Saturday, October 31, 2020

This Is Halloween

 This is Halloween. I mention this because there are not as many outward signs as we have had in the past. Like so many activities and experiences, this holiday has been subsumed by restrictions brought on by the global pandemic. Ghosts and goblins and Marvel super heroes of all shapes and sizes are sitting out this year, and the warm glow of Jack-O-Lanterns is missing from the front porches of homes across this great land of ours. 

At this point, I was going to say something about the "die-hards" who insist on putting out all their Halloween decorations, but this year in particular it seems that phrase my be a little too on the nose-y. The reason that all of our Harvest Festival fun has been curtailed is inexorably linked to the ever mounting number of casualties due to the previously mentioned global pandemic. There will be no parade of costumes around the block near our school this year. Parties, if there are any, will be taking place in virtual spaces where those awful jugs of Tampico punch will be consumed within the households that purchased them. Cupcakes will be eaten, most assuredly frosting first, in the homes where they were so lovingly decorated. If your parents were so dedicated to tradition that they took you to Target to buy that new costume for this year, chances are it will be photographed primarily in your native habitat: your living room. 

No one wants to be the voice that announces that Halloween has been cancelled. Cities and counties are "strongly advising against" trick or treating and gatherings outside your limited social bubble. In a country that refuses to issue a mandate for masks, it is not surprising that nobody is willing to stand up and say that we should all just hold on to those Iron Man helmets and Little Red Riding Hoods until next year. There is little doubt that there will be a number of super-spreader events as a result of our national lack of restraint. Flu season is upon us and the idea of a group of strangers pawing the same bowl of fun size Snickers should put us all on edge in the best of years.

This is not that. 2020 is the year of living dangerously, and my mind drifts to those yards where the annual decorations have sprung up. Rows of plastic headstones, some of them with humorous names or citations, mostly saying "Rest In Peace." Which brings us back around to the two hundred twenty thousand Americans who won't be celebrating anything anymore. Their spirits should most righteously haunt us for years to come. 

And tomorrow, with the arrival of Dia De los Muertos, we can pine not for those missed bags full of treats or yet another excuse for binge drinking, but for the souls of the departed. They are the reminder. They are the reason there was no celebration this year. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Over The Transom

 I used to find it odd that my wife would send me emails from ten feet away. Our desks in the office at our house are adjacent, and from time to time as I am perusing messages from other far-flung colleagues and associates I will open up a electronic note that came with blinding speed from just over my shoulder. Look at this! Check this out! Can you believe? These exclamations were not uttered, but were instead headers that enticed me still further. 

For a while, I would turn around in my chair and stare at my wife. Always a pleasant view, but also an effective means to get her attention. Eventually. When she did look up from her keyboard and screen frenzy, she would meet my gaze with a surprised, "What?"

"You couldn't just tell me this, right?"


"This email. The one you labeled 'Wow.'"

"When did I send that?"

"Just now."

"Oh, I know that one. I was just reading that and thought of you."

And so I came to understand that this is a compliment. In a heads-down, stare at Al Gore's Internet world, the parceling of information is asocial interaction. My son sends me messages on Twitter all the time. It is not, as I might have feared, a substitute for conversation. It is instead shorthand for moving chunks of stuff to talk about. It is an entree to interaction. "Did you get that thing I sent you," is a conversational gambit. As we pile on through our day, there are mountains of intrigue and amusement, heaps of news and tons of cat videos that simply cannot be ignored. 

I get that now. I try to return the favor, but often I get the presentation wrong. Instead of forwarding a link, I sometimes get stuck playing it on my screen, interrupting my wife's work flow, forcing her to stare across the room at what I was just watching. Literally. 

"You couldn't just send that to me, right?"

Touche, my dear. I still have so much to learn about Al Gore's Internet. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Just A Little Prick

 My family and I have not given up. We all piled into my son's car. Mom got shotgun and I squeezed into the cramped back seat. My son drove because, well, because he really likes to drive. We headed downtown to our local Kaiser facility to stand in line for flu shots. Initially, as much as my son was looking forward to an excuse to head out on the highway, he was not enthusiastic. At age twenty-three, he has not yet become accustomed to the idea that someone jabbing a needle into your shoulder, thigh or other fleshy parts might be the lesser of two evils. 

Because for him it brought back very visceral memories of being poked with these pharmaceutical torture devices. This would include a couple of ill-fated trips with mom and dad to donate blood that ended up making him less than functional for the drive home. Which is why we tossed in the offer of a lunch at a nearby taqueria to take away some of the sting. 

Initially, this seemed to get us past the bumpy part. As we stood six feet away from the other pending flu shot victims, we joked about how much easier this would all be if we were in line for Space Mountain and oh by the way here's your shot just before the push the bar down and send you off into that high speed turbulent roller coaster ride in the dark. They took us one at a time, and I could hear my son chatting up his needle tech in the tent in front of me. He sounded very brave. And when he emerged he didn't look like he needed a lollipop. He even commented that the experience wasn't as bad as he had imagined. 

Later that day, however, his shoulder began to ache and the notion of working on his construction project downstairs no longer seemed like such a good idea. He was still encouraged by the experience of having participated in preventative medical care, reasoning that if he was going to insist that those he encountered around him should wear a mask and maintain social distance, this was all part of the game. 

All of this to say that my son, who by his own admission is a big baby, is still far and away more interested in curbing the spread of infectious diseases than the current administration. While five aides to the head of the "president's" COVID-19 task force have tested positive for the virus, the White House Chief of Staff announced that they were "not going to control the pandemic." Instead, they plan to "control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics, and other mitigations." The reasoning, it would seem, is that all the chickens in their particular coop have been eaten, so they're not even going to bother fixing the hole where the fox gets in. Instead, the Trump regime seems to be targeting chicken self defense as a better solution. 

Even my needle-adverse son knows that surrendering now to the virus just means more shots. Shots that have not as yet been approved or proven. Keep wearing your mask. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

That's Show Biz

 Our dog used to roll over on his back when you tried to pick him up. That's something that dachshunds do instinctively as hunters of badgers. Built as close to the ground, Rupert was assuming the posture that would help him in the event that he was caught in a burrow of some below-ground dwelling weasel. Happily for those of us who came upon him in this prone position, Rupert did not start scratching frantically at whatever was above him. At this point, it was easy enough to reach down and scoop him up under his front legs, leaving his back end dangling in a most pendulous fashion. Part of this resignation was no doubt due to the life that he led. He wasn't spoiled so much as he as favored. 

Rupert was an only dog. He came to our family as kind of a replacement for a dachshund puppy named Snoopy who succumbed tragically to kennel cough before we had a chance to really know him. That was not the case with Rupert. We got to know him, love him, and ritually humiliate him over time. That last bit was mostly my fault, because over the course of the latter years of Rupert's life we had an act. Animal impersonations. To be clear, Rupert did the impressions. I manipulated him. And he let me. No nipping. No growling. Just an otherworldly patience as he awaited his ultimate reward.

A biscuit. 

I would hold him in my lap, pull his ears, stretch his legs this way and that, and even pulled on his jaws to make him speak John Lennon's last words, "I'm shot." Then, once we had run through the entire bit, he would hop off my lap and head to the kitchen where he would sit and wait for me to follow him in to deliver that Milk Bone. Which he accepted. With dignity. 

Not bad for a wiener dog named Rupert. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Viva Terlingua

 For me, it wasn't a surprise that Jerry Jeff Walker died. I had assumed that the country star had collapsed under the weight of his own legend some years ago. Not so. Just this past weekend, the man who wrote "Mister Bojangles" shuffled off to Buffalo. Or someplace nicer. You've probably heard someone sing that song, somewhere, sometime. A partial list: Bob Dylan, John Denver, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Harry Nilsson, Sammy Davis Jr., Rod McKuen, Brenda Lee, Bebe Neuwirth, Harry Belafonte, and Neil Diamond. And more than one hundred other artists have covered this particular tune. Sammy Davis Jr. may have had the biggest hit, but I would expect that Mister Jeff Walker was probably not scrambling for gigs, providing he didn't sell his publishing rights. Each one of those artists had to write a check to take their shot at telling the story of the guy who would dance for drinks and tips. Legend has it that Jerry Jeff met the real Mister Bojangles while he was in a New Orleans jail for public intoxication. 

Which is fine, but it's not the Jerry Jeff Walker song that I remember most. That distinction belongs to "Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother." The first time I heard this tune, I was hanging out in my older brother's college apartment when he offered to make me a mix tape for playing on those bus trips that we members of our high school pep band took with the cheerleaders and pom-pom girls to away football games. It was a pretty certain thing that just being on the same mode of transportation with us was insult enough for these ladies, so my brother reasoned, why not earn it?

It should be pointed out at this moment that the song "Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother" was not written by Jerry Jeff Walker. As introduced so lovingly in his live version of the song, Jerry let everyone know that it was Ray Wylie Hubbard who penned this ode to motherhood. It was this version that my grungy band friends learned all the words to, and sang them loudly from the back of the bus as we drove on into the dark. "M is for the mudflaps you gave me for my pickup truck. O is for the oil I put on my hair. T is for T-Bird. H is for Haggard. E is for eggs, and R is for..." pause for effect, "Redneck!" And like so very many things that nerdy high school boys do, we were good for at least a couple choruses just for effect. 

It was also the first time I had ever heard of Muskogee, Oklahoma, which gets a name check as the song winds up. A few years after I graduated from high school, I found myself on a highway headed to that corner of the planet with a native of that city. Sometime before the engine in my Volkswagen bug threw a rod, and had to be towed from Tulsa, we were singing along with Jerry Jeff Walker in a scene reminiscent from those years of geekiness, and maybe a little like the lyrics to a song that Jerry Jeff Walker never got around to writing. 

This past weekend tributes flooded in for this country/folk legend, who became yet another victim of 2020's voracious suckitude. Jerry Jeff Walker stomped on the Terra, or at least he wrote songs that made us believe that he did. He will be missed. Aloha, Mister Walker. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Object Permanence III

 Cresting the hill, I noticed something was missing. Or to be more precise, I noticed something different. There was a breeze on my right hindquarters. That shouldn't be. That area is specifically protected by my shorts, my undies, and the wallet in my back pocket.

No. Not again. 

Those were the words that raced through my head as I stopped pedaling my bike and began to turn around. I did the quick frisk of myself to be sure that I hadn't absently stuffed my billfold in the wrong pocket or maybe I had simply lost touch with the nerves on my back end. 

No such luck. My wallet was missing. Again. After being reunited with my errant pochette two weeks ago, my stomach did a Fosbury Flop as I resigned myself to the slow trip back to school, staring at the street, peering under cars, searching for signs of what I had apparently once again taken for granted. After all, what were the chances that I would be in the exact same position less than a month after that most recent trauma.

Did you guess one hundred percent? You'd be right.

All the way back to school, I alternately ridiculed myself and began to reconcile the disappointment that was building inside of me. I cursed this unnecessary waste of time and the pinhead who had caused it. Then I reminded myself that I now had a spare wallet with a duplicate card which had arrived just days before the last time I was surprised by that which was once lost was found. 

It was not the end of the world. It was the end of a day that had otherwise been quite productive and gratifying. But all that gratification came tumbling down in an instant. Woe is me. How could this be happening to me? Why me?

So I called my wife and asked her to poke around the house to see if somehow I had misplaced my wallet before I even left. Anxious moments drifted by as I waited on the line. Nope. Not there. Not in all the places where it could or might be. 

I went back over all the places where I had been at school that day and retraced steps I hadn't taken for a week. Just in case. The wallet was not there. So once again, I got on my bike and started the creep back up the hill, looking once again at every shadow and piece of trash that might be my wallet in disguise. Once I got back up to the top of the hill, I resigned myself to the rest of the ride home, fretting and consoling myself, at times out loud. 

When I arrived at home, I looked carefully in all the spots outside the house where something like my wallet could just slip out of a pocket and go unnoticed for a day. No luck. Inside, I went to all those spots that made sense and many that did not. Then I checked at the back of my closet.

This is where I toss my clothes for the next day, since I tend to get dressed in the dark each morning. And in the shadows of the late afternoon, I put my hand on the cool leather rectangle that suddenly made everything right with the world again. I had spent an hour and a half berating myself and making plans to phone the credit card companies and file for a new driver's license. Now I felt the weight lifting. The light returned. I had just manufactured this enormous catharsis out of a missing object. I made note of the baggy shorts that had allowed the wallet to come sliding out of my back pocket. Embarrassed and relieved, I put the wallet in a safe place. Where I knew where it was. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020


 Did I mention that you should vote? You really should vote. If you haven't voted already, you still can vote. There is early voting going on currently, so you can vote early, or you can wait until Election Day and vote then. Election Day is November 3, if you were going to save that vote, but don't hold onto your vote too long because not voting really isn't a good idea.

A very good friend of mine got me to vote for the first time when I was in college. I had already skipped a presidential race, and she noticed that for all the bellyaching I was doing about how things were. That didn't seem right to her. She correctly pointed out that I had a voice and I should use if for something besides complaining. As a matter of fact, she continued, it would give your bellyaching more credence if I was an active participant in the system for which I had such incredible disdain. 

Fast forward a few decades and I can proudly say that I have participated in every election since: local, midterm, presidential. I voted. And, if you've spent anytime in this corner of Al Gore's Internet, you may have noticed that I haven't stopped bellyaching either. 

It is pretty wonderful to see how many places I see that word being flashed around these days. Vote. Not bellyaching. It's on T-shirts. It's on badges, posters, stickers and public service announcements starring many of our favorite celebrities. Some of them are getting naked to make sure that you vote. I saw hastily scrawled graffiti on a wall. One word. You know what it was.


This is the part where I tell you about how many people can vote, which is a lot, and how many actually do, which is not so much. It would be great if they were the same number? I have suggested here before that you should vote as if your life depended on it, because in this election that could turn out to be more than just hyperbole. Health care isn't something that just all of a sudden popped up. Climate change has been around for quite a while. We're going into our fourth century of systematic racial oppression here in the Untied States. There is something for everyone to vote for in this one. And while you're at it, you could go ahead and pick your favorite city council candidate or decide where your local tax dollars will go. Voting can be very empowering. 

And, let's face it, it can also be a bit of a letdown. I voted for Michael Dukakis. I voted for the guy who invented the Internet. But I also voted for bond measures to help fund our school district. Voting can be a real mixed bag, but it's still better than not having a bag at all.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Long Playing

 The apocryphal tale goes something like this: Wandering around the Pearl Street Mall in a daze, I was seeking comfort in something familiar. Just days before, our most special and amusing friend on the planet had died, and those of us who knew him were seeking solace if not meaning. I found mine, as I had so many times before, in a record store. 

There it was, leaning against the railroad ties that served as the new releases section at Rocky Mountain Records and Tapes. The new album from Oingo Boingo: Dead Man's Party. I didn't pick it up right away. I stared at the cover art, with its skeletons cavorting about in celebration of Dia de Los Muertos. When I finally held it in my hands, I flipped it over to inspect the track listing. There was "Just Another Day," the title tune, "Heard Somebody Cry," "No One Lives Forever," and that was side one. I bought it and rushed back to the apartment that I had been so anxious to escape to listen to this music that had obviously been sent to us as a message from beyond. 

We wore that record out. It spoke to us in our pain and confusion. How could our roommate and partner in crime be gone? No one lives forever. What could we do to celebrate his memory? Halloween was just a few days away, why not a Dead Man's Party? Like the man said, 

No one beats him at his game
For very long but just the same
Who cares there's no place safe to hide
Nowhere to run no time to cry
So celebrate why you still can
Cause any second it may end
And when it's all been said and done
Better that you had some fun
Instead of hiding in a shell
Why make your life a living hell?
Have a toast, down the cup
Drink to bones that turn to dust

So we lived. And we partied. And we used those songs to keep us moving in the darkness. 

Somewhere in there, we all got old. But that tragedy of losing a friend in our twenties still stings. Forever young. Forever the funniest guy in the room. Forever lost. Forever. Thirty-five years into that forever, another record came out to remind us that there is joy in memories. Bruce Springsteen released a meditation on love and loss. 

Faded pictures in an old scrapbook
Faded pictures that somebody took
When you were hard and young and proud
Back against the wall running raw and loud

Song titles like "Last Man Standing," "Ghosts" and "Song For Orphans" remind me of the time when I was sure that music was being made for us survivors. Bruce is seventy years old. He's lost friends and bandmates along the way. He wrote this album of songs to remind us all that there is still music to be made. And heard. And savored. 

Because as the road continues to roll out in front of us, we can't avoid looking back. At those we left behind. And those who are to our left and right, still stumbling into that darkness, but glad to know we don't have to go there alone. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Let X=X

 For quite some time, the phrase "fake news" has been front and center in the discussion of events that affect us all. This is troubling, since news is sort of by definition what is happening now, and the afterglow of that is history. What we have been discovering on our own what Plato figured out more than two thousand years ago: there are truths to be discovered and that knowledge is possible. Truth is not, as the Sophists thought, relative. Instead, it is objective. Truth is that which our reason, used rightly, apprehends. Which is a lot of high talking to impress you all that I did, in fact, take a philosophy class in college.

And I believe that truth is objective. Though there is a line from Jesus Christ Superstar that rings in my head as I writ that. The scene in which Pilate is questioning Jesus, he wonders, "We both have truths, are mine the same as yours?" And this is the moment where I pivot only slightly to compare the current political climate to that of ancient Rome. If Joe Biden gets elected, the "president" says, he'll listen to scientists. Joe Biden replied as one might hope a sane person would. "Yes."

How about that? After all these years of philosophical and scientific exploration, we might begin to take some of it into account. I referenced the political climate earlier, but it would be nice to imagine a planet on which the climate of that planet was not a source of debate. It is what it is, and the notion that human beings have an impact on their environment is no longer a talking point. What remains to be discussed is how we can stop simply using up what we have and hoping for some sort of free pass or divine intervention. Which may be why I invoked the Son of God in that last paragraph. 

Or maybe we should stop wishing for miracles and start applying math. When someone points a camera at something and points out the cracks maybe we should stop blaming the poor lighting. When someone puts a microphone in front of you and your voice goes through all those magic wires to become part of a record of what you were saying, it is proof of what was coming out of your mouth at that time. This is what news should be. Yes, I understand that human beings are involved in all this camera pointing and microphone placing, and as such there will be judgments made about when and where to turn on those machines. But if you make those same faces and noises enough, it's probably fair to start to believe that they establish a trend. Windmills don't actually make noise that cause cancer. People with advanced medical degrees carry more information around in their heads about infectious diseases than game show hosts. Two plus two does in fact equal four, no matter who your accountant is. 

I look forward to a day, and I hope it comes soon, when knowledge is possible again, and truth is just a little more objective. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Horror Show

 For those of you who read the story about a teacher being beheaded, I want to put your mind at ease: It was not me. The teacher in that story was from France. I am still a teacher, but I do not work in France. I work in Oakland, California. 

Which may take some of the ugly sting out of the story for you, but it still rings in my ears, nearly a week later. History teacher Samuel Paty was murdered by a teenager with "possible ties to Islamic extremism." The quotation marks are there to point out the diligent police work that must have been involved in coming to this conclusion. Mister Paty was killed because he showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his students. The "suspect," Abdoulakh A, is an eighteen-year-old man born in Moscow of Chechen origin. He came to France with refugee status as a boy and had no apparent connection to the school or Mister Paty. Except that he ended up cutting his head off. And then taking a picture of it with his cell phone. Which may be the ugliest redefinition of intimacy that I can imagine. TWitnesses are said to have heard the "suspect" shout "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Greatest." and then posted photos of the victim to a Twitter account, along with insults to Mr Macron and French "infidels" and "dogs."

You may recall back in 2015 when the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were shot up by two al-Qaeda associated gunmen, killing twelve and injuring another eleven. Samuel Paty showed the cartoons as part of a lesson on free speech that used the Charlie Hebdo massacre as an example. Mister Paty undertook this lesson plan even as the trial for fourteen individuals associated with that crime began in Paris. He did suggest that Muslim students to look away if they thought they might be offended.

Apparently, this did not have the effect Mister Paty had hoped for, otherwise his head might still be connected to his body. 

Please understand that I am horrified by this incident, but at the same moment I am reminded of the words of my former colleague and card-carrying communist who once reminded me that "teaching is a political act," echoing educator Paulo Freire's assertion that no pedagogy is neutral. I wonder how a lesson in an American high school that featured cartoons of Jesus Christ might be received in this climate which seems to encourage extremist plots sprung from fear and outrage. 

Perhaps not so coincidentally I received an email reminder from the school district for whom I work that there are guidelines for political activity for its staff. The memo suggests that I  "take a moment to familiarize yourself with the revised Guidelines if you might want to engage in any political activities in the lead up to Election Day."

I suppose I should be relieved that there is not, as yet, a section regarding sharing cartoons of prophets. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

What's The Big Idea?

 My wife and I have watched, or binged as the kids say, the NBC television series The Good Place. A couple tings about this saturation viewing. First of all, these days of shelter in place have provided opportunities that might not otherwise have existed to park on the couch and take in all that TV goodness. Secondly a network sitcom, once the commercial breaks have been excised, run about twenty-two minutes. You can cram in three episodes in just over an hour. And you can forget about those cliffhangers. Just keep on keeping on. It does help if the show is captivating enough to keep all that keeping on worthwhile.

The Good Place is that. Or was, since it's now a part of broadcasting history. The fourth and final season has been placed in the time capsule of streaming services and now the discussion can begin about where it stacks up in the sit com pantheon. Of course, greatness in a category that includes such titles as Joanie Loves Chachi and My Mother The Car does not seem like that big a feat. What makes The Good Place a diversion from the dominant paradigm of your standard prime time dreck is the ideas it chose to wrestle with over the course of its run. Without giving too much away, if you haven't seen any of it, the story concerns the afterlife, good and evil and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. And it's funny stuff.

But I couldn't help but wonder what was on the cutting room floor. What must have gone on in the writer's room? I know from history and anecdotal experience with the process of making movies and TV that what we end up seeing at the end of the process is just a sliver of all the creativity that happens from that moment of inspiration to the filtered and watered down version that becomes mass media. Finding ways to dance on the edge of cleverness and big ideas while maintaining sponsorship from corporate America is a tricky vocation, because it is a business after all. Show business. And if somewhere along the line you end up making our audience contemplate their very existence, then kudos to you. 

Because inevitably the meetings that take place in anticipation of the production of popular entertainment are more interesting than the popular entertainment itself. All of the discussion and debate that went into making a situation comedy about life and death and how we treat one another would be, I think, very interesting to watch. Maybe not four seasons worth, but at least twenty-two minutes worth. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Radio Silence

 I was a mile away from my house, running up a hill, when the helpful voice whispered in my ear: "Please recharge your headset." It was the obsequious droid that was letting me know that I had no more seconds to wait before the music I was listening to turned to silence. Well, not exactly silence. I was suddenly aware of the pitter patter of my little feet on the sidewalk, muffled by the rubber buds that were still stuffed unnecessarily in my ears. 

Decision time: Should I turn around and cut this exercise period short for the sake of being distracted/entertained as I sweat? Or should I press on? I had already tacitly committed to running seven miles that morning, and turning around at that point would give me a grand total of two. Hardly the workout I was anticipating. So I kept going. Up the hill, suddenly very aware of the rhythm of my steps. I thought of a metronome. I imagined that keeping a steady beat would give me a steady pace, which is something I don't always achieve when I have all those different tempos pouring in to my head. All those words. All those melodies. The playlist I had compiled was engineered to bring a certain spring to my step. 

Now those tunes were gone, and I thought of my therapist from way back when. She suggested to me that I didn't always have to drown out the world with music. She advised me, not always but from time to time, to run without headphones. To listen to the world around me. Shortly after that, as I crested another hill, I came upon two neighbors discussing the fate of the house across the street from them. "Yeah, he's not really in Hawaii. He's in debt up to his ears. She's just camping out there."

Now I wanted to stop for a completely different reason. I wanted in on the conversation. Who was she and was anybody going to call the authorities and was there a meth lab involved? But I kept moving. 

About a mile away from that dialogue, I overheard a mother yelling at her daughter from the front porch, "You're not going to wear that outside, are you?" If I stopped there, I might take in a little teenage angst. But I kept moving.

As I ran, I heard motors roar and purr and belch on street beside me. I heard the town start to wake up. Yards were watered in anticipation of another hot day. Children screamed from living rooms because sometimes that happens too. 

And all the while I kept that metronome ticking. When I made it home, I busied myself about the yard. Trees to water, roses to tend. I listened to birds singing and squirrels chasing one another in the trees. All of this sound made me feel closer to my world. Which was fine.

Then I went inside and charged my headphones. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Tab Hunter

 I used to do a bit about a girl at a party freaking out because she was sure that she had been given a regular Coke instead of a Tab. I preface this by saying I "used to" because there just aren't that many people left in the world who know what Tab is. I do. I grew up with Tab. I was only a year old when the first bright pink cans of that diet cola came rolling off the line. 

Yes, Tab came in bottles as well, but that's not how it will be remembered. It was that daring packaging veer away from the parent company Coca Cola red that made it distinct. The can that screamed "sugar free! sugar free!" before you ever got to the name of the soda. This was a game changer. A huge deal because a can of Tab would only set you back one calorie. That's right. Just one. You would expend more energy yanking the tab off of your Tab than you would gain by drinking it. Or something like that. It was the beginning of what we now know as diet soda. Like many Coke products, there were plenty of permutations for the original formula: fruit flavors, ginger ale, root beer, and the inevitable caffeine free version. All of which were based on the idea that you could still have your pop and drink it too if you were trying to lose weight. Which a lot of people wanted to do in the mid to late sixties. And seventies.. And into the eighties. 

Except that there was that rat problem. Not that rats were involved in the actual making of the beverage, but the fact that they got bladder cancer after drinking Tab gave the pink can a tarnished image. It was saccharine that ruined those rats' lives. And it was feared that it would ruin the bladders and lives of humans too, so rather than banning it, the FDA insisted that Coke put a label on every can, bottle and two liter jug: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals." And this was on top of the can being pink. 

As it turned out, the saccharin that was in Tab didn't ruin the bladders of humans, but this didn't necessarily save it from the recycling bin of history. In 1982, Coke began brewing Diet Coke, presumably to compete with themselves. And that faint heartbeat heard in Tabland began to diminish still further. It was one more slot on the fountain an any fast food joint, or button on any Coke machine that didn't need to be there if the world wanted Diet Coke. Instead of Tab? In a pink can? 


Well, nearly sixty years later, the final nail in Tab's coffin is being hammered into the coffin of Coca Cola's first diet drink. The soft drink Godzilla is killing of its "zombie brands," including Odwalla juice, which will make my wife tear up. And Tab. Which will make anorexic boys and girls around the world panic. Or maybe it would have a few decades ago. Now that Coke has its own brand water, there's no reason not to streamline things as much as possible. To be clear, Tab had a pretty good run. Sixty years is about fifty-nine years and six months longer than New Coke lasted. 

A toast to Tab, artificially flavored brown water never had it so good. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

 At the same moment in time when the "president" is suggesting that if he loses the election he may have to leave the country, his wife has taken to writing a blog post describing all the hurt that she has endured over the past several months. 

I know. When they were not writing those unwritten rules, you're supposed to stay away from spouses and children. Like, for example, do we really want a Second Spouse called "Dougie?" But I have decided that, since I have already placed my ballot in the secure hands of The State, I will just go ahead. 

FLOTUS began her pithy notes on her struggle thus: "When the media chooses to focus on self-serving individuals & salacious gossip instead of work to help our next generation, it needs to be talked about." I get the salacious gossip part, but she didn't even bother to deny that it was her voice on the tapes made by her former aide Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. These tapes contain such gems as, "I'm working ... my a** off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a f*** about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right?" And she went on: "OK, and then I do it and I say that I'm working on Christmas and planning for the Christmas and they said, 'Oh, what about the children that they were separated?' Give me a f****** break. Where they were saying anything when Obama did that? I can not go, I was trying get the kid reunited with the mom. I didn't have a chance -- needs to go through the process and through the law." So maybe now is the time I suggest that this is all karma for tearing up Jackie Kennedy's rose garden. 

Or maybe all that talk about Be Best was a cry for help. How could you run an anti-bullying campaign while living, more or less, under the same roof as the world's biggest bully? How else could you explain her assertion that, "As a country, we cannot continue to get lost in the noise of negativity and encourage ambition by those who seek only to promote themselves."

In the end, she suggests that she looks forward to working closely with those who have supported her over the next four years. Maybe we can make that easier by removing that unnecessary burden of having to decorate the White House for Christmas. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

On The Yard

 I know they will show up. Sooner or later. Still, I had to suppress the urge last week to simply lay down in the breezeway where I have my table. I could just lay there, motionless, waiting for someone or something to come along. Then I would spring into action, providing all the attention and care that our students and our families deserve.

But some days it's hard to fill the empty moments. I do research, and track text messages and emails that come in from staff and parents looking for tech solutions. I update our website and Facebook page. 

And I stare out into that empty playground. A year ago, by eight o'clock on a weekday morning, I would be wading through a couple hundred kids, ready to start a day. Waiting for that bell to ring. There is no bell now. There are not hundreds of kids. On a good day, I might see a dozen, and never all at once. Not unless I drop into a Zoom meeting to make an announcement. Or simply to gather that teacher juju that I had blithely ignored before everything changed. 

Last Tuesday, one of our kindergarten teachers had invited some of her students to come to the school, one at a time, for testing. We set up a couple tables outside, observing social distance, and when the first five year old came with her mother, they sat down a couple yard from their teacher and proceeded to work through the online assessment in a way that made sense. When time and patience was up for all concerned, it was time to hand off to the next little girl who had shown up and waited patiently with her mother on a bench. That bench would at one time have been full of children who had transgressed in some minor way and needed a time-out. Not now. That bench and all the others are empty. 

When the first five year old came back across the playground, she saw her classmate and they both lit up. Smiles and waves. "Mom! That's Sherry! She's in my class! Hi, Sherry!" And Sherry responded in kind. Such behavior isn't so novel, except that the only way these two girls would have seen one another would have been on Zoom meetings each morning for the past two months. They are kindergartners who have been introduced to school in the most ridiculous way imaginable. And yet, they were friends. They said so. I have no reason to doubt that.

And my heart was, for the moment, filled with that juju of which I spoke earlier. There is still so very much that we are missing and cannot recreate over Al Gore's Internet. The inability we have to suffer as we create new abilities as educators and educated is confounding and still attempting to diffuse. But for just a few minutes there, I was back on the playground. With kids. It gave me hope. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

What's The Deal?

 Did you miss Prime Days? Oh, those deals! You could have saved thirty-eight percent off of a robot vacuum cleaner. Or a whopping twelve percent off a wi-fi water shutoff valve. How could you pass up savings like that?

Well, first of all in the interest of full transparency I should point out the obvious: I had to go to their site to view those Prime Day exclusives. Additionally, I had to be a Prime member to get a peek at the savings that I could enjoy. Like that jet blue sixty-four ounce water jug for only seventeen dollars? Come on, don't think it didn't cross my mind to pull the trigger on that bad boy. 

Then the skepticism swelled up inside of me. Yes, I did appreciate that at least one of the days of Prime Days did turn out to be a prime number. Another point for clever marketing. However, the second day was not and it pains me to think that this whole promotion was just a whole lot of fuss just to get us jaded consumers off of our credit cards and back into the blur that is capitalism. Haven't we all done enough surviving over the past seven months? It's time for a sale-a-bration!

I confess it's difficult not to get swept up in the retail therapy of the moment. A family trip to Target filled us all with a surge of participatory capitalism that was hard to shake. Now that we are no longer living from one roll of toilet paper to the next, it was difficult to walk past those vast displays of masks and hand sanitizer, let alone the sea of Halloween costumes, candy and decorations. We've been sitting on this wad of cash that used to be disposable income and suddenly we were in a place where we could let it rain. 

But we didn't. We bought my son new pants, underwear and socks. We were discrete. 

But Prime Days allows us all to spend without the worry of anyone but the delivery driver knowing the depths of our wants. Our consumerism need not be conspicuous. It just needs to be delivered in a ridiculously timely fashion in a box with a smile on the side.

That smile is modeled on that of one Jeff Beezos. The guy sitting at home, riding this wave of other people's money is now worth more than two hundred billion dollars. The captain of the Amazon ship has only made money during this pandemic. How incredibly considerate of him to cut the prices on good and services offered by his company while hundreds of thousands have died. How enterprising of him to create this new "holiday" based entirely on the notion that there is still so much that we all need to have delivered in a timely fashion to our homes. The idea that there is a high definition big screen television out there that you can't afford not to own is ultimately a sad one. I deserve that 4K eighty-five inches of joy hanging on my wall. And Jeff Beezos, it would seem deserves to continue to increase his ridiculous wealth at our expense. 

I didn't miss Prime Days. They missed me. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Phone Home

 A week ago, I threw something at my son. He responded appropriately: "What was that?" It whizzed at him at such velocity that he was unable to determine its dimensions or threat level. It was unidentified. He was hit in the chest by an unidentified flying object. A UFO. At this point, just prior to you all scrambling to find the number for Child Protective Services, I will come clean. It was a Nerf dart that had been slowly decaying in our back yard for the past decade. Crusty foam rubber, about an inch and a half long. So, mystery solved. No longer a UFO. Just a Nerf dart he left out in the yard back when he had his adolescent pals over to shoot at one another with non-lethal projectiles.

A UFO is only that which cannot be identified, and just recently they have been getting more play in the media. As if a global pandemic, marching in the streets and murder hornets weren't enough, now it's time to drag aliens into the mess we call 2020. Former Senate Majority leader Harry Reid says our government has been keeping things from us for a long time. “Why the federal government all these years has covered up, put brake pads on everything, stopped it, I think it’s very, very bad for our country,” said the retired senator from Nevada. When asked if there was still evidence that has not seen the light of day, he replied, "“I’m saying most of it hasn’t seen the light of day."

Well, that's just great. Here we are just days away from getting rid of the bloated sack of protoplasm that has been driving our country over the proverbial cliff and now we have to give him the perfect out: Space Force! This clown and his minions have been searching for a reason to get into a shooting war since he showed up at that poorly attended inauguration. Now he's got a chance to unleash all that pent-up destructive energy in the direction of the vacuum of space. 

You think I'm kidding? He was asked by Fox News at the end of an interview what he thought about UFOs. "Well I'm gonna have to check on that," he replied. "I mean, I've heard that. I heard that two days ago, so I'll check on that. I'll take a good, strong look at that." At which point he pivoted abruptly: "I will tell you this, we now have created a military, the likes of which we've never had before in terms of equipment. The equipment that we have, the weapons that we have — and hopefully, hope to God we never have to use them." A year ago, when the topic was raised in an interview with George Stephanopoulus, he seemed pretty dismissive of the whole UFO idea. "I've read, and I've heard, and I did have one very brief meeting on it. But people are saying they're seeing UFOs. Do I believe it? Not particularly." 

Now that he is truly backed into a corner, he'll take a swing at anyone or anything that might help him appear even a notch more in charge. Even if that someone or something is E.T. So maybe now would be a good time to point out to the "president" that a civilization capable of interplanetary travel and flitting through our skied essentially undetected probably isn't that deterred by our "lasers" and "missiles." As for contact, we can only assume that they are waiting for signs of intelligent life before they bother to land. Just a few more weeks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

We Got Him!

 John Oliver, comic news anchor, started doing a bit a few years ago in which he would lay out a number of points that seemed to implicate the "president" in all manner of nefarious schemes. At which point, he would slam on a button, balloons and confetti would fly and a banner would drop from above reading "We've Got Him!" The joke, because this is a comedy show as I mentioned earlier, is that this is a man who seems to be able to move through life without any of the muck he stirs up sticking to him. Not to belabor the point, but the humor stems from this capacity to avoid consequences for his actions. Openly lying to the American public? No problem. Conspiring with Russia to interfere with our elections? Never mind. This is a guy who has never won a popular vote in any election, and yet here he is standing up in front of the American people complaining and fabricating as if he expects to get away with it.

Because he has. 

There are tape recordings of this "president" telling Bob Woodward that he knew that COVID-19 was both airborne and deadly. Those recordings were made at the beginning of February. That would be prior to all the White House started telling us all not to worry about this virus and it would just disappear. 

This is the same guy who was impeached by Congress for abuse of power and obstruction. This is the same guy who said that windmills cause cancer. This is the same guy who insists that voting by mail, as his family has done for years, will be the undoing of our great democracy. He spent an hour and a half on a nationally televised debate interrupting both his opponent and the moderator to lie like railroad track. 

Then he contracted the disease he assured us all would just go away. He made quick work of ignoring all protocols that he had ignored prior to his diagnosis, culminating in thirty-four positive cases among the White House staff. We've got him!

Which is funny, because after all these years, we still don't.

Are you laughing?

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

All In The Family

 It was a family togetherness moment like few we had experienced. Four years ago, our son was living in a dorm. And though we mailed his ballot to him as abruptly as could, we were not able to fully coordinate our voting experience. Not that our choices were radically different, but this past Thursday the three of us sat in our living room. Together. We went through our ballots line by line that night. We wanted consensus. 

We got it. It felt good. It felt right.

We had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of our voting material. When the envelopes arrived, we made our plan: right after dinner, clear the table and get out the pens and paper. We were going to to make our voices heard. We voted as a block. We voted as a family. When we were done filling them out, we put our ballots in the envelopes and sealed them up. We were done. We were fed up. We were finally doing something about it.

We voted the bad guy out. 

Yes, there was a lot of other stuff to consider. And we did our due diligence on those local matters and we talked about all the school board candidates and whether we should retain our representation locally and nationally. And we weren't just voting against Donald Trump. We were voting for Joe Biden. And Kamala Harris. These are the people who are going to lead us out of the darkness and into the light. Our next president and vice president will bring us back to where we should be: a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal. 

It is what we can do. Vote. 

Monday, October 12, 2020


 I know. It's 2020. Nothing should surprise me anymore.

The "president" has contracted the deadly virus that is killing Americans by the thousands?


Yet another grand jury hands down a mystifying ruling regarding justice for black lives.

Been there. Done that. 

A right wing militia plot is uncovered with plans to kidnap the Democrat Governor of a state.

Wait. What? That's new.

But is it really a surprise? When the FBI broke up a group of Michigan militia that was planning to abduct Governor Whitmer and overthrow certain state governments because they believed were violating the US Constitution. Mask mandates and closing certain businesses and limiting movement as a matter of public health is what these constitutional scholars wanted to affect. By kidnapping the governor. Not the latest Netflix miniseries pitch. Real life. Six men, five from Michigan and one from Delaware were arrested for planning the crime, seven more were  charged with terrorism and gang-related offences. Officials say this group wished to gather "about two hundred men" to storm the capitol building and take hostages, including the governor. They hoped to enact their plan before the November presidential election. If that failed, they planned to attack the governor at her home. 

Again. Not Jerry Bruckheimer. Not starring Nicolas Cage. This was real. They had conducted surveillance on Governor Whitmer's vacation home, they also planned Molotov cocktail attacks on police officers, purchased a taser, and pooled their funds to purchase explosives and tactical equipment. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that separate to the kidnapping charges seven members of the "wolverine watchmen" militia will be charged by the state with gang affiliation and providing material support to terrorists. Ms. Nessel said the arrested militia members hoped to start a civil war. 

For those of you who may not remember, Patrick Swayze led a group of rebels in a movie called Red Dawn. The name of that group was "Wolverines." That movie was so popular, it was remade in 2012. And lo and behold, these bozos were on a path to recreating it again in 2020. With live ammunition. With the support of the "president." 

Again, maybe not a surprise. The "president" is the one who tweeted way back in April, "liberate Michigan!" A day after the FBI arrests, he went right back to attacking Governor Whitmer. Surprised? 

Don't be. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020


 Never mind all the discussion of politics. There was a fly on Mike Pence's head. 

The discussion of this insect and its appearance on the Vice President's forehead during Wednesday's debate overwhelmed any and all other topics. It wasn't on the wall. It was on his head. My mind slipped easily to all the easy jokes about on what flies tend to land. The twittersphere joined me, as they often do for such low-hanging fruit. Or poop. 

Then I was reminded of the end of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, after Norman Bates has been apprehended and his mind has gone to another place, leaving his mother to pull the strings from inside. A fly  buzzes around Norman/Mother's head, we hear her voice: "They know I can't move a finger and I want to just sit here and be quiet just in case they suspect me. They're probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I'm not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching... they'll see. They'll see and they'll know, and they'll say, "Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly..."

And it was at that moment that I was reminded that eight months ago, Mike Pence was put in charge of our nations' Coronavirus Task Force. And this debate was taking place with the participants separated by two eight foot tall sheets of plexiglass. And do you suppose that a fly would be incapable of making it over such a daunting obstacle? There were no flies on Senator Harris.

So here I am, driving the narrative that suggests that the only important story in the Vice Presidential Debate was the fly. This might be because moderator Susan Page ran a tighter ship than Chris Wallace, or that VP candidates are more subdued by their general nature. Maybe it was the plexiglass shields. Or the fact that they were seated. Or that once the "president" contracted the virus his running mate was sworn to protects us all from, the debate was over. 

I don't know how many people Norman Bates killed, or how many deaths in which he was complicit. I do know that Mike Pence and his boss have a running total that stands somewhere north of two hundred ten thousand. And climbing. 

You know what else flies like to climb on? 

Death things. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020


 The story goes like this: Back in 1979, a friend of mine was inspecting my record collection and stopped abruptly at the V's. He swooned over the first album in that section, alphabetically. He raved, he plotzed, he sang praises most high. "Oh that," I said somewhat dismissively. "It's pretty good." It was then and there that my friend engineered a trade: his copy of Led Zeppelin 2 for my Van Halen 1. I accepted his terms. I felt that I was easily getting the better part of the deal, "Whole Lotta Love?" "Ramble On?" "Moby Dick?" This was certified rock and roll history I was holding, not some screeching debut by some southern California hair metal band. 

A really good southern California hair metal band. With a guitarist who I already had to admit could make music and sounds like I had never heard before. His technique of playing with both hands on the neck, sometimes displaying a knowledge of music beyond the garage was already making him a legend. But he was no Jimmy Page, right?

Six years later, it would be those screeching riffs that would be used by Marty McFly to impress his father that he had come from a distant planet to melt his face. The idea that Eddie Van Halen was an alien was perhaps not unfounded. How else to explain this virtuosity? 

A lot of people don't remember hearing Eddie speak, perhaps because he was often drowned out by his lead singer's bravado. I do. I can remember all the times he rolled his eyes and had just a few words to express the frustrations of being a guitar god sometimes obscured by a Warner Brothers cartoon villain in assless chaps. 

And he married Valerie Bertinelli. This had the effect of both making me righteously jealous and elevating his status. Eddie Van Halen could do it all, and no one knew that better than my good friend and college roommate Darren. He had seen Van Halen live, and had the T-shirts to prove it. Darren wasn't from Oklahoma, he was from Rocklahoma. He is the one who gifted me with the story about how Eddie and his bandmates spent more on beer than they did on the rest of the production of their video of "Hot For Teacher." 

When Yosemite Sam and Eddie parted ways in 1985, it was Van Halen that thrived and survived with a slightly less cartoonish front man. It was in 1988 that I had my closest brush with seeing them play live. I was in the emergency room the night before they played just up the hill at Folsom Field in Boulder. I had torn three of the four ligaments in my left knee and I was asked to wait while the flurry of pre-concert ODs and fight victims were brought in. The next day, as I laid on the couch in my apartment not far from the stadium, I awaited reconstructive surgery, I could make out many of the songs coming through in waves. 

A lifetime later, my son and I came within a forty minute drive of heading out to Red Rocks to see the recently reunited lineup of Van Halen. 

We didn't go. Maybe because I was too old, or maybe because I was holding out for the Led Zeppelin reunion. But I regret it. 

Especially now when the news of Eddie succumbing to cancer came across the waves. It created a profound silence in my life, which could only be cured by playing "Eruption" at maximum volume on my home stereo. For a moment, I was seventeen again, and I hope that wherever my copy of Van Halen's first album ended up, that it got a spin. Edward Van Halen not only stomped on the Terra, he rocked it. Hard. He will be missed. Aloha, Eddie. 

Friday, October 09, 2020

What's Next?

 With all the talk about the countdown to the election, it might be time to consider what happens after November 3. The first issue that everyone should keep in mind is the potential of a contested result. This seems only right due to the number of times the sitting "president" has brought it up. The obvious response would be to vote. Vote in such great waves that the result will never be in doubt. Vote, and I'm repeating myself here for emphasis, as if your life depended on it. 

Because it does. 

More than two hundred thousand Americans have died over the past six months from a global pandemic that has been poorly understood, poorly managed, and poorly appreciated. Rather than finding a way to reach out after his most recent fumble with any sort of empathy, the "president" has hit the reset button insisting that this virus is no worse than the average flu. 

Racial justice and police reform continue to burn brightly on the horizon as the Right Thing continues to evade those in power. Those voices crying out for Black Lives are blamed for their completely justifiable anger. 

A new Supreme Court Justice is being rushed into this fray in hopes of pushing a lifetime's agenda into a country that continues to reject those conservative agendas. A woman's right to choose, affordable health care, and all manner of hard-won realities of American life are not being promoted, but are instead being kicked to the curb in an attempt to maintain what was never the status quo in the first place. 

It's time to ensure that the Silent Majority, which is neither, stops being in charge of the direction in which our ship of state sails. Like the captain of the Titanic steering directly toward the iceberg, then locking the door to the wheelhouse before leaping overboard. This captain will most definitely not be going down with the ship. He will go to the nearest golf club and attempt to return to his previous life as a bankrupt millionaire game show host. 

Which is fine with me, because I don't like golf and I never watched his show anyway. 

Vote. Like all of our lives depended on it. 

Because it does. 

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Letter Bomb

 People were asking Snopes if the "president" actually required that food boxes distributed by the Department of Agriculture to needy families contain a letter from him.  This is how difficult things have become to believe. The Farmers to Families Food Box Program has distributed four billion dollars of aid, more than one hundred million boxes to those in need since May, with the aim of redirecting meat, dairy and produce that might normally go to restaurants and other food-service businesses. The letter comes in both English and Spanish on White House letterhead and features Trump’s bold signature: “As President, safeguarding the health and well-being of our citizens is one of my highest priorities,” it reads. “As part of our response to coronavirus, I prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America.” It should be pointed out that the letter itself contains no nutritional value.

Quite the contrary.

Some organizations that handle the boxes, delivering them to families that are in desperate and dire circumstances, have refused to handle these Trump-infused boxes. Others are doing the simpler thing: removing the contamination before passing out the otherwise healthy supplies. Like so many things connected to this "president," the impact has been primarily self-serving on his and frustrating to those actually doing the work. Like his insistence that his signature be placed on every one of the relief checks that were sent out back in April, even though his autograph was not required and appeared in the memo section, delaying the already delayed relief. 

These letters, appearing as they did just a month before the election and without prior warning, continues this trend of the kind of help we can all do without, to quote the poet. Ultimately, the food gets where it needs to go. The money got where it needed to go, but in the meantime, folks like our district's Chief Systems and Services Officer who had to explain the existence of this note, that included admonitions to "practice good hygiene and wash your hands, people who feel sick should stay home, and to practice social distancing and consider wearing a face covering when in public."


Our food service has been working since March to keep families safe and fed. They don't need some clown to come late to the party and taking credit for it. Especially those most vulnerable and afraid in our sanctuary city. These are the good guys. That guy on the letter? Ignore him. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay home. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

What Comes Before A Fall?

 Okay, so like the man said, "Here's the deal." If the most closely watched bubble in the world can be penetrated by coronavirus, then maybe there's something else at work. The "president" of the United States had enough arrogance to imagine that just because he gets tested all the time. Except when he didn't. Like just before the first presidential debate. And then it turns out that maybe it would have been a good idea to test him even more often because he ended up spreading COVID-19 across his staff an family while sealed in Air Force One on the trip back from Cleveland. 

How could this happen? Well, how about a singular insistence that masks were not necessary. Even though he told Bob Woodward "It's more deadly than even your strenuous flus." That was back on February 7. So, armed with this knowledge and with state of the art medical attention, he still managed to contract this deadly virus. And give it to his friends and family. 

Then he went ahead to New Jersey and pressed the proverbial flesh with his supporters at a fundraiser. Without masks. Moving around in a cloud of germs reminiscent of the cloud of dust that hovers around Pig Pen in Peanuts. As if this were business as usual. 

As if.

Meanwhile, we are asked to respect the gravity of the situation: The "president" of these United States has fallen ill. Show some respect. Show some respect to the man who made fun of his opponent back in 2016 when Hillary Clinton collapsed due to the effects of pneumonia. The man who ridiculed Joe Biden for his mask wearing habit just hours before the "president" became his own personal hot zone. 

Surprised? Why should we be? During a global pandemic, the kind of risky behavior exhibited by someone who had been told that there was a deadly airborne virus is nothing short of the definition of hubris. 

Look it up. I'll wait. 

Back in the days of the ancient Greeks, the gods did not suffer that kind of foolishness gladly. Names like Ajax, Oedipus, and Orestes spring to mind. While we're at it, go ahead and add Donald J. Trump to that list. Nor surprises here. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Physician Heal Thyself

"So doc, give it to me straight. I can handle it."

"Well, I don't think you have much to worry about. It's really only as bad as your average flu."

"Oh. I've heard that."

"Yes, as a matter of fact, ninety-nine percent of COVID-19 cases are totally harmless.”

"Well, that's a relief."

"It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear.”

"Well then. I guess this is just a lot of fuss over nothing."

"Yes, here in America we now have the lowest Fatality Rate in the World.”

"But people are still dying?"

"No worries. We going  are going to have vaccines, I think, relatively soon.”


"And in the warmer weather - that has a very negative effect on that, and that type of a virus.”

"What about wearing a mask, doc? Would it help?"

"Maybe they’re great, and maybe they’re just good. Maybe they’re not so good.”

"Where did you say you went to medical school?"

"Well, I didn't. I had an uncle who went to MIT who is a top professor. A genius. It’s in my blood. I’m smart.”


"Now if you'll just roll over, I'll administer the bleach."

Monday, October 05, 2020

Happy News

 A friend and constant reader recently remarked that I seemed to be "stressed," given the tenor of the posts I have been publishing over the past month or so. Well, to be completely transparent, I have been stressed. There has been a lot of stuff that I have felt worth complaining about and this is the place I feel most comfortable doing just that.

But not today. Last week saw the Oakland Athletics come back to win their Wildcard series against the Chicago White Sox, and the Denver Broncos finally won a football game. These were the kind of vicarious thrills that had recently been absent from my life. It gave a little pep to my step and sent me on a path toward the sun, though it is still obscured by smoke.

Also, last Tuesday, my wife discovered what she thought was our son's wallet hanging off the back of the chair in our office. Our son asked whose wallet that was, since his was in his pocket where it tends to rest. A quick look inside let us know that this was the wallet that I had just given up hope of finding. The one with the mild treasure trove of photos and ephemera, including the receipt for my wife. The relief of not having to replace more credit cards or drivers license but being relieved of the eternal question, "What happened to my wallet?" It was wedged in the chair behind me each day as I sat there writing that blog about how I lost my wallet. 

And then there was the milestone of dropping under two hundred pounds for the first time in more than a decade. Intermittent fasting, giving up peanut M&Ms, and a conscientious and dedicated exercise regimen made it possible for me to lose more than thirty pounds. The spectator sports and the wallet were happy coincidences, but the benefits of losing weight were something that I earned. The joy I felt when I stepped on to that scale was palpable.

Though it didn't exactly prepare me for the news that came down late Thursday night about the "president" and his COVID-19 test: positive. I understand my gleeful reaction makes me less of a person than Joe Biden, who sent best wishes to his opponent and hoped that he would be well again soon. I understand that my reaction is centered entirely on my own twisted belief in karma. It was the final brick in the comedy pyramid that began with all of the Trump supporters and anti-mask ninnies who have followed their leader's example into the emergency room. This was the guy who, just a few nights before, had ridiculed Joe Biden from across the stage about the "big mask" the former vice president wears. It was only a few hours after he had gone to yet another rally with those same supporters not wearing a mask and shaking hands. Joe Biden tested negative for the virus. The "president" tested positive. This would be the moment in which science seems to have given us clear proof that masks make a difference. Big masks. Lots of them. All the time. And all that injecting bleach and taking hydroxychloroquine did not save him from getting the virus. 

And this caused me to do the happy dance. Does this make me a bad person? Hard to say. But it does make me a happy person. One month until the election. 

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Sounds Of The Seventies

 Mac Davis. Helen Reddy. The blank stares I'm getting from that row suggest they may not have lived through the 1970s. I did. I have the bell bottom scars on my ankles to prove it. These two singer-songwriters passed away this past week within hours of one another, both of them at the age of seventy-eight. If you have missed this chunk of musical history, let's toss out a primer: "Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me" may have been Mister Davis' best known tune. You may have caught him singing that one on The Midnight Special. Or maybe I should explain to you about The Midnight Special. Or Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. 

But that's not why we're here today. We also have to recognize Helen Reddy, she of "I Am Woman." She was on The Midnight Special too. My mother was proto-liberated, and she had a subscription to Ms. Magazine and we listened to Helen Reddy albums. And we liked it. My father was particularly enamored with "Delta Dawn," as it struck him solidly in his gospel-loving nerve. Helen was perhaps the first Australian of which I was aware, probably because she also had her own variety show. A little song, a little dance, a little Cheech and Chong.

What? Cheech and Chong on NBC? This is a show that also featured Nelson Riddle and His Orchestra. This was the 1970s. Along about this same time, Mac Davis had his own show too. His could also be found on NBC. Mac's guests included such luminaries as Loretta Swit, Gabe Kaplan, and Helen Reddy.

What? Helen recorded one of Mac's songs: "I Believe In Music." The first record I ever owned was a 45 of Elvis Presley singing "In The Ghetto." Written by Mac Davis. 

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, the only song I could think of was Helen Reddy's feminist anthem. I was there when it happened. 

Mac wasn't a one trick pony either. His turn as star quarterback Seth Maxwell in North Dallas Forty was both funny and tragic. That was in 1979. By 1982, he was talked into playing Robert Redford's role in the sequel to The Sting, imaginatively titled, The Sting II. Teri Garr was featured in most of the promos for the movie, so it could be that Mac's days at the top were coming to an end. 

Ms. Reddy starred in the Disney feature Pete's Dragon, and scored a hit with the featured song, "Candle On The Water." That was in 1977. Six years later, her recording contract was up at MCA and she returned to the Land Down Under. 

So they both burned brightly, for a while, as stars often do. They made a mark that won't soon be erased from my ears and heart. They stomped on the Terra. In bell bottoms. And they will both be missed. Aloha, Mac and Helen. 

Saturday, October 03, 2020

What Happened?

 Richard Nixon lost the debate to John F. Kennedy because of flop sweat. That's what the legend says, anyway. 

In reporting the Lincoln-Douglas debates, newspapers that leaned toward Douglas refined their candidate's language and left Abe looking like bumpkin, while the pro-Lincoln camp did just the opposite for their cause. 

The winner of Tuesday night's presidential debate was anyone watching reruns of Parks and Recreation instead. 

I consider myself a survivor of Tuesday night's presidential debate. I dutifully sat down with my family to take in all the spectacle and drama. I made dinner for us all to consume in front of the television. Before the big show began, I asked my wife why we were watching. I didn't guess that I needed to be convinced or cajoled in any particular way or another. If I had my ballot in front of me, I would have filled it out in full and moved on to something more thought-provoking like level six hundred forty-three of the Candy Crush saga. 

It didn't take long for all of my concerns to be confirmed. It was a mess. It was spittle-flying rants talking over the moderator bleating of unsubstantiated rumors and lies. And Joe Biden was there too. 

Fifty-five minutes in, I cleared the table and went to the kitchen with the dishes. My wife had begun to retreat into her laptop, looking for solace in facts that were missing from the night's  proceedings. Only my son remained fully engaged in the atrocity being committed on national television. He leaned into it, hooting in disbelief. I could hear his despair as I rinsed plates in the sink. But I didn't rush to comfort him. His nascent political beliefs were being twisted and torn before his very eyes. It was only a few months ago that he had pitched his tent in Beto O'Rourke's camp.

And this is where he landed. In his parents' living room without hope for reason or rhyme. Just the vast sucking sound coming from a stage somewhere in Ohio. 

When I finished cleaning up the kitchen, I walked back through the living room, past the couch where my son sat fuming. I tried to find words of encouragement, but came up short. I went on into the office where I put on headphones and fired up Candy Crush, level six hundred forty-four. 

One month until Election Day. 

Friday, October 02, 2020

Right In Front Of You

A perfectly reasonable request: Please help my daughter get signed into her Chromebook. It is, after all, my well and true purpose over these past two months. I sit at my table four days out of five waiting for parents, students and staff to come by and ask me a question just like that. That kind of ask is infinitely preferable to those who drop a device on that table of mine and announce, "This doesn't work." Which isn't really an ask, is it?

When Ulice's dad came through the gate, he was already pulling the power cord and the wifi hotspot from the bag which also contained his daughter's Chromebook. Computadora. He brought Ulice along just in case there was a little English that could be wrestled from the conversation. But I knew from previous experience that I was in for a multilingual experience and I was pretty sure that my high school German was not going to bail me out. 

We began with our best smiles and encouraging gestures. "Problema?" I queried. 

Ulice's dad the proceeded to explain in detail the struggles he had experienced attempting to connect his daughter to distance learning. Great detail. In Spanish. 

Suddenly I was adrift in a blur of verbs and nouns and words that I had never heard. Some of them I recognized, so I clung to them desperately in hopes of making sense of what was going on. There was most definitely a problem with the computer, and there was something about seeing the teacher. Which made me hopeful because even though my Spanish is muy mal, I can talk tech with the best of them. I made another grand gesture and dad put the Chromebook down in front of me.

When I opened it up, I had a new surprise. All the menus and prompts were in Spanish. I floundered briefly and then chose to open up my Chromebook and turned on my good friend Google Translate. Which was right about the time I noticed that Ulice's dad had done something similar on his phone. Together we took big long swings at making the computadora work to our liking. 

Which is about the time that I began to feel the confusion that so many of our kids feel every day as instruction sails just slightly over their heads. Not because they aren't interested or captivated by the task in front of them, but because there are just too many words. Words that don't make sense. Words that ring a bell, but are gone in a moment. Words that make learning more words possible. But the rush of making sense puts up a barrier. The one we've heard so much about. 

Ulice was a great sport as her father and I continued in our struggle to make her online experience viable. I called in help, but having another voice just made things more complicated and required more explanation in ways that only served to muddy the waters further. Agua. I don't know muddy. 

Finally, in a fit of tech pique, I slid the keyboard in front of me and performed a factory reset on Ulice's device. Moments later, I was staring at a screen that was completely intelligible to me, and I continued to make it work for Ulice. It was a surrender, I felt, but after nearly an hour I felt we needed to have something that felt like a next step. 

Like Mister Caven needs to work on his Spanish. 

Thursday, October 01, 2020

The Forgotten

 I have mentioned it here before, but it seems like an excellent time to bring up the financial advice I once received from Steve Martin. He asked me, "Steve, how can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes?" He continued his sage wisdom: "First, get a million dollars. Now.. you say, 'Steve, what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, ‘You.. have never paid taxes?' Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: 'I forgot!'”  

The New York Times reports that  "the president" paid no taxes in eleven of the eighteen years between 2000 and 2017. In both 2016 and 2017, he paid only seven hundred fifty dollars. Who knew that Donald Trump was such a big fan of Steve Martin? Or, rather, who would believe that the "president" of the United States could be so forgetful. 

I could. Like when he announced at his vaguely attended inaugural, “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” This was just a little before he happily asserted to his friends at a holiday dinner at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where the initiation fee is two hundred thousand dollars a year“You all just got a lot richer.” These were not the "forgotten men and women of our country." This was the crew that was also busily forgetting to tell the taxman that they had forgotten to pay taxes, reveling in their newly minted tax cuts. 

He may have also forgotten the tweet he made in 2012, disparaging President Obama's 20.5% tax rate. "@BarackObama who wants to raise all our taxes, only pays 20.5% on $790k salary. Do as I say not as I do." Al Gore's Internet did not forget. At that time, the argument was being made that the President of the United States should not be paying less in taxes each year than his secretary. Meanwhile, it is a mathematical certainty that 20.5% is 20.5% more than zero. It is also significant that President Obama released his tax returns, something the current "president" has "forgotten" to do.

In what might be referred to as the best case scenario, seven hundred fifty dollars a year in taxes would be somewhere in the neighborhood of a fifth of what this public school teacher paid. And already I can hear the chorus of those who continue to drink and sell the Kool-Aid the "president" is pushing: "That must means he's a good businessman." To which I can only point to Trump Steaks. Trump University. Trump Marina Hotel Casino. Trump Taj Mahal. Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel. Trump Airlines. The fact that this "president" is currently going through the country's economy much in the same way he managed his personal finances will not budge those who fail to see this connection. 

Or maybe they have seen it. They've just chosen to forget.