Monday, November 30, 2020

Old Dog, New Trick

 My son, who I love, wondered aloud "what would it take to get you to coach high school football?" This wondering did not hurt that love. He made this comment as he wandered into the living room as I was watching an NFL game, and I asked him to notice on a replay how a defensive back lost two steps when he crossed his feet as the receiver he was covering came out of his break. This left the receiver wide open for an easy touchdown. This appeared to my son as a very impressive insight. Enough that he felt compelled to suggest a change of vocation for me. 

Well, not exactly a change as much a shift. If I were to coach high school football, I would most likely teach something at the school for which I would coach. Because that's pretty much how it works. So I could teach math or civics or something, and then in late summer I would shift priorities and focus on teaching kids everything I know about football. 

This is where I should point out that I played football for two years when I was in elementary school, and another one when I was in ninth grade. The rest of my years have been spent staring at others playing. Plenty of time watching from the stands. On TV. Live and on tape. I have spectated my ten thousand hours worth, and then some. I have paid attention during all those hours, hoping to gather insights and wisdom that would aid me in some way. Primarily these cues have been used for conversational gambits on Monday mornings. I suppose in some alternative reality I might have used this acumen to become a professional gambler, analyzing trends and lineups and looking at point spreads. 

That didn't happen. 

I sat and watched all those plays and players in all those games. For what? So that one day my son might suggest that I find a new path in my golden years. Or late silver. Whatever. I was flattered, but when all was said and done, the call from the gridiron was not loud enough to get me past the A in avocation. But for those ten minutes, I was ready to give it a shot. 

And now back to reality. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Running To Stand Still

 I've been working during this time to stay in shape, very aware of the "COVID-19." Not the disease so much as the nineteen pounds that seem to accompany the stay at home-ness. There's so much more time to sit on the couch and consider the various flavors of Lay's potato chips that have yet to be sampled. What else were you going to do? You're all caught up with The Crown. And who's going to notice on Zoom that you're wearing your sweatpants a little tighter around the waist?

I've been running. I've been losing weight. I've become preoccupied with the maintenance end of my health. Which means going outside. Which might possibly be more unhealthy than all those varieties of Lay's potato chips. But it's keeping the blues away. No worries if I keep my mask on right?

Except for all those other humans out there disregarding the mask mandate. As long as I keep moving, ducking and dodging I should be okay. I can outrun germs, right? Well there's this image of the thirty foot slipstream of germs trailing behind me and anyone else spewing their exhalations as they run. That´s me, making that potential river of germs. 

And everyone else who may have chosen the path I have chosen. The ones who are out there, exercising their hearts, lungs, legs, and their freedoms. The ones who are not wearing masks. 

Look, I get what a drag it is to strap a piece of cloth over your nose and mouth just before you go out and test your capacity for breathing. Back in April, I absently left the house without my mask. I was a few blocks away before I noticed that there was a breeze on my face that hadn't been there the day before. I cut that run short. Since then, I've been covering my nose and mouth every time I leave my front yard. And secretly judging every human I encounter as I jog around my neighborhood. And I can't figure out how there is still this preponderance of "healthy types" who continue to bike, run, walk and otherwise move around a world with those thirty foot tides of bacteria. Including those who believe they are out there being healthy by pushing their masks up onto their collective noses and mouths. For a second as we pass, and then I assume they pull them back down to their chin to continue on their way. 

Me? I'm keeping my mask on. Yes, it's clammy and more than a little claustrophobic, but given the alternative, it's not so bad. Maybe I could figure out how to scent it with sour cream and cheddar. Then I'd have the whole package. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Memory Full

 It's possible I just need to get my hard drive defragged, but recently I have begun to feel that I have no more room. It could be a hardware issue, but I have also begun to feel that it could just as easily be a software concern. 

I'm not talking about computers.

I'm talking about pop culture. I'm talking specifically about popular music. I look at my Spotify account and my CD collection and what I have downloaded on iTunes, Amazon and elsewhere and I notice that the songs and albums that I have collected over the years have a backward feel. Music from now is highly under-represented. Music from then I've got by the bushel. 

I just ran a check: Adam Sandler is fifty-four years old. He is a contemporary of mine. Which explains the soundtracks for his movies. There's a whole lot of Styx, some Gary Glitter, and some Cars in there. And don't get me started on The Wedding Singer. That one even included The Flying Lizards' cover of Money. I bought that record. Not the soundtrack. That would have been redundant. Because that was when I was still in discovery mode. 

At one point, all those sounds were new, and I brought them home and memorized them. I cherished them in the same way my mother savored her opera and my father his Odetta. I carried those with me but the songs I heard blasting from my older brother's room even more so. He used to give me the records that he tired of, or started to wear out. This is how I came by my Bachman Turner Overdrive and my first Elton John albums. I continued to wear them out. 

And I made all those Tuesday evening trips to the record store, poring over the new releases bin in hopes of finding the next great thing, or a piece of the puzzle that I had been missing. I carried this with me to California, when I moved here to start my own family. I can remember dragging my baby boy and patient wife with me on those pilgrimages to Tower Records. At this point, I had already begun replacing all of that vinyl that I had carted around from apartment to apartment and then halfway across the country with Compact Discs. Smaller. Lighter. With nearly illegible liner notes. That's when things began to slow down. All that regression, replacing the past began to consume me.

Until now, when I find myself scouring streaming services for the sounds of my youth. New music still appears weekly, but now it's on Fridays. But I don't feel as compelled to search out that new song to expand my horizons. I look for that missing single by DEVO that I used to have on a forty-five. It is a rare treat when a new artist breaks through and insinuates themselves in my ear canals. Someone who can drown out all that Styx. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Concession Stand

 Chris Cuomo pointed out, because it's part of his job at CNN, that the need for Donald J (you decide what J means for yourself) Trump to concede the 2020 presidential election has passed. Anyone who expected anything gracious or graceful to come from this man has not been around for the past four years. The idea that the soon-to-be-ex-president was clinging to some false hope of pulling a victory out of thin air is something that he doesn't truly believe. Like so many of his lies, he figured he can repeat it enough times until it starts sounding like the truth. Or maybe the "exaggeration" that his pet vole Rudy Giuliani referred to the data from cities like Detroit was nothing but a great big lie. A fabrication. A misrepresentation. A distortion. A falsehood. A fib. A falsification. A prevarication. A fiction. A fallacy. 

A lie. 

There has not been any evidence of voter fraud connected to this election. Logic would dictate that if there was any sort of widespread conspiracy to disenfranchise Republicans would have meant that Lindsey Graham or Mitch McConnell would be private citizens come January. Those men kept their jobs. The big loser in this cycle seems to be the guy who insisted he couldn't lose. And when he did, he did exactly what he said he would do: insist that it was impossible that reality had finally caught up to him. Not just a few thousand, but several million more people chose Joe Biden rather than the former friend of Fox and Friends. 


Inigo Montoya : You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

So there it is. The sputtering voice of authority is thwarted simply because his view of the world is obscured by his ego. For those of us who were trying to convince anyone who would listen that the emperor was flouncing around in nothing but a red tie for the past years, this will come as a pretty nasty awakening. It's time to put the Kool-Aid down and wake up. Don't expect him to get embarrassed all of a sudden and feel any shame. That ship has sailed. We can only hope that he is a man of his word. He said that he might have to leave the country if he lost to Joe Biden. 

So he doesn't have to concede. He doesn't have to speak. 

He just has to leave. And that's no lie. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020


 If you're like me, you are probably sitting around trying to imagine what you will say when it's suddenly your turn to pronounce what you're thankful for this year. Which is a tradition for those assembled around a table at this time of year. Keeping in mind that the folks who spawned this festival of gratitude way back when were glad that they had survived.

We should all be thankful that we too have survived. For many, this will be the solace as they look at a table that seats eight but holds only three. Those empty chairs are reminders of the fragility of life. The table itself is not as laden with food as it may once have been. But there is food. There are people across the country standing in lines to wait for food who have never had to do that. There are people who are not able to stand in line for anything anymore.

We are the survivors. We came to this land four hundred years ago. Or four months ago. Or we've been here all along. We are not leaving. We are going to make the best out of any situation that confronts us. We won't be scared away by failing crops or elected tyrants. We know that the spirit of thanksgiving is rooted in cooperation, and though we have failed miserably at times, we have also made it possible for so many to do more than just survive. Sometimes we have had to fight our own baser instincts to make room at our metaphorical table for everyone.

Now we are faced with a challenge like very few can remember. The empty chairs at those tables this year represent what must not be forgotten. We are at our best when we make room for those who have no table of their own. That's not easy when you're in survival mode. Be glad that you have what you have, but don't forget that it's only a matter of a missed payment or a forgotten mask that could change your life forever. When you make your prayers for this day, remember the now. 

This what I am thankful for: The Now. As the poet said, 

Happy that we all made it through another day
When I pick up the phone I still remember what to say
Happy that my brain still lives inside my head
Most of all I think I'm happy
Happy that I ain't dead

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

That Voice

 There are moments that define us. That shape us. That determine our futures. Mine was in the dressing room at JC Penny. It was late summer, and time to gather new clothes for school. My mother, correctly, insisted that all pants be tried on. This was especially challenging for yours truly because I was not immediately available to standard sizes on the rack. Inevitably, I was resigned to the bin marked "husky." This served as a nearly constant reminder that I was above average, at least where my waistline was concerned. Which meant that finding a pair of pants that fit would be a struggle, every bit as much as squeezing into them. 

These were the instances that cemented in my head: "Fat Kid." I know as I look back that I was never morbidly obese. But I know that I was round. Which, especially in the 1970's, was not the thing you wanted to be. To be clear: it was not the thing that I wanted to be. It made me a target. For ridicule and other's aggression. Or maybe I made myself a target. My body image was something I wore on my sleeve, and chose to be self-effacing to absurd lengths about it. In sixth grade I used to tell folks that I didn't have ripples in my fat, I had waves. 

Har har har.

Good to have a sense of humor about yourself, but the die was cast. In my head, no matter what my actual physical condition was, I was that round kid shopping in the husky section. By the time I to the ninth grade, I was on the wrestling team, and the track team and even went out for football. Some of what my mother convinced me was "baby fat" started to melt away. High school opened up with that voice in my head warning me that I could at any moment begin to push maximum density. It was only a matter of time. 

I looked at a lot of pictures. I watched my shadow. I avoided stepping on scales whenever possible. I know that some of those pictures got run through a widescreen filter. I know that I spent some years living within my jeans. I did a lot of rationalization once I bounced around middle age for a few years. That voice in my head reasserted itself, as it turns out, with good reason. I had reasserted my huskiness. After I had expended a lot of energy convincing myself that maybe that voice was just never satisfied. 

Or maybe it was all those peanut M&Ms. On top of a fifty-plus year old metabolism. I was back in that changing room at JC Penny. Something had to change because that voice wasn't about to leave me alone. Eight months of exercise and intermittent fasting later, the jeans fit again. The voice is quieted. For now. The one that whispers, "Husky." 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Home Alone

 With apologies to Mister Culkin, I was struck by the big ask the Centers For Disease Control and most government officials made at the onset of the holiday season: Stay Home. No over the river. No through the woods. No grandma's house. Not this year. Yet another hallmark that will leave a mark. "Remember that year when we stayed at home and ate Swanson's TV Dinners for Thanksgiving?"

I have written here before about the festival of fear and loathing my college roommate and I endured the November after our collective best friend died. We politely declined my parents' invitation to accompany them to our cousins' farm for the annual feast and frolic in the beet fields. We were far too wrapped up in our grief to imagine fun of any kind, let alone interacting with extended family. So instead, my mother made us the home version of the game, all wrapped in foil and sealed in Tupperware with specific instructions about how to heat and serve the contents. Looking back, I can take some joy from the gesture, but at the time, my buddy and I were too preoccupied with darkness to let that little light in. 

Then there was the Thanksgiving my family awaited news about my father's imminent passing. My dad, whose sense of time and timing was always a point of discussion, had the horrible bad taste to crash land into a burn ward in the days just before Thanksgiving. Once again, my older brother, his wife and my mother marshaled their forces and put out the traditional meal in hopes that some semblance of normal might permeate the scene. I do not remember tasting any of it. I can recall how it looked. It looked like it always had. Except something was missing. Ironic, since my parents had been divorced for several years at that point and my father's presence was lacking after that. But this was more final than any divorce decree. 

When I moved to California, I tried to recreate many of the dishes and doings that I remembered from my youth. Right down to Uncle Marvin's sweet gherkins. Those first few years felt a little hollow, and I longed for the annual trek to the beet farm and all the cousins and all the potentially dangerous activities involving farm equipment. And all the food. Suddenly finding myself in charge of cooking that poultry monstrosity was a challenge I felt that I could master.

And now, on the eve of our tiniest Thanksgiving in the years since my son was born, I took heart in his insistence that I make a turkey "like you always do." My mother will most likely be dining alone. My brothers will be having their own self-contained Thanksbubble. There will be phone calls. There have always been phone calls. These will be a little different. We will talk about those things for which we are thankful. And then we'll spend some time complaining about the isolation. Kind of the antithesis of the whole celebratory feast model. But, as my mother points out, we've had plenty of Thanksgivings, and we can look forward to a time when this is the one we tell stories about. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Looking Back

 The week before my Kindergarten Colleague went off to see her daughter wed, we exchanged stories about all the ways in which trauma turns into memories. My personal contribution to this give and take was the story of my own wedding. The one in which my wife got a nasty case of poison oak on her forearm, then cleverly covered it with lacy gauntlets, only to be undone by the officiant at our ceremony who announced to all assembled that my blushing bride was carrying a blotchy red rash beneath her bouquet. This revelation came just a little after the one where I discovered that I had not brought my pants up to the mountain meadow, but was helped out by my father who had a spare pair. And a belt. Which was only topped by the lack of rings and the items that we had hoped to put on the makeshift altar. We got around that by borrowing my older brother's and his wife's for the actual ceremony. I suggested, some years after the fact, that it was good to put all those quirky bits in our nuptials to "pre-disaster" the marriage that would come directly after. 

I think it worked out pretty well. My Kindergarten Colleague shared her own recollections from her wedding, and her college graduation, and any number of public celebrations in which the bumps and bangs turned into stories over time. Stories that go beyond the easy recitation of humdrum events. The stories that you get to tell when you show the pictures. The stories behind the stories. 

I met my Kindergarten Colleague on her way to her classroom a few days after she returned. I asked if she had any pictures of the event. A silly question to ask the mother of the bride, admittedly, but it was the opportunity to expand on our previous chat and an invitation to share more about her happy moment in the midst of this odd year. 

All of the pictures were of extremely well-dressed individuals. Wearing masks. Every single one of them. They looked like so very many other wedding pictures of people I have never met. But they were all wearing masks. Which wasn't like anything I had ever seen before. Getting married during a global pandemic may be a level of pre-disaster that even a curmudgeon like myself can appreciate. 

In the years ahead, there will be moments when we look back at this time. We'll look at the empty stands during that World Series. We'll remember how Zoom became a thing. We'll remember how hugs disappeared for a while. 

But love never did. 

And that's something I will always remember. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Call

 I answer the phone. This may not sound like a big deal, but it does defy certain aspects of our modern culture. Things like caller ID, and Do Not Disturb, and this fancy bit of software that our phone provider put on our line that recognizes robocalls and shuts them down after one ring. And there is the tried and true response of simply ignoring the various electronic substitutes for a telephone's "ring." I do not react well to this strategy. The second ring sets off an alert that straightens my spine, and by the third ring I have become anxious about just who made it through the gauntlet we have prepared and the fourth ring sees me on my feet, reaching for the receiver. Must. Not. Go. To. Voice. Mail!

All this effort and stress is inevitably paid off in telemarketing. Or scams. There have been rare occasions when no one in our household recognized the number of an old friend who was calling out of the blue to reconnect. I picked those up. On a few occasions, I have been the savior for a family member who was calling from an unknown number because circumstances would not allow them to use their regularly identified code. Thank goodness I was there to pick up, or they might have been stranded wherever holding on to whatever for who knows how long. 

Yes. I am suggesting that answering the phone makes me a hero.

It also makes me a victim. As mentioned earlier, there is a preponderance of instances in which being the one who answers connects me to someone who has something to sell or lie about. Or both. Which turns out to be fine with me. I am someone who tends to delight in the free-flowing exchange of ideas, even if those ideas are focused on buying that new home warranty from a person who I don't know from a company of which I have never heard. To date, I have never purchased anything over the phone, but I enjoy a good sales pitch, and what's more, I take subversive delight in giving the appearance of having interest in what they are selling. These interactions are quite often a battle of patience, to see who will give up first. And when it comes to scams, I am always pleased when I am the one who hears the click on the other end of the line. 

But first, I feel it is my duty to keep the offending party on the line long enough that they will be thwarted from making another call as quickly as their robo-fingers will allow. I want them to feel that I am truly worried about the order I placed for the newest iPhone on Amazon. I didn't make the order, unless somehow I have forgotten it in the flurry of things that fill up my busy day. It is possible that I made that order, and this helpful person called me from "Amazon" just to check up on me and to ensure that all goes according to plan. If that plan includes me handing over my credit card information to make certain that this order that I may or may not have made goes through. Which is where asking a lot of unnecessary questions comes in. "Are you calling from Seattle, or the Amazon branch office in Des Moines?" "Can you update my Prime membership as long as I have you on the line?" "How much are they paying you?" The capper is usually, "How do you sleep at night?" 

I know times are tough, but in the middle of a global pandemic, it seems that victimizing others via one of the few connections we can safely maintain is aberrant behavior. To the extreme. Cut off from those we love and care for, that telephone ring is the outside world reminding us that it's still there. "Hello, stranger. Thank you for calling. I am lonely and look forward to any and all distractions that may take me away from the endless hellscape of quarantine." 

I'll keep answering the phone. Not because I'm a hero. 

Because I'm lonely. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Forgive Me

 Student loan forgiveness: Let's start with something essential. "To err is human; to forgive, divine." These were Alexander Pope's words. Keeping in mind as a matter of perspective, it is also the guy who said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” 

As a matter of transparent introduction, I will say that I was incredibly fortunate to have a family that set aside money for all three sons to attend college. As a result, I was free to run up my own personal debt without ever having to involve myself in the racket known as "student loans." The use of the term "racket" was an attempt to further the transparency of my feelings on the issue. At the moment that proto-adults are choosing a path that will take them to their life's work, they are offered vast chunks of money to make this dream a reality. Just sign right here and assume the position. The one you will be in for the next ten years, on average. So all the while, as you prepare for that career and happily ever after, you're being choked with an interest rate that hovers just below six percent. On average. This is a dream deferred, of course, since that average graduate spends twenty percent of their take-home pay on their student loan. 

Such a nice feeling to be above average. Or below, in this case. I am in this unique position of having survived college paying damage deposits for apartments I damaged and the price of a tap for a keg so I didn't have to pay the extra fee every time we needed a keg. No student loans. To experience that magic, I had to get married. My wife meandered as much or more than I did in her path through higher education, completing her degree in a comparable time to mine: six years. A semester off here, an academic probation there, and a transfer to a different institution or two makes all the difference in that timeline. In my case, those years did not incur additional penalties or charges that I would pay for later. Again, I cannot stress enough how amazing it was to emerge from my undergrad experience more or less debt free. If not a little hung over.

My wife was not as fortunate. And not because her parents didn't work to provide a similar opportunity to mine, but circumstances have a way of playing into the spaghetti of personal finances and a college education is not something you can pick up at Walmart. Not currently anyway. So, as we merged our finances as newly married folks do, I became familiar with the world of student loans. And though we promised ourselves that we would never subject our own child to such exquisite torment, we failed. Not that we weren't helped out enormously by our own savings as well as the generosity of family and friends, but a bachelor's degree in 2020 is a very expensive proposition. That average we were talking about earlier hovers right around twenty-five thousand dollars. Our son managed to beat his parents out of college by nearly a full year, but still managed to put an extra chunk of tuition on the end of that "average." 

So if you're asking me about student loan forgiveness? I think it would be divine. Not just personally, but for the reality of all those who have dreams of going to college and earning a degree in anything, but get stuck working in name-tag jobs struggling to make ends meet while they try and made a career out of the degree. I work in public education. Guess how I feel about free public higher education? 

Save your money for the damage deposits. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Free At Last?

 The article I saw warned of pushback against new restrictions put in place to combat COVID-19. Restrictions that are being put in place to slow or even stop the spread of infections. Restrictions that are being put in place to save lives.

Nope. Not in America. All the saving we need is saving from our oppressive government. Is this the same government that wants to limit a woman's access to reproductive care, or the one that wants us all to wear masks so that women can live long enough to make reproductive choices? 

It was a Rhodes Scholar who wrote the words, "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." The first woman to become Britain's prime minister said, "The price of freedom is still, and always will be, eternal vigilance." The guy who starred as George Gipp suggested, "The price of freedom may be high, but never so costly as the loss of freedom." And it was the guy whom Denzel Washington played who insisted, "The price of freedom is death."

So what we have here seems to be a freedom problem. Seat belts in cars. Helmets on motorcycle riders. No smoking. No drinking and driving. You know, the nanny state. The state that wants to limit your freedoms by keeping us all safe. Safe from each other. Safe from ourselves. That's what all those ingredient labels are for, by the way. And warnings about peanuts and shellfish to keep those with unfortunate allergies from dying because they did not know that shrimp is a shellfish or that grape jelly doesn't act as a protective barrier from peanut butter. 

Which brings me to Jodie Doering, an ICU nurse from South Dakota,  who tells a story of patients she has treated who insist that COVID-19 is a hoax, even as they are dying from the disease. More than eight months into the pandemic, she is confronted by anger and confusion on the part of those patients who resist treatment because they cannot imagine what is killing them. How could this thing that I can't see and don't understand be asphyxiating me? How could going about my normal daily routine have brought me to death's door? Do you suppose there are doctors and nurses who would like to be free from this kind of interaction? 

You bet there are. And even as governors and mayors and city officials across the country scramble to find ways to keep from tumbling even further down the coronavirus hole, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force tweeted,” The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept.” So the aforementioned pushback is not coming from a bunch of maskless nimrods in a Walmart parking lot. It's coming form a bunch of maskless nimrods with degrees from Stanford and jobs in the Trump administration. 

When will we be free of them? 

Thursday, November 19, 2020


 NASA sent Americans into space again. It is entirely possible that you missed this, since it was also the weekend when COVID-19 infections set off alarms across the country, the soon-to-be-ex-president remained transfixed by his delusions of winning an election decided a week earlier, and of course there was The People's Choice Awards.

I credit my son with the tenacity to battle back the rest of this "news" and bring Space X's mission to the International Space Station to the fore. On Sunday evening, four astronauts made their trip into space as the world below them continued to try and sort themselves out. It was my son, a fan of machines and speed that helped put the launch on our big screen TV where we could watch as the crew that had waited a day for optimal weather conditions made good on their attempt to put America back in the space race.

Twinges of nostalgia ran through me as I recalled all those Saturn V liftoffs, and the Space Shuttle with its triumphs and tragedies. I recalled Apollo missions that brought us to the brink of a new tomorrow, and how the first shuttle was named for the Starship Enterprise. And then, after two bangs, the manned space business in America ended with a whimper. All those voices that insisted that our tax dollars were better spent fixing things here on earth finally won out. We ended up having to hitchhike with Russia when we wanted people to go up there. Way up there. 

Sunday brought all that excitement back, to our living room anyway. Three generations, my wife's mother, my wife and my son, watched with me as the capsule named Resilience sped into the darkened sky. Each throttle down and nominal check brought applause from the mission control team. And from the family watching from Oakland.

My son set a degree of closeness to the crew as he mentioned that like him, the pilot of the mission was a Cal-Poly grad. While going through the seemingly endless checks and cross-checks of systems, Victor Glover Jr. paused to say, "And hey guys - it's beautiful up here." This brought my son to tears. Which in turn made me well up, as well as bringing back a scene from the movie Contact, in which Jodie Foster is sent through time and space and quietly laments, "They should have sent a poet." 

Well, they haven't. Yet. But now that NASA and Space X are flying again, it's only a matter of time. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Terms Undisclosed

 Stick with me here, it gets a little confusing:

A lawsuit was settled last week over the death of a participant in a pancake eating contest. I mention "participant" in case you may wonder if any spectators were harmed during this exhibition. Not physically. However, their emotional state may forever be challenged by the sight of breakfast food being hastily forced down the throats of college-aged youngsters. I included the "youngsters" in that last sentence as a segue into this bit of information: The 2017 contest in which one of the participants died was a fundraiser for Prevent Child Abuse America. Caitlin Nelson, a student at Connecticut's Sacred Heart University, choked to death on pancakes she was shoving into her mouth in an effort to raise money to prevent child abuse. 

The lawsuit was brought by Caitlin's mother, who alleged that the university did not have medical staff present at the event. The university's attorney said that it was Caitlin's own "carelessness and negligence" that took the life of the twenty year old. And if you're sticking around for more nasty tidbits, it took three days for Caitlin to die. Doctors at a hospital in Connecticut and then New York were unable to resuscitate her. And if you're waiting for an extra helping of tragedy, how about tacking on the fact that Caitlin's dad was a police officer who was killed in the 9/11 attack on Manhattan. 

So the story has all sorts of intriguing and grotesque details, and it was all wrapped up three years after the fact this week when Caitlin's mom resolved her complaint, terms were not immediately available. The university filed court documents denying any wrongdoing on the part of the school. Way back in 2017,Fairfield police Lieutenant Bob Kalamaras said  “It’s a tragic event that started out as something fun.” This echoes a sentiment most parents know by heart, "It's always fun until somebody gets hurt." Or in this case, dies.

Which made me reflect on my stunt-eating career. The suffering I endured after eating most of a jar of jalapeno relish, for which I received the princely sum of seven dollars and a day of laying on my bed expecting all my internal organs to shut down. Or the times that I force-fed myself a Big Mac in one bite. Yes, you read that right: times. More than once. Each time, there was a moment that the thought of suffocating myself with twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsonasesameseedbun flashed through my head and I kept swallowing so that this would not be my legacy. Nor would the bowl of Cocoa Puffs I ate from a bowl filled with Coca Cola. It is a wonder that my own digestive tract has never filed a lawsuit against me. It should also be noted that at no point during any of the previously mentioned exhibitions were medical staff present.

And neither was common sense. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Grow Up Already

 Sure, it has occurred to me on numerous occasions that I could forgive my childhood tormentor. It has been decades since our last contact, and there really is no reason for me not to stop looking for him in my rear view mirror. Literally. Like I should not expect to see his metallic blue Datsun sliding in behind my family's car as we travel the highways and byways of California.

I left him behind on the streets of Boulder, Colorado after all. Years and years ago.

Or did I?

When I think about bullies, I think about him. When I flinch in anticipation of being hurt, I am thinking of him. Memories from more than fifty years ago continue to haunt my adult life. Why? Because those were the psychic wounds, the ones that never fade. Not without some really invasive treatment.

Like forgiveness.

I awoke with a start early Saturday morning when I realized I could pinpoint a moment of empathy with they guy who has been at the headwaters of my river of self-esteem. Laughing as he relieved himself into those waters. 

But that's in my head. It's not real. It's the hole I dug for myself when I was still in kindergarten. I let him rule my world for more years than I care to admit. And he did nothing to deserve that spot. I put him there. I left him there, and it is up to me to exorcise him. Or what I have created.

That moment that woke me up? It was a dream reminding me of the football games we used to play in his backyard. It was where we could play tackle. Sometimes his older brother would play with us. His older brother was the athlete, a mild star in high school, and much better looking than either one of us young punks could ever imagine being. And as older brothers will, he was relentless in his criticism of his gawkier sibling. At one point, when a deep pass was dropped by the kid I had elevated to king of our neighborhood, his older brother picked up that dropped ball and heaved it at his little brother. It caught him full on, thrown at maximum velocity by a three-sport star. For a moment, tears began to well up in the eyes of the king of the neighborhood. He turned and walked away. He walked quickly between two houses, away from view. A few minutes later, he reappeared on the other side, behind us. He had, quite obviously, taken care to compose  himself before he returned. One of us started to make fun of the way he had walked out so we wouldn't see him crying. There was still enough authority in his act to squash this uprising. 

But I remembered it. And all these years later, it was the thing that brought me to the keyboard to write about it, nearly fifty years later. This one event does not excuse his behavior. It explains it. I will never know the full extent of the way my childhood tormentor was tormented himself. Those are the dreams that keep him awake at night. This one was for me, letting me know that I had lived long enough in his shadow. His thin, reedy shadow. And not because he demanded it, because even though he did, it wasn't his fault. He was acting out the way he learned to from his brother. For some reason, I let him be the boss of me. I let him inflict all manner of torture on me. Maybe because I felt sorry for him? Or because I needed someone to push me in a way that kept me from ever feeling comfortable in my own skin. 

I was the author of that legend. And now it's time to close that book. 

I forgive him. 

I forgive myself.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Agro Culture

 I don't know if you've noticed this, but I have. I just haven't mentioned it until now. but Yahoo has put the kibosh on comments. Instead of finding that little spot at the bottom of their news articles where readers could vent their concerns, petty and otherwise, they find this disclaimer: "Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting."

That was way back in July. Interestingly enough, this was about the same time my wife began to implore me to stop malingering around the soon-to-be-ex-president's Twitter feed. For some time before that, I had been taking most every opportunity to reach out and flick someone's sensibilities, whether it was conservatives or gun fanciers or sports fans of one stripe or another, I was in it for the incitement. 

Perhaps, in hindsight, this was not the most useful way for me to be spending my spare time. As I have mentioned before, this habit I had was not so much about lifting up but putting down. I was as much a troll as anyone else who had access to a keyboard and a somewhat reliable connection to Al Gore's Internet. I was forcing my agenda on anyone who had the same penchant as I had for crawling over the debris at the end of an article about this or that goings-on. I would take particular satisfaction on a well-placed bon mot or exultation of some salient point. Having the sense to know that I wasn't really engaging in a free-flowing exchange of ideas was something I assumed everyone who ended up down there shared.

As it turns out, this may not have been the case. Apparently, this battle of wits that I slid into and out of so easily was not as simple as all that for many. As it turns out, Yahoo was one of the last remaining outposts on the cyber frontier where the spittle and hate flowed freely. All you had to do was nominally register yourself and off you went, free to spread whatever vitriol you cared to spill. Watch out for other's feelings, then once you have them in your sights, stomp on them mercilessly.

Which seemed like fun, or catharsis for a while. It felt like a relief for me to point and laugh at the not-so-vague insecurities of NRA members after each new mass shooting. It was calming to be able to write those things that occurred to me on the spur of the moment, in the heat of battle. Or what seemed like battle. 

Because there is currently a war of ideas taking place here in the United States. And elsewhere, I imagine, but finding a way to encourage civil discourse as tempers continue to burn brightly seems like a good choice. Or limit it to the extreme. Fanning the flames of discontent doesn't seem like such a good idea after all. There's no telling when it will be safe to have a comments section on a news feed again. 

This blog has a comments section. 

Go ahead. 

I dare you. 

Or, get your own blog and feel free to write all your feelings about bleeding heart hypocrites like myself. 

I can take it. 

Or leave it. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Did You Need A Reminder?

 You don't need me to tell you that times are hard. 

Or maybe you do. In which case, here goes: Times are hard.

Okay, now that's settled, I will tell you what made me arrive at this conclusion. For months now, I have sat at a table at an elementary school, fielding questions and concerns about technology from parents, students, and staff. I have coordinated efforts to ensure that the potential for online learning exists. What we are all discovering is that you can lead a horse to a laptop, but you can't make him type. 

So the equine metaphor may be stretching things a bit, but try as we might, there are still a good many kids who are not taking to this idea of distance learning as we might have hoped. We have supplied devices for them to connect to Al Gore's Internet. We have supplied them with devices to connect to these connections to allow digital back and forth with their teachers. As previously mentioned, my primary function for this school year has been to make sure that anything that interferes with those connections can be ameliorated. I have been given a new acronym for just this purpose: DLL, or Distance Learning Lead. And even though I can put machines in their hands, and make sure that they are functioning as they should, once they leave campus I have no control over when and how they get turned on. If they get turned on. 

I can say that the majority of our families remain dedicated to the pursuit of their children's education, as parents and caregivers are forced to learn more about wi-fi signals and online applications than they every imagined they would need to. We have a few cases of kids who have moved during the pandemic and still maintain their connection to the school, even though they have moved out of the district for whatever reason. 

Meanwhile, up the street from where I live, the Urban Montessori School that used to be housed in our neighborhood's recently closed Catholic School has shut its doors. Starting up a charter school in today's environment is a challenge, maintaining it through this winter of discontent is another. There are a number of great big empty buildings that would normally be teeming with the stuff of learning five days a week. Like the one in which I find myself on a regular basis. Vacant classrooms. Playgrounds whose only inhabitants are the crows who have given up hope of scrounging a leftover scrap of a snack or nearly empty bag of Cheetos. 

Parents look to me for answers, hoping that what I tell them will make a change occur. Students who show up, masked, wish they could come back to be with their friends and the familiarity that seems so long ago. I tell them how I look forward to dropping into their Zoom meetings, and our weekly Star Student online assemblies. 

Still empty. 


Times are hard. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020


 Okay folks, listen up: Now that the election is over and patient zero is about to be forcibly removed from the people's house, we can tell you what the Centers For Disease Control really wants.

Stay at home. We're having a global pandemic here. Skipping off to grandma's house or sneaking away to the beach isn't fooling anyone. Especially not a virus that has nothing but time. Time to wait. Time to kill. All those "necessary trips" to the mall turn out to be less necessary than you thought. The sale at Bed Bath And Beyond can wait.

Wear a mask. In spite of what you may have heard from "experts" who have been assuring you that your medical condition prohibits you from covering your mouth, it's a really good idea. Probably an even better idea for those "experts" who would be much better off with a covering over their mouths. Preferably duct tape. 

Nobody told COVID-19 that the election is over. Turns out this particular virus is bipartisan to the extreme. Oddly enough, it does seem to have an easier time getting to folks who flaunt the conventions suggested by real and true infectious disease experts. Thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts who descend on a little town in South Dakota, for instance. Or people who anxiously awaited the opening of their local gym only to find out that working out in a sweaty petri dish won't necessarily keep you healthy. Turns out these momentary "freedoms" are killing people. 

Which brings us around to the whole problem facing America when it comes to this pandemic: Viruses up and down the line have not read the Constitution of the United States. Go right ahead, if you must, and flaunt your freedom of assembly. Don't come whining to a bunch of scientists after you contract a highly contagious disease, however. Protests, rallies, dance parties, whatever, just assume that you've got coronavirus on the guest list as well if you're inviting anyone outside your own personal bubble. And that mask you should be wearing isn't there as much to protect you as it is those with whom you come into contact. Just another reminder: COVID-19 spreads predominantly through respiratory droplets “generated when people cough, sneeze, sing, talk, or breathe.” Masks help prevent infected people from spreading those droplets and also help keep healthy people from inhaling them.


And if it seems that after eight months of shelter in place and social distance and wearing a mask that you're tired of all these restrictions, tough. This is going to require sacrifice on everyone's part. This includes individuals with the last name Kardashian, Pence, and Trump. These people talk about "getting things back to normal" when they wouldn't know normal if it landed on their head and started to wiggle. You want normal? Be reasonable, and do your part. 

Now back to reruns of the Big Bang Theory. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Is It The Future Yet?

 You know what's been missing amidst all this talk about election rigging and coronavirus spikes? Jet packs. 

Yes. Back to reality folks! Here we are in the waning moments of 2020 and I am still waiting on my personal jet pack. If only to commemorate the passing of Sean Connery who, as 007, who piloted his own rig back in 1965. Fifty-five years ago. I understand that Q Division has always been ahead of its time when it comes to things like ejector seats in Aston Martins and watches that function as a Geiger counter, but more than half a century later, we're still waiting for a model for the general consumer. 

Unless you happen to be a prankster hanging out near Los Angeles International Airport. Back in early September pilots on approach to LAX complained of interference in their flight paths by what they described as a human being wearing some kind of contraption that could only be described as a jetpack. Local officials and the FAA were quick to express their concerns, but doubted that such a thing could actually happen because the number and makers of personal jetpacks is still extremely limited, and those makers and operators of such devices were quick to deny any sort of involvement in such airborne hooliganism. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation is doing what it does best: Investigating. Because in the eyes of our government, nobody ought to be flying around in a jetpack unless they know about it.

Meanwhile, days weeks months and years fly by, without a personal jetpack for yours truly. Flying cars continue to evade us in much the same way. The future promised us back in 1965 continues to evade us. It seems much more likely that I will live on a Mars colony before I ever get my own private aviation machine for everyday use. 

Speaking of which, last week, Virgin tested their Hyperloop with human subjects. The crash test went off without a hitch as the two passengers emerged from their pod with nary a scratch or collapsed skull. For those of you unfamiliar with hyperloop technology, it's a way of rocketing people and things through a vacuum tube at speeds of up to six hundred miles an hour. Last Sunday's test took place, as most experimental things do, in the desert outside Las Vegas. During the test, the pod only went one hundred miles an hour, mostly because the track is currently only five hundred meters long. And it probably had something to do with confusion about converting to the metric system. Virgin is just one of the companies behind the move to this Habitrail-inspired mode of transport. When it comes to moving hamsters and gerbils around with vacuums, let's just say that my older brother tried that way back in the late sixties, so I feel as if we are still way behind the curve research-wise. 

So go ahead and focus on your COVID-19 vaccines and your mega-pixel cameras attached to phones. I'll wait. I'll be patient. 


Thursday, November 12, 2020

Looking Ahead

 My son pointed out a Tweet on Twitter this weekend. It read: "Does this mean we can go back to tweeting about how long those CVS receipts are?"

I sure hope so. I think of this little corner of Al Gore's Internet where I spray my thoughts, hopes, concerns and musings with reckless abandon and I sure hope so.

Over the past couple weeks, I have made a conscious attempt to walk away from all the drama that has existed in the air and on the ground. Hard to ignore the dueling chants of "stop the count" and "count the votes" coming from within the camp of the president-past-tense. The sports metaphors have piled up like cord wood, not the least of which would be the number of games that the Oakland A's might have won if they had stopped playing in the seventh inning. The Denver Broncos might have won a few more Super Bowls if only they had to play half the game.

Forgive my digression. This is supposed to be about looking forward to a new day, in which politics and scandal don't rear their heads and interfere with the reproduction of my past. My fondness for all of popular culture has become obscured by the election of a game show host to the highest office in the land. Which means that there was blog fodder available most any time he would open his mouth or tap away on his Twitter account. It turns out this was exceptionally low-hanging fruit. So much so that I feared for the safety of my head and shoulders as I walked among it. 

As we all walked among it. And it occurs to me at this instant that referring to the president-past-tense as a game show host does a complete disservice to the memory of Alex Trebek. I would so very much like to spend more time in TV land, dredging up memories of shows that many of you may have forgotten. Like Working Stiffs, starring Michael Keaton and Jim Belushi.  You needed to be reminded or perhaps introduced to this piece of fluff so very much more than you needed to be reminded or perhaps introduced to the latest bile issuing from the mouth of the president-past-tense. You wanted to know that Penny Marshall directed the pilot. You needed to know that a pre-PeeWee Paul Reubens was a featured player in this ensemble. Good luck finding him unless you watch a full episode...

Because I know that there is still a world of trouble and problems we need to focus on repairing, replacing, and resolving. But maybe now we have a little more time for the truly frivolous. For a moment or two, we can, as the Boss suggests, "just stand back and let it all be." 

And then it's back to work, building it back better. Maybe we can even do something about those incredibly long CVS receipts. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Your Host

The host of Jeopardy from 1984 until, well, just recently?

Who was Alex Trebek?

The country from which Mister Trebek hailed.

What is Canada?

Took over the title of longest tenured game show host from Bob Barker.

Who is Alex Trebek?

Pancreatic cancer.

What killed Alex Trebek?

Winner of Outstanding Game Show Host seven times.

Who is Alex Trebek?

November 8, 2020.

What day did Alex Trebek pass away?

The Terra.

What did Alex Trebek stomp on?

He will be missed.

Who was Alex Trebek?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Artifice Of War

If it's natural to kill, how come men have to go into training to learn how?" -Joan Baez

"The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war." - Norman Schwarzkopf

I present these two quotes to suggest an obvious friction in our American society, as well as to introduce the story of Chelsea Cheatham and Cory Gafton. Mister Gafton has been charged with the murder of Ms. Cheatham after a year-long investigation. This story relates to the quotes above because Mister Gafton is a soldier, most recently deployed at Fort Hood in Texas. And if you feel as if you have heard this story before, it could be that you have heard similar tales of homicide about soldiers at Fort Hood Texas over the past year. 

You may recall that Private First Class Vanessa Guillen was killed by Specialist Aaron David Robinson back in April. Initially reported as a missing person, Private Guillen was found, or rather her remains were uncovered, so she was no longer missing. Specialist Robinson committed suicide shortly after that and his accomplice, Cecily Aguilar, was arrested on charges of evidence tampering. Apparently cleanup after killing someone with a hammer requires assistance. Ms. Aguilar is a former Fort Hood soldier.

Which doesn't mean that all soldiers are evil, but it does raise some questions about our best and brightest. We are training young men and women to kill, but hopefully they will show more discretion about how to use this power than someone who has been less conditioned. Unless the people we are training to kill already have a certain proclivity or predisposition to such things. Twenty year olds indoctrinated into the science of killing in a world that already leans on desperate measures to solve problems makes me wonder if we are doing everything we can to recruit stable individuals capable of making life and death decisions. It makes me wonder why it took a year to figure out how death might have come to Chelsea Cheatham after her body was found at a Days Inn six minutes away from Fort Hood. 

It makes me wonder what we are teaching our enlisted men and women at Fort Hood. So I leave you with this quote from Sun Tzu: "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

Monday, November 09, 2020

Guess What?

 I left my wife and her great big speaker on the front porch, blaring Fanfare For The Common Man. She was determined to wake the neighborhood to the news that Pennsylvania had finished their count and pushed Joe Biden over the top in Electoral Votes. She was going to have a dance party on our lawn in celebration.

I was going for a run.

All that pent up energy that had been stuffed way down deep since Election Day was now free to be released. There was an extra zip in my step as I made my way up the street. At the top of the hill, in front of the 7-11, a pair women were standing outside their car. One of them was dancing. Flossing to be precise. As I approached, I could see their eyes were full of smiles. "At last!" I said and gave them a big double thumbs up. They laughed and echoed my sentiment. 

I kept running. 

I made a point after that of mentioning to each and every person I met along my six mile route, "Hey, we've got a new president!" Reactions varied.

Some nodded. Maybe they were smiling behind their masks. A woman carrying her morning coffee gave me a tip of her cup. I got a few confused stares. A couple gentlemen gave me their thumbs up and agreed. Another woman gong the opposite direction in as big a rush as me responded, "Isn't it great?" A rhetorical question to be sure.

I kept running.

A few cars raced down the street, honking their horns. There was something in the air. As I passed a cafe with a half dozen patrons seated outside, I chanted, "Biden! Biden! Biden!" which got me mostly blank stares. I suppose I expected the whole block to erupt in some massive display of unity, but maybe the time for big rallies and group cheering has passed. Maybe it's time to put the country back together.

I kept running.

When I rounded the corner and came up my driveway, my wife's party had stilled. She was busy with social media and catching up on her own reflections. I asked her if she had one more dance in her. I selected Etta James' At Last from her playlist, and I held her close as we danced across the front lawn. We have a new president. At last. 

Sunday, November 08, 2020


 Tom Petty said that the waiting is the hardest part. Actually, what he sang was, "The wai-yay-yay-ay-iting is the hardest part."

I'm just sorry that Tom wasn't around to experience the most recent chapter in the big book of anticipation. It is, anticipation, Carly Simon will tell us is what is making us wait. In a world that has become all too dependent on immediate information gratification, the time it has taken to gather and count ballots in a presidential election has been nothing short of numbing. Maddening. Frustrating. Nerve-wracking. 

And I confess that at a certain level, I can appreciate why the "president" has taken any and all opportunities to act out. To point fingers. To make wild accusations. To lie his fool head off. He is taking this moment in time to exhibit all of those traits which made him unsuitable for the office, but he is finding ways to vent his anxiety.

But there is also a way that this election has been a parallel reminder to the global pandemic about time. COVID-19 did not take the Election Day off. It continued to work its deadly magic with all its terrible math: hundreds of thousands of new cases, thousands dying even as the polls opened. And closed. The counting began. And went on. And on. We want to know what happened, but we want results. That takes time. 

Which makes me think of Juneteenth. The celebration of the emancipation of slaves in the United States is celebrated on the anniversary of the announcement made by Union General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas that slavery had ended. This announcement came two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, disproving once and for all the notion that "good news travels fast."

So now we can talk more about how waiting a week or two isn't really so bad. Giving us all a chance to get comfortable with the notion of democracy, and in spite of all outbursts to the contrary, every vote counts. It might take a little longer, keeping in mind that microwaving a steak doesn't provide much satisfaction. And meanwhile we have four years of waiting for this moment upon which we can reflect. It may take another four years for the trauma and confusion stirred up by this "president" to start to become memories instead of just scars.

Me? I have to side with Lou Reed. I'm waiting for my man. Or maybe John Mayer, waiting for the world to change. 

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Mother Nature's Sons

 My younger brother and I spent summers living in the mountains. We were the embodiment of the country mouse for those three months in the model that distinguishes rodents as either city or country. To be more precise, we were mountain mice, living off the land, without running water or electricity. Though we did not bathe in the stream next to our cabin in the woods, that stream was where the water we hauled inside to warm for our baths came from. And we spent our mornings off in the aforementioned woods gathering sticks and pine cones to be used as kindling for starting the fires in our stove that would warm the water we needed for getting the grime and sap off our hands put there by all that stick and pine cone gathering. 

When we were of an age that using an ax and saw became appropriate, we cut and chopped logs to feed that fire. There were days that were spent almost entirely in the service of gathering and timber only to hack it into stove-size bits that our mother could use to heat and cook. That stove-size distinction is something that lives on in my memory, with the bigger chunks being most useful for heating, while the smaller pieces allowed mom to regulate the temperature as she cooked our meals. And baked us cookies. 

At night, we would read comics by the light of kerosene lamps, and the flashlights we kept in our bunks upstairs. When our eyes grew tired from squinting into that low light, we would turn on our transistor radios and listen to the AM signal coming to us from down in the big city. Radio Mystery Theater. Denver Bears minor league baseball. News. Weather. Static. Or just the steady drone of my father's snoring coming from the bedroom below us. 

We were up with the sun the next day, ready and raring. No shows to watch, no calls to make. We were there for the duration, and we would get the most out of it. Our cabin in the woods. When we weren't scavenging for fuel, we wandered through the trees searching for one to climb, or sticks approximately the shape and size of a sword or machine gun. And if nature called, we were pretty comfortable marking our territory like the big dogs would. 

Which is why, one time only, my younger brother found himself back in the big city, out in our front yard. When that moment came, he felt no stigma in relieving himself next to my mother's rose bushes. I am so very glad that it was not up to me to explain why this was not appropriate. Another five minutes and I just might have followed suit. Because we were country mice, and fiercely proud of it. 

Friday, November 06, 2020

The Big Turn

 Out the front window, where the rest of the world was resting peacefully, sat the U-Haul van. It was the magic carpet that brought our son back to us. Again. For the past five and a half years he has been making that trip from San Luis Obispo to Oakland, and back again. Mostly for the purposes of furthering his education and the eventual reception of a degree of higher learning. There were times when all of those trips seemed final. Or futile. There were times when the direction he was headed brought relief, other times dread. The same could be true of his parents, who certainly rode a roller coaster of emotions during the four hour drive that allowed us all to reflect on our feelings.

We were worried, at first, that the change of locale would put a whammy on his homebody sensibilities. Would he be able to ride out all that difference in that first year? Yes. He could. What about the second year, when academic challenges caused him to reflect on his capacity to achieve that ultimate goal. Turns out that he had many of the same issues extricating himself from high school, but his determination and drive were such that he didn't stay stuck for long. He kept on moving. 

Somewhere in there, he got a job. In retail. Which meant that his trips up the coast were curtailed while he pursued the sales goals that he and Best Buy set. And surpassed. His parents were always grateful when he had two full days to spend at his home in Oakland over the holidays, Black Friday excepted. Little by little, we realized that if the Donald wouldn't go to Oakland, Oakland would go to Donald. His parents made that trek down 101 to make the connection they needed. 

Because, as it turned out, so did their son. 

This past August, with a degree in hand and a rebuilt car beneath him, our son drove home. He arrived with great big question marks hanging over him, not the least of which was "For how long?" There was talk of a job in Santa Barbara, so the bulk of his belongings stayed in a storage locker in San Luis Obispo. We spent a couple of months wondering how things might shake out in the big picture while he lived out of a limited version of his stuff. Until it became clear that there was no overnight solution to this new hurdle. As it turns out, getting a job straight out of college is a tough nut to crack even when there isn't a global pandemic going on. 

This week, he and his mom drove down, as they have so many times before together and separately to empty that storage locker and bring it all home. That U-Haul van was full, but not overflowing, and when we finished unloading it into the basement where he had begun to set up shop, our son came home. 

For how long? No one can be sure. He's applying for jobs, he's looking for the next solid step. But for now he and all his stuff have landed back home. Mission accomplished. 

Thursday, November 05, 2020


 "I didn't know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective." Ah, the ignorance of bliss. This little bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail reminds me of my time working for an employee-owned company, "We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week," says the constitutional peasant. When I arrived in Oakland, I was looking for a job, and it never occurred to me that I would be part of a social experiment, let alone an anarcho-syndicalist commune.

After three months of working at Bookpeople, the employee-owned corporation founded in Berkeley in 1969, I was asked to become a shareholder. For five hundred dollars. Which was a chunk of change for a guy who just landed in the Golden State to fork over, so arrangements were made for deductions to be made from my paycheck. I did ask, at the time, if there was another version in which I just never became a shareholder, kept my job and didn't have those deductions. It became clear that this was discouraged, but in a very polite and meaningful way. All I had to do to become a shareholder was endure the deductions and show up to work each day until the five hundred dollars were paid off. It was explained to me that everyone who was currently employed at this book distributor had navigated this same path. No one else held any more shares than anyone else, and that a someone working on the packing line had an equal say in what went on in the company as the folks in the offices. The offices just behind that big wall. The offices with carpet and heat. And natural light. Except for that whole environment thing, and the monthly salaries paid to the folks clever enough to hang on to those carpeted, heated, naturally lighted offices. 

And I was assured that even though I was just a warehouse worker, who rose abruptly to the ranks of order puller, I could run for a one year term on the Board of Directors. This group of five individuals took the place of that "executive officer of the week." They would meet and once a month we would all stay after work and listen to their report. "But all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting," reminds the constitutional peasant. There was a lot of voting. And plenty of opportunity to orate at these monthly meetings. 

Yours truly landed himself a spot on the Board of Directors just about the same time I climbed the ladder into the warehouse office. Management at last. Well, after a year and a half. As a newlywed, this allowed me the chance to bring home a few dollars more, since I had an office, even though it was still on the other side of the wall. The whole time I worked at Arby's back in college, managers sat a desk in the back room when they weren't doing the things that everyone else did: pushing roast beef sandwiches at customers. I knew it was a management gig because I had a clipboard. And a spot of the Board of Directors. Which got me more hours after work, wrestling with budgets and policies and the inner workings of a corporation. While the folks I was managing were leaving to go home, my day went on. And on. 

Somewhere in there, the economic realities of the book business began to make themselves apparent. The margin that we relied on to make our social experiment work began to shrink. The ideals we held so dearly and our independent spirit began to shrivel in the harsh light of Barnes and Noble and Borders. Chains wanted better deals than our traditional mom and pop bookstores. It was the Board of Directors upon which I sat that first sailed the idea of a general manager. Somebody with a big office and a big salary to shepherd us through these stormy seas. And in my second term on the board, we hired a guy for that office. From outside. 

When it was all over, and the people's voices had all been heard, from both sides of the wall, we went ahead and made a king. For a while, we tried to shine everyone on that this guy was just another shareholder, and made a show of doing his shareholder review as part of a board meeting. But the die was cast. "You're fooling yourself. We're living in a dictatorship. ..... A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--" Which is about the point where Arthur grabs Dennis by the scruff of the neck and tells him to shut up. 

It took a few more years, but once Bookpeople had a king, they once and future place where everyone had an equal share and equal say disappeared. And I went where the big bucks could be found: teaching in a public school. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2020


 I have spent some time in this space complaining about dental guilt. You know, even if you haven't read me expound on it, what this means. "You need to brush more/differently." "You've got a lot of tartar built up here, are you flossing?" "Did you know you have a nest of tree squirrels living in your back teeth?" Which is always infuriating, since I brush and floss religiously twice a day. Okay, maybe Crest isn't exactly a sacrament, but I do take active care of my mouth like it mattered. Conscientiously at least, if not religiously.

And I may be romanticizing the past, but I don't remember being admonished quite so regularly by our old dentist. The guy who sold his practice and roared off into the sunset to pursue a second career in extreme sports. Or something like that. And his erstwhile hygienist who was always chatty but never overbearing. Gone. Yet my family's mouth kept reporting to the old address twice a year so we could be ridiculed and embarrassed for our sub-par dental abilities. 

First and foremost: This is what I am paying you for. Or rather what my insurance is paying for. To keep our mouths clean, within reason. Which is another angle at which these new dentoids have chosen to insinuate themselves. First, while prodding and poking around in my mouth, they tsk and suggest that the best way to limit such nasty plaque buildup would be to schedule additional cleanings each year. Which sort of makes sense, but in addition to this polite suggestion there is the hike in the price of those cleanings for which my dental plan has no interest in covering. 

Somewhere in the back of my mind is this image of me as a slobbering and toothless victim of dental apathy keeps me tethered to whatever the doctor says. Except my less fearful mind knows that there is a place where I can get much of the same service for less. The idea of having a family dentist had an extreme sports sized hole punched in it after twenty-five years, and while I lay there in that chair with people in hazmat suits hovering over me in these days of COVID, I felt suddenly free to make a choice outside my rut. Patients change doctors all the time for all kinds of reasons, or so I am told. That tug on my loyalty shouldn't be the only thing keeping me there. Under that bright light, mouth full of tubes and sharp implements, it's not easy to be assertive. 

So I went home. Sat down at my computer and started the search. 

With only a trace of guilt. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

No Mister Bond - I Expect You To Die

 A reckoning is at hand. At some point in the very near future, someone is going to remind me that I once suggested that Timothy Dalton was the best James Bond. 


Strike that. 

I once insisted that Timothy Dalton was the best James Bond. I had some way too clever way of describing how Dalton's performance brought back subtleties of the character from Ian Fleming's books that were missing from so many other actors' portrayals of the super spy. It was a conversational gambit that worked really well for a clerk in a video store trying to check out The Living Daylights. "Classically trained actor," blah blah blah, "darker," blah blah blah. Made me sound like a real film buff.

Or a dolt.

Sean Connery is and always will be James Bond. If all he ever did was Goldfinger, that would have been sufficient to have his face emblazoned on the coin to commemorate the character. And yes, I am willing to forgive the blue terrycloth onesie he wore poolside and his offhand remark, "My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That's just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!"

I am also willing to overlook the hairpiece he wore in his last turn as 007. Never Say Never Again, unless it's to that toupee. Besides, it wasn't until after he let himself be unapologetically bald that his career really took off. He won his only Academy Award for The Untouchables, still a rough and tumble guy, but one who was not in need of a combover. 

He also played an aging Robin Hood to Audrey Hepburn's Maid Marian who was a sister. He helped bring Indiana Jones back to respectability by playing the archaeologist's father. People Magazine named him Sexiest Man Alive when he was fifty-nine years old. It's almost enough to make you forget about Darby O'Gill and the Little People. But no need, really, since Sean Connery was a giant no matter where he was and what he did. As part of 2020's insatiable need to suck more than any year ever, it took Sir Sean this week as part of the campaign to make this unrelenting vortex continue. But it turns out they took the wrong guy. He'll straighten things out wherever he lands, because that was how he rolled down here. He stomped on the Terra, even in a baby blue romper. And he will be missed. Aloha, Mister Bond. 


Monday, November 02, 2020

Thick And Thin

 The first foreign film I remember? Skinny and Fatty, a 1958 Japanese movie that I saw many years after its release. I didn't watch it because it was a foreign film, I watched it because of the title. It was speaking to me. In that model, I was Fatty. The film tells the story of the new kid in school, Oyama who is the round one, and Komatsu the thin one who tries to build his self esteem. This is especially the case when it comes to the rope climb in gym. 

I was miserable at the rope climb in gym. I was miserable in gym. Even more to the point, I performed poorly, and I felt poorly while I was there. I really could have used a Komatsu. As I sat in front of the television, transfixed by this offering from The CBS Children's Film Festival. Normally, I was tuned in to watch the comic interplay between Kukla, Fran and Ollie, the hosts of the show. Two puppets and a comedian rehashing bits from their glory days and introducing children such as myself to cinema from around the globe. If I told you that I had a memory of any other film in the series, I would be lying. This was the one that fed my inner stirrings. 

Wouldn't it be great to have a little friend who would show up and be my support even when everyone else is shunning me? And even if the other kids started to hun him, he would stick by my side and keep encouraging me until one day I could climb all the way to the top of that rope?

The puppets didn't diminish the pathos for me. They were the hosts of the show that was bringing me this peek into my own private struggles. They had seen into my soul, and instead of piling on and making jokes at the expense of the protagonists. It really would not have made me feel any better to have a clown and a dragon getting yuks out of the predicaments presented in Skinny and Fatty. My memory is that they were every bit as compassionate as the Muppets who would eventually inhabit Sesame Street. Perfectly capable of unhinged lunacy, but the clown, the dragon and all those urban fuzzy monsters knew when to tone it down for the sake of the material. 

So I still remember watching that movie, alone. I was clever enough at the time not to broadcast my insecurities to those around me. Not that this kept anyone from picking up on them. I didn't share them in the traditional sense. I embodied them. And even though my mother is mother enough to gently remind me that I wasn't a fat kid, I knew that I was the round one. The one that couldn't climb that stupid rope. 

So I started watching movies. Lots of them. Some of them were from Japan. Some of them were introduced by a clown and a dragon. I don't remember all of them, but I do remember Skinny and Fatty. And for the record, I did finally get to the top of the rope. Even if I didn't have a skinny friend to cheer me on. 

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Head Check

 Maybe I should have my head examined. On Saturday evening, I lent my strong back to the efforts of my brother-in-law's move into a new apartment. I have done this exercise before. A number of times. I lifted. I toted. I hoisted. And I made this suggestion: The next apartment really ought to be on the first floor. Somehow stairs seem to be inherent in the world where my brother-in-law lives and moves. 

But that's not the reason I should have my head examined. Over the past couple months, we have been methodically going through all the windows in our house, removing them, sending them out to be refurbished by someone with lots more window refurbishing acumen than I have. Then they returned, all fresh and almost new, and I put them back in the house. Where they belong. 

Which isn't why I need my head examined. It was a process that became easier each time I took a window out or put one back in. Learn by doing, my son's college used to say. So I grew a new skill. That's a good deal. No need for head examining here. 

Until I tell you that we had been putting off painting the outsides of the windows, because we were waiting for the glazing that had been renewed to cure. And we had to come to a decision on color. What hue were we going to cover the primer with? My wife thought orange, because we all live in a Yellow Submarine, porthole included. Why not yellow? Well. the accent colors are pink and orange. We know this because we looked at the Lego model I got for my birthday a few years back. Taking a Lego piece to Home Depot to match the color isn't quite head-examining material. Not quite. 

Waking up on Sunday morning with the notion that I could remove every one of those windows once again, paint the outside, then put them back in. In a day. By myself. My wife suggests that maybe I am too intense. Intensity may be the reason I should have my head examined. Not that my intensity isn't appreciated, at least once the smoke clears. That's when I feel the day slip away from me. The conversations I missed and the muscles that are sore as a result of my obsession. 

Because I won't just relax once I finish some monstrous task. I go looking for more. 

I should have my head examined.


 We have an election coming up. The vast numbers of people with whom I speak on a regular basis have already voted, This means we are all stuck in a place not unlike kids on Christmas Eve, anxiously awaiting the moment that we have been anticipating for months. Years. It's going to happen, but no one is exactly sure how it will all turn out. 

The surprises that await are not necessarily the pleasant kind. A little like the interaction that I had with a friend I haven't spoken to in quite a while. Not about politics anyway. We're both dads and we work hard and we commiserate on that level freely. But when the topic of "next Tuesday" came up, I learned more about how he felt.

"What do you think Joe Biden's going to do for you?" he asked.

At first, I was slow to react, attempting to gauge his sincerity. Was he putting me on?

"What about the economy, my friend?" And that last twist let me know that we were off and running on an actual debate. Not just launching platitudes and sound bites, but discussing the issues that affect us both on a daily basis. Dads. Husbands. Working men. I chose what I figured was some low hanging fruit, like the wall on our southern border and its relative effectiveness. Or lack thereof. He was calm and satisfied with the way that had been handled. He was glad that "at least he's making an effort." This came as a bit of a shock to me, coming from a man who was born and raised in Guatemala, but the more I listened, the more I understood. This was a guy who has not been given a free pass to anything, and he doesn't believe that anyone else should either. He wants the best for his family. That's his bottom line.

And he firmly believes that Donald Trump will deliver that.

Or at least he believes that Donald Trump will come as close as anyone else. 

My initial reaction was to recoil, but then I realized we had this safe space for me to speak my own mind. I told him that my bleeding heart is what brought me to public education and that I wanted a chance to help everyone that I could, including my family. I could not relate directly to the hard way he had climbed up the ladder, but I told him that I believed we should make it easier for everyone to have the chances that he took. No one should have to be afraid. Not afraid to try. Not afraid to fail. We can build a bigger net to catch the people who are falling, and build them up to a level where they can start doing the same for those around them. That is the ideal of America, and I was proud to know him and the way he achieved his dreams. 

Because I believe it is time for this nightmare to end.