Wednesday, September 30, 2020


 I remember the first time I heard Bohemian Rhapsody. It was presented to me on a mix tape made by my older brother. It was the first song on side one, so there was no way I could avoid it. Not that I wanted to. After that first listen, let the tape roll. I listened to the rest of side one. I flipped it over and listened to side two. There were a lot of gems: some Elton John, a great chunk of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, music that was brand new to my thirteen year old ears. 

But it was that song on side one that brought me back. Over and over again. I hit the stop button. Rewind. Play. For every time I listened to the rest of that tape, I listened to Bohemian Rhapsody three times. The harmonies, the piano intro, the guitar solo, the bombast. Six minutes. Who made pop songs that were six minutes long? 

Didn't matter. Not to me. Not back then. I would have been happy to hear the nine minute version. Twelve. No worries. I could just rewind and play it again. Eventually, of course, I had my very own copy of the vinyl album from whence the single came, A Night At The Opera. Yes, there were other amazing sounds to be heard on this record. Love songs to cars and others, stylistically all over the map. Which were wonderful and pleasant but nothing approached the sonic mysteries of the first Queen song I ever heard. 

Forty-five years later, I still reach for the volume knob when I hear Freddie Mercury lament the share of sand kicked in his face. I turn it up. A lot of other songs have joined the list of songs that I turn up as a matter of course. Born To Run. Limelight. Sabotage. And others. But this was the first. And when the smoke clears and the gong sounds, I'm ready to press rewind and do it all over again. For another six minutes. For another forty-five years. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Phone Home

 I bring a message from another time. There were once such things as phone books. They were delivered to your home and if you cared to check, you could find your name, address and number inside. Listed alphabetically by last name, it was the way you located people. This was an age in which the telephones themselves were installed into your home. Someone would come out from The Phone Company to attach it to the wall. Yes, you read that right: The Phone Company. There was one. No discounts. No deals. If you didn't like your service, you could complain. To the other people stuck in the house with you. The up side of this was that no one ever lost their phone. "Have you seen my phone?" 

"Yes. It's bolted to the wall over there in the kitchen."

Eventually there were advancements made, like extensions. You could have a phone in  your bedroom You could use these to listen in on your brother's conversations with his girlfriend. If you were so inclined. And could keep your hand over the mouthpiece to muffle the snickers. And then came the modular jacks that allowed you to select the kind of phone you plugged into the wall. The Phone Company still had to come out and engineer this tricky bit of electronics, but it did allow the relative freedom of adding a slimline touchtone device in one of nearly three colors, most of them earth tones. However, this did allow you to move away at last from the tedium of dialing a rotary phone.

That's why we still call it "dialing." There really was a dial associated with this interaction. There were some cool things associated with the rotary phone. Like letting your finger ride back to the number that you started with each time you pushed that plastic ring around to the restricting hook that was the eventual destination of all dialing attempts. Some were so clever that they could use a pen or pencil to do the work of that digit. Dialing long distance? That could be a very strenuous exercise, involving upwards of ten separate actions. Long distance, we were told, was the next best thing to being there. This was a big sales job, because if you were dialing anywhere out of your local area, you were going to be charged extra. If you wanted to save money, you could call in the middle of the night. So the next best thing to being there would probably be when both of the calling parties were awake and receiving calls. Regardless, a good portion of all these conversations included protestations of "how much this must be costing you." Maybe it wasn't really the next best thing to being there after all. 

Yes, I know there was a time when this was accomplished with tin cans and some string, or just hollering from the front porch. And before that, the patch of dirt in front of the cave that was the predecessor to the modern-day "front porch." And yes, there was a time when cans were made from tin. If you wanted a soda, or a pop, you had to peel a tab completely off the top of the can and then find a place to discard it. Like the ridiculous chain that someone in your family insisted on making. Which was really nothing to call home about after all. 

Monday, September 28, 2020


 We used to worry a lot about DEFCON. If you are less than forty years old, you may have no reckoning of defense readiness condition. This was something the Joint Chiefs of Staff came up with back in 1959. That was when our greatest threat was nuclear annihilation. I was part of a generation that was brought up worrying about how close we were to having tactical missiles with multiple atomic warheads launched at our shores by Russia. Actually, it wasn't Russia back then. It was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. How nervous we should be about being vaporized was signified by our DEFCON level. Five levels, one through five, from one through five, white red, yellow, green and blue. One would be toe-to-toe nuclear combat with the Russkies. White, like the blinding flash of light just before everything else melts. Blue would be cool, where there was nothing to worry about. We've never been at one, but we have been at condition red number two a couple of times: During the Cuban Missile Crisis, and at the outset of Operation Desert Storm. Spoiler alert: neither of those crises went any further than red.

On September 11, 2001, we went from a four to a three. But since there was no matrix for passenger jets being flown into the sides of buildings. Thankfully, the newly-minted Department of Homeland Security came up with their own scale for Terror Threat. It also had five levels, this one had a highest level of red, then orange, yellow in the middle, blue, then green. We have, over the past two decades spent some time at the highest level, quite some time at orange, and a good chunk at yellow. We have never been at blue or green. Probably because we, as a nation, have been terrified for the past nineteen years. 

I thought of these scales as I heard the news come down from the California Secretary of Health and Human Services that my county was going to be moved from purple to red. Not nuclear weapons or underwear bombs this time, but COVID-19. There's a whole new rainbow to consider here. Purple is widespread. Red is substantial. Orange is moderate. Yellow is minimal. There is no blue or green. We have been told that if we can hang in that red level for two solid weeks, keeping our new cases and deaths at a substantial level, we can start to open up a few more things. Nail salon operators and their customers breathe a sigh of relief. 

For now. 

We already have a color coded system for wildfire danger. And a scale for tropical storms and hurricanes. 

Now we need one for police brutality.

And social justice. 

And that vague sense of ennui. 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Say Her Name

 The Grand Jury in Kentucky indicted one police officer. Not for murdering Breonna Taylor, but for three counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree. Brett Hankison was fired from the Louisville police department. The other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, kept their jobs. After the investigation it was determined that the only charges to be filed would be those against Hankison. 

Not for the five bullets that killed Breonna Taylor, but the other fifteen that flew around the apartment and into neighboring apartments. Somewhere in here is the implicit message that murder is not a punishable offense in Louisville, but bad aim is. This is not to make light of the situation, but rather outrage at the tiny minds that seem to be involved. A young woman, a front-line emergency room technician, was shot and killed in her bed by police who entered her home in a no-knock raid in which they expected to find illegal drugs. Once the smoke cleared, no drugs were found. Breonna Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, initially faced criminal charges of first-degree assault and attempted murder of a police officer. Officer Mattingly was injured in the blur of violence that occurred in the apartment. He was shot in the leg. Once. 

Breonna Taylor, who did not have a gun in this scene, was shot five times. In the back. She lost her job. She lost her life. Her family lost a sister and a daughter. They have been awarded twelve million dollars for their loss by the City of Louisville. That offer was made two weeks in advance of the Grand Jury's decision. Can you put a price tag on justice?

At this moment in time, the words "Grand Jury" just bring a pain in my head. I do not expect good news when I hear that a Grand Jury is investigating the loss of Black Lives. I expect frustration, sadness, disappointment. I do not expect justice. Evidence that points directly to the murder of Breonna Taylor was seemingly cast aside in order to preserve the status quo. Brett Hankison was released on $15,000 bond. Breonna Taylor's death certificate, issued by the City of Louisville, said that the cause was homicide. Since I am not a lawyer nor a member of a Grand Jury, I looked that term up. Homicide is "the deliberate and unlawful killing of one person by another; murder." Not wanton endangerment. You can get up to five years per count of first degree wanton endangerment. I am not, as previously mentioned, a lawyer nor do I play one on TV. I do know that "up to" is the tricky part of that sentence. It would mean that the case actually goes to trial and one of three officers who shot up Breonna Taylor's apartment could get "up to" fifteen years in jail. 

For wanton policing. 

I am sad, angry, and disgusted. 

We all should be. 

For Breonna Taylor. 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Con Science

 Charles Dickens wrote about redemption. When Ebenezer Scrooge tossed open the blinds and discovered that he had not missed Christmas Day after all, he turned over a new leaf. He was no longer a penny-pinching miser who sought to make life as miserable for others as it was for him. It endures as one of the most magical transformations in literature. 

Do you believe in magic?

Do you believe that Mitch McConnell will have a sudden change of heart, remembering how in his youth he used to say, “This nomination ought to be made by the president we’re in the process of electing this year?" And how  "...this is not about this particular judge. This is about who should make the appointment. We’re in the process of picking the president, and that new president ought to make this appointment, which will affect the Supreme Court maybe for the next quarter of a century.”

Do you believe that Marco Rubio will wake up in a panic remembering how, just four years ago he insisted, “I don’t think we should be moving forward with a nominee in the last year of this president’s term. I would say that even if it was a Republican president?" 

What about Chuck Grassley, who insisted way back when, “A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics. The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice?"

Or maybe Ted Cruz, before the beard used to say, “It has been eighty years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year?”

Perhaps Lindsey Graham can recall insisting, “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,” and in 2018 reiterated, “If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election?”

There is no magic. There will be no morning light. Only the dull thud of hypocrisy as it drills into the hearts and minds of America. 

I believe Dickens would have said, "Bah humbug!" 

I don't think I would choose to be that polite. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Value Time

 I'm a big fan of customer loyalty. I place a huge value on folks who will go the extra mile for me and mine. Such is the case with my latest wandering into the dark woods of television alternatives. It was the interactions with two techs who saved my business with Comcast. Xfinity. NBC. Whatever it is that they call themselves currently. One of the things that began to grind on me during my five day voyage into that heart of darkness was their company insistence on thanking those of us on the other end of the line for their years of loyalty. At first it was a nice bit of recognition: Thank you for paying your bill on time for decades. But with each successive failed attempt at resolving my issue, that opening refrain started to ring hollow. I took no solace in the fact that I had been paying my bill on time for all those years just so I could get what I felt was truly mediocre customer service. 

Strike that: Ineffective customer service. 

I should say that, as a guy who routinely does tech support both up close and distance, I know that there are plenty of people who need to be reminded that machines need to be plugged in or charged to work, and that sometimes a solution can be as simple as turning it off and turning it back on again. Never underestimate the power of a reset. I know that the ten or so agents of chaos who attempted to solve my problem were acting in what can be described as good faith. These were people whose techspertice came from reading the big binder of possible solutions and they weren't going to be bothered by listening to my story. They wanted to plow through that binder and move on to the next call. 

My training at Arby's gave me a sense of this. The rule of thumb was this: two to three customers in two to three minutes. Which made a ton of sense during lunch rushes. But this was also what eventually landed me on the late shift, where my crew and I maintained the fast portion of fast food, but we were always willing to chat people up while we did so. My years at the video store gave me an even more enhanced sense of customer service. Sure, I could just check and see if that reserved copy of Top Gun was in, but it was always more interesting to engage that person across the counter as a human being who might have interests beyond the simple transaction. We were, generally, both human beings after all. 

So it was at the moment when I felt as if the only rational solution was to disconnect all Comcast related wires and machines and toss them out into the street that Gabe showed up. I stopped him when he started to slide into the "wow you've been a customer since..." spiel. I started to explain the lengths and depths of my despair. And he listened. Then he said some magic words, "Let's see if we can get this thing to work." 

"Let's" and "we." Magic. Not only that, but he really knew what he was doing. He approached the call like a puzzle. He asked me questions that no one else had bothered with. He helped me find a way out of that scary place without television and brought back the channels I flip through. He brought me home. Suddenly, I felt the need to speak to someone's manager. Only this time it was a good thing. 

Now I can say that we are only a bad phone call away from me once again starting the process of searching for new and better ways for TV to come into my house, but for now I am taking solace in the way things worked out. 

This time. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Hits Keep On Comin'

 This may bear repeating: About eight hundred Americans are dying every day from COVID-19. 

Every day. 

So, everyone who continues to push this notion that we should "get back to normal" may not have heard. Or maybe they just ignore it. 

Schools are opening across the country, and cases are going up as a result. The idea that this rather simple cause and effect scenario is being lost on so many is continued evidence of the ignorance and arrogance of a government more concerned with appearances than reality. 

More than two hundred thousand people have died here in the United States, and each day that number grows. Some like to point out that the number of new cases has declined since late July. They don't tend to bring up the two hundred thousand deaths. Somehow we are being asked to take solace from the limits described by those in charge. The number that has been tossed around recently suggests that we have now surpassed the combat deaths in Vietnam and Korea. Combined. You may recall it was during the war in Vietnam that the phrase "acceptable losses" came into vogue. There is nothing acceptable about these losses. 

Watching the National Football League take the field for the second week brought a new set of reminders in the form of all those empty seats. Broadcasters have been excited to share the wonder of the new stadium built in Los Angeles, the one that would potentially seat seventy thousand fans. Or roughly a third of the Americans who have died from COVID-19. Meanwhile, down on the sidelines we see coaches and team officials with all manner of mask placement, with very few actually on both nose and mouth. Which might not be such a concern considering all the precautions that sports teams have taken in order to keep themselves safe, except that there has already been a confirmed case of the virus in a Chiefs fan who attended the first game of the season. In person. Two weeks ago. 

So the clock is ticking on the rest of the league. 

Each time I feel like I want to peel off my mask and run wildly through a Target, as some blithe spirits did in Florida a week ago, I push it back up my nose and wait for the fog on my glasses to clear. And I hear the clicking sound of numbers adding up. While I write this blog. As I ride my bike to work. As I sleep at night. Eight hundred a day. It would be easy enough to just forget that we are still enduring a viral outbreak of a disease we still don't fully understand. 
Except for that clicking sound. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Lite Bright

 In the decades since I retired from semi-professional drinking, things have changed a lot. Back in the day, it was a pretty simple operation. For me, anyway. I came up in an age of lite beer. Lite, from Miller, was what I drank more often than not. If you're not familiar with this brew, it could be that it was before your time. My time was the time when less filling was doing battle with great taste. I can tell you from vast and repeated experience that it was less filling. The great taste thing was put in there pretty much so there would be another side for the discussion. I was not drinking it for the taste. I suppose that means that I was drinking it because it was less filling. Which meant that I could drink more. More of that not-so-great-tasting beer. Weekend after weekend. 

This past weekend, my son explained the new economics about going out for beers with his buddies. Fourteen dollars for a six pack of beer? 

"Good beer," he added.

Ouch. I felt that one. Not that I have a horse in this race anymore. I have no idea what an IPA is. The only dark beer I had any experience with was made by Heineken, and at the time I didn't figure I wanted to drink anything that tasted like rye bread. As I mentioned earlier, taste was not the primary motivator for me. I notice that there are still some light beers being made. They don't bother to make any arguments about the flavor, focusing instead on the carbs. I'm not sure I know what carbs were when I was drinking beer. I say this because there were plenty of times that I did not know my own name when I was drinking beer. Lots of cheap beer. 

And now there's seltzer? Alcohol infused seltzer? This White Claw stuff? My good friend and college roommate had a different strategy when it came to buying beer. He would buy whatever had the coolest bottle. I'm guessing he would have been all in on something called White Claw. Tastes like Ruby Grapefruit? My son likes his beer citrus infused. Tastes great, and get your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. 

Fun fact: The brewery that makes that citrus infused beer is owned by the folks who are still making my old standby Lite, Miller. I hear it tastes great. Less filling? Maybe. But you might want to taste it. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Really Big Giant

 Roald Dahl once wrote a book titled BFG. Somehow, in my mind, I had twisted this title around in my head. It had become RBG. Mister Dahl wrote about a giant, after all and giants come in all different sizes. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a giant. 

She once told a group of newly naturalized American citizens, "We are a nation made strong by people like you."

She also maintained, "Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation."

She was a fighter: "Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, 'My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.' But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow."

And this: "Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you." Which sounds a lot like something the late Senator John Lewis said, "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."

Both of these people, when they died, set off a wave of frightened responses. Worries that somehow their passing would lead to a void. Who could possibly take their place.

Don't panic. The answer is easy: All of us. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legacy is not unlike that of John Lewis. It would be an insult to their memory to fold up the tents, wringing our hands, wondering how we are going to go on without them. 

No worries. In her honor. We got this. Because it's the right thing to do. Ruth Bader Ginsburg stomped on the Terra. As giants do. And she will be missed. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Not A Suggestion

 Thou shalt not kill. Let's start with that. It will be our base line. It's what God commanded, and put on a bit stone tablet for Moses to lug down the side of Mount Sinai. If it was important enough to carve into stone, it was probably a sentiment worth noting. Of course, the Lord was pretty comfortable forgetting this edict from time to time, or sending his minions out to do that thing that he specifically forbade us from doing. Kill, that is. 

So the bar seems to move for us all. We shalt not kill unless we go to war, for example. Keeping in mind that killing the other guys is completely acceptable and even encouraged once you get into an army. And I suppose it goes without saying that it is still frowned upon to kill the guys on your side. Because that would be murder, and you could get into big trouble for that. Big enough trouble, in fact, that you might be punished by being killed. 

Yeah. I know. 

If you're not in an army, you probably shouldn't kill anyone. We went ahead and made some laws that pretty much covered most of the ways that killing could happen. You've got your manslaughter, which is pretty bad but not as bad as murder which has it's own potential list of circumstances. Accidentally killing someone is bad, but planning to kill someone is much worse. So bad, in fact, that depending on where you kill someone, you might end up being killed for killing someone. That's mostly if you really mean to. If you didn't mean to kill someone, then you probably won't have to die yourself, but God will probably be really disappointed with you. Really disappointed. You shalt not kill, after all. 

Yet, somehow, killing takes place all the time. Across the globe and right here in the U S of A. There is so much killing that God may be getting pretty numb to all of the folks breaking that number one commandment. 

Kind of like the rest of us. 

When our laws start to diminish the seriousness of this offense, it tends to make the offense less offensive. When people get away with murder, it's like they're getting away with murder. That's why we have that expression. It's hard to figure how such a thing could happen. 

But it does. There are as many excuses for killing one another as there are murders. I don't know if you've noticed, but there seems to be some question about those folks who are in charge of keeping us from killing each other have been implicated in quite a few killings themselves. When peace officers kill, they need to have a very good reason. They're supposed to, anyway. When it gets too easy for the killing to be done without any questions, then all those laws or commandments don't have the same deterrent effect. 

Thou shalt not kill. It really shouldn't matter what you do for a living, and if your job is to keep us from killing one another, then you really should. And maybe the laws about killing should apply to you too. Because it's not just a suggestion. It's a commandment. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

What's In Your Wallet?

 Jennifer Garner would hope that the only thing you have to worry about is your Capital One Card. That way, if you lost your wallet, you would only have to worry about replacing that one card. But of course this is not the world in which we all live, even you Jennifer Garner because I am sure you have your SAG-AFTRA membership tucked away in there and maybe even your Starbucks card for safekeeping. 

I don't have any of those. Not anymore. Not that I would know what to do with a Starbucks card. And I am still awaiting the no-star elementary school remake of Breaking Bad to be made so I can become a card-carrying member of the actor's union. I don't have a wallet. Except for the velcro substitute my wife dug up for me. Each time I hear that tearing sound I feel as if it is my beating heart being ripped from my body. Not because I personally have any issues with velcro wallets, but my previous wallet was a gift from my wife. Beautiful blue Italian leather. Imported by her as a replacement for the buffalo leather she bought for me an age ago. And ages before that she gave me a wallet made from the same material as an infielder's glove. 

Each time she gifted me with a new one, it was because I had worn the old one out. Sitting on them apparently puts a lot of strain on a wallet. That and lugging around the various and sundries that come with my lifestyle. Not the wads of cash, mind you. I am a public school teacher, after all. This is the place I put my school teacher's union card. And those not-Capital-One cards that occasionally buy me a cheeseburger or tank of gas. 

And the photos. That's the true heartbreak. I carried pictures of my son from the time he was a tiny baby to his senior portrait from high school. And that one that has me balancing him with one arm as we celebrated the first Broncos Super Bowl victory. I had a snap of my father and I crossing the finish line of the Bolder Boulder 10K race together. In addition to some very nice photos of my wife, I made a point of hanging on to the receipt from the county clerk who issued our marriage license. 

And my membership cards to Club DEVO, The Oingo Boingo Secret Society and the Pee-Wee Herman Fan Club. Vestigial scraps of paper from my youth. 

Still carrying them around.

Because I don't lose my wallet.

Until now. 

I can cancel the credit cards and order a new Kaiser ID. The DMV will deliver me a new license in their own sweet time, but those memories are now what I have to connect me to the way things used to be. Back before I lost my wallet. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Word Study


I looked it up. "Shameless audacity, impudence." That's what the dictionary says. It comes from a Hebrew word, and one of the first cited examples is Moses arguing with God. "Why ten? Could you trim it down to five? Those stone tablets aren't light, ya know." 

Ferris Beuller had a lot of chutzpah. When he impersonated Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago, he was the living embodiment of the concept. Most of what Ferris does, especially on his day off, fits this model. 

So, is chutzpah a good thing? Some might say that wearing a red MAGA hat and no mask at an indoor rally shows a lot of chutzpah. Or is it something else?

How about when you're sitting across from the governor of a state that is on fire, and “ Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources, said, "We want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forest, and actually work together with that science. If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.” The response? “K, it’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.”

So maybe that's chutzpah. 

But the exchange continued: “I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot said. And the reply? Well, I don’t think science knows, actually." 

The "president" is not trying to get a table at Chez Quiz. This is the man who continues to cling to his office in spite of all evidence that might have suggested that he is unfit for that office. Which makes it all the more bizarre that recently the "president" blamed his opponent in the upcoming election for not instituting a national mandate for wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. Initially excusing his own tendency to go without he said, “Well, I do wear them when I have to and when I’m in hospitals and other locations.” And then he persisted, “But I will say this. They said at the Democrat convention they’re going to do a national mandate. They never did it, because they’ve checked out and they didn’t do it. And a good question is, you ask why Joe Biden. They said we’re going to do a national mandate on masks.”

Suddenly, I found myself being reminded not of Ferris Beuller, but of Spinal Tap's lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel. When asked about the knobs on his specially made amplifier, "Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?" After a long pause, Nigel responds dully, "These go to eleven."

Not chutzpah. Just dim. I think it's vital that we start to recognize the difference. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Hanging On The Telephone


You've been there. It's a lonely place. That's why they play music. Not good music. Not the kind of music that makes you want to tap your feet, except in anticipation. Plus it comes through the speaker in your phone in that moderately distorted way that makes it hard to listen to even if you were a fan of easy-listening elevator music. If I were subjected to the playlist from the hold music on an elevator, I would take the stairs. 

Instead, we are trapped, trying to listen with just the vaguest attention as periodic lies are dropped into the lull about how many more minutes you might be stranded. "Your estimated hold time for the next agent is (four) minutes." The number can be anything from one to a hundred, but it has obviously been cut and pasted amid the rest of the noise to give one the feeling that something has changed.

But nothing has. 

You're still on hold. 

These days there are some new announcements interspersed within that bed of obnoxious instrumental pap. Reminders that things are different because of the global pandemic and that wait times may be increased. "Your average wait time can range between (infinity) and (forever)." Then you can be assured that your call if very important and it "will be answered in the order in which it was received." There will be no cutting. 

Meanwhile, you are reminded that there are online avenues to attempt to repair or refine your experience. By using chat features or the Frequently Asked Questions section on their web site. No matter that it is the broken web site or the faulty information you are calling about. Feel free to go and yell at a wall while you're at it. That will do about as much good. 

And as the mild torment continues, the free-floating anxiety that may have brought you to this place initially is only enhanced by this lack of knowing what will happen next, and each pause in that godawful music is accompanied with the feverish anticipation usually reserved for the announcement of the last song by the opening band. 

And then it just goes on.

And on. 

You might forget why you called.

You might just hang up out of spite.

Which means somewhere there is someone else who is suddenly moved up that incremental notch toward speaking to an actual human being. Or maybe there is just a room somewhere that the phone elves sit around sipping cappuccinos and watching the numbers of calls reach some impossible level before settling in and deigning to answer our calls.

Until they ask us if we would like to speak to another department, to be sure we get the service we need. Do you mind if we put you on hold for just a minute?

Don't do it. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Tuck Everlasting Part 2

 It was back in 2004 that Tucker Carlson worked at the Cable News Network, known to its friends as "CNN." Way back then, Tucker was the conservative half of the tag team called Crossfire. Paul Begala, who now shows up from time to time on that network for Cable News in his role as "liberal pundit." Back then they were the Hannity and Colmes of CNN. They were doing their point/counterpoint schtick for years before Jon Stewart showed up, and they managed to put together another year of back and forth after, but it was Mister Stewart's appearance that essentially rang down the curtain on Crossfire. Jon had been brought on the show to "be funny," but instead he launched into a critique of his hosts: "It’s not honest. What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. And I will tell you why I know it." After a moment of huffing and puffing about how this criticism wasn't fair, Tucker left himself open to this: "You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls. What is wrong with you? …  You know, the interesting thing … is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably." 

And somewhere in there he called Tucker a dick. 

Not in  a good way.

How was Tucker rewarded for this failure? He was given his own show on Fox "News." And just like Sean Hannity was eventually relieved of that lefty Alan Colmes, the friendly folks at Fox let Tuck spew his thoughts with no Paul Begala to interrupt his right-wing diatribe. Here are a few of the gems that have been delivered via The Tuckster's mouth hole: 

"To be a feminist, you could cut your hair really short. You have to be really angry about something." 

He called Senator Tammy Duckworth "a fraud" and "a coward" recently. It should be noted that back in 2004 while young Tucker was getting a tongue lashing from Jon Stewart, Senator Duckworth was receiving a Purple Heart while fighting for her country in Iraq, losing both legs in the process. 

And then just this past week he compared climate change to "systemic racism in the sky." Specifically, "Climate change, they said, caused these fires. They didn't explain how exactly that happened. How did climate change do that?" Carlson asked. "In the hands of Democratic politicians, climate change is like systemic racism in the sky. You can't see it, but rest assured it's everywhere and it's deadly."

Tucker Carlson still has a job, and perhaps not so ironically, has Bill O'Reilly's old time slot. Which might be easy enough to ignore, until you read articles that suggest that little Tuck is being groomed for a run the White House in 2024. And as ridiculous as this might sound, remember that in 2014 our current "president" was hosting a game show. 

It's probably time to bring Jon Stewart back on Tucker's show. By force if necessary. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Always Watching

 Sting has been known to comment on couples who choose to use his tune "Every Breath You Take" as their wedding song, "Well, good luck." Since it's about stalking and all. "I'll be watching you..." And not in a nice adoring way: "Oh, can't you see you belong to me? How my poor heart aches with every step you take." And so on. A lot like how politicians back in 1984 blared Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The USA" at their rallies, imagining that it was some sort of patriotic anthem. Again, not in a nice adoring way. 

Speaking of The Boss. I have mentioned in this spot before about his confused and oppressive romantic intent in songs like "Fire." The Bruce apologist in me wants to suggest that he's playing a character, singing lines like "You say you don't like it, But girl I know you're a liar." A little like Danny in Grease, calling "Aw c'mon, Sandy! You can't walk out of a drive in!" Or maybe the way the cute Beatle got away with singing "She was just seventeen, and you know what I mean..." Maybe you could clarify, Sir Paul? Are you suggesting that because this young lady, under the age of consent by your own admission, made some sort of overt gesture to you by making eye contact? 

Those were simpler times, apparently. Or more dangerous. Which led me to the song "Cherish" by The Association. Not the Madonna song. Not the Kool and the Gang song. The one with lyrics like "You don't know how many times I've wished that I could hold you" followed abruptly by the rhyming couplet,  "You don't know how many times I've wished that I could mold you," The next track up would be the Hollies singing about how they met this girl at a bus stop. How this guy suggests he share his umbrella with this woman who, we are assured, by August will be "mine." 

Kind of puts you in mind of that student of Mister Sting who had the temerity to stand too close to him. 

So what I am suggesting here is that pop music may not be helping us on the road to enlightenment, at least when it comes to relationships. Unless those relationships are less boy-girl or man-woman and more captor-hostage. Which brings me around to a bit I used to do in conjunction to Sinead O'Connor's cover of "Someday My Prince Will Come." I maintain that this is a recording of Snow White singing while bound and only recently ungagged as she imagines what rescue might await her. So while you remain captive in this tower, you can sing a song about how a man will come and rescue you. From the dwarves who are using you, along with rodents from the forest, as a scullery maid. 

Which makes me glad to recall that for our first dance my wife and I pranced about to "Happy Happy, Joy Joy." That bears some watching. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

What's App?

 I'm the computer teacher. At an elementary school. Have been for many years. But you might already know this. What you might not know is that I am still doing that job. Even as the little darlings are logging in from living rooms, bedrooms and hallways across our city, I am still the computer teacher. 

Only now it means something different. It means that I am talking to a whole lot of grownups about how to keep the little darlings connected to their Zoom meetings and all the online applications we have procured in hopes of simulating their elementary school experience. 

I did say "simulating," didn't I? I did not say "stimulating." Here are two things I will not insist to you: First, I will not for a second try to convince you that I am not working with incredibly committed and ingenious educators. Secondly, I will not tell you that we are doing the best job. We cannot. While it would be unfair to say that we are making this up as we go along, that was this past spring, it would be fair to point out just how incredibly steep the learning curve is for teachers. Students are being very patient with us as we figure this out. 

One of the most frequent questions I field from my table positioned just inside the front gate of our school are the ones about streaming live video. We have two hundred fifty students all hopping online around the same time every morning, five days a week, to connect with their teacher and classmates just like they always used to. Except now they are doing it over a video application that none of us had heard of a year ago and testing the bandwidth of a city whose neighborhoods are not covered by fiber optic lines. Our network is cobbled together with pieces of a dozen different Internet Service Providers, public wi-fi and district supported hotspots. The fact that the overwhelming majority of our families have been and continue to be connected to the curriculum we are putting together is a testament to all the had work being done.

And still it's not the same as going to school. It's a lot like being on social media. Which brings me back around to how long I have been doing this job. Before Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tik Tok or any of the various and sundry platforms that I was asked to explore and consequently warn parents about. Part of my job as computer teacher was to remind students and teachers and anyone else who would listen about the appropriate use of screen time. Once a year I would even sponsor a screen-free week. This past May, it was cancelled

For now, we keep encouraging kids to log in and pay attention. Remember this is school, after all. Sit up straight. Turn your mic and camera on. Put the cat down. Time for us to learn. All of us. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

What Was It?

 I watched most of the Chiefs-Texans game on Thursday night. Mostly out of curiosity. Partly because I am a football fan. And there was a dollop of stubbornness on top. No one was going to tell me I couldn't watch the NFL. Not Eric Trump. Not Colin Kapernick. I was anxious to have something appear in my life that I confess that I had begun to take for granted. Watching live sports was something that I used to do as a matter of course. I have been nominally following the local baseball franchise's flirtation with first place, and I am obliquely aware of basketball and hockey playoffs going on somewhere out there, but the start of the football season has always been a time stamp for my year. 

My wife likes to say that it is when I go into hibernation. It used to be a lot worse. I was a part of multiple fantasy leagues and I tracked players and their statistics even when "my team" wasn't on. It probably has something to do with the brief period during which Peyton Manning was winding up his Hall of Fame career with "my team." It was an exciting time to be on the bandwagon. It was exciting football. I confess that lately my football fan rays have become dulled and less effective due to a creeping lack of interest. But it's a habit, this football-watching thing. 

There was a time when I would watch a high school game where I sat in the stands with the band on Friday night. Saturday afternoon I would often tag along with my parents to go up the hill and watch the big boys at the university play. On Sunday I watched the pros. And everyone watched Monday Night Football so they could know what to talk about on Tuesday. 

There was some question, right up until Thursday night, if there would be a football season at all. There were so very many other things that took precedence. Racial strife. Global pandemic. The west coast on fire. College football started a couple weeks ago, not that everyone noticed. High school football isn't happening 'round these parts. 

That started to make me wonder about all those kids who had in their minds a future that might involve scholarships and maybe even a trip to the big time: playing on Sunday. Or Monday. Or Thursday. You know, professional football. I became a little concerned that the steady stream of talent for the big leagues might dry up along with the hopes and dreams of all those kids who imagined themselves becoming millionaires for playing a game and advertising for sneakers. 

But I don't want to sound too jaundiced about the whole sports entertainment experience. I know that it only takes a whiff of that highlight reel or a few consecutive wins to stir me out of my apathy. I'll pay attention for the same reason a man climbs a mountain: Because there's this thing in my way. 

What it was, was football

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Lie Down*

That's exactly what I paid for it.

It was broken when I got here. 

The coronavirus would weaken when we get into April, in the warmer weather - that has a very negative effect on that, and that type of a virus.

I only had one beer.

Thanks, it’s just what I’ve always wanted.

I’ll call you right back.

Oh, this old thing? I’ve had it for ages.

The pandemic is fading away. It’s going to fade away.

I’m on the way.

Thanks, it’s just what I’ve always wanted.

You’ve lost weight.

We now have the lowest Fatality (Mortality) Rate in the World.

You haven’t changed a bit.

I didn’t touch it.

I have no idea where it is.

Children are virtually immune to COVID-19.

I’ll try to make it.

I have a headache.

Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. We—they’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful

I would never lie to you.

*Some of these are lies you've heard all your life. Some of them have just become popular in the past six months. Some of them are little white lies. Some of them are great bloated orange lies. Lies that kill. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

TV I See

 A very long time ago, there was an episode of The Twilight Zone that starred Burgess Meredith. For those of you struggling with some of the context within that last sentence, the clue you need most is that "long time ago." This was a TV show that pre-dated all those clever twist endings of M. Knight Shyamalan. It was also a time before Burgess Meredith was either The Penguin or Rocky's trainer Mickey. The story was about a man, Romney Wordsworth, who was judged to be obsolete by the totalitarian state that surrounded him. Mister Wordsworth, played by Mister Meredith, was a librarian. Reading was his crime, and the sentence is death, to be broadcast live on television. He finagles the Chancellor, played by Fritz Weaver, into coming to spend that last hour with him, and slowly reveals that they are locked in the room together. With a bomb ticking down to their final minutes. 

Until, well, the big reveal moment for which Rod Serling was so well known. Which I won't spoil so that you can choose to review this bit of classic television that is older than I am. 

All of that was preface to tell you that our living room Tivo stopped working. Which makes sense in terms of things entropical. We have kept a Tivo of one sort or another running in that spot for some twenty years. When the original machine expired, we purchased a new model and slid it back in the space where the old one was. For two decades we have had Tivo's help watching television, and liked it so much we bought another one to help us watch television in the bedroom. We loved Tivo so much that we bought a stuffed Tivo mascot that our little boy carried with him everywhere. When we accidentally left it behind on a plane, we searched for it, and coming up empty, we quickly ordered a replacement. 

I'm trying to paint a picture of devotion here. My wife won one of the first Tivos in an essay contest and we have been connected ever since. 

Until a few nights ago. That was when I had to come to grips with the possibility that my TV watching habits have become obsolete. My son has not watched broadcast television for years, with the exception of the time he has spent sitting on our couch when he visits. Even then he tends to nudge his parents toward a future that does not include schedules and time slots. Watch what you want when you want. Don't let those big companies be the boss of you. You can decide for yourself. 

But I would miss channel grazing. Searching for something to watch appeals to my hunter-gatherer instincts. Tivo understood this about me, and would make suggestions about what I might like to stare at when I had the time. And now the time has come. A fork in the road. Replace? Repair? Upgrade? Or evolve. The folks at Tivo were charmed to hear our story of dedication, but that didn't keep them from selling us something bigger, better, faster. The folks at Xfinity were happy to have us rent a box to put in front of their cable to filter all that TV that could potentially come spilling into our living room. 

I couldn't help but feel obsolete. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Burning Sensation

 "Absolutely reckless and selfish." That was how San Francisco's mayor described the quasi-Burning Man gathering on Ocean Beach over the Labor Day weekend. Apparently die-hard fans of the festival traditionally held in the desert in Black Rock Nevada didn't get the memo about the cancellation of the annual bacchanalia. Over a thousand people crowded the beach to let their freak flags collectively fly to celebrate what would have been the thirty-fourth year of the combustible celebration. Loud music, flashing lights and plenty of bonfires were to be had in spite of the fact that California is mostly on fire elsewhere. Social distancing was an afterthought as revelers ignored both the Spare The Air alert and the global pandemic that gave organizers the notion of cancelling the show in the first place. 

Meanwhile, out in the desert, Nevada officials said they would allow campers to hang out over the weekend as long as they followed guidelines created to keep themselves and anyone they might contact before during and after safe. I guess they're not so uptight out in Black Rock. 

Or maybe this is why, some seven to eight months after COVID-19 first began to rage, American society continues to struggle with the idea of a highly contagious virus that kills people. "Not me," says the inevitable victim just before they are struck down in some absurd whiff of irony. Mothers across the planet know the phrase, "It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt." I would amend this slightly to say "It's all cool and groovy until your new best friend is hooked up to a ventilator." Last week, the first of what will undoubtedly not be the last death associated with the gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in Sturgis, South Dakota. That death was accompanied by the inevitable spike in cases of the virus across the Midwest. 

Viruses don't play favorites. They don't have party affiliations. They don't care that it's the thirty-fourth anniversary of a bunch of hedonists gathering to test their campfire making skills. Sending more smoke into the air as an afterthought simply screams how selfish and reckless humans can be regardless of their affiliations or predilections. I understand that many Americans are under the impression that it is their Constitutional Right to wander the aisles of Wal-Mart without a mask, or that tripping wildly on public beaches while effigies ignite is protected by the Declaration of Independence. 

These assertions are not true. If we hang together, without masks or social distancing, we will most certainly hang from a respirator separately. Weddings are being postponed. Funerals are being cancelled. Make good choices so we all have a chance to make them later. Bacchanalia will be put on hold for the time being. Thank you for your cooperation. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Wrecking Crew

 When people asked, and they did, how it felt to tear down the Boogle House I told them, "Cathartic." It was the word I could come up with that matched the swirl of emotions I was feeling as my son and I leveled the rotting construction that stood in the corner of our back yard. Used to stand. That stood for almost twenty years. I built it with my own two hands and that is pretty much how it all came tumbling down. Age and ivy had done most of the preliminary work. All it really needed was a good shove. That and a little persuasion from a sledgehammer and a crowbar. 

Why did it have to come down? I suppose it didn't have to. The demolition began after it was suggested that my son, freshly graduated without a job to throw himself at was anxious for something to keep him occupied. "Building a little house," was a notion he and my wife fell upon within hours of his arrival. It should be noted here that my wife has been anxious to see the eyesore razed for some time, but she has been careful of my feelings. She knows how much stock I placed on this caricature of a clubhouse. I had cobbled this monstrosity together with bits and pieces of lumber that had come to us over the initial flurry of house repairs that accompanied our settling into our first house. Initially, it was a shelter for the sandbox we built at the top of the hill to make it possible for our son's truck and tractor enthusiasms at bay. As more pallets arrived and we continued on our seemingly endless parade of home improvement, they became walls and eventually a second story. A ramp was installed in the back for easy access, and the ten foot slide that had once accompanied the tree house I built further down the hill eventually became affixed to the front. 

Somewhere along the line, little touches like a Nerf Gun port on the top was installed, and we dragged home a non-functional video mixing board from the "Mad Scientist Garage Sale" my younger brother tipped us to. There were squirt gun battles and adventures played out for years back there. Until one day, when things outside the back yard held more allure for my son. Eventually, the elements began to take their toll on the insides and outs, and the shed was repurposed to catch rain water with a corrugated roof and a gutter that poured into cisterns placed next to it. The Boogle House was now our watershed. 

As our gray water system began to expand and develop, even that purpose became somewhat unnecessary and the state of disrepair evolved into a state of straight up decay. Vegetation now all but obscured the once proud monument to my son's youth, or his father's imaginings of his youth. When I heard my son and wife suggesting, politely, that maybe it was time for the old girl to come down, I let myself go. 

The pile of rubble my son and I created took only about an hour to generate. As we tore and hammered at the splintering wood, I asked him why it never seemed as interesting to him as it did to me to have a Boogle House. I knew why, of course. It was built from my imagination. It was a box that was intended to be filled with his. He confessed that once when he was out there playing, he had encountered a very large spider, and that was pretty much the end of the fun for him. And that made me feel a little better. That and seeing the debris we had generated. Now the spiders could have it. The wreckage would be hauled away and a new monument would be built. This one from the mind and hands of a trained scenic artist. 

I promised to help him. If he needed it. 

Wednesday, September 09, 2020


 A very long time ago, my older brother bought a used Volkswagen. He purchased it from the local VW dealer, who were apparently so enthused by this exchange that they threw in a blue button-down shirt with a logo on the shoulder and silver piping that ran down both sleeves. Year later, when I bought my own blue bug, my big brother handed this shirt down to me. I wore it proudly for many years. In my prime, I would sometimes wear it when I went out to bars, and I would tell anyone who would listen to me that I was on the Volkswagen racing team. I would go on and on about how it was Doctor Porsche who developed the "people's car" way back when. Which, according to the lore I generated, meant that if you were so inclined you could put a Porsche engine in a bug and watch it go. 

I do not believe that my clever ruse fooled anyone, but it was a line that I used on several occasions. To my own amusement and nobody else's in particular. It should be noted that all that talk was backed up by my ability to change the spark plugs and eventually forget to add oil to my air-cooled engine that would eventually throw a rod and catch fire on the shoulder of US Route 81 just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was not, as they say, a "car guy."

My son, as I have mentioned here on several occasions, is. A "car guy," that is. Some nine months ago, he started on an odyssey that had him taking the engine out of his Toyota Supra and exchanging it for a Lexus V8. It sounded to his parents like it was a pipe dream, even though he had previously preformed feats of automotive daring that included installing new brakes, a new muffler, and countless permutations of his stereo system. 

This past Saturday evening, that Supra with a Lexus V8 engine pulled into our driveway, purring like a kitten. A great big gas-powered kitten. It is at this moment that I feel completely free to tell you that I had given my son that Volkswagen shirt a few years back. And now I feel I had something to do with it. Me and Doctor Porsche. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Telling It Like It Is

 The "president's" supporters enjoy having their guy "tell it like it is." They seem to enjoy hearing the Chief Executive of the United States spout off as if he were a professional wrestler. Or a game show host. These colorful turns of phrase are and always have been part of the package when it comes to Donald Jejune Trump. 

Leaving aside for a moment how much I personally cannot stand listening to the jingoistic rhetoric that drips from the slit below his nose, I wonder how it is that any sentient human who has been listening to the stream of nonsense that comes from the aforementioned slit can continue to follow the twisted path he seems to want his minions to follow. 

He is all for law and order, and yet, in a recent interview on Fox News with Laura Ingraham he described the circumstances behind the shooting of Jacob Blake thus, "police are under siege because of things — they can do ten thousand great acts, which is what they do, and one bad apple. Or a choker. A choker. They choke." To be clear, the "president" was not referring to the questionable use of restraint on subjects but rather the idea that these bad apples are having a moment. He amplified his assertion: "They choke. Just like in a golf tournament, they miss a three-foot putt." At this moment, Ms. Ingraham rushed in to give the "president" a chance to correct any misconceptions. "You're not comparing it to golf. Because of course that's what the media would say." Rather than accepting the out though, Trump doubled down, telling her, "I'm saying people choke. People choke. And people are bad people. You have both. You have some bad people, and they choke." This is coming from the guy who is supposed to be law enforcement's biggest fan. 


I'm relatively certain that this is not what police unions, who have been coming out to endorse Mister Malaprop in large numbers, would probably want to have on their bumper stickers. "I'm a Choker, and I'm voting Trump." 

Then there's the story of the computer nerd who developed a "hot or not" rating system for college girls who said, "I have had certain discussions with him in the past and where I've told him that I thought some of the rhetoric was problematic." Mark Zuckerberg thinks your rhetoric is problematic? A guy who once said, "A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa."

Which brings us to the current kerfuffle about an article in The Atlantic titled, "Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers.'" The "president's" inner circle insists that he never did any such thing. In spite of video evidence to the contrary, he insists that he never referred to Senator John McCain as a "loser." That was four years ago. Here we are now.

I'll tell it like it is. I'm tired of all this "winning." For me: Good luck getting another TV show when this is all over. 

Monday, September 07, 2020

The Only Game In Town

 A couple days ago, as I was experiencing a lull in the activity at my computer support station, I chose to spend a few quality time sink moments with my phone's solitaire game. It's a habit of mine that keeps me busy for minutes at a time so I figured I could turn off my active mind for a few moments of shuffling virtual cards about. After completing the first game, an ad appeared on the screen. I am quite used to this corporate bumper between deals, knowing that if I ever opted to pitch in for the pay version I could avoid these reminders of capitalism and pain relievers and other apps that are far more stimulating than clunky old solitaire. But I don't, so I use it as part of the meditative experience. 

But not this day.

After the mild celebration that comes with completing a deck, the screen dropped down a banner with a question that asked in bold red letters, "Are you an American or a Socialist?" It is possible that these sort of interruptions had been coming my way before this, and I had simply ignored them, but this one struck me raw. American or Socialist? These are my choices? I knew in a flash who was behind this ham-handed bit of rhetoric, but I was still perplexed by the way the question was just hung out there. The Campaign to Re-Elect the "President" was asking me to sign on with the Americans in that equation, and shaming anyone who might have the temerity, or open-mindedness, to choose socialism. 

I wondered what the members of the American Socialist Party would answer. "American Socialist, please and thank you." Because it has become a dirty word, this "socialist" thing. Never mind that there are wags about who would tell you that the National Football League is a prime example of socialism in the USA. Not to mention agriculture and energy subsidies offered up by our government as a matter or course. Or Medicare. Or Social Security. It's right in there: Social-ism Security. 

And just like that, it was time to get back to solitaire. 

Sunday, September 06, 2020

It's A Beautiful World

 I begin today by making a public appreciation to a friend and constant reader who recently sent me a pair of cloth face coverings. Considerate enough given the current circumstances, but these particular masks were emblazoned with DEVO's motto and logo: Duty Now For The Future. Safe, washable, and forward thinking. "It's time to go forward, move ahead, and give the past the slip." 

And now, the news: The man who co-wrote those words, Mark Mothersbaugh, almost died this past June. From the virus my good friend and constant reader was so very thoughtful to help keep me safe. When I read this, the entirety of 2020 passed before me and I thought, "Well, this year just missed being terrifically worse." For me. If not for you. Of his experience, Mothersbaugh had this to say: “Everything’s become more devolved than I would have imagined possible. For anybody that’s doubting whether the coronavirus and COVID-19 is real, it’s really real.”

I suspect that DEVO fans are not among the core group of virus deniers. If there are any spuds out there with doubts, you should know that the chief architect of de-evolution spent weeks in a hospital, on a ventilator, experiencing delusions and clinging to life. “I was convinced for about two weeks that I had been hit by a brick by somebody in Little Tokyo. I felt blood from being hit. I was handcuffed to a parking deck downtown. I had this whole elaborate story of how these kids sold me to an ambulance company that then got some sort of a payment for delivering COVID patients to their ICUs. I totally believed it,” While this sounds like a great set of images for a new wave song, or a post-modern collage, a world without Mark Mothersbaugh would not be so beautiful. 

For me. 

My wife, who read the article about my hero's near-death experience, had this to take away: "Mark Mothersbaugh is seventy?"

Yes. Mark Mothersbaugh is seventy. And I hope will see seventy-one, seventy-two, and so on. 

It's a beautiful world we live in
A sweet romantic place
Beautiful people everywhere
The way they show they care 

Thank you for the mask. Thank you for sparing one of my semi-major-demigods. 2020 needs all the help it can get. 

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Psalm 69

 "The God I believe in isn't short of cash, mister." Bullet The Blue Sky - U2

That was Bono singing, well snarling actually, back in 1987. He was addressing the status of one Jerry Falwell. Senior. Pastor Falwell a fundamentalist and televangelist was busy amassing a fortune for himself and his family by asking for contributions to his church. And his university. He was the guy who got into it with Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine. He stirred up something called the Moral Majority. And, as some suggested back then, it was neither. There was a time, back in the good old 1980's, when it was hard to tell where Jerry Falwell began and Newt Gingrich ended. Jerry had a lot of ideas about how our lives should look, feel and sound. Like how he figured out that the purple Teletubbie, Tinky Winky, was gay. And how "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU" and others were to blame for the attacks of September 11, 2001. And there was this assertion he made about labor unions: "Labor unions should study and read the Bible instead of asking for more money. When people get right with God, they are better workers." Noting that at no time during all these pronouncements did Jerry Falwell ever stop asking for money. For his church. His megachurch. And his family, including young Jerry Jr. 

I give you all that preface to remind you that the apple does not fall far from the tree, as Junior took over for daddy after he passed and kept building the empire that was, perhaps ironically, called Liberty. You  may have heard some of the fuss kicked up over the past few weeks about how the sins of the father were visited on his son. And then some. Truly tacky business about his wife Becki and a pool boy named Giancarlo Granda. This, after all these years and all those millions of dollars going to pay for lavish lifestyles that included such glories as a pool boy would be the thing that would bring down the empire. Jerry, who reportedly liked to watch these pool boy encounters, resigned from his position as major domo of all things Liberty. There wasn't enough disgrace for him and his family to do anything like give back any of the money they have been given over the years. Or to apologize for the way they rushed students back to their campus after COVID-19 shut other institutions down. Like his good friend Donald Trump, Jerry Jr. seems to make his decisions based on the financial bottom line, with safety of others trailing far behind. 

Don't expect this most recent eruption of human frailty to derail the express train to Liberty and Dollars for the Falwells. Investigations will be launched. Stones will be overturned. More pool boys may be willing to come forward. But the Falwells will most likely never be short of cash, mister. 

Friday, September 04, 2020


 A couple weeks back, I could feel despair creeping up on me. This was before the death of Chadwick Boseman. The murder of two protesters in Kenosha. It was a Sunday afternoon and I have always felt an extra dose of dread as a new week begins to creep into view. I have spent most of my life fretting about what was going to happen Monday morning. One of the more visceral memories from my childhood was breakfast for dinner. On Sunday night.

My father, blessed with love in his heart and a mild sense of responsibility to the care and feeding of his family, took it upon himself to take over kitchen duty once a week. This would expand years later to two evenings when my mother started working as a bookkeeper for a travel agent, but that was a different trauma. This one was forged in the hearth of my youth and left a mark. Waffles and bacon. Sometimes sausages. There were eggs, but I have never been a fan. To be clear: as a syrup delivery system there are very few food items more capable than a waffle. And my father was no slouch when it came to the waffle iron. He was more than capable of feeding three boys, my mother and himself until we were full and overflowing. Getting stuffed was not the problem. It was the arrival of the waffles and bacon and sausage and so forth that signaled the close of the weekend. 

I should note here, as is the case with most childhood trauma, that my memories of "every Sunday" is a flawed one and is colored by the pain I suffered in silence. I knew what a good deal it was to have a father who would cook us dinner and do it in such a way that we enjoyed the abundance and care available. It was unfortunate that I began to associate with going back to school. Not that I didn't like school. School was great. It was the looming specter of what the other kids who happened to go to school with me might have in store for me that kept my stomach in knots. I was that weird round kid who liked to write and draw. I was an easy target. Sunday night was the reminder that I was going back to battle the lions. 

I suppose if I had been fed gruel or shards of broken glass this story might have made a better point, but the mistreatment I experienced even at the hands of school bullies was primarily of the mind. What I imagined was always much worse than anything that ever really happened. I know that now. Which is why, on that Sunday night a few weeks back, I got out the milk and butter and batter mix and made my wife and I a meal of waffles and syrup for dinner. Monday was a school day, as odd as those have been for the past six months, but I wasn't going to let the menu determine my mood. It was a triumph over breakfast food. 

That night, I slept soundly. When morning came, I was pre-breakfasted. A triumph at long last. 

Thursday, September 03, 2020

The King Is Dead

 It would take some kind of inner fortitude to take on the role of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. A very complex character with an ego as big as his talents, with fears and frailties to match. 

How about Jackie Robinson? How to portray a not just a baseball legend, but a civil rights icon without turning him into a cardboard cut-out without any doubts?

Then there's Thrugood Marshall, from crusading lawyer to Supreme Court Justice. Focusing on one career-defining case and give the world a glimpse into the story that made the man.

And Black Panther. The super hero movie that would be Hamlet. A make believe story that made us want to believe. 

Chadwick Boseman did all of that. And more. But if his career contained only those four roles, it would be titanic. Mister Boseman died over the weekend, yet another frustrating punctuation mark in a year that has been full of heartbreak and disillusionment. But somehow, his passing couldn't help but lift us up at the same time. It was just this weekend that Major League Baseball players chose to honor the memory of Jackie Robinson by draping his number 42 jersey next to home plate as players stood in solidarity with black lives lost. Chadwick Boseman, a graduate of Howard University, must have smiled.

Here in Oakland, we felt as if we had lost one of our own. It was Oakland native and Oakland Tech grad Ryan Coogler who directed Boseman in the first super hero movie to receive an Academy Award nomination for best picture. It is no simple coincidence that the story of Black Panther begins and ends in Oakland. 

Don't think I didn't notice that. On opening night, it was a premiere event like few had ever seen, at least on this side of the bay. Finally, kids at my school had a hero who looked like them. Wakanda was a country full of possibilities and hope. And in the end, spoiler alert, T'Challa begins his mission to spread that hope to the world starting in Oakland. That Halloween, there were more Black Panthers than Scream or Spider-Man combined. Which is why, on Saturday night just a few hours after word of his passing, a tribute to Boseman appeared in the form of a projected image of him staring into the heavens on the side of the Grand Lake Theater. We know where Wakanda is. 

Thank you, Chadwick Boseman. You stomped on the Terra and made us all remember heroes are made from the inside out. He will be remembered. Aloha, Mister Boseman. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Role Call

 Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Trayvon Martin. Stephon Clark. Botham Jean. Philando Castille. Alton Sterling. 

Shall I go on?

Akai Gurley. Oscar Grant. Martin Luther King Jr. 

These are black lives that were ended too soon. Ended by guns. Guns that were purchase, owned and used by Americans taking their Second Amendment Rights to the ugliest possible extreme. Suddenly, and in most of those cases without warning, all the rights of these men and women were taken along with their lives. Your right to free speech. Your right to walk down the street. Your right to sleep in your own bed. Your right to sit on the couch and eat ice cream. For most of these folks, their main offense was the color of their skin. 

And they were unarmed. 

I am going to suggest that the absence of firearms would mean that all those lives, and hundreds more black, white, red, blue would be spared. Exhibit A would be Kyle Rittenhouse and his horribly misguided intrusion into the world of "peacekeeping." Killing two and wounding another does not constitute peace. The use of overwhelming force, including putting a knee on someone's neck, is not serving or protecting anyone. We call them "peace officers" much in the same way the Colt forty-five caliber revolver was nicknamed "The Peacemaker." Calling it ironic would be giving far too much credit. 

I am going to suggest that having a gun doesn't make anyone's job easier. Guns have a tendency to kill whatever is in front of them. Bullets have no brains and certainly no conscience. Brains and a conscience should be the first tools used to deescalate a situation. Far too often the questions are asked after the shots are fired. These are generally on their way to becoming excuses or rationalization. 

Certainly, when rolling up to a situation that has any number or unknowns attached to it, there is fear involved. We cannot expect human beings to be rational and fearless at all times. But is it a good idea to hand a gun to someone who is feeling anxious or tense? Police forces in England have specially trained firearms units. Their officers do not, as a matter of course, carry guns. When a situation requires one, a gun expert is dispatched. It should also be noted that these officers don't have to worry about everyone they encounter having a gun, because it's not part of their national identity. 

Now that institutional racism is being dragged out into the light, why not go ahead and ask some tough questions about our need for guns. Everywhere. All the time. Until we fix all that racism, maybe we should put the guns away. For a while. Maybe we won't need them at all once we're done. 

Because currently that list is not getting any shorter. 

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Praise You

 I am a sucker for an "attaboy." As someone who routinely deflects praise and likes to shun attention outwardly, it is still part of what feeds me. 

Momentary digression: And "attaboy" is the specific praise given for a particular task or chore done by an individual, usually when the appreciator is surprised or short on tangible rewards. It is the biscuit for the dog or the fish for the dolphin. It is why we tend to jump through hoops. We have run out of biscuits or fish, so we can't just leave the hoop jumper hanging. It should be noted that this works best for individuals, since team "attaboys" are usually diffused and tend not to acknowledge group effort.

My wife knows these things and has certainly capitalized on them. Often, after spending hours in the yard or in the basement, grumbling to myself about how if I hired someone to do whatever drudgery has kept me occupied for hours at a stretch it would cost a pretty penny. Just about the time that I am ready to stomp off and spend the rest of the day being bitter about my lack of appreciation, along comes my adoring wife who gives me the "attaboy" that I need to shrug off all that antipathy. It is suddenly replaced by a renewed sense of purpose and a willingness to show back up again next week when this thing needs to be rearranged, planted, lifted or taken apart to make room for something new.

This past week, I was the recipient of an "attaboy" from the school district for which I work. It came in the form of a newsletter "shout out," which is ed code for "attaboy." My principal and I were the first bullet point in a list of a half dozen or so salutes to folks around the district caught doing their jobs: "The Horace Mann team worked long hours and even on weekends to ensure that all families have devices and are able to use them. Shout out to Principal Extraordinaire and Teacher/Computer Genius David Caven!" You'll notice that there was a mention of team there, but the focus on two individuals, me specifically, had just the right note of sincerity that suddenly I felt the week's mutterings drift away. I was gassed up and ready to go for another week of doing what I was going to be doing anyway, but without the veneer of resentment that sometimes comes with what Deadpool refers to as "maximum effort." 

And so it's back to work for this guy. I will be putting my metaphorical shoulder to the allegorical grindstone without a specific need for another "attaboy." Not for a while, anyway. I would hate to think that's why I'm doing this, after all.