Thursday, October 31, 2019

Is This The New Normal?

That was the question, "Is this the new normal?" posed to me Monday morning. It came to me via a headline, but it occurred to me that it could have been in regards to a number of different topics. A discussion of the latest mass shooting? The latest update of the kerfuffle we call Washington D.C.? This one was referencing the most recent wildfire in California, burning fifty-some miles to the north of my current location. Power was out. Schools were closed.
At least this is what I was told. Electricity was on at my house and the school where I work was open for business. As usual. Is this the new normal?
Is it normal for California's utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric, to shut off half of their obligation to users still bound to that public grid? Is it normal for the weather forecast to include the phrase, "clear skies, except for all the smoke?" Is it normal for our state's governor to lambaste the state's power company, while also reminding the public not to take out their frustrations on the men and women climbing the poles to bring the lights back on?
Is climate change normal?
We are currently in what would best be described as uncharted waters. After a few years of overhead electrical lines snapping in the wind and sparking devastating wildfires, one might begin to notice a trend. Climate change isn't just making your local weather person's job more difficult. It's creating a world with unforeseen challenges. The school district for which I work has spent the past few weeks running around in circles trying to come up with a consistent message to its one hundred eighteen sites and fifty thousand students. Come to school? Stay home? Go to school but be prepared to go home. Teachers? Be prepared to go to work. Or stay home. Or work at another site. Or pack it up and move to another state that has more predictable weather. Like Florida.
I kid.
I'm a kidder.
But I don't know what is normal. Not anymore. I mean, who could have predicted Goat Yoga would be a thing?

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Asking For A Friend

When was it, precisely, that Halloween stopped being for kids and started being for adults? It could be that this is only my perspective, since I am currently considered an adult and I am no longer a kid. When Halloween rolls around, my responsibilities skew more to the preparations and infrastructure than the actual event. The anticipation is still there, but making sure there are enough fun size Snickers on hand to serve the masses is the focus.
That and the costume.
After fifty-seven years of All Hallow's Eve, I still find myself fretting once the calendar page turns to October: What will I be? Sexy Oncologist? Sexy Food Service Worker? Sexy Halloween Costume Designer? That's where all this grown up mishegas begins and ends. Sexy. This is the kind of thing that gets everyone all adither as that spooky day approaches. How can we turn our scariest holiday into our most prurient?
This was not my focus when I was in college, but it was apparent in my hometown that grownups had taken over the night. The legendary Boulder Mall Crawl was the background for that autumn night in the eighties. It was a drunken brawl that was finally shut down by local authorities after crowds swelled to numbers beyond rivaled the attendance of a college football game, if not a little more intoxicated. In those years, I stayed away from the crowds, preferring instead to host my own parties, offering a way station for those who needed a port in the storm. It was into this fray that all manner of sexy this and that poured. It was the inevitable end of the curve suggested by the notion that Halloween costumes were some reflection of one's subconscious. I tended toward creepy and macabre, but was always keenly aware of the heavily made-up group that surrounded me, whose outfits never occluded their opportunity to consume alcohol.
And once I got out of that habit, my Halloweens slowed down considerably. Being sober on October 31 meant that I could see the tawdriness for what it was: scary. Adults living out a night of fantasy aided by a few additional cocktails instead of the aforementioned fun sized Snickers. Putting the trick back into Trick or Treat. You know, for "kids."

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Dangling Conversation

"We never talk anymore."
This is a phrase that hasn't been uttered with any level of sincerity between my wife and me. This was something I mentioned to her as we made our way from Oakland down to Alameda. We were on our way to see a movie. We were walking. We chose the hike over the ten minute drive. It took us a little more than an hour. And we talked to one another the whole way.
This is something we are very comfortable doing. The conversation that began in 1980 continues into this century with little or no sign of abating. What could we be talking about after nearly forty years? Nothing serious. Not for the most part, anyway. It should be noted that we are our own biggest fans. I figure that if I can amuse my wife, I am doing pretty well. She tends to feel the same challenge with me. As they say, "Amusing wife, amusing life."
All of this mutual appreciation doesn't always translate outside our little bubble. On one particular road trip, we began to toy with the notion of doing a production of Jesus Christ Superstar featuring the voices of Warner Brothers cartoon characters. Elmer Fudd as Pontius Pilate. Sylvester the cat as King Herod. The longer we mined this peculiar vein of musical parody, the harder we laughed. We could not wait to share our new comedy bit with our friends waiting at the end of the line.
They were not as amused.
We were stunned.
How could all this funny business not be the source of hilarity for everyone in our wake? Could it be that after all this time spent making funny between the two of us, we somehow find ourselves with an audience of one?
Happily, for us, this has not been the case at every turn. My wife and I can still relate to others outside our very close circle of intimates. We still get a few sideways looks when we get lost in our own little world. But it's nice to know we have a place where we can retreat, when we need. Which gives us another potential discussion for the next time we find ourselves walking across the county for one thing or another.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Too Much Information

A few nights ago, I switched the channel to check on the score of the local basketball franchise's opening game of the season. I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to stick around for the entire contest. I just wanted to get a feel for how things were going. Happily, the broadcast was not in commercial break, so I was able to peek directly into the action. Then I was confounded by the digital clock counting down in the top of the key. I understood that the Golden State Warriors had made a move across the bay to ritzier digs, but I couldn't imagine how they had managed such an engineering feat. And just as quickly I determined that the clock had been superimposed by the crafty television folks who wanted to have a flashier way to include the shot clock in every view of the court. I forgot, momentarily, why I had tuned in. Then I went hunting for the scrap of information that sent me there in the first place. At the bottom of the screen, along with promotions for upcoming shows on Turner Network Television and a crawl that told me probable starters for the upcoming World Series game and the Major League Soccer standings, was the abbreviation of the visiting Los Angeles Clippers (LAC) and that of the home team (GSW) each followed by a number. The announcers were not seemingly predisposed to announce those numbers, but were instead caught up in a discussion of the business of basketball and the contract negotiations for two completely different teams. Once I had made certain of the time and score, I bailed and moved to another channel with cars exploding and guns a-blazing. This was a relief from the flurry of additional information that was required of me to navigate to watch a basketball game.
I blame September 11.
Before that, there would be screens full of sports without much more than the names of the competitors and their respective scores. I didn't need to know the wind conditions or be updated about the concussion protocols for players who were not part of the game I was watching. After the Wold Trade Centers came down, television began to deliver its twenty-four hour news cycle at the edges of every broadcast. There was no other way to impart all the information that was streaming in than to add it in the margins. Producers found more and more ways to insinuate all that terrible news into our casual viewing of the most innocuous programming. Once the smoke had cleared and the bodies had been buried, there was all that newly created digital landscape out there to fill. Now I am reminded of upcoming episodes of WWE's Smackdown and the current NASCAR leaders while I am trying to decide if I want to spend any more time watching what has become the background for all this data. I mused briefly on that long ago experiment of an announcerless NFL game on NBC. Don Ohlmeyer, who was in charge of the sports division back in 1980, decided to add more graphics to the production to impart enough information to make sense of the Jets/Dolphins contest without the customary play-by-play and color commentators.
That was the only time this happened. The announcers were back after that, and sideline reporters were added in addition to the jumble of details and statistics that could be shoehorned in around the actual game.
The Warriors lost the game, by the way. I asked Google. They gave me numbers I could use.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Childhood's End

There was a moment, thirty-four years ago, when my life changed in an instant. It wasn't until much later that I noticed, but it was that transition from carefree child to worried adult that makes a nice, clean line for us to describe the rest of my life.
I was no longer indestructible. I had to start thinking about consequences. I had to consider that life is fragile and should be cherished. Not chewed up and spit out.
Because I had been very much of that school. And when I say "school," it is possible that it did not help to be meandering about  of one of the "top ten party campuses" in the United States. Anecdotally, I am sure that there are plenty of universities across the globe that have a reputation for "partying," but only in the U.S.A. do we feel a need to rank them.
I had been living what could have been described as a risky lifestyle. Getting a degree was not the primary concern in front of me. It would be hard to say exactly what my primary concern was, other than the aforementioned "partying."
And when my friend and roommate died in that accident, one might have expected that I would have taken that as a sign. Stop. Yield. Caution, maybe. Nope. I didn't even slow down. If anything, the denial of death caused me to plunge still deeper into hedonism. I cannot definitively speak for my other friend and roommate who survived, but I can imagine that we were looking for the bottom. As frightened and depressed as we were, there had to be a place where we could go that didn't remind us that we were still alive.
Turns out, it wasn't at the bottom of a bottle or up our nose. We looked. We wallowed around where we were, and then we took our collective show out on the road. Mine ended one early morning in a Mesa, Arizona parking lot. That's when I reached that Full Stop. That instant had finally caught up to me. The suggested irony of dying in a car with only myself and the chemicals I poured into me to blame was lost. Forever. There was no fun anymore.
I was going to have to try something else.
I chose the rest of my life. It's been a pretty good choice.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


My son and his friend have a podcast. Recently, they were discussing "the state of movies," which brought them to the inevitable confrontation over the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His friend said they were trash. My son was ready to fight him on it.
I was so proud.
Until now, I have stayed relatively quiet on the matter. When Martin Scorsese said, “Theaters have become amusement parks. That is all fine and good, but don’t invade everything else in that sense. That is fine and good for those who enjoy that type of film and, by the way, knowing what goes into them now, I admire what they do. It’s not my kind of thing, it simply is not. It’s creating another kind of audience that thinks cinema is that.” I remained quiet. I have great reverence for Martin Scorsese. His are some of my favorite films. They are not amusement parks. Except maybe After Hours. That one is a fun house. A dark and creepy fun house, but wouldn't be out of place in a dark and creepy amusement park. The kind that might be a front for some shady real estate dealings, ultimately foiled by those meddling kids. 
That may be telegraphing my position a little. First, I should say that I spent a good deal of time studying film formally, in a university setting, where I watched semester after semester of whatever the professor sought to put in front of us. Black and white, color, sound, narrative, non-narrative, foreign and domestic. Most of that time I worked in a video store and watched most everything that came our way on VHS. I remember hearing the apocryphal tale of why Steven Spielberg was dead set against releasing E.T. The Extraterrestrial on home video. It stemmed from the experience he had watching a group of burly men required to load a theatrical print of Close Encounters of the Third Kind into a projection booth. He could not, at the time, imagine someone walking out of their local video store with a copy of his most personal work in a little plastic box. Unless it came with a green gate and spools. Meaning: Steve caved. Many of Steven Spielberg's most personal works have become amusement park rides. I understand the Schindler's List Experience is opening next summer in Universal Studios. 
Sorry. That was in poor taste. But only as bad as the other apocryphal Spielberg story which I am about to relate: While filming his Holocaust epic, Steven would come home from a harsh day on the set and unwind by taking meetings on the phone for the pre-production of his revisioning of The Flintstontes
Which brings that other film school figure to the forefront, Francis Ford Coppola. Francis recently one-upped his colleague Martin Scorsese's assertions with his own: “I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again. Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.” These words were uttered by the man who brought us Godfather III, Godfather the Complete Epic and Godfather - Breaking Training. 
So where does this leave us? Perhaps at what my son and his friend decided to call "the C word." Cinema is different from "the movies." Hollywood movies have always been an escape. Super Heroes are nothing new. Dinosaurs on the silver screen, same thing. Afterward, will you be repairing to the local bistro to discuss its merits, or gathering with friends to talk about the fun ride you just went on? After all these years of study, I like to have some time away from the deeper meanings. I'll get back there. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Hyper Bowl

Sometimes I wonder if I am just overly sensitive. Am I one of those snowflakes? A bleeding heart who raises a fuss at the slightest whiff of political incorrectness? Isn't it possible that I am just upset because the person for whom I voted, the winner of the popular vote in these United States, was not afforded the desk in the White House?
Sure. Anything's possible. If man were meant to fly, he would never have landed on the moon. I still cry at the end of Superman II. Perhaps I am ill-equipped for the rough-and-tumble world of politics.
And yet, I can't help thinking that the guy who lost the popular vote in the 2016 election may be operating someplace just off the tracks. “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights,” the "president" tweeted. “All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching. But we will WIN!”
A couple things: This tweet came just a few days after the passing of Elijah Cummnigs, an African-American congressman from Baltimore who fought tirelessly for civil rights. I looked up the definition of "lynching," and here is what it said: "(of a mob) kill (someone), especially by hanging, for an alleged offense with or without a legal trial." The current occupant of the White House is likening himself to those who came before him, hanged for a crime he didn't commit by an angry mob. By the neck. Until dead. 
Or maybe this is just hyperbole, the kind of which we should by now be so familiar when it comes to the "president." It could be that he is trying to paint a picture with words that express his deeply held convictions and sometimes strays into areas that could bring about misunderstandings. It is these firm convictions that lead him to overstate circumstances and, at times, the truth. It was the "president" who recently suggested the whistleblower who has filed a complaint against him is a spy and therefore guilty of treason. A crime punishable by death. Did he say "we should lynch the whistleblower?" Not when the microphones or his phone were turned on. I suppose this is to his credit. Somehow. 
So welcome to the land in which we currently live, my fellow Americans. Where a self-described billionaire can lump themselves into a group with folks who have fought their entire lives for civil rights and in another breath call for the deaths of those who argue against him. 
Or maybe I'm must too sensitive. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

With Apologies To The King*

We're caught in a trap
"In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."
I can't walk out
"You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now." 
Because I love you too much baby
"Make America Great."
Why can't you see
"I will be the hero! These morons — when this is over, I will be the hero."
What you're doing to me
"If that perfect phone call with the President of Ukraine isn't considered appropriate, then no future President can EVER again speak to another foreign leader!"
When you don't believe a word I say?
"If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal."
We can't go on together
"Like every American, I deserve to meet my accuser." 
With suspicious minds (suspicious minds)
"Arrest for Treason?"
And we can't build our dreams
"Keep America Great."
On suspicious minds
“The President never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reason we were holding the money was because of concern about LACK OF SUPPORT FROM OTHER NATIONS and CONCERNS OVER CORRUPTION.”
So, if an old friend I know
“I don’t see anything that constitutes an Impeachable offense - Nothing here rises to the level of Impeachment. The Democrats are making a mistake with this secrecy.”
Stops by to say hello
"Just another FAKE SUPPRESSION POLL, this time from @FoxNews, of course!"
Would I still see suspicion in your eyes?
"I’ve sat through EVERY interview so far of this so called 'impeachment inquiry' & the President hasn’t done anything to possibly impeach him for. NOTHING,"
Here we go again
"While Dems in Congress have been trying to overturn the will of the American people by reversing Election Day 2016, our Admin will continue to fight for policies that create jobs & benefit American workers. Let’s put Americans first & pass the #USMCA!"
Asking where I've been
"How about saying it this way, IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY! Also, MORE PEOPLE WORKING TODAY IN THE USA THAN AT ANY TIME IN HISTORY! Tough numbers for the Radical Left Democrats to beat!"
You can't see the tears are real
“Is anyone dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call.”
I'm crying (Yes I'm crying)
We can't go on together
With suspicious minds (suspicious minds)

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

I Continue Walking

So, when we last left our hero, he was making his way through junior high, trying to find his way amid the hustle and bustle of managing electives. Mostly it was about art: industrial versus plain. I chose to paint and draw, and then eventually turned my back on the whole thing and chose to fill out as many of those required bits of college prep as possible. Foreign language being the biggest hole to fill. That and keeping my foot in the band room door. But no art.
It wouldn't be until my junior year in high school that I found myself back in art class. This time it was Basic Drawing. I was patient and respectful as I was led through the basics of basics, like how to hold a pencil and how to make various shades of gray. Contours and shadows and perspective and all the rest. And then, somewhere around the halfway point in the semester, we were finally given a real assignment: photo realism. We were given magazines and told to select a picture, then divide it into one inch squares. Then we took a piece of blank paper and divided it up into the same number of squares. All we had to do was reproduce those same squares, one at a time, on our blank paper. Which is what I did. Eventually, I ended up with a pencil version of a doctor making a pitch of a pain reliever. It was a nice piece of work. I was proud of it. The blacks, the whites and everything in between. My older brother saw it and liked it enough to put a frame around it and hang it in his house. Flattering to be sure.
When it came time to register for the next semester, I briefly considered signing up for Advanced Drawing. But by now, I had completed most of my credit requirements. If I wanted to, I could have a free period. I could do nothing for an hour. Or I could sit in a room and explore more values of my pencil. Nothing won.
In my senior year, I didn't have to take very many classes at all. I was still in band, and I was required to take some kind of Language Arts and a math class. This left me with a lot of empty space on my schedule. So I signed up for Ceramics. No pencils. No paper. Just clay. Lots of it. I spent a semester squishing and mashing and punching air bubbles out of mud. I made a few things that ended up being glazed, fired and ultimately displayed on my mom's piano. Flattering? Not as much as the doctor drawing.
In my senior year, I was registered for another semester of Ceramics, but a conflict arose: I had a girlfriend. I had a reason not to be in class, and for the first time in my school career, I skipped a class. Or several. I didn't produce much. But somehow, via kindness and charity, I passed. And this is how I set myself up perfectly for a career in the arts.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


I can remember the fear as much as the humiliation. Coach had me by the facemask, and was screaming something about responsibility and didn't I understand. The visiting team had just scored on our home field. It was on a punt return. I was on the punt team. I had seen the guy run past me. On my left. Down the sideline. He was going very fast.
I was not.
In my ninth grade year in junior high, I played on the newly formed middleweight team. As I had back in my elementary days of Young America Football, I was a lineman. I played guard, tackle, even a little center. I was kept away from the ball as much as possible. I was blocking for those clever and quick enough to handle pigskin. I was handed plays back then, mimeographed pages full of x's and o's. I practiced them, with the understanding that it was my fob to keep the other team from tackling our ball carrier, or sacking our quarterback. What happened behind me or down the field was not my responsibility. My responsibility was to keep the guy two feet in front of me from moving me two feet back, and if I could I was going to move him two feet forward. I practiced this with a bunch of other linemen by doing this over and over again at the sound of a whistle. When it was game time, I was doing it to the sound of our quarterback's voice. Over and over again. All  kinds of excitement was taking place a few yards away, but mostly I was in a tangle of arms and legs, shoving someone approximately my size, waiting for the whistle to blow so we could do it all over again.
When I started playing again in ninth grade, my job wasn't that any different. The plays came in a binder now, and we had kicks. Field goals. Punts. When I was told that I had been assigned to the punt team, it meant that I might be playing more. I understood that there would be this magic moment where suddenly, after being that protective line for a few seconds, I was going to have a chance to run down the field and try to tackle the ball carrier from the other team. Suddenly, I would be on the defense.
And that's what I thought I was doing just before Coach had me by the facemask. I was running, as much as I ever did with all those pads and helmet, down the field, looking for someone with the ball. Then he ran past me. On the left. What I know now, after watching decades of professional and collegiate football and forming a greater understanding for the intricacies of the game, was that I was the gunner on that play. My responsibility was to protect the sideline. I was supposed to run to the outside to make sure that whatever happened, the returner would get turned back into the middle of the field or shoved out of bounds by yours truly. I didn't do that. I just ran down the field, looking for someone with the ball. I found him. Running past me down the sideline.
Returning a punt for a touchdown is a pretty rare occurrence in the game of football, but I got to witness it up close and  personal. I didn't play a lot of football after that. Not in high school. I watched a lot of games, but didn't go out for the team. I kept watching. Especially those punt returns. And I wince every time someone forgets their responsibility.

Monday, October 21, 2019

In The Staff Room

Yes, I am happy that no one is recording the conversations that take place in our staff room. At lunch or at the end of a long day of teaching four-to-twelve year olds, the talk sometimes runs a little south of the loving and supportive. The blank stares we sometimes receive after asking students to retrieve their reading books. The number of times we repeat the simplest of instructions. The fistfights that erupt because of a four-square game. It is nice to have a place where we can go, as professionals, and have a purely non-professional moment. This is so we can return the next day to experience a similar experience. With the hope and expectation that it will get easier to manage or cope with internally. 
That being said, I am left wondering why the "president" would hold a rally with invited guests and media to make the following pronouncement: "Sometimes you have to let them fight. It's like two kids in a lot, you got to let them fight and then you pull them apart." This was not a referendum proposed by his lightly qualified Secretary of Education, but rather a metaphor used to describe the Turkish invasion of Syria. Leaving aside for the moment that most kids in a lot fail to show up with automatic weapons and rocket launchers, and that hundreds of thousands of non-combatants are in the line of fire when this little tussle broke out, it still brings the "president's" parenting strategies into question. 
I might say something in the staff room about "Lord of the Flies," but once I walk out onto the playground, I am there to keep kids safe. Not just the bystanders, but the two taking wild swings at one another over a soccer ball. I am there to keep the peace, and as difficult as I find it to do at times, I try and to rise above the fray. 
Should I expect as much from the "president?" 
I know, there are plenty of those in the other bubble who will hoot and laugh derisively as these words are spoken. Fists are raised and cries of assent are hollered. "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out." And again, if this were behind closed doors and the discussion fell to the desperation of the situation in the Middle East, it might be understood. But once the doors fly open and the lights come on and the microphones are turned on, the whole world is watching. Which puts me in mind of a book I read in school, All Quiet On The Western Front“Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out on themselves. Whoever survives the country wins. That would be much simpler and more than just this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting.”
I know. It's a book, and I have high expectations of anyone picking it up and reading it. But I can hope. That's because I'm a teacher. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Giving Up

My son, as part of his senior seminar, was asked a number of character-related questions. The one that had him calling his parents to ask for help was this one: What would you be willing to sacrifice? I was pleased to hear that he had not included "soul" on his list, but then we began to discuss the matter moving forward. What would he, or anyone else preparing to leave the relative safety net of the college experience, be willing to part with as he makes his way out into the cold, cruel world?
We tossed around a few possibilities, settling for a while on the issue of morality. Would he be willing to sacrifice a little of that character we have so carefully built in order to get ahead? Again, I was happy that the abrupt answer came back, "No." Even when shoved up against a quandary like, "What if you could make two hundred thousand dollars a year that might do some harm to the planet instead of a sixty thousand dollar a year job that has a clean environmental slate? There was some haggling here, as he suggested that he could take some of that additional salary and funnel it back into fixing the problems he created. Still, sorry no deal.
He was willing to give up his social life. His mother and I flinched a little once we were assured that meant that he would keep in touch with his family, and that he wasn't willing to do this forever since his wish is to have a family of his own someday.
I knew this, by the way, ahead of time. Since he was in high school, he has talked about settling down with a wife and kids in terms of "when" rather than "if." This was the part of raising a kid that I deemed totally worth it since he wasn't afraid of following in some of his dad's footsteps. So, raising his own family was not a sacrifice he was willing to make.
All of this talk of sacrifice made me wonder if I had sacrificed anything in order to get where I am today. I couldn't say at this point if I had given anything up or if it was simply that the universe had denied me a chance to turn something down. I could say that I gave up drinking, but in reality I believe it was drinking that gave up on me. This was right about the time that others were starting to give up on me, so it turned out that it wasn't much of a sacrifice after all.
Interestingly, this was another thing that my son has on his schedule. He says he wants to retire from drinking by the time he's thirty. That doesn't give him a lot of time for those leftover wild oats, but I suppose I have to respect that he would consider that kind of choice while he's still in the middle of his funtime.
I suppose that's why they call it a sacrifice.

Saturday, October 19, 2019


From time to time, I will walk past a student who is immersed in whatever activity it is that his or her class is supposed to be attending. Around that student's feet is a raft of candy wrappers.
"Um, whose are these?" I inquire.
"What?" Their gaze never quite meets mine.
"These candy wrappers."
Heavy sigh. "They were already here."
"Well, actually, no. The room is pretty clear between classes, and so was yours before you sat down."
The sighs escalate into huffing and puffing. "Oh my gawd!" The outrage has set in.
"Do you have any more candy?"
"They're not mine!"
It is at this point that we cross the line from circumstantial to cut out the inference and move directly to guilt. "Can I have the rest of the candy please?" My hand is extended.
"I don't have any!"
And there was a time, many years ago, that I would ride this horse to the ground and then feel the satisfaction of a job well done, candy confiscated and trash picked up. Instead, I ask politely, "Could you do me a favor and pick up those wrappers?"
"They're not mine."
"I'd really appreciate it." And I walk away.
This is kind of how I feel when I confront any of the swirl of corruption that surrounds our "president." The candy wrappers are piled up to their collective necks and yet the denials continue. "They're not mine," as the trash and blue tongues tell a different story. Rudy Giuliani was paid half a million dollars for work he did for a company co-founded by the Ukrainian-American businessman arrested last week on campaign finance charges. The blank look that accompanies any accusation is the same as the one I get from third and fourth graders: "What'd I do?" The burden of proof. The man who once announced to a crowd, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," is betting that we will run out of patience before we bother to make him pick up the trash. The trash he dragged in with him. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Way I Walked

In seventh grade, I was given the choice of taking Industrial Arts or Art. Not a truly fine distinction, but one I felt ready to make. Most boys were lining up, as were some of the girls, to take Industrial Arts. They understood if they stuck with it, they were sure to come out with a polished plastic ring or a burnished wood bowl. There were machines in the shop that drilled and scraped and cut in ways we all could only imagine. And if that experience took, there was always Metal Shop, which was a step up from Wood Shop and provided plenty more excitement and the potential for lost limbs. Stories circulated all the way down to my elementary school about the horrific accidents that took place in those cavernous spaces to kids who were not paying proper attention.
I chose Art. Not simply because I was afraid of losing a finger or two, but because that was where I felt my talent lay. I had dreams of going to work for the Walt Disney company, drawing Donald Duck in endless repetitions, creating new animated shorts and getting paid the big bucks. Disney bucks. When I went to the top of the stairs that first day and walked into the room with the high ceilings and windows that let in all the light that was generally missing from a junior high school, I felt that I had made the right choice.
Not that I didn't struggle. It quickly became apparent that my skills as a cartoonist were not going to be challenged here. I was going to be asked to produce a number of different works using a number of different media. Paint and sculpture and weaving were miles away from the hours I had spent furiously drawing animals and monsters on the paper supplied to me in reams by my father who worked in the printing business. I quickly became aware that I would not be left alone to draw flying pigs for an hour each day. I was given pieces of driftwood and yarn. I was asked to think about three dimensional space. I was told to consider the values of a pencil. I was being graded on this stuff.
And somehow, my artistic temperament did not die. I kept scribbling and sketching, when I wasn't attempting to create a mobile using chicken wire and folded construction paper. I kept imagining a career in the arts. We had a family friend who made a living as an artist. This was not outside the realm of possibility.
Once I had finished my one year of required art education, I moved on to other pursuits with my electives. The guys downstairs in the shop kept churning out their lamps and key rings, and I went on to study German. And typing. And band. I don't get a lot of opportunity to practice my German, and my trombone and tuba skills have atrophied in the void of practice and owning my own instrument. What's left? I am currently still typing.
And every now and then, I pull out a pen and some paper and draw a funny picture of an animal.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


In a world that seems to grow crazier by the day, I take great solace in the films of my childhood. Let me be clear about this as I continue: The films of my childhood were not just those that were released in the mid to late sixties and seventies. I am talking about all those that came before that. Black and white masterpieces and forgotten gems from another time. I watched movies with my mother as much as we played gin rummy, which was a lot. I learned to appreciate Spencer Tracy and Hepburns both Katherine and Audrey. Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford and Howard Hawks made movies that made influenced Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola and Quentin Tarantino. And all those musicals. Before I ever went to the theater to see That's Entertainment with my mother, I could have described the lineage and flow of all of those MGM treasures. I was familiar with the tragic life of Judy Garland long before Renee Zellweger charted it for a chance at an Oscar.
I winced a little when American Movie Classics became the place where the dead walk and bad was broken. The "classic movies" currently include a heavy dose of their in-house productions along with a whole lot of films made after 1980. That was a business choice that gave us some pretty decent choices for viewing, but came up pretty light on movies made in black and white.That's where Turner Classic Movies came in. They were there for the expressed purpose of keeping the community memory of Boris Karloff and Lana Turner from fading into darkness. My mother and I would talk on the phone about what we had seen or missed and our thoughts connected to those so many years ago. Until October 10, 2019. That's when our cable system decided that if we really wanted to see classic cinema, we should pony up for the Sports and Entertainment package. We, along with the rest of Xfinity's subscribers were encouraged to enjoy "NFL RedZone, CMT, CBS Sports Network, ESPN Goal Line & Bases Loaded, Military History Channel, Outdoor Channel, MLB Network, Turner Classic Movies, and more." 
Makes perfect sense. In order to watch movies that have been part of our cultural firmament for more than eighty years, we should take on all that specialty programming that has nothing to do with film history. And don't think that the customer service folks at Xfinity don't know it. When I called to add my voice to those who shared my dissatisfaction, I heard the pained and confused response from those on the receiving end of that dissatisfaction. The powers that be had decided that there simply wasn't enough money being made on movies that had been made in a previous century. By subsidizing them with a heap of sports, they could be folded into a mix that would somehow make them more cost effective. I'd like a whole bunch of apples and just the one orange please. The asking price for this deal? Ten dollars a month. I would have to watch a lot of that other stuff in order to justify a hundred twenty dollars a year for movies whose copyrights have long since been bought and sold for everyone to make their money. Why not squeeze just a few pennies more a day? I was already paying for the privilege, in a package they call "Premium," now the suits at Comcast/Universal/NBC/Walmart wanted to shake me down for another ten bucks a month?
I am struggling with this decision as October rolls toward its end of Halloween, with its potential for horror classics and lost bits of macabre. Will they live on without me watching? I have my memories. But I miss them still. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


I don't tend to go big for reality TV. The last one to which I paid serious attention was The Osbournes. I was transfixed by the day to day antics of Ozzy Osbourne and his clan. Watching the Prince Of Darkness fumble with cable TV remotes and blenders was straight up hilarious. Since then I have been made aware of a number of other shows with different ways to remind us all of our common humanity. And challenges with appliances.
Recently, a friend of ours was visiting and we happened upon a promo for new show on HGTV: A Very Brady Renovation. Perhaps because the Home and Garden Television network subsists almost exclusively on "reality," I flinched at the idea of giving them any of my attention. But Bradys. I watched A Very Brady Christmas. I watched The Brady Reunion. And The Brady Brides. I even watched their variety hour.
The folks at HGTV had their demographic squarely in their sights: Me. The conceit of this new series being that the house that was used for the exterior shots never matched up to the interiors because they were shot on a sound stage. The Brady Bunch was not a reality show.
I know, I know.
Getting the kids back together to do the work to get the outside to match the inside brings all that Brady magic pouring into the formula of all those "if you build it they will watch" shows. Want  to see Greg use a rip saw? Bobby with a nail gun? Marcia on the business end of a sledgehammer? It's all there. All in the service of recreating those iconic stairs, dining room, and kitchen. There are very few sure things in life, but this was, for me, one of them.
So I got my guilty pleasure, my baby boom fix. I started to wonder if there wouldn't be more of this kind of programming. Maybe HGTV could buy Mork's house in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Could they get Pam Dawber to come along and knock down a few walls to recreate that sprawling upstairs space in which all that alien zaniness took place. Or maybe they could invest in the Osbourne's old house and get Ozzy and his crew to come along for the fun. Just don't let him touch any of the power tools.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


I was walking up the path between our house and garage, and sitting placidly in our back yard was a tabby cat. A tabby cat that was a little tubby. For a moment, I considered my options: I could continue on into our basement and ignore this feline presence. I could make a display of my disapproval and send the cat back over the fence from whence it came. I could make attempt to make friends. It was around the time I rounded option number two that I heard my wife's voice in my head, admonishing me to give peace a chance, at least where kitties were involved. So I took another tentative step up the path and considered my introductions. "Here kitty, kitty, kitty." No, too menacing. I could make squeaking noises, but that would probably be confusing to the cat and I didn't want that on my hands. So I opted for the best opening I could imagine at that moment, "Hello," I said.
The tabby, for his part, didn't seem to register me as he gazed off into the middle distance. I took another step forward, ever conscious of my posture and expression. Non-threatening. I tried to block every other thought out of my mind aside from the "hey buddy, let's be friends" stream.
Another step.
Big smile.
"Hey, kitty."
That's when the rotund ball of fur rolled up onto his feet and padded away. Not even looking back. Not a "Sorry, gotta run."
Then he turned back, perhaps sensing my disappointment. Cats have no lips, but the looks said "Hmmm?" to me.
I tried to gather my moist plaintive face. "Don't go."
But he did, switching his tail behind him. Just a few leisurely feet away, he squeezed through a couple slats in the fence. And he was gone. 
That's when I started to miss my dog.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Little Bruce Springsteen

I have, I confess, probably uttered these words myself. Probably within the context of "What do you want to listen to? How about a little Bruce Springsteen?"
My wife, who upon her first encounter with Bruce in a live setting marveled, "He's so tiny! But he's so happy!"
For the record, Mister Springsteen is no tall drink of water. He stands five feet ten inches tall. Which makes him an inch taller than me. So when I say I look up to him, it would be true. And not just because of that slight height advantage. 
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Last week at a rally in Minneapolis, the "president" fluffed up his crowd by insisting that “I didn’t need BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z. I didn’t need little Bruce Springsteen," in order to win the 2016 election. Which is true from two perspectives: First, all three of those performers were firmly entrenched in his opposition's camp. Secondly, he really only needed an electoral college and a vast sea of Russian hackers to get elected. 
And Bruce Springsteen is half a foot shorter than the stack of orange bologna that currently resides in the White House. To paraphrase the old joke, I didn't know they stacked bologna that high. 
Me? I need Bruce Springsteen. I can tell a story about how his music pulled me out of lethargy and depression and it would be true for a dozen different occasions. This is the man who wrote the words "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive." 
He's also the guy who, some thirty-five years ago, would announce from the stage, "Remember: In the end, nobody wins unless we all win." That reminder is a precise encapsulation of the problem in which our country is currently mired. Or like he said in this intro to the cover of Edwin Starr's War: "Because in 1985, blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed."
Which has always been kind of a theme of the Trump regime. Blind faith. My eyes are open and so is my heart. There is nothing little about Bruce Springsteen. Or his fans. And if the guy who managed to drive his New Jersey casinos into bankruptcy was curious, we don't need him. At all.  Not even a little. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Days Are Just Packed

I used to wonder about how The President of the United States could find time to do things like pardon Thanksgiving turkeys and show up to graduations and commencements. The personal appearance type of thing. Of course, this sends my mind tumbling back to the morning of September, 11 2001 when then President and personal friend of Ellen DeGeneres George W was caught reading The Pet Goat while America was under attack. Oops. There was a sharp drop-off in classroom visits for Mister Bush after that episode.
These days it seems that the current "president" has little else to do but photo ops and Twitter Time. While blathering on social media policy decisions are made in those pockets of time when his thumbs are not otherwise occupied. Abandoning the Kurds? That choice was made between checking out the new White House tennis pavilion and looking up the proper spelling of "hamberders." This gave him just enough time to toss off a pithy remark about how "they didn't help us with Normandy." A reference the "president" cribbed from right wing columnist Kurt Schlichter. Leaving many of us to scratch our heads and wonder about this association, but undermining the reality of thousands of Kurds being slaughtered by invading Turkish forces.
Then there's the NBA. As that sports league attempts to deal with the reality of human rights abuses by China, and how to business with a repressive dictatorship, the "president" chose to hop in on the issue. Not by helping to illuminate the democracy protests in Hong Kong or to delineate his administration's position, but by pointing fingers and calling names. Probably still stinging from being turned down by his offer or hamberders to the two time NBA champion Golden State Warrirors, the "president" referred to head coach Steve Kerr as "a little boy" and derided his choice not to speak directly about a topic he admitted he was still trying to understand. Imagine: becoming more informed about an issue before tapping away on your phone something about which you know little or nothing.  “It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.” Mark Twain probably didn't fully anticipate social media at the time, but he was onto something. Or, to quote another author of something more than tweets, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." 

Saturday, October 12, 2019


Be on alert, they tell us, in case we have to shut down power to portions of the city.
Not a riot. Not an earthquake. Pacific Gas and Electric is cutting off electricity to avoid having high tension wires clanging together, throwing off sparks and starting wildfires. Like they did a year ago. Last year, hundreds of thousands of acres burned because of these kind of incidents. This year, not to be caught doing nothing, California's major provider of gas and electric is going to avoid that kind of mess (read: lawsuit). If there's no electricity, you can't blame electricity for the fires, now can you?
Meanwhile, the average consumer is sitting in their comfortable home, watching all this unfold on their big screen TV, with a load of laundry going in the basement, contemplating a trip to the refrigerator to see if there is any leftover birthday cake. What will, what can, they do?
As it turns out, not a lot. They can wait anxiously for an announcement that all is well and the current will not be disrupted. Or they could go out to the local mall and buy up a raft of flashlights, batteries, and coolers full of ice. Charge their cellular devices so that they will have contact with the powers that be if there is a break in the grid. The laundry might have to get hung out on the line. Reading books by candlelight? Sounds romantic.
And if you work at a school? Prepare for "Blackout Procedures." At this point it is important for me to explain the use of quotation marks is that last sentence. Those were the words the school district sent out, but after twenty-three years I can say that I have never been made privy to what precisely is meant by those words. We can keep the kids safe, and happily there will be daylight to watch them. We won't have phones or bells or computers or projectors to make even a shadow puppet. And yet, we have been told that we need to keep our students at school until dismissal. Unless you happen to be the high school up the hill which has cancelled its classes because they don't even want to deal with it. Those are the "Blackout Procedures" as I understand them.
Meanwhile, we all say a prayer for that last bit of ice cream that has been waiting patiently in the freezer for whatever occasion to be finished off. Which may be my own personal Blackout Procedure.

Friday, October 11, 2019


"I think everyone who chooses to stay out of politics(which is your right) should make a mental note of where they would draw the line and feel it necessary to get involved. Then ask yourself, is it possible that point already happened, but it happened too slowly to notice." This sentiment comes from Captain America, or rather the actor who portrayed him on the screen, Chris Evans. It made me wonder once again about how I managed to stay essentially unfettered from politics for a decade and a half. Then it occurs to me, "Hey, weren't you drunk during the Reagan/Bush administrations?"
Not W. I was sober and fussing in those years. I wrote hundreds of blogs, referencing the forty-third president as "Pinhead" almost exclusively. I used this platform to shout in the face of the beast. I cried "foul" when it was and "look out" when I saw bad things coming. I used this little corner of Al Gore's Internet to wave my flag and preach to the choir I had assembled.
And every so often, I would hear back from someone outside the bubble. Much in the same way that I heard from the occasional conservative voice while I was busy extolling the virtues of POTUS #44. And now we have "elected" #45, who seems to be as polarizing an individual as I can remember. Hindsight tells me that we like to remember that Richard Nixon, #37, opened China and helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency. A decade allows me to see a picture of George W. Bush sitting next to Ellen DeGeneres at a Dallas Cowboys football game without launching into a fit of conspiracy theories and suggestions for boycotts of the NFL and all of Ellen's sponsors.
But that doesn't seem to hold the sway it used to.
Not in the face of what confronts us currently. The very basis upon which I believe our country was founded (equality, freedom) is under attack. When I have conversations that turn on the topic of politics because it is uncomfortable, or switch abruptly to the weather, I worry that we may be losing touch with what makes us such a great country. It's not our economy. It's not the Stock Market. It's the way we care for those less fortunate. It's not our won/loss record. It's how we play the game. Right now the deck is stacked against us, and we all have skin in this game.
Don't fall asleep now.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


I have not made a secret about my feelings regarding jury duty. I tend to swing from a mild ambivalence when it comes to my civic duty to the abject fear of being stuck somewhere that I would really rather not be. I suppose a certain percentage of this antipathy arises from a feeling that being called once a year, like clockwork, has left me feeling somewhat persecuted. Add that to the anxiety I bring along to each and every new situation and you've got the makings for some solid paranoia. Yet, when I am called, I respond. Sometimes I ask for a deferral, a delay that makes me feel like the whole matter is somehow under my control. But it's not, really.
Hence my whining. 
Recently I read an article about a young man from West Palm Beach in Florida, who was sentenced to ten days in jail, one hundred fifty hours of community service and told to pay a two hundred twenty-three dollar fine for sleeping through his alarm. The alarm that was set in order to get him to jury duty on time. He was further instructed by the powers that be  to pen a “sincere” apology letter. Deandre Somerville, the youth in question, was supposed to be on a jury for a negligence case linked to a car accident at the end of August. He did not make his appointed seat. He had overslept. His absence caused the trial to be delayed by forty-five minutes. For this, he was sentenced for ten days in jail and a year of probation. That year was later cut to three months and his community service reduced from one hundred fifty hours to thirty. As part of that community service, he has been asked to give a weekly talk at the jury office about why jury duty is so important. 
Outraged yet? 
How about tossing in that Deandre lives with his grandparents and helps take care of his grandfather in addition to his  work with after-school programs for the West Palm Beach parks and recreation department. It would seem he has some prior relationship to public service. Now he has a criminal record. And a weekly gig at the jury office. 
That'll teach him. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Make 'Em Laugh

That couch.
That was all I could think about when my wife first asked me: That couch.
That couch full of drunken, stoned Arby's employees that I had the temerity to assume would be my captive audience. That couch full of blank stares as I launched into what I was sure would be my moment. That couch full of apathy as I attempted to work my comedy magic. That  couch full of an audience that could have cared less for my comic stylings.
I never wanted to stand in front of that couch again. Which is why, when my wife asked if I would do five minutes of comedy before her play at the Oktoberfest celebration up the street from us, I cringed. Normally, I would allow myself to be introduced as "a funny guy." I have even gone so far as to introduce myself as a "semi-professional comedian." I served as the emcee of my son's elementary school variety show for six straight years. I hosted the opening of the grocery store in our neighborhood a while back. I am the guy they hand the megaphone to when my elementary school needs someone to announce the students of the week. I am, as they might say, accustomed to public speaking. I tend to pepper those moments of public speaking with witty banter and amusing anecdotes. I still want to be that funny guy.
Which is why I took the gig. I wrote some notes, ideas for bits that would relate to the setting. German. Beer. Polkas. Beer. I started to build on those notes, crafting a solid five minutes that would not only provide some laughs but also serve as an adequate introduction to the reason everyone was there. I was the opening act. Not the headliner. I mentioned this in my remarks.
"I'm not Van Halen," I told the crowd, "I'm the guy who comes out and plays the accordion before Van Halen."
And I said some other things that the beer-soaked crowd found mildly amusing. I focused on one guy who was sitting three tables back. I saw him laugh. A few times. And best of all, he wasn't sitting on a couch.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

No Crying In Baseball

If, as Billy Beane has suggested, the important thing is to win that last game. Otherwise, people will dismiss us. Billy is the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, a major league team in a minor market. Recently, his team found themselves hosting a wild card game at the start of the Major League Baseball playoffs. The Athletics were humbled by the Tampa Bay Rays, five to one. The mild furor that was built up over the last month of the season about who would end up making it to that game has expired. Now the attention can shift to the front runners. Teams that have stars and marquee value. Baseball fans in Oakland can head home and start dreaming about basketball season.
Except their basketball team has moved on too. The Golden State Warriors have rolled across the Bay Bridge to fancy new digs in San Francisco. No more slummin' it for those guys. And no more sure thing when it comes to winning the last game of the series, with injuries and departures impacting the once super team.
The Oakland Raiders, for one more year, will be paying rent to Alameda County for one more year while they play their last season NFL season in the bay area before skipping off to Las Vegas. Their relative success is currently overshadowed by their personnel challenges. Antonio Brown skipped town just in time to have his big move to New England torpedoed by rape allegations, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been suspended for the rest of the season for an illegal hit on an opposing team's running back.
All of which is to explain my ambivalence when I see the boys at my elementary school hooting and hollering at one another during any and all games they play. Perhaps the biggest disjoint for me comes while watching them tear into one another as they play four square. Getting someone else out elicits a howling and grunting that belies their age and experience. That macho display is only overshadowed by the cries of frustration that erupt when one of them is out and has to return to the end of the line. They won't have to wait for a new season, mind you. Their disappointment lasts only until they reach the front of the line again. But the anguish they endure is palpable.
Which is why I wonder who once suggested that "it's not if you win or lose, it's how you play the game." I don't think that person lived in Oakland.