Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Childhood's End

There is a moment, probably just a wink of time, during which thoughts turn into memories. Some of them don't stick very well, like when we say, "I don't remember saying that," or that other sock. Some of them get stuck way down deep and become the essence of everything that comes after that thought. Like the moment I decided to move to California. It really was just a switch that flipped. There may have been an audible click on that one.
But this past week was different. Up until oh-so-very-recently our son's toys lived in a corner of our basement. On the off chance that he may have needed access to the bits and pieces of his tangible childhood, it would be easy enough to rummage through a pile of boxes and assorted containers to find that thing that was pulled out of Random Access Memory. That access changed when my wife and I pulled all of that stuff through the space that used to be our chimney where it landed in our attic.
Including the Legos.
Those plastic tubs of plastic building blocks were the most significant item not simply because of the weight and volume, but because of the memories associated. Most every birthday, Christmas or occasion that might have been recognized by a gift has a Lego kit connected to it. Each new release of a Star Wars movie. Finally being old enough to take on the really complex models. And the cars. The ones he built right up until the time when his own real car began to overtake his building and repair attentions.
The day that we hauled all those Legos up through the center of our house, we got the news that our son had finally succeeded in putting a new engine into his Toyota Supra. That months-long project culminated at virtually the some moment that all those toys had come to rest in the attic. Just days after he had completed his coursework to become eligible for graduation from college. It is true that he has passed by the line of demarcation defined by his twenty-first birthday, but somehow this was the moment where his adulthood fully descended upon us all.
Not that he won't have access to it all. We didn't set it out on the street for people to pick through. It's up in the attic, for the time when he decides to pull the ladder down and crawl up into the dark to poke through that corner of the attic. The corner that is a four hour drive away. That implies that the newly restored Supra is up to the trip and doesn't require his more immediate attention.
And thoughts.
That will eventually be memories.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Shooting Star

It would be disingenuous to say that my favorite Globetrotter was Curly Neal. That distinction belongs to the late, great Meadowlark Lemon, the Clown Prince of Basketball. Curly was an easy choice for second, and gets extra points for sticking around to trot the globe just a little longer than Meadow. And he could dribble. And spin a ball on his finger. Or his head. Or most any surface. He was a magician with a basketball, especially the red, white and blue versions he and his teammates preferred.
So here's the thing: I would like to believe that I was clever enough to discern, even at an early age, that the games the Harlem Globetrotters played were really fixed exhibitions. The Washington Generals recorded wins in 1954, 1958, and 1971. The several hundred other games they played against their arch rivals, the Harlem Globetrotters, were losses. But the real winners were the crowds who attended these "contests."
A momentary aside: I have had to reckon along with a great many young men about whether or not professional wrestling is real. I tell them that these are tremendous athletes, who are dedicated performers and capable of a great many things. Wrestling, in its most traditional sense, is not one of those things. In this way, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson shared something with Curly Neal (aside from the bald head). In the words of David Letterman, "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is not a competition, only an exhibition. Please, no wagering."
Because you would have to be a fool to bet against Fred Curly Neal and the Harlem Globetrotters. They were athletes of extraordinary talent. Half court hook shot? No problem. Dribbling circles around the competition? Easy. And that water bucket that we're all sure is probably full of confetti? Well, don't be so sure, because you never know.
But you knew that when Curly was on the court, you were going to get a show. So much so that he and the gang were easily transferable to such diverse locations as Peking, tagging along with Scooby and Shaggy, or even a visit to Gilligan's Island. For twenty-two years, Curly Neal amazed us all with his seemingly effortless basketball skill, entertaining millions as he trotted around the globe. Because that's what he did. Curly Neal trotted on the Terra, and dribbled around the globe. He made his final free throw last week at the age of seventy-seven. He will be missed, because he never did.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Heads Up

It was more than twenty years ago when we had a global panic. Some of you may remember Y2K. When the calendar flipped from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000 there were plenty of folks who were certain it would be catastrophic. The power grid would fail. Banks would lose every scrap of data. Microwaves would no longer have a popcorn setting. Armageddon times. 
Some people responded by purchasing duct tape and plastic sheeting. Some hoarded food. Some bought as much toilet paper as they could find. It was a frightening time. But let's push that clock back a couple years. Back in July, 1998, President Bill Clinton announced legislation that would guarantee that businesses sharing information about Y2K cannot be held liable if the information turns out to be inaccurate and a national campaign to promote partnership between industry groups and government agencies; and a job bank to help fill the need for programmers and information technology experts. This meant, essentially, that all that code for all those systems (even the microwaves) had to be checked to see if they would fail when all of a sudden that hundreds place began to matter again. Would we all be sent back to 1900 to pick up the pieces? Would there be any pieces left to pick up?
As it turned out. No. There weren't any major glitches. Not even the popcorn setting. We awoke to a new millennium, and things were pretty much as we left them. Phones worked. I know because I tested mine. I also turned on my computer. No sparks or noxious gas. I took this as reassuring. 
By the afternoon of January 1, 2000 we had all had a good laugh and began to make plans for eating all those cans of tuna we had stored under the house. 
Admittedly, we did not have two years' runup to the outbreak of COVID-19. There were those in the epidemiology field who warned us that it was only a matter of time that something like this could happen. But we waited. The "president" kept brushing aside fears of a pandemic, preferring instead to tout his stock market and any other numbers he found discouraging. Even now, as the virus races across our planet and people are dying, he wants to turn back the clock and get us all back to work. What a horrible shame that we didn't do the work we needed to back then. Suddenly I am reminded of a scene from Ghostbusters when Bill Murray is trying to sell the Mayor of New York on the idea that he could really use some ghost busting. The Mayor is skeptical, but Bill reassures him: "If we're wrong, then nothing happens. We'll go to jail. Peacefully. Quietly. We'll enjoy it. But if we're right, and we can stop this thing... Lenny... you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters."
Ghostbusters was released in 1984. How about that for fair warning? 

Saturday, March 28, 2020


In the very dark basement of a bunch of shops across from the University of Colorado, there was a place where kids could go and drink beer. And dance.
That second part wasn't necessarily the feature I was after when I first made my way down the stairs into Pogo's. It was the cheap beer. Or what seemed like cheap beer to me. I suppose the fact that they advertised their pitchers as a bargain at a dollar apiece. It also made accounting pretty mindless. If I went in with ten dollars, I was pretty sure that I would weave by the time I walked out.
But first I would dance.
Somewhere in the haze of that fourth pitcher of Coors Light, the deflector shields of my inhibitions lowered to the point where the music that poured into the club from speakers that were far too large to be in anyone's basement took hold. Initially, I made the casual but fatal mistake of asking girls that I did not know to dance with me. Later I discovered that bringing along a group of friends, some of whom were girls, I could avoid this sloppy interpersonal connection and assume that one of them would probably be willing to sacrifice their dignity for the sake of a twirl across the floor with your truly. Not that there were lots of eyes on individuals there. In the cellar named Pogo's, there wasn't enough light or distance between sweaty bodies to discern who was making a fool out of whom.
I knew.
I was the one flailing around in my own hysteric tribute to Elwood Blues and David Byrne. I was the one who was not making scene so much as creating one. Not that anyone else seemed to care. I was just one of the herd of hungry drunk boys, shaking what might have been loosely defined as "my groove thing."
This went on for several years. Eventually two things happened to affect the course of events: I stopped drinking, and Pogo's the new wave dance club became Ground Zero the goth and industrial music club. One night, for old time's sake, I went down those stairs with some friends who were a shade younger than I. A whole new generation to embarrass.
Except I wasn't drinking. I was moved by the swirling sounds of The Cure and Ministry to toss my body around in many of the same ways I had when it was Thomas Dolby and Billy Idol, only now there was some thought behind it. Not a lot, but I was no longer simply acting out the videos I had seen on MTV. I had new inspiration, like the African Dance class my friend was taking. And the dance floor was never quite so crowded, leaving me to work up a sweat all on my own. There was no need for a partner. A partner would just get in the way. There were plenty of times that I had to floor to myself. The same black and white floor that had been filled with undergrads dancing to Rock Lobster by the B-52s was now a relatively vast expanse for people like me to thrash out their inner demons.
And it was this place where my future wife and I descended some twenty-eight years ago. I proceeded to do my thing and she stared in wonder. She had no idea I could dance. Well, maybe a little, but it put her in mind of how we might even find ourselves going out on the weekends to dance clubs and tripping the light fantastic.
Which isn't exactly what happened. I got older. I became a husband and then a father, and my dancing days fell behind me. But every so often, when the mood strikes me or I have that cheap beer flashback that everyone warned me about, I get up and move.
It's not a pretty sight, but it's all mine.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Full Stop

Growing up in Boulder, Colorado I was the recipient of a very open worldview. It was what a lot of folks got from living in a college town in the seventies. It was easy to be a left-wing nutjob because so many of those who surrounded me were left-wing nutjobs as well. Encountering racism or classicism was fearful for me as a burgeoning liberal. I was provided with a very solid sense that one helped his neighbor because it was the right thing to do. Not because there was a profit in it. Because it was the right thing to do.
So here I am some fifty years later, wondering how to cope with a government that seems intrinsically motivated by a bottom line. The Bottom Line, as in a financial ledger. A government that is happy to let deficits balloon while the stock market soars. Them that gots gots lots and them that don't don't. As we shrieked and cried at the mention of socialism, we rode that bull market right into the wall called pandemic.
Real life descended upon the party that was taking place at country clubs across the country. There was no insulation for this calamity. Except for money. It should be noted that we are updated regularly about the rich and famous who have been tested for COVID-19. Those most susceptible, the ones who cannot shelter in place because they have no shelter, are the ones who will most likely die without ever being diagnosed.
Meanwhile, senators who have the security of a job and a place to go when things go crazy, argue over the details of who gets what and how much of a bailout. With the emphasis always on keeping our economy afloat. This representative democracy runs on dollars, after all. According to some, we've all had plenty of time to suck up all the quarantine we need and it's time to get back to the work that makes the engine run.
Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick announced the other day, “No one reached out to me and said, ‘as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in. And that doesn't make me noble or brave or anything like that. I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me... that what we care about and what we love more than anything are those children." Noble? Brave? No. That makes you a sociopath. So invested in the notion of the United States as the land of those who can afford it that he is willing to let a generation die to jumpstart an economy that was tearing at the seams before anyone got sick. 
The left-wing nutjob that grew up to be an elementary school teacher marvels at those who are taking the time and energy to reach out to their neighbors young and old. I am gratified by the millions of dollars shoved down into the places where it is needed most from those who can afford to. The heroes are the ones who are listening to the doctors and scientists, waiting until it's safe to go out and be a good capitalist again. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

They Killed Kenny

It wasn't the carnivorous rats. Or the toxic waste. Or any of the myriad of painful deaths visited upon Kenny from South Park, Colorado. This was Kenny Rogers from Hitsville, USA and he died from cancer.
Kenny won't be getting the crowded memorial service that he might have if not for the current state of the world. Mourning will have to be done in the relative calm and safety of our homes. Mister Rogers, the one with the beard, will be remembered for all the music he put into the world. He will also be remembered, much to everyone's chagrin, as a Gambler. It took just moments from the announcement of Kenny's passing before Twitter and other online outlets began to suggest that he knew when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Inevitably, it was time for him to walk away because he could no longer run. He was a presence on the American music scene beyond that, and upon reflection I would like to share my own Kenny Rogers experience.
It was his time in The First Edition that sparked my interest. This was back when he was known affectionately by the group as Hippie Kenny. It could be argued that even back then, in the late sixties, Kenny and his group was heading into territory known as Country. The First Edition was spawned from creatively stifled former members of The New Christy Minstrels. Hard to imagine that anyone would feel creatively stifled in The New Christy Minstrels, but shortly after departing that group, the newly-formed First Edition put out a track called "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." It was a hit, but for me it never reached its full artistic vision until it was included in the Coen Brothers' film, The Big Lebowski.
Oh, I know that there were herds of hits that came in the wake of that one, from Mel Tillis' "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love To Town)" to "Something's Burning" to "Tell It All Brother." And this was before 1971 and Kenny's solo career began. There would be time enough for gambling and islands in the streams and duets and TV movies, but these earliest tunes are the ones that stick with me. And from my quarantine I will be playing tribute to Kenny and those early days. He stomped on the Terra and he will be missed.
Aloha, Kenny.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Denial, Anger - Wake Me Up When We Get To Acceptance

It was about the time I watched the video of the "president" haranguing Peter Alexander from NBC. His Royal Highness called Mister Alexander a "terrible reporter" because he deigned to ask him what we should be telling all the Americans who are afraid. That's when I got angry. Not at poor Peter Alexander, who looked shocked and hurt by the personal attack, but at the COVIDIOT in charge. Not because he had a tough week and was showing signs of the stress that has to be felt across the globe currently, but because at this moment in history, he was responding in exactly the way he has been responding since he took office: By taking exception at anything that doesn't fall in line with his dictatorial vision of the world.
We have a game show host in charge of a planet being overrun by a virus that is killing people. Humans. Not Chinese. Not Americans. Not black or white or any specific group. Humans. His once vaunted economy is in the toilet, and the only people who seem to have been able to make lemonade out of that toilet water were the senators who dumped their stock weeks before the real panic started. Republicans and Democrats, padding their quarantine nests in what may be the most grotesque examples of insider trading imaginable.
And all the while, the bankrupt casino owner continues to drone on from his podium, addressing the press who have to sit six feet apart to observe social distancing guidelines, but all the while making themselves easier targets. Meanwhile, the bloated sack of protoplasm that keeps trying to assure us that all is well lies. He tells us that tests are available. They are not. He tells us that there are drugs that can be taken to ward off the infection. There are not. Starting back in January when he wanted us all to believe that he had things under control: "And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
Everything is most decidedly not fine, and the COVIDIOT in chief continues his time-honored tradition of destroying everything he touches: businesses, marriages, countries. As he completed his news conference at the expense of Peter Alexander, T-Rump insisted, “That’s really bad reporting, you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I’ve been right a lot.”
A lot?
I suppose that's for us to decide. While we shelter in place from "the latest Democratic hoax."

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

You Should Be Dancing

I have been playing a lot of games with myself over the past week. I chastise myself for using toilet paper, as is my custom, for blowing my nose. And each time I do, aside from the guilt I feel for depriving my household of a commodity that will eventually become legal tender, I am certain that I am feeling the very first wave of symptoms. You know the ones. The ones that signal death is right outside the door.
Then there's the ever-present counter in my brain that ticks off each incidence of face touching. I am someone who prides himself on not feeling self-conscious, but I have a lot of face. It goes all the way from my chin up and over to the back of my neck. It's a lot of real estate, and again I am certain that the last time I rub my eyes will be the last time I rub my eyes.
But I wake up the next morning, feeling the lethargy associated with being cooped up in our coop together, and I look for distractions that don't necessarily involve Al Gore's Internet. I have been going on a run or a walk each day. Keep breathing. Keep moving. On some of those walks, my wife comes along because we are each other's best entertainment.
Did I mention that my wife is a Zumba instructor? Certified.
So one morning, rather than fretting over toilet paper or face touching, I asked if she wouldn't mind leading a private class in our living room. As long as I could pick the music. If I was going to do this thing, I wanted it to be an experience that felt in some way familiar.
So we moved the coffee table out of the living room, and dialed up my custom playlist. I stood across the rug from my wife as she started in, with a little warm-up, then right into the choreography of exercise. As I attempted to mirror her box steps and kick turns, I waved my hands tentatively because I felt hopelessly out of my depth. But every so often, I would turn around and find we were moving in unison, and there was a sparkle of joy. Something had been missing from our initial days of internment. Dancing. As if no one was looking.

Monday, March 23, 2020

To The Future Through The Past

Remember a week ago?
When there was toilet paper?
I had this feeling as kids were streaming out the front gate of our school. It was something like fear, or concern, or anxiety. I was nervous. Because I had no idea what we were sending them out into. A world of shelter in place. When we sent all those children home for what we figured was an extended Spring Break we had two hours to prepare work for them to stuff into their backpacks and smiles for our parents as we handed them over. "See you in three weeks." We did this without any real reckoning for what that might mean.
A week ago, I figured I would be showing up and working in my room, dealing with all those little projects that I had put off for one reason or another. If that other reason was the business of teaching and managing a few hundred kids. Suddenly I was presented with an opportunity to inventory and repair, tasks that generally get squeezed into bite-size morsels between other responsibilities.
That was before the custodial staff was sent home and we all went home to the distance currently described as "social." Safe. Secure.
Then came the business of busy-ness. Attempting to remain on task while so much of the rest of the world seemed to be off doing all that binge-buying of toilet paper. I sat in front of my computer trying to figure out how to bring all those kids back to virtual school when they could be playing anything inside or outside. Maybe the nut I was trying to crack was getting parents to corral their kids back to the infotainment realm of educational websites. In the back of my mind, I considered how often I had to redirect students when they were only feet away from me. I wondered how much patience our parents and caregivers would have in this endeavor.
And that made me tired. While I waited for new email and texts to push me in new directions, I stuck with what I knew: If you build it, they will come. That works for a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield. Why wouldn't it work for a school web page?
So we wait. A week later, things feel a little less focused and a little more dire. We are all learning now. Not just about math and viruses, but about each other. What happens next?
I don't know.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Upside Of Down

Kids will play more violent video games.
Kids will read more books.
You can't buy toilet paper anywhere.
Dolphins are swimming in the canals of Venice.
We are stuck inside.
We will all read more books.
We feel isolated.
We have impossible capacities to connect.
Being inside is boring.
We could all stand to be a little bored now and again.
Social distance is difficult to enforce.
We'll all know how far six feet is.
Stuck in the house with the same person for weeks.
All those chances to fall in love again.
The air is full of germs.
The air is free from airplanes.
No more movies.
Lots more Netflix.
The fear of running out of food.
A chance to eat that can of Dinty Moore stew.
Time to worry.
Time to survive.
Like the man said:
It's the end of the world as we know it
and I feel fine.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Model Citizen

Back into the way back machine. This time we're going back to a place where model airplanes used to hang from strings that hung just above my head. In my room, there was a constant but ever-changing squadron of scale fighters, bombers and cargo planes. I built a few PBF Avengers. The reason I took a few swings at this particular kit was because the torpedo bay doors in their belly had a tiny pin that had a habit of snapping off whenever I tried to squeeze it into place. That meant that the real-life action of being able to open and close was diminished in my world. It would have been just as simple to complete the model and leave the doors glued shut. But I would know.
So I enlisted the talents of my older brother, who had a knack for such things. He suggested that we cut a tiny bit off a paper clip that cold then be heated on our kitchen stove to a point that it could be melted into a facsimile of the broken pin. A painstaking operation, this, as it required needle nose pliers, oven mitts and a steady hand. That last bit kept me out of performing the actual task. My older brother, with a four year lead on me in the ways of melting plastic appeared as a qualified expert.
As I have suggested previously, that first try did not go so well. The pin was overheated and turned the corner of the torpedo bay door into a charred blob of slag. A second attempt only made matters worse. This PBF Avenger was not going to be operational from the standpoint of delivering anything but a make believe payload. With a big unsightly bulge that could not be hidden by a coat of paint. Which meant it was quickly in line for the Friday night fire.
On those Friday evenings that my parents went out to dinner without us boys, once we had consumed the next best thing to mom's good cooking in foil trays, we would head out to the back yard to sacrifice one of our plastic models to the gods. Which gods I cannot be entirely sure, but the mess that it made was just this side of unholy. Once the plane, tank or car had been reduced to an indistinguishable black puddle of goo, we waited for it to cool. Then we heaved it over the fence into the vacant lot behind us.
Once my initial PBF Avenger had made that leap into history, I was ready to buy a new kit. I was more cautious than usual as I popped the pieces from their sprues, filing down any stray bits of excess plastic. Except for the part when I was taking that one torpedo bay door off and left the pin attached to the tree from whence it came.
I breathed deep. I found my older brother. He was ready for a chance to redeem himself. This time, the operation was a success, and that little bit of paper clip fused neatly in the place of my mistake. Assembling the rest of the model was a breeze by comparison, and when everything was dry and complete, I presented it for inspection to my friends. The tiniest flick on the doors allowed the plastic torpedo to drop to the ground. Just like real life.
My friends were not impressed. They had moved on. They wondered why I had bothered to waste my time building another PBF Avenger.
By the end of the next week, it had become another hunk of burned plastic in the vacant lot.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Storm Front

Maybe now would be a good time to reflect:
A long time ago, when I lived in Colorado, I was helping out at my mother's house. She was away, so I had the place to myself. I was hanging blinds in her sewing room. This was the room which had been mine before the great shift, the one that moved me downstairs and bumped my younger brother into this, the eventual sewing room. Standing on a stool, working with a little screwdriver and even smaller screws, I was attempting to get a little plastic box to stay in the corner of the window so that I could eventually hang blinds across where curtains used to hang.
I was looking at my task, and for a moment I looked away to refocus my tired eyes. Looking out to the east, I saw something I had never seen before. I saw purple clouds. Not the dusky gray kind that accompany a sunset. These were the color of a bruise. A very deep bruise that would take some time to heal. I had seen bruises like that, but not clouds.
In Colorado, we are used to afternoon thunderstorms. This was not what I was witnessing. Maybe it was hail? But as I stood there, screwdriver in my hand, one side of the blind hanging barely moored to the window frame, the purple deepened again. A finger began to point down from the cloud, pulling a cone behind it.
I was watching a tornado form.
Which was impossible.
I had grown up here at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with the certainty that no tornado could form this close to the Continental Divide. Sure, we had our share of wind, the kind that Native Americans called Chinooks, "snow eaters." There was no snow to eat. And those winds were almost always of the west to east variety. This protuberance from the sky was coming from the east.
And moving toward me.
What could I do? I thought of Dorothy Gale heading for the storm cellar in Kansas. I could go to the basement. But I stood there. Transfixed.
Until a sound broke my trance. It was a civil defense siren. A sound I had only heard in conjunction with tests, but now it was doing its job, telling me to stop what I was doing (staring dumbly out the window at a tornado forming) and head for cover.
About an hour later, my mom returned from wherever she had been. She was surprised to find me in the basement. None of the basement windows needed blinds. I asked her if she had heard the sirens. She told me she had not, but pleasantly stopped just short of mocking my terror. When I walked up the stairs, I could see that it had rained, but damp pavement wasn't the wreckage for which I had been preparing.
The storm had passed. It was time to get back to my chore. Keeping an eye out to the east nonetheless. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020


I am glad that I have taken the time to build a little nest for myself and my family. There are lots of books and movies and plenty of music to wile away the hours and days and weeks ahead. Stay home? I do that all the time.
Of course, now that someone is telling me to do just that, I can't help but feel that I am missing something.
Am I?
When I look out the window, I see a few brave souls making their way this way and that. I see cars on the street. But not many.
I keep saying that this reminds me of September 11, but there was some smug safety in being located on the west coast when all that horribleness was happening back east.
That's not the case right now. The virus is everywhere. As viruses are. What continues to astound me and apparently most everyone else is the way it continues to spread.
And now I find myself remembering that tent where I read Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain. I snuggled into my sleeping bag and read by flashlight. About this disease that came to earth via satellite. About the scientists who worked for Project Wildfire. The ones searching for a cure before time ran out and the whole mess had to be destroyed by an atomic bomb. No cure, no nothing. Stop the thing dead in its tracks.
Before it spread to the rest of the world.
Where would we drop the bomb now? What is our Fail Safe? Social distancing?
Shelter in place?
Stay home.
When I was a kid, my parents never grounded me. This was partly because I was a pretty decent child who tended not to need that kind of intervention. It was also because they knew that I would be just as happy to be locked away in my room with my books and stereo and toys. Add a TV to that recipe and I could hold out for days. Weeks. Months?
Sooner or later, however, even I get tired of my own rut. I look to go out if only to have the chance to return. Because that's the trick, after all: Having someplace to be able to come home to.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Getting To Know You

Today in our studios I would like to welcome COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.
"Thank you for having me. But please, call me CV."
Well, okay CV, you'll excuse me if I don't shake hands.
"You'll excuse me if I don't have any hands."
Good point. You're quite the celebrity these days.
"Oh, I don't know about that. I'm just doing my job."
Oh? And what job is that?
"Infecting. Look, there's plenty of other hard-working viruses out there, I just happen to be riding a wave of pandemic."
A wave of fear, you mean.
"Funny you should mention that. An associate of mine, polio, once infected a guy named Franklin Roosevelt, and he said..."
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
"Right. But I guess you're probably afraid of spiders?"
"And snakes?"
Some of them.
"Nature. We germs are just smaller. Assigning some sort of intent to our existence is pretty ridiculous."
Humans can be pretty ridiculous. Sometimes.
"But you're always easy prey."
Pardon me?
"You know: The way you crowd together, standing in line to get your half-caff lattes and pick stuff up on the floor. Not to mention the way you wait until the last possible moment to take precautions."
You mean like sneezing into our sleeves, washing our hands?
"Sure. That's cute. And buying all that toilet paper. That'll save lives."
Like I said. Pretty ridiculous sometimes.
"And flying around in vacuum sealed tubes full of recycled air. What did you think was going to happen?"
I don't really know. Why are you here?
"As if we had any intent in all of this. Maybe we're just part of thinning the herd."
That's pretty harsh.
No more than what a fistful of Purell will do to a few million of us. Survival of the fittest?
"If that makes you feel better."
At this point, I guess we'll all take what we can get in that realm.
"It's nothing personal. I assure you."
Again. Very comforting.
"That's not my job."
"That's yours."
"Everything will be fine. Eventually."
"But be prepared for the new normal."
Okay then.
"Sorry, I can't stick around. Very busy these days you know."
You'll forgive me if I don't see you out.
"No worries. I'll be gone in about two to three days."
I think I'm going to go wash my hands.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Game Over, Man

Last week, there was an event that got a little lost in the shuffle of politics and viruses and the politics of viruses: My son finished college. Finished. Complete. Ended. Concluded. Done.
I remember his last day of preschool. He walked the bridge in the playground, setting up a date with elementary school. I was in the audience to watch him be promoted from the fifth grade. This time it was the auditorium, not the playground where another page was turned. It was shorter stay in middle school, but when it came time to drive downtown to the Scottish Rite Temple, I sat in the balcony to watch my son be moved on up to high school. Soon enough it was time to head back downtown, this time to the Paramount Theater, where commencement commenced and he had suddenly become eligible to attend the college of his choice.
That was where he has been for the past four years and change. Because of the vagaries of the quarter system and the way that credits stack up in undergraduate education, he finds himself being eligible for graduation a few months ahead of the ceremony that will seal the deal. There will most likely be a cap and gown involved at some point. A band might play. There could be confetti and ribbons and balloons.
But it was the contented sigh that I heard on the other end of the phone line that felt like the celebration. "So, you're all done?" I asked.
That's where the sigh came in. He went on to describe the loose ends he still needed to tie up on a couple of projects, and then the conversation moved on abruptly to what was for dinner and the evening ahead. There were no fireworks. Just a pending appointment with a microwave.
But he did it. Pre-K through BA in just under twenty-one years. If you add in the time he was hanging around our house getting ready to attend school, then he's just about twenty-three years into this voyage, and though I am certain that he will be a lifelong learner he will be happy to take a break from institutionalized education.
His mother and I can stop fretting about report cards and tuition. We can start looking forward to the job search and beginning of the next chapter.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Elephant Virus In The Living Room

What shall we talk about today?
In a flurry that took hardened cynic, yours truly, off guard things shifted mightily over the past few days. The news of the National Basketball Association closing up shop came fast on the heels of the alert that told us that Tom Hanks and his wife had tested positive for the dread disease. The one we call Coronavirus. Or Novel Coronavirus. Or COVID-19. But we don't call it Captain Trips. The author has requested that we leave his intellectual property in the fiction realm.
What isn't fiction anymore is the domino effect of response. After the NBA announced it was shutting down, the college basketball tournament realized that it would be, in fact, March Madness to gather all those kids and their fans across the country to tempt fate. And the virus that shall not be named. Then they closed Disneyland.
That broke my heart.
But the thought of all those thousands upon thousands of Mouskateers dropping their infected churro waste and clinging desperately to the safety bars in Space Mountain suddenly became too much for even the happiest place on earth to bear. Where can we go to escape the coughing and fear?
Baseball pulled the plug on their spring training. The Major Leagues went dark, leaving us with slim to none in the spectator sports realm. Even the National Hockey League figured it should follow suit, perhaps because germs last longer on ice. Or something like that.
Meanwhile, we can all keep track of the various and sundry ways that misinformation can spread as we stand in line to discover that the toilet paper is gone. Which makes me wonder who is wrapping themselves in toilet paper to keep themselves free of contagion. I find myself obsessed with the concern for touching my own face, realizing that I am constantly touching my own face and try as I might I cannot stop touching my own face.
And all the while I keep wondering when the guys in hazmat suits will show up with tarps and biological hazard tape to enclose me in whatever building I happen to find myself when the really bad stuff goes down.
How 'bout those Mets?
Oh. Yeah.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Just Another Day

"Mister Caven, are you with students right now?"
When that call came over my walkie-talkie, I knew there would be trouble for someone. More often than not, this is how I get requests from someone, a staff member who is not available to step out from whatever task they are performing to deal with a mischievous or recalcitrant student who needs redirection to or from wherever they shouldn't be to wherever they should be. On rare occasions, it is a question that can only be answered by me: the tech guy, the playground guy, the guy who sees the school from sunup to sundown. In general, these are not happy calls.
But I take them, because it's my job.
At the moment this particular call came last week, I was with students. A room full of them, and we had just begun diving into that day's computer lesson. The call from the office repeated on the radio, and sensing the urgency in our admin assistant's voice, I stepped into the hall to answer. "Yes, I am with students -" I started but the response came back abruptly. "I'm sending someone over to cover your class."
When I looked up, there she was. Our Unconditional Education coach was ready to leap into the fray as I heard the word "lockdown" for the first time that day. I had heard it before, mostly in the context of drills or discussion of proper protocol, but I had also been part of a few real life versions of those best laid plans. Which is why I left the class of fourth and fifth graders in the capable hands of my colleague and started down the hall, sticking my head into classrooms and discretely announcing to teachers that "Horace Mann is in the building." A few were slow on the uptake, but once the flash of recognition came across their faces, I closed the door behind me, locking it as I went. After all eleven classrooms had been notified, I was gratified to see that staff members had contacted our coach and had that class return to their classroom while children taking lazy morning bathroom breaks were hurried back to their shelter in this storm.
Then, for thirty anxious minutes, I paced the hallway downstairs, ready to turn back any loud protestations of "but I gotta use it!" If they were going to go, they were going escorted and hurried back. Quietly.
We were on lockdown.
During one of those quiet, tense moments, I passed an empty classroom with a view of the street outside. Four police cars and a SWAT van sat in the intersection in front of our school. I texted my wife. To let her know. To share my experience with someone. And I tried not to think about all the ways that the day could go so horribly wrong.
Forty minutes later, it was over. Authorities had collected the neighbor with a toy gun who had been threatening anyone who would listen, and the doors were unlocked. Children went outside for recess. It took me another half hour to remember to text my wife back that we were "all clear."
I went back to my students.
Another day in elementary education. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

This Town Is Comin' Like A Ghost Town

My wife brought home pictures from her trip to San Antonio showing a convention center that was deserted. Yes, there were many hearty souls who dared the restricted air space that has become our country, but not enough to fill what was known conventionally as a "convention." Presidential candidates, in the heat of a tightly contested run for the White House, are cancelling rallies. Gatherings of more than fifty people are being curtailed or switched to online presence as concern for everyone's health and safety mounts.
It's a difficult time to remain optimistic, even as our "president" stands in the middle of the metaphorical sidewalk like Chip Diller screaming, "All is well" at the top of his lungs. All is not well. And yet, our "president" is announcing more rallies to promote his campaign. This coming from a very stable genius who believes that COVID-19 is "their new hoax" and will just "go away." Don't hold your breath. Or maybe you should, especially if you're in a confined space with a herd of strangers.
I don't think I could hold my breath for an entire Pearl Jam concert. Which is why the band from Seattle postponed the first leg of their tour, including the April show that I had been lucky enough to score tickets well in advance. From their letter to fans: "We have and will always keep the safety and well-being of our supporters as top priority." This might be some sort of revelation for those of you who had not already assumed that these grunge pioneers lean to the Democratic side of things. Hard-leaning, if not toppling all the way over. 
Meanwhile, author of several apocalyptic novels, Stephen King has taken to social media to remind us all that he is not responsible for the coronavirus"It's not anywhere near as serious. It's eminently survivable. Keep calm and take all reasonable precautions." 
Sure Steve. That's what they want us to believe. The bad guys who are gathering in Las Vegas. The ones who got hold of your Twitter account. Sure. "It's only a story." 
It's just the flu. 
It'll go away. 
Be safe. 
All is well. 

Friday, March 13, 2020


I'm happy that we all made it through another day
When I pick up the phone I still remember what to say - Danny Elfman "Happy"
A few mornings back, my wife came into the room and announced that she was happy to be home. And it struck me: I don't tend to talk very often in terms of happy. Not that I am not fully capable of being happy, but it is not the part of my life and its story that I tend to share.
I am not a glass half-empty kind of guy. Nor am I a half-full fellow. I am the kind of person who invariably wishes for a different sized glass. I am looking for a way to discuss the myriad of mood fluctuations in some clever, little used way. Historically, this tends to leave me in a ditch known as sarcasm. This can tend to put me at odds with those who reply to the question, "How are you?" with the grinning response, "Blessed."
To get this out of the way early on, I carry no animosity to these people and their outlook. On the contrary: I find their wide-eyed optimism fascinating, since to my mind I am always looking for the reason to feel cursed. Which is a little odd given the relatively torment-free existence I have led. Have I experienced loss and grief? Yes, but no more than a cross-section of my peers. By contrast, I have had buckets of joy and good fortune. A childhood full of stories and trials that made me who I am today. Teenage years that had me driving my own car and eventually getting into the college that was more or less my choice. Friends that kept me company along that path, most of whom I continue to interact with after all these years have pushed me to the brink of joining the AARP. If I were simply to pluck those moments when I was singing along with Bruce Springsteen while he and the E Street Band played their hearts out in front of me, this would be a happy man.
But I am prone to lifting up those rocks that show up on my path, and peering beneath. I want to see the bugs and worms that squirm just below the surface. I do this on a regular basis rather than turn my gaze to the sun in the sky. The sun that beats down upon me and will eventually give me skin cancer.
Not because I am truly miserable, but because I have found that this is the perspective that elicits a laugh. Which is terribly ironic, since mining pain is the thing that I choose to elicit joy in others.
And perhaps this is the art that I pursue. Something akin to Picasso's assertion that "to create we must destroy." Which may explain how all those ladies ended up with noses on their foreheads, but also why I am no more content that when I make someone chuckle through their tears. Laugh til I cried. Cried til I laughed. It's all a continuum. I'm the guy over on this end, kicking at the edge of the envelope. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Another Pitch

The long-awaited sequel to Space Jam is finally going to be released in July of 2021. Nerds and basketball fans, rejoice. For those of you uninitiated, the original told the story of how Michael Jordan and a bunch of Warner Brothers cartoon characters saved our world by playing a game of basketball. So, if the chips were down, who else would you want on your team? Bugs, Daffy and his Air-ness took care of the monsters and sent them packing. But in a world where curiosity and finances dictate that potential for additional money being made by wringing a clever notions dry by adding another chapter, Space Jam 2.
This one has LeBron James.
The rest pretty much writes itself, right?
That's why I have suggested a new spin: Make it football this time. The toons go in search of the best football player of all time to help them defeat the team of nasty beasts from another dimension. After a humorous and hijinks-infused first act, they settle on none other than Tom Brady, free agent quarterback. Tom leads the toons to a last-minute victory in the fourth quarter of the Galactic Bowl, ensuring the prosperity of the earth and its inhabitants, animated or not.
Yes. I understand that the casting of Tom Brady suggests a certain compromise to my general approach to that which takes place on the gridiron. However, I think you would agree that having Tom Brady under center (I'm looking at you, Foghorn Leghorn) gives us the best chance against an alien force of potentially superior size and strength. Tom has won a fistful of Super Bowls, and he has a trunkload of trophies and records that assure him a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame. Many have mentioned him as perhaps the GOAT, the Greatest of All Time.
Aside from me, I anticipate that Mister Brady will be a polarizing presence. But in this case, I can only suggest that the potential for seeing Touchdown Tommy get torn limb from limb by gargantuan beasts with razor sharp teeth may bring that disparate element to the theater as well. Plenty of fans tune in just to watch Tom Brady lose.
But I wouldn't bet against him. He's been on too many winning teams.
Which is pretty much the way I feel about Joe Biden. So maybe I should start over. Or just plug in Biden for Brady and make the whole thing an election instead of a football game.
Like I said: It writes itself.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Come Aboard, We're Expecting You

Over the weekend, plans were announced to have the folks on board disembark into Oakland. The Grand Princess, with her three thousand five hundred passengers, was supposed to land at its home harbor of San Francisco on Saturday morning, but conditions would not allow. Not weather or other navigation trouble. This was a group of tourists stranded because of an outbreak of the coronavirus. Last week, California Air National Guard troopers were lowered down onto the ship to test those that had showed signs of having contracted the dread disease. Nineteen crew members and two passengers tested positive.
So they weren't allowed to land in San Francisco. Instead, the powers that be directed the Grand Princess all aboard across the bay where passengers would get off the boat. The sick ones would be taken into isolation while the others would figure out what to do next. While they were waiting for that directive, they had been told they could have lunch at any of the fine eating establishments on board. Then they were told to return to their cabins and not leave until given further instructions. News of the outside world trickled in anyway. No one jumped ship. There was no mutiny. There was no shuffleboard on the Lido Deck. Their last port of call was Oakland.
Why not San Francisco? Twelve miles away? How about room service? Free Internet? How about Oakland? And once you get there, you might not get off right away. Instead, you can feel free to stick around for more of that good food and free calls to those on the shore. While the Grand Princess sits offshore, its legacy of plague ship growing by the day. Many cruise passengers are elderly, and sure enough, when dropped into a floating bathtub of germs, several of them have become ill. Quarantine ill. Gravely ill.
San Francisco has banned all non-essential gatherings of more than fifty people for the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the Grand Princess will drop anchor at a closed dock just down the street from me. A charter school here was closed last week as administrators took "a conservative approach" to containing a possible outbreak. Better to be safe than sorry. Or on a cruise ship.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Stolen Moments

In two years, I will have lived in Oakland as long as I lived in Boulder. Thirty years. Half my life in one place, half my life in another. It seems profound to me. A mile marker of some sort. Halfway.
Which is odd, since so many of my memories come from the front end. Even more interesting to me is that there is no way that I can remember all of those first year or two. Not really. I have something in there that I want to believe is watching the funeral of John F. Kennedy. In my parents' basement. It was dark. And scary.
A lot of those early memories are dark and scary. That may have something to do with the way they stack up in my head. Dark and scary tends to overwhelm monotony. Not in all facets. I am a big fan of ruts. But ruts don't tend to be very memorable after they've become ruts. In those early days, so many things were fresh and new that it was easy to impress a little whippersnapper like myself. First day at school? Check. First trip to Disneyland? Roger that. Well, sort of. There were plenty of first days of school, and more than one trip to Disneyland. Some of those oh-so-vivid rememberings are amalgams of patterns that overlapped and became family stories. Tales that were attached to photos or home movies and repeated endlessly at gatherings of the clan.
That kind of reverie doesn't exist as much for my life in California. That sort of stuff is the designated providence of my son's world. It is his life that unfolds during my Golden State chapters. So much of what I can't forget about the last three decades are my son's memories. His first day of school. His first trip to Disneyland. We have photos and video to seal that deal. The part where I got married after I moved out here is that piece that makes everything else spin in a California way. But of course, we did get married in that Rocky Mountain Way, so all that mile high energy put us on a path to lead us into making things that we can all remember in dreams.
So what will happen in the next chunk? Whose memories will we be generating then? Time will tell. Stories. Lots more stories.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Meet Me In Boulder

It worked out well for me to have a ravenous appetite for the books of Stephen King while I was growing up in Colorado. Many of his books, the ones that manage to break away from his traditional setting of the Castle Rock/Derry area of Maine, take place in or around the Centennial State. Misery, for example, occurs in among the winding roads in the mountains near Sidewinder. The story of how author Paul Sheldon gives up ice skating thanks to his number one fan is a fairly recent addition to the list. Before that, there was The Shining, a tale about how hard it is to find good help these days. In the mountains during a Colorado blizzard.
Another story has a famous author applying to be the film critic for the local paper. This one is true. During the year that Mister King and his young family lived in Boulder, the master of the macabre sent a letter to the Daily Camera inquiring about the possibility of employment writing movie reviews. As a published author, he felt that his professional writing skills might come in handy in such a vocation. Happily for us all, he did not get the job, nor did he chop his family into little pieces. He went on to write four thousand more books and keep a generation or two on the edge of their collective seats.
And somewhere in there he wrote a little book called The Stand. And when I say "little" what I mean is that there are versions of the Bible with fewer pages. But their body count is about on par. If you haven't read this one, it's about a super strain of the flu that wipes out most of the world's population. Or at least the United States. There isn't a lot about international consequences once the lights go out. The inevitable group of survivors begin to wind their way from the coasts to the center of the continent. The bad guys end up in Las Vegas. The good guys head for Boulder. And because there are no zombies to deal with, there is a looming presence of evil that most likely pushed this whole pandemic into motion that needs to be dealt with.
And this story keeps playing out in my mind as each new case of Coronavirus is reported. Governments flap their hands and make ridiculous understatements or cry out in panic. We are told to wash our hands if we want to stay alive. Cruise ships full of sick people drift just offshore as we try to imagine solutions.
It sounds a lot like a Stephen King novel. Maybe we should put Steve in charge instead of Mike Pence. At least it would read better.

Sunday, March 08, 2020


There has been a lot of chatter, online and in real life, about doing away with the customary shaking of hands upon meeting. This would be as a direct result of the Coronavirus fears currently making the rounds of real life and online. This is the way we can create defensible space between us and the pandemic. It is also a way for some to affect the social change they have been yearning for after all these years. Avoiding a handshake could be a life-saving measure. Get it?
Well, let me off this up to anyone still listening: There are a number of videos online that show teachers giving their students a choice, upon entering the classroom in the morning, of receiving a hug, a high five, a fist bump or just a smile on their way in. It is a community-building exercise that I know by heart, having handed out my own high fives and fist bumps by the dozens over the course of a day as an elementary school teacher. And though I don't seek them out, I have certainly been the beneficiary of a great many hugs from kindergartners who are expressing the comfort and excitement they cannot name upon seeing their teacher.
And there's this: Many of these kids are experiencing the experience of human contact in one of the rare safe moments that occur in their day. If I shrank back from every runny nose or sniffly kid who crossed my path, I would spend my entire day running a gauntlet in this petri dish filled with five to twelve year olds. Do I wash my hands? A lot. Do I make a fuss about it? No. It puts me in mind of the way some kids wipe kisses off their heads when they have come in contact with an overzealous aunt. And those who choose not to.
Because of the love they are spreading.
Is it possible that all of this touching will result in my untimely death? I sure hope it won't. I hope to be able to ride this one out, while explaining carefully to kids about the way we should keep ourselves safe from germs, just as we always have. Is this a heightened example? It most certainly is. Will I be keeping children at arm's length while we anxiously wait for a vaccine? No. Will I respectfully remind them to be safe and cautious as they move through their day? You bet I will. That's what educators do.
That's what humans do.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Fun With Math

After Super Tuesday, Mike Bloomberg had acquired forty-four delegates. Estimates put his campaign spending thus far at approximately four hundred million dollars. A quick estimate puts the expense per delegate at around ten million dollars apiece. If you're jumping on your calculator, I will save you the trouble: that's just a tad more than nine million dollars each. Chump change for a billionaire.
Ready for another one?
The city of Flint, Michigan estimates it will cost fifty-five million dollars to solve their contaminated water problem. Additional information here: Tom Steyer, who has recently suspended his campaign for president, dropped two hundred million dollars into his recently suspended campaign. Add those two billionaire's campaign spending together and you come up with around six hundred million dollars.
You may have already anticipated where this freight train is going, but let's do the math. That money could have been used to bring clean, healthy drinking water to Flint, Michigan almost eleven times over. That would fix a problem. That wouldn't be just putting money into badges, posters, stickers and T-shirts. And those inflatable things that make noise when you bang them together.
Yes, I understand that there are plenty of individuals who believe in their heart of hearts that anything short of a Bloomberg or Steyer victory in this year's presidential election is as big a catastrophe as the lack of drinkable water in Flint, Michigan. A wide-eyed perspective might suggest that either of these two gentlemen may have used their bully pulpit to make certain that all Americans everywhere have clean water coming from their taps.
At the taxpayer's expense.
In a related item, a lot of hullabaloo was raised about our current "president" donating a his salary, or a quarterly portion of it, to the Department of Health and Human Services to support their work responding to the Coronavirus outbreak. I would not sneeze at the one hundred thousand dollars he signed over, but it is important to note this is a man who has run up a tab of just over one hundred thirty million dollars during his three years in office for golf. Those are some pretty steep greens fees. That's a lot of golf.
And that's a lot of zeroes.

Friday, March 06, 2020

A Win

Lean in, folks. This is good news. 
Authorities arrested a Sunnyvale man who was planning a mass shooting at the Unite Parcel Service facility there.He was taken into custody after a short pursuit and booked on charges including suspicion of evading police, driving under the influence and several weapons violations. That's when they searched his apartment. 
More than twenty thousand rounds of ammunition, high capacity magazines, five tactical rifles, a shotgun, three handguns, body armor and tactical backpacks filled with the previously mentioned ammunition.
Alleged. Assumed. And so on.
Police believe this gentleman was planning a mass shooting at his place of employment. The previously mentioned United Parcel Service. Planning. Preparing. The backpacks were staged at the doorway of his home. 
No one was injured. The potential gunman did not take his own life and all his co-workers were able to return to work the next day. Alive. Relived. And probably stuck with the feeling that they had missed becoming yet another sad story, statistic. Thanks to the providence of time. Being ahead of the schedule of whatever program this fellow had laid out for himself. The ones he had texted to his employer. 
You may remember a few years back when a disgruntled UPS worker shot and killed three of his co-workers, injured three others before taking his own life. Before police arrived. Four dead, three wounded. That doesn't keep you in the news cycle very long these days. Especially since that same day a gunman across the continent in Washington D.C. shot up a Congressional Softball practice, wounding four before being killed by police responding to the scene. 
So what I am suggesting here is that body count should not be an issue. Lives saved should be the concern. That is what makes this such a fine exception. A fine, creepy exception. Living in a world where we can take heart in all twenty thousand of those rounds not being fired is the silver lining in a very dark cloud. Good job.
There is still so very much work to be done. 

Thursday, March 05, 2020

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

Mayor Pete. That's what we all called him. That was because Buttegieg is too hard to pronounce. Even the spell check shrugs its shoulders at this candidate for President of the United States. Excuse me: former candidate for President of the United States. His honor the mayor has cashed in the few chips he had left and pushed away from the table. The headlines refer to his "historic run" as the first openly gay major party candidate for President of the United States.
Which only makes me pine for the day that will one day come when that isn't an asterisk.
And now, the tackiest of all possible interactions takes place: the wooing of Mayor Pete's delegates. If it all feels a little like hitting on the widow at her husband's funeral, then you have the right picture. It wasn't so very long ago that Mister Buttegieg was named the winner of the Iowa caucuses and he was sailing ahead on full steam. Suddenly he was a force to be reckoned with. That was February third. In early March, we are picking over his bones. Metaphorically speaking. I know that your hopes for the future of this country have just been dashed against the rocks of uncaring reality, but have you considered the advantages of hooking up with a guy who believes in Medicare for All? Take your time.
But not too much time.
As each candidate drops out, yes we are not forgetting Tom Steyer and his tie, the calls for unity become a little louder. And a little more desperate. Once all this hash is settled, there is still the main event: Who can beat the "president" and become President of the United States. That last bit may be more challenging than the office itself. The chore of pasting together all the tatters that our country has been torn and bringing all of us back to the table to talk about survival in the twenty-first century will be no easy feat. It would be simple enough to say that it is our responsibility to come together as one once the election has been held. Too easy. There will have to be reconciliation between the red and the blue, left and the right, left and far left, and so on.
Or we can surrender to the inevitable.
Mayor Pete joins a long list of the men and women who would be, well not King, but Chief Executive. And after I took all that time to learn how to spell Buttegieg.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020


The call came in a little over a week ago. Okay, the call didn't so come in as it went out. I made my weekly phone call to my mother and found her in what she would call "a state." Not the state of Colorado, which would have been appropriate since that's where she lives, but "a state of confusion," or maybe a "state of frustration," or some combination of the two. Her computer was giving her messages about being locked and she was doing all the right things to make it work, reading and responding to the directions on screen, then moving on to the hardcore technical fixes such as turning it off and turning it back on again. I caught her in the midst of one of these cycles and I could tell right away that her level of consternation had gone beyond setting the matter aside and chatting with her son. I asked her a few questions about her predicament and then went into support mode. We worried that something or someone might have phished her in and gained access to her machine. So I had her turn it off, then we chatted for a bit, catching up on the week's events along with liberal sprinklings of the computer challenge. After a few minutes, I had her turn the source of her woe back on, and I listened as she described the booting process. After a couple more minutes of tenuous waiting, she announced that it had come back to a normal login. She clicked on a few things and checked her connection to Al Gore's Internet. All was well. She was incredibly relieved, and I was pleased to have jumped into that fray and come out a winner. We talked for a little while longer, but as she was an hour ahead of my time, she was feeling the need to get back to her dinner which had been left unprepared because of her technology snafu. We said our goodbyes and I got one more special thank you for being such a clever and good son.
This lasted a few days. Then I got an email from my mother saying that my older brother had come to take the corpse of her computer away. This message came, as stated at the bottom, from her iPad. Apparently her computer, which had once been the heartbeat of a thriving bookkeeping business she ran for decades, was now a brick. Not the same exact machine, there had been repairs and replacements for the Dell that had been her companion through those many years as well as her source of solitaire. My mother and I went through out analog to digital conversion about the same time. She was freshly divorced and I was recently graduated from college. We both were in need of computer skills to enhance our job viability. A family friend with computer experience to spare came to our aid and taught us the way of the personal computer. Word processing, spread sheets, and floppy discs. At this time, the Internet was just a gleam in Al Gore's eye. My mother and I took these private tutorials and turned them into what would become, essentially, our careers.
Now our lives are more settled. I have a room full of PCs that I maintain as well as a fleet of Chromebooks serving two hundred and seventy-some kids and their teachers. My mother was spending time at her desk checking her email and pondering her next flurry of Frecell when the bottom dropped out of her world. Happily, another family friend had recently gifted her with an iPad that allowed her to join the wireless revolution. And the desktop machine with its screen and mouse and keyboard and speakers were on their way to electronic waste.
Time to move on.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

That Guy

Timing is everything.
You can ask Preston Tucker about that.
But enough about history, for now. We'll have plenty of time to discuss the signs that we ignored before the coming apocalypse once the smoke clears. 
Currently, Fox News has a gentleman on their channel saying that "It's a shame that Dems and media are using the coronavirus to score political points against Trump." He continued to suggest that those bad people will try to "pin it to him like his Katrina moment and make it political." If you have forgotten about Katrina, it was a hurricane that destroyed a large portion of the Gulf Coast, centering on New Orleans. Again, I apologize for bringing up history, but this was a "moment" because thousands of Americans suffered and died as a result of poor planning and response by the Federal Government. And so here we are again, up against the wall with no hope but science on our side, and the guy who is complaining about the media and the Democratic Party being so mean is also the same guy who once insisted that “I inoculate myself. Germs are not a real thing. I can’t see them, therefore they’re not real.” 
Which was a joke, or what folks at Fox News would like us to believe is a joke. All of this sound and funny was in the wake of the insistence by the "president" that we (Americans) were in good shape because there had been, as yet, no deaths associated with the coronavirus. 
Whoops. On Saturday morning, the first death was confirmed in Washington state. Leaving a great big hole in the defense that has been mounted by the task force led by the Vice President of the United States, who a few years back wrote"Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill." He's also the guy who, in response to Colin Powell's support and encouragement of condom use said"Frankly, condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases." He said Powell "may be inadvertently misleading millions of young people and endangering lives."
And yes, I know I have slipped back into that sad trend of making examples from history, and there really isn't any reason to believe that this is the group of guys who will make sense out of all this science and everything will be just fine. 
But there will be plenty of time for us survivors to discuss the administration's response to the pandemic as we shuffle through the wasteland, searching for the few remaining survivors and that last can of unopened beans.  

Monday, March 02, 2020


Sitting around the office, as school employees often do after the day's work has been done and all the students have been set on their ways, the conversation dodged and swerved. There is a supremely cathartic joy in having conversation with adults after spending six to eight hours immersed in the cares and woes of five to twelve year olds. As a matter of this course, I found myself relating not for the first time, the story of how I came to be a part of the few, the proud, the teachers.
Near the beginning of the admission interview for the credential program I was joining, the professor asked me why I thought I would be a good teacher. My thoughts raced with words about potential and generations and community, but what came out was, "I dunno. I've always been pretty good with kids."
This elicited a chuckle from the professor. Not a full blown laugh in my face, but a wizened guffaw at my sentiment. "Good with kids," he muttered as he looked down the list of questions that came after. Would it be best for all involved if we just cut this one off short?
As it turned out, the interview did continue, and either I eventually won him over with my much more decisive and clever answers to the rest of the questions, or the Oakland Unified School District was desperate for candidates like me. The warm-bodied breathing types. I got a call two days later that told me that I had been accepted into the intern credential program, and more information would follow.
These turned out to be prophetic words. The information continues to flood in, decades after I received my entree into the world of public education. As it turns out, "being good with kids" has been helpful in my career, but being good with trauma is even more valuable. That conversation in the office turned on this idea, as we each found our own way to express the notion that "it wasn't like this when we were kids." Somewhere out there in a suburban enclave there mus certainly be a school that is just like the one I attended when I was young. Or at least more like it. I don't know exactly what prepares you to talk to an eight year old about her cousin who died at age sixteen, or the seven year old whose parents were sent back to Mexico while he stayed here with cousins to learn English from next to nothing and discover a world that has expectations for him that grownups don't fully understand. Parents who bring their kids to our school because they don't have the time, money, resources to deal with them. Those folks are good with kids, right?
Of course we are. And a whole lot of other things.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

In Other News

So here we are: The "president" is no longer extending his "thoughts and prayers" to victims of mass shootings. He has walked that back to "deepest condolences." When five people were shot and killed by a gunman who took his own life, that was the best the leader of our great land could muster. Caught in the flurry of a tweetstorm about cable news ratings, the "president" could barely tap the brakes to acknowledge that six more Americans had died as a result of gun violence. An employee of MillerCoors, formerly Molson, formerly Miller and another company called Coors, was fired last Wednesday and came back a few hours later to shoot up the place. Whatever it was called.
Searching for a motive won't be that difficult. A guy in his fifties was fired and when his world seemed at an end, he chose the way he wanted to end it. Because he has the freedom to do that here in America. The land where the "president" alternately flaunts and flouts the "2A," known by its Christian name The Second Amendment. Never mind that this bit of legislation was written more than two hundred years ago, or that it seems to conflict mightily with that open-ended commitment many of these same folks have to "the right to life." It's just far too difficult an issue to unravel on social media. Or over the past two hundred years.
Guns have become much more efficient as killing machines, and our access to those machines has become more free, since it's in the Constitution and all. It's a little like those people who like to find that sentence in the Bible that might forbid homosexuality while they skip on past the prohibition on shellfish as they sup on their lobster bisque.
Meanwhile, back in Milwaukee, maybe we could paint this in more vibrant colors to illustrate a point: Earlier this week, disgruntled former brewery employee Andrew "Squiggy" Squigman burst into the break room at Schotz, firing randomly. He eventually killed five others before turning the gun on himself. Victims include Laverne DeFazio, Shirley Feeney, Lenny Kosnowski, Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa and visiting friend Arthur Fonzarelli. No motive was given for the shooting, but authorities have suggested that a history of mental and emotional instability may have been the root cause. That and the easy access to a weapon. The nation mourns this loss of life.
As we should.
And now back to those cable news ratings.