyond that is the can of spray sunscreen that has come in handy less and less as the rains have continued to come through this very wet spring. It is there in case I need it, or as is probably the case, just in case I decide to take it home for those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.
At the bottom of one of the stacks is a laminated sign reminding those who might intrude that testing is taking place, with the reminder at the bottom, "Do Your Best!" For the third, fourth and fifth graders here as well as their teachers, that time has passed. Doing our collective best is now pretty much optional, since the actual teaching has slowed to a virtual halt. We have opportunities to make common sense connections, like reminders that balls don't tend to leave the yard over fifteen foot high fences "on accident."
And there are a number of additional technology scraps that need to find their way to electronic waste or a cabinet where I will find them at the beginning of next year when I will take them out and set them on my desk with the intent of dealing with them. Sometime next year.

Sunday, May 26, 2019


How are you gonna keep the kids down on the farm after they've seen Paris? The same can be said for extra recess. It is the closing of the school year, and teachers have all but surrendered to the inevitable tide of pending report cards and twitchy children who have become allergic to the seats we have all worked so hard to keep them in for the past nine months. It is a time of field trips and art projects and cleaning out desks. That last one is an endeavor that I can remember as a somewhat endless task when I was in elementary school. Papers seemed to regenerate withing the dark recesses and corners of that seemingly finite space. And there's that package of erasers I brought in the second week of school, shoved way in the back.
There is some mild leverage left with fifth graders. We have announced to the students and their families that any fifth grader caught in any chicanery or hijinks would be subject to losing their spot on the stage come promotion time. Or worse still, they wouldn't be allowed to line up for the barbecue the day before. The pride of walking across a stage to receive a rolled-up piece of paper may not be as stirring as the thought of all those hamburgers and hot dogs. Leaving us with one final day to negotiate.
Anecdotal memory: As a senior in high school, our marching band went on a trip to Mexico. It just so happened that this tour began a couple days after graduation. We were told by our band director that if there was any mischief or tomfoolery that our diplomas would be rescinded. At this time, I was cruising on the edge of being a bad boy, at least as far as that description can be applied to a high school band member, and I wondered just how serious this threat was. Having been removed as Pep Band President by this same band director, I leaned in the direction of believing it was sincere. What followed was a rather chaste and polite trip to Mexico City and Acapulco with my girlfriend even though our relationship had proceeded somewhere south of the chaste and polite border back home. Meanwhile, we were witness to all manner of misbehavior by the "good kids": underage drinking, sex, curfew violations, curfew violations with staff. All the while, I maintained composure. I wanted to keep my diploma.
Decades later, I am certain that holding us hostage for our diploma was a lot of fluff. I can say this because of the repeated assurances we give our fifth graders even as the kids in lower grades hang from light fixtures and scream profanity at anyone who cares to listen. We are, effectively, inviting them back. Why would we want to keep this one group of knuckleheads from moving on?
It's a long week. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Just Sayin'

Raise your hand if you love your Amazon Prime. Okay, let's see: one, two, three, four, um - one hundred one million. You joined up because only a schmuck would wait for six to ten business days to get their Instant Pot pressure cooker. And you'd have to be deranged to actually drive to a store that sells it and carry it home yourself. We are Americans, after all, and we pride ourselves on finding the cheapest, most convenient way to do the cheapest most convenient things. Owning a pressure cooker is a great way to save time and money, and if you use your Amazon Prime membership to get that bad boy to your front porch ASAP, you're just being a good American.
But it probably isn't worth losing a life over.
I'm not sure what gangsta rapper and NBC's star of Law and Order needs with a pressure cooker. Or maybe it was any one of the six hundred six million products available for purchase on Amazon. Whatever it was, the composer of the lyrical hit "Body Count" complains that he "almost shot a MF creeping up to my crib last night.... Just sayin." This was part of a Tweet in which he was suggesting that those MFs should be wearing uniforms or be in some way outwardly distinguishable as Amazon delivery personnel. To which Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations & Customer Service Dave Clark tweeted back to Ice-T, "Just sayin…thanks for the suggestion. We MF’ing love you and our drivers. Lots of innovations coming on this and many that already exist to help you track your package and delivery on a map. Thanks for being a customer."
Which puts us all square in the cross-hairs of being a proud American. We don't want to be bothered to go to the store to pick up our pressure cooker, or whatever, and we want to cling ferociously to our Second Amendment Rights. Which makes the only logical solution to do the following: Arm Amazon delivery folks. Uniforms can be expensive and need frequent laundering. Why take the chance that the one night you end up on the front lawn of one of the stars of NBC's procedural cop shows your bright orange vest is at the cleaners? Why take the chance that former bad boy and now reformed good guy gangsta with a gun is going to pop a cap in you when you can be a good delivery guy with a gun and shoot back?
I just hope the pressure cooker survives the exchange of gunfire.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Sing As If No One Was Listening

It seems somewhat unlikely that of the leventy-seven kerjillion candidates currently running for president on the Democrat's side that there would be a dearth of campaign songs, but let it be known here and now that Dee Snider is fine with you using one of his compositions as your theme. “There's a simple litmus test here: Are you pro-choice?” says Snider. “And by pro-choice, I mean all choices. I mean, pro-people's rights to choose, particularly a woman's right to choose. I feel very strongly. And that is the litmus test. I hate the whole concept of pro-choice versus … well, I call it ‘no choice.’ It's not like you choose for yourself, and that means you can have children, or you don't have children. They're like, ‘No, we're deciding for you what is right for you.’ Anybody who is pro-choice, and has at least that position, knock yourself out — Republican, Democrat. And there are Republicans out there who are [pro-choice]. They call them ‘Northeastern Republicans’ as a rule, and they tend to be fiscally conservative/socially liberal. I love those guys. So yeah, if you're pro-choice, yeah, go for it.”
Go for it indeed. Thirty-five years after the song was released "We're Not Gonna Take It" is the choice of those who choose. This anti-authority anthem may seem a little off the shelf for some, but considering Dee's past association with his game show host buddy, one might assume that he was all in for the current "President." Not anymore
Anyone who has previously made the association between the Trump Administration and the actions of one Douglas C. Niedermeyer will take heart in this news. Blasting that kind of overzealous spittle-spraying personality through a window with one massive power chord feels completely right about now. For those of us living in an America that feels pretty great without attempts to remake it in some draconian image of Napoleon's France would be happy to sing along: 
We'll fight the powers that be just
Don't pick our destiny 'cause
You don't know us, you don't belong

Which makes pretty good sense, when one compares those lyrics to the Trump campaign's use of the Rolling Stones classic, "You Can't Always Get What You Want." As for Mister Snider, well it seems that he learned a few lessons from his ex-pal, since previous associations with his song may have caused others to forget it and leave it on a heap with the rest of those fist-pumpers from the eighties. Or you could keep playing it at your rallies for a whole new generation. Dee-licious. Dee-lightful. Dee-cisive. And so on. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

All Done

From the start I should state that there have been two, in my experience, and only two satisfying finales to a series on television. The first was Newhart. and if you have never seen it to appreciate the cleverness of its manipulation of our realities, maybe you should skip clicking on that link up there because you deserve to live through the entire eighteen year combined odyssey Bob took us through. As jokes go, you have to admire the patience in that setup.
The second, primarily by date rather than preference, is Breaking Bad. Hearing Badfinger chime in with their line, "Guess I got what I deserved," and watching the clock wind down on Walter White at last was cathartic for those of us who stayed on the tired RV until it came to a stop. Almost beyond words. But since I came up with "cathartic," I might as well add "amazing" and "satisfying." Those words come close, anyway.
Which leaves the rest of television with which we can haggle. My wife and I checked into the last episode of The Big Bang Theory only to discover (spoiler alert) that the elevator had been repaired. I have no complaints with the maintenance of the building in which they lived, but there was a safety and comfort to the way things ended up with dreams fulfilled and wishes granted. We watched long enough to see "the gang" hanging around the apartment one last time, sharing takeout. No reason to mess with success, I suppose.
Historically, I suppose The Mary Tyler Moore Show had its charm, as finales go.  And M*A*S*H just went on and on in hopes of plucking ever last heartstring. Which makes me glad that I was only a casual viewer of The Sopranos, since the hardcore fans remain frustrated by the ambiguity of that final scene.
Then there's Game of Thrones. So many friends of ours stared blankly at us for so long when we confessed that we hadn't watched, including our son, we decided to hop on the dragon's back and go for the ride. I only lasted through the first season. My wife clung more tightly and she stuck with it right to that last murky shot. And I won't be giving anything away to say that the planet sat in grumbling disbelief as the curtain came down. "Is that all there is? Is that all there is to a fire?" That sound you hear is the whimper of the long-awaited culmination of all that blood and sex and bloody sex. I was asleep, but my wife needed to wake me up to express her disappointment.
Or maybe it was all some crazy dream.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

History Lesson

Here's something to note: Back in May of 2005, The Huffington Post came online. It's a news source, an opinion platz, and a thorn in the side of most everyone who doesn't share their left-leaning view of the world. It was fourteen years ago this month that I opened my own little corner of the Interwebs. The one upon which you are currently gazing. Coincidence? Maybe not.
But it's definitely a conspiracy.
Back in those days it seemed like it was an important thing to do, writing about all the things that went on in my head. George W. Bush was president then. I didn't put quotation marks around his title, but I didn't refer to him as anything but "Pinhead." Without the quotation marks. This became my repository not just for the pent-up frustrations I maintained with the politics of the time, but it was also a place to store treasured memories. And a place to store anecdotes relating to my teaching career. The children I wrote about back then are now legally adults. The ones that survived.
And I don't mean that sarcastically or in reference to my own abilities as an educator. Sadly, over the past decade and a half, there have been a few of my former students who have given up this mortal coil.
One of the first entries I wrote was about the massacre at Columbine High School. I wrote back then about how I chose to stop playing Doom, a first person shooter computer game that was very much in vogue. It was a favorite of the boys who shot up that suburban Colorado high school. They chose to channel their anger and frustration into a video game. Only they didn't stop there.
This past week, I walked around one of the hexagonal sets of work stations in my classrooms and found a third grade boy staring at a screen. He was playing Doom. By some awful twist of Al Gore's Internet, a web service found a way to obfuscate the filtering service our district employs. This allowed him to roam, heavily armed, through virtual hallways and passages shooting at demons and bad guys.
My heart sank. I tried not to infuse my reaction with all those flavors that I had tasted over the past fifteen years. I asked him to log off and take a seat in the classroom time-out chair. I needed a moment myself to modulate my response. When I came to him a couple minutes later, I asked him if he had a sense of what he was doing. He knew that he wasn't being safe, responsible, or respectful as our school-wide expectations suggest. I asked if he was allowed to play that game at home. After a pause, he replied, "No."
After a few more minutes, we agreed to let him return to his assignment, the one that had nothing to do with gunplay or demons or dark passages. I tried to set aside what continue to be my own views on all things not found in Ed Code. I knew that I would eventually find myself behind a keyboard with a chance to reflect back my shock and dismay that some things are beyond my capacity to change with a page-long blog entry.
Kind of like the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

I'll Say It Again In The Land Of The Free

I have quoted it here before.
Here we go again:
Freedom of Choice is what you got - DEVO
Here's a new one: "I think Alabama has gone too far. It's an extreme law. They want to challenge Roe v. Wade, but my humble view is that this is not the case that we want to bring to the Supreme Court, because I think this will lose." - Pat Robertson, God's little elf and host of the 700 Club. 
And there's this from Tomi Lahren, talking head for something on Fox said (tweeted) that the Alabama ban on abortion was “too restrictive” and warning it wouldn’t stop women from seeking out the procedure. “It doesn’t save life, it simply forces women into more dangerous methods, other states or countries,” she tweeted. “You don’t encourage life via blanket government mandate!” It should be pointed out that Fox News and Twitter is where all the exclamation points go to die.
Some observations here:
The Venn Diagram that describes the intersection between pro-life groups and the National Rifle Association is essentially concentric circles. Which seems pretty ironic to me. A very similar demographic would have you believe that the party they chose to represent them is all about staying out of our lives, but welcome their intrusion into our living wombs. A group of mostly white older men are writing laws designed to protect life theoretical. Women who are affected don't deserve a choice.
Freedom from Choice is what you want - DEVO
Spoken, or sang, like a group of mutants without the ability to bear children. It would be so much easier not to choose, after all. To let someone else drive. Let those difficult decisions like life and death be meted out by the Second Amendment and its fans. And down in Alabama life and death is being delineated by a group of politicians. But even some of the harshest red voices think they may have gone too far.
Which leads me to one more moderately scientific observation: Once you've gone too far to the right, it turns out you're going left. It's not right anymore.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Last Stop

Over the past few months, I have wished for the days of quiet introspection and ignorance of those around ourselves. Sitting on a bus used to have attached to it a certain amount of anonymity. The goal, it seemed, was to sit quietly and stare off into the middle distance and wait for your stop. It shouldn't matter whether you were front, back, window or aisle, you could just keep your awareness at a level that would allow you to be aware of the relative distance to your destination without having to engage with the humanity around you. If you were one of those bar or strap hangers, this would go double for you. 
Seventy-four year old Serge Fournier learned the hardest possible way when he was pushed off a bus after an argument with a fellow passenger boiled over. Serge died from his injuries a few weeks later. Police arrested a suspect, twenty-five years old, after inspecting video footage taken by security cameras on the bus. He landed face first on the curb outside bus, landing on top of the shopping cart he was carrying. After refusing medical treatment at the scene, Mister Fournier went to the hospital later in the day, where his condition worsened and he eventually passed away from the physical trauma he endured. And it was perhaps the emotional trauma suffered in the incident that had him rushing away instead of allowing him to be examined at the time of the incident. 
Video of the shove has been everywhere over the past month, and once assault had turned to homicide, then it become even more important to catch she person who made the shove. Police now have a suspect in custody, and "justice" will no doubt be served. 
Civility, it seems, will have to wait. 
Public transportation should be a place where one can disappear for a few minutes. Ring the buzzer when you approach the place where you want to be and step back into the world where life will continue as before. That personal space bubble has disintegrated. Not that anyone should shirk their human decency along as they board, but sitting on that bus should allow everyone a chance to collect their thoughts or ignore them. My younger brother, who drives a para-transit bus in addition to his career in the arts, has a phrase that applies: Victory through apathy. Not that we shouldn't all care more about things and one another, but there should be more attention paid to those moments and locales in which doing and saying is unnecessary. 
Until life can resume at its regular pace. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Hasn't She Done Enough?

Trade war with China. Mass shootings on a weekly basis. A constitutional crisis as the "president" continues to thumb his nose at Congress. The Middle East. There are all kinds of things about which an individual could choose to lose sleep. This week I have been tossing and turning because of the possible futures of Britney Spears.
You remember Britney, don't you? She of the Mickey Mouse Club, where she hung out with a baby Justin Timberlake and a pre-hunk Ryan Gosling. The Britney Spears who sold more than twenty million copies of her second album.  The young lady who signed a two-year endorsement contract with Pepsi before she turned twenty to the tune of kerjillion dollars. She appeared at the MTV Video awards not with Justin or Ryan, but with a large albino python. Her first marriage lasted fifty-five hours before it was annulled. Remarried, this time long enough to have her first child at twenty-four., subsequently photographed driving with her infant in her lap. A month after being investigated by the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services after her son falls from a highchair, Britney announces that she is pregnant with baby number two. Two months after the birth of her second son, she filed for divorce from husband number two. Checks into a rehab facility. Checks out the next day. Two days later, she shaved her head. Bald. She lost physical custody of her two boys a few months later. Lost visitation rights to her sons after an encounter with police. Checked into the UCLA Med School Psychiatric Ward. For a month. She appeared in an episode of Glee devoted to her and her music. In 2015 she landed a residency at the Planet Hollywood hotel in Las Vegas. 
On the edge of returning to Vegas, she was hospitalized in order to get "some needed me time." And now the powers that be suggest she may never perform again. 
Which would be a tragedy of some proportion. And perhaps a release for Ms. Spears who has spent almost her entire life, from age nine, in the white hot glare of superstardom. And she may not be entirely well. So I am suggesting that we let the last twenty-six years stand as her body of work and let her be. Whatever she will be. 
And now back to the regularly scheduled turmoil. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Cracking Up

Knowing that Tim Conway was raised in a suburb of Cleveland named Chagrin Falls may be enough to give one pause. It is difficult for me to imagine a moment in which Mister Conway was ever embarrassed or flustered. While those around him wilted and failed, he remained steadfast. He was determined to get the last laugh. The recent flurry of obituaries name him as being "of the Carol Burnett Show." Which is certainly where I found him most readily. I remember that he wasn't always a "regular." Partly because there was little about him that fit that description. Outwardly, perhaps, but inside lurked a madman, willing to go to most any length to achieve his purpose: comedy.
But those Saturday nights when I planned my evening ahead of time because TV Guide listed Tim Conway as a guest star were my initial experiences with must-see TV. I waded through musical numbers and other skits in wild anticipation of the genius. Tim pushed the bounds of sketch comedy, apparently not happy with simply an audience reaction, but getting his fellow performers to lapse into hysterics was his ultimate goal. No one was safe.
Least of all me.
I did not discover Tim Conway on the Carol Burnett Show. I was introduced to him through seemingly endless reruns of McHale's Navy. I was pleasantly entertained by the zany antics of commander McHale and his crew of misfits, but it was the well-intentioned bumbling of Conway's Ensign Charles Parker that kept me glued to the set, and Parker's love affair with Yvette (played by Claudine Longet) gave a comedy-prone round boy like me hope. I even went so far as to adopt the Ensign's catchphrase for a period of time: "Gee, I love that kind of talk."
And I am sad to say that Tim and I did not age well together. While he was busy pioneering a series of gold videos featuring his height-impaired Dorf, I had moved on to harder stuff: National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live.
Yet, when I look back at those old clips, waiting along with Tim for just the right moment to drop one more line, to fall just a little further, I can't help but laugh. Which is what I did when I heard that he had passed. He stomped on the Terra, primarily for comic purposes. He will be missed. Aloha, Tim.

Friday, May 17, 2019


Whatever will be, will be.
That was the musical advice given to me by Doris Day. If you were to believe her, that was what her mother said to her. In Spanish. Which is as ethnically confusing as can be imagined, but no matter. All advice is to be taken with a grain of salt.
I grew up in a world where Doris Day was more a concept than a person. She of the animal rights before there were such things and the chaste and pure life while all around her seemed to be anxious to make her fall.
Whatever will be, will be.
Cary Grant, James Garner, and Rock Hudson all took their swings. And still all that sunny disposition kept smiling through. The television show she found herself in during the late sixties and early seventies was the lead in on CBS for The Carol Burnett Show. While I watched, Doris was emerging from bankruptcy. With a smile and aplomb.
Whatever will be, will be.
It wasn't until I was in college and watched Alfred Hitchcock's remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much that I heard Doris sing her signature song as a plot device. Her voice saved her young son, the one she had with Jimmy Stewart on screen.
Whatever will be, will be.
In 1985, she asked her former co-star, Rock Hudson, to appear on a cable TV show about dogs. It was one of the first public appearances of Hudson after a rumored diagnosis of AIDS. That episode aired just a few days after Rock's death. Doris felt her relationship was far more important than any perceived stigma created by the disease.
Whatever will be, will be.
She lived to be a ripe old ninety-seven years old. She stomped on the Terra and made the world safe and happy for dogs and people of all shapes and sizes.
Aloha, Doris. Whatever will be, will be. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Float On

There is a worldwide helium shortage. Feel free at this point to construct your own joke about shortages of gas. Now tell them to someone you feel will laugh. Because I am here to tell you that it is no joke. Helium is used in deep sea diving, airbags, cryogenics, rocket fuel, MRI machines and in areas of tech that include fiber optics and semiconductors. I'll bet you feel silly now for making up those jokes about passing gas, don't you?
Except you probably shouldn't. Because the situation is so very ripe for humor. Take for example the closing of forty-five locations of Party City stores. Spokespeople for the chain insist the helium shortage has nothing to do with the closures, but I dare to postulate otherwise. I am holding on to a partially filled tank of the gas in my garage, left over from last summer's celebration of my twenty-fifth anniversary. As I was tying off balloons and attaching them to strings to decorate our back yard, I was very conscious of how much was left in that canister as I filled each one. I wanted to be certain that there would be enough to play with once the festivities began to wind down.
In case you are unaware, aside from making balloons float, helium will make your voice sound funny. Squeaky. Like a chipmunk. Because of its lighter than air properties, putting that gas into your lungs instead allows your vocal cords to vibrate more quickly and produce a higher pitch. It is a fun party trick that I can say after nearly fifty-seven years on the planet for which I have not grown tired. I spend most of my free time between tanks of helium trying to come up with funny things to say when I inhale helium. Perhaps the most time-tested of these would be imitating the closing shrieks of the transmogrified scientist in The Fly
I know, I know. Hysterical.
What if you own a blimp? Still laughing? 
Okay. Stop. 
The National Helium Reserve reminds us that helium is a non-renewable resource. At current usage rates, they estimate that we could run out of our second lightest gas. In two hundred years. 
Okay. Back to laughing. In a really squeaky voice. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Long Strange Trip

Sitting out here on the Left Coast, enjoying the lifestyle that embraces all that is comfortable and liberal and diverse, I can't help but look back over my shoulder at those wacky folks in Colorado. Not only was the Centennial State out front of those of us here in the Golden State when it came time to legalize marijuana, now the Mile High City just took it to another level: They've gone and decriminalized "magic mushrooms." It still won't be legal to buy or sell them, but the effort in Colorado seems to keep winnowing the list of controlled substances. Denver police are now asked to make drug offenses that include mushrooms their lowest priority.
Out here by the bay, we can only shake our heads. How is it that all those uptight cowboys are getting the step on us when it comes to legalizing drugs?
Well, maybe it's worth noting that all the drugs I consumed were those that I consumed in Colorado. I left quite a sordid past back in the Rocky Mountains, which does lead me to wonder if drugs had been legal when I was in my twenties if I would have found them so alluring. I am reasonably certain that my tripping, snorting and swallowing would not have been nearly as exciting without the chase. It wasn't like things are today, when you can pop down to the store and pick up a six pack of beer and make a stop at the pot shop for a little weekend mood leveler. You had to know somebody. Or you had to know somebody who knew somebody. Or somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who - you get the point. And this was a cash business, back in the day. There was no venmo. And most of the characters I encountered in those bygone moments were not the most reputable or savory individuals. The idea of dropping by the local dispensary for a bit of the usual from my friendly neighborhood cannabis provider seems pretty foreign to me. Amsterdam-ish.
Which may be how all of this legislation has come to pass. Since folks like myself are now of an age an potentially status where they might have a thought about making laws that would remove some of the Dragnet stigma that scared the living bejeezus out of me when I was ten years old. Sure, there were plenty of casualties along the way: John Belushi. Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. But all of these were on a par with those brought on by alcohol or just plain old depression. 
The voices that led the fight to decriminalize psilocybin insist they are tired of seeing people thrown in jail for what they choose to put in their bodies. A noble enough thought, but out here in the People's Republic of California, we're just hoping that we can pass meaningful legislation to limit hotels from distributing those little containers of shampoo. That's what we call a "head trip." 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Would've Should've Could've

There are plenty of things that I wish that I would have done while I was raising my little boy. I wish that I would have gone fishing with him. Not because I was such a fan of the sport, but because I remember going fishing with my parents. I also remember going to the theater with my parents. The good news on that front is that I did get my son to see American Idiot when it came to San Francisco. Or maybe there was enough DNA floating around that my son got involved in theater tech when he was in high school and ended up going to college to study theater.
So maybe that wish is one I could have back.
Or perhaps I should be quantumly happy that I have a son who seems to excel in ways I never anticipated. And happy himself. Happy doing the things that he enjoys. Do I wish I would have spent more time hanging around in the garage as he worked on his car, learning about catalytic converters and timing belts. I wondered how he managed to cram all that technical information into a brain that struggled so mightily with high school math. I wish that I could have tutored him more successfully. Maybe I could  have passed along my own adolescent disdain for math. Or that could have happened by just being in the room when he was born.
And all those nights when it was impossible for him to go to sleep, I suppose I could have let him struggle. Instead I carried him around the house and out into the back yard and talked to him about how all the neighbors had gone to sleep, and all the birds, and all the dogs and cats. It's what we do. Except when we don't. When we have trouble sleeping. When we are afraid or lonely.
Which is about the time my father came and told me that eventually we all sleep. It is what we do. And the days go by. Went by. Twenty-two year's worth.
Regrets, I've had a few. But they don't mean a lot. Not when you consider the big pile of sunshine and memories that stand in great mounds and stacks obscuring those little piles of what might have been. It is precisely what should have been. All the birthday cakes and trips to the zoo. The rides in the car and the toy store. Swimming pools and movie stars. We played catch in the front yard. We built things. We made a life.
Yours. Welcome to the best I could do.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Tough Crowd

Students walked out of their gymnasium, angry and upset. Frustrated by a bad call in the state basketball finals? Nope. Angry that the vigil for their fellow student, Kendrick Castillo, lapsed into a staged political event. What should have been contemplation of the loss of an eighteen year old's life and thanks for the other students who stood up to the shooters turned into an opportunity for politicians to hold the floor and speak out on the evils of gun violence. 
Not that I am against speaking out on the evils of gun violence. I do it all the time. I think it may be best described as a preoccupation of mine. Keeping track of the outrage expressed by those affected by gun violence could be a full-time job for me. Instead, I see it more as an avocation, connected directly to my career as a public school teacher. What set the teenagers off in that gymnasium was a congressman and a senator, who just happens to be one of dozens of 2020 presidential hopefuls, speaking in wide passionate strokes about gun control. "[Our kids] have a job to do when they come to school," Senator Bennet told the crowd. "Their job is not to fix American’s broken gun laws. Their job is not, as Kendrick so selflessly did yesterday, give up their own life to save their classmates' lives or their teachers' lives. That's not their job. They’re relying on the rest of us to do our job so they can do their job."
And the crowd did not eat this up. Not with a spoon. Not with a fork. Like green eggs and ham, they said, no thank you and walked out. Actually, they said much worse, and took a chant of "mental health" all on their own. They were upset because no one had bothered to ask any of the kids to speak. Instead, they were supplied with rhetoric that had little or nothing to do with Kendrick Castillo. 
I am as blue as the Caribbean and as passionate as most any lefty blogger when it comes to gun control, but there is something to be said for knowing your audience. It's not really a matter of timing as much as it is keeping purpose in mind. Apparently there is no rush in this country to change our gun laws. Allowing a high school a place to grieve for their classmate without making a position paper out of it seems like the right thing to do. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Phone Home

The advent of cellular telephones has been quite a boon to teachers like me who sometimes look outside the box of their classroom to manage their classroom. Back in the olden days, we didn't even have telephones in our rooms. If we wanted to reach anyone aside from the office, the handset stuck on the wall of our rooms was just decoration. Then when we did get actual telephones, a world opened for us that allowed contact with a student's home before the end of the school day. Instead of waiting for the earliest possible moment to rush up to the office to use the land line located there, we could put the rest of the class on hold while we stood on one side of the room and made the call. When we eventually shifted our lifestyles to maintain a cell phone bill, we were free to make those calls from the playground, the hallway, even in the boys' room, when necessary.
And I know that more than eighty percent of the time, those calls are directed to mothers. Those are the numbers listed first on the emergency cards, and those are the ones that seem to be more steadfastly connected to the work we are trying to do at school. "Hello, is this (bad kid)'s mother? This is Mister Caven, and I wonder if you might have a word with (bad kid). Heorshe seems to be having some trouble settling down and getting to work, and since I know how important education is to you and to (bad kid) I thought a reminder from you might help settle things down." At which point I hand my phone to the child whose focus is now rooted on the interaction that is about to take place, and the bluff has been called.
Unless the child in question has prior knowledge, like mom doesn't answer the phone unless she recognizes the number or she's busy at work or she just doesn't care. Which is about the time that I hope to have dad's number available, but that tends to lead to more unpleasantness than I am after as a general rule. I would rather have a kid loaded up with some level of parental disapproval than threatened with a beating.
Which is why I have been calling someone else's mom lately. My wife receives a percentage of the calls I make from the playground because she's on speed dial and I can modulate that experience into something I can use. Making a call of any sort lets kids know I mean business, and if it means I have to resort to a little chicanery to get them to settle long enough to get through a lesson, so be it.
Have there been times when kids have observed me doing things I ought not and wanted to call my mom? Yes. And I have made that call. Sometimes to the profound confusion of my mother, who then proceeds to play along, admonishing me for showing up late or whatever the offense was. It's what a mother does, after all.
To all the mothers I have called, I promise today it will only be for glad tidings on the day. You deserve a moment of peace.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Blindsided By Hindsight

"HALF of Americans don't pay income tax despite crippling govt debt."*
Can you believe that? The U.S. deficit has been parked somewhere in the high billions to trillions for some time now, and as an American citizen I feel some responsibility to that. Which is why I pay my fair share. I also tend to put my money where my mouth is, since I want all those safety nets and programs that keep people like me from falling into the economic or infrastructure abyss.
If we want nice roads and schools and robotic drones to kill our enemies, we have to pay. Which is why so many people look at those big bank accounts and wonder what portion of that wad of cash ought to be paid in taxes but creative and expensive accountants won't allow it. According to some experts, almost half of Americans don't pay income tax at all. While so many of us are handing over a share of our annual income to pay for drones and the like, there are hundreds of millions of US who are taking the ride for free. Back then, The Heritage Foundation argued that the reduction in the number of taxpayers will create an electorate dominated by non-taxpayers, who will always support higher taxes and spending because their own money is not at stake.
Like our current "president." According to tax returns acquired by the New York Times, his highness not only avoided paying income tax from 1985 to 1994 by losing one billion dollars over that period, meaning he had no "income" to tax for eight of those ten years. What do you call a billionaire who loses a billion dollars? Some would say "clever." Some would say "cheat." 
Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to pay income tax. You could be retired. Or a child. Or on some form of government assistance. Which is kind of what the "president" seems to be able to do. Arousing the ire of those on the left and right of him, who wonder why he and other folks prone to putting their name in big gold letters on things don't have to pay their way. Maybe it was the philosopher Steve Martin who explained it best: "...what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, ‘You.. have never paid taxes’?” Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: “I forgot!” 
Which would be infinitely preferable to expressing outrage as a private citizen, and then once you had ascended to the highest office in the land, simply ignoring the big fat goose egg in the room. Crippling government debt starts at the top, crippling our government still further. 
*Donald J. Trump, February 23, 2012