Friday, July 31, 2020

Live Through This

So sorry. In all this confusion, I must have lost track. Somewhere in the past month or so I slid on past the fortieth anniversary of my graduation from high school. Part of my surprise may stem from the fact that I just spent a few quality hours with some of the folks with whom I shared the experience of high school.
Not all of them, mind you. This is the cardinal reason I have avoided organized reunions of my graduating class is because I was not a big fan of all the people with whom I endured those years. I know this leaves me wide open for the suggestion that I am telling tales out of school. This is precisely what I am doing. The choice of the word "endured" was not one I landed on lightly. I was in band, after all. I played sousaphone in band. Which is just a sly way of avoiding saying that I played tuba. I had one date in my junior year. None in my sophomore year. The friends I made were almost exclusively those I made while practicing and marching and going out for pizza after practicing marching. The friends I had coming up from junior high drifted away, finding their own social strata and cliques.
And yet, somehow, I managed to have some fun. Part of that fun came in the form of direct confrontation with the powers that were in charge of that paramilitary group to which I belonged. In my older brother's day, these characters were known as "Band Baddies," as distinguished by their obsequious and conformative "Band Goodies." By following the path laid out by my big brother, I managed to further distance myself from anything that might have made me visible. It wasn't until my senior year that I began to feel my oats, aided in part by an increased effort to generate a social life. Not that this social life crept anywhere near the boundaries prescribed by my bandie affiliation, but a sense that perhaps the "permanent record" of which I had been so concerned all my life might not be such a big deal.
I skipped some classes. I lied to the vice principal. I was kicked out of band rehearsal. Three times. These were various smart aleck remarks and disregard for authority. It should be noted, however, that none of this delinquent behavior kept me from doing my absolute best when it came time to preform. I was still a team player, in spite of my questionable attitude. I was also kicked out of my Elementary Functions class. I was asked not to return. I dropped the class and replaced it with Selected Topics in Math. Got the credit. Graduated. Done.
On graduation day, I heard about all the parties that other people were attending. I landed on my parents' back patio. With my family, and two of those people I mentioned at the outset. There was no drunken brawl of a celebration. That would have to wait until my "gap year" when I worked at Arby's instead of heading off to college.
No word yet on when that reunion will be taking place either.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Is It Truly Necessary?

This past week, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton suggested that slavery was "a necessary evil." After making this pronouncement, he immediately shaded it by saying this was the Founding Fathers' decision. It is by no means a coincidence that Senator Tom is also sponsoring the Saving American History Act of 2020 which would cut off professional development funding from any school district using curriculum from the 1619 Project. The year 1619 is when African slaves first set foot on this continent. The program suggests this was the true "Birth of a Nation." 
Senator Tom is having none of this. Which is why he says things like slavery was a necessary evil, and that the “union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.” But it's probably best that we don't expect that the extinction will come anytime soon, right, Tom?
Tom continues to throw up the "views of the founders" as his rationale. History, as we have been told repeatedly, is written by the victors. Not by some leftie working at the New York Times. A black woman journalist? Oh my, I believe I might succumb to this terrible case of the vapors! How could anything she has to say or think have any bearing on the matter? Is she a Founding Father? No? So prepare to be shut down, Nikole Hannah-Jones
Meanwhile, over here I continue to wonder just how we're going to spread any curriculum in a country that seems to want to hold education hostage until things are taught when and how the powers-that-be deem appropriate. Quit complaining about the pandemic, put on a mask and start herding those eight year olds into socially distancing pods that will learn to respect their country and their flag because that's what they are supposed to do.
Questions? There are none. Do as you are told. As our fathers and the Founding Fathers told us to do. Why can't you just be satisfied with the marching orders handed down from on high? If there was a problem with slavery, it was fixed when Honest Abe freed them and set them on a path to equality. Never mind if that path turns out to be heavily guarded with vicious dogs and land mines. You've got a path. Quit your whining. 
And thinking. As Senator Tom says, if “local, left-wing school boards want to fill their children’s heads with anti-American rot, that’s their regrettable choice, but they ought not to benefit from federal tax dollars to teach America’s children to hate America.” Besides, it seems as though Senator Tom and his associates already have the market cornered on hate. 
Is all that evil really necessary?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Outside It's America

Living in America has always been a little like a poop sandwich. The more bread you have, the less poop you have to eat. Unless eating poop is your thing in which case you could afford to just back up the truck and commence to well, you know. And if poop was your thing and you couldn't afford it, you'd still be stuck not getting what you wanted because you couldn't afford those truckloads of poop. Pardon the vernacular.
It comes as little surprise to most of us that the pandemic has done most of its damage in high-density urban areas. Areas in America where people of color have found themselves over the years, sometimes by choice, other times herded by circumstance. None of this happens in isolation. Economic and social conditions have contributed to this trend for more than one hundred fifty years, starting with the end of the Civil War. The American Dream is elusive at best for most of these families. Instead, these are the folks who are brushed aside or moved out of the way when someone with money decides that row of houses would make great condominiums. The people who shop at Wal-Mart because it is exactly what they can afford, regardless of what might be the healthiest alternative. The families who send their kids to the neighborhood school because they are working two jobs and can't spend the time thinking about school choice. These are survivors.
These are the people who are, and have been, in the cross-hairs of modern society. We blame them for the conditions in which they find themselves. We wonder why they can't just change their lives. The color of their skin or their zip code or their parents' last name could be enough to keep that elusive opportunity just out of reach.
Twelve years ago, the housing bubble burst. That illusion that everyone was going to get rich ended abruptly and only those who were holding the purse strings when we were riding high got bailed out. No one went to jail for lying to the country about what was going on. At the time, there was a move to Occupy Wall Street, and any number of other streets that might allow ninety-nine percent of America have their own slice of the pie. There were demonstrations, and riots. And eventually regulations were passed aimed at limiting the possibility of anything like that happen again.
And this "president" has made it his job, between rounds of golf, to roll back those protections. And now there are frightened voices in the halls of government crying socialism, as if it were a dirty word. And the people who have been pushed around for a hundred fifty years are not being patient. And they are fighting. And dying.
As if their lives depended on it.
Because it does.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

View Master

The view from my office window doesn't change a lot. I can see the magnolia tree we planted when my son was born. I suppose if you take into account twenty-three years, the view may have changed quite a bit. The birch trees on the other side of the driveway are new since then too. So are the planter boxes that hold our vegetable garden. The plum tree seems to be anxious to keep pace with the magnolia, so I guess what I'm really saying is that the view from my office window has changed a lot.
Over time. Fence posts and slats have been replaced. The lawn that was once a hardened layer of clay was churned up by yours truly, sending a friend's rototiller to an early grave. Thus a trend began in which I would break at least one tool in every household project I took on. Shovels, hammers, saws, you name it, I've broken it. Those scars are not in evidence from my window, however.
The street is pretty much the same, with the possible exception of the speed bumps that our neighborhood petitioned for and got back when we were all parents of toddlers. The teenager across the street is now a father himself, having grown up to marry and raise a little boy and a girl of his own. Next door to him is the house where the core group of children lived. If their lives had been more amusing or somewhat less tragic, they could have been in a sitcom. Instead, they grew up and scattered, if only briefly since most of them live within a few blocks of their original homestead.After they moved out, contractors came in and made the most out of the broken down hulk of a house across the street. New front door, and new windows out of which a teddy bear stares, sharing space from time to time with a black cat. Gone are the herds of adolescents who paraded by in hopes of catching one of the girls' eyes.
The mural that was mostly finished on the garage door is now mostly obscured by the aforementioned trees. The stated goal, graffiti discouragement, turned out to be real and true. The painting done has been left essentially untouched for more than a decade now. The shadowy figures seem to call out for some sort of additional color or attention, but time has called game over on that project. Which is fine, since it continues to justify my assertion that the view outside my office window hasn't changed much. Not in the past few days. Or six months.
All of which seems to suggest I should get back to staring out that window. You never know when a new tree is going to spring up.

Monday, July 27, 2020

I Forgot More Than I'll Ever Know

Okay, let's get started with an admission: I took a whole bunch of film classes in college. I have spent hours of my life in front of a screen that I cannot count. I worked in a video store. I sat at the foot of my parents' bed watching old movies long after they had fallen asleep. I would say that if you were to follow Malcolm Gladwell's ten thousand hour rule, I probably have a couple expert levels to my name when it comes to film.
And there are still things I do not know. For example, I do not know what that character just said in the movie my wife and I were watching. Try as I might, I miss a few things. Like Swedish cinema. I've seen a few Bergman films, but I don't fully grasp the appeal. Thoughtful, somber, and often remade by Woody Allen. Check. This does not make me anything but a snob, I know. Like experimental, non-narrative films that I watched for two entire semesters at the University of Colorado. When it came time for me to create one of my own, I could not help myself. There was a story in all those flashing lights and colors. I know that there is expression going on out there without the burden of linear structure, but it holds little appeal to me.
No, most of what I learned has turned out to be the stuff that makes me really good at Trivial Pursuit. You remember Trivial Pursuit, don't you? A board game that was created by like-minded individuals to me and those friends who gathered around to see who could fill up their pie with wedges before everyone lost interest. It also got me a seat on a Trivia Bowl team, something I may have aspired to long before I was ever selected. Movie trailer tossup questions were my forte. Knowing the title of Burt Reynolds' 1975 musical directed by Peter Bogdonavich from a still projected on a screen at the back of the Glenn Miller Ballroom is a personal triumph that continues to warm my heart decades later. At Long Last Love, if you're keeping score at home.
After Al Gore invented the Internet, lugging around this kind of encyclopedic knowledge turned out to be less than useful. Now it seems more like a burden. If only I had used all those synapses for learning a trade or remembering where I filed my Social Security Card.
Still, there are some happy bits about all that minutiae. I can walk into a room, glance at the TV and come up with the title of a movie showing on cable within just a few frames. I am a pop culture repository, for better or worse. The better would be the discussions I get to have with my mother, who has her own tens of thousands of hours watching to her credit. And then there is the ever-present potential for me to go on and on about the details of a forgotten eighties flick that I happened to experience in a loop during slow afternoons at the video store. I suppose it would be more interesting to wax rhapsodic about Wild Strawberries, instead of repeating lines from Making The Grade. But maybe not as much fun.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Masky The Mascot

A few nights ago, I turned on my television set and saw, to my wondering eyes, a group of men playing baseball. In uniforms. Professionally. Initially I found myself looking in on a spirited battle between the Colorado Rockies and the Texas Rangers. I could say that I was stuck there longer than I might have because I was born in Colorado and as part of our wedding celebration my wife and I took a bunch of our friends and family to Mile High Stadium to take in one of the earliest games they played. Against the San Francisco Giants. Which may have had something to do with it, but since they were playing in Texas, the curiosity was centered more on the fact that they were actually playing organized professional sports. Which got me to thinking: "Hey, I wonder if the Bay Bridge Series is going on?" That's the traditional end of exhibition baseball where those previously mentioned San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics play each other.
Lo and behold, just a few channels up the dial I found the Orange and Black playing the Green and Gold. In an empty Oracle, previously Pac Bell, Park. I watched an inning or two, noting the times that canned crowd noise was poured out through the sound system. And the cardboard cutouts in the seats behind home plate. And how there was little if any drama in what I was watching. The math was still there: one man on, two outs, full count and so forth, but it was taking place in a bubble. As I changed the channel to see if there was a Big Bang Theory rerun that I had not seen, I considered the details. Colorado's team mascot is a mountain range. And they dress a guy up as a stegosaurus now and then because kids don't get that whole abstraction. Texas named their team for their rootin' tootin' lawmen, but they do not have a guy in a Chuck Norris suit handing out souvenir bats to the kiddies. San Francisco kept their team name when they moved out west. They do have a fuzzy mascot in Lou Seal, a nod to the Bay Area's baseball past and the gender fluid nature of all things Bay Area. Then there's the on-the-nosey Oakland Athletics, who brought their incredibly simple team name with them from Philadelphia where they must have had a really tough week after coming up with "Phillies" for their National League franchise. Oakland has a big lug of an elephant suit for customer relations, and the legends that somehow brought an elephant into the mix with either city remains a mystery not unlike the infield fly rule. The name of the elephant currently is Stomper, which replaced the much more entertaining option Harry Elephante.
All of this leads up to the name change we were all waiting for: The Washington Football team will heretofore be referred to as "The Washington Football Team." I am not making this up. After decades of being at the top of the list when it comes to racially insensitive mascots, ownership decided to take the plunge and do what might be described as "the right thing." Assurances have been made that this is only a placeholder, and that eventually there will be a dynamic new team name that will restore passion and pride in a franchise that has become a public relations and competitive pimple on the face of the National Football League.
I didn't catch the final scores of either of the baseball games, and I expect that it may still be a while before I watch football. I appreciate all the efforts that are being made to make sports safe and even culturally responsive, but it still doesn't feel normal.
Maybe it never was.

Saturday, July 25, 2020


What could be more terrifying for highly trained federal agents to confront than one naked woman? How about a line of women, linking arms, dressed in yellow shirts? The idea that "it could only happen in Portland" may be misleading. By sending in his secret police, the "president" has upped the ante in the game of "law and order" he seems intent on winning regardless of what the optics are. The folks in Portland understand this, and have shown up in ways that seem to confound the shock troops that have entered the fray in the Great Northwest.
Currently I am happy enough with this weird behavior being contained in the state just above me. While it sometimes feels a little like an episode of Portlandia, the stakes are incredibly high. The "president" has suggested that he may send more of these anonymously ominous contingents to other big cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Oakland, and other cities to deal with unrest. Because, he believes, "In Portland they’ve done a fantastic job." An interesting perspective, since the demonstrations which were on their way to calming down in Rose City. That trend has been solidly countered with the arrival of these stormtroopers with their tear gas and rubber bullets. Portland's mayor, Ted Wheeler, has said in so many words that the posse comitatus is not welcome there.
These words were not regarded by the "president." Instead, he sees this escalation of force necessary to maintain "law and order." In true Portland fashion, the response was to send a crew of dads out with leaf blowers to support the gold shirted mothers. The leaf blowers are a nice touch and very effective at dispersing tear gas. In the middle of all this surreality, comes Navy veteran Christopher David. In his Navy hat and sweatshirt, and a mask, he approached one of the militarized agents hopin to reason with them. “What they were doing was unconstitutional,” David said. ”Sometimes I worry that people take the oath of office or the oath to the Constitution, and it’s just a set of words that mean nothing. They really don’t feel in their heart the weight of those words.” The agent's response? He swung a baton at David with full force. With both hands. Five times. Two broken bones in his hand. Then another agent squirted him in the face with pepper spray. 
This is how they are treating unarmed veterans. "Violent anarchists" in the view of the administration. American citizens have been pulled off the streets and into unmarked vehicles by these extras from Terry Gilliam's Brazil
My wife has announced that if they show up in Oakland, she is ready to grab her gold shirt and go. I don't own a leaf blower, but I suppose I could show up naked. That should scare some people away. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Logical Song

Hello, and welcome to another episode of "Don't We Have Enough To Worry About?"
Gun violence is on the rise in many urban areas. Chicago saw eleven shot and killed along with fifty-nine injured last weekend. Philadelphia's murder rate is up thirty-three percent over last year. As if the one hundred forty thousand COVID-19 deaths were not enough, we have to add a layer of shootings as some sort or horrible meringue on this ugly summer. It does make a certain kind of sense, however, given the tension levels across America these days. The kind of desperation that often causes those with guns to make bad choices in an attempt to solve whatever problem they see in front of them is now a cloud from which we cannot escape.
And it's not just youth gang-related killings that continue. Over the weekend, the son and husband of federal judge Esther Salas were shot. Not by roving gangs of rioters, or home invaders, but by a seventy-two year old attorney who had a pending case before Judge Salas. Her twenty year old son who was home from college died after being shot through the heart, and her sixty-three year old husband was in critical condition after surgery. Roy Den Hollander, the "Men's Rights" lawyer was discovered by a cleaning crew a short time after, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Authorities suggest that Den Hollander approached the Salas family residence disguised as a Fed Ex delivery person. Apparently he planned to hand the judge a package in hopes of getting her face to face. The cleaning crew found the package alongside Den Hollander's body in his car. He was also said to have been battling inoperable cancer. 
However, as far back as seven years ago, he told The New York Daily News that “I’m beginning to think it’s time for vigilante justice, civil disobedience," telling the newspaper that he “may pull a Carrie Nation on the Ladies’ Nights clubs.” Long before the advent of COVID-19 and masks and quarantine, Den Hollander was looking for "alternative solutions" to his frustrations. The cancer diagnosis may have freed him to head off on his rampage. Ironically, all of the people killed by Mister Den Hollander were men. 
But logic isn't exactly what we find ourselves discussing this summer. Meanwhile, a war continues to rage on in the streets and the country lanes of America. And logic is in pretty short supply there, too. 
Stay home. Stay safe. Stay alive. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Elephant In The Room

Which of these is not an elephant? A) Dumbo B) Babar C) Donald "J is for Jumbo" Trump
If you chose to invoke the Fifth Amendment and decline to answer the question, then you just aced the examination. If, by chance, you believe that the Fifth Amendment secures your right to hand out grenade launchers to our bear friends in the woods, then stick around because we're going cognitive. 
Recently, the "president" has been making a lot of fuss about the test he "aced" at Walter Reed Military Hospital. He bragged about it to on Fox News Sunday to Chris Wallace“That’s an unbelievable thing,” Trump told Wallace that the doctors said to him about his test results. “Rarely does anybody do what you just did.” Again, in case there was any question about the topic, the "president" was letting anyone within the sound of his voice know that the doctors believed his cognitive abilities were unique and rare. 
Which may not be a good thing.
The Montreal Cognitive Assessment is is “designed as a rapid screening instrument for mild cognitive dysfunction. It assesses different cognitive domains: attention and concentration, executive functions, memory, language, visuoconstructional skills, conceptual thinking, calculations, and orientation.” Put less delicately, it is a test that measures decline, not intelligence. Chris Wallace made a point of taking the test before he interviewed the "president." He suggested that spotting the elephant wasn't that big a challenge. 
But this is the world, or more specifically the country, in which we find ourselves. The "president" would like the people whom he governs to know that he can tell the difference between a camel, a lion and an elephant. Don't try and bog him down with discussion about policy or procedure. He knows which one is the elephant. More tests mean more cases. Someday this virus is just going to disappear. Joe Biden should have to take that test. 
No consideration for the dead and dying Americans. No pause to consider alternatives to blunt force "law and order." The bar for POTUS is now low enough that anyone who has visited a zoo or watched The Lion King has what it takes upstairs to be successful in that job. 
And Joe, if you're out there, the answer is: None of them are elephants. That one in the middle is a hipporampitus. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

We Are Stardust

We stood on the side of the hill, staring off to the west. We watched as the sun completed its daily destiny by sinking into the Pacific Ocean. My son and I waited at the barbed wire fence. My wife, always the thrill seeker, had crawled through to set herself just a little closer to the lip of the continent. She sat on the picnic blanket to make herself one among many. Our little family was not alone on the hillside. We were part of a throng of sorts that had settled at the top of Prefumo Canyon to watch the sunset. A popular pastime in these parts, but this one was unique. Part of the distinction was our presence. My son had seen his share of days coming and going from this vantage point. My wife and I have not. Sun rises, sun sets, and son sees. We came to watch with him.
Oh. And there was a comet. My wife and I had been unable, in spite of our mild efforts to view this celestial anomaly, to take it in from our own neighborhood. We traveled four hours down the coast to take what we imagined might be our ultimate road trip to that little college town that my son had called home for five years. We were also there so that my wife could give her little boy a haircut before he went off to what we all hoped would be the job interview that would set him on a path to his next act. We had convinced ourselves that what we were doing was essential. Conditions in California had worsened to the point where barbershops and hair salons had been closed once again. After being set aside by his former employer when things began to sour, our son's COVID-19 mane had grown substantially. If he went off to start his career looking like he had just walked in out of a three month trek in the wilderness, he might be sent back out into that wilderness. We did not want to take that chance. My wife and I considered what we were doing was a mission of mercy.
But that's not what we were thinking as the sun went down and we waited for Neowise to appear. The temperature dropped precipitously. My son and I, in our shorts and sandals, shivered a bit while we looked out on our blanket-bundled wife and mother, wondering if we would see anything but the standard impressive sunset.
And lo, the darkness fell and the comet appeared. At first it was a gray smear above the horizon. My son and I worked our eyes to make sense of what we were seeing. My wife listened to us from a distance and attempted to ignore our tired banter. Still, the comet persisted. This ball of frozen gas was making a trip that would not be repeated for another six thousand years. My family's trip was a wink in the lifespan of Neowise. And yet, there we were, ready to carry on our errand. Not just to cut some hair, but to connect as we do. Because it is essential. Once in a lifetime kind of stuff.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Climbing Higher

We are climbing Jacob's ladder
We are climbing Jacob's ladder
We are climbing Jacob's ladder
We're brothers, and sisters, all
When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.
Every rung goes higher and higher
Every rung goes higher and higher
Every rung goes higher and higher
We are brothers, and sisters, all
When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.
Every new rung just just makes us stronger
Every new rung just just makes us stronger
Every new rung just just makes us stronger
We are brothers, and sisters, all
We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jails over and over again. And then you holler, 'Be patient.' How long can we be patient?
Yeah, we are climbing Jacob's ladder
Yeah, we are climbing Jacob's ladder
We are climbing Jacob's ladder
We are brothers, and sisters, all
We are one people with one family. We all live in the same house... and through books, through information, we must find a way to say to people that we must lay down the burden of hate. For hate is too heavy a burden to bear.
Yeah we are climbing
I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.
Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis passed away On July 17, 2020. He stomped on the Terra and encouraged us all to do the same. We stand on his shoulders as we continue to climb higher. Aloha John. We will continue. 

Monday, July 20, 2020

They're All Bozos On That Bus

There was a time, fifty years ago or so, when there was a comedy troupe called Firesign Theatre. They issued a greatest hits compilation in 1976 called Forward Into The Past. There are plenty of funny bits to recommend this record, but I found myself pondering the title. I thought about it in conjunction with remarks made recently by the "president." He was busy last week rolling back regulations. He boasted about “stopping the egregious abuse of the Clean Water Act." He felt he was giving he country back the water they deserved, dirty and polluted, but that must be what we deserve. He also bragged about bringing back the incandescent light bulb. Not that they were ever gone, but he did eliminate many of the energy efficiency standards that promoted the use of cheaper, longer-lasting LED lights. Still, he couldn't help himself: “I brought ’em back. They have two nice qualities: They’re cheaper and they’re better. They look better, they make you look so much better. That’s important to all of us.”
These remarks came on the same day that his press secretary, who insisted when she took the job that she would never lie to us, uttered what will become the legacy of this administration: "Science should not stand in the way." She was referencing the debate surrounding opening schools in the fall, but it could be viewed as the cornerstone of the past four years. This was the man who stood on the balcony of the White House and stared at a solar eclipse, after all. This is the man who insisted that windmills create noise that causes cancer.
Global warming is a hoax.
Science is a waste of money and time.
The "president" did not replace key CDC personnel in charge of pandemic response.
Well, guess what?
I don't need to tell you that science is the voice that is most frequently pushed to the back when anyone connected with the ballet of dunces steps up to tell us that everything is fine and we should be back to normal when the weather changes. Or some act of God. God is, apparently, a capitalist. Meanwhile, the man in this country who has more knowledge that any other on the subject has been degraded, ignored and ridiculed while the death express just picks up steam. Dr. Fauci has been linked to dozens of conspiracies, generated by those who would hold science down and kneel on its neck for as long as it takes to make it quiet.
Mike Pence, the "president's" chief wizard in charge of demonic possession and COVID-19, has the situation well in hand. Exorcisms will begin no later than December.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

What Hath We Wrought?

The day my older brother graduated from college, he took his diploma, his cap and gown, and stuffed them in the back of his car and went to work. He was off to be useful. He had a job waiting. No time spent lolling around, staring at the ceiling, wondering where the road might take him. It took him to work.
My very good friend the architect was working for an architect when he was in high school and once he graduated from college, he was ready to be an architect. He never wavered. His was, and continues to be, an unwavering line. There wasn't a pause for questioning. His mission was clear and remains so.
While I cannot lay claim to this same for my own career trajectory, I can relate to the importance of staying employed. I left a shift at the video store to attend my commencement exercises, and returned the following day to work all day Sunday. Those copies of Top Gun weren't going to rent themselves, after all. I had been working pretty steadily since I started mowing lawns at a nearby trailer park back in junior high school. I did take a year off during my freshman year of college. I don't know exactly what I did with all that free time. Of course I do. Binge drinking. Upon reflection, that was more of a vocation for me at that point. I hoped to go pro in my sophomore year.
It was that next year that I found my way back to Arby's, where I had spent my gap year, and I stayed for two more years. When I retired my brown polyester vest, I quickly found a spot on the trailer crew at Target. From there it was an obvious leap to the video store where my skills could be maximized and my studies of liberal arts made me a valuable asset. And very good at Trivial Pursuit. When our Block was Busted by chains, I pulled myself from the wreckage of the video rental business and slipped neatly into a position on a crew installing modular office furniture.
And so on. What I am suggesting here is that I have always felt a compulsion to be employed. That is why I can empathize so directly to the struggle my son is experiencing, having been "furloughed" after the first month of COVID-19 from his job selling big screen TVs to the masses at Best Buy. He never planned a career in consumer electronics, and maintains a vision of the future that has him writing for a living.
Silly boy.
But he has also felt the clock ticking these past months while he tries to figure out his spot on the chain gang. He wants to get back to work, and aside from repairing his beloved sports car, he has been stuck with a number of chores that have not been full employment. Now he finds himself on the brink of landing his first job as a college graduate. Not as a screenwriter, but using his substantial and encyclopedic knowledge of how things work. Because he gets a great deal of satisfaction from being useful. He is, to quote a childhood friend of his, a very useful engine.
And I know where that comes from.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Tug Of War

A tempest in a teapot. A mountain made out of a molehill. And other idioms that might be used to define exaggeration.
Hyperbole is a tempting avenue to follow in the current state of affairs. Newsweek ran an article about teachers in Texas writing wills in anticipation of schools opening in that state. Governor Greg Abbot has decided that schools will open on time in August this year. Schools in Texas will be required to provide in-person instruction five days a week. Parents do have the choice of keeping their children at home in distance learning. Teachers do not have this option. Texas is providing no additional funding for this grand experiment. Consequently, educators are making the high profile show of preparing for the worst.
I understand that there is a wide swath of public opinion, much of which insists that teachers are happy to stay locked into their extended paid vacation. Parents who have been forced by this circumstance to become teacher/caregiver hybrids are not anxious to spend yet another month or two or three or more while they are attempting to get their own lives back on track. Single mothers who rely on schools to teach and care for their children while they work outside the home need teachers to help them shoulder the load. We all have to do our part.
Meanwhile, teachers' unions respond in the way you might expect: fighting for their rank and file. Sending their members into a situation fraught with potential danger is not in their plan. Additional testing and precautions that are currently being argued for cost money. Money that doesn't exist because of the economic downturn caused by, you guessed it, COVID-19.
So while these anxieties feed the flames of fear and anger, there are a few quiet voices of reason. I have noticed them in the comment section of online meetings sandwiched between dozens of other less restrained suggestions. They are the voices of a community that is aware that these are not standard operating procedures. Teachers, parents, students and others continue to wait out the furious tug of war that goes on while it is obvious that the best possible solution is simply to put the rope down. Come together. The teapot is full of disease. It's best not to handle it without a mask. The molehills are full of plague-carrying insectivores. Probably a good thing to avoid them for the time being as well. This is most certainly a clever way to go about education in the age of coronavirus, but it probably won't be discovered by people who aren't looking for a mutually beneficial solution. For the record, I am anxious to get back to doing my job, the one for which I signed up. I teach kids, and it's much easier to do inside a school. Online learning is a lovely substitute, but I believe we all know the truth about substitutes. Even the best ones.
And get that mole out of the teapot, will you?

Friday, July 17, 2020


A couple of mornings ago, I awoke to find a song about cow farts in my news feed. Given my personality and preferences for comedy, it is not surprising that the elves at Google and Twitter and so forth would see fit to bring me this as an update.
(sung to a bouncy country beat)
"When cows fart and burp and splatter,
well it ain't no laughing matter—
they're releasing methane every time they do.
And that methane from their rear
goes up to the atmosphere
and pollutes our planet, warming me and you!
Yes! That methane that they pass
is a greenhouse gas
that'll trap the sun's heat n' change our climate, too!"

So here is the most amusing bit: The song is an advertisement for Burger King. The home of the Whopper. Recently the moldy Whopper. While we all try and sort out our lives during what continues to be a rather lengthy stay in our living rooms, fast food continues to be a link with a world we left behind in March. The advertising agency behind Burger King seems to be invested in getting your business as we continue to shelter in place. For context, it was about a year ago that my wife sampled her first Impossible Whopper. This non-meat treat  received the glowing review of "pretty good fast food sandwich." The notable omission of the word "burger" in that opinion was telling, but for her tastes, it was sufficient to bring her back to the King. 
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when my wife offered to bring dinner home while she was out. A pleasant enough invitation, but I might have taken note of the day. It was Monday, and when she came in with a bag full of burger and fries, I chose to ignore the looming specter of Meatless Monday. She told me that it was from the pub down the street from where we used to live. Not a fast food joint. When I turned the bun over to apply ketchup, I noticed how incredibly uniform the patty was, and my suspicions began to rise. This is the woman who once sneaked chard into our Sloppy Joes, after all. Someone brought me dinner, and I have learned not to complain loudly when this happens, if at all. Unless it has something to do with bananas. Then all bets are off.
Of course she had brought me an Impossible Burger. The lettuce, pickle, onion, ketchup and toasted bun helped deflect some of the concern I might have had for the lack of meat. I ate it like a good boy, and thanked her for bringing me dinner. She asked if I noticed anything different. She may have felt she was getting away with something. I assured he she had fed me and that was beautiful. She had not pulled one over on her favorite carnivore. 
Which brings us back to the fart song. Should I be impressed that Burger King is actively trying to convince us all that they want to save the planet and continue to sell us fried food? For a moment there when the Impossible Burgers first landed, I wondered if a fast food chain might just go all in on plant-based products and use that as their standard. Now I wonder, if we can get cows to stop generating so much greenhouse gas, can we have guilt-free Whoppers, Big Macs, Double-Doubles and so forth? Sounds impossible. 
But a song about cow farts? That's a gift. 
"To change their emissions,
Burger King went on a mission
testing diets that would help reduce their farts,
That's a start!
And by now there ain't no question
that it's helping cows' digestion
adding lemongrass, so they can play their part.
 Reducing methaaaaaane… methaaaaaane
We can reduce emissions by more than a third!
Got the cow-kids singing for a better woooooorld!"

Thursday, July 16, 2020

My Handicap

Okay: Golf.
I have spent most of my life working on my short game. In other words, I have played my share of Putt-Putt. I am strong on the windmills, which require timing, but not so much on the loop-the-loops that involve a degree of strength and agility I have yet to muster. I also enjoy the memory of the free order of french fries that you could win if you got at the course that was located behind our local McDonald's.
I will also confess to a certain amount of rage glee in whacking a ball off a tee. I once hit a whole bucket of balls into a net at a driving range and the feeling I got when I connected was very satisfying. The aforementioned net was the thing that kept me going. I knew that I would not be responsible for hunting down any of the errant slices or hooks I made. That poor soul in the cart covered in reinforced wire mesh would be getting minimum wage to pick those up. The six bucks I paid for the thirty shots at tension release seemed like a pretty good deal.
Then there was the time my friend from high school, who brought his clubs on the trip our marching band made to Mexico, asked if I wanted to tee one up from the balcony of our hotel. This is not something I am particularly proud of, and borders on the delinquent. But I did it. Sailing a dimpled projectile off into the Mexico City night had its appeal, a lot like shooting an arrow into the air. Where it came down was not my concern. Not way back then. Consequences in lieu of a chaperone catching us did not occur to us.
That said, I tend to see golf as an activity rather than a sport. Those ever-so-brief moments of exertion are interspersed by a meandering walk in the manicured lawns of the upper class. And if walking isn't your thing, you can always enjoy the electric cart ride. Most of your "good" golfers bring a caddy along to alleviate the concern of lugging all those heavy clubs around the country club. Yes, my attitudes toward this activity are derived almost exclusively from repeat viewings of Caddyshack. Sure, there was that element of Animal House to the story, but even the fondness I felt for the members of Delta House, I never felt the slightest urge to join a fraternity. Much in the same way I never felt compelled to join any of my friends on their trips out on the links. Whacking a ball and chasing it seemed like a poor excuse for returning to the clubhouse for a few drinks. Why not just start the day there and finish it?
Besides, I was really only in it for the free order of fries.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

True Confessions Of A Grammar Nazi

It started like this: "As a teacher, I applaud you. Not only for your stance, but also for letting me know that you are called 'Michiganders.'" This was the reply I made to Michigan's governor, Gretchen Whitmer when she tweeted "I want to make this clear — I will not send our kids and our education workforce into our schools unless it is safe to do so, plain and simple. I have made decisions based on science and facts to keep Michiganders safe since the beginning, and won’t stop now." I honestly did not believe that I was walking into the belly of a beast. Not Governor Whitmer, but her critics.
Let me preface the rest of this piece by saying that the "likes" I got for making that bold assertion of mine have far outweighed the negatives. The machine that is Twitter, however, doesn't allow for thumbs down, so if you disagree you have to make a direct reply. Like the user who is referenced by "Cancel Culture Is A Cancer For Culture" who replied to me, "Yeah, I would applaud a 1 year paid vacation to." This is where my better nature escaped me and I tossed back, "As a teacher, I suppose I should point out that you probably meant 'too.' But maybe that's beside the point." At this point, I felt like we had both had our petty back and forth. I was wrong. There was still plenty of grist of the mill. "McSnipe" shot back, "Well apparently the public schooling failed him. You're doing such a bang up job. School of choice should be mandatory" which caught me in a mood that brought forth my response, "Only if they teach that putting a punctuation mark at the end of a sentence is not a choice." And this is where I was called a "Grammar Nazi." Which is a label I would rather not have applied to me, but I suppose that the grammar portion of that shoe probably fits. The next bit was the part that set me off on a couple days of soul-searching. The same reply that named me a Grammar Nazi went on to call me an "ugly, hateful putz."
Which is about the time that I felt I needed to push away from the keyboard. I wasn't involved in banter anymore. This was bickering. I could taste the difference, and I did not care for it. From there the comments became much more sweeping but still directed at me, suggesting that I was "indoctrinating" children and teaching them to hate white people. Others wanted to know which school I worked for so they could be certain that their children would not end up in my class. The following day the stream had been reduced to a trickle, but I was still getting notices on my timeline that someone else was ready to take their shot at me. Inevitably, following these links back landed me on pages full of alt-right conspiracies and hate. The fear and anger that I had been smelling on the replies to my tweet was on full display there.
And it shook me. The way my correcting someone's grammar could bring on such hostility. Or maybe, given the current state of our great nation, I shouldn't be surprised at all. And that's sad.
So am I.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

What We Do

A week ago, I was poking around in the archives of this blog, located just to the right if you ever feel the need to do the same, and I came across something I wrote fifteen years ago about the first day of school. At that time, I was pleased and happy with myself for being a veteran of some nine years. It was old hat for me, this searching class lists for names and finding familiar faces among the crowd. Parents making sure that we had connected and their babies would be safe in our hands, and once everyone had trooped inside the building and made our ways to the room we would share for one hundred eighty days it had begun.
"It" being a new school year.
At that time, I was somewhat incredulous with the notion that I still got nervous even after all those years. In a few weeks, I will begin my twenty-fourth year teaching, and I will be nervous again. This one might make a little more sense because we are about to embark on a brand new vision of how school could work. This summer has seen a resurgence of COVID-19 across the country, and the neighborhood where I teach is no exception. After months of surveys, studies and questionnaires, the Oakland Unified School District felt that it would be in the best interest of all involved to begin the 2020-21 academic calendar in distance learning mode. Students would, over a period of weeks as conditions became more clear and safe, be allowed to come back in phases.
My first concern was for kindergartners. Welcome to your new life in elementary school, and we hope you can form a lasting relationship with your teacher and the other children whom exist much in the same way for you that SpongeBob Squarepants does: on a screen. The same worry extends to students who are new to our school, no matter what the grade and specifically those who are second language learners. To be sure, we have grown as educators when it comes to delivering content online. The learning curve for teachers was nearly vertical, but most of us scaled that slope and after a three month crash course, we were able to make sense of the tools we had been given.
But we have never begun a year in isolation. Teachers, for the most part, will be introducing themselves to children who are strangers to them. Connecting to them in meaningful ways in order to keep them coming back to class Zoom meetings and assessing their skills and abilities remotely will be a strange and curious challenge. This introduction will also include parents, who will not have the chance to stand in the back of the classroom that first day to dry tears or hold hands.
We have a month to prepare, and the good news is that most of us have been working straight through since we said our distance goodbye back in May to make August work. It is, as my principal and I agreed, what we do. We learn. We teach. Usually in that order. And then we repeat as much as we can until we learn something new.
It is what we do.

Monday, July 13, 2020


The black and white photo was taken of me when I was eight years old. I was standing between the two ruts that served as the driveway to our cabin. I had a backpack on and a stick in my hand. Inside the backpack most certainly was a canteen, probably a plastic bag with cookies and a sandwich. The sandwich was either peanut butter with grape jelly or tuna fish. It was most definitely made by my mother. The picture was also most definitely taken by my mother.
Do I remember the moment frozen forever in that photo? Not specifically. I remember hundreds like it. My younger brother was had his own pack slung over his shoulders, eager to be on our way. Inside his pack was an identical lunch packed with the same care by the same lady. Except the canteen. As the big brother, hydration was my responsibility. Five year olds don't have the same sense of survival that eight year olds do. We didn't want to get halfway to wherever it was that we were going and be out of water.
Wherever we were going. Into the woods. Up behind the big pile of granite that loomed over the cabin. To the top where we could look down on the place we just left. We would put our packs down and clamber around on the rocks making believe from a dozen possible scenarios. All of them heroic. At some point, we would stop, because we were hungry. And thirsty. We would eat our lunch, careful. not to go too close to the edge. It was a long way down.
It should be noted by this point the stick had been discarded. Whether it was a facsimile of a walking stick or merely a young branch from which I was peeling the bark, rock climbing was a serious business that requires two hands. As does eating a sandwich. Mom was thoughtful enough, of course, to cut the sandwich in half creating the youthful illusion of twice as much food.
And all this time, our dachshund Rupert was following after us, and sometimes ahead of us, going under things my brother and I were climbing over. He was finding crevices and caves that we never would. Until the water ran out. When the canteen was empty, it was time to meander back down the mountainside. Time for afternoon chores or maybe some quality time with Mad magazine. Our return did not require a separate photo to document it. The Pine Glade Shutterbug had captured the moment, and fifty years later I was able to look on it and remember it. And all those other days of summer.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Contents Under Pressure

"We all go a little mad sometimes." So spake Norman Bates. Not everyone goes to the extremes that young Norman did, but at this time of heightened uncertainty, I can relate. Not to the whole hacking up people in a shower degree, but "a little mad" for sure.
Which may explain all these folks having meltdowns in public. Four solid months of being told what to do and where to do it has begun to affect the nervous systems of a lot of Americans. This may help to explain the outbursts of people being reminded that they need to wear a mask in public. Not a day goes by that there isn't a new viral video of someone throwing a fit in the aisles of Costco or some other retailer. No one puts baby in a corner, and no one tells Karen or Chris to cover their faces during a global pandemic. What about the land of brave and home of the free? Nobody is gonna make me wear a mask!
I am sure, given the apologies posted by clearer heads the day after, that we are not seeing the best and brightest of what our country has to offer. The tipping point for most Americans is closer than ever these days. I wonder, at times, how I might react if I was caught being rude or arrogant by someone holding a camera. I like to think that I would try and flatten the curve by including my apology right at the end of the video that would be posted everywhere in a matter of moments. Except that it wouldn't have much of a chance to go viral if I ended up admitting to my human frailties. "I have been under so much stress lately with COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter and everything our 'president' continues to burble, I am so sorry that I lost control there. How can I make it up to you?"
Views: Nine.
Speaking of our "president," I suppose I could offer up the same kind of empathy to Don Cheeto Trumpleone. I am sure that when he got it into his head to run for office he never expected all the wheels to pop off the wagon at the same time. At the same time, I should point out that the wheels might still be firmly in place if the country had been carefully managed over the past four years, but really. And then no one came to his big rally in Oklahoma. And his boys on the Supreme Court couldn't keep him from having to surrender his tax returns. And he has that sneaking suspicion that everyone is after him, he's just about right. Including members of his own party.
So, if it helps to imagine the "president" sitting down in the middle of Wal-Mart and declaring that he doesn't have to wear a mask because he is, after all, "president," please go right ahead. Just don't expect the belated apology from that guy. That's not happening.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Cost Benefit Analysis

Remember a couple of days ago when I was talking about my ambivalence regarding returning to school? And all the voices that I heard echoing my concerns for the safety of students and staff? Well, you'll never guess who comes down hard on the other side of that fence.
"I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!"
Okay. The three exclamation points were probably a giveaway. At least the "president" refrained from his usual presentation of all capital letters. Subtle, but it does convey his major worries. "Tough and expensive guidelines." The Center for Disease Control, which is responsible for our nation's response to things like a global plague, said they are “prepared to work with every school district” to create a safe reopening this fall for students amid the coronavirus pandemic. Their recommendations include such items as increased cleaning, protective gear, and regular testing for all those involved. Social distancing and masks will be the cornerstone of any in-person instruction. 
As someone who regularly ties the shoes of my young charges or is on the receiving end of hugs from kids whose joy bucket is full and overflowing, I wonder just how we will all adjust to six feet of defensible space. I wonder how six year olds will cope with a mask covering their mouths and noses, where so much goes in an out every day. 
To be clear: I am nervous about schools opening too soon, but I am not afraid. I believe that I have the support of my community and will do whatever I can to get our children back to school. It is where they belong. It is where I belong. But the lesson I return to over and over again was the one they taught us the first day in teacher school: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. That's the one where we need to make sure that kids have a safe place to learn first, before we ever start with the reading, writing and jumping jacks. I should also note here that there is a strong argument made by many psychologists about the pain and stress kids are experiencing as a result of all the isolation. Couple that with questions about how parents will cope with a new reality that may continue to ask them to be part of their child's daily school routine. A potentially very big part. 
Confusing, tough, and almost certainly expensive, but this still doesn't answer the question raised by the "president's" disagreement: What is the correct cost to put on the future of our children? The "president" has even suggested that he would withhold federal funds for schools that don't open as he says. Of course, it is quite possible that Trump's Hierarchy of Needs looks just a little different from Maslow's. His is a lot more like Yertle the Turtle. Of course, it might be interesting to note that Melania's son attends Saint Andrew's Episcopal School, where plans are still being solidified for the upcoming year, including concerns for the health and safety for all who attend. No mention about the price tag on those plans. That doesn't seem to be an issue. 

Friday, July 10, 2020

Write A Better Ending

I blame the writers. Everything would be so much better now if they hadn't gone out on strike back in 2007. The Writers Guild of America walkout back then brought TV and film production to a standstill. For one hundred days, writers did not write. Comedies, dramas, soap operas and so forth could no longer get fresh words for characters to say. There were no characters.
Well, at least no scripted characters.
The powers that be in New York and Hollywood came up with a way to keep audiences in front of their TV sets where they belonged. Or their computers. Or their phones. Bypass that traditional oracle of entertainment and find ways to put shows out that were called "new media." Wouldn't you need writers to create this "new media?" Not if the powers that be just turned on cameras and pointed them at real people doing real things. If you wanted to be a millionaire, and who doesn't, you could have a show. If you wanted to try to survive on a desert island in competition with a bunch of other contestants who were not clever enough to simply sit in a chair and call your friends for answers to win your million dollars, you could have a show. If you wanted to be the next top model or design clothes for that next top model to make your million, you could have a show. At this point, you didn't really need to have much more than a potential humiliation and a million dollars prize money to have a show. And you didn't have to pay writers. Blame Idols from America and Stars with whom you might have Danced. Watching celebrities babble and fail without the aid of a script was quite the bonanza back in those wild times.
It was in 2008 that a little show called Celebrity Apprentice showed up. After four years of hollering "You're fired" at civilians, game show host Donald Trump started shouting at stars. Or what passed for stars at that time. Who needs writers when you've got a guy who bankrupted his own casinos belittling "celebrities" like Jose Canseco and Omorosa. Must-see TV indeed.
If those same powers that be had just gone ahead and paid a higher percentage to their creatives for DVDs and YouTubery, we probably wouldn't have the "president" we have right now. Certainly he would not have had the exposure given to him once a week the National Broadcasting Company ended up lavishing on him. Next time the WGA and those studio heads start fussing with one another, I hope cooler heads will prevail.
And we probably wouldn't have to worry about keeping up with the Kardashians either.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Until The Twelfth Of Never

When you're a kid, everything feels like forever. Waiting for your mom to finish talking to the neighbor so you can ask her about the popsicles you are pretty sure you saw her put int he freezer. Forever. Standing in line for Space Mountain. Forever. All the way back last summer. Forever. And this doesn't just apply to little kids. The time it takes for your date to be ready while you wait downstairs with her mother. Forever. The interval between phone calls from your best friend. Forever.
While I was out for a run the other day, I realized that my feelings about forever have changed since we went into quarantine. Back in March. So much continues to happen out there, and so very little occurs inside our little bubble. The hour or so that I spend exercising each day is a finite period, but some days it feels like it could go on and on. Finding activities to break up the day is a challenge most often represented by trying to figure out what we will have for dinner.
I wondered how teenage romance was faring through all of this. I can remember celebrating week and month anniversaries. Precious and few are the moments we two can share, indeed. That yearning for another person when they aren't there. The heartache and the thoughts that fill your head: What are they doing now? I wonder if they're thinking about me? I wonder when I will see them again? I wonder if they will forget about me? The voices of insecurity.
Go ahead and toss the burning tractor tire of the coronavirs on top of that and I imagine you've got some idea of how things might be going down. Sure, you could Facetime or Zoom the object of your affections, but long distance remains only the next best thing to being there. Are there boys and girls sneaking out of their shelter in place to canoodle with one another? Or just to gaze at one another adoringly without the box around them?
I consider myself very fortunate to have a happy marriage within the limits of normal as we plunge headlong through this voyage to forever. In sickness and health, and all that. We continue to find ways to connect and give each other space, as necessary. We have that sort of freedom. Having a wife in my social bubble turns out to be a pretty good thing. Sure, we fuss at one another from time to time about what we are going to watch on Netflix, or what the proper number of nights to have frozen pizza might be, but we are not negotiating those first shaky steps of a baby relationship. I know that online dating is now more than ever a thing, but it won't alleviate the inner turmoil brought on by the navigation of those initial months.
Besides, I'm a grownup now. If I want popsicles, I'll put on my mask, wait in line, buy them, bring them home and disinfect them and then put them back in the freezer to wait until they are frozen again. Tom Petty was right. It's the waiting.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Given The Alternative

So, first of all, be content in the knowledge that you did not have to listen to me prattle on and on about having jury duty last week. I went into the experience with much the same anxiety and ambivalence that I have in the past, but with an eye toward just how unlikely it would be to herd hundreds of us into that room and sit us down to wait for our names to be called. Instead, I sat by the phone and checked in each day to see if my smaller group would be called. When Friday came and I was excused, I was relieved of that bit of angst for the year.
And all the while I was attending Zoom meetings in anticipation of the opening of a new school year. What will it be like? Everyone back? Half in, half out? Everybody looking in from their computers? How would we protect the kids? How would we protect the staff? Would there be enough room to do any of the suggested alternatives? Jury duty seemed like a much more certain process. Someone was telling me where to go and when to be there, even if it was simply, "Stay put." There was none of that kind of clarity available from the Oakland Unified School District.
It would be easy at this point to complain about how my school district struggles with making decisions. This may or may not be the case, but the current situation requires careful planning. Education is suddenly a life or death situation. A month ago, when curves were beginning to flatten and cases were dropping, some of the more creative ideas seemed possible. Children were seemingly invulnerable and they just needed some properly covered adults to herd them and teach them to read. Then spikes began to appear. Medical science has continued to be tested by a disease that no one seems to understand. The clearest path continues to be masks and isolation. Imagining a room with just ten five year olds in it seems an unlikely place to carry out this kind of experiment.
I attended a meeting of one thousand plus stakeholders, primarily parents, who were hoping for answers to the sixty-four thousand dollar question: What is going to happen on August tenth? While the district set out a series of different scenarios, they continued to insist that there would be no "final plan" until July tenth. That gives us all a month to scramble around in hopes of creating lesson plans and finding daycare and arranging for increased custodial service once that final plan drops.
The virus may have other ideas. Thus far each attempt at returning to whatever normal is has been met with a surge in cases. Parents at the meeting filled the chat with their fears and worry. One in particular stuck with me: "I don't care if my child does fall behind academically. At least he'll be alive." Hard to argue with that kind of fierce reality.
The clock continues to tick. School districts around the country are under pressure to give kids a place to go, not just to learn, but to allow their parents a moment's rest. Those two months of distance learning turned out to be as much a learning experience for teaches as it was for any of their students. Now we're potentially going to toss another level of difficulty by doing in-person social distancing mask wearing education.
Jury duty seems to have a certain appeal by contrast.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

From The Top

Okay, maybe it's time to check our priorities.
There is currently a laundry list of catastrophes awaiting our review.
Let's begin with the global pandemic. It's a global thing, so it seems like maybe it could be the top of the charts. Still, it's primarily a human thing and if there wasn't climate change on the menu then there might be a way to bring all our focus to bear on that. The sad irony of these two items is that they are connected. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a reduction in global CO2 emissions. With everybody stuck inside, fewer trips to Burger King and Disneyland, the damage we were doing daily to our planet slowed down. It never stopped, but it was slowed. Humans were dying by the thousands, but the world breathed a sigh of relief.
Metaphorically anyway.
A couple of months into the shutdown created by COVID-19, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. It is possible that if we all hadn't been locked away with our twenty-four hour news cycle which fed us the horrifying video and the tensions that boiled over, we might have simply stuck it on a list of racist tragedies that we would get to later. But once again, the virus gave us an opening. We could organize. We could assemble our thoughts. We could hold ourselves and others accountable. With just a little time to reflect, it became apparent that there really was no viable counterargument to Black Lives Matter. We even had a chance to consider other items like defunding the police. Election Reform. Restorative Justice.
Okay, not everyone spent their time focusing on some of these big picture bits. Some of us looked inward. Not necessarily in reflection, but more of a chance to imagine how all of this could be our fault. It couldn't possibly be our fault.
Could it?
Because that would be a much bigger problem. Personal responsibility for what happens to our world is starting to sound like a really big problem. Turns out learning to be human is going to take a lot more work. So, let's start by wearing masks. Treating everyone with respect. Limiting our CO2 emissions. Opening Disneyland.
Okay. Maybe it's time to start over again.
From the top.

Monday, July 06, 2020

A Bigger Boat

I watched Jaws with my son on Father's Day. Perhaps not the most peculiar choice, especially when you consider the fact that poor parenting decisions allowed him to miss seeing the godfather of all summer blockbusters. I aimed to make this better for him.
And if, for some obscure reason all your own, you have managed to avoid seeing this quintessential Steven Spielberg feature, it could be that some of what I am about to relate might sail right past you. Like a shark on its way to bigger prey. Or perhaps now would be an excellent time to click on over to the streaming service of your choice and spend the necessary two hours and four minutes it takes to digest this bit of Americana.
Maybe you'll just want to take my word for this: Mayor Vaughn of Amity, played by Murray Hamilton, is the anticipation of what would become our current "president." A stuffed shirt with a predilection for ugly blazers decorated with naval anchors, this is a chief executive who shines primarily as a beacon on his community's economy. He is made aware that there is a killer shark prowling the shores of his town but he insists that the beaches stay open. The Fourth of July is coming, and no "boating accident" is going to shut down all that business coming from the mainland. After a few citizens are consumed as a matter of course, an ichthyologist arrives on the scene and lets the local authorities that what they have on their hands is a Great White. A twenty foot eating machine. On the Fourth of July, even with a whole bunch of deputies and lifeguards on hand, the shark makes a meal out of a young boy and his rubber raft in front of all those now less-than-enthusiastic tourists. And a guy in a rowboat. And probably Pippin the dog. It's a pretty gory mess. Not the type of thing that makes for a promotion for seaside fun. At the hospital, as the police chief's son is being cared for after witnessing the slaughter up close and personal, the mother of the raft sandwich shows up and slaps the chief. That's when he decides to do whatever it takes to get rid of the beast that has been plaguing their coast.
In this model, the shark is the virus. The ichthyologist is Doctor Fauci or any one of a number of experts who have tried to reason with the capitalists who are willing to put their neighbors on the buffet table to save their T-shirt shops. I'm going to cast the chief of police as California's governor, Gavin Newsom, because I think he's got a Roy Scheider kind of vibe. The mayor? That one's easy. The guy who continues to insist that the virus will "just go away." The guy who keeps pointing to the stock market and jobs report while thousands of Americans continue to die every single day. Who is going to be the shark hunter for hire? It would be nice to have some sort of happy ending, but since we all know that they made three sequels, things don't look so great. And what's perhaps most telling: Mayor Vaughn is still the mayor in Jaws 2
So, I guess what I'm saying here is vote. Like your life depended on it.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

In Your Ear

For my birthday, my family gave me new headphones. These were a practical gift from the standpoint of current usage. I am running most every day now, and I take my music with me. It is during this hour or so each day that my tastes and volume are my own. I don't have to program with anyone else but me in mind. It is also my preferred way of listening to music, since all the sounds pour directly into my ear holes and wash over the hearing part of my brain.
I had a great big pair of headphones handed down to me by my older brother when I was twelve. That's how I heard all those pre-teen angst manifestos. I still remember the way my ears would sweat after an hour or two being vacuum sealed under those great big sound mufflers. Many years later I arrived at my parents' house for Christmas eve, and my big present was one of those newfangled compact disc players. And the Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here in this glorious new format. And a new pair of headphones. Lightweight, but with the capacity to bring all those noises directly from their digital source. I spent the night on the foldout bed in my parents' basement, listening to that one disc on repeat. It was the same kind of revelation that I experienced years before when I heard Sergeant Pepper on those clunky cans of my teens.
Then there was a period during which my music was played in a one bedroom apartment where I only worried a little about scaring my neighbors. No headphones were necessary during those years, but I confess that the details that I missed were quantum. I missed that intimate connection to the words and notes that spilled out all over the room and missed my ears entirely.
Once I began running as a real and true avocation, I went through as many sets of headphones as I did cassette players. Each one promised me better and real and true sound. Each one brought me more disappointment. When my son became immersed in stereophonics, he felt compelled to hook me up with earbuds that could more adequately recreate the way I had once listened. These tiny things with extra bass. Because that may have been what I was missing. Each time I plugged them into my head, I waited for that chance to hear a song that had somehow escaped me previously. Hearing voices and harmonies and instruments for the first time because I could actually differentiate them was a joy.
I had one of those moments with my newest headset the other day. Listening to Warren Zevon pound out a live version of French Inhaler, I marveled at the strength and the dexterity with which he worked his piano, and the way his voice came along behind it. And I missed Warren for the first time in a few years. Which, as it turns out, was kind of a good thing.
What will I hear tomorrow? Tune in and find out.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

In Dependence

This defiance of authority thing is pretty troubling.
We, as a nation, actively encourage people rising up against tyranny. In Germany during World War II. In Vietnam during the late sixties and seventies. In Tienanmen Square in 1989. In Iraq in 2003. We have this lengthy list of freedom fighters for good reason: We started a country from those very roots. As noted historian and surfer Jeff Spicoli once noted, "So what Jefferson was saying was 'Hey! You know, we left this England place because it was bogus. So if we don't get some cool rules ourselves, pronto, we'll just be bogus too.' Yeah?" We fought a war about that. The colonists here in the English colonies didn't like the bogus rules put forth by the King of England who wanted to be the boss of us, so we said, "No way." And the King of England said, "Way." And that's pretty much how this whole thing got started.
About a forty years after that, England came sniffing around again, looking for trouble and we gave them what for and sent them packing, but not before they burned down the White House. Fifty years after that, some of our own southern states, many of whom had been part of that overthrow of bogusness back in 1776 decided they wanted to start their own revolution. Their plan was more like keeping things the same. "Let us keep our slaves or we won't be part of your country." So Abraham Lincoln was like, "Guys, it's my way or the highway," and the Confederacy picked the highway. Which historically turned out to be a pretty bad choice, but some people kind of resented giving up their owning slaves lifestyle.
And some seem to still. 
There have been some wars since then. Most of them taking place in other countries on other continents where we could feel good about blowing things up in the name of freedom. Part of our reasoning stemmed from our deep-seated need to be the good guys, and the other part was a fear that bad guys like Nazis or Commies might come looking for a fight with us, sooner or later. So we took the fight to them. That worked out pretty well in Europe, but not so much in Southeast Asia. 
Oh, and here's an interesting trend in the soldiers who fought those wars. Initially they were lily white, and the few "colored regiments" they let fight were kept to themselves. The Buffalo Soldiers fought with bravery and distinction in both World Wars. They fought alongside their white comrades in arms, but from a discrete distance. By the time the Vietnam war raged on and on, though the total number of African Americans serving was still a minority, there was a disproportionate number of blacks serving in combat units, and only a tiny percentage were ever made officers. Many of these soldiers were trained at places like Fort Bragg and Fort Benning, named for generals who fought on the losing side of the Civil War. They were, ostensibly, fighting for freedom. 
The first person to die in the Boston Massacre of 1770 was Crispus Attucks. He was a black man. Black men and women have been fighting and dying for this country since before the Declaration of Independence was signed. And while battles are being waged in some corners of the country these days about being oppressed by a strip of cloth placed over the face to prevent the spread of disease, Black Lives are still being lost to the cause of freedom. 
Respect that. Fight with them. We all deserve to be a little more free. 

Friday, July 03, 2020

Comedy Is Hard

Okay: It's probably my fault that Carl Reiner is dead.
Just yesterday I was lamenting about how my blog has become more moribund and stuck in the weeds of all the tragedy currently facing our world. And I may have made some comment about how I was no longer doing those celebrity obituaries that had become such a staple of my routine here. Then along comes this one.
Carl was ninety-eight years old. Recently he had been tweeting "As I arose at 7:30 this morning, I was saddened to relive the day that led up to the election of a bankrupted and corrupt businessman who had no qualifications to be the leader of any country in the civilized world...At the same time, Hillary Clinton, who had all the needed qualifications to lead our beloved nation, had received 3 million more popular votes than our Russian-installed puppet president." I will miss that voice.
I will also miss the man who provided my older brother and I with an opportunity to do laps in a cineplex. We walked out of a preview screening of Pee Wee's Big Adventure and straight into the theater next door showing Summer School, directed by Carl Reiner. Afterward we congratulated ourselves on being two for two when it came to giddy comedies.
To be clear: Summer School was not Mister Reiner's magnum opus. That honor may have to be spread across his delivery of Steve Martin to the big screen: The Jerk. Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. The Man With Two Brains.Or his long and winding collaborations with best friend Mel Brooks. All 2000 years of it.
But upon further reflection, I believe I will settle on his creation of The Dick Van Dyke Show. It was sitting in front of these reruns that I gained knowledge of the dangers of hassocks and how to pratfall over them. Originally, Carl had written a show that he thought he might star in, but instead became the seed for one of the most perfect sit-coms ever produced. Rob, Laura, Buddy, Sally, and even Mel shared their lives of suburban desperation and showbiz. And Carl found a place for himself as uber-star Alan Brady, master of toupee comedy. Mary Tyler Moore. Dick Van Dyke. Stars who shone bright on their own after their ever-relatable coupling way back then. The Petrie's next-door neighbor Jerry became not only a director of that series but went on to direct almost every episode of a little show called Happy Days.
Maybe we could just celebrate the gift of his son, Rob. It is no overstatement to suggest that American comedy would have been very different if not for the loving presence of Carl Reiner. For nearly a hundred years, he stomped on the Terra and made certain that we were all rolling around on it with laughter. To say that he will be missed is definitely an understatement. His was a voice to be reckoned with. And laughed along with.
Aloha, Carl. The world needs to make room in their hearts and minds for all the joy you brought to keep it safe forever.