Monday, August 31, 2020

Older And Wiser

 I am two years and nine months younger than my older brother. So he had almost three relatively calm years. Before I came along, he was the king of the house. He was the one with birthdays and taken on trips to the store. Then, out of the blue, who should pop in and spoil his ride?

Me. The little brother. The one that would question and challenge. And divert attention. Nonetheless, he persevered. My parents practiced on him. He was the one on whom they had to figure out spanking and allowance. Curfews. Grounding. Love. Because they did love us, but they were new at this and all of their best impulses came through experience with my big brother. 

So he worked hard. Harder than I ever had to, because he was out in front. I was like those wheel-sucking bicycle racers who follow close enough to slide into the slipstream of the leader. I could sit back and watch him struggle, and know that when it came my turn to go out on a date or ask for help buying a car this was ground that had already been covered. And I benefited from the fits and starts of my parents' trials and errors. 

Not that there were a lot of them. We were blessed with one of the world's most profound examples of a sitcom childhood. Yes, voices were raised, and doors were slammed. I remembered the sound of my older brother pounding down the stairs to his room below mine. I made a mental note and when it was my turn to move downstairs, I emulated that exit from parental authority or concern. I also remembered the sound of him coming back up the stairs. After. When the smoke had cleared and steam was no longer pouring from anyone's ears. The sound of reconciliation. We were family, and we could not stay mad long. There was a deep-seated need to make peace. I learned by watching and listening. 

Which is how my older brother became my hero. If all he ever did was introduce me to the Beatles and Pink Floyd and take me to my first rock concert, that would be enough. He also taught me the terror and joy of the front seat of Mister Twister. We discovered Spinal Tap together, and for those who emerged the theater confused we agreed that for them, "the lotto machine is broken." The fact that as we aged we found more to share in was brilliant to me. He kept and framed a drawing I made in high school and hung it in his house. His grownup house. 

I have a picture of my brother and I together in my grownup house. It was taken at a family dinner at The Blue Parrot. We are both smiling that same smirk of a smile. The Blue Parrot has closed, but today my older brother has a birthday. I don't think I'll ever catch up. And that's okay with me. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Lords Of Chaos

 Vice President Mike "Intense" Pence recently spoke at Fort McHenry on a topic near and dear to his boss's heart (which is kept in a velvet-lined box in a lower drawer of his desk behind his bronzer): Law and Order. During this oration, the president's vice addressed the Department of Homeland Security officer who was “shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, California.” The time and place were correct, but the juxtaposition left many with the idea that Dave Patrick Underwood was murdered by left-wing radicals who were so radical in fact that they chose to execute a federal officer. 

Not so.

Officer Underwood was killed by Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven Carrillo, a member of the right-wing “boogaloo” movement. Not that this made it into VP Mike's speech. Instead, he was content to further the hate and fear of all things liberal in spite of the fact that Sergeant Carrillo "came to Oakland to kill cops" without any association to the groups who were rocking the streets of Oaktown. Nope. Sergeant Steve and his accomplice Robert Justus, whose name defies logic at this point, have been charged with both the death of Officer Underwood and the ambush and murder of Santa Cruz Sheriff's Deputy Damon Gutzwiller. Carillo posted this on social media the morning before the Oakland shooting: "Go to the riots and support our own cause. Show them the real targets. Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage."

Something like this was, no doubt, writhing through the withered brain of young Kyle Rittenhouse when he picked up the call from the alt-right to travel to Kenosha to help keep order after protests broke out in that city in response to the police shooting of an unarmed black man, Jacob Blake. It should probably be pointed out that Mister Rittenhouse is seventeen and white. Which may be why Tucker Carlson, standing in for Mike Pence burbling on his Fox News show, "Are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder? How shocked are we that seventeen-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?" Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two unarmed protesters and wounded another. I guess there are still a whole lot of things I don't understand about law and order. 

Or maybe it's not me at all. Maybe it has something to do with guns. 

I know. This is what your typical lefty would say. And I'll keep saying it until I don't have to anymore. And Donald Trump's shriveled heart souvenir has been pulled from that desk drawer and moved along with his bronzer back to Mar-A-Lago. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Make It Stop

 "If you want to protest peacefully, by all means go out and do it. It’s your right. But don’t be a part of this destructive force that’s burning our community. That’s not a productive path to justice. We are not sitting idly, watching the destruction of our community. We’re making every effort to make it stop, and I hope you will too."

These were the words issued in a statement from Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth after another night of rioting in Wisconsin. The riots erupted after three Kenosha police officers were seen on cellphone video following Jacob Blake Jr. Blake around his SUV and at least one of them is seen shooting Blake multiple times in the back as he opened the driver's side door and entered the vehicle, where his three young children were still inside.

Sheriff Beth tells us that a riot is not a productive path to justice. Fair enough. Hard to argue in support of riots, but then again, Sheriff Beth did not offer an alternative path. Sworn officers of the law, sometimes referred to as "peace officers," shot an unarmed black man seven times. In the back. In front of his children. Doctors suggest it will take a miracle for Jacob to be able to walk again. 

Jacob is still alive. He might be able to walk again. These are miracles in and of themselves. But that path to justice remains elusive. 

The rage that has built over the past four hundred years has not been diminished by the continuation of oppressive force and brutality. Once again, the light is being shined on the reaction to this barbaric treatment of our citizens rather than on the barbaric treatment itself. Windows are broken. Things are set on fire. Gunfire erupts. Why do we expect peaceful demonstrations when there is nothing peaceful going on across that thin blue line. That ideal of "serve and protect" has evaporated, if it ever really existed anywhere outside the lofty mottos painted on the doors of their cars. 

Certainly there will be the backlash from those who insist that this is because it's another one of those cities with a Democrat for a mayor. The cure suggested by these voices will be to use more force. Overwhelm protesters with superior firepower. Don't they understand this is a war they can't win? 

As I wrote that, I wondered to which "they" I was referring. Perhaps I mean everyone. Who wins in a war? When tyranny is banished and people breathe and live free without fear, that would be a win. That is not happening. Jacob Blake joins a list of black men, women, boys, girls, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers whose lives have been forever torn apart by the very institutions that are supposed to be protecting them. 

So what is that path to justice? Freedom? Liberty? Back in 1776, it started with a Declaration. And then there was a lot of breaking, burning, and shooting. Two hundred fifty years later, we are still waiting for that American Dream. In what confirms the grotesque irony of the situation, a young vigilante who shot someone at the protest was arrested and charged with murder. The police officers who shot Jacob Blake are on administrative leave. 

We have run out of patience. We are seeking to bend the arc that Martin Luther King spoke of toward justice. By any means necessary. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Qanon And On And On And On And On


Presenter: Good evening. I have with me tonight Anne Elk. Mrs Anne Elk. 

Miss Elk: Miss. 

Presenter: You have a new theory about the Democrats. 

Miss Elk: Can I just say Chris for one moment that I have a new theory about the Democrats.

Presenter: Exactly. (he gestures but she does not say anything) What is it? 

Miss Elk: Where? (looks around) 

Presenter: No, no your new theory. 

Miss Elk: Oh, what is my theory? 

Presenter: Yes. 

Miss Elk: Oh what is my theory that it is. Well Chris you may well ask me what is my theory. 

Presenter: I am asking. Miss Elk Good for you. My word yes. Well Chris, what is it that it is - this theory of mine. Well, this is what it is - my theory that I have, that is to say, which is mine, is mine. 

Presenter: (beginning to show signs of exasperation) Yes, I know it's yours, what is it? 

Miss Elk: Where? Oh, what is my theory? This is it. (clears throat at some length) My theory that belongs to me is as follows. (clears throat at great length) This is how it goes. The next thing I'm going to say is my theory. Ready? 

Presenter: Yes. 

Miss Elk: My theory by A. Elk. Brackets Miss, brackets. This theory goes as follows and begins now. All Democrats are thin at one end, much, much thicker in the middle and then thin again at the far end. That is my theory, it is mine, and belongs to me and I own it, and what it is too. 

Presenter: That's it, is it? 

Miss Elk: Spot on, Chris. 

Presenter: Well, er, this theory of yours appears to have hit the nail on the head. 

Miss Elk: And it's mine. 

Presenter: Yes, thank you very much for coming along to the studio. Thank you. 

Miss Elk: My pleasure, Chris... 

Presenter: Next week Washington's newest wasp farm... 

Miss Elk: It's been a lot of fun. 

Presenter: Yes, thank you very much. 

Miss Elk: Saying what my theory is. 

Presenter: Yes, thank you. 

Miss Elk: And whose it is. 

Presenter: Yes, thank you - that's all - thank you... opens next week. 

Miss Elk: I have another theory. 

Presenter: Yes. 

Miss Elk: Called my second theory, or my theory number two. 

Presenter: Thank you. Britain's newest wasp farm... 

Miss Elk: This second theory which was the one that I had said... 

Presenter: (the phone rings; he answers) Yes, no I'm trying... 

Miss Elk: Which I could expound without doubt. This second theory which, with the one which I have said, forms the brace of theories which I own and which belong to me, goes like this... 

Presenter: (looking at his shoe) Nine and a half, wide fitting... Balleys of Bond Street. What? No, sort of brogue. 

Miss Elk: This is what it is. (clears throat) 

Presenter: Eight and a half. 

Miss Elk: This is it... (lots of noisy throat clearing) 

(Cut to Breaking News: Steve Bannon Arrested)

*Thanks and apologies to Graham, John and MPFC.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Family Ties

 It started out as a game show. Then it became a sitcom. Then a reality TV show. Now it's just reality. 

I am speaking of Kellyanne Conway's magical misery tour through the past four years. Appointed to a high ranking White House position by a game show host, she has been the explainer for many of this administration's most confounding moments. "You're saying it's a falsehood. And they're giving, Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts." Sean Spicer, is no longer the press secretary. He was last seen on Dancing With The Stars. She also said, "I serve at the pleasure of @POTUS. His message is my message. His goals are my goals. Uninformed chatter doesn't matter." The fact that her husband George has never been a big fan of her boss has been a point of contention and amusement for many, as Kellyanne carried the torch for POTUS and George worked his angle from the side, poking fun whenever things got ridiculous. Which was often. And for all this time, that has been the way things have rolled.

Until recently. Over the past several months, the couple's teenage daughter Claudia has inserted herself into the online family drama with her own social media presence. Which was also somewhat amusing in the most schaden of schadenfreude ways. Leading up to the Republican National Convention, at which her mother was announced as a key speaker, Claudia had asked Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to adopt her. Then she upped the ante by suggesting that she would be officially filing for emancipation from both her parents. 

Funny stuff.

If it's happening to someone else's family. The sad truth is that this is someone's family, and after all the sound and fury of the past four years, there is finally a reckoning. Kellyanne Conway is resigning from her post as White House Counselor. Having survived the various flurries of firings and abdications, she is joining the list of former staff members. She said in her letter, "In time, I will announce future plans. For now, and for my beloved children, it will be less drama, more mama." Husband George announced that he too would be stepping away from the snarky spotlight to "devote more time to family matters."

Remember that TV show that had two aging hippies trying to deal with their son, who had turned out to be a disciple of Reagan. It made Michael J. Fox a star. It wasn't called Family Matters. That was a different show. For George, Claudia and Kellyanne the show is over. 

For now. 

    Wednesday, August 26, 2020

    What's On The Television?

     My wife and I have seen a lot of movies. Many movies. A boatload, even. But like the way someone can always walk into my living room, see the drawers stuffed full of CDs and ask if I have any of Joe Strummer's solo albums, I know there are some gaps in my library. 

    Certainly there are times while we are flipping through the channel listing that we stumble across a title we recognize as one of those missing pieces. Sometimes we pause long enough to dive in, or we record it with every intent to come back to it later. I use this tack at times to avoid having to watch something that I have seen that is on not the "must see" list but the "I have already seen it and though it's a classic I don't feel the need to see it again just to make sure she's seen it" list. 

    Or sometimes, while we are sitting on the couch having one more of those "what should we watch tonight?" discussions as we flip through the endless choices on various streaming outlets, there is that one title that surprises us. How did we miss that? 

    Recently, the square we landed on in this game of movie roulette was The Notebook. If, for some reason, you missed this one sixteen years ago or in the decade and a half since it came out, so had we. Even though it exists as the prototype for a ton of films like it or the door-busting star-making turn for former Mickey Mouse Club member Ryan Gosling, neither my wife or I had given it the time of day. 

    Because we were snobs.

    How could this slight piece of romance compare to all those big movies on our list? The answer turned out to be pretty simple: not unfavorably. 

    I know. This is slight praise. Using that double negative makes it sound like we didn't enjoy it. We did. And we appreciated the bends in a well worn road. And we felt a little embarrassed for putting it off as long as we did. 

    At the same time, we also realized that sixteen years ago, we might not have had the same appreciation for the story of a love that had lasted through the years. We have a few more miles behind us ourselves, and while our own story won't be remembered as particularly star-crossed, we continue to write it. Now The Notebook is part of our story. 

    So, you'll excuse me now. My wife and I need to go watch that documentary about Joe Strummer. 

    Tuesday, August 25, 2020

    Miles To Go

     Over the weekend, I ran some fifteen miles. Averaging more than five miles a day, I had time to consider a few things. 

    First, the shelter in place thing has done a world of good for my physical well-being. All this time that I have been stuck with little or nothing to do has had a very positive effect on many facets of my character. I have been surprised how comparatively little television I have watched. Instead of couch surfing, I have found myself out in the yard, clipping watering and cutting whatever seems to need it most. Instead of staring blankly at reruns of Super Bowls past, I have been exercising. This trend is no doubt connected to the mission I undertook somewhere back in the beginning of all this mess to try and shrink my ever-expanding frame. Well, the frame was pretty much the same, I was just lugging around twenty or thirty extra pounds on that chassis, and voices in some quarters suggested that perhaps I could pay a little more attention to the extra luggage I was carrying around. 

    These days I find myself going out the gate and onto the street without a set plan about how far I might go. For so long I have been dedicated to what I have lovingly referred to as "maintenance runs." Two and a half miles, then back to the house to settle in for whatever the day might bring. This past Friday morning, I went up the hill and found myself remembering my late bachelor period. Back when I was young and strong, but also without an agenda. I might run across town, then up into the foothills on the edge of Boulder. If I was gone for an hour or more, there was no one to notice I was gone. It could have been days before someone knocked on my door, wondering where the rent was. Or called to see why I hadn't showed up for work. Run Forrest, run. 

    When I moved to California, I kept the habit of running. Hard to shake something that I've been doing for nearly forty years now. But there were other things on my plate now: wife, then kid, and career. And a house that seemed to always have some project going on inside or out. That Friday when I was approaching mile four, I considered cutting back and bringing the show to an end. 

    But I felt good. I felt like I had a couple more miles in me. And I did. Another three. When I did come chugging back into the driveway, I had run nearly seven miles. More than the ten kilometres I used to run in those sponsored races once a year. Twice as much as I had been doing for maintenance. These were not land speed records, mind you. I wasn't ready to double down on that distance again.

    And yet, the next morning, I got up and ran another five. Then I trimmed the branches from the neighbor's juniper tree that had crept out over our yard. 

    It felt good. 

    Then I went inside to check my email.  

    Monday, August 24, 2020


     Do you believe in miracles? That was a question asked by Al Michaels once a long time ago as the United States hockey team finished off the Russians. Katherine Kuhlman had a TV show in which she described how she did just that. Jefferson Starship wished that you would believe, you know, in miracles. For a long time, it seems that the folks in Fleetwood Mac didn't, but they had a feeling it was time to try. 

    Jesus performed seven: He changed water to wine. He healed the sick. He healed the crippled. He fed the multitudes. He walked on water. He brought eyesight to the blind. He raised the dead. There may have been others, but they weren't written down. Besides, seven is such a nice biblical number, right? Scholars will categorize those in four general categories:  faith healings, exorcisms, resurrection, control over nature and forgiveness of sins. 

    It's that focus on healing that overs the sick, the crippled, and the blind. And maybe that's where the "president" expects his faith to land when it comes to the coronavirus. His little friend Mike Pence said last week that, “we think there’s a miracle around the corner." Which is right in line with the rhetoric that his boss has been throwing around since February. Inventor, infomercial star of those My Pillow ads and Trumpian Mike Lindell has been rambling on about an untested plant extract called oleandrin as a “miracle” therapy for COVID-19. Except that it's toxic, if you ask a botanist. 

    Of course, what do botanists know about miracles? They are scientists, after all, and they would love nothing more than to tear down anything and everything that makes this country great. Like the Olympic Hockey Team. And Katherine Kuhlman. And seventies pop music. 

    Donald Trump likes him some seventies pop music. He might just take some and put it on in front of one of his public appearances. Without asking first. He likes him some miracles too. He's pretty sure that soon the virus is just going to disappear. It will just go away. This, he asserts, will be a miracle. A little late for the one hundred seventy million plus Americans who have died from COVID-19, but a miracle for him nonetheless.

    Maybe we will have to wait a little longer for another miracle: This "president" will just go away. In about seventy days. But like most miracles, prayers may not be enough to get this done. 


    Like your life depended on it. 

    Because it does. 

    Sunday, August 23, 2020

    You Know - For Kids

    Lawn darts. 

    You've heard me mention these playthings of Satan before. Foot long plastic tails with weighted metal tips. Designed for maiming. Which is why, in October of 1970, The FDA insisted that makers of these "toys" be labeled:  "WARNING: Not a toy for use by children. May cause serious or fatal injury. Read instructions carefully. Keep out of reach of children."

    Maybe now is the time I should mention that my brothers and I had easy access to our family's lawn darts, Jarts by brand, and we spent hours figuring out new and exciting ways to tempt fate. For the record, no maiming took place between the three of us. Or our dog. And somehow we managed to make all this happen without parental supervision. 

    Why am I rehashing this story once again? 


    Iowa's governor, Kim Reynolds, has mandated fifty percent classroom instruction as she pushes her state's schools to reopen. Never mind that Iowa, like so many states currently, is experiencing an uptick in new cases of COVID-19, and the national trend has shown that districts that have rushed to open to in-person instruction have had to quarantine or backtrack to keep up with the dangerous conditions they created. 

    For kids. 

    Only now does it occur to meWe  how unfortunate "Wham-O" is for a toy company.

    As debates rage on about the relative safety for children and adults, the science continues to evade us. This is one way that lawn darts have it all over a virus. The effects of a lawn dart mishap are easily recognizable by kids and adults. With very little training. Our understanding of the coronavirus is still in the very earliest stages. While one study suggests that kids are safe from infection, another suggests that they are silent carriers and another says that children are just as likely to get sick as grownups. 

    Meanwhile, the petri dish is being stirred primarily by politicians rather than scientists. Wearing a mask has become a statement rather than common sense. Social distancing sounds an awful lot like socialism. And we watch as the death toll mounts. and cases spike across the country. 

    We're playing with lawn darts here.

    Maybe we should just let the kids take care of it themselves. 

    Saturday, August 22, 2020

    Trying To Reason

    And now I must confess
    I could use some rest
    I can't run at this pace very long
    Yes it's quite insane

    Think I hurt my brain  - Jimmy Buffett

    Those lines come from a song by the CPH, Chief Parrothead, called "Trying To Reason With The Hurricane Season." As COVID-19 continues to ravage our country and many parts of the world, someone really needs to tell Mother Nature to give us a break. Hurricanes during this particular phase of humanity are simply overkill. On the bright side, there is that element of forecasting that can help make it easier to board things up, but getting out of the way is not as simple as packing up the car with your photo albums and your dog and heading for high ground. 

    It's not hurricanes or twisters that we have to worry about out here in California. It's fire season, and currently there are dozens of heat and lightning related fires burning across the state. Which normally would not slow us down much. They are all a part of our "new reality" brought on by climate change and exacerbated by budget cuts and no true reckoning on how to deal with these conflagrations. Now let's add to that the challenge of trying to house evacuees in a clever and safe way during a pandemic. It used to be you could just open up a gymnasium and ask folks to come and hunker down until the flames diminish. In a state still struggling to maintain social distancing and mingling social bubbles, the fire sounds more like the frying pan than, well, the fire. 

    In the middle of one of these disasters, one of our first grade teachers gathered up her belongings and went in search of a place of safety. And a place where she could conduct her virtual classroom. As her family fled, her students and their families waited anxiously for news about their teacher. Managing a bunch of six year olds on a Zoom meeting would be a walk in the park by comparison. 

    Somewhere in the back of my mind, I want to apologize for my previous remarks about Mother Nature. This isn't her fault. She had a pretty good system going, and then we decided to mess with it. 

    And what a mess it is. 

    2020. I won't miss it. 

    Friday, August 21, 2020


    Come Sail Away. By Styx. Not to be confused with Sail Away by Randy Newman. The first tells the story of a man initially confounded by apparitions he sees in the sky above his ship. He figures they must be angels. The latter is a tongue so far in the cheek that it nearly breaks out the other side version of a slave trader trying to convince an African to climb aboard his ship. Sail away, indeed.

    In the Styx song, this initially confused captain of a lonely vessel is eventually convinced to climb aboard a starship as it heads toward the sky. He is released from his worries and self-doubt in which he was mired before aliens came to release him from his seagoing reverie. They sang to him this song of hope, and this is what they said: "Come sail away."

    Meanwhile, in Newman's world, this horrible person makes his pitch: "In America you'll get food to eat. Won't have to run through the jungle and scuff up your feet." He insists that in America, "You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day. It's great to be an American." He's singing a song that sounds just like freedom. Only it isn't.

    Meanwhile, the captain of the Styx boat is being carried away by aliens. And when I was younger, an avid reader of the novels of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., I thought of Billy Pilgrim and the Tralfamadorians. I thought about how those invisible beings from another planet spirited Billy away from all the tough times in his life and for a long time this was a romantic ideal for me. A shimmering light at my window, and suddenly I am transported. 

    It never occurred to me then that the Tralfamadorians may have represented a break with sanity for Billy. Or that the bright light was his passage to Heaven. Just like those last moments of the Styx song could be the ones just before the captain goes under for the last time. Styx is the river that separates us from the afterlife, after all. 

    Meanwhile, Randy is luring potential slaves aboard his ship to sail across the ocean to Charleston Bay. Where his cargo would be sold at auction, and all those promises of safety, freedom and buckwheat cakes turned out to be a lie. "In America every man is free to take care of his home and his family."

    What we might have expected from Mister Newman, but the vaguely oh-wow rockers from Chicago? 

    I think maybe I should stick to Enya

    Thursday, August 20, 2020

    Streets Of Fire

     Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy

    'Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
    Mick and Keith wrote that in 1968. When he wrote the music, Keith said he was influenced by the drone of police sirens. Mick said he was inspired by the protests in Paris and America. Back then, the time was definitely ripe, if not right, for fighting in the streets. 
    Now it's 2020 and the time is once again ripe/right. Last weekend saw a series of confrontations between left and right. At Stone Mountain Park, Georgia, home to the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial, heavily armed far-right protesters attacked anti-fascist protesters with pepper spray. As fistfights broke out and pro-confederates with assault weapons pointed their rifles into the crowd, police and the National Guard arrived to shut the mess down. A far-right paramilitary group called the Three Percenters had requested authorities to hold a two thousand person rally at the park. They were denied. Which didn't keep them from showing up anyway, along with the attendant counter protesters there to make sure  that all voices would be heard. Loudly. I suppose we can only be glad, in hindsight, that one of the "three principles" of the Three Percenters is to "only fire unless fired upon." There is no mention in those guiding principles about using a "Don't Tread On Me" flag to poke at people with whom they disagree. 
    Why am I suddenly thinking of Geraldo Rivera? Maybe because it was his clever idea, long before he became the elder statesman of Fox News, to bring a bunch of Nazi skinheads on his show for a "discussion" about race relations with civil rights activist Roy Innis. The resulting melee was caught on tape and became a bellwether for future events of this sort. 
    That was in 1988. Twenty years after The Glimmer Twins wrote their song about fighting in the streets, America witnessed fighting in a TV studio. 
    Thirty-two years later, alt-right Proud Boys were met with an unsurprising group of counter protesters in Kalamazoo, Michigan. At this point, you can kind of assume that if you're listed in the Southern Poverty Law Center's watch list, you're probably not going to have a nice walk in the park when you show up for your rally. “The Proud Boys came to town and completed their mission by creating a divisive situation for the community then leaving, hopefully with the chaos continuing, which is their MO,” reported Kalamazoo's Public Safety Chief Karianne Thomas. Witnesses on the scene gave accounts that said police waited twenty to thirty minutes before intervening when the two sides began to clash. 
    And Geraldo wasn't there to get it on video.
    Which is fine, because anyone with a cell phone was. 
    Mick and Keith were not available for comment. 

    Wednesday, August 19, 2020

    Home Girl

     “Many readers have demanded that we retract the essay,” the editors of Newsweek magazine wrote, “but we believe in being transparent and are therefore allowing it to remain online, with this note attached.” 

    Transparent. As in "see-through." The essay in question is an op-ed entitled "Some Questions for Kamala Harris About Eligibility." It was written by John C. Eastman, a professor of Law at Chapman University and Senior Fellow at The Claremont Institute. Before we discuss the "content" of the opinion piece, as it was clearly marked, let's take a quick look at professor Eastman. The institute to which he belongs is a conservative think tank, located in Upland, California. Their mission is to "recover the American Idea." In this particular case, it would seem that the American Idea they he is most interested in recovering is a tired lie from 2008. Remember all those folks who were saying that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and therefore not eligible to become President of the United States. And in 2011 there was a (checks notes) Donald J. Trump who felt the need to bring it back for a return engagement. 

    In case you missed it, this did not stop Mister Obama from being elected and then re-elected to the highest office in the land. Now the folks at Newsweek thought they'd give Professor Eastman a shot at doing the same favor for Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris. He begins by muddying the waters wondering if  Senator Harris is a "natural born citizen" of the United States. If she isn't, then she's ineligible for the job. Then, in the next paragraph, he seems to refute himself by pointing out that she was born in Oakland. Then he doubles back again to start babbling about the fourteenth amendment and a lot of other legal precedents that are easily refuted. But here they are, printed in a "news magazine," and worse yet, available on Al Gore's Internet. Which is where this weak sauce gets whipped up and up and repeated to dull types who can only repeat the "questions" without searching for the answers themselves. "Indeed, the Supreme Court has never held that anyone born on U.S. soil, no matter the circumstances of the parents, is automatically a U.S. citizen," drones the Professor. 

    This racist dog whistle was just loud enough to be audible to the current "president," the once and future birther Donald J. Trump. “I heard it today that [Harris] doesn’t meet the requirements,” he said Thursday. Notice that he didn't say that he read an article or op-ed, he "heard." Which relieves him, as usual, from taking any responsibility for what he repeats. 

    He did not repeat any or all of the apology Newsweek magazine had to make on behalf of their misguided editorial decision. The one that concludes, All of us at Newsweek are horrified that this op-ed gave rise to a wave of vile Birtherism directed at Senator Harris. Many readers have demanded that we retract the essay, but we believe in being transparent and are therefore allowing it to remain online, with this note attached." So they apologized, but left the article hanging out there to be chewed up and regurgitated until the next shiny object comes along to distract the trolls who traffic in such drivel. 

    Of course, the evolved view might be that the last couple of times this strategy was floated out there, it resulted in two terms for a Democratic president. 

    Thank you, Professor. 

    Tuesday, August 18, 2020


     Seven AM: Show up on campus. Set up tables.

    Seven fifteen AM: Rearrange tables.

    Seven twenty AM: Put the tables back where they were.

    Seven thirty AM: Check with principal about arrangement of tables.

    Seven thirty-five AM: She's right. Put one of the tables away.

    Seven forty-five AM: Drag extension cords and Chromebook cart to breezeway.

    Seven forty-nine AM: Switch Chromebook cart for the one that has Chromebooks in it. 

    Seven fifty-five AM: Sit down.

    Seven fifty-nine AM: Get up. Move the tables. Just a little bit.

    Eight AM: Sit back down. Stare at the gate through which parents will pour. Eventually.

    Eight ten AM: Unlock the gate. We still have fifty minutes before we are scheduled to be open.

    Eight twenty-one AM: First parent arrives with Chromebook in a bag. "This doesn't work."

    Eight twenty-four AM: I show her that it does. She insists "it didn't do that at my house."

    Eight twenty-five AM: I consider confessing to her that I am a wizard.

    Eight twenty-nine AM: Turns out she doesn't have an Internet connection at her house.

    Eight thirty AM: I give her an Internet hotspot, and explain how to install it at her house.

    Eight thirty-two AM: I ask her if she has any questions. She assures me that she does not.

    Eight thirty-three AM: Another parent has come through the gate I left open. I contemplate telling him that we are waiting until nine o'clock to help folks with registration and technology.

    Eight thirty-four AM: I wave him over after my first parent has bagged up her Chromebook and moved aside. 

    Eight thirty six AM: With social distance now somewhat satisfied, I watch as he pulls a Chromebook from a bag and places it in front of me. "This doesn't work," he announces.

    We don't open for another twenty-four minutes. This is going to be a long day. 

    Monday, August 17, 2020

    Special Orders

     I talked to a lot of parents last week. Not one of them was outwardly upset with me or the school for which I work about starting the year with distance learning. If there was an undercurrent of tension, it was felt primarily in the way they approached the technological hoops through which they were asked to jump. By the second day of school, I had parent trooping back to my station, Mister Caven's Computer Corner, where they would huff and pull out the loaned Chromebook they had borrowed for their child to use and puff something to the tune of "This doesn't work."

    Suddenly, I was projected back to another time. A time when I waited on customers who wanted Arby's Roast Beef sandwiches. Inevitably, no more than once a day, one of those customers would wait in line for a second time to let me know that their sandwich was not up to par. Their suggested solution to this problem was that I would ask the person behind the meat slicer to make them a new one. Which, to this day, seems hysterical to me. The chances of us making an identically subpar sandwich within the minutes that it took to make the first one sit somewhere squarely at one hundred percent. Conditions being what they are, in a fast food restaurant during lunch rush, you're probably not going to get anything on the epicurean spectrum. You're going to get Arby's. Straight up. 

    Back in the present, the parent who stands before me is asking me to solve their technology issues, which tend to be using the correct password. Or turning the machine on. Or in some cases, having a connection to Al Gore's Internet. This is what they are asking for outwardly, but somewhere just below the surface I can see the stress and anxiety that is weighing them down. They are parents. Not teachers. They have been cooped up in their homes with one or more children for five months and there is no quick end in sight. Desperation has begun to set in. 

    One parent asked me, after I had practiced signing her daughter in to her Chromebook, "When will this end?" I chose not to play coy. I told her that the neighborhood we live in is one of the bright red ones on the COVID-19 map. "Do you think it's real?" she asked in the same defeated tone. I told her that I know that it is real, and I wish that I had a light to shine at the end of the tunnel. I wanted to reassure her with a date or a number of weeks that everything would return to normal. 

    But I didn't have that to give. 

    So I made her another roast beef sandwich and sent her on her way.  

    Sunday, August 16, 2020

    Today's Letter Is...


    M is for monster. There are a lot of them out there.

    Many of them are blue and furry

    Some of them are not. 

    Some monsters are nice

    Some monsters are not

    Some of the not nice monsters went to a nice place called Sesame Place. Sesame Place is where people come to meet the nice monsters. 

    Sesame Place has helpers who try to make things nice for everyone who visits. 

    One of the best ways to be happy is to be safe. 

    One of the helpers, who is just seventeen years old, reminded some visitors that part of being safe is wearing a mask. 

    Mask starts with M.

    So does monster.

    The helper did not know that these visitors were not nice monsters. The not nice monsters hit the helper in the mouth. 

    The helper's mouth got hurt so bad that he had to go to the hospital. Mouth starts with M.

    The helper, who was trying to make sure that no one, not even monsters, had to go to the hospital had to go to the place where he was trying to keep everyone from going. 

    That's just silly, right?

    Or maybe its just what some monsters do.

    C is for coronavirus. And conspiracy. And crazy. C is also for cookie, and that's good enough for me. 

    Saturday, August 15, 2020


    Right Now: Ambivalence Is The Enemy.

    What am I talking about? The 2020 Presidential election. On Tuesday, Joe Biden announced that his running mate would be Senator Kamala Harris.  Immediately the second guessers set to work. 

    Why her? Why not the other one? How about? What if? I can't believe he did that.

    And so on. Democrats, who love a big tent more than just about anybody except Clyde Beatty, are now immediately reaching for the reset button in hopes that there will be some other better choice for their vice presidential candidate. And when I say "Democrats," I do not mean all of them. There are a whole lot of us in this great big old tent, and some of us are happy to see anyone with a heart beating in their chest getting an opportunity to serve their country. I will be very happy to see Senator Harris make Mike Pence cry during any and all opportunities to debate. 

    And friends, let's not lose sight of this reality: Kamala Harris is a woman of color. The last time Americans had a chance to cast their vote for a major party candidate who was both of those things was (shuffling of paper) never. Yes, I know that Senator Harris is not the only qualified woman of color and certainly not the only qualified woman out there who could take on this job. Need I remind everyone that it was only a few months ago that she was being considered as a potential candidate for the highest office in the land? That's some pretty good vetting. 

    So let's breathe deep and remember what is at stake here: We can become belligerent and picky to the point of despair and vote for Kanye West, or skip voting at all because we didn't want to waste a vote on someone we weren't completely sure with whom we were in love. Allowing the bloated sack of protoplasm and his minions to continue their reign of terror until the reduce our country to a burned out cinder. 

    Or we can get behind Joe and Kamala and push. This is my country, and I want it back. I am tired of holding out for just the right shade of blue. This is our bus, and I'm getting on. I do not believe there will be another one coming anytime soon if we miss this one.

    Climb on.

    Friday, August 14, 2020

    Born To Be

    A quarter of a million people descended on a small town this past week. Authorities there tallied eighty-four arrests in one day. 

    The governor of South Dakota welcomed the visitors. All just another part of the weird world of 2020. The annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally went on as scheduled with very little social distance and very few masks in evidence. As one participant who rode up from Arizona put it, "I don't  want to die, but I don’t want to be cooped up all my life either.” The guy was from Arizona, home to one of the most recent and severe spikes in COVID-19 cases. Health officials in the Grand Canyon State have recently announced that infections have begun to trend down. This could be a matter of strapping all those with the virus to a motorcycle and sending them to Sturgis. 

    A store owner told a reporter who was there to take in all the wonder of bikers being "encouraged to wear masks," “People are tired of being at home, you know. This is what this rally started about is freedom.”

    Freedom from the restrictions put there by "the man." Like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, when he was asked what he was rebelling against, he said, "Whattya got?" Probably something to do with those eighty-four arrests, many of which were for driving under the influence, and some controlled substances. But that's all a part of freedom, isn't it? I don't expect that anyone was cited for using too much common sense. Perhaps they were inspired by Peter Fonda in Wild Angels: "We wanna be free! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna be free to ride!" It should be noted that both Mister Brando and Mister Fonda did not live to see a global pandemic, and they were actors.

    Eventually, of course, the rally will end, and all those rough and tumble bikers will toss a leg over their hogs and head on back to wherever they came from, having spent a good long while exercising their freedoms, and carrying with them whatever diseases they may have managed to stir up in all that freedom flaunting. With eighty-four arrests. 

    Up in Portland, the Secret Police made sixteen arrests during a similar period. 

    Ah, Freedom. 

    Thursday, August 13, 2020

    First Day Jitters


    That was a day unlike most any other I can remember. Usually the first day of school involves a swarm of anxious parents and kids, milling around, searching for a teacher or a friendly face to help them land in the right spot when the bell finally rings.

    There was no bell. That was different. There was a swarm of anxious parents and a few kids. They were looking for a teacher or friendly face to help them to the right spot. But there was no bell. That's because the first day of school this year was all about logistics. Make sure your kid is registered. Go and pick up a work packet and maybe meet this year's teacher. Then head on over to the technology table where you can get a Chromebook and maybe a wi-fi hotspot to log in for what could be the next long haul of distance learning. 

    In all those years before, I have been the friendly face ushering all those anxious folks to their eventual destinations. This time, it was me in the spotlight. The guy with the technology table and all the answers about how they were supposed to get three kids, all in different grades, on Al Gore's Internet at the same time. From nine o'clock that morning to one in the afternoon I barely got a chance to look up. Each time I did, I saw a line stretching off into the distance. I knew that I was barely keeping up, and when I finally got some much needed help, we were finally able to put computers into the hands of the families who had come and stood in the sun while we scrambled to prepare them all for our current state of affairs. 

    There was no calm moment, once everyone had been walked to their classroom and the new year could begin. This was a non-stop flurry of looking up student numbers and assigning devices to that number and then moving as quickly as possible to the next parent without leaving too many questions unanswered. I'm not sure how I did on that last one. I am pretty sure that I will get to spend some more quality time filling in the blanks that I left when I smiled beneath my mask and asked if there was anything else I could do to make this online learning any easier. 

    How do I answer a question like, "I have to go back to work. Who is going to watch my kids while they do their distance lessons?" Or "When will my kids be going back to school?"

    How about ditching the whole thing and starting over once we can crowd kids back into classrooms where they belong? Sorry. That wasn't very helpful. I have a few more chances to try and make up for that. I want to be the relief from being anxious, not the reason for it. That's what tomorrow is for. 

    Wednesday, August 12, 2020

    Time Served

     A very long time ago, there was a comedian named Steve Martin, and he suggested that a great way to reduce the crime rate would be to apply the death penalty to traffic violations. Noting here that I prefaced the previous statement by saying that this was a comedian, one who has been noted for trafficking in the absurd, who made this assertion. It was, for anyone who remains dubious, a joke. 

    That was way back in the early eighties. Our country's collective sense of humor seems to have evolved since then. To wit: we elected a game show host to be President of the United States. Tee hee. Get it? It's a joke.

    I don't get it.

    Nor do I understand how the Louisiana Supreme Court just upheld a life sentence for a man who was caught with his neighbor's hedge clippers. So here's where it gets a little tricky, time-wise. Fair Wayne Bryant was convicted of one count of simple attempted burglary in 1997. Which wasn't necessarily the reason for the life sentence. It was the previous three convictions before the hedge clipper incident. Twenty-three years ago, Mister Bryant was sentenced as an habitual offender, and therefore given life. In prison. For stealing hedge clippers. 

    And, if you're like me and you wanted some sort of reason for the yard tool affair to put him over the top, the three prior convictions were  in 1979 for attempted armed robbery, in 1987 for possession of stolen things, attempted forgery of a check worth one hundred fifty dollars in 1989 and for simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling in 1992. It should be noted that he did not get away with stealing the hedge clippers. But a felony is a felony, and off he went to jail. Forever. 

    And if I mention here that Mister Bryant is black, this should perhaps come as no shock to those of you still reading. I will not address issues of character here, as I have not met the man, but it does sound like he does have a hard time staying out of trouble. Life sentence trouble? 

    If Fair Wayne Bryant lives another twenty years in prison, estimates of taxpayer expense to keep him there for forty-some years will be about a million dollars. Those must have been some really awesome hedge clippers. Or maybe there is a problem with our sentencing system. 

    Tuesday, August 11, 2020

    Songs My Father Played For Me

     It never occurred to me that I should be afraid of The Beatles. Even as I harbored all kinds of fear for The Rolling Stones. And The Who. And especially Led Zeppelin. Those were the guys who were devil-worshiping drug-taking hippies whose music would most certainly cause me to fall into either or both of those traps. I might have been scared off by their appearance, since I was introduced to the Fab Four when they were still relatively clean cut. I would politely suggest that even the straightest hairstyle and a snappy suit would make Keith Richards look clean cut. Or Keith Moon. Or Jimmy Page. Mostly Keith Moon

    Part of this essential favoritism was probably formed out of the way John, Paul, George and Ringo entered my life. Besides hearing their delicately crated pop songs on my older brother's stereo from an age that I cannot precisely remember, they were also stars of their own cartoon on TV. This comfort was expanded by having John and George voiced by the same actor who brought Boris Badenov, Paul Frees. During this time, The Who was making a "rock opera" about the torment of a deaf, dumb and blind boy. The Stones were at their Satanic Majesties Request. And Led Zeppelin was making records in a dazed and confused state, probably in a mansion once owned by Aleister Crowley. 

    It wasn't until I sat down with the White Album and its attendant enclosed photos of the band that I began to reassess my feelings for the lads from Liverpool. These were no longer the identically clad and shorn young men to whom I had become accustomed. They had become, well, hippies. And that "song" on side four? All that noise and mumbling and goings on for more than eight minutes? I was used to being able to sing along with these guys. What had happened?

    Fast forward to 2007, when I took my son to Best Buy to purchase our first version of Guitar Hero: Legends of Rock. My son's enthusiasm was dampened initially by the appearance of Guns and Roses' guitarist Slash on the cover. He gave me a worried look and asked, "Do we like him?" I assured my son that everything would be alright. In time. First he would have to experience "Welcome to the Jungle," and defeat that scary guy in a guitar battle for the ages. 

    He got over his fear. And he didn't even think to ask about "Paint It Black." It was all just part of the soundtrack of his youth. Then it was time for us both to get over our nervous feelings about Black Sabbath

    Monday, August 10, 2020

    Comings And Goings

     I checked to see how many times I have brought this up before. The answer was twice, which seems like a pretty fair number considering the totality of the time we have spent together. Not necessarily you and me, dear reader, but my lovely wife. The one who helped conspire to drop our wedding day just nine days before her birthday. I understand that this doesn't give me a lot of room to complain, what with Father's Day and my birthday having a tendency to overlap on a regular basis, but there you go.

    Which wasn't what I was going to bring up, but it will all come together if you trust in the way things stack up around here. I was going to mention, once again, the poem I wrote so very many years ago now that included the line "you can come and go in my life." Yes, I know that I was lining up to be disappointed, at some level, but it turns out those were words that the girl I was chasing at the time needed to hear. And the way things have worked out, it's turned out to be true, but maybe not to the degree that would have made me crazy uncomfortable. 

    Yes, I have a tendency to cling. To things. Ideas. People. And memories. Those don't come and go so much in my world. And I am fortunate now to have this great big stack of birthday memories to share with my wife, who came home from our honeymoon to a birthday party complete with Ren and Stimpy and a watermelon cake. 

    There have been other birthdays that have necessarily had an element of distance between us. She travels, my wife. She loves the life of adventure. As a contrast, she also fully enjoys the comforts of home. This would include her stodgy husband who often prefers to stick around the house and prepare for her eventual return. It was a refrain around our house for many years: Mommy always comes back. This would soothe the jangled nerves of our little boy who was every bit as ensconced in his home as his father. 

    But we all grow older, and up, and out. And the excitement available here is just not enough to keep everyone down on the farm all the time. But it's a nice farm, and it's a pretty happy place to which one can return. Which, of course, was all part of my evil plan way back when. I continue to give this gift of freedom with the quiet assumption that this will have a bungee effect of bringing her back to me. Meanwhile, I am grateful for all the times I have shaken off the lethargy and joined her on those trips off into the void. Because I have begun to figure this thing out: I don't think we are actually travelling in space so much anymore as in time. As we grow old together, I think of an episode of Bewitched, in which Darrin begins to fret about how his wife the witch will deal with his pending decrepitude. Samantha Stephens was already a few hundred years old when she met her husband, and the concern was that he would grow old and gray, and eventually alone. As a gesture of love, Sam shows how she intends to grow old with her mortal hubby. A very sweet sacrifice, in my sitcom estimation. And so it goes with my little water nymph. 

    She does come and go in my life, but it's our life. Together. And that's fine. Happy birthday to my friend, my confidant and favorite audience. 

    Sunday, August 09, 2020


    A few mornings back, one of my fellow teachers wandered down the hall toward my room. As is her custom in the mornings, she had her phone playing not music but NPR news. In a school that was otherwise still and quiet, the echoes of the tragedy in Beirut bounced around our little sanctum. There I was, preparing to enroll students for their back to school without actually being back, and I was being treated to the discussion of the overwhelming and sudden loss of life half a world away. 
    Oh, how I hate 2020.
    Part of the game we are currently playing is trying to find a reason to keep going. My son has a favorite bit of Twitter (Twit?) that gives a regular update on our progress through the year. It appears as a green bar steadily filling up a black void like the one you stare at as you wait for your computer to load that new version of Candy Crush. If you are like me, you are quite anxious to see the blackness disappear completely as we prepare to move on to the new year with possibly the most enthusiasm I can remember for a holiday that is noted primarily by throwing away old calendars. 
    I, for one, will look forward to the bonfire we might enjoy when it is time to rid ourselves of all things 2020. Riots, plague, natural disasters and because we are all kept inside we have not choice but to have our collective nose rubbed in it. Over and over again. Every time the "president" opens that slit just below his nose, fresh hell is unleashed upon us as thinking humans stare at each other in wonder. Which reminds me of the stoning scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian. As the chained prisoner is being admonished that he is "only making it worse" for himself, he asks, "Worse? How could it be worse?"
    This used to be somewhat of a rhetorical question. These days, it seems to beg creative minds to imagine new and different ways to spread torment. Confusion. Disbelief. Kanye West is running for president? It's all a part of God's plan. 
    Or something. 
    We are being treated to "baseball" and streaming movies that might have been found in the local movie palace, but for now we are asked to use these as the dull moments before the next of the seven seals to be broken. Yes, the clock is ticking, but somehow it feels a lot like walking through pudding. And not in a good way. In a really horrible, smelly, painful and annoying way. Horrible, smelly painful and annoying pudding. 

    Saturday, August 08, 2020

    No Free Rides

    I have gone past the vague antipathy I feel for motorists. Not all motorists. Not all the time. The motorists for whom I have a renewed animosity toward are those scooting around the streets on my way to work. To be honest, I didn't notice them so much when I was trapped inside my house, but now that I am back to commuting on my bicycle I feel this insipid rage. Didn't signal before you decided to turn in front of me? I'll mutter something under my breath. Zip past me on the right, accelerating to the stop sign? I might roll my eyes. 
    Oh, I'm one tough hombre when it comes to the aggravations of bike riding. In the city. Where two wheels is just asking for trouble. At least that's the way it seems when I'm rolling along with my helmet on, minding everyone's business in case everyone stops minding theirs. Defensive driving is nothing compared to the attention required for being on the far right hand side of the road. Not on the sidewalk, because they are called side-walks not side-rides. Not taking the whole lane, even though we are by California State Law allowed to do just that. That would be asking for trouble. Trouble, in this case, meaning something like maim and kill.
    Not that this comes up very much for me, since I try and travel at times when four wheels are less apparent. I also try and avoid anything that might be considered major thoroughfares. This has been made nominally easier by the "slow streets" campaign here in Oakland. During the shelter in place which continues to hover over our city, many residential areas have been designated "slow," meaning that they are closed to through traffic. I say "nominally" because my experience with this program so far has been that drivers tend to careen wide around the modest barriers and traffic cones set out to limit access. At the moment that they swoop around those barricades, I have another moment to gather myself before the parade passes by. The casual, less-than-mindful automotive parade. 
    So in many ways I feel like I am creating a back to normal bit of comfort for myself. For those fifteen to twenty minutes, It's like old times out there. Dodging cars, head on a swivel, hoping to make it from point A to point B in one piece. It's a survival game. One that I am proud to say I has not yet caught me napping. 
    There are still a few motorists out there at whom I have yet to roll my eyes. 

    Friday, August 07, 2020

    You Should Be Dancing

    So, Ellen.
    You know: DeGeneres. 
    That one.
    She was the one with the groundbreaking sitcom that put us all in the LGBTQ mindset, even if there were those who didn't want to be. If you weren't watching TV back in the nineties, I was. And I remember that Ellen's show was funny enough but not remarkable. Until three years into its run a decision was made to give the title character, played by Ms. DeGeneres, a chance to come out on national television. "The Puppy Episode" aired on April 30, 1997. It was the highest rated episode of Ellen ever. It was also the next to last episode of the show's penultimate season. After three years of wandering in the wilderness, having Ellen come out as gay gave the show the spark it had been missing. The following season was the last, perhaps because once that big reveal had been made, there wasn't a lot left to say.
    So Ellen, the actual person not the character, became a talk show host. She was fun and silly and danced, and audiences loved her. She was so genuine and out there. Like a gay white Oprah. Who danced. And encouraged others to do so. And she was always giving things away. She was so nice.
    Except for those people to whom she wasn't. Nice, that is. Over the past few months, when I haven't been checking in on what fresh hell is being served up on the COVID-19 and police brutality front, I have noticed an unrelenting series of articles suggesting that Ellen isn't as nice as she may have had everyone believing she is. Other celebrities, former employees, and civilians have been lining up to tell their version. After seventeen years of making a daily chat show, there has been a lot of folks who have not been as enchanted by Ellen. A couple years back, Ms. DeGeneres gave an interview to the New York Times in which she talked about "having to dance." She spoke of being asked by strangers on the street, "Hey, why aren't you dancing?" To which she replied, "Because I'm walking down the street." 
    And so we land here, with this national crisis: Why isn't Ellen as nice as we thought she was? Perhaps because she never was, which is tragic. Or maybe we needed Ellen to be something for everyone because who could really be that open, honest and full of the terpsichorean muse? Somewhere in the mix of the person that we thought we knew and the reality, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Ellen played Ellen who came out on her television show at the instant that Ellen came out in Time Magazine. And somewhere in there is a real person who is having a bad day. Or a good day. And the stakes and expectations are so very high that there is no way for her to live up to them. She sat next to George W. Bush at the Super Bowl. Horrors. This is not the behavior of our saint and savior Ellen. 
    Or maybe she's not a saint. Or a savior. She's a funny lady who likes to dance.
    But not all the time. 
    For everyone. 

    Thursday, August 06, 2020

    Up In The Air

    The rhythms of this summer have been replaced by the herky-jerky jangling of a new school year beginning. None of this seems familiar. It doesn't feel like the weird rush that accompanied the closing of school and the attendant discovery of distance learning. In many ways, that was survival, and each day that we got through without a dozen questions or complaints felt like a victory. One of our teachers described it as trying to fly a plane that was still being built.
    As a result, not a lot of soaring took place last spring. We celebrated completion. We made a fuss over kids showing up. Now, as we creep toward opening for what will be our fourth month of teleducation, we hope to be able to step up our game. A bit. The metaphorical plane has been in the metaphorical hanger for a couple months, so we ought to have a little better sense about how to keep it from crashing back to earth.
    I remember the first time I came to the school for those days leading up to Day One. I was a fresh-faced recruit with an intern credential, ready for whatever this teaching gig had to offer. We took a bus to a conference center: an off-site meeting. It was there I got to know my colleagues and began to piece out what everyone was going to do once we started letting children in. Over the course of my career, this bus trip has been a simple meeting in the library, or a trip to Marin where we stayed in a hotel for a couple nights as we repeated that same exercise. Coming together as a staff, old faces mixed with new, changes in curriculum, stories of summers well spent and some not so much. Inevitably, one or two kids would come sniffing around in hopes of getting an early peek at the class lists.
    Not  this year. We are doing all of that same work from a distance of six feet or more. I really have no idea when I will see all my fellow teachers in the same room again. Instead, we group text or Zoom, always with an eye toward the day when we might sit around and enjoy one another's company. Not now. There's too much to do, too many choices and connections to make and they all have to be done from the relative safety of our living rooms, offices, or kitchens. Wherever the wi-fi is best.
    Except for things like handing out Chromebooks, or helping parents get registered. That's where I put on my mask and wander into the fray, wishing that there was an easier way, repeating myself often to be understood through my face covering. We all know that we are doing everything we can to be safe, with the possible exception of waiting until there was no more coronavirus.
    But that's not going to happen. It's time to get this show on the road, plane in the air, with or without wings.

    Wednesday, August 05, 2020

    The Write Stuff

    My wife was president of her chapter of the California Writer's Club for (checks watch) about eleventy-seven years. Kind of funny how they would call a smaller group of writers a "chapter" but that is just a funny little bit on the way to my larger point: I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the California Writer's Club. I live in California. I write. What's the problem?
    Well, let's start with the wisdom of Groucho Marx who insisted that he would never be a member of any club that would have him as a member. Which is pretty solidly the camp in which I find myself. Not that this is much of a camp, what with all that misanthropy and so on. Part of the reason I started writing was because I was such a misanthrope. I wrote because it was something I could do on my own. I could create worlds to surround me that conformed with the reality that was missing in my day to day. One of my earliest efforts had Snoopy quarterbacking the Denver Broncos. This enabled second grade me to mix my passions without fear of reprisal. I had figured out that being clever with words was a pretty good way to entrance others into believing that I wasn't just that round kid with glasses who always got one hundred percent on the spelling test.
    In fourth grade, I was encouraged to mine my feelings of being a social outcast by creating picture story books that centered on characters who were lost and lonely. The fact that I borrowed shamelessly from Harry Nilsson's The Point was lost on my fellow students who marveled at my ability to both write and draw. Arthur the Fish. Larry the Lion. Bubbles the Bear was a side project that I illustrated for a friend who was anxious to follow in my footsteps. The way he borrowed from my previously borrowed plot was homage on top of homage. It made me a star at my elementary school, culminating in sixth grade when my stories, poems and cartoons were sprinkled across Columbine's collection of student work. It might also have had something to do with the fact that my father was in charge of getting the thing published, but it's not what you know, after all it's whom.
    Junior high and high school did not offer as much opportunity for my muses. Not at school, anyway. It was during this time that I acquired my first typewriter and began hammering out flurries of thought and what I believed was wisdom, much of which coalesced into my lightly titled Great American Novel, written in longhand over the course of a tortured Memorial Day weekend just prior to moving from ninth to tenth grade.
    My peers were stunned and amazed at that forty-two page epistle to and from The Voice From The Great Beyond. It wasn't really so beyond. It was in my head. The device made me appear more clever, which was really the reason why I was in the game in the first place. I took a Creative Writing class when I was in the eleventh grade, which was enough to make me wish that I could just stop those voices. It was a lot of requirements and editing. Not that I felt truly creative when I was trying to unravel the vagaries of punctuation and syntax.
    No surprise, perhaps, that I found myself entering my freshman year in college as a studio art major. Not that the voices in my head stopped. By this point, I had been gifted by my parents with an electric typewriter through which all those thoughts kept coming. I harbored dreams of becoming an artist, maybe even a writer, but I didn't discuss them. My writing was only for those in my inner circle then. Perhaps not the best way to find fame and fortune as an author. Or anything.
    It wasn't until my fourth year in college that I was forced into a corner: declare a major or prepare to spend the rest of your natural life as an undergraduate. I gathered up my loose credits and took them to an academic advisor. He pointed out that I had taken more than enough literature courses, and more than my share of creative writing workshops to cobble together a degree in Creative Writing. If only I would stop doing that and take a science or history class to meet requirements for graduation.
    Which I did. Leaving me out on the streets of the Real World with a diploma and no real idea about how to use it. I spend the next few years attempting to get published in literary magazines, submitting my obtuse prose and poetry to everyone from the New Yorker to literary zines that paid exclusively in author's copies. It was one of the latter that I found "success." Three of my bleak, non-rhyming stares into the abyss were picked up by a publication called The Strain.
    I felt that I had arrived.
    I hadn't.
    So, at the urging of a friend who was on his way to a career in screenwriting to give that a shot. I knew movies. I watched a lot of TV. How hard could it be to harness those tropes that had become nearly second nature to me after all those years? Answer: Pretty. I made a few fits and starts at a Northern Exposure script that I hoped would be picked up on spec. It never got sent off. So that didn't happen. But it was enough for someone from that inner circle to take notice. She thought it was amazing that I would put myself out there like that and create a world within a world. So impressed with that idea, she married me.
    And she became the president of her branch of the California Writer's Club, of which I am not a member. I write a blog.
    How's that for a story?

    Tuesday, August 04, 2020


    Patience. It's a virtue.
    I looked it up.
    Which is pretty much how I feel about the coronavirus. I go back to what feels like forever ago to me: junior high school. My Earth Science teacher gave us a roll of toilet paper that we were supposed to roll down the hallway, then start to mark out historical events and geological epochs on our double-ply timeline. This was our scale. The length of the hallway was the age of the earth. Dinosaurs were in there somewhere. There was a long time before dinosaurs were there. That first mudskipper that pulled itself up onto the beach was before that. This was not as simple as simply dividing the whole thing up into seven days, starting with heavens and earth and so on. This was science.
    If you were never part of such an experiment, I can skip to the end for you: Our time, human time, on earth is a thin strip on the end of one sheet out of that roll. All the important things we have crammed into our existence as masters of our domain have been shoved into a relatively tiny sliver of time. Compared to rocks and microbes, we have only been here a short time.
    Six months then, is the tiniest fibrous wisp of toilet paper. Which is how long we have been wrestling with the notion of a global pandemic. We tried shutting things down for a few months before we started getting anxious and upset that we were missing out on all that capitalism. And freedom. And not wearing masks. Mostly the capitalism.
    Surprise, surprise. The germs were waiting for us when we stuck out heads out of our burrows. As much as we as a species would like to exert our will on one another, we have as yet to discover a way to make a virus go away by simply being mad at it. Baseball players, highly trained physical specimens kept in isolation are contracting the disease, causing games in an already shortened season to be cancelled. Children hurried back to school at our dear leader's insistence are showing up and testing positive, not for academics but for COVID-19. Standing outside the burger hut, waiting for our online order to be ready, we have the urge to creep forward in line to get ours. Social distance doesn't mean a thing when it's keeping me from my double cheeseburger.
    How long can this go on?
    No one seems to know for sure. But our wishes for a quick resolution is being denied by a timeline that is based more on geology than sociology. At least you can get toilet paper at the store again. We just had to be patient.

    Monday, August 03, 2020

    Sure Thing

    My wife requested that I look to kinder, gentler pursuits as we creep ever closer to The Election. To that end, I have stopped my daily run through the "president's" tweets, making snarky comments on as many as possible, all beginning with "Dude -." Build up, don't tear down was her suggestion. Which leaves me more times for things like this:
    Celebrity obituaries.
    When I worked at a video store with my best friend and roommate, he had this sure thing. No, it wasn't the Rob Reiner classic rom-com of that same name, but rather a film that was a little more off the beaten path: Birdy, starring Matthew Modine and Nicolas Cage. It tells the story of childhood friends who serve in Vietnam, both returning home wounded. One inside. One outside. Did I mention a soundtrack by Peter Gabriel? Whenever a customer would come in and start complaining that all thirty-two copies of Top Gun were already reserved or rented, my friend would go to the shelf and pull off the VHS cassette of this, his sure thing. Placing it on the counter in front of the customer, he would stake his reputation on their enjoyment of this film, and then insist that if they didn't like it, he would give them a free rental.
    In all the years I saw him do this, he never had to give away that free rental.
    Alan Parker directed Birdy. He also directed Midnight Express. And Mississippi Burning. He was nominated for Best Director for both of those movies. If you imagined that straight up intensity was his forte, then you might not have seen Bugsy Malone, the all-kid musical gangster movie starring Scott Baio and Jodie Foster. Or maybe you didn't know that Fame was a film before it was a TV show. Perhaps you didn't catch the name of the guy who directed Pink Floyd's The Wall. And maybe now you believe you have Alan Parker pigeon-holed as the director of musicals. He did direct The Commitments and Evita.
    Hard to find the musical component to Shoot The Moon, but he did that too. The story of a marriage disintegrating doesn't have much to sing along with, and it's not easy to dance to. But it is another intense look inside the lives as they fall apart. And there was Angel Heart, pitting hard-boiled detective Mickey Rourke against Robert De Niro's Louis Cyphre. Okay, maybe that one wasn't too subtle, but it was Alan Parker frame for frame.
    Mister Parker went to the big screening room in the sky last week. His body of work carried me through the eighties and into this century. He will be missed. That's a sure thing. Aloha, Alan.

    Sunday, August 02, 2020

    Death Cult

    A friend of mine wondered: "Imagine gambling with your life - and losing - in order to make Donald Trump feel a tiny bit more validated for one evening." He was referencing the death of Herman Cain, politician and businessman, who ran for president in 2012. Coronavirus killed him. Mister Cain was one of those Trump supporters in attendance at the Tulsa rally back in June. Health officials have determined that the spike in COVID-19 cases was in direct correlation with that event, including eight of Trump's advance staff testing positive afterward.
    My reply to my friend's wonder was one word: "Can't."
    This game of brinkmanship with public health evades me. It seems that barely a day goes by when there is not a sad story to tell about someone who had insisted that the pandemic was a hoax or overblown or "no worse than the flu" is diagnosed with the virus, many of them dying as a result. The day before Herman Cain passed, Turning Point USA announced that their co-founder had died form coronavirus complications. The conservative youth group quickly deleted a Tweet from their account posted just the day before that mocking the suggestion that people wear masks to avoid the spread of the disease.
    And the list goes on. It should be noted that in a country that has now seen more than one hundred fifty thousand deaths due to the pandemic that continues to affect all of us that there would be plenty of stories like this. Like Texas Representative Louie Gohmert who suggested that it was wearing a mask that gave him his own case of COVID-19. This came after months of insisting that he didn't need to wear a mask because he was tested frequently. The GOP congressman reportedly went back to his office on Capitol Hill after receiving his positive test result to inform his staff. In person. There has been some talk about how the virus may affect brain function, but I don't believe we can blame the germs for this one.
    Instead, we are stuck in a time where flaunting the recommendations of doctors and health officials is a symbol of "freedom." Never mind that this liberty comes at the cost of every other living, breathing soul on the continent. The Constitution says nothing about wearing a mask, so you can't make me. It is precisely after these edicts that the clock starts ticking. How many minutes until the next case is added to the roll? One more shot at tragic irony. One more dead American. One more day that we all have to remain vigilant while those who insist that this pandemic is cooked up by bad people who only wish the "president" harm.
    Last time I checked, the "president" was fine. It's the people around him who are dropping like flies.