Sunday, June 30, 2019

Exercising My Rationalization Skills

How to explain to each individual, health care providers mainly, that I don't have the bandwidth to keep track of all the ways that I should be making myself healthier? I understand that this is my body and it is entirely up to me to make choices that  will keep me alive and well long after the once unthinkable age of fifty-seven. I know that what I put in, on and around my physical being is as important as what I ingest spiritually. All those violent movies and Stephen King books are not elevating me in the way that I might be elevated. I continue to languish on some philosophical borderline. I could be so much better.
And yet, I manage to brush and floss my teeth twice a day. I take a small fistful of vitamins every morning along with my extra dose of vitamin C that comes in the form of a glass of orange juice. I exercise regularly, especially aerobically with two to three mile runs as my base along with a bicycle commute that extends my quiet time in  the morning and in the afternoon. This gives me time to reflect on what I've done and what still needs to be done on that sliding scale of accomplishment. I participate in my wife's experiment of Meatless Monday because it's good for me and for our planet. Sometimes I choose chicken instead of beef, and I have been known to substitute salad for french fries. On occasion.
And still that bag of peanut M&Ms betrays me. With each trip to the kitchen it mocks me with its bright yellow wrapper. I know that if I were to give them up tomorrow I could be another giant step toward meeting my health goals for now, and the future. But each night, after dinner, I hear that siren call. Just a few handfuls to round out the night. You deserve a treat.
I do. We all do.
Which is why I brush my teeth so vigorously and I get out of bed to go for a run the next day. It is a juggling act, and one for which I have grown most fond. It's not time for the intervention. Not yet. I can quit  anytime.
Just not right now, thank you.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

I Was Told There Would Be No Math

Our current "president" was asked in a recent interview if he was prepared to lose the 2020 election. He replied, "No. Probably not."
Okay. Bravo for his positive attitude and his team spirit. Then he went on: “It would be much better if I said, ‘Yeah.’ It would be much easier for me to say, ‘Oh yes,’” he offered, but said, “No, I’m probably not too prepared to lose. I don’t like losing. I haven’t lost very much in my life.”
This is when Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press asked, “You didn’t like the fact that you lost the popular vote? That bothered you, didn’t it.”
“I’ll say something that, again, is controversial,” T to the Rump said. “There were a lot of votes that I don’t believe. There was much illegal voting,” he added, vaguely referring to California and a settlement by Judicial Watch requiring Los Angeles County to remove as many as one and a half million inactive registrations as a part of a “massive voter roll clean-up.”
And it is at this point that I would like to make a clear distinction between saying something that is controversial and something that is wrong. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than three million votes. They were counted. There was no evidence of any of those inactive registrations being used to vote for anyone, Trump or Clinton.
And now, as we approach three years since the election the current "president" won in the Electoral College, he continues to dispute the numbers. Curious that this latest struggle with reality came just days after he posted a meme of himself running for president forever. This amusing little bit of animation received nearly three hundred thousand likes, suggesting that there are a few hundred thousand people out there who think that the Twenty-second Amendment to our constitution is really only there for show and wouldn't it be grand if we had this guy as "president for life." All of which may or may not be controversial, but it certainly registers as a little worrisome. Like a year ago when he was kidding around with some supporters about China's new President, Xi Jinping. “President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”
It certainly would take all the math out of the business of governance, wouldn't it? 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Tank Trap

I read a lot of comic books when I was a kid. And when they were all over, there were a lot of the same advertisements at the back. Some of them encouraged me to sell Grit, a weekly newspaper that sold back in the day for just twenty cents a copy. "You," I was informed, "keep seven cents profit." I won't lie to you. I thought about it. Briefly. My father had a paper route. And that was daily. This was only going to be once a week. Seven cents a copy. If I sold one hundred copies, that would be seven dollars a week.
This was not the opportunity for which I was willing to give up a day each week. Then again, there was that other ad that I saw with great frequency: The Look You Want When You Want It. They were offering sideburns, mustaches, van dykes, for the look I wanted when I wanted it. And if I wanted all three, I could swing a deal for just five dollars. And six to eight weeks for delivery. Which would be another forty to fifty dollars of profit from my potential hundred subscribers to Grit.
Living the high life.
So I did not take that job working distribution for Grit. But I did keep looking at those ads. One in particular. It promoted a game called Tank Trap, and another called Cannonball. The art was even more alluring to me than the facial hair. Exploding tanks, army men, bazookas, machine guns. That would be endless afternoons of fun. And I was reasonably certain that I could talk my younger brother into pitching in for the exploding bridges and cannons of the Civil War play set. A dollar fifty for each, with just an extra dollar for more exploding bridges. And tanks.
But we held off on that. My brother and I sent away for the original set. Both of them. And we waited. Less than two months later, we got our package. When I opened it up, I was disappointed. The army men were nothing special, and the exploding tanks? Two chunks of plastic held together with rubber bands. Pressing on each end allowed the rubber band to snap the ends together to make them "explode." The same trick was used for the bridges in my brother's game.
And I wish that I had picked the goatee instead.

Thursday, June 27, 2019


When I was a kid, living in my parents' house, there was a sound. When everything else was quiet, everyone had gone to bed, you could hear it. We lived at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac, so there was no traffic. Our dog was the soundest of sleepers, so there was no attendant pet sound to rouse us. Just the ticking of the clock at the top of the stairs.
It was an antique find, the kind my parents thrived on for a period when we were furnishing our mountain cabin. Towns like Nederland and Central City were hotbeds of old things given new life by families and collectors who wanted a piece of the old days to fill up their seventies decor. These were the antithesis of the plastic hand chairs and beaded curtains that currently exist in our world as antiques from another age. Things made of wood and metal are more real than those things 3D printed out of carbon fiber. I remember the player piano that came to rest in my parents' basement. That was an investment of time, space and energy that lasted for a good long time.
But not like that clock. It continues to count the hours, minutes and days of our lives. It moved with my mother to her new home, and it's keeping the beat for her and the house that surrounds it. It's the heartbeat of the place. Just like the way it used to when I listened at night. In all that quiet, there was that pulse, the ticking of the clock.
We have our own Regulator clock. It's the heartbeat of our house. Tick tock, for the duration of our lives. It's part of the weekly regimen to keep the thing wound. Recently, while keeping the springs taught, I may have over-exerted myself a bit. Something inside snapped. And the ticking stopped. Which meant we had a decision to make: Ask Google when we wanted to know the time, or get the old girl fixed.
Weeks went by, and the repairman labored over our clock, as he attended to others as well. When he let us know that ours was finally ready, we waited for him to deliver. Along with the bill. Which was considerable. Because they don't make them like they used to. Or fix them like they used to. But that was okay, because we needed it. It was part of our home. The heartbeat. Now I can get some sleep.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Armed And Litigious

The National Rifle Association is suing its former president, Oliver North. Besides claiming North displayed what it called "conduct harmful to the NRA", the suit also accused top NRA official Chris W. Cox of conspiring with North to oust the organization's chief executive, Wayne LaPierre. 
If you are unfamiliar with some of the characters in our play, let me catch you up: Ollie, a former Marine and itinerant conservative talking head, was once deputy-director of the National Security Council, was implicated in the Iran-Contra affair and forced to resign. I could spend more time detailing the futility of the Iran-Contra affair, but let's just say that selling weapons to Iran in order to fund the Contras in Nicaragua was a sloppy hypocritical mess that helped set the stage for more Middle East shenanigans in the years to come. Lawyers, guns, and money. You know.  Chris W. Cox has spent the last seventeen years working as chief lobbyist and principal political strategist for the Institute for Legislative Action, the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association of America. Chris convinces people he's right for a living. And then there's Wayne. Mister LaPierre has been the President and Chief Gun Nut for the NRA since 1991. He blamed the Sandy Hook incident, and others like it, on "lack of mental health reform and the prevalence of violent video games and movies." That guy. 
So why would this guy who sold guns to bad guys want to conspire with the voice of the NRA to get rid of the man who has been the figurehead of the organization for more almost thirty years? It's a bit murky, but it seems to have something to do with a conspiracy to enable the NRA's longtime advertising agency, Ackerman McQueen Inc., which employed North, to gain control of its largest client. So, if you're left scratching your head wondering why an advertising firm would want to take over the organization that makes everyone want guns, you're in good company. 
The good news in all of this is that while they are all busy litigating among themselves, the rest of us are free to go about our business with a few less idiotic voices threatening us with guns. Maybe they will even end up bankrupting themselves. Everyone of these millionaires might have to get regular jobs and the angry assertions about "my cold dead hands" will refer only to the keys to their hybrid cars. 
That would be the happy ending. 
Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Super Silly Us

By the good graces of Hollywood time travel rules, Captain America was able to fight against his younger self in the most recent Avengers film. Forgive me please if this turns out to be a spoiler for you, but since every other person on the planet has seen this film, you're outside the polite threshold for keeping every plot point of a piece of popular culture from your inquisitive gaze. Apologies aside, I found this moment to be quite meaningful for me as I have aged, along with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nearly a decade since our first Cap sighting back in 2011. Since that time, I have reveled in the super-soldier's catchphrase, "I could do this all day," when he is backed into a corner and the odds are against him but he keeps getting back up. Which is why when, in the midst of tangling with his younger self, the elder winces when he hears his youthful doppelganger insist, "I could do this all day." To which the older, wiser, and somewhat burdened Cap sighs before replying, "Yeah. I know." This is how it feels to me, at fifty-seven years of age, after watching so many of my friends and associates succumb to the inevitable grind of being on the planet for nearly three score years. Things wear out, fall off, get replaced or left off for convenience's sake. And yet, somehow, we get back up and go at it again. One more time.
We don't try to force our way anymore. That doesn't work as well. Now we finesse events that used to require a more brutish response. There are now a few more tricks at our disposal, not the least of which is knowing what didn't work the first time through. Which is why, given a second shot at a bunch of bad guys in a crowded elevator, a more mature Captain America chooses to pretend that he's on the bad guys' team for just a few more floors rather than get his ribs jabbed with an electrode or his face bounced off any number of flat surfaces. Clever man.
I don't expect to be traveling into my own past or anyone else's anytime soon, but I am pleased and happy to believe that this lesson I have learned from watching comic book movies will have a payoff in my not-too-distant future. The importance of teamwork cannot be overstated here. Asking for help is key. Sure, sometimes I revel in feats of strength and daring just to see what I can still do, but more often than not I will happily take a seat and wait for someone else to take the other end of the couch. This doesn't make me a superhero, it makes me old. And wise.

Monday, June 24, 2019


Since I became an elementary school teacher, I have seen my share of fist fights. More than my share. The readiness some of boys, and girls, have at their disposal to stand toe to toe and throw haymakers at one another until someone separates them is astounding to me. I remember when I was in college, sitting at the campus beer bar, drowning my post-adolescent fears in a pitcher or two, when I jostled the young man sitting next to me. He took great offense, as young men with many beers in them often do. I made some snide comment which only served to escalate the situation, and he asked me if I wanted "to go outside." I didn't figure we were going anywhere to discuss anything, and I had left some of my wits a few glasses ago, so I hopped off my stool and dutifully trailed after him. He shoved the door open and strode into the hallway in a huff. The door on its compression arm as it should and locked. He was outside. I was inside. It was a fire door and as such the irritated individual was not getting back inside anytime soon. Not unless he walked all the way around the building and paid the five dollar cover charge one more time. I stood there for a moment and contemplated my options. I chose to go back to my stool and order another pitcher of beer.
Perhaps not the most honorable path, but it wasn't made in a vacuum. I had been in a couple of fights before, and I had determined that the opportunity that lay in front of me to win was mitigated by my lack of fury. This was not the case when I was much younger, and the kid down the street who I considered to be my best friend, challenged me. There was some sort of honor at stake. Perhaps I didn't fully understand the social stratification that was in place. There may have been something to this, since he was allowed and encouraged by the rest of the neighborhood it seemed to call me names and make fun of my hair, my face, my weight. There was little if any retort allowed about his relative whippet shape and his angry whine of a voice. And one day I had enough. I told him so. He let anyone who was within earshot know that he couldn't imagine why he had allowed me to tag along with him for as long as he had and that we should settle the whole matter by meeting on a lawn equidistant between our two houses and thrashing it out.
"Fine," I said through gritted teeth.
At the appointed time, I came around the corner and found my ex-best friend standing, arms folded haughtily across his chest, with his minions standing to his side. My younger brother stood behind me. We had our seconds. I did not know how to begin, but it didn't matter because my opponent quickly advanced on me, using faux Kung Fu that he had imagined might work because he had seen it on TV. I got kicked a couple times, and slapped upside the head. I saw red. The next foot of his that came up off the ground was what I grabbed and I used the leverage to push him all the way to the ground. I fell on him, and suddenly all that weight that had been a source of ridicule was my advantage. I sat on him and whaled. Bloodied his nose. His spindly arms came up to try and block my blows.
I made him cry.
I got off of him. I stood over him and watch him find his way to his feet. No one said a thing.
I went home.
He went home.
I never felt good about it, exactly. By the end of the week, we were back to hanging out together. We never spoke of it. Which may be the reason I waited inside that bar while the door closed behind that angry young man so many years later.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sounds Like Trouble

So here's what confuses me: a lot of things.
More specifically and currently, why would Orenthal James Simpson start up his Twitter account with a video of himself welcoming viewers to his "real" account and goes on to tell anyone listening that he will be sharing his ideas and opinions about "everything" and how he's got "a little getting even to do."
I know. There are plenty of celebrity types out there who maintain a social media presence that has a lot of poking and prodding in it. "Feuds" are common and "throwing shade" is part of what goes on daily out there in InstaTwitland. But this is a convicted felon and accused murderer talking about "getting even."
In case you missed it, O.J. Simpson was a football player of some renown in the seventies and went on to made some silly movies in the late eighties and early nineties. And shortly after that, someone hacked his ex-wife and her boyfriend. That's when the silly came to a screeching halt. There was a low-speed chase and a trial of the century and some gloves that didn't fit so the jury could not acquit. And then Mister Simpson wrote, with help, a book called "If I Did It." Because he couldn't have done it. But if he did, it might have gone something like this...
But the book was blocked from release, and so O.J. did what any self-respecting grieving widower would do: He went on television to tell his story. And he got paid for this. Which was important since he needed to pay the damages of a civil lawsuit filed by his ex-wife's family to the tune of thirty-three million dollars. Which meant that he needed to keep making money to show how not guilty he was.
Somewhere in there, it occurred to this former Heisman Award winner that he could get plenty of cash for signing things, and he went to Las Vegas where such things are encouraged and supported. But wouldn't you know it, somehow he got himself mixed up with a bunch of bad guys who broke into a hotel room in Sin City to steal some memorabilia at gunpoint.
This time he was found guilty and he went to jail.
And now he's out and he's got some "getting even to do."
Ha ha. Sounds like fun.
Lock your doors. 

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Destination Unkown

Space tourism.
No thanks.
Do I really need to explain myself? Okay, at the risk of repeating every fear and cause for fear I might have surrounding life on this planet, why would I take those off the planet?
First of all, I'm not a huge fan of travel. There is a distinction here: I don't mind being in new and different places. It's the getting there that bugs me. I don't tend to sleep in moving vehicles, and I expect that if I am unable to drift off while rolling along at a cruise-controlled seventy miles an hour on the interstate, the thrust of a rocket engine behind me wouldn't be the thing that would lull me off to slumberland.
Then there's that whole control thing. I would expect that these trips to outer space won't be piloted by yours truly anytime soon, so I would be putting my organic bits in the hands of someone who is completely qualified and highly trained in all manner of emergency procedures. Like in case of cabin decompression, pull down on the mask and speak your last words into it because that thing is going to turn inside out in just a second or two because you're travelling in the vacuum of space. Where no one can you scream or pray. So there.
Yes, I know this creates a pretty thick double standard since I continue to be willing to put myself in the hands of licensed airline pilots, and I am on occasion willing to sit in an exit row and to take on all the responsibilities accorded to such a seat. Honestly, I try not to think about it a lot. Somewhere just below the surface beats the heart of a terrified passenger who has just seen a gremlin on the wing of the plane. No really.
All of which won't matter a lot if they find really cool places to go on these space tours. It will have to be better than Disney's Jungle Cruise, or the warm waters of Key West. And since I haven't been to Europe yet, I imagine there would be some hue and cry about how I went to visit Jupiter's moons before I ever navigated the canals of Venice. Which makes me a horrible person. Who doesn't like to travel.
But I am guessing that if any plane, train or spaceship came equipped with one of those hypersleep chambers that seem to be all the rage in those science fiction stories, then maybe you've got yourself a new rider. Wake me up when we get there. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Into The Void

Anybody remember Sean Spicer?
It's been a while since he took his "victory lap" after being drummed out of the White House Press Room two years ago. He was replaced by his then deputy Sarah Huckabee Sanders, which is not exactly like Andy Taylor being replaced by Barney Fife. It was a little like Barney Fife being replaced by Warren Ferguson after Barney slipped off to Mount Pilot.
Feeling that I have stretched your knowledge of the inner workings of the municipal affairs of Mayberry, I will now ask for a moment of silence to note the passing of Ms. Sanders. I will ask for it, but I expect that the grumbling and snickering will probably keep this from being the moving tribute that this public servant might somehow deserve. 
Okay. Thanks for that effort, but let's get right down to it: The silence we did or did not just experience is endemic to the current regime's relationship with the press. What relationship is that, you might ask? The best way I can explain it comes in one word: obfuscation. Sarah's job has been "the action of making something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible." Which might account for statements she has made such as this: "I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible." It should also be noted that in the book of Leviticus includes these lines: "When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt."
So maybe it's just a matter of interpretation. Like this one: "The president in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence." Well, having never been a dedicated follower of fashion, I would only point to the video that shows the "president" doing just that and in the manner we have all become accustomed to, denying it the next day.
Which is pretty much the business of a press secretary for Donald "J for Janus-faced" Trump. Garbage in, garbage out. Don't blame the messenger. Unless the messenger wants to tell you how to do your job. Don't write what happened, write what I tell you happened. And if you think she did an awful job, you can only imagine who might replace the deputy's deputy.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Parting Shot

The morning after the Golden State Warriors lost the sixth and what was to be the final game in the 2019 NBA finals, I read that Pat Bowlen had died. Mister Bowlen was the owner of the Denver Broncos. He was part of that driving force that finally brought a Super Bowl trophy to the Mile High City. That was some time ago. Twenty-some. It was only a year ago that the Golden State Warriors hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy, their third in the past four years. It was that giddy feeling of vicarious winning to which I had become accustomed to, living just up the street from the arena where they played their home games.
"Played" because they won't be anymore. The Warriors are moving across the Bay to San Francisco. I expect there will be some fun and magic to be found in their new home, but it certainly would have been nice to have one more parade in Oakland before they packed up and left. And it's not like they didn't give it their best shot. They left it all on the floor, but in the end, it was time for the trophies and parades to move on somewhere new.
Pat Bowled brought parades to Denver. He was the guy who hoisted that first Lombardi Trophy into the air and decreed, "This one's for John." He was referencing the John of Elway fame, who had labored mightily on a number of near-miss teams who just couldn't seem to get past that last game. That's the one everyone really wants to win. It makes the off-season so much easier to bear.
Yes, I understand that I am referring to a group of millionaires playing a game. I also understand that the money made by the athletes in this scenario pales in comparison to the stacks of cash that get moved around to make room for more stacks of cash for owners of professional sports franchises. I am making none of this money. I am helping pay for those salaries by buying the swag and occasionally buying a ticket to see a game in person. What do I want in return?
Well, I don't know about everyone else, but I am looking for a sense of community. I want to feel that, however tangentially, I belong to the team. And it's easier to feel that sense of community when you're tossed the bone of a championship every so often. Like Pony Boy used to say, nothing golden can stay. So savor those moments and the giddy silliness of dancing on furniture because the group of millionaires you happen to be watching manage to win that last game. Because there will be another after that. Players retire. Franchises change cities and old stadiums become parking lots. Time catches up with us all. But hopefully not before we get off that one last shot.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Practically Flying

Maybe it's time to come clean on this whole flying car thing. I have spent years and years complaining to anyone who would listen or read about my desperate need to be shown the future where we get from place to place through the air instead of being chained to city streets by something so mundane as gravity.
Well, as it turns out, there are probably some very good reasons why your average commuter sin't being handed the keys to the very latest hovercar. Let's start with the number of times we witness other drivers who seem to be incapable of operating that most simple of devices, a turn signal. Just a friendly note to those around that you are going to change direction. Or something on a par, physically, such as switching from high beams to low headlights to keep from blinding oncoming traffic? I am sure that everyone reading this is a thoughtful and considerate driver and always maintains correct following distance and slows down in school zones and so forth, but there seems to be a number of unaccounted for individuals who struggle with some of these obligations.
Now go ahead and imagine that this same kind of recklessness would occur any more than a foot or two from the ground. Even with the advent of self-driving cars and collision alerts, we still manage to get in the way of one another on a regular basis. And that's just getting out of the parking lot. Imagine having to deal with that joker a thousand feet above the planet, at speeds required to keep a hunk of metal and carbon fiber aloft.
Yes, suddenly the dream dies. Hard. It's what made Superman so super. He was the one guy who could fly around, zipping off to save this or that. Mostly Lois Lane. But what if everyone had that ability? Men, women, boys, girls, all leaping off to this or that event or whim. The air would be filled with every Tom, Dick and Mary on their way to lunch or to rescue an ocean liner. It would get crowded. Stupidly so. And good luck getting everyone to follow the prescribed speed limits, even if it happened to be that of a speeding bullet.
So what I'm saying here is that I'll be fine for now with the four wheels and the windshield. No need for turbines and pressurized cockpit. Not yet anyway. The future can wait a few years for me to catch up to my own fantasies.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


In the background, I could hear Rivers Cuomo singing about how "it feels like summer." For him, it would seem that summer feels a lot like unrequited love. Which sort of makes sense since most everything feels like unrequited love for our boy Rivers. And maybe it does a little to me, somewhere. But my story has a pretty happy ending, love-wise. I do remember summers in my youth when I spent hours and days and weeks preparing for what would eventually be a waste of time and energy since interacting with girls would require me to do some actual interaction. Which led to a certain amount of pining and complaining to others about how sad and lonely I was. Without a major label record contract to voice these issues.
Okay. So maybe summer once felt like unrequited love to me. But I pretty much put a lid on that series of chapters when I chose to move, the day after my thirtieth birthday, to California to set up housekeeping with the girl who would become my wife. My birthday is, according to many calendars, the first day of summer. So for a while summer felt like cross-country travel. This theme was repeated for a number of years as I returned to my ancestral home to visit and bring back souvenirs to my family who had no Trader Joe's.
Now they have their own Trader Joe's, and I still make trips back east to what we still refer to as the West, but I don't have to carry chili-lime cashews in my carry-on. So what does summer feel like now? It is currently marked by the unexplainable urge to build something. A fence. A railing for the front stairs. A tree house. These are the months that stretch out with the possibility of construction. Hammer, nails, cordless drill. A circular saw. The scent of freshly cut wood. It is this barely suppressed compulsion to cut and pound and assemble frightens my wife just a little. She knows that her job is to be on call for those trips to the hardware store for the missing piece or that extra piece of pine that didn't make the initial inventory. And she gets to ride the inevitable roller coaster of satisfaction with my own work. Sometimes she offers to help, but my own frothing doesn't always allow me to accept or understand this interaction. This yearning for construction continues until I can step back and admire my own handiwork, imperfect as it may be.
There are no current projects on the calendar. But it's early. And it feels like summer.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Our Little Squirt

Squirt gun.
It was the first break in the arms embargo at our house. When my son was little, he was told that there would be no guns in our house, toy or otherwise. Which was not my personal edict, but one that I acknowledged was probably a worthwhile bit of prohibition in the raising of a child in Oakland, California.
Not that I didn't have my share of squirt guns as a kid. On the first warm day of spring, the neighborhood would troop as a mass to the nearest five and dime to arm ourselves for what would be a long, hot summer. Models that scream out of that haze of memory include a clear blue plastic replica of a Luger. Not much in the way of soaking potential, but deadly cool looking and wasn't that really the point? The other one that made a lasting impression was the sub-machine gun, which was even cooler for two main reasons: It held a boatload of water in its hollow stock and came in matte black. This was the real deal, the squirt gun that could easily make the transition to playing war games once the leaves began to fall and water play was discouraged.
Each year there were attempts to get us to try some new apparatus designed to drench one another. Wham-O's Water Weenie was one of these. The Weenie delivered on its claim to shoot water amazing distances and have a name that made it instantly impossible to discuss with its target demographic. Because the truth was if we were going to go the route of not having a gun, we could opt for the heavy artillery like the hose, or the deadly charm of a water balloon all tied off and tossed directly at the intended target.
Fast forward to the battery-powered Entertech squirt gun I had in college that made no attempt whatsoever to distinguish it from a real automatic weapon. With exchangeable clips and shoulder strap, this was the water weapon I had dreamed of as a kid. A younger kid.
But when it came time to toss water at one another once I was a father, I was stuck with that moral conundrum. And when the rainbow colored Super Soaker series hit the market, suddenly my wife's resolve faded. Everyone had them. Everyone wanted them. Even my son. And so the ban was lifted, and we spent the next six or seven years buying whatever new and more efficient way of delivering blasts of wet to victims suspecting and otherwise. Eventually, each one of these would live out its useful life and then was stuck in a barrel we left in the garage. Perhaps we hoped that we would eventually find the time and patience to rehabilitate them, but when May arrived, we knew where we were headed. Not to the garage. We were going out to buy a new squirt gun. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

In What Universe Is Time A Constant?

I can't imagine what it would be like to actually be one of those male human beings who flaunt their "manhood" with statements like, "I've just got the one kid - that I know of."
Har har har.
The notion of being some kind of stud service for a planet already overcrowded with people who have grown up without the love and care that they need is unconscionable. I regret that I cannot recall what female comic who made the same statement in her standup. It was one of the funniest and immediately saddest moments of comedy I have ever witnessed. Maybe if men had to pass a bowling ball through their privates at some point during the process, there might be a little more consideration for the entire undertaking.
I cannot imagine being absent from my son's life. Much in the same way that I hung on every bad joke and chased after those moments with my own father, I still cling to the time that I get to spend in the company of my son. I would not have missed a diaper, a late night, a bump on the head or seemingly endless game of catch in the front yard. And still, I want more. Each year that brings him closer to being a grownup with a family of his own is a clock that is ticking. I can only hope that I get to spend that endless amount of time playing catch with grandchildren, but I know there is a difference.
We went all in, my wife and I, when we chose to stop with the one kid. We felt and continue to feel that we had won the lottery when it came to offspring and so we chose not to tempt fate. Which only meant that there would be that much more strain on the minutes that fill up a day for our little boy. "Please stop reading to me so I can go to sleep." But I haven't had a turn yet. How can that be fair?
I suppose I can be thankful that my son hasn't done the favor for me that I did for my dad. From the time I was nine or ten, I began drawing a caricature of him for birthday cards, and father's day cards and the like. I cannot say that it was flattering, but it was generally agreed to be pretty accurate. Even by him. Which is what I have currently decorating the spot where our grandfather clock usually hangs. The clock that he built especially for my wife and I on the occasion of our wedding. Keeping track of the time we spend together.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Looking Up

I do a great portion of the long-distance driving for our family. Not because I like to drive so much. I don't. I do prefer it to staring out the window at seemingly endless strips of asphalt. It gives me something to do. Again, I do not consider my talents as the operator of a passenger vehicle to be anything worth shouting about, but I do manage to keep the machine between the lines and the number of citations I have received in the last twenty-five years numbers somewhere in the low zero area.
Which can't necessarily be said of all the other drivers out there on the highways and byways. One of the ways my wife and I tend to pass time on road trips is to comment on the relative carelessness of the company we find out there. Signal lights, following distance, all that stuff that seemed to be such a bother back when I was younger and had a place to be. It never occurred to me that everyone else might also have a specific time and destination in mind. I could be the impediment to their arriving on time for dinner. Why don't I just get out of their way?
Still, it continues to amaze me that there aren't more collisions of all sorts, interstate, city streets, country roads. It requires a pretty solid set of sensory responses to pilot an automobile from point to point, and even though we seem to be interested in finding all manner of distractions to keep us from paying attention to the task at hand, most of us get from point to point without turning into a charred mass of twisted metal.
Good for us!
Sometimes, as the miles begin to stack upon themselves, I find myself wondering about a Jonathan Livingston Seagull approach to driving. That's when you have that momentary lapse of focus and the horn sounds behind you. No thump. No squealing tires. No broken glass. Just that near miss. What if that was just the way it translated into some new plane of reality, leaving behind the wreckage of what might have been and pressing the reset button once again. I almost fell asleep there. I should have checked my mirror. I shouldn't have looked down on the seat for my wallet. Oops. Never mind. Start again.
And this time, pay attention.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Rubber Meets Road

I was up on the rack for a short while earlier this week. This was my ten thousand mile checkup. Or annual. Or just about time for me to see what might need loosening or tightening before the next scheduled pit stop.
I got to share a bit with my doctor about my least favorite phrase, "at a certain age." As near as I could ascertain, we are all at a certain age. There may be some who at some indeterminate age, but I have yet to run into them. Sure, there are those who defy aging. Until suddenly they don't. But I take some solace in the fact that "for my age" I am holding on to most of my factory-installed parts. I also find that this automotive metaphor suits me pretty well, in spite of the fact that I have no idea what my current Blue Book value might be.
I know that when I used to go out for a run, I would see others doing similarly. I would try and ascertain from their posture, gait and look on their face how old they might be. I have been passed up by plenty of runners more advanced in years than myself, just as I have blown past those young punks who must have over-exerted themselves in the first mile. And more often than not lately, I content myself to putting one foot in front of the other. Every day above ground is a good one.
And every day that I can still get up and find some new way to wear myself out, to build something new, fix something that's broken, touch my toes, I count it as a win against entropy. Things fall apart. It's the nature of things. I make a few more noises than I used to, and I am discovering muscles and bones in ways that remind me to take it easy on the old guy since he's not getting any younger.
None of us are. Which makes my relationship with my doctor an exercise at times in compare and contrast. We share knee stories, and I take comfort in her assurance that I'm in pretty good shape. I try not to manually insert the tag: for my age. Most of the time I don't. I feel pretty good. I'm not going to go ten rounds with the champ anytime soon, but depending to which champ I could be referring that might not be such a difficult chore.
There will be no rolling back of the odometer on this model, so I expect I'll keep it filled up with oil and slap a little Bondo and some primer on as necessary. I've got miles to go before I sleep.

Thursday, June 13, 2019


I have this theory that I like to espouse regarding home repair: I don't mind doing plumbing because if you mess up you could end up wet. I don't feel the same way about electrical matters because if you mess up you could end up dead. This is my story, and I'm going to stick with it. In spite of my Monday battle with our bathroom sink.
It all started innocuously enough on Sunday evening, when I noticed that the sink was draining somewhat slowly. So I applied our household version of drain cleaner: baking soda and vinegar. Great burbles of black goo was what I got in response, so I figured I must be onto something. I remembered my previous trips down this path and left the puddle sit to slowly make its way down and away. I rinsed the excess mung and went on to bed, feeling  lightly satisfied in a plumbing sort of way.
Monday did not bring relief, as the morning's ablutions proved to be more than the drain could handle, and I made the decision to try something more invasive. Sticking a snake down the pipe didn't bring about the rushing flush that I had wished for, and I decided to try something more drastic. This meant going out to the garage and bringing back our real and true pipe wrench. I had hoped that the mere introduction of such a tool would frighten the pipes into behaving in the manner in which we had become accustomed.
No such luck. As I began taking things apart, I noticed that the collar to one of the fittings had a hole in it, and since my wife was busy at the grocery store, I took it upon myself to ride my bike up to the hardware store to buy a replacement. Simple enough. I came right back and started to put things back into place and when water was introduced to this new setup, a spray came out of yet another piece of the trap. At this point, my wife had returned and dutifully raced out to the hardware store to buy a replacement. That needed to be cut to size. Which meant I got to use my hacksaw.
But not before I used a flashlight to peer into the hole where the sink was attached to the wall. There was a pipe full of mud just a few inches away, which suggested that there was a good four feet of goop standing in the way of proper drainage. I chose to let someone with better tools than mine deal with that matter, but I would put things back into place before I gave up completely.
But not without discovering yet another hole in the third piece of the trap, the "J" as we were to learn, so off to yet another hardware store went my supply sergeant. I left a wet, muddy mess in the bathroom as I waited patiently for what I hoped would be the last piece in the puzzle that had been laid out in front of me so casually three hours earlier.
If it had been electricity, it would all be over now.
What doesn't kill us is probably plumbing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

De Nada

"Bringin' in another one."
"Okay. Let me get the camera ready."
"Stand here on the x...No no entiendes? Pararse en la x."
"Can you get him to lift his head up?"
"Levanta la cabeza."
"And turn a little to the left?"
"Doblar a la izquierda."
"Gracias, gracias. Okay -"
"What's the holdup now?"
"That guy looks familiar."
"Probably because we get the same fifty guys in here every month or so. Everybody's looking for a new life in the U.S.A."
"No. I haven't seen him in here before. Hey, cuál es tu nombre?"
"They guy asked your name. You're gonna have to put it on the form in a minute anyway."
"Uh. Pedro."
"No. I don't think - hey wait a second. I know where I've seen this guy."
"Yeah? Where."
"On the front page."
"Of the newspaper."
"This is none other than Andrés Manuel López Obrador. President of  Mexico."
"No. Really."
"Greetings, your honor, El Presidente." 
"My friend here seems to think you're somebody special."
"No. No. No."
"Here. Take a look at the picture."
"Well, he does look a little more kept up than most of the folks we see in here."
"Come on. Same hair. Same nose."
"Okay, okay you guys. Keep it down. I just want to come across so I can apply for asylum."
"So you're really -"
"Yes. Or at least I was. Now I just want out."
"How come? If you don't mind my asking. It is kind of my job."
"I just don't want to talk to him anymore." 
"Him? Him who?"
"Your president. I haven't had a moment's peace since I took office. Blah blah border this. Blah blah drugs that. Tariffs. Threats of armed force. I just wanted to run my country. I didn't think I'd be getting calls and texts from this guy all the time."
"All the time?"
"Twenty or thirty a day. For months now. I need it to stop. I just want a simple life." 
"So you decided you would cross the border - illegally?"
"Okay, so maybe I wasn't thinking. Maybe I didn't have it all figured out. But I just want a quiet place where I can lie down and get a night's sleep."
"Well, it won't be the presidential suite..."
"Just promise me you won't tell anyone I'm here. And no phones."
"Sure. I think we can do that, can't we Ralph?"
"You bet we can, Sam. Right this way, Pedro."
"Muchas gracias por su ayuda."
"De nada."

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


I suppose I could have listened, back when a writer friend of mine pointed out that the magazine I was so very fond of was getting rid of most of their editorial staff and taking articles by freelancers. At the time I figured that this was a way to gather in more disparate voices, ones that might not be heard if not for this outreach. It was a way to shake things up, and that's always good, right?
Except it wasn't. Entertainment Weekly, my source for so very many things pop culture, was being downsized to fit some corporation's notion of how a magazine should be run. The well-kept secret: They were running it to make a profit.
I know. Not to keep me in the know about all those things TV, Film, Music, Books and Broadway related. They were hoping to make money. I didn't flinch when they sent Owen Glieberman packing. Nor did I properly mourn Lisa Schwarzbaum when they shooed her away. Change, it would seem, is inevitable.
I could blame my mother, who grew up reading movie magazines straight from the newsstand at her parents' drug store. She's the one who introduced me to Pauline Kael and that corner of The New Yorker called Current Cinema. I wanted to finesse my appreciation for film, and so I sharpened my teeth on the criticism of one of the greats of all time. I grew up receiving and reading film encyclopedias for Christmas, and reading them cover to cover. I watched with mild disdain as two of the country's best film critics, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, sold their collective souls to sit down week after week and give chatty "reviews" of the movies coming out that week. Thumbs down for that idea.
But I knew that I couldn't escape that zeitgeist for long. I succumbed to the subscription machine of Entertainment Weekly and read it as if it mattered for decades. I never considered that a little thing like the death of magazines in general might keep me from enjoying this habit forever. As Pony Boy said, "Nothing gold can stay," and when those "special issues" that made an excuse for EW to become bi-monthly, I should have picked up on the scent.
Last week, the news came down that a new publishing  concern hand bought up the magazine and was turning it into something more along the lines of Entertainment Monthly. All the while they assured us that their online content would be ramped up and we wouldn't notice a difference. My morning ritual is to sit down at the breakfast table and read as much of each week's issue as I could until my breakfast ran out. This allowed me to stretch each issue over the course of a week. I am relatively certain that is not going to be a possibility with a monthly mag.
No word as yet if my annual subscription for a weekly magazine will be prorated to four times as long, but I can't say that I'm interested.
Maybe I can use that time to watch more movies.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Big Foot Note

By means of introduction, let me state here that I used to spend summers living in a mountain cabin with my family. There was no phone. No electricity. No running water. Doing our business meant walking up the path behind to the outhouse and returning, often with just the light of the moon to guide us. Sounds serene, doesn't it?
Except if you happen to be a young man with what some might describe as an over-active imagination. In which case, some of those strolls to the comfort station were less comforting than others. For those trips I tended to take the Radar Lite, a great beast of a flashlight that could be used to signal passing aircraft, if necessary. And there was a flashing red hazard light on the back end of the thing, probably for use in case of road hazards and the like. I figured it would come in handy if I was confronted in those late night trips to the loo. If I needed some sort of emergency help. If aliens landed nearby and wanted to abduct me, for example.
This kind of speculation was brought on by the lack of television, which offered us a chance to read every word of every Time Magazine and daily newspaper that found its way into our mountain retreat, as well as countless Peanuts collections, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and literature ranging from polite young adult novels to Michael Chricton, Bram Stoker, and HG Wells. All of which created a combustible mixture of fantasies that sometimes made it less than desirable to venture outside once the sun had gone down.
Because, aside from all those graphic descriptions of cattle mutilations that may have coincided with strange lights in the sky, there were reports of Bigfoot. Never mind that none of them included Rocky Mountain National Park as the location of such sightings, but if there were aliens landing and turning cows inside out, why wouldn't there be an eight foot tall Sasquatch lurking just outside. Waiting. Waiting for someone's bladder to get just a little over-full. Waiting to pounce. Or whatever it is that Bigfoot was supposed to do. Not satisfied with assertions made by so many that this missing link was profoundly private and most likely vegetarian in his appetites, I chose to proceed with great caution. Sometimes I was accompanied on these sojourns by our intrepid mountain dog, Rupert. A dachshund who transformed, in his mind, into a beast several hands high with a bark that was amplified by our proximity to a large pile of granite. I let Rupert go out ahead of me.
In all those years, all those trips to the outhouse, not once did we encounter Bigfoot or an alien probe. Now, forty-plus years later, the FBI has released what they hope is their definitive report on the matter: No such thing. What a relief. Guess I won't need the Radar Lite anymore.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

And Intermediate State Or Condition

Two guys walk into a bar, which is really stupid since you would figure the first guy walks into a bar then the second would see it, right?
And this old joke occurs to me now as I bask in the supposed afterglow of our "President's" most recent visit abroad. This illusory bar that gets thrown around so often is supposed to be the one that is jumped over, a high jump. The current world record for this physical feat for a human being is just under two and a half meters. Considering most humans stand just below two meters in height, this is a considerable achievement. But that's not where most athletes start. It's not where they practice. Initially, the idea is just to clear the bar. That bar is placed lightly at the top of vertical standards so if contact is made, it falls, suggesting that maybe the bar should be lowered. Lowered until the jumper can make the jump without knocking the bar down. 
If you smell a metaphor, you are right on track. Our "President" has currently lowered the bar for "presidential" behavior. Name-calling, lying, arguing. It's like we're raising a petulant teenager instead of being led by a competent statesman, as the dribs and drabs of his social media stream continues to show just how cantankerous and ridiculous he can be. 
For example: Just before taking the podium at a military cemetery in France, marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day, our "president" took the opportunity to point fingers and call names one more time. He called former special counsel Robert Mueller a “fool” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “disaster.” Mister Mueller, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam war had no response. Ms. Pelosi, who was also in Normandy to commemorate the invasion of Normandy, had this reply: “I don’t talk about the president while I’m out of the country. That’s my principle.”
Ah, principles. That's what we've been missing. And while our commander in chief scurries about the globe irritating others and stirring up his own brand of trouble, he seems to be playing a different game. Not the high jump, but Limbo. How low can you go? Squeezing under the bar set by his conduct seems easy enough for him, even as he systematically lowers it himself. Donald Trump walks into a bar, but misses as he slides right below it. I don't think I want to see how much lower he can go. 

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Reaching The Bottom

Somehow in the midst of all that beer, I never bothered to taste much of it. That was the reason for the Lite Beer fixation. A third less calories. Get drunk and don't fill up. Something like that. Beer math isn't always the best way to get at a logical answer. In my mind there is this sensation of a cold beer consumed right after mowing a lawn that had just the right bubble and chill. Quenching. Of course it was rare that I had that one to savor. Instead, it was the steady march into the abyss that made the dulling of senses the main focus. Could I have enjoyed the taste of a craft brew? An IPA? I'm sure I might have, if I hadn't been consumed with consumption.
For many years, I told those with whom I was drinking that I would meet them at Penny Lane. This was a mystical location found at the bottom of any bottle, can or glass of beer. To keep things interesting, I would alternately refer to this place as Strawberry Fields. It would have been more clever if it wasn't a device to empty cups of beer. Which might explain the preponderance of beer-drinking games that consumed more evenings than I can count. It was as if we were getting a volume discount.
I found myself considering this over the past couple weeks after a video of Aaron Rodgers attempting to chug a beer went viral. This caused a number of his NFL counterparts to prove their own prowess at throwing beer down their throats. All these years later, it turns out that the ability to swallow beer is still considered a test of manliness. How about that? Sure, you won a Super Bowl and hold several NFL passing records, but can you force twelve ounces of watery hops down your gullet without throwing up?
For the record, since there apparently is one, Aaron did not throw up. He chose not to throw his head back and empty his beer into his face like his colleagues. Not a choice I made, back in the day. I was in a rush to finish my beer to get to the next one. And the one after that. Now that I have retired, and people ask me why I don't drink anymore, I tend to tell them that Milwaukee sent me a nice note. It read, "Thanks for your patronage, but let's save some for everyone else."
Now chug is something a train does.
Penny Lane is a street in Liverpool.
Strawberry Fields is a garden in Central Park.
And beer is something that makes your mouth taste like a sock the following morning.

Friday, June 07, 2019


I have a friend who insists that all those lists you find on Al Gore's Internet ranking signposts in popular culture are made by men. I have so far resisted the impulse to point out that she is making her own list, of one. But keeping that aside for now, I believe she has a point. It is a rather distinctly male chore to slap some sort of hierarchy on top of people, places and things that are primarily subjective. Clicking on a link that portends to give a definitive grade to the thirty greatest rock guitarists is first of all an exercise in patience, wading through endless pop-ups and poorly arranged pages that have the net effect of generating disagreements with the editor of said list and a sincere wish for those ten minutes of your life back.
So why go down that rabbit hole in the first place?
To see if you're right, of course.
Everyone knows the correct answer is Eddie Van Halen.
Just like I know that the best Batman was Michael Keaton. Or maybe Adam West, since he's the only one who didn't seem to need to growl once he put his mask on. Which is precisely the reason I have so much difficulty creating my own "best of" lists. Once I get up near the top, I start to get indecisive. I feel pretty comfortable saying that the hands-down all-time best portrayal of Frankenstein's Monster was Boris Karloff. Which may seem like a no-brainer until you consider there have been seventy-some actors who have played the role, with varying degrees of success. I'm looking at your, Robert De Niro. Special commendation to Lon Chaney Jr. who pulled off the superfecta of playing the Monster, Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolf Man.
Which sounds like I'm already beginning to waver. But I'm not. Boris Karloff. For sure.
Now I have to figure out some sort of rating system for the other sixty-eight or so. That just makes me tired. So maybe I'll have to wait for that notch more incisive individual who can complete the list for me. And then I'll take ten minutes to click through it, and another day and a half to argue about it. Seems like a pretty male avocation, doesn't it?

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Common Senseless

You may have come here looking. Over the past few days, frequent visitors to this place might have expected me to write something about the Virginia Beach Shooting. It is, after all, a preoccupation of mine. Not the shootings so much as our response to them. I tend to pull up near the end and make an impassioned plea for common-sense gun laws. Anything that might limit or even prohibit tragedies that occur all too frequently in the land of the brave and the home of the heavily armed.
Twelve people were shot and killed in Virginia Beach's Municipal Building Number Two last Friday. The motive, as so often is the case, is "a mystery." The idea that this man "just snapped" seems a little out of character for a fifteen year veteran employee of the city. Knowing the reason why he gunned down twelve innocent victims and wounded four more will not bring any of them back to life or health. Crime Scene Investigators will not bring relief to any of the families and friends by discovering that lone clue that will make it possible to convict the shooter of his crimes. The crimes were murder, and attempted murder. Not a lot to uncover there.
Common sense gun laws.
Why does that phrase ring so hollow right now?
Maybe because so little of what that legislation might cover seems to apply to the name. Common Sense. Besides, we already have one of those, don't we? "Tho shalt not kill." Over the centuries since then all kinds of asterisks and amendments have been attached to that notion, leaving it hollow and archaic. Like the kids on the playground who insist that their parents told them to hit back, we seem compelled to find ways to excuse and even encourage shooting back.
And then we go and pray about it. I'm here to tell you, God seems to already have had his say. But we want to argue. God made man in his own image, but all the pictures I've seen don't show our Lord packing heat. Okay, that's mostly the case. Which makes me wonder why twentieth century "artists" would want to depict the guy who said, "Love thy neighbor" carrying a rifle. Common sense suggests this is a way to continue the narrative that God wants us to have guns and when the voices inside our heads tell us to head down to the job or school or movie theater and pop a cap in a few of those innocent bystanders, it's all a part of the plan. God's plan. The Constitution and the Bible are one big advertisement for guns and ammo.
Common Sense.
I don't get it.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019


I have Natalie Merchant to thank. If you don't remember Nat, she was the distinctive voice behind 10,000 Maniacs and a solo artist in her own right. The other day I picked her out of essentially thin air to be the artist whose music began our morning. This included a cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity. As she was easing into the second verse when I heard these words: "And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear."
I'm about to turn fifty-seven. I have listened to that song, mostly the original Bowie version, for fifty of them. I never knew what those words were. They were the part of the song through which I mumbled tunefully until I got to the next line about "time to leave the capsule if you dare." In this age of Al Gore's Internet and Google Home Assistant, there really is no reason for me to go without any knowledge. Ever. And yet, there I was, missing that line from a rock and roll classic for a full fifty years, even after the death of its composer. Until an American songstress did me the favor of enunciating that one bit just a little differently than I had always heard it before. The scales fell from my eyes and suddenly I could draw a direct line between that song and The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction." That man on the TV who tells you how white your shirts could be but he can't be a man 'cause he does not smoke the same cigarettes as me. That came four years before, but it wasn't until DEVO covered it that I felt compelled to learn all the words. That was in 1978, when I was a teenager and not a toddler, ready to soak up pop culture that wasn't Snoopy.
Once upon a time I gave a revelation similar to this to a professor of mine, who had never fully grappled with the lyrics to Mairzy Doats. He was seventy-two before he realized that those nonsense words were really about farm animals and their diets. I have had more of these moments of clarity thanks to earbuds and repeated listening to a limited number of songs, but it never ceases to amaze me when I discover that Green Day was not singing "tongue grabs you by the wrist" but rather "time grabs you by the wrist." Much better metaphor, and even works thematically with the song.
So if any of this comes as a revelation to you, you're welcome. And if it helps at all, I'm still not a hundred percent sure about Bismillah, but since most of Bohemian Rhapsody is a linguistic flurry, it will have to wait until I have more time. 

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Just For Showing Up

I am no stranger to the Participant Ribbon. One of my earliest encounters was the Honorable Mention award I received in third grade at the Science Fair. The year before I had cruised to a first place blue ribbon with my diorama of dinosaurs I made from clay roaming around Easter grass foliage and sipping from a tin foil pond. It probably helped my cause to sit next to my exhibit with my sad face and crutches, having experienced a pinch or tear or something that generated a pitiful limp. In third grade I essentially recycled that same diorama but moved up a few epochs, with a family of clay Neanderthals and a wooly mammoth and a saber tooth tiger. Same plastic grass. And no crutches. When I came back from perusing the other kids' exhibits, I found my redux diorama adorned with that dull green ribbon. The judges saw me coming, I'm sure.
Many years later, when I was in high school, I was a sophomore taking the last of my quarter-long Physical Education classes: Tennis. I took this class because I understood it would take me outside and keep me from being under the crushing peer pressure of playing on a team, like volleyball. If I was going to miss a ball of whatever size lobbed in my direction, I would suffer that indignity alone. No one should be depending on me.
Which worked out fine until we were instructed to pick a doubles partner. The only alternative from my perspective was to tap my friend Greg for this dubious distinction. So we practiced, after a fashion, batting the ball back and forth to each other and at the fence. And copious breaks that helped us while away the time until the bell rang. And then came the last week of class. We were told there would be a tournament and we should all bring our newly minted skills and competitive spirit. Which I suppose Greg and I did. We ended up playing against a pair of young men who might at one point been saddled with the label "jock," and we were trounced. It might have been the breaks we were taking, or the lack of any particular talent on Greg and my part. On Friday, we were told that we did not have to dress out. There would be an awards ceremony. To my surprise, Greg and I were each awarded a red second place ribbon. Because there were only two teams.
I crossed professional tennis player off my career goals list. I helped my son make a few dioramas, but I always counseled him to change the grass. 

Monday, June 03, 2019

Accidents Will Happen

All those storied are going to have to wait.
The ones I keep imagining as I pedal past houses and fences and piles of debris. I don't have a radio to listen to as I ride to work in the morning, so I entertain myself with tales of the unexplained. If only for a short while. The bike ride and the time it takes me to come up with the truth surrounding the circumstances of what might have led to that car being shoved most of the way onto the sidewalk and the driver's side front quarter-panel crushed like tin foil.
The tire tracks leading up to it suggest otherwise.
Drunken neighbor?
Cuckolded spouse?
Student driver?
In those morning hours with so very few witnesses or even additional worried souls making their way past the scene of the crime. Or was it a crime? Maybe it was a car that had already been damaged and someone did a terrifically bad job parking it before going inside to call the nearest body shop.
Which brings me to the focus of my daily trips to and from school over the past year: The building that now occupies what used to be a hole in the ground about one third of the way from my house to work. It is no longer a hole,  but instead of evolving into a lovely new home for some lucky family to occupy, four townhouse-y units now crowd the lot. The pair in the back have a glorious view of the back of and identical structure and one can only surmise that landscaping will be out of the question since it is already a very small pathway between these cramped spaces. Who will live there? Why would they live there? Whose idea was this anyway?
Over the next couple months, the siding will go on, and I suspect the plumbing and electrical will be complete. It's possible that the next time I ride by I may not recognize them as they blend into the neighborhood firmament. Or maybe I will stop on the way home some afternoon and knock on the door, asking if I could perhaps come in and take a look around. I don't need to stick my nose into their business, exactly. I just want to know what happened.

Sunday, June 02, 2019


“If we had had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so." These were some of the words tossed around during Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's farewell address to the troops. Before the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and author of the widely redacted report that bears his name, Mister Mueller stood up in front of a bunch of reporters. That little puzzle of a sentence was among the remarks he made. 
For those who hoped that he might open up more fully and clear his mind and ours about any nagging doubts, he added, “Any testimony from this office would not go beyond this report.” That same widely-redacted report that has many clamoring for impeachment of "the president" while others see it as a doctor's note excusing him from any further accusations and PE for a week. 
Then again, there was this additional nugget from Mueller's press briefing to continue to keep the waters as murky as possible: “Under long-standing department policy a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional,” he said. “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
Would you, could you under oath? Would you, could you remove this growth? Would you, could you with a fox? Would you could you with a fox?
Okay, so maybe we'll have to content ourselves with the Report itself. The one that includes this assertion: “The investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts." Along with that came the list of at least ten instances of ten instances of obstruction of justice, limited primarily by "the president's" own staff being unwilling to carry out his orders. “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.” So sayeth The Report. 
What could be more clear? 
Just about anything. 

Saturday, June 01, 2019


I set up a lot of chairs. I swept the floor. I scraped the gum off first. The cafeteria had once again been transformed into an auditorium: a gathering place for families and loved ones to come pay respects to the fifth graders who would be moving on. I will confess that this is a year when I don't have a particular tangle of emotions about any student or group of students. These guys are ready to move on and I won't shed a specific tear when they go. I'm sure there will be a time when I get around to missing them, but not right now.
Instead, I find myself dealing with that moment of departure when colleagues begin to pack up their boxes here at Horace Mann. For the last time. They won't be coming back. I will. I continue to be something of an anomaly in the Oakland Unified School District. When I take those surveys at the year winds to a close and they want to know how long I have been teaching and then how long I have been at this site, it's the same answer: Twenty-plus. And every year I have said goodbye to a friend I have made. Some of them are still seen around town, at the grocery store or at some teacher training and I share a moment describing "who is still there."
Well, there's me.
Which is why I was so very touched and embarrassed when I received and "unsolicited letter of recommendation" from one of my fellow educators who happens to be moving on herself this year. Having written a few letters this year to help my co-workers find the next step in their professional development. I will be maintaining my current level, much to the chagrin of many of those around me. This was not lost on my colleague. My friend. She mentioned the seemingly endless jobs I seem to have acquired to that original description of "prep teacher." And she appreciated me for it. In so many words.
And she recommended me to stay in my current position. Who else knows where all that construction paper is? Or how to get the staples out of the locked door? Who else has been around the block enough times to remain unfazed while one more teacher calls in sick without a substitute? I can't say that I've seen it all because every year brings a new flavor, a new surprise, a new set of faces. And I will miss them when they are gone. And I'm still here.
I'm keeping the letter. And the memories associated with it.