Sunday, May 31, 2020

We Have Met The Enemy...

A few weeks ago, I mused with great cynicism about how closing all the schools had eliminated school shootings. Sadly, nothing has been done to curb systemic racism since the outbreak of the global pandemic.
I wrote here recently about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. The three men who have been arrested for the killing are white. Mister Arbery was black.
George Floyd died while being taken into custody by Minneapolis police. No. George Floyd was killed by a white man who knelt on Floyd's neck until he died. Mister Floyd was black.
And these are the most high-profile cases of just how far we have not come. One thing that can be said about COVID-19 is that it doesn't discriminate.
The woman in Central Park who called 911 to report a black man threatening her. The man, Christian Cooper is black, and he asked Amy Cooper to please put her dog on a leash. That was the threat. She called the police, "There's an African-American man threatening my life." Horribly ironic, since it would seem much more likely that seems as though it would be Christian who has more to fear than Amy out of these two Coopers. Still, Mister Cooper said later that he was uncomfortable with all the negative attention that Ms. Cooper was receiving.
Uncomfortable? I am impressed by Christian living up to his name, but I do wonder why there isn't more discomfort being felt among white people about any or all of this ugliness. Taking to the streets and demanding that these unfortunate representatives of our race be called out for their abuse of their skin color. To be clear: These are white people doing awful things, and we should be more than embarrassed. We should be enraged.
There is no justice for any one of these men. They were put in untenable situations because of their skin, and this never should have happened. Murdered or harassed or simply looked on with suspicion. It's not "them." It's us.
And sadly there is currently no known cure.

Saturday, May 30, 2020


"These days I'm not even sure if her name was Veronica" - Elvis Costello
Veronica came to us in the first week of March. When I say she came to us, the proper description would be more like her mother came to our office and registered her. As a third grader. Veronica was not with her on this trip. Neither was the proper documentation to get her properly enrolled. Veronica's mom had what we like to describe as a "hissy fit" and stormed out of the office without completing the process. We did not see her again, but we did talk about her around the office. Not Veronica, whom we had not met, but her very impatient mother.
Then, later that week, a few terse phone calls were exchanged from the student enrollment office on behalf of this distraught mother and we were advised to go ahead and let Veronica become a part of our third grade just as soon as we could make it happen. This kind of thing is not uncommon, since parents have a great deal to say about how our district gets things done. Our district is also very fond of setting up procedures for us to follow that don't allow us to be the nice guys in that equation. We winced in anticipation of our next face to face with Veronica's mom. And getting to meet Veronica at last.
This did not happen since, as history will remind us, students were sent home to continue the last part of their year to avoid exposure to the historic virus. Veronica did not attend a day of "regular" class. Once we had cobbled together our school's distance learning plan, we sent out a phone message and emails describing how students could pick up a work packet and instructions about how to connect with their class on Al Gore's Internet.
Veronica's mom came to pick up the packet, and asked questions about how this whole thing might shake down. We told her what we knew: We were making it up as we went along, according to the district guidelines. This seemed to satisfy her and off she went to quarantine for more weeks.
This past week, we closed up school for this year, still without that clue about what and how we may be doing things. Veronica's mom showed up without her daughter, asking for a report card. Given that we had never actually seen Veronica or any of her work, it was decided that there was no way to give her a report card. We tensed for the reaction.
"Oh, I can bring by her work. She's finished it. She's very bright. She said that it was easy. At her old school her teacher called her 'a scholar.'"
We breathed a collective sigh of relief and told her that would be fine, and we looked forward to seeing her, and Veronica, in the coming year.
Veronica will be in fourth grade next year. At least that's the way we imagine it.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Second Look

So let's get this out of the way right up front: I believe there are very few things wrong with this planet that cannot somehow be linked back to our current "president." So very much of what is vile and bilious can be followed upstream to his gaping maw. He positively emanates negativity. It is his very nature.
But I draw the line at Ghostbusters.
Recently, director Paul Feig has been insisting that it was the pro-Trump and anti-Hillary forces that was the undoing of his 2016 reboot of the 1984 original. The reaction at that time was a loud and misogynistic one. Feig's version, you see, had a cast of women taking over for Bill Murray and his crew. Those voices were pretty loud and pretty vicious. Then-candidate Donald "Rotten Tomato" Trump had his opinion: "And now they’re making Ghostbusters with only women! What’s going on?!” A pretty cranky old man thing to say, but compared to his typical anti-woman rants it doesn't hold a lot of weight. The third American president to be impeached has said much, much worse things about women. He has certainly had more awful things to say about the relative state of cinema since he became president. 
And please understand that I am in complete agreement with anyone who suggests that women have a much more difficult path in any industry, and Hollywood may be the nastiest place to find that out. A liberal sanctuary, with all the same testosteroni underpinnings as the rest of the country, often disguised as a more accepting and welcome landing spot. One need only to look at the relative salaries of women in the motion picture business and read just one essay on the objectification of women on screen to feel the need to wash your hands for more than twenty seconds. 
But maybe the 2016 Ghostbusters just wasn't that great. It was a remake, after all. Sorry, reboot. A reboot of an established classic of its genre. Getting past the obvious comparisons is a terrible chore for anyone, and if you don't deliver something profoundly unique then it will probably suffer by comparison. My quick review goes like this: It was pretty funny. There were not a lot of surprises, and I would imagine that if you had never seen the original this would do in a pinch. 
The trouble is when you start pitching an all-female cast as a gimmick. This would be a dividing line between a film like Bridesmaids, which brought its strength from story and characters not just a bunch of women acting just as gross as a bunch of men. Part of my reaction to the 2016 version of Ghostbusters hinged on the idea that "it can't be that bad." And it wasn't. 
It just wasn't that good. 
And that's probably the "president's" fault anyway. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Write When You Get Work

Tom Hanks came to the Skyline High School graduation this year. It makes a lot of sense, considering he is an alum and he probably didn't have a lot of other pressing engagements. And he lived through his exposure to the virus that kept the affair a stay-at-home experience. And he is a mensch. John Krazinski crowded a bunch of A-listers into his online graduation, including appearances by Steven Spielberg, Jon Stewart, Malala, and Oprah. Not that it would have been any more memorable if the guy who played Jim on The Office Zoom-bombed your online ceremony.
But these are interesting times. Times that are heightened by the shared experience of a global pandemic. We are all in this together, so each of these events become heightened in ways we might not have expected.
So let me grouse here for a moment. I don't remember who my high school graduation speaker was. I had the terrible misfortune of living through high school in the late seventies in Boulder, Colorado. I suppose I might have held out hope for Dan Fogelberg or Scott Carpenter. Nope. I would have remembered either one of them. For that matter, I have a vivid memory of the following year's commencement speaker: Mo Siegel. The hippie dippy herbal tea maker that became a millionaire in that little college town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
Am I bitter?
Maybe a little.
Kind of like the way you find out a few days later that the person who was just a few people behind you in line at the grocery store was the one millionth customer and they got a lifetime supply of Pop Tarts. A fuss has to be made, from time to time, and we cannot always be part of that fuss. Being honored for your place in line seems like a bit of a cheat, like the mild antagonism I hold for the tenth caller on those radio contests. You don't have to answer a question or anything? You just happen to be in a certain place at a certain time and place. Congratulations on taking up space at that moment. We really couldn't be more proud.
But back here in a land that is a tad more forgiving, I will say that occupying this particular time and space isn't so much an honor but a chore. The lights that shine right now will come back over and over across the years as "The Class Of Covid" makes its way in the world. College graduates face a particularly tough row to hoe as they are being let out into the world in the midst of a crippling recession. I'm not sure even Tom Hanks can make that okay.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

I Want

My wife asked me what I wanted to do this summer.
I want to go to Disneyland.
I want to visit my family in Colorado.
I want to see the new James Bond movie.
I want to see the new Black Widow movie.
I want to see any movie in a movie theater.
I want to see my son.
I want to sit down in a restaurant and be handed a menu.
I want to stop thinking about social distance.
I want to stop worrying that I haven't washed my hands enough.
I want to drop by the store to pick up a few things without having to stand in line for an hour.
I want to use the Pearl Jam tickets I bought last December.
I want to use the Green Day tickets I bought last January.
I want to sit on the couch and watch sports that didn't take place a decade or more ago.
I want to leave my house without checking first to be sure I have my mask.
I want to see people's chins.
I want to go a week without Zoom.
I want to binge-watch TV shows as a choice, not an avocation.
I want to go to Best Buy and just wander around looking at stuff.
I want to have a week or two to stop worrying about what school will look like in August.
I want to go to a park without feeling like a desperado.
I want to go on an airplane without having to wear a hazmat suit.
I want to go to a baseball game.
I want to watch old movies and not flinch when I see crowds of people.
I want to shake hands.
I want to high five.
I want to fist bump.
I want to stand uncomfortably close to strangers.
I want to hug.
I want to stop referring to this as "the new normal."

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Lost And Found

Today is the day that families are invited to drop by our school and stand six feet apart. While they are there, they will pick up report cards and drop off any work that their children may have completed during the weeks that they have been locked away. They are also encouraged to take a trip through the wonderland of jackets and coats that were left in classrooms or on the playground over the course of six months when we were all in school.
When I was busied with the task of taking the boxes and bags full of outerwear and laying them out on our cafeteria tables, it did not occur to me that I should count them. I was careful to give each one enough space to be visible without a lot of pawing and additional sorting. I also tried to separate the myriad of black sweatshirts by putting a pink or red or blue something in between. I would be willing to make my guess at more than two hundred.
I am also willing to guess that we will still have a great many jackets, coats and sweatshirts left when all is said and done. We will also have a number of leftover report cards. Try as we might, we simply have not made contact with every family, every student. I will continue to laud our school's efforts in distance learning and the commitment our staff has to the community we serve, but I know that we aren't able to make the difference that we used to.
I also know that there will be a sea of anxious faces, young and old, asking what will happen in the fall. I wish that we had answers to all the questions they will have. One of our third grade teachers suggested that our job currently was like flying an airplane as we were still in the process of building that airplane. So far we have avoided impact. That doesn't mean we haven't had any casualties. We know that when we all come together again in whatever shape public education takes in the next few months, there will be gaps. Progress that had been made over the first two trimesters will be mitigated by a lack of practice and reminders. To be sure, there are kids who have used this opportunity to soar. Independent study and online learning suits them. These are the ones who have parents who are there to answer questions, or help them find an answer. These are not the ones we have been looking for.
They are also not the ones, for the most part, who have jackets laying on our cafeteria tables. The close of a school year is often looked upon as an ending, but after all these years I can't bring myself to think of it that way. Instead I see a tide going out. It will come back again soon enough, and when it does all that bare sand will be covered for a while. When it goes out again, there will be things washed on the shore by the waves: shells, driftwood, and probably a great many black sweatshirts.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Every Day

John Prine.
Adam Schleshinger. 
Terrence McNally. 
I could go on and on.
But at this moment I would rather not.
Today is Memorial Day, and the history of the holiday suggests that we should honor our war dead. Our "president" recently declared that we are all warriors. I'm not sure how his vision of conscientious objection figures in here, but I am not sure how I feel about going into battle without a vaccine. Or a mask.
As we creep ever closer to one hundred thousand Americans who have died in just a few months, I feel it is vital that we take more than a moment to reflect on lives lost. Not just the musicians and the playwrights. Not just the celebrities. Mothers. Fathers. Sisters. Brothers. Family and friends. Acquaintances and colleagues. And yes, we are currently talking about a tiny percentage of Americans who have succumbed to the virus we call by so many names. More American lives than we lost in two decades in Vietnam. When all is said and done, we will most likely double that total in less than six months. Vietnam was a shooting war, by the way. Combatants were armed.
We are not.
Sure, we have our defenses, but the powers that be seem to be anxious to see how we could do without them. Not many days pass without a thousand people dying here in the United States. Sometimes more. Funerals and memorial services are being held virtually as we continue to keep our distance from the disease and each other. Families are saying goodbye to their loved ones on Zoom. The "president" announced that he would lower flags at all federal buildings and national monuments to half staff over the next three days in the memory of Americans lost to corona-Covid-Sars-flu. Monday the flags will remain at half staff in tribute to the veterans who have lost their lives. No word yet about what to do about the folks who died from the virus in veterans hospitals. Maybe the flag just goes down all the way.
Meanwhile, good people across the globe are dying.
Remember them every day.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

A Three Month Tour

Imagine being trapped on an island with just six other people without contact from the outside world for days, weeks, months at a time. Just that dopey little radio that seemed to catch all the news that would bring excitement or adventure to the otherwise dreary life of pineapple and coconuts, pineapple and coconuts, pineapple and coconuts.
We don't really have to imagine anymore. While I have not resorted to setting logs on fire in my front yard to signal spacecraft passing overhead, I have begun to build huts in the back yard. Well, a "hut." It's actually just the tent we have infrequently used for camping, but it has served as a destination for my wife and I over the past several weeks. Like the "other side of the island" where Gilligan and his big buddy the Skipper would often encounter headhunters and escaped gorillas, all kinds of dangers await us in our back yard.
Not the least of those being other human beings. The standard issue family dinners on the patio have  become adventures in social distancing. Suddenly we have five more castaways that need to stand, sit or move keeping a six foot radius around them as we relax and enjoy company from the outside world. It's an awkward dance, but necessary to our eventual survival. At some point, we will all have to go back to interacting with other humans aside from Zoom meetings and Netflix parties. I confess that I find it nearly incomprehensible now when I recall the throngs of people I have waded through in Disneyland. Or the lack of regimentation of the "lines" to get into Black Friday sales. Our lives are currently  pineapple and coconuts, pineapple and coconuts, pineapple and coconuts.
And as for that radio, I can only say that the only news that seems to pour from the media holes we allow is pretty uniform: What day is it? How many have died? What's the weather like? Who cares? Which may be why eventually the Professor eventually began tearing apart that radio and using it to create more exotic electronics. With the right amount of bamboo and some pineapple and coconuts, he might almost certainly created a wi-fi receiver so that they could all sit around in the middle of the jungle and watch Tiger King.
This would happen right before an actual tiger leaped from the brush and mauled them all. We call this "synergy." Or "island fever."
Pass me the pineapple and coconuts, pineapple and coconuts, pineapple and coconuts.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

I Advance Masked

I was about six blocks from work when I had to turn around.
I had left my mask on the dresser at home. The folks at legal have become a lot more vigilant as we have begun to trickle back to the school. Maintaining social distance. Wearing masks. Washing hands. I confess that I had become a lot more relaxed during those days when I might only get past our front gate to check the mail.
Or go for a run.
But I was wearing a mask then. Fogging up my glasses as I gave my lungs an extra test as I exercise the corner of freedom that I can maintain. Like the freedom to tie only my own shoes. Or to wipe only my own nose. The freedom I have had from breaking up fistfights has been extraordinarily welcome. I note that there are frequent and somewhat disturbingly regular fistfights occurring out there in the world about wearing a mask.
There are all sorts of studies done, none of which bother me more than the one from Gallup which suggests that men don't like wearing masks because "they're not cool," or they are "a sign of weakness." Real men don't wear masks to protect them from a deadly virus. To paraphrase author Willard Motley (not Crue), "Live fast die young and don't let anyone tell you wearing a mask will keep you safe."
It is extremely doubtful that the "president" has read Mister Motley, but it certainly seems like a motto onto which he might want to latch. Wandering around without a mask while touring a mask factory may be the most egregious example of his flaunting convention and advice from medical professionals. "Live and Let Die" indeed. Arguing with the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization seems to make so much more sense. The inherent arrogance in assuming that there is no virus to spread because what tiny germ would dare to glom onto this tough guy? Especially if they are self-medicating with experimental drugs and Clorox?
So if you see me, or someone who looks a little like me from the bridge of my nose up, please know that I am most certainly smiling and that I am just as eager as everyone else to be back to those things we know best: tying kids' shoes, blowing their noses, and breathing free.
I figure I'll need to be alive to do that, however.

Friday, May 22, 2020


I have a Twitter account.
A lot of you may have found your way to these words via a link posted on that account. This is the part of social media that I can relax and enjoy. My words become available to a larger audience because of the configuration of Al Gore's Internet. That's nice.
I also enjoy participating in the brief exchanges that occur on that outlet. Random thoughts or concerns that aren't big enough to fill up an entire blog are well-suited for Twitter. Jokes, mostly, because I tend toward the cynical or sarcastic. For the past few years I have made an avocation of dropping by the "president's" Twitter feed to poke fun at his bluster. Most of it stops just this side of derision, since I try to maintain a pretty clean stream. No profanity from this guy. Just a steady stream of heavy sighs and eye-rolling.
Because that is what he deserves. I maintain no delusions that he has every laid eyes on anything I write because that would suggest that he was capable of reading. How do I know this? Well, he recently retweeted someone else's thoughts about taking hydroxychloroquine. Somewhere in this odd cyber-exchange, the "president" must have assumed that what was run in front of him was support for his insistence that this medication would make him invulnerable to COVID-19. In spite of all the reports to the contrary, including the FDA. The issue seemed to be more a matter of shouting down critics at Fox News than anything science-related. The Hoarse Whisperer, a critic of the "president" who has very few of the constraints on his online presence that I do, posted this: 
Fox News on hydroxychloroquine in the last two days:

Neil Cavuto: It’ll kill you!!!

Laura Ingraham: Take it! Take it! Take it!

Which one could read as a slam on Fox News. Sure. But it also suggests that Laura Ingraham is proposing that the "president" take a drug that will kill him. Now, if the "president" had previously shown anything remotely resembling a sense of humor, one might believe that he was being clever.
Not so much.
He was simply lost in a flurry of rage-tweeting that meant he didn't bother to check his sources. This Twitter moment was preceded just a few days prior by the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, donating ten million dollars to the Oakland Unified School District to help close the Digital Divide. I tweeted about that. Because it made me happy. No tweets about this donation are forthcoming from the "president." I'm not sure he gets it.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Pursuit Of Happiness*

*The almighty dollar
I read, with some interest, the account of a gym in New Jersey. Atilis Gym, owned by Ian Smith, opened this past Monday in spite of the statewide order to remain closed. Said Ian, "The 14th Amendment states that no state shall pass any law that infringes upon our rights as citizens, and we’ve been forced into our homes. Enough is enough."
For the record, in 1787, there weren't a lot of gyms being opened or closed so the framers of that fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States may not have had Ian's specific case in mind.
No matter. Mister Smith opened his doors and let folks in at eight o'clock in the morning. The police showed up a little after ten. "Formally, you are all in violation of the executive order. On that note, have a good day. Everybody be safe," the officer said before walking away as the crowd erupted in cheers. 
Note the "crowd" in that last bit. Crowds are not, by definition, currently safe. Not during a global pandemic. Which is probably why state officials felt the need to remind its citizens of just that. New Jersey's Attorney General: “New Jersey’s law enforcement officers are on the front lines of this pandemic – not just protecting and serving all residents, but also balancing public health and public safety as they enforce the Governor’s executive orders. Those individuals who violate the Governor’s orders make it harder for our officers to do their jobs and they put our officers at risk. I commend law enforcement’s bravery and diligence today and every day.”
So let's go back to that fourteenth amendment again. This is not a law that was passed. This was an executive order. On the day that the Atilis Gym invited folks back in to get properly pumped, more than ten thousand New Jerseyians had died from COVID-19. The state had nearly one hundred fifty thousand confirmed cases. For some perspective on those numbers, the United States recently passed ninety thousand deaths. That means that New Jersey has just a skosh over ten percent of the death toll for the entire country. 
Why would anyone not want to err on the side of caution?
Perhaps because if they choose to flaunt their "constitutional rights" by beasting up, they can get themselves on television. Fox television. Tucker Carlson. But television nonetheless. Feel free at this moment to start a clock on any and all patrons and staff of Atilis Gym and their continued health. Science has shown that acts of "civil disobedience" such as this have generated hot spots that have made everyone's jobs, and lives, more difficult. 
And yes, I fully expect that if there hasn't already been an obituary printed that insists that the dearly departed gave his or her life to get totally jacked. As clearly outlined in the United States Constitution. Everyone knows that James Madison would get completely shredded about five times a week. 
But not during a global pandemic. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Little Short In The Clue Department

For nearly fifty years, Fred Willard was "that guy." On TV. In films. He was the guy who showed up and made you cringe. Not because he was overly loud or excessive, unless he was excessively clueless. When casting directors wanted someone like that, they didn't scream at their underlings to "get me a Fred Willard type." They did the rational thing. They screamed "get me Fred Willard."
This is to say that Fred was one of a kind.
Like so many pop culture phenomena, I was alerted to Fred Willard's presence by my mother. She let me stay up late to watch this show called Fernwood 2 Night. It was a spin-off from another late night comedy, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. My mother and I had also tried out Mary Hartman, but it was just a little too arch for us. Martin Mull and Fred Willard as Barth Gimble and Jerry Hubbard were just the right bit of silly to take the edge off the social commentary found in Fernwood. Making Barth Gimble appear clever by comparison was Fred's job as second banana Jerry. This was not everyone's cup of tea, however, and the show only lasted a few months. A year later, Barth and Jerry got another few months, under the title America 2 Night. But it wasn't a lasting presence.
Fred was, however. He was around back in mid-sixties Chicago as part of Second City. He later moved on to become a founding member of the improv group Ace Trucking Company. All of which set him up to strike out on his own in the seventies. Maybe you missed Fernwood. You must have seen one of the Christopher Guest mockumentaries. Spinal Tap. Best In Show. A Mighty Wind. Waiting For Guffman.
Okay. So maybe mockumentaries aren't your thing. Fred also portrayed Buy 'n' Large CEO Shelby Forthright in Pixar's WALL-E.
Well maybe you've watched television in the past four decades and maybe you've had a chance to take in one of hundreds of guest and recurring appearances he has made on sitcoms, variety shows and soap operas.
Yes. He was a on The Bold and the Beautiful for seven episodes. He won an Emmy for that. Okay, a Daytime Emmy, but still.
And if this whole bit feels a little like something you might hear Fred say about himself, then you've experienced some of that magic. Fred Willard didn't so much stomp on the Terra as stumble across it, much to our collective amusement. He will be missed. Aloha.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Praying To Sister Mary Elephant

With apologies to both Cheech and Chong:
"Okay. The first day on my isolation, what I did on my isolation, the first day on my vacation, I woke up. Then, I went to the living room to look for something to do. Then I hung out on the couch. The second day on my isolation, I woke up, then I went to the living room to look for something to do. Then I hung out on the couch. The third day on my isolation, I woke up..."
If you feel compelled to shriek "Shut up!" at the top of your lungs, it's understandable. The essential numbness of the daily routines around here have begun to take their toll. My wife, whose alter ego, America's Friend Polly Polkadot, began with her typically perky approach. She was going to sew a button on a denim jacket she had to mark each day we spent sheltered in place. She had also taken it upon herself to make a broad X through those days on our calendar with a bright orange pen. That pen ran out of ink. Really. And though there are still buttons left in her sewing basket, the sheer weight of the garment she was crafting was becoming ungainly and absurd. This is not a knock on my wife, or Ms. Polkadot. It has simply become more and more difficult to make things cheery.
Which helps to explain why there continues to be protests and demonstrations arguing against the essential job we have all been asked to do: Stay home. When my job became focused on Zoom meetings and working from my desk at the front of my house, I began to reconsider all those times when I pined for the chance to just sit around at my desk at the front of the house. Now I find myself moving from room to room with my laptop in hopes of finding a new venue: one that doesn't feel like the same old place.
Because I am now excruciatingly familiar with most of the nooks and crannies of the home I share with my wife. Familiar enough that I feel comfortable describing them as "nooks and crannies." I have cleaned or cleared out many of them. I have discovered items including, but not limited to, our second wok, a bag of assorted spices, and a post that was a little wobbly at the bottom of our back stairs. I have conversations with my wife that have touched on, but not limited to, the bag of postcards on top of the refrigerator, the placement and overall health of our houseplants, and that wandering wok. 
And then there's the couch. Where I find myself perhaps all too often, even though I have been making a conscious effort to be anyplace else. I believe that it is the gravitational vortex of our little corner of heaven. 
Did I say, "heaven?" 
I'll have to get back to you on that. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Mail Merge

Playing Post Office. Please, Mister Postman. That awful movie with Kevin Costner. Maybe you don't remember or never saw it, set in the future of 2013, in a post-apocalyptic world where a man picks up a bag of mail and brings order back to dystopia. Something like that.
My grandfather was a mailman. A good friend of mine was, among the various jobs he had before becoming a science teacher, worked for the Post Office. He is also the only card-carrying communist I know.
I remember going down to the Post Office when I turned eighteen to register for the draft. Not that there was a draft at the time, but I was willing to sign myself up for a lottery that might end up with me winning the chance to serve my country. Not as a mailman. As a soldier. Interestingly enough, that same science teacher friend of mine served some time in jail for resisting the draft. He's a little older than me. Joan Baez sang in front of the courthouse during his trial. Eventually he found a way to serve his country after he was exonerated. He was a mailman, as I have noted, and he was a science teacher. A really good one.
All of this is to say that the fabric of my life seems to be interwoven with postal memories. My brothers and I used to make an excursion on any given summer day of hiking up to the mailboxes at the top of the road where our cabin sat. The locals didn't get delivery directly to their door. In those days, the mailboxes were clustered in a row where all the mail could be doled out. It was here that we would wait for our father to return home from work down in town. He was delivering the mail for us from there. We did not have a mailbox. We only vaguely had an address. It was seven tenths of a mile down the hill. On the left. When we hopped into dad's car, we all wanted to see what messages came from civilization. Was there a Time magazine? Maybe a card or letter to someone other than Resident? And every so often, there was a package.
A package of any sort was like a jolt of electricity for any boring week. My brothers and I periodically sent away for stuff from the back of comic books just so we could have that experience.
Now, not for the first time, there are rumblings about the Post Office going out of business. This kind of news hits me squarely in the place where I shiver upon hearing that they are about to do away with pennies. This can't happen. This should not happen. It is too much change for me. Or in the case of the pennies, not enough change.
I would miss the cards that come to our box. I would miss the daily check, pulling the door open to peer inside. I would miss waving from the porch to our mail person. It's a comforting ideal that I am not ready to surrender.
Not yet.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Dis Traction

Good news.
Count your blessings.
This too shall pass.
And so on.
John Krazinski, perhaps better known to you as Jim from The Office, has taken to the YouTubes over the past several weeks to spread Some Good News. There are stories about people helping others, as well as semi-frequent celebrity guest stars. Brad Pitt does the weather. Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey deliver commencement wisdom to the quarantined class of 2020. And a plethora of life-affirming moments that vacillate between the quiet and mundane to the celebrity cameo.
I believe this works so well because we are all starved for feeling. Feeling something other than fear and loneliness and confusion and despair. This notion of "returning to normal" is not felt by just the armed militia making sure the hairdresser in Texas can stay open. The majority of us who are sitting on our couches waiting for the all clear would like to have a taste of this elusive "normal." We can get this sensation from looking at others going about their business, whether it is talk show hosts broadcasting from their living rooms or stars coming out to raise money for PPE or food banks or long cotton swabs. Seeing familiar faces at this point is a premium since we don't tend to see one another's faces unless they are obscured by a mask.
Hugs and smiles are in ridiculously short supply. That is the state of things currently. Finding ways to bring something that feels alive into a room that has not changed for more than two months is a difficult task. That's why, on Mother's Day, I went to the trouble to inflate a number of flotation devices in our living room. A flamingo, a unicorn and a big yellow duck swallowed up the floor space for most of the day until the slow leak from our flamingo friend brought an end to the festivities. The good news there was that we didn't have to stay six feet away from our inflatable friends, and when they ran out of air, we just folded them back up and put them back in their boxes. Eventually we will have to come up with a new distraction. Something frivolous or silly to keep from slipping back into the vortex of sameness.
I am suddenly reminded of those exercises to which astronauts have been subjected in anticipation of lengthy space voyages. Could you stand being cooped up with the same two people for months at a time? Bring your best conversational gambits and a forgiving spirit and hop aboard the rocket ship to Mars. Maybe Oprah will stop by.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

As The Poet Said

Robert Frost once wrote: "Nothing gold can stay." Old Bob might have been talking about a lot of things, but currently I believe he was referring to Seamus.
Seamus is our friend and his original gold has a dusting of snow these days. His pathological need to retrieve has abated, but not disappeared completely. There were days not too long ago when he would go from prone to sixty miles an hour down our front steps to get the ball we threw for him. When he stopped by a few days ago, he was still enamored of that ball, but his friskiness had abated somewhere to the point that he appeared to be an old dog.
How could Seamus have suddenly become an old dog?
The cancers.
We became familiar with the Golden Retriever susceptibility to all sorts of nasty cancers from his mom, a neighbor of ours. She used to talk wistfully of her prior dog who had gone to heaven some years back. Consequently she had enrolled Seamus in a study when she had first come to her in order to keep a watchful eye on any such unfortunate developments.
How could this vital force of nature be slowed down by anyone or anything? Seamus' favorite greeting was the full-body wag assault, leading an eventual attempt to merge his skull with yours. We were always glad to welcome him into our home, especially after a dog-shaped hole was left in our lives Aside from the occasional drop-ins when he and his mom were on their way up the street to the post office or the pastry shop, we welcomed him in for a dogsit when he couldn't go to Hawaii. Seamus reminded us of all the ways that having a big furry reminder of unconditional love made everything better. Going for a run, sitting on the couch, opening the front door. Everything was an event. Everything was new.
And now we prepare to send Seamus off on the next leg of his journey. He and his mom came by so we could say our proper farewells. His new and subdued manner let us know that the clock was sadly winding down. The thunder that he once was had grown more distant, but he was still enthusiastic enough to go after a tennis ball that rolled under our couch.
Oh, how he will be missed. Seamus ran and stomped and dug around the Terra. Like all dogs, he will go to heaven where no one ever gets tired of tossing the ball for him. And that's where the gold will stay. Aloha.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Across The Great Divide

Last Saturday, I was fortunate enough to have a tech from Xfinity come into my home and run a check on why my connection to Al Gore's Internet was dropping out. This connection is extremely important given all the ways I am currently involved in online communication. This blog, though it is extremely therapeutic, shows up way down the list of reasons for why I need a steady link to cyberspace. Maybe you've heard about the global pandemic and how it's forced so many people to move their business online. My business is teaching, and business is not so good.
The reason I suggested earlier that I was fortunate to have a human being come into my home is obvious if you have spent any time on hold with the cable provider known as Xfinity. Or Comcast. Or "the cable company." They will tell you, or rather a pre-recorded voice will repeat to you over and over about the safety of all concerned and how that safety is being carefully weighed with each transaction. It took me several hours to break through the phone barrier just to speak directly to a human agent to discuss my problem as it was happening. After a few very well considered attempts at doing things their way, I was at last allowed to go step by step through the challenges I was having with my connection. After exhausting the scripted restarts and resets for the umpteenth time, I was granted an appointment with someone who I was assured could fix the problem. But I was first admonished that the technician would only be able to give me limited help with my problem, given that there is this global pandemic and all.
When Saturday morning came and I was alerted that my tech had arrived, I put on my mask and met him on the stairs coming up to my front door. He wore his mask and neither of us flinched as he entered my house and went straight to the modem to try and figure out why I was having trouble staying connected. He asked a few questions, checked a few things, made a few calls, and eventually made a correction that seemed to fix the problem. I was happy that when he left, there was a strong, steady signal coming into my home.
I could continue my stated mission of supporting distance learning with the three hundred kids at my school.
Which was awesome.
However, I know for a fact that this kind of service is not available to everyone. Specifically, it is not available to those who cannot afford it. I pay a couple hundred dollars a month to have someone come out and make sure that I still have something for which I can continue to pay a couple hundred dollars each month. There are dozens upon dozens of families I teach who do not have this option. And yet, the only way we can currently offer them my services is through Al Gore's Internet.
And it occurred to me, as I watched my tech go about his business, that wi-fi should be a public utility. It should be free or nearly that for all who want or need to use it. In the twenty-first century when we can order toilet paper from distant lands via online shopping, we should be able to offer those in need a hand - or a way to get one. Not just for a generously donated month or two, but moving forward and not just for a limited time. This is now the way we transact not just the dollars and cents but the A,B,Cs and the 1,2,3s. This link to the world outside, down the street and across the globe will remain a priority well after this virus has been ameliorated. The families of the kids I teach and those who need a way to connect shouldn't have to beg, borrow and steal Al Gore's Internet. They should have someone as clever and competent as I had come into their house to get them set up. Or at the very least, they should be offered a signal to which they can latch onto in order to live in the world with everyone else.
This is one of the lessons I have learned over the past two months.
That and how to wash my hands really well.
Don't they both seem like common sense?

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Are All Jerrys Funny?

I come before you today to admit that my wife, clever world-conquering she-beast that she is, still regularly confuses Adam Sandler with Ben Stiller. I do not suffer from this particular lapse of recognition. I see these gentlemen as separate and distinct comedic talents capable of all manner of amusing feats, though both have also distinguished themselves in more dramatic fare. For me, it could be noted that Sandler is the goofier of the two, while Stiller plays a little more intense.
But that's not exactly what I'm concerned with today. Ben Stiller had parents that delivered to him a comic sensibility that was forged in the outrage found in the mundane. Stiller and Meara, his mother and father would most certainly have influenced his eventual career choices.
In case you were not aware of the early forms of this dynamic duo, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were a married couple who brought a more gritty vibe to the bits performed by Mike Nichols and Elaine May. Nichols and May were far more erudite than Stiller and Meara. Manhattan as opposed to the Bronx, if you will. There was an earthiness in what Jerry and Anne did that most certainly sprang from their real-life marriage. Sixty-two years of it. If you're going to be married to someone for more than half a century, you had best develop a pretty good sense of humor. Or show up with one.
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara apparently did just that. As a matter of fact, they were a comedy team before they were a family team. They were a part of The Compass Players, which eventually became the legendary Second City, making the pair pre-legendary. In 1961, they started out on their own, and didn't look back.
Decades passed, and the duo showed up separately or together on hundreds of TV shows, and dozens of films. From Ed Sullivan to Laugh-In to the Love Boat, you couldn't switch the dial too many times without running into Stiller and Meara. Jerry was perhaps best knows as George Costanza's dad on Seinfeld, where he gave us innumerable great lines as well as the alternative holiday, Festivus.  His collaborations with Kramer made everyone else's bad ideas seem just a little better.
Now the curtain has rung down on Jerry's act. He goes to join his beloved partner in the comedy club in the sky. Maybe now I can use this moment as a chance to tag off on my wife's confusion: "Oh him? That's Jerry Stiller's son." Aloha, Jerry. You stomped on the Terra and made me laugh. You will be missed. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


We were talking, as we often do, about the olden days. We would have talked irregardless. It was Sunday after all. My mother and I do that. We talk on Sundays. And frequently on other days of the week as the occasion calls for it. But this was Mother's Day, and the distance that separates us this year felt expressly huge as we continue to shelter in place. Chatting on the phone took some of the edge off that feeling.
As it always does.
We spoke of times gone by, with plenty of love and affection, mixed with a twist of sarcasm to keep from falling into Hallmark territory. She told me about her first pair of Keds. The ones she bought when she was eight or nine with the money her grandmother gave her. The first money she could remember having, since she grew up in the back of a drug store there wasn't a need for carrying cash. But there she was: flush. And she knew what she wanted. She tried them on and felt happy for making her first purchase, for which she plunked down the bills on the counter. Unfortunately, because she had been carrying them folded up for security, she was under the impression that she had twice as much money as she did in reality. Mortified, she had to be bailed out by her grandmother who was on for just such an emergency. My mother lived to hate those shoes for the memory of that embarrassment.
This is how I found out that Keds have been making shoes for a very long time. We also touched on the glass that my mother uses for her lunch, which is a pretty solid ritual for her. The glass used to belong to that same grandmother, and it has survived all these years. We reckoned that glass would be more than a hundred years old at this point. It has a chip on the rim, not jagged, but could do a nice number on your lip if you weren't being careful.
And my mother is always careful.
We talked for an hour or so, and then parted ways so she could prepare her lunch, along with that glass. Our conversation pinballed across nine decades or more, tagging off on my childhood and hers. I confessed to my own predilection for collecting souvenir tumblers from sporting events. We agreed that they might not be as viable in another fifty years. However, I know in my mother's cupboard is a plastic mug from Arby's commemorating the Denver Broncos' 1983 season. Last time I visited, it still held water.
And there's no chip on the rim. We'll talk again.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Not So Very Little At All

There was nothing little about Little Richard. Big voice. Big talent. Big show. His stage name was a tip of the showbiz hat to rhythm and blues acts who came before him like Little Esther and Little Milton. It also kept people from from mangling his last name: Penniman.
Over a three year period spanning from 1956 to 1958, Richard had a string of hits that helped define the roots of rock and roll: "Tutti Frutti," "Long Tall Sally," "Rip It Up," "Good Golly Miss Molly." It is no coincidence that these seeds were planted at the moment that Elvis Presley began his career. While Richard and Chuck Berry were bringing this new sound to a world in desperate need of sounds to make it shake, rattle and roll, the business of the music business was working feverishly to create a new face for this burgeoning industry. A white face. Elvis became the King, while all those other pioneers were relegated to jukeboxes and radio play that quickly became known as "the oldies."
Elton John most certainly owes his entire career to Little Richard. Diminutive guy pounding on a piano and singing just as hard? That was Richard's act first. And, to be fair, a little Jerry Lee Lewis. But Little Richard has the distinction of doing his act while tearing down the color barrier that existed back then. The same color barrier that kept his career from blossoming fully.
In 1962, Richard played in Brighton England with an English group known as The Beatles, who went on to cover "Long Tall Sally" both live and on record. James Brown got his start as a Little Richard impersonator. Decades later, they teamed up on Wheel of Fortune. But by this time Richard was more relic than rock and roll. His early appearances in films like "Can't Knock The Rock" and "The Girl Can't Help It" eventually transformed into the Reverend Orvis Goodnight, the wacky neighbor in Down And Out In Beverly Hills. Wacky or not, he could still rock the house.
Four years ago when Prince died, he took what was left of Little Richard's show with him. The tiniest of mustaches and a flamboyant style that thumbed its nose at convention, audiences thirty years later seemed to be more receptive to what Richard had to offer. No matter. Richard Penniman was one of ten original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Maybe no one ever fully understood Richard, but they felt his influence in the only way they should: in his music.
He stomped on keyboards like he stomped on the Terra. Little Richard has gone to that big stage in the sky where you can still hear him if you listen. He will be missed.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Dead Until Proven Innocent

If you have stopped watching the news because of the essential Groundhog Day effect that it has been having on everyone, you may not be aware of the case of Ahmaud Arbery. Ahmaud was shot and killed on February twenty-third of this year. It was just last week that his "alleged" killers were taken into custody. The reason for the quotation marks is the existence of a video of the shooting taking place. Mister Arberry can be seen jogging down a suburban street where he is stopped by two men in a pickup truck, one of whom has a shotgun. Shots are fired. Ahmaud collapses. The two men in the pickup, a father and son who happen to be white, confronted and killed this young man who happened to be black. The father and son insist that they were rounding up what they believed to be a burglary suspect. The fact that the video, which was taken by an associate of the father and son, doesn't look anything like that makes me wonder why it took two and a half months to round up the "alleged" assailants.
Suddenly I was thrown back to one of the worst movies ever made, Plan Nine From Outer Space. This film includes some of the worst dialogue ever committed to celluloid, including this one: "One thing's sure: Inspector Clay is dead - murdered - and somebody's responsible!" Inspector Clouseau or Lieutenant Frank Drebin of Police Squad could have cracked this case in the two minutes it takes to watch the video and still had time to fall squarely on their faces. Apparently the law enforcement types in Glynn County, Georgia felt compelled to skip directly to the falling on their collective faces portion of the drill. 
And guess what? There was no "alleged" string of burglaries in the two weeks leading up to Ahmaud's murder. 
Oops. Did I just call this murder? Without throwing in the "alleged" with our without quotation marks? I have already mentioned the somewhat coincidental nature of the races involved in this killing, Just happens that two white guys in a pickup truck assaulted and murdered an African American man with a shotgun. Ahmaud's crime would be running while not white. Which, in most states, is not illegal. Most counties in Georgia, for that matter, would not have found this defensible. 
So, you say social distancing is still a problem in some areas?
Sorry. Hard to keep my distance from this one. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Mother Road

I am thankful for the path chosen
The one that delivered me here
The one that brought our son to us
I am grateful for the courage it took
The patience and care
The kindness and consideration
I can only imagine
And yet this happens all the time
every day of the year
every minute of every day
Someone becomes a mother
Or not
Becoming a mother is not
done on a whim
Motherhood should never be
Happily joyfully playfully
but never fearfully
I am proud to know
so many mothers
To be the son
To be the father
And to watch
As mother's magic
Fills the world
With love
And hope
Bringing us life
Thank you for that

Saturday, May 09, 2020

What's Bugging Me Now

Okay, I'm still not quite done with this whole global pandemic thing and now the news folks want me to be terrified by something brand new: the Murder Hornet. As we tumble toward a hundred thousand American lives lost to a disease, I am supposed to be frightened of an insect. From Asia. Only a matter of time before we are told that these were genetically mutated beasts released from a lab whose only reason for existing is to wipe out all life as we know it here in the United States. 
Don't get me wrong. I am fully capable of caring fear on two fronts. I have been anxious about the Rage Against The Machine reunion for months now, but I guess if there's a Murder Hornet to take the place of that creeping distress then I can allow myself to become preoccupied with that. I have never been a big fan of your garden variety wasp. Not only can they bite or sting, unlike their little friends the bee, they can sting multiple times. That makes the whole wasp versus bee thing pretty much moot in my book. 
And now they're murderous. 
So, if you're as old as I am, you might remember when the Killer Bees were on their way here. And they weren't coming from Asia. They were on their way from South America about forty-five years ago. And we were horrified by the possibility of being overwhelmed by the Africanized Bee. To date, about a thousand people have been killed by killer bees. Not in a month or a day. That's like since we decided to keep track. You might not have guessed that by watching the 1978 film The Swarm. Michael Caine lead an all-star cast in an effort to subdue the vengeful and vicious bugs who were looking for trouble when they finally found themselves in a country that needed a good disaster. Happily for all concerned, the bees were easily fooled and once lured into a central location they were doused with oil and set on fire. Okay, not exactly like destroying Los Angeles with an earthquake or setting a skyscraper ablaze, but it worked to keep America frightened until the next Airport movie could be put together. 
But this is no movie. Murder Hornets are here. Now. And maybe you don't feel like waiting for Michael Caine or Charlton Heston to save us all. The good news is that our friend the honey bee is more than capable of vanquishing the occasional giant hornet visit to their hive.
Which means I can probably relax for a little while longer. Freeing me up to fret more about having to use chopsticks in public
Nothing to fear but fear itself? They don't know me very well, do they? 

Friday, May 08, 2020

Grand Re-Opening

It will happen.
The Cubs won the World Series.
Anything can happen.
Maybe not this year because there is still no word about exactly how sports will emerge on the other side of this mess. Recently, MGM resorts in Las Vegas offered to host the NBA season within the confines of their facilities. Players, coaches, families. Fans? Not so much. That would put a cap on what will long be remembered as the most peculiar basketball season on record. College basketball players would probably disagree, since their season ended in a puff of smoke rather than a grand tournament of champions.
Meanwhile, back on main street, shop owners are pondering how best to come back out of hibernation. What will it be like when doors that have been shut for so long spring open again? A mad rush to stand six feet apart while shopping for books and candles? Curbside delivery for the local furniture store? How will we emerge from this extended and deadly game of Cooties?
Evidence suggests that we are not good listeners. Most of the places that have re-opened have seen spikes in confirmed new cases of COVID-19. This would be the learning curve, the one that will be measured in lives lost.
Then again, it seems just as likely that this will be a chance for us all to practice the social part of distancing. After months of looking at empty store shelves, maybe we won't take toilet paper for granted anymore. It could be that we have all spent this time in our cocoons learning to be better humans. This could be evolutionary.
And with each new step we take in the brave new world, we need to remind ourselves of the tens of thousands who died while we were trying to piece together our response. Every doctor, nurse, EMT, paramedic, firefighter, police officer, delivery person, and son who shared his Disney Plus password should be raised high and acknowledged for the battle they helped wage.
Because we have to be better after all of this.
Don't we?
We were all sent to our rooms for two months to think about the way we have been acting, and I hope that we are collectively ready to be held accountable for our actions. As the poet from Akron, Ohio wrote, "It's time to go forward, move ahead, and give the past a slip."
Let's be careful out there.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Click To Join

Okay. I'm a big enough man to admit it: I have Zoom fatigue. Staring at a computer screen with the faces of people with whom I am supposed to be meeting with is causing me to wonder how much longer I can do this. Don't forget to mute yourself when you come into the meeting. Do you prefer gallery view?
Send me to a breakout room all by myself, thank you.
I have become enormously self-conscious about my own face as I know that I appear in a much larger format on my colleague's screens. Is it okay to itch my nose? Should I mute myself as simple courtesy since I tend to talk too much anyway? In a room full of eight to ten people, you could get away with checking out. Maybe not completely, but at least for those mind-wandering moments when the conversation has one wheel in the sand. Sticking a camera and a microphone in front of me seems to suggest that I have something important to add at any moment.
Yes, I know you can turn off your camera and mic and cruise by with just that placeholder initial or stock photo. I know that I am hard at work on any given day trying to get elementary schoolers to listen with their eyes, ears and heart, but all that staring at one another seems just a little excessive, doesn't it?
Speaking of smaller people, I have noticed that younger folks don't seem nearly as concerned with the leering eye of the camera. Some get shy, but for the most part, the lure of that screen is immense and all but unshakable. This is the generation that gets teleconferencing. Face Time. They think very little about taking a video of themselves doing jumping jacks in their front yard and sending them off to share with their classmates and teacher. When the pandemic first struck and we all headed for our holes, I suggested that I should get a Fortnite account so I could keep track of our kids. Not to worry. The ones who have access to any sort of social media have been happy to share their adventures. By any means necessary.
Even Zoom. Perhaps it's because it gives them the chance to connect with friends. Maybe it's because they aren't old enough to know any different. This is their reality, after all. And mine, for that matter. I just haven't become accustomed as yet. I look forward to a day when those kind of events retreat again to the background. But I know the truth: We have just proved how easy it is to carry on business, class and socializing via Al Gore's Internet.
Just not for me.
Not yet.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Up Until Now

Fifteen years ago, I had an eight year old son. I had been married for more than ten years, and was up to my knees in a career in teaching. My dreams of being a writer had been dashed by the lack of an aspiring literary agent approaching me on the street begging me to come and be a part of his new billion dollar stable of short story authors. And maybe it had a little to do with the hardly noticeable amount of promotion I gave myself. I have always been happy to have someone look over my shoulder and say, "Hey. I didn't know you were a writer."
Well, yes. I am a writer.
I've been writing on this location for the past decade and a half. George W. Bush was halfway through the first year of starting up the second in a series of two terms in office, and  I was not happy about it. It was from behind this keyboard that I waged my defense of what I saw as a threat to democracy as we knew it.
But more on that in a bit. Heh. Heh. I said "moron."
Get it?
And it was also here that I began to spin tales of the often tumultuous world of elementary education. The struggles. The triumphs. The day to day joys and tragedies of an urban school. Looking back at those earliest entries, I can see the relative youth sprinkled over the top. I had so much to learn. I so much to teach. I still do. Teach, that is. And learn.
Pope Benedict had just been rung in as head of the Catholic church. The first YouTube video had been uploaded, entitled "Me at the zoo." The young man standing in front of the elephant enclosure became the co-founder of that Internet watering hole called YouTube and about a year later he was bought out by another Internet watering hole called Google and now he has a bunch of money. Not Google kind of money, but still.
For your own edification, Google also bought Blogger, upon which I tap out my daily musings. I have yet to be offered anything for my much smaller corner of that corner of Al Gore's Internet.
But it's not about the money. I'm doing this, have been doing this, will continue to do this because there seems to be a need for me to express myself. In this model of the universe, you are that audience that I was hoping would flock to my musings back when I tumbled out of college. For that I owe you a debt of gratitude whether this is the first time you clicked or if you've been paying attention to me straight along. I celebrate you for your patience and curiosity, and what amounts to your patronage. This is a signpost in the middle of a wilderness. I don't know where this path will lead most days, but I'm glad to have company on what can be a lonely journey.
I can feel you reading these words. They're not mine, after all. They're in pretty common usage. I just happen to arrange them in this particular order.
Tune in tomorrow as I begin my sixteenth year of arranging words and muddying the waters.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Little People

Last Friday was kind of a watershed for us.
In the morning, after an video meeting with parents from our school our principal asked if anyone would like to bring their kids into our virtual space. One parent called her first grader into the room and for about a minute we had contact with her for the tiniest bit. That was the reason I have been doing all this digital distance preparation.
I have not been in regular contact with all of our young charges since the middle of March. I have made a few phone calls to homes where I have been able to help families connect to Al Gore's Internet. But I haven't seen them. I have heard about them from their teachers. I have even seen a few pictures and a couple short videos letting me know that they are out there. Somewhere.
I didn't see kids.
Then a call went out from Oakland's Tech Exchange that at last we could drop by and pick up Chromebooks for trade. Fourteen refurbished devices for children who need a way to connect up to the school where we all used to have recess and hang out on the steps after the last bell and wait for parents to come pick them up and it seems like so long ago that all of these things happened that I have forgotten how sometimes they used to get under my skin and periodically annoy me.
I haven't completely forgotten, but I can say that I miss it.
Which is why, when my wife extended an invitation to a few of our neighbor kids to come over and use our front yard for a play space, I did not object. Yes, there was some concern about mixing vectors and keeping some semblance of social distancing. Eventually there were six kids, aged two to seven, scampering about our yard. There were only a few moments in their brief visit that my wife felt the need to intercede. One was when the boys chose to put themselves on a team, leaving the lone girl on a team all by herself. Another when one of the four year olds decided to toss his friend's squirt gun across the lawn. These things happen when kids get together. As quickly as the storm brewed, it blew away.
And then they went back to their apartments on either side of our house. We were left alone again, but we had our memories stirred by the sounds and movements of the little people. The ones for whom we are working so hard.
I look forward to seeing them all again.

Monday, May 04, 2020


My wife loves them.
Then again, she also loves cats, so I may not have to feel so bad.
But I do. Sometimes. When she starts waxing for those days when she would go out to the barn and groom her steed, or the time she went fox hunting. No fox was involved, of course. She loves all living creatures equally, so chasing a fox across the countryside would be an ill-advised avocation for her. Galloping about the green fields and into the woods holds more than just a little attraction for her. Stuck here in Oakland, the opportunities to ride the range are a little few and far between.
This means that it takes some effort to get out and enjoy a little equestrian experience. There are stables in the hills above our town, but unless you happen to be the owner of one of the pampered ponies housed within their temperature controlled stalls, it can be more than a little expensive to just head out for a little canter. And yes, there are places around the bay where you can rent a horse to meander up and down a stretch of beach, but it's not the same as hopping aboard your living breathing conveyance and just riding.
As mentioned earlier, I have not great love for horses. We had one of those rubber ponies attached to a stand by springs and one of my more unpleasant visceral childhood memories is getting the webbing between my thumb and forefinger stuck in one of those springs. And in a family of three boys, it was only a matter of time before all four springs had been sprung and we were left with a big, lame rubber pony that would not support our weight.
And there were some real horses too. The ones at the Y Indian Guide Camp. The ones we took for seemingly endless trail rides that consisted primarily of shifting your weight back and forth uncomfortably as you pondered the back end of the horse directly in front of you. There were also a few occasions when my younger brother and I went along with our godmother and her daughter to a stable that would take us out for a very similar experience to the Y Camp, but at the very end, the guide would let us run our patient mounts back to the corral.
That's the part I get. That, and the relationship one could have with a big animal. Like Sunny, the tired old Palomino who lived in the vacant lot behind our house. There was just a chain link fence between us kids and all that horseflesh, and initially it was more than a little intimidating to feed Sunny a carrot or a fistful of grass. I was pretty sure he would just keep gobbling until he got past my elbow. But that never happened. I know that Sunny probably only lived over the back fence for a couple of years, but in my childhood memories, he was a fixture. He became my horsey archetype.
I have no such example from the cat world.
So it's probably just a little more likely that we'll be converting the front lawn to pasture before we have a litter box in the kitchen. 

Sunday, May 03, 2020

What Happens Next?

There was a gathering of former teachers from my school last week. This crew was the one for which I initiated the sentiment, "There are no ex-Horace Mann teachers, only recovering Horace Mann teachers." This has been my refrain for nearly a decade now as I have worked my way up the totem pole to nearly the top. I have been assured by our cafeteria supervisor that she will be retiring in December, so that will leave me. The lone survivor.
Or something like that. Some would argue that hanging around at one school site doesn't make me a survivor as much as stubborn. Or tenacious. Or boring. Like when I go in to donate blood and I can fly through all those questions about tattoos and world travel without blinking because I am a pretty boring guy. But an excellent candidate for blood donation.
Which is pretty much what makes me such a star at my school. My relative skills and enthusiasm are not usually in question, but I do know that simply showing up every day for more than twenty years makes me some sort of institution. Which is natural, since so many have suggested for years that I be institutionalized.
But now I have begun to bump up against the reality of what life might be like if I eventually had to pack things in and call it a career. Retire. Which is kind of a funny word, since it suggests that I wasn't already tired enough, so I ought to go back for some more. Being locked out of school and hanging out at home has been, much to my wife's chagrin, a coming attraction of sorts. What will life be like when all this hunkering down is just a matter of fact and not part of some government conspiracy?
I recognize ahead of time the struggle that I will experience once I have said goodbye to being an elementary school teacher. There are only so many times the sink trap can be cleaned and the lawn can be mowed. And I expect that once I ride off into the sunset I'll be back. So many of the teachers I know who have "retired" have gone on to spend their golden years volunteering or substituting or loitering in the office of schools because they just can't imagine a life without it.
I can imagine it, but I still pine for those moments when things came together just so and I was responsible for some kids learning. I've been able to do some of that from my desk here in my home office, but I have started to wonder how much longer I will be this enthusiastic. Or able.
I have maintained for some time that I expect someone will have to carry me out of the school and toss my belongings after me. "And don't come back!"
With love. And appreciation. But someday this has all got to end.
Doesn't it?

Saturday, May 02, 2020


I don't play golf. Unless it's miniature. But I do understand the concept of a Mulligan. It is the version of a "do-over" brought to us through various origin stories about a golfer named Mulligan who was given, or chose to take, another shot. Circumstances beyond the control of the player, inside our outside the game, have given an agreed chance to make good on a moment of confusion or weakness.
The NCAA has decided to offer an additional year of eligibility to student athletes whose seasons were cut short or eliminated by COVID-19. Even as the smoke clears from the first NFL "virtual draft," one has to wonder how the lack of March Madness affected the stock of basketball players who were denied the chance to shine in front of all those pro scouts. As the nation's Virus Wizard Dr. Anthony Fauci suggests that sports might be allowed to continue without fans in the seats, we start to wonder what the point is. Professional sports are, by their very nature, spectator sports. Recently there have been experiments, such as having professional wrestlers square off against one another in an empty arena. If The Edge falls in a ring and nobody's around to hear it, does The Edge really fall? At least we have video games, the pinnacle of socially distant sports.
All of which remains to be seen. Could we just skip the 2020 football season? It's difficult to imagine crowds piling into stadiums in the same way they did just a couple of months ago. A number of people have related to me over the past few weeks how they reacted with mild panic to seeing groups of humans nestled together in old TV shows. We are becoming a world of Enochlophobes. And maybe that's a good thing. 
As an elementary school teacher, I have spent great chunks of time herding kids into lines and manageable pods to move them from place to place. Lately I have been spending much more time herding kids to monitors for their Zoom meetings. And wouldn't you know it, the "president" thinks we might need to get all those kids back into classrooms sooner rather than later. The man who made George W. Bush look like a reasonable Head of State "strongly urged" governors to consider reopening schools before summer. What could happen?
Sorry, I think we're going to give the kids a Mulligan on this one. 

Friday, May 01, 2020

Fox Fire

I've never been thrown out of a bar. This probably has less to do with my behavior than the bars in which I used to hang. I say this with complete understanding of how I appear, or used to appear when dive bars were my thing. Like we used to say, "You can't fall off the floor."
So, here's the deal: Diamond and Silk fell off the floor.
If you're not familiar with Diamond and Silk, they are Ineitha Lynette Hardaway and Herneitha Rochelle Richardson, social media video bloggers who have made their name in the virtual world by promoting their favorite "president," Donald J. Trump. They somewhat famously stirred up a fuss in 2016 and 2018 by insisting that Facebook blocked or censored their page. Not that they had any specific evidence to back up these claims, but it certainly brought them notice. All the way to the halls of Congress, where Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn concluded her questioning of Facebook CEO and Jesse Eisenberg impersonator Mark Zuckerberg by insisting, "Let me tell you something right now, Diamond and Silk is not terrorism." 
Not terrorists? Check. Rabid supporters of the MAGA agenda? Check. Fox News fodder? Check. Eventually the duo made the transition from Al Gore's Internet to the big time. After numerous appearances on various Fox shows from Hannity to Ingraham they showed up on the "president's" favorite Fox & Friends. It was there that Diamond and Silk claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a "non-functioning alcoholic" who "slurs her words." They made this claim based on a doctored video that showed up on (ta-dah) Facebook. For their efforts, they were given their own show on Fox's streaming service. Fox News did have to go back and apologize for airing the doctored video.
Fast forward to the age of coronavirus, and we find Diamond and Silk spreading their own special brand of "the truth." Over the past several weeks, the pair have at different times suggested that COVID-19 was “engineered” possibly with “a little deep-state action.” that Bill Gates was pushing a vaccine as a means of population control. That 5G technology was being used to deliberately infect people, and that the death toll of the pandemic was being inflated. 
So Fox fired them. 
And yet, somehow Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson still have jobs. Well, as we say, stay tuned.