Monday, September 30, 2019

When The Bough Breaks

The Center For Disease Control has this thing called ACEs: Adverse Childhood Experiences. It's something I hear a lot about from my wife and my mother-in-law. They write books about self-esteem and resiliency. They know their stuff. So does the CDC.
Sometimes I like to kid myself into believing that I know my stuff too. My experience is, on the whole, a lot more practical than many. I work in an urban elementary school. A majority of the kids I deal with on a daily basis would be able to check all the boxes: abuse, neglect, trauma of various sizes, shapes and colors. These are children who are often challenged by simply getting to school, let alone succeeding scholastically. And yet, this is the expectation I will be putting on them. That's what teachers do.
And all the while I am mindful that these young humans have often already experienced more in their short lifetimes than I have in my grand old one. Once upon a time, I had myself convinced that I had been dealt a tough hand by being born into a suburban household in culturally enlightened and privileged Boulder, Colorado. For several years, starting as a junior in high school, I had cataloged a number of offenses that I determined were major and had manufactured a chip on my shoulder that made me a "tough customer."
For any of you who encountered my "troubled self" back in those days, you have my most sincere apologies. I lacked, as most adolescents do, the perspective of a few more years on god's green earth. I had no idea how good I had it. I had a car when I was sixteen because that was the expectation. I had new clothes at the beginning of every school year because that was the expectation. I had parents who cared passionately about me and my friends. They were as invested in my accomplishments as they were in my brothers'. Being teased because I was overweight, or periodically ostracized for my tastes in music or comedy made me miserable at the time, but in hindsight I know that I was on a journey that led me here. I am equipped to be more responsive to the needs of kids who truly need attention. A new pair of shoes. Breakfast. My ACEs don't qualify me for empathy by any stretch of the imagination, but they grant me the humility to recognize that if what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, we are raising a generation of super humans here in East Oakland.
I will never know the suffering of the kids who scream and cry and curse and rail at the very structures that are suppose to help make their lives more tolerable. I don't really want to know. I just want to do what I can to make it easier for them. They have earned that. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

But I Like It

Jann Wenner has retired from his job as Chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Board member John Sykes will take over as Chairman, while Jann will sink back into the relative obscurity of being just a board member. Why is this chair-shift of any concern to anyone outside the custodial services of the Hall or the person who paints the name on the door outside their offices?
It's rock and roll, baby. 
Fifty-two years ago, Jann Wenner borrowed some money and put together a little magazine called Rolling Stone. This occurred shortly after he dropped out of the University of California at Berkeley. Writers such as Cameron Crowe and Hunter S. Thompson have Jann to thank for putting their words out into the world. Tom Wolfe, on the advent of the release of his novel Bonfire of the Vanities stated, "I was absolutely frozen with fright about getting it done and I decided to serialize it and the only editor crazy enough to do that was Jann."
But what about the rock and roll? Some might say that dropping out of college to start a magazine about rock and roll was a pretty rock and roll thing to do. Choosing Doctor Thompson to cover the 1972 presidential campaign fits that bill pretty well too. Having the same name as an iconic band who emerged at roughly the same time? Pretty rock and roll. 
But then there's the last fifty years upon which to reflect: At what point did Rolling Stone stop being the voice outside the gate and become the ivory tower locked inside? If you're asking me, since I am tossing out my opinions here, I would point to the moment that the first "Hot" issue came out. As a newly minted voice in "entertainment," Jann allowed his publication to produce an annual report on all things "hot," and we are not talking chili peppers here. This was right about the time that I started my subscription to the magazine, and soon I felt that the number of fragrance ads included in each issue became ridiculous. I could smell Rolling Stone before I pulled it from my mailbox. I could remember, as a youth in the counterculture hotbed of Boulder, Colorado that faint whiff of patchouli that I had always associated with the shops that sold that newsprint tabloid before I was interested in reading what was inside. It was a reminder of the changing times. 
Rollling Stone rolled with that tide. If Jann chose to feature New Wave bands on the cover and promote style over substance, it was because that was the zeitgeist. In 1986, the first Hall of Fame dinner was held as Jann Wenner and Ahmet Ertegun ushered in the first class. A lot of people suggested back then that a Hall of Fame wasn't very rock and roll. A lot of people who were not invited made that suggestion. And as the years passed, some of the people who were invited made this same suggestion. From the stage, while holding their commemorative trophies. Now that may be the most rock and roll thing of all. 

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Moving Forward

I have lived through a presidential impeachment. A sitting American President was brought up on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. At last, many suggested, this man's philandering caught up with him.
I am, of course, referring to William Jefferson Clinton. The forty-second president became the second, after Andrew Jackson to be impeached. Richard Nixon's impeachment never fully got off the ground as he resigned before he could be removed. No sitting American President has ever been removed from office after having been impeached.
Not yet.
On Tuesday, September 24 2019, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced that formal impeachment inquiries would begin. This was after being poked and prodded by those in her own party for years now, the mountain has come to Mohammed. The mountain in the form of the pile of evidence, corruption and arrogance that has suggested that the current "president" is somehow above the law. Mohammed would be Speaker Pelosi. 
The straw, to borrow from another metaphor, would seem to be the negotiation the current resident of the White House had recently with the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. His Trumpishness wanted to know why that country’s top prosecutor apparently had ended an investigation of the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Slide that inquiry up next to the withholding of U.S. aid to the Ukraine, and you've got a pretty nice snot bubble of political corruption. 
Not that this was or continues to be the point of the sword. There have been numerous similar glaring bits of malfeasance and wrongdoing straight along, making the Ken Starr report look like the National Enquirer piece it was always set up to be. Bill Clinton was embarrassed by his own selfish acts and libido. That emotion will not play a part in these current proceedings. Instead, we can only assume that there will be a lot of spittle and bile hurled about the Oval Office even as the security detail comes to carry him out. 
Or not. 
This is just the beginning of a long and twisted road. Hopefully it will start to straighten out as we move ahead. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

What We Do

Here in this space I believe that I have used the metaphor of comparing school vandalism to kicking a blind dog. What sort of master criminal does it take to show up and wreak havoc on an empty, unguarded building? That dog, if you follow the metaphor, won't hunt.
This was one of the thoughts that circled my mind as I worked diligently, along with a few of my colleagues, to sweep up the broken glass that had been scattered across half of our playground. The concentration of which was on the padded mat underneath our play structure. The other focus of my deliberations was just exactly how so much glass could be broken across such a wide area. Someone noticed a chunk of asphalt sitting on one of the platforms of the climbing area. Then another. A picture began to form: A group of some indeterminate number had picked our playground for a weekend beer festival, and once the beers were gone, the empties were set up on the play structure like targets. The loose chunks of asphalt were pulled from the decaying surface nearby, and an ersatz shooting gallery was made. None of the resulting shards were any bigger than my thumb. Most of them were much smaller.
And they were all laying there Monday morning, ready for the bare hands and knees of our children who would show up, ready to romp and tumble on the one place where romping and tumbling was encouraged.
The part that I could never fully ascertain was what sort of mind would carry out such a plot so void of caring. Once the treacherous mess had been made, it was left for someone else to manage. The potential of some connection between our students and the vandals loomed quite large. The probability that one or all of them being former students, or at least related to some of our current students was quite high. It is a neighborhood school, surrounded by the homes of the families who enroll there. What sort of anger or frustration could have led to this? What sort of numbness must be present to have such disregard for their surroundings?
I didn't have an answer. I had a job to do. Recess would be starting soon, and we needed a clean playground. All that broken glass needed to be cleaned up. I didn't have time for outrage.
It's what we do.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


My wife and I try and take a walk together once a week. It's a health thing. Mental and physical. Despite spending so very many hours together as our lifelong commitment to one another bears down on us, there are still plenty of things we don't have a chance to discuss. It is during these weekly sojourns that we continue to advance our plan for world domination. Or at least a mild understanding of the calendar events for the upcoming week.
As is my habit, I wear the Spider Man exercise shirt she got for me many Christmases ago. It is how I mark the passing days. If I'm wearing the webbed red and blue shirt, this must be Sunday. And we are walking. Together. It is one of the few times that our exercise routines coincide. I tend to be running around the neighborhood while she is off dancing Zumba somewhere.
But not on Sunday. It is time for us to coalesce.
On a recent Sunday we were making our way back through the twists and turns of streets we wandered down, headed home. We rounded a corner and encountered a couple of young men sharing what we assumed was a bottle of vodka. Maybe it was spring water, but they seemed to be enjoying their conversation an awful lot and passing the bottle like they were very thirsty. For spring water. From half a block away, one of them spotted us and warbled, "Nah nah nuh, nah nah nuh." It took me a moment or two to recognize the tune, but then realized it was a reference to my shirt. "Hey man," hooted the other, "didn't I see you climbing up a wall over there?" He made a wild sweeping gesture. Laughter ensued.
As we passed by, I confessed, "Yeah. That was me. Just hanging around." More laughter.
Then the non-singer made another large gesture, punctuated by the assertion, "That's what I'm talkin' about!" It was at this moment that I realized that, as is our periodic custom, my wife and I were holding hands. "How long you two been married?"
My wife stopped and met their gaze. "Twenty-six years," she announced.
More laughter. "That's what I'm talkin' about!"
Then my wife pulled away from me, walking back a few paces. "Want to know how we lasted that long?"
Respectful silence from our spring water friends.
"We didn't get divorced."
A pause.
Then another burst of laughter. "That's what I'm talkin' about!" Gesturing toward us, sloshing some of the remaining contents of the bottle.
My wife turned and took my hand again. We continued on our walk back home.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


The fear I had built up for myself as we planted our garden in the spring about mountains of zucchini never fully materialized. Memories of a back yard that became infested with great green tubes of squash I endured as my father could not contain the creeping vines that he maintained. We, as a family, were subjected to a seemingly endless variety of recipes and uses for all that vegetable matter. When my wife suggested we put some zucchini in our summer plot a few months ago, she noticed that I flinched. PZSD: Post Zucchini Stress Disorder.
That never happened. We had a few very polite orbs that we sliced up and used in a stir-fry. And that was about it. By contrast, we had a couple of cherry tomato vines that brought us a salad's worth red and yellow accents. Delicious and  not  at all oppressive. We were making our own food from seeds. Some of it, anyway.
And then there was the sunflower. It was a spindly little thing we bought at the nursery along with all that potential roughage we were putting in the boxes nest to our front fence. We planted it as a tribute to my father's Kansas heritage. You know: Kansas, the Very Flat Sunflower State.
For a while, there was some concern that the red chard or the cucumber might overwhelm our little tribute. Our concern was unfounded. Soon we began to worry about the other plants being bullied by the ever-expanding stalk that was our little sunflower.
Sometime around July, little was not how we would have described our sunflower. It was also not immediately apparent what that what we had planted was a flower of any sort. Just a shoot that was steadily becoming a trunk.
In August, we started to see a bulge near the top of what had become a six foot tall monstrosity with no end in sight. We began to worry that maybe there would be no actual flower and that once the clouds were reached, the only recourse would be to climb up on up to look for some giant's castle. Once school began, the disk burst forth in what turned into the only limit this plant would experience was the one it put out itself. That great big flower stopped its upward spiral. Finally we had a beast that could be tamed. And finally, after we had propped it up and strapped it to the fence to try to keep it stable, we realized the time had come. Timber.
My wife says we will probably get fistfuls of seeds. Some of them will be eaten. And some of them will find their way back into the soil. Where they will probably eventually take over the world.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Last First

Last week I texted a picture to my son to commemorate what I suggested was his "last first day of school." The photo was one of him on his very first day of school. Standing on our front porch with a horsey backpack that  was nearly as big as he was, ready for whatever Peter Pan had to offer. He responded by reminding me that it wasn't truly his last first day, since he still had another quarter left after this one, but  he appreciated the sentiment.
I was looking back, as is my parental prerogative. I was reminded of all those autumn days that marked another passage. I thought about all the conversations I have had with my son over those years about anxieties and frustrations and relief when the end was finally at hand. Mostly those signaled ends were breaks or vacations. Now we were edging toward the Omega. The Big One. Matriculation. And my son will be moving on from his educational odyssey. Soon.
This  has been the cause of not so much a time of looking back for him, but  ahead. We have talked about leaving all that behind. A chunk of that relief will come, by his reckoning, once he departs not just the school but the town he has been living in for the past five years. Goodbye to all that college town, hello to whatever metropolis will have him with those newly minted skills and diploma.
Which I understand. But upon review of my own collegiate experience, I wish I would have lingered or at least appreciated the way things were back in the day. One bedroom apartment, working at a video store. Trying to get a date, but having a pretty amusing time while figuring that out. It was a lot like bowling with the bumpers up. And yet, I too was anxious to get to the next level. I wanted to be a grownup.
And now, so does my son. He wants to get out there and make his mark. Whatever that is. The mark I had in mind when I graduated was not  elementary education. I had no idea that California was the place I wanted to be. Life, as the poet once noted, was what  happened while I was busy making other plans. Now it's time for my son to reckon on his own song. It's time for him to have his next first day. Wherever that might take him.

Monday, September 23, 2019

One Down

Who should I believe: Colt or the experts. Colt makes guns. They have made instruments of death since 1847? Colt, perhaps to test the public's attention span way back then named one of their weapons The Peacemaker. Get it?
The experts, or those who have called themselves that over the years, have made audacious claims in the past, such as "Donald Trump will never be president." It could be the same group or a subset of them who encouraged the "President" to warn Alabama that Hurricane Dorian was on its way to their state.
So maybe you can see my dilemma.
But no matter whom I end up trusting, the bottom line is this: Colt's Manufacturing Company will no longer be making AR-15 rifles for civilian sale. If you listen to Colt, they say, “The fact of the matter is that over the last few years, the market for modern sporting rifles has experienced significant excess manufacturing capacityGiven this level of manufacturing capacity, we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future." Or, more simply put: we don't need to make any more semi-automatic rifles for the public because the demand has been met. Instead, Colt will turn its attention to the more pressing need of filling their contracts for military and law enforcement customers. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates there are now about 16 million AR-15s or similar models in the hands of American civilians. Civilians have recently used their AR-15s or similar models to murder dozens in cold blood. 
The experts? “The public is getting very alarmed about what’s happening with assault rifles in the hands of potential mass shooters,” John Donohue, a Stanford Law professor with expertise in gun policy, told TIME. “Colt may just be feeling better to get out of that particular market, and they’re offering this purely economic manufacturing argument rather than addressing the political realities right now as the justification for this decision.” A political reality that includes presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke standing his ground: "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47." For this principled statement, the always classy National Rifle Association named  him "AR-15 Salesman of the Year." 
Again, the bottom line is a major manufacturer of assault-type weapons has chosen to stop making them for civilians. I suppose I don't need to care why. I need to care about how many other gun makers are out there who haven't made that decision for any reason at all. Yet. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Teacher In Charge

After twenty-three years on one site, I like to kid folks about how I "know where the bodies are buried." Maybe that's why I get a key that unlocks most of the doors in the school. Most of them. That would be the line between me and our Admin Assistant or our custodian. That doesn't mean that, in a pinch, I will be declared "Teacher in Charge." A distinction that is not lost on me is the way they put the "Teacher" out in front. No one would make the mistake of thinking I was "Principal For The Day." Not when I have all that fun sitting out in front of me in addition to the tough decisions that come with being "in charge."
Here's the reality: It takes a village. A dedicated, hard-working village full of committed individuals all doing their job and a little extra. That's on days when our principal is there, doing her job and a whole lot more herself. On the days she if off the campus, and I am handled this somewhat awkward sobriquet, I hope that all the hard work that has been done in the days leading up pay off in ways that make the whole escapade painless. Or less painful.
There will be those students who sense a disturbance in the force and attempt to find holes in the metaphorical fence. And the actual fence, for that matter. There will be those that look once again over their shoulder to see if anyone is watching as they go to the bathroom for one of their pre-adolescent cabals. What they don't know is that the Teacher in Charge is watching. Waiting. Taking note. Not unlike when Andy Taylor had to drive into Mount Pilot and left Barney Fife in charge.
Apologies for that reference if you are under fifty.
But just like Mayberry, order will always be maintained by the community at large. All my efforts will be combined with those of the previously mentioned dedicated staff. The collective wisdom and experience of all those people shine a little brighter for those hours during which there is no principal. Because nothing happens in a vacuum. Except things suck. But only in an effort to make things clean.
Apologies for that metaphor. It may have gone astray.
This is why my key doesn't unlock everything. I have to ask permission for analogies.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Resolution To Resolve

"We’ve got to get beyond this ‘impeachment is the answer to every problem.’ It’s not realistic. If that’s how we are identified in Congress, as the impeachment Congress, we run the risk that people will feel we’re ignoring the issues that mean a lot to them as families." This is how Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illionois, the Number Two Senate Democrat responded to Rep. Ayanna Pressley, also a Democrat from Massachusetts who introduced an impeachment resolution against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Well, Dick, impeachment isn't the answer to every problem, but I suspect that if there was a sitting Supreme Court Justice who was guilty of sexual abuse that impeachment would be a better answer than wringing our collective hands and doing nothing. All the sound and fury surrounding the most recent allegations of misconduct by Justice Kavanaugh should be enough to warrant some action. I confess that I threw up in my mouth a little when I typed the word "Justice" in front of Kavanaugh.  By contrast, I wonder if Mister Durbin would prefer to be identified as the hand-wringing Congress. The future of our country, constitutionally, is in the hands of those with a  dangerously narrow point of view. Reproductive rights, district gerrymandering, and dozens of other issues will pass before this group in their term, and as we all pray for the continued health of Justice Ginsburg, I note that there was no gag reflex as I typed her name after her title. 
Meanwhile, there are those who suggest that we aim a little higher with our impeachment resolutions. The House Judiciary Committee recently approved an "impeachment-themed" resolution, aimed at the White House, but with no particular urgency or momentum. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, had this to say about that resolution: “There’s nothing different from one day to the next. We’re still on our same path.”

The path of wringing hands. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

There Is A Season

Prior to his career as a prophet, Jesus was an itinerant meringue instructor.
This is the only way I can rationalize the current fervor behind two former White House employees and their attention to Dancing With The Stars. But before we get to that, I would like to discuss the American Broadcasting Company's rather broad definition of the word "star." Usually an object found in the heavens, or a celebrity of such a magnitude that they could be related to such an object in terms of brightness and the capacity to shine among others. Previous seasons have included such luminaries as Tatum O'Neal, George Hamilton, and Evander Holyfield. If some of those names don't show up on your Q ratings list, don't feel bad for not being familiar with Trista Sutter, Willa Ford and Albert Reed. The limits of "star" have been pressed, in part, to get enough contestants to participate in the competition that pairs "stars" with professional dancers in hopes of creating a spectacle worthy of the title.
Which is how the producers landed on Sean Spicer. The former White House Press Secretary who may have been best known prior to this outing as the guy who stood behind the hedges to avoid speaking to the press is now considered to be of a high enough caliber to bring in viewers. Or fans of shrubbery. Or former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who tweeted this: "Wanna create an emotional meltdown in Hollyweird? Vote for @seanspicer to win "Dancing with the Stars" tonight and every night he's on. @seanspicer is a good guy and a brave sport to go on DWTS. Let's show him some love! " You may notice there is no ringing endorsement there for Sean's dancing skills, or even his effort. He is "a good guy and a brave sport."
How did Sean respond to this glowing tribute? How about, "Thank you @GovMikeHuckabee Clearly the judges aren’t going to be with me. Let’s send a message to #Hollywood that those of us who stand for #Christ won’t be discounted. May God bless you." Because we're all pretty sure that God is on the side of those who can tango. Not unlike our young friend Ren, who found verses in the Bible to embolden his need to dance.
Already the waves of power are being felt as rumors of super model Christie Brinkley breaking her own arm rather than appearing on the show. Hollyweird indeed. Christie's daughter, Sailor, will be appearing in her stead. One only hopes that this young waif (star?) can escape His Wrath.
You'll have to tell me about it. I'll be watching paint dry.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Just What I Needed

I bought the Cars' first album. It was one of the very few records that I played so very much that I had to buy a new one to replace it. In 1978, that was the sound of modern music. That was New Wave. That was rock and roll. With synthesizers. And guitars. And that voice.
The voice of Ric Ocasek.
Mister Ocasek was found dead in his Manhattan apartment this past Sunday. He was seventy-five. He was also one of the best pop songwriters of his generation. The reason I wore that first record out was because every one of the nine tracks was a hit. Eliot Easton, keyboardist for the band, used to refer to it as their "Greatest Hits Album." Their debut album.
Listening to those songs in 1978, I had no idea that I would ever relate to any of them. They all seemed so cool and detached. It was just two years later that I found myself playing a lead role in the real-life video for "My Best Friend's Girl." I was the best friend. The girl, in this scenario, became mine and I was the guy who took her away. I am pretty sure that time and the statute of  limitations would forgive me, but at the time it felt as if I were involved in something terribly grown up..."but she used to be mine."
This may still be true, but the fact that I ended up marrying another of that best friend's girlfriends may not speak too highly of me as anything but a model for pop song torment. Happy marriages have made the best of what may have been a more convoluted scenario. I feel the need to point that out because I never would have imagined myself playing the part of "the other man." And yet, here we are, forty years after the fact and everything seems to have worked out fine.
Which is the difference between life and a three minute pop song, I suppose. Ric Ocasek had plenty of life along with his cache of modern music. He even found himself a model girlfriend and a part in a John Waters movie. And along with his band, he created the sound of the 1980s. He stomped on the vinyl and the Terra, and he will be missed.
Aloha, Ric. You kept it goin' til the sun fell down.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

I Wasn't Listening

Last weekend, my wife and I were in the car and said, "Have you heard?"
I waited, then it became apparent with her faint gesture that I should be paying attention to what was coming out of the radio. It was sports-talk. Odd, since that's one of the formats my wife tends to eschew almost completely, but perhaps she was hoping to catch me up on some late-breaking sports news to which only she had been privy up until that moment. She was patient with my confusion, then she finally broke the news. It wasn't about sports, exactly. "It's KFOG."
The FM dial was on the frequency for World Class Rock, but the sounds were scratchy voices calling in to complain about the starting lineup. Where were the album-oriented sounds I had become accustomed to over the past twenty-six years?
KFOG was one of the balms to ease my longing for my home in Boulder. It was a radio station that sounded like home to me. On this blog you may have read about my love affair with this institution. Because that's what it was. For thirty-six years, it was the free-form source for music that sounded like someone was putting it together on the fly.
That's a compliment.
The disc jockeys, because they were still moving around vinyl and compact discs back in those days, were picking music and responding to what listeners wanted to hear. The inklings of what became a mass marketed phenomenon, "World Class Rock," had its roots in Boulder at KBCO and found its way much in the same way I did to the Bay Area. It sounded like someone was playing music for me. And my friends. It was the sound of my mornings. It was the sound of my weekends.
I resented any and all attempts to mess with the format of my friends playing music for me. I loved that I made a mild habit out of calling in to win tickets to concerts. And this wasn't the "lucky tenth caller" stuff either. This was the "can you answer this question about" deal.
And now all that music and fun is gone. Replaced by sports-talk radio. Because it's business. I know that every one of those attempts to bring in personalities and sounds that didn't exactly fit the mold was a business decision. Putting on a radio show isn't free. Advertising pays for those folks to sit and spin discs. When I drifted away from my morning ritual after some high-level tinkering with the morning show, I fell out of touch with KFOG. It was still a button on our car radio, where I could find some soothing tunes to make those trips across town a little less like trips across town and more like sitting in my living room.
Listening to CDs. Or Spotify. Or some other radio station that sounds like where I live.
My home doesn't sound like sports-talk. Most of the time.
Aloha, KFOG. Thanks for all that beautiful noise.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Chapter And Versus

We've talked about Stephen King here before.
Okay, we haven't talked so much as I've talked and you've listened. And it wasn't so much talking and  listening as it was writing and reading. Which is okay because that pretty much takes me to the place where I wanted to be in the first place: Writing and  reading.
And how nobody has asked to make a movie about  any of my blogs.
Not once.
Mister King, Master of the Macabre and King of the Movie Adaptations, is starting to lap himself. Recently it was announced that CBS's streaming service was going to produce a mini-series based on the Terror Meister's massive tome, The Stand. Interestingly, the Columbia Broadcasting System is referring to their production as "an original series." Interesting because the American Broadcasting Company had their own version twenty-five years ago. It was one of those TV events that existed before there was television in the clouds. Back in those days, if you wanted television, it came to you through a cable, as God intended it.
This announcement about a do-over on turning Stephen King's longest novel into a TV event, again, came about the same time that the second part of the film adaptation of another very long book by the same author was opening in theaters. It itself had been a TV miniseries nearly thirty years ago. With Tim Curry as the Evil Clown. How could you improve on that? Maybe by not asking a bunch of TV actors to play the grown-up versions of the kids terrorized by the previously mentioned Evil Clown. Always room for improvement.
Or another adaptation of one of the most celebrated if not published authors in American history. Since 1976, when Brian De Palma made the first in what would become a steady stream of Stephen King movies with Carrie, directors and stars have rushed to the master's work for source material. Averaging more than one a year since then, many of the stories have been made into more than one movie, and even some of the lesser works like short stories and comic books have become major motion pictures. Sequels have been generated that were never imagined by the author, thanks to some clever screenwriting and even more clever financing.
Previews for the film adaptation of a sequel that Stephen King did write to a book of his that has already been a TV event and a Stanley Kubrick movie have begun to show up before the box office receipts for the second chapter of the Evil Clown epic have cooled off. And the hits just keep coming.
Mind you, I'm not jealous. Perish the thought. But maybe someday someone will get the clever idea to scoop up my collected blogs referencing the King of Horror and turn them into a big time movie show. For the right  price, of course.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Money For Nothing

Eddie Money died.
I can hear you. Don't deny it. A lot of you are wondering who this fellow is. Was. A child of the seventies and eighties would tell  you that he was a pop star, a singer. He had a few hits, and if you are an habitual watcher of reality TV, the star of Real Money on AXSTV. He had announced on an episode of his show in late August that he was suffering from esophageal cancer. Another episode featured the news of a "minor heart valve" procedure. Eddie, at seventy, was kind of a mess.
Not to speak ill of the departed, necessarily, but I have maintained a beef with Mister Money for the past forty years, and I think it might be time to simply let bygones be bygones.
Except that somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind, it still burns. In the summer of 1978, Eddie Money scored his biggest hit, "Two Tickets To Paradise." In the fall of that year, high schools around the country chose this song as the theme for their Homecoming Dance. I attended one of those high schools. I was a junior at that time. So was the girl I asked to go to the dance with me. She was a cheerleader. I was in the marching band. What was I thinking? She said "Yes," probably because the year before we had both been in the marching band and at the time I felt that she found me amusing. At least that's what I took from the way she signed my sophomore yearbook.
I bought the tickets. I bought a corsage. A wrist corsage, as my older brother advised that this would keep me from having an awkward moment of pinning something anywhere near her chest. I bought dinner. I drove. We danced. A little. I took her home. On the doorstep, under the porch light, I made what could only be described as "my move." I leaned in, and she stopped me short: "I don't kiss on the first date." Which somehow made sense in the way the whole evening had spread out in front of me. I went home, dejected, but determined that there would be a second date, because that seemed like the way things worked.
There never was a second date. Other dances came and went. Other opportunities for socializing, but the chasm the divided our social strata was ever-widening. There was no going back.
And so, every now and then, the radio will play "Two Tickets To Paradise." I turn it off. Sorry, Eddie. I will miss a number of your other recordings and the story of your life. You stomped on the Terra, and you will be missed. But I won't miss that song.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Truth Is Out There

Did you have plans to Storm Area 51? If you were, along with one and a half million of your closest friends and conspiracy theorists, headed out to the desert on September 20 to rush the gates at the "secret" military installation of legend, please check your tickets.
The event, as originally planned, has been cancelled. Yes, the mob scene that was subtitled, "They can't stop us all" has been stopped. By the organizers. I use this term loosely because it suggests that there is a head lemming in charge of the rush off the cliff. A captain of anarchy, if you will. In this particular vision of chaos, that might be Matty Roberts. Mister Roberts came up with the idea of storming Area 51 lives in Bakersfield and came upon his plan at two in the morning sometime ten months ago "because he was bored." That spark was enough to incite millions to click on the Facebook page for the event. The details were stated thus: "We will all meet up in Rural Nevada and coordinate our parties. If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens."
Can you believe that such a well-oiled machine such as this fell apart before it ever came to pass?
Instead of landing in Rachel, Nevada (population 54), the soiree will now be held in the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. It will be sponsored by Bud Light. They have graciously offered free beer to any aliens who make it out of Area 51.
I don't know about you, but I smell a rat.
The appearance of "an official beer sponsor" should be enough to put anyone's sensors on high alert. Rachel is two hours away from downtown Las Vegas. If anyone got it into their head to rush the gates of what has historically been one of America's most closely guarded military installations, they would be a hundred fifty miles away and too drunk on all that light beer to get there. Not that the visits Matty Roberts received from the FBI and the Air Force had any impact on the eventual dissolution of the original event. It turned into a concert or a rave or something, but then there was trouble with the permits and they had to move the event. And the date.
All of which leads me to believe that if you really wanted to "see them aliens," you should show up on September 20 with clear heads and open eyes. And blame Matty Roberts if you get arrested.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Coming Of Age

Here's the problem with anniversaries: they are a little like birthdays. How? Well, the first ten are very important. Armloads of attention get heaped on the day and we remember the date and where we were back then. After that, the milestones start to spread out a little. Fifteen and sixteen are a big deal, depending on your culture and bank account. If you are like me, you continue to mine the specific meaning of each year passing with the traditional gift. Usually these are prescribed by Hallmark or by Amazon.
But eighteen? That was a pretty cool one back in my teenage years growing up in Colorado because it meant I was legal to drink watery low-alcohol beer. It also meant that I could register for the draft. Had to register for the draft. Not that I would ever have to face going to war, since we were experiencing an unprecedented string of years in which no wars had us needing to call up recruits who weren't volunteering.
Eighteen years ago, our armed forces had their biggest spike of volunteers in modern history. When the towers fell in New York, men and women rushed to join up. There are, most certainly, members who are still enlisted in our armed forces who celebrate today as the anniversary of the career they began on that day in 2001.
There might even be cake.
Meanwhile, three different presidents have reckoned with the mess created by going to war in the Middle East with an enemy with which we have never fully reckoned: terrorists. Much in the same way that American colonists tormented the British army by hiding behind walls and trees instead of marching in straight lines across a field from the opposition, waiting to be shot.
And since 2001, where have Americans experienced the most terror? Right here at home. Thanks to our newly minted domestic terrorists, we have more to feat than fear itself. We have shopping malls and movie theaters and schools and churches to be worried about. After eighteen years, we still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting a war that we never understood while another is being waged right here on our shores.
Maybe once this mess turns twenty-one we can find a more adult solution. I suggest a toaster.

Friday, September 13, 2019

None Of Your Business

Let's say, for the sake of this piece, that you're an innkeeper.
A group of men show up and sign in on the register. They say they're just in town for an evening, and will be leaving in the morning. Smiles across the board. They even pay with a company credit card. Extra towels are on the rack in the bathroom, and additional pillows are in the closet along with a comforter if any of them get a chill in the middle of the night. Thanks so much and we hope you have a pleasant stay.
A week later, investigators turn up, wanting to know particulars about these men. Apparently there was some funny business about the payment and they would like to know how these gentlemen came to stay at the inn. You, as the innkeeper shrugs your shoulders and announces this "has nothing to do with me." Except it does. It has everything to do with you because your name is plastered all over the building and the sheets and the tiny bottles of shampoo. This is your business because it is literally your business.
This was the defense mounted by the "president" after reports of an Air Force plane flying through Scotland parked just down the way from one of his resorts in Scotland, and its crew stopped for a night at the Trump Turnberry resort both on their way to and from dropping off supplies in the Middle East. And paying the luxury rates. Interesting side note: This property lost four and a half million dollars in 2017, but revenue went up three million dollars in 2018.
Some might call this "conflict of interest."
Our "president" calls it none of his business.
Just like he had nothing to do with his "vice president" staying the weekend at one of his hotels in Ireland while on a state visit there. Except all the vp's meetings were in Dublin. One hundred eighty miles away from the golf resort owned by a "Donald Trump" in Doonbeg. The innkeeper in question says he had "nothing to do" with that decision. Even though he owns the place and he is the boss of Mike Pence. 
So, on a heap of burning tires, we toss this latest bit of filth. Not that it will garner much notice, since the whole thing is one hot mess. But maybe it's time to call it what it is: Trump's Business. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Organized Chaos

One hundred years of professional football, and my how things have changed.
The goal posts are now at the back of the end zone. A pretty profound alteration considering the number of players who ran smack into the poles when they were on the goal line. Player safety has been, for the most part, improved since the days of "three yards and a cloud of dust." You can't hit a guy this way or that way. You have to wait until the guy catches the ball before you try and sever his spine. All that civility and modern politeness. Then they all line up again and throw their bodies at one another as fast and hard as they can one more time.
For one hundred years, the National Football League has been paying young men to sacrifice their bodies in some of the most spectacular ways imaginable. Modern day gladiators. Are you not entertained?
Which may be why the story of Antonio Brown continues to elucidate strong opinions on both sides of the argument: Should this man have a job in the NFL? For those unfamiliar, Mister Brown is a wide receiver, considered by many to be one of the best in the sport, who left his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in a bit of a huff. He landed in Oakland, where the Raiders have a tradition of large personalities and have a tendency to be open to shenanigans as long as their players "just win, baby." In the weeks leading up to this centennial season, Antonio Brown found any number of ways to keep himself from having to work too hard or to play an actual game for his new team. The team that was going to pay him fifty million dollars over the course of three years. By the time he had frozen his feet, argued about his helmet, and avoided any of that previously mentioned contact, he had burned most of the bridges into and out of Oakland, of which there are several. After yet another flurry of social media, the Raiders organization bid Antonio Brown adieu.
A few hours later, the current world champion New England Patriots came calling and signed Mister Brown up to a one year, fifteen million dollar contract. Causing everyone who holds the Patriots in great disdain to beat their chests and cry foul. Happy coincidence? Conspiracy?
Who cares?
Seemingly everyone, which is fascinating considering all the things we all have to care about currently. And yet somehow, this young man will be awarded with millions of dollars for playing a game while another young man who sacrificed his career to stand by, or rather sit by, his ideals cannot find work in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick cannot find a team for whom he can play. Apparently, his actions are considered "too big a distraction." And now that he is a "Patriot," Antonio Brown has been accused of rape. Decorum prohibits me from making remarks such as "he should fit right in."
One hundred years of organized chaos.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

How Clever?

I am so very proud of myself.
Which is probably going to get me in trouble with that whole seven deadly sins thing, but really proud.
The run up goes something like this: For many years, I would take on various and sundry home improvement projects. I would strap on my Makita cordless drill and go to work on whatever needed to be altered or repaired or built. I worked primarily alone because it is my way. The challenge of having to explain my thinking or engineering was an impediment to my progress. Later, as my son grew and his interest in construction grew right along with him, he was the kid standing next to dad. Asking if he could help. Handing me screws. Holding things in place. This evolution from helping hand to handyman essentially concluded over the summer when he came back from college and helped me build a fence.
Or, rather, I helped him with the fence that he built. By this point, his acumen with things mechanical and tools had put me in the rear-view mirror. It was a bit of a reckoning for me but when the sawdust cleared and the project was complete, I swallowed that lump of pride and took it as a compliment to my parenting skills and my genius offspring.
Which only continued as he showed up periodically to do things like change the oil and filter in our car or help us refine our home wi-fi. This is a kid who chose to work on his own brakes without having to resort to taking them to a mechanic. This knowledge is why I didn't flinch when he showed up at our house last weekend with what he had diagnosed as a bad alternator and a dying battery. He parked his car on our lawn, checked the pictures he had referenced on Al Gore's Internet and proceeded to remove most of the electricals from under his hood. I stood next to him, handing him a wrench every so often, watching him work. Once the guts had been removed, he was off in an Uber to pick up the new parts. When he returned, I took up my place next to him as he continued his operation. I kept handing him tools, even holding a piece or two as he maneuvered them into position. When he had finished adjusting the screws and the tension of the belts, he went around to the driver's seat and cranked it over. The car started up as it was supposed to, but I heard his "hmmm" over the motor. He switched it back off.
"Still not charging," he muttered.
"Maybe it has to do with that black wire that's not attached to anything," I offered.
Huh. That would make a difference. We disconnected the battery and then attached the wire. Battery reconnected along with the alternator, he started the car again.
"Yup." That was it. Dad had saved the day. Or at least the moment. It helped that my vantage point of standing around looking at the process allowed me to appear clever.
And proud.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Bit By Bit

Maybe you thought the end of the world was going to come with a bang.
Not a whimper.
The notion that there would be one day, a moment in time when the world ceased to exist dates, for me, back to Beneath The Planet of the Apes. It comes about when Taylor, played by Chuck Heston, uses his last breath to push the bejeweled button that detonates the Alpha/Omega bomb: the doomsday device. A few years later I caught up with Dr. Strangelove, with its own quirky take on the nuclear destruction of the planet. Suggesting that there is one person who would take it upon themselves to bring about The End Of The World by pulling a trigger or pushing a button seems to be giving humans a great deal of credit that perhaps we don't deserve.
It seems much more likely that things will get worse and worse until eventually the trickle of humanity just dries up. This contrasts somewhat to the notion of The Rapture, in which the god-fearing and the innocent are swept up to heaven, leaving the wretched sinners down here to sort things out before the really bad stuff comes.
What I am seeing is more of an incremental rapture. Little by little, a few innocents at a time, the roll is being called up yonder. Compounding all these fits and spurts of chaos is the way the agents of death tend to show up in the boarding group with the victims. Hurricanes that wipe out entire neighborhoods don't tend to bother the weather-proofed celebrity bunkers built to withstand these climate-change monsters. Once again, the innocent are swept out to sea.
Does it help to imagine that somehow this is all a part of god's plan? We are all still waiting for our chance to repent, which means we could be just a mass shooting away from salvation. It helps a little to think about the five year olds who are taken decades before their time. Simply washing our hands of responsibility and placing that honor squarely in the hands of a god who would allow dozens more to be injured begins to paint a pretty nasty picture of a deity.
Or maybe it's time to realize that we aren't merely pawns in a game of biblical prophecy. Maybe the world doesn't have to end. We just need to evolve, which takes the edge off the Christian bent I've been on for the past few paragraphs. Maybe we don't have to die to be saved. Maybe we can save ourselves. Before Chuck Heston falls on that button.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Back To Back To School

Back to school night: The fact that this came for us this year two days after Labor Day was a shock in itself. There was the usual introduction of staff, and a reiteration for parents and caregivers about the importance of their involvement in their children's education. It was a scene that I have experienced twenty-two times previously, and so I was somewhat nonchalant about the affair. I waited until my name was called, and I walked to the front of the auditorium to the smattering of applause that tends to come with such a walk. I stood and looked out at a room that had nearly as many staff members in it as it had parents. Even though we had carefully timed the proceedings to coincide with the sign out time of our after school program, we did not have a packed house.
Not even close.
Which was disappointing, since once again our principal was preaching to the choir. Those who received the message were already walking the walk and talking the talk. They sat on the benches of the fold-down cafeteria tables and nodded, some waiting for the Spanish translation offered by our Administrative Assistant. Some of the kids were a little wiggly, having already endured a school day and were now being asked to sit still in a place where they had done just that only a few hours ago. But this group was the one that maintained. There were no interruptions or outbursts, just patient attendance.
Which is what the night is really all about. Come and meet your child's new teacher. See what they will be learning this year. Ask how you can be involved. Even if you don't ask, we'll tell you. That's our job. We will teach the children, but if they open a book or attempt a practice problem after they roar out of the front gate each afternoon, then everyone's job gets a lot easier. It's science. It's common sense. It's parental involvement.
And here is what I know now that I didn't understand twenty-two years ago: There are a lot of parents and caregivers who do not have the bandwidth to carry on with the full Norman Rockwell picture of parenthood, having exited their own childhood somewhat abruptly and landed in a world of responsibility for which they are woefully unprepared. Which is where we come in. We will help them along the path to adulthood in tandem with their children. If they let us.
Now back to school.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Climate Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I didn't need another reason to like Elizabeth Warren. I also don't know if what she said the other night will be enough to lock down my vote when it comes time, but someone who is running for President of the United States should have the clarity to tell its people this: “Look, there are a lot of ways that we try to change our energy consumption and our pollution, and God bless all of those ways. Some of it is with light bulbs, some of it is on straws, some of it, dang, is on cheeseburgers.” 
And then she continued: “But understand, this is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about.” 
Seventy percent of the carbon we are throwing up into the air comes from three industries: electric power, building, and yes, the fossil fuel industry. While we as consumers and foragers continue to feel the weight of every plastic straw and cheeseburger, somewhere there are these great beasts spewing filth in ways that can barely be comprehended. So let's keep talking about straws and cheeseburgers, and we can wonder why it would be a clever move for the current administration to walk back a federal mandate that all light bulbs manufactured by 2020 be the energy efficient, LED or fluorescent type. Similarly, the current bunch in the White House has seen fit to undo limits on methane emissions. In the interest of energy conservation, feel free at this point to generate your own joke about Donald Trump and methane emissions. 
The fear of being a coal miner in a world that no longer burns coal, or a methane producer in a world without gas is a real one. Those people could and should find jobs in a brave new world that makes a sturdy paper straw, and creates buildings that enhance the environment without destroying it. There is still plenty of work to be done. That means there will still be plenty of jobs. 
But change is difficult. Which is precisely why I enjoyed Senator Warren's words. One, in particular. It was the "dang." I know that my cheeseburger intake will be a burden to any climate, but it is a tough habit to shake. I get the impression that Elizabeth may enjoy an occasional cheeseburger herself. Hence the regret. But while we're waiting for the impossible burger to fill that void, let's keep our eyes on the big picture, shall we? 

Saturday, September 07, 2019

This Is Why We Can't Have Killing Things

Charlton Heston, Moses to many, once raised a rifle over his head and asserted,  "I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my colddead hands." I have no way of knowing if Mister Heston was buried with his gun, but I would expect this was a challenge that might have appealed to some left-wing prankster like Michael Moore once upon a time. 
It does paint a pretty solid picture of our country's literal and figurative investment in guns. A few days ago, Meghan McCain made what could be an even more stark pronouncement: “I'm not living without guns," she said.  "It's just that simple!" The tragic irony that Ms. McCain brushed past was the fact that there are ninety-nine Americans daily who stop living because of guns. 
How about some of that "common-sense" gun legislation we hear so much about? Why not ban assault weapons. Surely there is no place for these guns outside of a battlefield, right? Ms. McCain's response: “The AR-15 is by far the most popular gun in America, by far. I was just in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, if you're talking about taking people’s guns from them, there’s going to be a lot of violence.”
Democratic Presidential Candidate Beto O'Rourke, who was born in El Paso, has had enough and is very clear about his agenda. He has suggested that we buy back all those assault weapons that have been held by private citizens. The same kind of gun that killed yet another eight people in Odessa, Texas last week. The same kind of weapon the killer was able to purchase even though he failed his background check. So he bought via a loophole in private gun sales. 
Ms. McCain refers to people like Beto as "gun-grabber." Which takes us back to the initial law handed down by Chuck Heston. "I dare you to take my gun away." The implicit threat being that if anyone did, there would be blood. Interestingly enough, Mr. O'Rourke and those like him who suggest buy-back plans are appealing to perhaps the one thing which might supersede our love of guns: Our love of money. How much is it worth to you to cling to your AR-15? Five percent over retail? Ten? 
Maybe if Ms. McCain sat down and read some of her daddy's wisdom on gun control: “Eighty percent of the American people want to see a better background check procedure,” Senator McCain said back in 2013. “I’m very favorably disposed” toward the Manchin-Toomey compromise. “And the American people want to do what we can to avoid these tragedies.” Meghan, you don't have to live in a world without guns. But a majority of Americans would like to find ways to be safe from "America's favorite gun." 

Friday, September 06, 2019

Ten Year Tidy

It is a ritual, of sorts.
A ritual of sorting.
Every few years, I have to cull my collection of T-shirts. I collect them. Not always consciously, but I collect them. In this way, T-shirts are a little like lint for me as a dryer. "How did this get in here?" But generally I know. I went someplace that was selling souvenir T-shirts and I had to buy one.
Change that to "was compelled to."
I don't have a lot of control when it comes to the purchase of memorabilia. If I attend a concert, it is almost a certainty that I will walk out with something in an extra-large. Long sleeves if they have them. My wife points out correctly that this is where I do my clothes shopping, since it is only under threat of going naked to the next day of school that I ever consider buying something with a collar or a new pair of teacher pants. I am a victim of my own lack of fashion sense.
Change that to "eccentric taste in fashion."
I like to tell myself that I am a discerning consumer, able to select designs that are both fashion-forward and still maintain that most important element: provide a memory of the event.
So there I was last weekend, stuck with a bed full of memories. The ones that had made it nearly impossible to close my drawers. There were some tough decisions. Could I continue to wear a bright red shirt emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo when I no longer consumed their product? Did I really need to maintain fifteen different Jimmy Buffett concert shirts?
It was only recently that my wife had reminded me about the tub of stored shirts I had been moving around our basement for the past couple decades. She was able to find a few to share with her nieces, with my permission. A couple more of those were offered up to my son. In the end, enough room was generated from that sort to allow the ones I moved out of my dresser this weekend to find a home. Out of sight, but not out of mind.
For another few years.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Up Stairs

Would it be wrong of me to say that I liked Rhoda more than Mary? Would it confuse you to consider these options without having spent any quality time in front of a television during the 1970s? Mary Richards had a wacky upstairs neighbor named Rhoda Morgenstern. We were lead to understand that Rhoda struggled with relationships and her weight primarily because she appeared quite often dressed in a sweatshirt. And she complained a lot. Rhoda, in many ways, was Mary's id.
This wasn't a matter of Ginger versus Mary Ann. These castaways occupied a sliver of the situation on which their comedy was based. Movie star and farm girl. Mary and Rhoda were both single women forging a path in the brave new liberated world. Mary was wholesome, and Rhoda was not quite as wholesome. Mary's approach to life was to be indefatigable. Rhoda was not afraid to give up. Which may have explained Rhoda's relationship with her downstairs pal. It was a symbiotic kind of deal.
And somewhere along the line, Rhoda moved out of that upstairs apartment, and moved back to New York City. This was in a separate half hour from Mary's reality. This was a spin-off. That happened a lot in the seventies. In this case, I was fine with that happening. I was much more interested in the comparatively real-life challenges that showed up in Rhoda's world. Mary's newsroom pals were quirky and amusing, but not essentially relatable. Suddenly, Rhoda was the star and it was her little sister who became the comic relief. And while Mary continued to struggle with the single life in Minneapolis, Rhoda got married. This was such a big fuss over her nuptials that most of the country watched, including the men in the booth on Monday Night Football.
And a few years later, she and Joe got divorced. This kind of thing never happened to Mary Richards.
So I liked Rhoda more. I connected with her. Mary blazed a trail. Rhoda lived in the world. Valerie Harper played Rhoda. Mary Tyler Moore played Mary. How big a stretch was that for her? Valerie Harper passed away last week. She stomped on the Terra from the Twin Cities to the City That Never Sleeps. I miss her now.
Aloha, Rhoda.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Clear Thoughts And Prayers Answered

“On behalf of all Americans, I’d like to express my deepest sympathies and sorrow for the victims and their families. We ask God to comfort and heal those who are suffering and we hope that there will be a full and quick recovery of the injured.“
Those were the words our "president" chose to mark the Labor Day weekend, along with his usual snarking about how others have let him down or disappointed him and a heaping helping of self-congratulation. It occurred to me that particular sentiment is one that has come dripping out of so many social media outlets over the past few years that it is, essentially, meaningless. I did not know if he was referring to the victims of a hurricane or a mass shooting. There was no solace. There was no comfort, even though he asked God personally for help in that area. It was just a placeholder. It was a comment to fill the emptiness left by the loss of life.
Which might be more understandable if there was truly nothing anyone could do about catastrophes like the one that took place in Midland, and El Paso, and Dayton, and Gilroy and all those other cities and towns that join the list of the inevitable. Horrible and unforgivable because we have become conditioned to accept the way we allow Americans to die. This is not a matter of hurricane season or fire season. This is open season. We fill in the blanks with the number of victims and the name of the city and paint over the whole mess with a coat of thoughts and prayers. 
When a hurricane is spotted on radar, we encourage people to evacuate. Or seek shelter. Or collect supplies to help them get through the storm. There is currently no such tracking system for mass shootings. We simply react. After the fact. Our "president" has suggested using nuclear weapons to keep hurricanes away from our country, which is infinitely more assertive than his approach to dealing with mass shootings. But, since detonating a nuclear weapon in a hurricane would produce a bigger, radioactive hurricane, maybe his response to both of these catastrophes are on a par. Thoughts and prayers aren't essentially radioactive, but doing nothing continues to cost lives. 
And not just the dead and the wounded. The families that are torn apart. The empty chairs that have to be explained. The classes that will forever be remembered by their In Memoriam page. And then there's Matt Schaefer, Republican Representative for the Texas House from Tyler which is just four hundred or so miles from the site of the most recent Texas Mass Shooting. He lurched out into the light hours after the bodies had been cleared to make his stand: “I am NOT going to use the evil acts of a handful of people to diminish the God-given rights of my fellow Texans. Period.” And “YES to giving every law-abiding single mom the right to carry a handgun to protect her and her kids without permission from the state, and the same for all other law-abiding Texans of age.”
The terrifying point is that for some, the solution to hurricane devastation is more hurricanes. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2019


In the six or seven minutes that it took for that second to pass, I had time to consider my options: Should I just put my head down and keep running? Should I stop and see if everyone was alright? As that moment stretched out like temporal silly putty, I could reflect. What was the right thing to do?
Well, as it turns out, the right thing to do wasn't that hard to discern. Not that going on my way would have been a violation of the law or any civic ordinance. In urban Oakland, cars run into one another every day. While I was very fortunate not to be part of the impact, I could see that things were not going at all well for those who were.
Leading up to this stretchy moment, I had been running down the hill toward one of the trickier intersections on my route. Three streets converge at one stop light, including and off ramp from the highway. Once I'm past that interchange, it's clear sailing the rest of the way home. As I approached, I checked the signal as well as any anxious motorists trying to make a quick start on their Friday night. Looking left, right, then left again, I stepped off the curb.
That's when it happened. The silver Ford Focus came flying toward me, having been catapulted forward by the red Honda that had slammed into the Ford's back end. Adrenalin got me to the other curb in record time, and as I turned around to see the debris settle and the two cars come clattering to a stop just across the way, I made my choice. I would stick around and help in any way that I could. The first thing I chose to do was to dodge traffic that poured back into the intersection after the light changed. They weren't involved in a collision. They had places to be.
Except a couple considerate motorists who pulled over to check and see if they could help. And call the police. That was the limitation of my iPod. Plenty of music, but no emergency channel. So I went back to the scene of the impact to pull the tools and hard hat that had been popped out of the Ford's trunk. I carried them over to the driver, who by this point had gotten himself out of the car and was sitting on the curb just a few steps from the wrecked Honda. The couple inside the Honda seemed shaken but not visibly injured. The three people whose automobiles had just merged now sat within feet of one another, without speaking.
They were waiting for the authorities.
So was I.
I went back to the corner and pulled the plastic bumper out of the street as cars continued to make their way to wherever they were headed. When the fire truck, ambulance and two police cars finally appeared, I waited patiently for the officer to assess the scene. Then he came back across the street where I was standing and gave me my cue: "Did you see what happened?"
I had. I told him my story. He thanked me.
Then I finished up my run.
Very carefully.

Monday, September 02, 2019


A crew showed up to put speed bumps on the street above the school where I work. For a few months I enjoyed a supremely smooth ride over that hill on the new asphalt poured after the pothole riddled surface had been stripped away. And it's not so tough, considering the majority of my route is still filled with tank traps and chasms large enough to swallow pets and small children. A speed bump is a necessary civic reminder to those of us who can get up any real velocity to remember that there are pets and small children about and that we should be mindful of our progress through the neighborhood.
Speed bumps certainly had that effect once upon a time on the street where I live. The roar of minorly tuned engines in front of the house where teenage girls lived dissipated after a few of those custom street machines bottomed out while making the circuit around the block. Sure, we had to endure a few massive scraping sounds as these young turks began to understand that the track was now closed, but that was some time ago.
Even longer ago was the drag strip just east of my parents' house when I was growing into my driver's license. It was a residential quarter mile with no stop signs. Just a block to the left or right would have meant that I would have had to deal with school zones and those big red octagons. No thank you. Not when I had places to be and a stereo turned up loud.
That has changed too. There are now traffic circles that are designed to bend and constrict the flow of traffic on many of the thoroughfares in my hometown. I don't know where the boys take their cars these days to show off their testosterone. Or maybe these concrete and asphalt constructions actually have the effect for which they were intended. Maybe they influence the speed of traffic enough that they don't have to sit a police car at each end, waiting for someone to light up that radar detector for their excesses.
And all of this got me thinking: Why not put speed bumps in the hallways of elementary schools? The number of each day I have to remind boys and girls that we walk in hallways would probably diminish a great deal after a few of them dropped their transmission while sprinting to the water fountain.
Something to think about.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

What Are The Chances?

Who's running for President these days?
If I tell you that the guy currently occupying that spot on the roster recently tweeted that he was glad that Kirsten Gillibrand was dropping her bid to be the Democratic nominee: " I’m glad they never found out that she was the one I was really afraid of! I’m glad they never found out that she was the one I was really afraid of!" Hard to know exactly how to gauge that one, since this came during the same day that the "president" tweeted that he was "the best thing ever to happen to Puerto Rico."
It does let us know that the bloated sack of protoplasm will continue his quest for a second term, while Senator Gillibrand will pack up her tent and head home. The need for two nights of Democrats debating have come and gone.
Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper is gone.
Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton has left the building.
Washington's governor, Jay Inslee, will turn his attention to re-election as his state's chief executive.
For all the folks who are cashing it in, there are still a dozen or so that insist they have a chance of taking on the sack of protoplasm come next November.
And now, interestingly enough, there are a couple of Republicans who would like a chance to be their party's nominee instead of the aforementioned protoplasm. Joe Walsh, very decidedly not the Eagles' guitarist, thinks he would make a better "president." Which may or may not be true, given his capacity for saying things like, "I wouldn't call myself a racist, but I've said racist things." Then there's Joe Kasich, the former Ohio governor who has already lost a presidential bid to the bloated sack.
We call this "parity" in the National Football League.
And in politics, it works just about as well.
Then again, on any given weekend, that's why they play the game. Stranger things have happened. A bloated sack of protoplasm was elected President of the United States.