Wednesday, July 31, 2019

What It Is

"I'm unfollowing the President of the United States today on Twitter, because his feed is the most hate-filled, racist, and demeaning of the 200+ I follow, and it regularly ruins my day to read it. So I'm just going to stop."
This was the way Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut announced his departure from the Twitstorm that is the "real" Donald Trump. This particular weekend was a particularly onerous one for followers of "The President." This was the weekend during which the Twit-in-Chief chose to go after Congressman Elijah Cummings, calling the Representative from Maryland a "brutal bully." He also referred to Cummings' district, in and around Baltimore,  "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess." Leaving aside for the moment that rats are rodents and "infested" seems to be a creepily favorite way for "The President" to describe his pointed displeasure, I found myself wondering how I continue to stray into those murky waters knows as Trump Feed.
For weeks now, the current President of the United States has been picking fights with lawmakers on the Democratic side, most notably his on-going feud with the four first-year Representatives known as "The Squad." Women of color. Elijah Cummings, African-American. 
And some choose to see the twitterage coming from the Oval Office as racist. 
I do.
Not that the "real" Donald Trump is incapable of lobbing his sneers, jeers and epithets at men and women of all shades, stripes, and gender. He went after Nancy Pelosi for a bit, just to keep things misogynistic. And he popped off about wanting to designate Antifa as a terrorist group. One might argue that he is a hater, plain and simple. 
I wouldn't.
Or rather, I believe that's true as well. But I do believe that the current President of the United States is a racist, and reading his Twitter feed incites in me the same kind of reaction that I get when I stumble across the trolls foaming at their white supremacist mouths. Should I just ignore the vile screed that comes tumbling out into social media on a daily basis? 
Or should we just call it what it is? 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


If you don't recognize the name up there, it could be that you're not as big a fan of musical theater as I am. Fiddler On The Roof is one of several musicals I have committed to memory, much to the everlasting chagrin of those closest to me. For those uninitiated, it tells the story of a milkman and his family in Russia at the beginning of the Russian revolution. This is a time when old family traditions are being tossed about while Tevye tries to cope with how his life and his world is changing. At one point, he wonders why he couldn't be a rich man. "It's not great sin to be poor," he laments to God, "but it's not great honor, either." The most obvious change for him would be, "If I were a wealthy man. I wouldn't have to work hard." He continues to revel in all the things that he would be able to give to his wife and family, a fine new house in the middle of the town. "There would be one long staircase just going up, And one even longer coming down, And one more leading nowhere, just for show." 
But more than all these material things, Tevye dreams of being a well-respected member of his community. He expects that the most important men in town would come to call on him, "posing problems that would cross a Rabbi's eyes." Then, as he concludes, "And it won't make one bit of difference if i answer right or wrong. When you're rich, they think you really know!"
Because we do. Somehow we believe that someone with millions of dollars, or rubles, must know something we don't. This line of reasoning is one I have heard any number of times from supporters of our current "President." He must know what he's doing. He's got all that money. Well, somewhere just beneath the surface of the play, Tevye knows that the reason he is being moved out of his town is the anti-Jewish crusade by the Tsar, who is attempting to turn the population on itself, first restricting their movements and ultimately running them out of the country.
Sound familiar? 
There is no grand finale in which Tevye's dreams come true, unless they are those for his daughters who end up falling in love and marrying men with whom they can start new lives. Some of them in America. The milkman and his wife load up a wagon, leaving their home, singing the song that reminds them of their home. The home to which they will not return. 
Essay question: Was Tevye a rich man? 
Hint: It's not always about the money.  

Monday, July 29, 2019

Listening Wind

Every few years I wake up to find that music technology has passed me by. This was most certainly the case when my son finally coerced his mother and I into using Spotify to listen to music in our home. I gave it my standard test, "play Flying Saucer Safari," and it did not hesitate or flinch. From out of my speakers poured what Trouser Press once referred to as, called it "highly ordinary" and "a sub-Devo mesh of hiccupping vocals, angular tunes with tiresome stop-start rhythms and a high, weedy guitar/organ sound." What does Trouser Press know, really? 
So once that hurdle had been passed, we decided to go all in, asking our home robot to find all the music we cared to hear from that corner of Al Gore's Internet. Abruptly, our CD collection became more physical media holding up our speakers. And while I dance around my living room to the tunes I know and loved from long ago, I worry just a little about how my enjoyment is being paid out to the artists whose music from which I continue to extract joy. This is what I assume my monthly fee is helping to fund. I worry, but I don't stop using the service. The capacity to be able to play Baby Shark with barely a moment's hesitation is invaluable. 
Well, okay. It has a value, and the folks at Spotify have met my price point. Much in the same way that streaming services have all but eliminated my need to purchase tapes, or discs of most any sort. Having a collection used to be something that gave me satisfaction. Then it gave me a hernia when I had to tote all that vinyl from one apartment to the next, and finally across the country. When I moved into my own house, I let those albums go. By that point, I had converted most of those purchases into compact discs. When we had a toddler in the house, we sought to eliminate the disorganization brought on by this proto-audiophile by decanting all our CDs and putting them, along with their attendant artwork, into vinyl sleeves and storing them all in drawers. These were labeled alphabetically for easy filing. 
And now they sit there, as mentioned previously, holding up our speakers as we listen to our streaming music. For tiny percentages of a cent for each play. Meanwhile, the machines make suggestions of music I might like, since I seem to enjoy the Suburban Lawns. The deeper I dig, the more they pile on in front of me. Records I never bought by artists I never really knew. Now all I have to do is ask my home robot to play some Brandi Carlile. Because the kids these days seem to like her just fine. 
Me? I abhor a vacuum. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Back In Business

"Additional executions will be scheduled at a later date."
Those words above came from the Department of Justice. To be clear: The United States Department of Justice. Not North Korea. Or Iran. Or some enemy of our people. The Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, reinstated the Federal Death Penalty and immediately scheduled five executions.
Whoops. Buried the lede.
The United States will start executing prisoners on death row after twenty years of what a lot of us consider common sense. How do we teach "Thous shalt not kill?" By killing, of course. Thoose five inmates are all in the same federal prison located in Terre Haute, Indiana. No word on how these folks found their way to the top of the list, but BilBarr instructed Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, to adopt the revision to the Federal Execution Protocol, a maneuver that “[clears] the way for the federal government to resume capital punishment after a nearly two decade lapse, and bringing justice to victims of the most horrific crimes.”
Justice for horror. 
Sounds  like a good trade.
But why were there no executions for two decades and now suddenly there are five, with more on tap? How about the way that a federal killing can take place in a state where no such killing is legal. According to the state. And how about this: Indiana has executed ninety-four men between the years 1897 and 2009. Some sloppy math suggests that's less than one a year. Now BilBarr wants to catch up. There are currently sixty-two prisoners across the country on Federal Death Row. Fifty-six of them are housed in Terre Haute. 
So, the United States Department of Justice is back in the business of killing those it deems unfit to live. They can be killed by your federal government for the following offenses:  treasonespionagemurderpiracy, large-scale drug trafficking, or attempted murder of a witness, juror, or court officer in certain cases. The last government induced death was in 2003. Maybe someone should tell the "President" about this. 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Tears In The Rain

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."
The year is 2019. This was the year in which Blade Runner was set. Flying cars are still being somewhat ineffectively engineered. You can still wander around Los Angeles on any given day without a trench coat or umbrella with a neon handle. Sure, there are plenty of similarities to the mixmaster dialect spoken in Ridley Scott's film, Somali, Russian, Japanese, Arabic: the sound of most any big city in the United States these days. As for the robots, pardon me, replicants? They're still in development.
Roy Batty is not. Roy has gone to that place where Nexus 6 replicants go. He certainly outlived his four year lifespan, on one particular timeline. Rutger Hauer, the man who played Roy lived to be seventy-five earth years old. Maybe he was a Nexus 8.
He certainly had a pretty amazing name. It always sounded to me like it should have been the name of a pistol carried by Nazi officer. But since he was of Dutch extraction, that would probably be a little indelicate. I remember him from Ladyhawke as well. And The Hitcher. And Nighthawks. Rutger was your go-to bad guy in the 1980's. In 1992 he had taken a back seat to Luke Perry and Paul Reubens, but he was still menacing as the vampire Buffy needed to kill. 
But mostly, he was Batty. Trapped in a world that he never wanted to serve, Roy just wanted to live one more day. His motivations were, at times questionable, but he faced his end with courage and conviction, and a little bit of maniacal laughter. 
Rutger Hauer was not just an onscreen bad guy. He was an environmentalist and philanthropist, who started his own Starfish Association, " dedicated to providing help, attention and care to children
and pregnant women with HIV/AIDS, as well as educating communities about this disease." Not such a bad guy, after all. He helped us see things we wouldn't believe. He stomped on the Terra and elsewhere in the galaxy. He will be missed. Aloha, Herr Hauer. 

Friday, July 26, 2019


Avengers: Endgame is now the world champion. It has made more money than any other movie ever on this planet. Galactic receipts are a little slow coming in, so it's difficult to calculate how it sits in the universal scheme of things. That film just passed up Avatar, which had previously held the distinction of being the movie with the most zeros behind it. It was a ten year hike up the hill to make a series of movies that put Marvel over the top, while James Cameron continues to threaten us with additional stories from Pandora. Just not anytime soon. Perhaps by the time they are finally released, tickets to the 4D IMaximus screenings will be selling for a million dollars apiece which should make the crowning of a new champion that much easier.
We are less than a week away from the digital release of the Avengers swan song. This ensures the machine that has been printing money for the past few months will continue to do so as the focus shifts from the big screen to the big screen TVs. Robert Downey Jr. and his progeny will be taken care of for some time to come as a result. Whew. 
But this inevitably starts a wider discussion: What about Gone With The Wind? What about Star Wars? All of these box office totals don't tend to show up with inflation and ticket price figured in. For most industry types, it's not exactly about tickets sold, it's about the bottom line. What about production costs? Advertising? Back in 1939 MGM didn't have to pay for TV ads. Or a web site. Without cable TV, there was little else to do with your entertainment dollar. A town might only have one movie theater, instead of a superfaplex of concrete bunkers in which daily showings could take place around the clock. 
Back in 1977, I spent the summer going to as many showings as I could of Episode IV: A New Hope. Because the alternative was staying at home and watching Gene Rayburn host Match Game. Sitting around on my parents' lawn with my friends: "Whaddya wanna do?" "I dunno. Whaddyou wanna do?" "I don' know. Star Wars?" "Again?" Pause. "Yeah. Okay." So I figure I contributed considerably to the bottom line on that one.
These were films that were so popular that they decided to name a video store chain for them. We now live in a world in which a film that makes a million dollars during its opening week can be considered a bomb. No one suggested that a video store chain be named after that. It was my niece who first made the observation to me that Avatar was really just a very expensive version of Ferngully. But since the story of the last rain forest only brought in one percent of the money Avatar gobbled up, it's probably not worth further discussion. I expect the reboot of Ferngully, starring a CGI Brad Pitt, will put Twenty-First Century Fox over the top. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Made Comfortable

Wear and tear.
That's what I used to call it before I went to college and got really smart about physics and started calling it "entropy." When I was a mere slip of a lad, new Levis needed to be worn for several months before they approached anything that could be described as comfortable. Trying these pants on left one with the rough experience of walking around with your lower half encased in dark blue tin. Then someone had the clever idea to pre-wash jeans so that initial Tin Man experience could be ameliorated. This also meant that you had to carry around two sizes in your head: pre-washed and straight off the press. This was a time in which showing up with those telltale creases on your indigo leg coverings that barely bent at the knee meant you would be ridiculed for not spending the extra money to have someone wash your jeans a bunch ahead of time.
I understand now they wash them with stones. And tear holes in the knees, and elsewhere, just to make sure that you don't get mistaken for someone wearing brand new jeans. "Are those new jeans?" to be clear, was a point of ridicule not admiration.
I had a similar experience back in the olden days buying shoes. It was expected that any new shoes would be less than comfortable for a period time. This period of time was what I came to understand was the "breaking in" period. In order to get those Buster Browns to moderately conform to the shape of ones feet, you would need to spend some time walking around in them. This was especially disconcerting since these were nominally "Church Shoes" and would not get the kind of use that a pair of Keds might. This meant that most every Sunday morning brought the ritual torment of lacing up those instruments of torture. I understand that Jesus used to walk around barefoot, but that's my cynicism shining through my religious conviction. It was the shoes. It had to be the shoes.
And certainly we expect all our clothes to deteriorate over time. That is the function of the lint filter on your dryer. I assume that over time I have lost several shirts and pairs of pants to the steady disintegration of laundry. Cleaning the lint from the filter and knitting them into new socks might help limit some of this entropy.
Wear and tear.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Button, Button, Who's Got The Button?

I don't think this particular angle gets the attention it deserves: Donald "Jay" Trump has access to "the button." Not the big red Help button next to the potty in the White House. I mean he is the guy in charge of the United States' nuclear weapons.
The same guy who has been photographed chumming it up with dictators from North Korea and Russia in recent weeks is the same guy who can launch ICBMs when that idea flutters lightly into his vast and echoing cranial cavity. Much in the same way that he can, in a fit of pique, impost tariffs on countries with whom he has a bone to pick, "The President" could get really mad at Monaco someday, perhaps because they didn't invite him to the Grand Prix, and his legendary if not absurd temper tantrum could include multiple warheads.
I imagine that he has already been talked off that particular cliff any number of times since he became "Commander in Chief."
No, Mister President. You can't launch a tactical nuclear strike on The Washington Post.
No sir, it wouldn't be a good idea to "turn the Democratic debate stage into a sheet of glass."
Sorry your excellency, but we have not as yet developed a weapon that will kill everyone not wearing a red baseball cap.
And so on.
The good news here is that there is a chain of command, and even if that bathroom button just happened to be mistaken for "the button," it's not a one-man job. While the ultimate decision to use nuclear weapons is still in the hands of "The President," he is not carrying around an app on his phone with which he can bring on Armageddon. He would have to talk to people, some of whom may or may not have surrendered their common sense or free will. They can try to persuade "The President" there are still a lot of pretty girls in California and maybe we should give them a chance to Make America Great Again. Unless they run for Senate, and then all bets are off. And may god have mercy on their souls.
So, sorry about that if you had just ratcheted down your feelings for the current resident of the White (and boy do I mean White) House to simple disgust. If this brings an element of fear back to the game, then maybe this will inspire some sort of action beyond a dismayed roll of the eyes.
Be afraid, America. Be very afraid.
And sleep tight.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Point To Point

I spent the fiftieth anniversary of man's first steps on the moon by sitting in front of a computer, waiting for a sign that all of the technology that surrounded me, on the desk, on the floor, extending off into the rest of the house. Communications, connections to satellites and all manner of other peripherals made possible, in part, by our exploration of space.
And yet, there I sat, trapped in the front of my house as I attempted to sort out the best intentions of customer support personnel who desperately wanted to help me. But they didn't. Exactly. Instead, I was tossed from one nasty flurry of hold music to another as a number of different companies tried to explain to me just exactly why it wasn't their portion of the Internet connection I was trying to establish. You should try calling the folks at Comcast. 
No. You should try asking Netgear. They'll help you.
Sounds like the trouble is coming from those Google pucks. 
I know! Let's ask Mister Owl. 
Because the eighteen hours that I spent trying to sort out the angular bits of misinformation would have been better spent sucking on a series of Tootsie Pops. As it turns out, somewhere around  the time I was sold the new cable modem that was purchased to replace the rental unit Comcast had me paying thirteen dollars a month for all eternity, someone might have mentioned that this was in fact not an actual replacement for that item. I went home and attempted to plug and play and I did the one but not the other. What followed was a whole lot of plugging and unplugging, always at the behest of one of the far-flung voices of quiet reason from call centers designed from my perspective to challenge my patience and intellect. 
We can put a man on the moon, several times in fact, but we can't just buy a new cable modem and get it to work without first spending nearly an entire day talking about how it really should work. But it doesn't. Until somewhere in the eighteenth hour, the revelation comes that there is a reason why this box with wires isn't letting the other boxes with wires talk to one another: That's not exactly what it was built for in the first place. Turns out that all these tech types, myself included, never brushed up against the idea that maybe there needed to be another piece of equipment that would allow the machines to see one another. The piece of equipment that was sitting in my basement, waiting for that chance to land a man  on the moon. 
Or allow me to watch YouTube videos of the Moon Landing. Fifty years? Eighteen hours? At last, there was triumph for all mankind. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Don't Mess With Texas, Or Their Sandwiches Anyway

When is a door not a door?
When it's a wall, duh. Sorry, a few points for you if you said "ajar" because that's the traditional punchline to a joke that makes a play on the condition of the door.
Okay. Ready for the next one?
When is a fast food restaurant not a fast food restaurant? When it's a Chick-Fil-A in Texas.
Get it?
Well it could be that you aren't familiar with the bill that Governor Greg Abbot signed into law last week in Austin. Governor Greg said,  “No business should be discriminated against simply because its owners donate to a church, the Salvation Army, or other religious organization.” This was his way of keeping businesses, like Chick-Fil-A, from suffering the same kind of duress that Chick-Fil-A has endured. Like protests and demonstrations pointing out discrimination experienced by their customers. For instance. 
Hold on just a second pardnuh, did I hear you say that Chick-Fil-A might be guilty of discrimination themselves? Why isn't Governor Greg signing a bill that protects customers from discrimination? "Religious liberty" were the words he used to describe his motivation. Or maybe it was when the San Antonio city council to ban the Christian-owned fast food chain from its airport over its support of groups with anti-LGBT views. 
And for just a moment, let's try and keep in mind that there are a whole lot of Christian-owned fast food chains, and a good portion of them don't equate their religious beliefs with discrimination. Governor Greg just turned the tables on those folks, didn't he? 
So, never mind businesses like Chick Fil A. You are as safe from discrimination as corporations that are people can be
Texas is safe for fried chicken sandwiches at least. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

What's My Line?

What's your ethnicity?
An easy enough question for many. For a great long time I answered this query with a fierce and proud, "Mostly Irish." Which turned out to be a thick slab of blareny. This was the story that my father had put together over the years, based on some anecdotal bits of history, and the fact that there is a County Cavan located in north Ireland. The story had the added attraction of how our name used to be Cavanaugh, but the powers that be at Ellis Island callously dropped the "augh" in their haste to make neat, five letter names that would fit in the blanks.
And so, for decades I approached each Saint Patrick's Day as a rite and adopted the swilling of beer dyed green as part of my heritage. My loving wife even went so far as to boil up corned beef and cabbage for the occasion.
Then, in preparation for my older brother's fiftieth birthday, my mother decided to trace our family tree. Which didn't lead back to County Cavan. It became clear that there was a lot of fuss around the time someone should have been keeping good records, but with all that pillaging and sacking of villages and such, there wasn't a nice, neat path to our ancestral home. Just to be sure, I discouraged my wife from making haggis.
I don't really know my ethnicity for certain beyond the plains of Kansas, which is where both of my parents' families chose to move just a little to the west and land up in Colorado. I know that "Kansan" doesn't qualify as an ethnicity, but I did recently learn that there was a tribe of Native Americans called the Kansa, People of the South Wind. That's not me.
So I'm wondering now, what Kellyanne Conway was expecting when she asked reporter Andrew Feinberg, "What's your ethnicity?" Was she hoping to have a freewheeling exchange about this great big melting pot of ours and how we should all be proud of our heritage as well as our adopted nation? Or maybe she was tapping into a different historical vein, in which one's ethnicity could be used to send them back or maybe just to work camps? Or put to death by the millions? It was pretty clear that she wasn't just shilling for
Meanwhile, down the street, Republican Representative Mike Kelly from Pennsylvania announced, “They talk about people of color. I’m a person of color. “I’m white. I’m an Anglo-Saxon. People say things all the time, but I don’t get offended.” Which made me think of that unfortunate box of Crayons from my youth that had a "flesh" colored hunk of wax in it. After 1962, flesh was peach and that was that.
My how we've evolved. At least when it comes to coloring.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Not Me

Fifty years ago, NASA made a really good choice. They picked Neil Armstrong to be the first man to walk on the moon. I know there has been some discussion lately about the hierarchy of commander and pilot and so forth, and which way the door on the lunar landing module opened, but I still believe their choice was inspired. In spite of the fact that he blew his line.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Neil left out an indefinite article. In his version, "man" and "mankind" are essentially synonyms, rendering his statement void of meaning. "That's one small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind." That would have provided contrast for the two clauses, comparing his action of stepping onto the moon's surface to that of everyone else who had ever lived.
I tend to forgive Commander Armstrong for this little faux pas. He had a few other things on his mind. Most notably: "Will I be able to crawl back up that ladder once it's time to go?" And it probably goes without saying that there were six hundred fifty million people watching on TV back home. A few years before that, "everyone" watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. And that was seventy-three million. Which makes me wonder why Brian Epstein missed his shot to book the Fab Four a gig on the moon.
But let's get back to why they picked Neil. They didn't pick me. Perhaps because I was only seven years old at the time and though my brothers and I had undergone our own version of astronaut training by spinning around tied up in a hammock until we nearly puked I would not have been the ideal candidate. I would have worried that there was no actual lunar surface, just a sandy trap waiting for the first food source to be foolish enough to step out onto that gray wasteland. Or that inhabitants of the moon had been laying in wait, avoiding detection by telescope and unmanned probes to jump out and take their first hostage.
Maybe that's a little ridiculous. How about something, anything, going wrong with the life support system while he's standing out there in a vacuum? Or let's say they had a really successful romp on the moon and picked up a bunch of rocks and dirt and when it was time to go, they packed a little too much and the fuel they had wasn't enough to get them back to Michael Collins and the Command Module, orbiting above. Sorry guys. You and Buzz are just going to have to tough it out until help arrives. Except there was no help. Just go ahead and do your best with this thing that no one has ever done before and hope that nothing goes wrong.
I'm sorry. I survived the whole hammock thing, but hanging around on the moon waiting for my oxygen to run out is not something for which I would have readily volunteered. And what about Buzz? Well, he was the second man on the moon, but he was the enforcer. I dare you to go up to Buzz Aldrin and tell him the moon landings were fake. For All Mankind.

Friday, July 19, 2019


My son, the car aficionado, is the only person I know personally who has purchased premium gasoline. On purpose. It is entirely possible that once upon a time when I was dong my due diligence and pumping my own gas that I may have inadvertently pushed the wrong fuel grade button. This is one of those odd indicators to me, by the way, that all this worry about supreme and hi-test and so forth may be a lot of hooey. There was a time when there were actually separate pumps for the special fuel that would not have been an issue. Pull around to the regular pump. I don't need any of that fancy stuff for my car. Besides, it was the late, great Mad Magazine that provided me with the image of a single tank buried beneath a series of gas pumps all labeled with various exciting names and qualities. It's all gas, right?
Well, certain auto manufactures recommend that you use premium gasoline in their very fussy engines. Luxury types. And that's "recommend," by the way. It's a way to to ensure that you keep feeling luxurious even when you're standing there at the self-sever island wiping your own windows while your tank fills.
What makes gas supreme? It's the octane rating, usually a matter of four or five points. Regular, run of the mill, garden variety gasoline sits somewhere around eighty-seven, and that liquid gold you yearn to pump into your fancy schmancy performance automobile comes in around ninety-two. Since that translates to around twenty cents per gallon and you're driving that schmancy car and affording the payments then you probably don't mind spending an extra two or three bucks per tankful. 
And yes, lower octane gasoline is a little more likely to cause engine knock, caused by a preignition in your car's cylinders that doesn't count as a full ignition. This means your engine isn't properly compressing, which might not be so bad coming from a Dodge Dart, but a Bugati Veyron is another matter. Your Dodge Dart has a low compression rate, so you probably won't notice it. That Bugati, on the other hand, has a very high rate of compression and you had better keep fancy gasoline in that bad boy or there will be trouble. Not a lot, mind you, since Modern engines use a device called a knock sensor to detect the rattling and vibration within a cylinder that signals preignition. These sensors send a signal to the vehicle's Engine Control Unit which then adjusts the engine's timing when the spark plugs fire to reduce or prevent the knock. You might not win that street race against Vin Diesel, but it's pretty tough to notice on a trip to CVS. 
And if you're worried that regular gas won't keep your engine clean like premium will, remember that Environmental Protection Agency regulations require that all grades of gas have detergent in them. So, if you're driving that Bugati and you can afford it, hire me to drive over to the filling station and I will fill it up with Supremium Bestest Grade gas. And I promise I won't pocket the difference. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Toss Me That Wooden Stake

Racism isn't dead.
It's a vampire that feeds on hate and fear, and just like the monsters from all those Universal movies in the thirties and forties, if there is any chance of making a profit they'll be back in a sequel.
So let's start with some basics: Nobody wants to admit they're a vampire. It's a pretty well-kept secret, since there's always some doctor or villager who knows what to do with a wooden stake. And yet, while bodies keep showing up around town with suspicious dual puncture wounds in their necks, and the lady of the manor is wandering around pale and listless, no one seems anxious to pull the Vampire Alarm.
It's unthinkable in this day and age that the undead would walk the earth in search of new victims to maim and kill. Even worse that those same members of the undead would seek to enlist still more into their crew. Who wouldn't want to live forever, after all? Of course this does mean that you give up a big chunk of your free will and you need to sleep in a box while the sun is out, but that doesn't seem so bad, does it?
Unless you start to figure in the human cost of staying alive like that. You have to kill others to keep going. To be clear, I'm not talking about the revisionist Twilight vampires whose tastes would primarily to animals, though they still belong to that same club in a pinch. They suck the blood out of things for love. They're just misunderstood.
Go ahead and ask someone if they know any vampires. Of course they don't. This might be because they don't know any vampires. Or they don't know if anyone they know is a vampire. Or maybe they don't want to admit that they know any vampires because it might make you think that they are vampires too. Or maybe they're vampires.
So let's return to those Twilight-type bloodsuckers. If there was a race of people that subsisted on animal blood alone and they weren't occasionally interested in using their razor sharp teeth to inflict pain and suffering on other people, it would be akin to my own predilection for cheeseburgers. If occasionally I needed to supplement my diet with a little human flesh, that wouldn't be okay. That would be cannibalism. That would be wrong.
Vampirism is wrong. It should not be tolerated, and anyone who suggests that vampirism isn't a problem hasn't had their neck bitten lately. Which doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Racism isn't dead. It's undead.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

How We Did It

Sometimes I like to tell the story about how these young punks came down to Oakland so they could take a look at our book packaging and shipping operation. This was back in the day when "we" were Bookpeople, an employee-owned book wholesaler who specialized in the kind of stuff you might expect to find in a business run by Berkeley folks. Which it was. Owned and run. And these upstarts from up north wanted to see how a bustling distributor like us could move so many boxes of books out the door every day? Bring 'em on.
The punchline being that they were thinking that selling books over Al Gore's Internet might be a good business model and we scoffed quietly behind their backs as they looked at our shrink-wrapping apparatus. Didn't they know we were getting by on the razor-thinnest of margins and they wanted to ship a book or two at a time to private customers. Didn't they know there were these giant bookstores like Barnes&Noble and Borders out there just waiting for our best customers the neighborhood bookstores to make a tiny mistake? How could they compete.
Take a look around and see how many Borders or Barnes&Noble you can spot on your store locator app. Borders? Well, you know, nothing Borders stays. And those neighborhood bookstores? Good luck.
Meanwhile, those same young punks have figures out a way to sell you just about anything on Al Gore's Internet. How do they do it? Volume, volume, volume. They can be like Costco at the very same time they are pretending to be the corner drugstore. Need some toothpaste? Don't worry, we'll run it right over. Or someone will. In a hurry.
Which brings me back to Bookpeople. Back in my warehouse days we had a rubber stamp that we used to place in red ink at the top of special orders. These were the "SPRI" or Speical Priority orders. As my erstwhile minions scurried about the shelves and stacks compiling the titles requested by those sellers, the less-than-SPRI orders sat beneath, waiting and hoping for their chance to see daylight. Picked, pulled, packed and shipped. My absurd goal each day was to clear all the tiers from those dot-matrix printed order sheets. Quitting time was when the UPS driver came to pull our forty foot trailer out of the bay. Every box out the door was a dollar in our pocket.
Of course we rushed around. We were all shareholders in the company, so if we skipped a break to get one more book out the door, there was some honor in it. Amazon workers don't own their own company. They don't have a union. Somewhere out there, a warehouse worker in a yellow vest is rushing now to a shelf to grab a copy of The Celestine Prophecy,  a book that was being sold out of the trunk of the author's car before young punks like Bookpeople picked it up and turned it into a bestseller. And right after that, they're headed across the warehouse to snatch a value-pack of Total Health Crest to fill out that order.
All. My. Fault.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Wash 'n' Wear

I lost a good friend a couple weeks ago. Not to worry, because I know he's in a better place.
If the bottom of a dumpster behind the University of Colorado practice field can be considered a better place.
"He" is, or was, a T-shirt. Not just any T-shirt. He was my Friday shirt. When I came home from work after a long week, I would pull that bad boy on and we would go for a run. It was the way I knew that I was home and the next forty-eight hours were mine to contemplate the next work week. It was my bookmark and my solace. He will be missed.
My good friend "Friday" and I have covered plenty of ground since the mid nineteen seventies. That was when my older brother and I retrieved him from a dumpster behind the Balch Fieldhouse after a Golden Buffalo football game. Dumpster diving was a pretty regular pastime for us back in those days. Our usual trophies were partially used rolls of athletic tape. My brother once salvaged a broken helmet that sat on a shelf over his dresser for a decade or more. My father used to joke that one day we would bring back a used jockstrap. Which we did, especially for him, sanitarily wrapped in a tennis ball can for his convenience. And protection.
Friday was rescued on an autumn afternoon when I was still in junior high. Compared to a lot of the garbage we dragged home, this seemed like it was in pretty good shape: a black shirt with "Colorado" stenciled across the front in silver letters. Not a jersey. That would have been the jackpot, but dumpster divers can't be choosers. There was some discussion about who would end up with our new acquisition, but I would imagine that it was a bit of whining on my part that allowed it to find its way, after a few washings, into my drawer.
Where it stayed. A souvenir of a forgotten time.
Until I moved out to California, and it came with me. It became a workout shirt. It didn't start out as my Friday shirt, it was a conscious choice for me to pick that one out of half a dozen. Over the past quarter century, that shirt has been through the wringer with me more times than I can count. The wear and tear was visible after a decade or two of regular wear and tear until it became more reminiscent of something from Stevie Nicks' closet than a T-shirt.
Finally, on the occasion of a return to Boulder, I said goodbye to Friday. This garment that had become a shirt in name only, which had served me so well for all those miles and miles. I went back to whence it came and returned it, much the worse for wear. It will no longer be the thing that my wife looks at and says, "Are you going out in that?"
Friday is gone.
And it's okay.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Child's Play

Has it ever been harder to be a kid?
Working with newcomers at my school, I have encountered a great many children who have come to us because they were scared, damaged, or lost. Many of the children I meet are fleeing some other reality. A much worse place than urban Oakland, which does me the favor of adjusting my own perspective. I am not living with a dozen other loosely related individuals who have had their own families torn apart by a tragic joke of a promise of a new and better life here in the United States. Some of them came with their families intact, save for mom or dad who did not make it to the refugee camp. I don't tend to discuss the irony of a government that is currently in the business of discouraging immigrants from corners of the globe that that same government has made things less than habitable in those places from which immigrants are fleeing.
That last sentence is partly the reason why I don't have that conversation. That and the fact that if I could find a way to describe the situation more succinctly, it still wouldn't make a lot of sense. Why should a child suffer because a bunch of grownups can't seem to get on the same page about how to treat our next generation?
All of which winds me back to a place some thirty years ago, back when the famine in Africa was of great concern to a great portion of the planet. We were inundated with images of crying children with swollen bellies, some clinging to life with the hordes of media standing just close enough to get a really good shot of the suffering. Put the camera down and give the kid a sandwich.
Fast forward to the various delegations traveling to our southern border to see for themselves what sort of conditions are acceptable in detention centers. The photo of the father and daughter drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande. These are families willing to risk all manner of danger, humiliation and degradation just to get a chance at a new life. The TV cameras that bear witness to the groups scrambling through their night vision reminding us of the advancing hordes, willing to risk imprisonment here rather than continue to live in fear in the world they left behind. The fear we heap on children who come to our shores as victims of a geo-political system that would like them to be terrorists to legitimize our treatment of them.
Children. Huddled masses, yearning to breathe (if not free). Let them. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Used To Be

There's this Pretenders song called "My City Was Gone." Chrissy Hynde sings about going back to her hometown, Akron, Ohio. She laments, "My childhood memories, Slowly swirled past, Like the wind through the trees." I heard her sing this song as I was running around the streets of my own hometown. I was there on vacation. A visit to check out the place where I was from. The place where my family still maintains an outpost. 
I thought a lot about that song as I went looking for landmarks and locales that had been replaced by new points of interest. There was no Arby's. The one that was left when I left a year ago has become a Wendy's. I suppose that's not the kind of thing that would get Chrissy Hynde upset, but it stuck with me. For a while. 
And then it was gone. Because Thomas Wolfe wrote a whole book about it. And before that, way before that, Heraclitus said, "You cannot step in the same river twice." Something about the way water rushes on and fast food franchises spring up where another one used to be. He probably went looking for that gyro shop where he used to work. 
Or maybe he was just struck by the way the streets started getting these odd dips and turns. When I was a kid, you could go north and south, stopping at lights or stop signs, but there was no need to jog slightly to the left or right to continue on your way. Perhaps in an effort to slow punks like I used to be from racing down residential streets, these divots were installed to inhibit such vehicular behavior. A pause before resuming, perhaps. A motor comma.
And yet, there were still plenty of things that kept me content. Not the least of these was the drinking water. I spent a great portion of most days hydrating because of what came so lovingly from the tap. That was great. And so were the people. My mother and her endless supply of patience for me and her bottomless jellybean dish. My loves from the past and present nearly converged as a group. And that was like going home again.
Which is what I was doing, with or without Chrissy Hynde's approval. There were definitely places that had become parking spots and parking meters where I used to park for free. No free parking. No beef 'n' cheddar. But somehow I got around to the places where I used to be. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Like The Do-Dah Man

I have never been to a Grateful Dead show. But last week I got very close. A very good friend and I drove up to our old high school and found the parking lot staked out with a man who held a sign: $20 Concert Parking. Would we be afforded a free spot if we told him that we used to go there. That we started dating back then. We were in marching band together. This was a reunion some twenty years in the making. Back in the 1980s, we had attended a great many concerts just up the hill from there. At Folsom Field, home of the Colorado Sun Day series. All-day rock and roll marathons. We didn't have tickets for the Dead show that particular evening.
So, instead, we found a free spot to park just across the street from the high school and wandered up onto the campus. We passed buildings in which we had classes, and eventually made our way over to the University Memorial Center. There we found the grill, named for inspiration for Cannibal! The Musical, Alfred Packer. It was closed. We went upstairs and found the doors to the Glenn Miller Ballroom unlocked. Inside, I recounted my glory days as part of a Trivia Bowl team: Renegade Poodles From Hell.
Having expended the memories of that came from inside, we walked outside the Memorial Center. Here we found the spot where we, and a few other brave souls, had braved the elements and camped out for concert tickets. Before the advent of click and refresh Internet purchase of seats, this was the way we rolled. Or sat. For days. This reverie was broken as a young man called out to us, "You got an extra ticket?" The collapse of our reality was profound. Wouldn't you just go around  the corner, as we once had, to see if there were any available at the Select-A-Seat outlet?
Sorry, man. Hoping you got your miracle.
Off we went, finding ourselves outside the University Art Museum. A new structure, and we found ourselves amused at the notion that the powers that be would keep it open while just across campus there was a huge crowd forming outside the football stadium. We were happy once we were inside. Air conditioned and a thought-provoking exhibit describing the history of climate change, we were entertained, but not by the Grateful Dead.
Once we finished taking in our dose of culture, it was time to see what all the fuss was about. The closer we got to the stadium, the more tie-dye we encountered. Just across the way from the security gates, a bazaar had been set up for the sale of T-shirts, cool drinks and even more of that ever-present  tie-dye. As we waded through the sweaty throng, we agreed that it had never really occurred to either one of us that we might be missing something, concert veterans that we both  were. When we had finally reached the other side of the gathering mass of humanity, we breathed a sigh of relief. We had made it through. Now we could proceed back down the hill, back to the place we had parked before all this nostalgia. Walking down the path, a teenager flew past us on a bicycle. "Hey," he called out, "Nice couple!"
To which I yelled back, "Couple of what?"
That's when another teenager bicycler whizzed by, hollering something that was almost certainly amusing, at least to his friends. We couldn't make it out. We, as a couple, were left wondering. Reaching the car, and noting that we were the only ones heading away from the Dead and Company. I suggested that before we drove away that we might try and  sell our curbside spot to some anxious concert-goer who might see ten dollars as a fair asking price. Instead, we made room for that last minute fan who needed a place. We drove away, leaving all that tie-dye behind.
And we didn't look back.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Art Of Survival

Pine cones are seeds, or seed pods. They are the way pine trees propagate. They are also more importantly, according to Al Gore's Internet, fuel for craft projects. They can be turkeys or bird feeders or elves or even miniature versions of the trees they aspire to be. When they grow up. If they grow up.
Because, like so many seeds, they don't always get the chance to grow strong and tall. In many places around the globe, they are the litter of the forest world. This was very apparent on my visit to my mother's house in Colorado. She lives on a suburban cul de sac with a Homeowner's Association. Part of her daily routine is to scour her driveway for errant pine droppings since the HA frowns on such things. I learned while I was there to pick up the morning paper and all the pine cones I could see and bring them inside for dissemination. The paper, after it was read, would find its way to the recycling bin and the pine cones were dropped into the compost.
But that wasn't always the way. When I was a kid, and our family lived in the mountains above Boulder every summer, part of our chores each day was to bring back a paper bag full of pine cones. Not for compost. Not for craft projects. For kindling. For making a fire. Each morning, in our cabin in the woods, a fire needed to be made. To take the chill off. To heat the water. To cook dinner. When you put a bed of newspaper and then a layer of pine cones, lighting the paper ignites the cones which burn quickly and hot. They will set the logs on top of that ablaze and then there's a fire in the stove that won't go out until after everyone has gone to bed for the night. The next morning my little brother and I would get up and after breakfast we would take our paper bags and fan out. Over the hillsides and down to the meadow. Picking up what would be the beginnings of the next day's fire.
And it all started with pine cones. Not litter. Not compost. Fire bombs. Energy. Fuel to last through the summer. And some of those that we left on the ground outside fulfilled their natural purpose and became trees that grew up straight and tall. And dropped pine cones on the ground for years to come. I can't possibly pick them all up. Not for fire. Not for compost.
Not my job.
Not anymore. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Hard To Find Words

If I was asked for one word to describe my feelings upon hearing that Mad Magazine would cease to be, that would be it: Blecch. If you had not spent your youth or any significant part of your life with "the usual gang of idiots," then that word may not have the same ring it has for me. It sounds a lot like "ecch" and "yecch." These were words used to great effect by the humor magazine that helped shape my world view as much as any other. Any other magazine. Any other printed material. In so very many ways, Mad was there for me as I grew up.
Don Martin.
Dave Berg.
Mort Drucker.
Jack Davis.
Al Jaffee.
Antonio Phorias.
If those names mean nothing to you, I can only say, "Blecch." I encourage you to take a moment or two to pick one or more of them to explore the wit and wonderfulness they generated over the decades. Sixty-seven years of funny bits. Movie parodies. Comics. Satire.
And now, after all those yuks, the magazine is ceasing its regular publication and will only available at comic book stores and via subscriptions. It won't cease to be, but it won't be available on newsstands. Collections and old material will still be produced, but what used to be will be no more. Like so many magazines, the time has come for Mad to become less. And in this version of the universe, less is not more.
I learned to read, in part, by going from cover to cover, including the fold-in. I learned about things that were presented to me in black and white, there was a stand taken, and the primary objective was laughter. Sure there was a dalliance or two with the Pepsi to Mad's Coke, Cracked. But, dare I say it, there was something a little juvenile about it. My mom had her New Yorker, and I had that usual gang of idiots.
And it won't ever really go away. It will live in clicks on Al Gore's Internet. Which will help those of us who tasted the tart sting of parody and jest for all those years, but what about the kids of today? What, Me Worry? You bet.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Let The Children Sing

I would imagine that my mother is glad that she's not running for President of the United States. Not because she's not qualified. Patient, wise and fair: what else could one want? I do believe that where she might run into trouble is keeping track of her children's behavior. Like when our current "president's" son relays racist tweets. Junior passed along this gem last week: "Kamala Harris is implying she is descended from American Black Slaves," read the message written by Ali Alexander, a fringe alt-right activist. "She's not. She comes from Jamaican Slave Owners. That's fine. She's not an American Black. Period." As is his fashion, Junior deleted the tweet from his account after it generated a cyberstorm of reaction, defining once again his family's courage in their convictions. 
Then there's Daddy's little girl, Ivanka. She got to go along on daddy's business trip to Japan, and had a lot of fun pretending to do her daddy's job. She got to sit at the grown-up's table at the G20 Summit. Then she got another plane ride to Korea, where she accompanied daddy to the DMZ. She described the experience as "surreal." 
I think we get that.
Meanwhile, in the not-so-red corner, we have the recent interview with Joe Biden's son in The New Yorker. The one in which he describes being held at gunpoint while attempting to buy crack cocaine, and how he dated his dead brother's widow. After being torched in the second Democratic debate, by Kamala Harris, I'm not guessing that Joe really needs this kind of publicity. 
All of this sends a message to my mom: Don't run. I am sure that the time that I ate a Hostess Ho-Ho dipped in cheese fondue would almost certainly come to light. 
And then there's this blog.
Sorry, America, for depriving you of one of the best and brightest. You're just going to have to trust me on this. 
Yes, I know: Trust me. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Four Hours

It came up again on the television the other day. The lesson I learned back in the fall of 1992. Everything takes four hours. It comes from the sit-com Mad About You, starring Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. If you weren't watching television back in the early nineties or have a "thing" about either of the stars, or just couldn't stand being exhorted into "must see TV," it was a vital component in the earliest years of my marriage. The pretty blonde lady marrying the neurotic funny guy opened the door to what would be all kinds of life-affirming wisdom. The number of times my lovely bride and I would be watching this half hour NBC program that I was able to point to the screen and say, "See, there it is!" was significant.
And the idea that everything takes four hours is perhaps key among those revelations. The idea that nothing takes "just a second" once you have embarked in a relationship of a most any kind was calming for me. To have someone affirm the idea that all tasks, in this case purchasing a new couch, takes four hours because you can never do just that one thing. Paul Reiser, who played Paul Buchman on the show insisted that you would have to get something to eat and then complain about where you ate and then do the thing and worry that you didn't do the thing exactly the way you might have all of which tallies up to four hours.
You can't rush something like buying a couch. Or, at the time that I watched that particular episode with  my wife, you can't rush buying a mattress. "This will be," she said tearfully, "the mattress that we will sleep on together for the next..." And as she trailed off, I began to understand that there are moments that become bigger than the simple act of acquisition. Getting just the right mattress was a discussion that, I confess, for which I was singularly unprepared. Getting something to eat beforehand slowed down the sleep train to give me a chance to come up with opinions and preferences about mattresses. It took us right about four hours to accomplish the task, not including the actual delivery and setup.
Which was, as a newlywed, a shock. But as I have traversed the years since with my mate, the four hour rule doesn't seem as oppressive.  Not when compared to the decades we have spent together. Made up of four hour blocks of couches, tile, and the like. Totally worth it.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Crime And Punishment

Justice. Not always swift. Not always easy to detect. Not always ready when we are.
I was ready on August 12, 2017 to send James Alex Fields Jr. to prison for the rest of his life. Mister Fields is the gentleman who has now been tried and convicted of ramming his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of protesters which led to the death of Heather Heyer and injuring several others. The judge sentenced him to life in prion. For the rest of his sad, miserable life. 
His attorneys had asked for leniency, suggesting that "No amount of punishment imposed on James can repair the damage he caused to dozens of innocent people. But this Court should find that retribution has limits." This request came after they had wrangled a deal for their client by which he pleaded guilty to twenty-nine of the thirty counts against him in order to avoid a potential death sentence. 
That was the federal case. In the related state case against Mister Fields, the jury recommends life in prison. Plus an additional four hundred nineteen years. That's what you get for first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding and three counts of malicious wounding in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heather Heyer's mother had this to say: "I don't hate Mr. Fields ... I'm leaving him in the hands of justice."
With a light shining brightly on the murderous attack of a White Nationalist who claimed that he was acting in in self defense when he accelerated into a group of people, none of whom were armed with a motor vehicle of their own. And he ran a stop sign. The standard fine for running a stop sign in Virginia is eighty-eight dollars. 
I would imagine Mister Fields can arrange some sort of work program where he can make restitution for that part of his crime. While he tries to remember what the outside world looks like. And that extra four hundred nineteen years. 

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Sense Of History

"For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon - We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!"
If you're having trouble deciphering the thought process behind that burbled statement, consider the source: Expert on Everything, Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah, our "president." He made this utterance using the space-age convenience of Twitter a month ago, but his mind never rests. More's the pity.
Yes, it has been half a century since the Americans put a man on the moon. And then we proceeded to do it a few more times, just to make sure that we left no gray rock unturned. Since then, we have been spending our space capital on a bunch of unmanned missions to various corners of our solar system, collecting data and attempting to figure out our place in this galaxy.
There was a bunch of space shuttle missions that were mostly successful in terms of doing those things for which the vehicle was designed: Shuttling. Exploration of any kind is not without its risks, as two of those missions ended in tragedy, killing all those aboard and leaving one more giant question mark next to our need to send human beings into space. Strapping oneself to a great big tank of hydrogen, mixed abruptly with a tankful of oxygen tends not to make water as much as a violent explosion when properly vented is a dangerous feat. It can move a rocket taller than the Statue of Liberty off the launching pad. Most of the time.
The energy and engineering necessary to get satellites and probes into orbit around distant planets pales by comparison to those needed to get human beings with their reliance on air to breathe and food to eat and water to drink. Maybe even an in-flight magazine. But this isn't really about any kind of practical concern. This is about a tiny-brained old man who believes he can embroider his legacy by being the one who insisted that "for what we're paying your guys, you should be going to Mars!" Not quite John F. Kennedy, there, Skippy. More like the first class passenger wanting to know why there is no wi-fi available on takeoff and landing.
Or Darth Vader throwing a snit because the Death Star wasn't ready on time to ruing the Skywalker Family Reunion.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

To The Point, Quickly

Two hours.
One hundred twenty minutes.
Ten candidates.
If you haven't already done the math, that means each candidate gets twelve minutes to speak their mind in this model of a debate, designed to give Americans a taste of what the Democratic hopefuls who managed to poll around two percent. I suggested at one point that this was a little like the National Hockey League playoffs, where only those teams left for dead were left out of the competition. More than half of the franchises participate. Go figure.
But back to that time thing. I suggested initially that each candidate would have twelve minutes to say what he or she has to connect with the public, so desperate to winnow down the crowd of familiar and less familiar faces. There are commercials. And there are half as many moderators as there are debaters. The rules state that each response be limited to sixty seconds, with a thirty second follow up whenever necessary. And of course it was necessary.
"The world is broken. How would you fix it? You have sixty seconds."
Back in 1858, just before MSNBC went on the air, a young Republican was running for Senate against a Democratic Incumbent. There was a series of seven debates, each of which would take more than sixty seconds to summarize. They focused on slavery, and its expansion into territories that had not as yet become states. When it was all over, Douglas won the election, but Abraham Lincoln had raised his national profile enough to be considered a potential presidential candidate in 1860. Abe won that one.
So how are we supposed to divine the next Abraham Lincoln in these sound bites? Endless repetition and discussion by pundits who have seen tape of the debaters scrambling for their moment in the sun. Or the glare of the lights. Sure, maybe some of them are playing for second place, hoping to get a ride on a ticket that would include them as a vice president. Others could be fishing for a cabinet post. It's hard to believe that every one of these ladies and gentlemen are looking forward to going twelve rounds with "the champ." In which case, the really serious ones had better start working on their Twitter skills. So much depends on a red wheelbarrow.

Friday, July 05, 2019

The Wingos Are Poets At Last

I went to school for a long time to get a degree in Creative Writing. Nearly six years of college, with side trips and diversions into Studio Art and Film History. And binge drinking. The total package. When I graduated, I stood up near the back of a section of the basketball arena in which commencement was held, along with a thousand of my closest friends and associates who were also being granted their Bachelor of Arts walking papers that day. After an evening of celebration with friends and family, I was back the following day at my job: Working at a video store.
My Creative Writing degree provided me with endless opportunities, and when I say endless I mean the video store owner ceded control of the monthly newsletter to me. And I crafted endless short stories and poems from the mind of a brooding and sensitive man of letters. That no one seemed very interested in publishing. Which did not keep me from describing myself as a writer, because that's what I did. When I wasn't recommending the latest hits on VHS to customers who would not hold still to listen to my dissertation on the films of Terry Gilliam.
Somewhere in there, I let slip to a friend of mine that I was working on a script for the TV show Northern Exposure. She was very impressed. So very much so in fact that she ended up accepting my proposal to marry her. Even though at the time my job was assembling and moving modular office furniture. I was waiting for my big break. Until then my wife and I agreed that should one of us should break out in any creative way that meant fame or fortune, the other was more than welcome to the coattails of stardom.
I went to work in a book warehouse, where I moved stacks of books by authors who I often felt had much less to offer than myself, but it kept the lights on and had some pretty tremendous healthcare benefits. Which is how we were able to have a baby boy. And all the while I kept that writing muscle from atrophying completely. As our son grew up, he would often see both of his parents hunched over keyboards, trying to make sense of the world in which they lived. He must have been watching closely, or maybe there were genetics involved because a few weeks ago, he was offered a job writing. Professionally. I got a to a place in my life where I was teaching children how to write, and lo and behold my progeny seems to have taken my dreams and made them a reality.
There aren't words to describe how proud I am of him, which is unfortunate since this is an expressly verbal medium. I can say that in addition to the pride is a sense of relief: My son is going a step further than I did, and after just four years of college. Giving me the opportunity to write this piece. That Creative Writing degree just keeps on giving.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Group Work

Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
That's what happened two hundred forty-three years ago. A global super power was toppled by a bunch of wealthy land owners got it into their heads that being a colony was not in their best interest and they should, for tax purposes, create a more perfect union. While it is true that my innate cynicism and need to be clever cheapens the history a bit, there is no doubt that what occurred all those year ago is probably worth a fireworks display or two. Facing off against one of the world's most feared armies, a small group of thoughtful committed citizens changed the world. Forever. The notion that the United States tends to treat the United Kingdom like a distant cousin would not have been imaginable when King George was our daddy. 
These days, small groups of thoughtful committed citizens are busy trying to change the world in other ways. Global warming. Human rights. Gun control. Education for all. I would like to believe that every one of those MoveOn petitions could carry the weight of a Declaration of Independence. All the ideas floating out there that suggest that the world in which we live doesn't have to be the way it was last year because things have already been decided. You can change the world. We can change the world. 
The founding fathers did it without cell phones. Without Al Gore's Internet. Thomas Jefferson wrote all those drafts of the Declaration longhand. No global replace. No spell check. Which might have something to do with that whole unalienable/inalienable thing, but he stuck with it. And then fifty-six people signed it. It pushed our proto-country into war with Great Britain and we sent them packing. Sure, we had some help. Thanks, France. But most of all we had that small group of individuals. 
And we still do. 
The world will keep changing for the better because of them. 
Count on it. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Toys Will Be Toys

It is possible that you looked up at a theater marquee recently and saw these two titles: Child's Play and Toy Story 4. Two stories about sentient playthings that take matters into their own hands. These are the current entries into series that have been around for quite some time. Kids in America have grown up with the tales of Woody, Buzz and Chucky to keep them company on their way toward adolescence and beyond. One series is generally considered more benign and family friendly while the other is just a little creepier, but that's kind of the point. Toys talking back are pretty creepy whether it's a product of Orion or Pixar pictures.
 This summer isn't the first time this vein has been mined. Telly Savalas, with a Homer Simpson hairline, learned the hard way not to mess with Talking Tina on a Twilight Zone from 1963. William Hurt battled little green army men in an adaptation of one of Stephen King's short stories from 1978. In 1987 a couple with a small child stumble on a mansion haunted by Dolls. They should have called Triple A. And while we're at it, isn't there something pretty awful about the idea of a wooden puppet that wants to be a real boy?
One of the very first long-form writing of any kind that I did was the recap of a game that my little brother, a friend of mine, and I imagined on a Saturday afternoon in my parents' basement. What if all those GI Joes came to life and weren't as happy to be owned like Woody and Buzz? All that Action Team training and experience was difficult to overcome. We were tactically at a disadvantage. In the end, only a great and tragic sacrifice on the part of yours truly turned the tide. In the story, the house was reduced to a pile of smoking rubble. The Hasbro regiment was reduced to melted slag. I gave my life to save my friends. So impressed with this account, we did a reboot a couple of weeks later. I remember a little blowback on the ending the second time through. Why should I get to be the noble one? Couldn't we take turns making the ultimate sacrifice?
And all that time, the Joes just sat there, watching. Waiting. Scheming. There time would come. And now they knew exactly how to avoid our scenario. Toys have a way of coming back.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

One Of Us

Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, I was afforded a great deal of fresh air, freedom, and opportunities to meet hippies. This was the way things were in the late sixties and early seventies. The argument could be made that my parents were hippies. They certainly found themselves living among them, all those years ago. Initially, the property on which we built our cabin was an investment encouraged by our uncle who was anything but a hippie. When Uncle Marvin came by for a visit, we would drive into Nederland and get a table at the Branding Iron in The Redneck Room. It may be an unfair label to slap on Marv, but it seemed like a pretty safe assumption that he wouldn't be comfortable rubbing elbows with all that denim and hair out front. The Redneck Room was where my parents entertained their guests from "downtown." When it was just us, we were just as happy to be hanging with the locals, most of whom were familiar with the ways of macrame and herbs of all kinds.
We watched as construction began up and down the dirt road where we walked and played. There was a geodesic dome attempted and abandoned, and the original buildings that were erected as vacation homes by suburbanites became year-round dwellings for the shaggy set. Just over the hill we were amazed to discover a house made of sprayed Styrofoam. The future was coming, and it smelled faintly of patchouli.
It was during those summers that our own haircuts evolved. Even my mother got into the spirit one year when she opted for a pixie cut that was both practical and forward thinking. No more trips to the hairdresser for this pioneer woman. My father, who made the commute each weekday morning down the winding road to his job in the city let his sideburns grow, and the weekends he preferred his red,white and blue striped jeans to anything more subtle.
It was cabin in the woods where I read all about Watergate, and listened to the hearings on the radio. The night that Nixon resigned, we drove into Nederland and wedged ourselves into a packed Branding Iron to watch Tricky Dick ring down the curtain on his political career. There may have been tears somewhere, but there were only cheers of joy and lustful epithets thrown in the direction of the only TV we needed to see. That night, it seemed like we won. The hippies. That night, we were all hippies.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Duck Days

On our honeymoon, my wife and I visited Orlando, Florida. While we were there, our attention was primarily on Disney World, as is our family custom. In order to facilitate park tickets, we wandered away from the Eye of the Mouse and headed off campus for a two hour timeshare presentation which guaranteed us passes to the Magic Kingdom if we managed to stay awake through their entire spiel. As we drove our rental car through the side streets just a mile or so away from Disney proper, we passed a steak house. In the middle of the day, in August, in Florida, a man was standing on the curb waving potential customers in by waving a sign at them advertising their T-Bone special. He was wearing a cow suit. In August. In the middle of the day. In Florida.
Blocks away, kids and adults alike were lining up for the opportunity to shake hands with people in animal suits. This guy was pretty much on his own out there. For all the water he was shedding, he was getting exactly no love. At this point I would love to tell you that we stopped the car and pulled in to the parking lot, if only to get a photo with this poor soul. We wouldn't have to try the T-Bone. We were on our way to free Disney tickets. We couldn't be stopped.
All of this comes flooding back each time I find myself in the presence of Mickey or any of his cartoon pals while visiting any Disney park. I don't think there is a region where putting a fifty pound animal head on top of a suit covered in feathers or fur would count as casual attire. Which is why I was relieved to discover that these folks are in a union. Pluto and Goofy are Teamsters. Unfair working conditions can be addressed as a group, rather than individually, and protection can be afforded those who cannot speak for themselves. Most of them just gesture wildly from inside their character cocoons.
That relief is tempered by recent news that in Florida Local 385 is unhappy with their leadership, claiming that they have created false records, embezzled funds and obstructed. Which may be fine for the current "president" of the United States, but Mickey Mouse won't stand for it. It's been twenty-six years since my wife and I encountered that wayward cartoon steer, but I hope that all our costumed friends will be cared for when new elections are held.
Happiest place on earth, indeed.