Friday, September 17, 2021

Heads Down

 My daily runs last between thirty and sixty minutes. On Monday, during the forty minutes I was out of the house, six people were shot in the vicinity of my home in Oakland. When I say "vicinity," I mean that I saw two of the crime scenes as I was out exercising. Three of the victims died. 

That seems like a lot. To me. And I have lived in Oakland for nearly thirty years. The news that a shooting took place in Oakland does not always garner the attention it might. These tend to be reported as part of the "in other news" section. Or if you can put a helicopter over it, then you might wind up with some "breaking news" to punctuate your broadcast. Holding on to the conventional wisdom that "if it bleeds, it leads." 

Had I put in a few extra miles and made my way south from the second crime scene, I might have encountered the third. It should be noted that all three of these events occurred during what most folks refer to as "rush hour." This might have some bearing on the way things went down. They might also be connected to the ongoing fear and anxieties stirred up by living through a plague. A colleague and I were discussing what we believe is a slow deterioration of social contracts. We were noticing this as we tracked the number of cars blowing through stop signs on either end of the block where our school is situated. Our job is to sit out in front and wait with the children who have yet to be picked up by their parents. On a somewhat frequent basis, this wait lasts past the time that our crossing guard works. Once her orange vest and hand held stop sign is out of the intersection, it seems as though brakes become optional and acceleration holds sway. 

I am happy to report that our students have remained safe, and whenever we can catch a license plate we make note of it. And sometimes, the scofflaw turns out to be a parent rushing to pick up their kid. At which point we sigh and appreciate the way they managed to rush over in such a timely fashion. 

At least they haven't had to dodge any bullets. That would probably make it to the headlines. A shooting in Oakland may not be front page news, but a shooting in front of an Oakland elementary school might rate. 

Sigh. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Busy Weekend

 It's a snake chasing its tail. I find myself wishing bad things upon the teens who broke into the PE office at our school. Then I switch the blame to all of us who were too busy to latch our windows before the weekend. And what about those kids from our neighborhood who naturally found themselves here on that big empty stretch of asphalt, looking for a place to play. And balls to play their games. 

Which would be fine if I could stop there. Just go to the closet and pull out a dozen new basketballs and a few new soccer balls, pump them up, and get on with the business of recess for the week. Because we should surrender to the notion that as a public school, we are providing supplies for the neighborhood. Like the parents who stop on the out after dropping off their kids and take a fistful of masks to tide their family through the next few days of the pandemic. From the stock that we have been supplying all of the kids from our school and will continue each time one of them pulls the strap of the side or drops theirs into the toilet. 

It's not in our budget to endlessly replace the things that we use on a daily basis. Like teaching students that pencils do not need to be razor sharpened after each use, as if they were surgical instruments. That makes shorter pencils faster and we have yet to discover a use for pencil shavings. 

I retrieved the four square balls that were kicked on the roof. I dragged the chairs they dragged across the playground back to the coach's office. I found enough balls to get the week started. I reflected once again on the lack of daring these youngsters showed in their daylight ransacking of an elementary school. Not satisfied by the plunder they discovered in the coach's office, they went to work on one of the previously cracked windows at the end of our atrium. They accomplished nothing more than the need to replace the high impact glass that became a mass of spiderweb cracks. 

And again, I thought about what sort of anger and frustration could lead a teenager to an elementary school playground on a Saturday morning to pilfer the meager supplies and batter a window until you couldn't see through it. It is a near certainty that these are former students or siblings of current students. Who were caught on video surveillance. 

What happens next weekend? 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Continuance

 I have never been the fastest. I have, on occasion, been the last one standing. Tenacity doesn't always get you a blue ribbon, but it does give you the opportunity to see who else will win the trophy in successive years. I keep running in hopes that there might be an award where someone steps out of the bushes and puts a hand on my shoulder and says, "That's enough. You can stop now." 

But that probably won't make me stop anyway. I can remember running laps around the backstops at Columbine Elementary School. Somewhere in there I was asked to run with my shoulder pads clacking around the practice field at North Boulder Park. And then there was the seemingly endless circuits around the quarter mile loop at Centennial Junior High. In high school, there wasn't a lot of running. During this period, my aerobic exercise was primarily marching. 

It wasn't until near the end of my freshman year in college that running became a thing again. My father asked me if I wanted to run a "ten K." Having been brought up in the 1970's here in America, I had heard of the metric system, but had no real sense of what I was being asked to do. To prepare, I began to run around the perimeter of the campus of Colorado College. I had no idea of the distance I was covering. I simply maintained the idea that I should keep going until I reached the end. Surely someone would step out of the bushes and tell me to stop. 

This did not happen. Instead, when I reached the end of the race course, I was ushered through a chute where my time, such as it was, got logged in with the rest of the cattle in front of and behind me. Yes, there were a number of folks who came in behind me that day. I tried not to be smug about this as I made my up into the stands. Still moving. And as I made my meandering way toward whatever my final destination might be, I was accosted by a number of well-meaning individuals who stuck fliers for yet another ten K into my face as I became increasingly aware that there was no actual finish line.

The race would go on. And on. 

These days when I am out continuing to exert myself, I get passed on the left by someone younger or at least more sprightly as I chug along. Waiting for someone to step out of the bushes and tell me that's enough. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

 Every time you fill in the blank, the terrorists win. Filling in the blank was easy for the longest time. Every time you thought of something with which that blank could be filled, the terrorists won. It didn't really matter. Every time you buy breakfast at Denny's, the terrorists win. Simply invoking the notion was enough to generate terror. For the past twenty years, we have all lived in a heightened state of  anxiety. The terrorists are on a winning streak like Tom Brady could only dream of. That didn't change just because the government stopped color-coding our shades of fear. The threat level has been, and continued to be elevated. 

Interlude: My wife and I are stuck for something to do on a Friday night. A sudden burst of inspiration led us to the airport, where we paid for short term parking and went on inside the terminal. We had dinner at the Tower restaurant. We watched planes land and take off. We imagined all the places we might like to go someday. The food wasn't what made this such an amazing destination. It was all of that potential. It was an absurdly romantic evening. 

We can't do that anymore. The terrorists won. I don't wear my Converse high tops when I travel by air anymore. The terrorists won. I can't meet anyone at the gate anymore. The terrorists won.

And the most absurd thing about this of course is the fact that since September 11, 2001 most of the terror exacted upon American soil has been perpetrated by Americans. We hesitate to refer to mass shootings as acts of terror, but I can't think of any reason why not. Of course, it is completely possible that all of that Patriot Act and tightened security at airports have all but eliminated terrorist threats. But not likely. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. That and the right-wing nutjob down the street who is planning to blow up the Verizon Store in the mall because they overcharged him on his family and friends plan last month. And something about Planned Parenthood. 

Instead, we can just toss the War On Terror in a box with The War On Drugs and The War On Christmas. These were fights we never should have taken on in the first place. In each case, it turns out that the real enemy is the one staring back at us when we look in the mirror. 

Come to think of it, I've been writing this same blog for getting pretty close to twenty years. Not every day. Not even once a month. But often enough that I keep helping the terrorists win. 

Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

I Took The Call

When I got downstairs to his classroom, Jared was rolling about on the rug. His teacher had called me because the rest of his students had gone on up to the library. Only Jared refused to get up off the rug and go pick out a book. Leaving his teacher in a bit of a predicament, since he knew that he could not leave a student unattended. Especially a third grader who was voicing all manner of despair and anguish. 

So he called me. 

I relieved Jared's teacher to return to his regularly scheduled weekly trip upstairs to the library, and sat down in a chair next to Jared, who continued to froth about. Not in a violent way, more in a manner that suggested that he was attached to the floor and could not get up. 

"How're you doing, Jared?" As good an opening as I could come up with in a pinch.

After a few more twists on the rug, he sighed, "I don't have any friends."

Seeing an opening, I took it: "Well, what about me? I came down here to see how you were. Doesn't that make me your friend?"

Heavy sigh. "I guess so."

"And your teacher? He called me down so that you wouldn't be left alone. That sounds pretty friendly."

"Yeah." Jared's rolling stopped with him face down. "And Luis."

He was starting to come up with names on his own. "What about Marcy? She's your neighbor, right? Don't you guys play together after school?"

"Yeah," now he was on his back. Eye contact. "And William. And Felicia."

"William and Felicia are up in the library now, picking out books. Do you want to go -"

"No." Abruptly. "I don't like reading."

"Oh? What do you like?"

"I like math."

I gave him a moment before I played my next card. "What if we could find a book about math in the library? Could we go look?" 

"Can Yoshi come?" Yoshi is his class plush animal used for denoting who is speaking, and a source of comfort for kids like Jared.

"You bet."

Up the stairs we went. I introduced Jared to our librarian who was more than happy to direct him to the math books. And suddenly the day was ever so much brighter. Later, at recess, Jared told me that Yoshi had found a book that he liked. He promised to read the whole thing to him. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

You May Say I'm A Dreamer

 I was nine when John Lennon released his album and title track "Imagine." That was half a century ago. Americans were still fighting a war in Vietnam. Nixon was President of the United States. Cigarette ads had only recently been banned from television and radio. Charles Manson and his followers were on trial for the Tate/Labianca murders. Starbucks Coffee is founded in Seattle. Ed Sullivan made his last broadcast on CBS. Disneyworld opened in Orlando. Eighteen year olds in America were made eligible to vote. 

1971. 

All of those events are available in my memory banks, but the one that stays on my desktop is that song. It remains the most singalongable of John Lennon's solo catalog. So much so that ten years after its release, an episode of WKRP In Cincinnati used the lyrics of that tune to cement its place in my heart forever.  Over the course of the episode, station owner Arthur Carlson confronts his devotion to religious leader Doctor Bob as the censorship police come to the door of everyone's favorite Ohio rock station. Arthur, "The Big Guy," wonders how he can continue to let this happen. He brings the lyrics of John's masterpiece to Doctor Bob for his opinion:

Dr. Bob: That sounds like Communism to me. If there's no heaven, no religion and I assume no God.
Carlson: There's not an obscene word in here.
Dr. Bob: Not the way I see it.
Carlson: Go on your list?
Dr. Bob: Arthur, this is typical of the kind of secular liberal humanist point of view that gluts our airwaves.
Carlson: Yeah. But we're not talking obscenities here anymore, Bob. We're talking about ideas, political, the philosophical ideas. First you censor a word and then you censor the ideas.
Dr. Bob: The idea is man-centered, not God-centered. Man is an animal. The Bible tells us to put our reliance in God, not in our fellow mortals. Arthur, this song says there's no heaven.
Carlson: Ah. No, it says just imagine there's no heaven.
Dr. Bob: That's blasphemy.
Carlson: On the list or not?
Dr. Bob: I have no choice but to say "on".
Carlson: That decision was made by one man.

I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Imagine. 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Unimaginable

 Listening to the radio in the morning twenty years ago was disturbing. I had my alarm set to wake me to my favorite radio station. I was used to waking to the sound of my favorite AOR morning crew, with music that tended to suit my mood and my mind. Every so often, I would be dropped into a news or traffic report, but those were a mere pause in the important thing: tunes to start my day. 

This is not what I heard twenty years ago. The sound of the voices were distinct but confused. The regular news guy was trying to pull together reports from their sister station down the hall. The news station. They were trying to put together the facts about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. There was a lot more speculation than facts at that point. When accounts of a second plane hitting the South Tower, it became muddled. Even eyewitness accounts were hard to unravel. What people on the ground were watching in New York City was difficult if not impossible to comprehend. 

America was under attack. Across the continent from us. My mind leapt to the friends I had in Manhattan. Then they turned to the matter of my own day. How soon before planes began to rain down from the heavens in my own neighborhood? What could I do to prepare my family for what was starting to feel like the end of the world? Without any outside direction, my wife and I chose to go about our day. I would head out to my school. She would take our son to his nursery school and we would all wait for news that would tell us if we were in danger. 

Somewhere in there, the North Tower collapsed. Then the South. The Pentagon was hit. Was it a missile or a plane? At school, we didn't have televisions on to show us the carnage and destruction. I used my nascent Internet connection to try and piece together what was going on. Each teacher who showed up had a different account or update. My wife was met by a sign at my son's school: "Let's leave the outside world outside." Which was how we all got through the day at my school. There was recess. And lunch. There was probably some reading and math taught. But mostly we tensed for the bad news alerts that were pouring in. 

And we wondered when the high rises in San Francisco would be hit. How long before they blew up something in Los Angeles? 

And who were they? 

Twenty years ago, we had no idea. We wandered around in a daze, hoping for a clue. Shielding my son from the reality of the outside world did not last long. Like his parents, his eyes were transfixed on our new favorite show: New York. For weeks afterward, there were images burned into our memories. The impact of a commercial airliner accelerating into a skyscraper. Then another. Watching as those buildings collapsed on themselves and the debris fields they created. The hole in the Pentagon. United Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. 

I felt that day that my job as a parent became more difficult. I was going to try and explain to my four year old son how this could happen. My job as a teacher became more difficult. I was going to try and explain to elementary schoolers how our world had changed on that morning. Forever. 

I am still trying to figure that out. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Land Of 1000 Dances

 I love the nightlife. I love to boogie. 

Or rather, I used to. There was a period in my life, now so long ago, that I would head out most weekends to shake my booty on the disco dance floor. A good deal of this behavior can be traced directly to my consumption of alcohol. Which was considerable. As was my interest in twisting and shouting amid throngs of other like-minded individuals. 

When it became clear to me that the obvious solution to the problem of asking girls to dance, only to be politely turned down (or not), I started to build up my courage to follow Billy Idol's advice and dance by myself. This put a pretty solid kink in the program that others had set for themselves in regard to the mating ritual. Friends of mine were in target acquisition mode from the time we arrived at the bar and paid our cover. They were looking for someone who might say "yes" to more than a turn on the floor to "Rock Lobster." 

Not me. I was looking for open space. I was going to have the fun I paid for at the door, and I did not require assistance. No assistance other than keeping the beer flowing and the music loud. It was somewhere during this time that I acquired a reputation for being "a good dancer." A great deal of this was earned primarily by letting my inhibitions drop to the level at which I felt comfortable moving about, alternately channeling Elwood Blues and David Byrne. This had the amusing effect of having women flock to me because I was "so fun to dance with."

And there's your irony. I had checked the apathy box, which was exactly what made me so very interesting. Not that this ended my evenings in any sort of coupling. Quite the contrary. By the time all those pitchers of beer had done their work, I was ready to be poured into the mail slot on the front door of my apartment and left to sleep off all that magic. 

By the time I chose to stop drinking, this behavior was deeply ingrained. Many was the night that I would find myself in some of those same nightspots, but instead of the watered-down beer that I had once consumed by the pitcher, I was now swilling just the water. Which saved me a lot of money. And considerable hangover. 

And every so often, when the moon sits in just the right position, and the music is just loud enough, and there's an empty spot on the dance floor, you can find me out there. Shaking my groove thing. With a few dozen of my closest friends. 

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Blinded By Science

 Back in 1978, there was this comedy show. It was very anarchic and seemed to hit the zeitgeist more often than it missed. This show was Saturday Night Live. You may have heard of it. This will not be a discussion of that show's continued cultural relevance, since much greater minds have wrestled with that dilemma for more than forty years. Instead, I am here because of a skit that came from that second season, hosted by Steve Martin. Steve portrayed Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber. The primary joke was that back in the middle ages "the study of medicine was still in its infancy." This left the doctoring to the local barber, whose bag of tricks consisted primarily of letting blood out of his customers/patients. This was Steve Martin at his haughty, arrogant best, prescribing more leeches and more bloodletting for a man who comes to him with broken legs. 

Eventually, the mother of one of Theodoric's patients becomes incensed when her daughter dies under his "care." She shouts, "Why don’t you admit it! You don’t know what you’re doing!" 

This gives Theodoric pause, as he steps forward to stare directly into the camera: "Wait a minute. Perhaps she’s right. Perhaps I’ve been wrong to blindly folow the medical traditions and superstitions of past centuries. Maybe we barbers should test these assumptions analytically, through experimentation and a 'scientific method.' Maybe this scientific method could be extended to other fields of learning: the natural sciences, art, architecture, navigation. Perhaps I could lead the way to a new age, an age of rebirth, a Renaissance!" There is a very long beat. Then,  "Naaaaaahhh!" Back to the bloodletting. 

End of skit. 

Back in 1978, it was hilarious. A few days ago, I stared blankly at reports of anti-vax protests in front of a hospital in Canada. Canada, eh? Not Florida. Not Texas. Not the United States. It would seem our mild-mannered neighbors to the north are not immune to the radical lack of information that I had believed was primarily restricted to the lower forty-eight. Nope. While doctors and nurses worked furiously to save lives inside, outside there was a furious mob trying to make their job more difficult. This was not a skit on Saturday Night Live. Or SCTV, for that matter. It was real life. Confirming once again that you can lead a horse to a library but you can't make him think. Or a moose, for that matter. Forget the masks, and pass me more leeches. 

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Add It Up

 We have completed our first month in school here in Oakland. The difficulty level of the job we are doing currently has been raised from "unrealistic" to "are you kidding me?" Which has not stopped us from showing up and opening the gates each day and letting the kids in, much to the relief and appreciation of their parents. Most days I stand just to one side and herd those without masks to the nearby cart where we have two sizes of masks: small and big. The challenge being that no one really wants a small mask, since small masks are obviously "for babies" because the box from which they are dispensed comes with a teddy bear on the side. This means that we have to coach twisting all those extra bits of elastic around little ears in order to create anything that resembles a properly fitted mask. 

That's the first twenty minutes of every day. Somewhere in there we also need to make sure that the air purifiers in our rooms are on and functioning, and that we have decent ventilation in classrooms that were never designed with such a purpose in mind. And most every interaction between student and teacher is potentially repeated at least once because of the muffling effect of that cloth strip across our noses and mouths. Our office staff is no longer tasked with simple scraped knees or bloody noses. They are now actively consumed with the job of taking temperatures, checking symptoms and supporting take home tests for COVID. 

And somewhere in there, we are teaching kids to read, write, add, multiply, and how to keep their hands and feet to themselves. Which is to say that I feel lucky. I am doing my job with the support of my community and all necessary safeguards in place. 

I am not teaching in Miami-Dade County. Fifteen employees of that Florida school district died from coronavirus in ten days. Florida, where there is a mandate forbidding mask mandates, and the biological experiment known as the Delta Variant is running amuck. The question that leaps to my mind is this: How many educators have to die in order for something to be done about it? Something besides denying the existence of a disease that has killed more than forty-six thousand Floridians? As an educator, I feel compelled to ask what possible good can come from this experiment? You wouldn't send a teacher into a class to teach without curriculum, would you?

Then again, this is Florida. But it does not make it any less sad. 

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Crossing The Line

 They used to keep movies in theaters for weeks. For months even. I can remember when Star Wars, which was the title of the movie before it became a franchise-breakfast cereal-TV series-pop culture phenomenon, played at one theater in our hometown for more than six months. Long enough for me to embrace the quantumness of it and order myself a Darth Vader mask and have it shipped to me in time to wear it to a showing where I was allowed to get in for free because I was such a fan. Such a fan, in fact, that a friend of mine and I were once paid a dollar (each) to stop repeating the lines before they were spoken onscreen. This allowed us (both) to rush up to the concession stand, buy some Junior Mints and come back to different seats where we continued our repertory. 

This was not a singular event. Once upon a time, before the clone wars, theater owners who had a hit on their hands would make an advertising point out of a movie being held over for the "seventh smash week!" Your entertainment dollar was being carefully herded toward what became blockbusters. Theater owners would keep showing whatever was keeping lines going around the block. Or at least filling a matinee. 

Of course, this was a time before home video. Before HBO was making their own movies. Before movies were reduces to a little plastic box containing a spool of half inch tape. Before they became shiny coasters. Before they disappeared completely and started appearing magically on the ridiculously large flat screen in your living room. This was another time. 

We now live in an age where we can decide if we would like to wait the week or two for a film to become available on a streaming service, or pay the nominal fee to have it even sooner. 

Without ever standing in line. 

I remember, before the COVID, going out late in the evening to stand in line to see the first showing of the latest Marvel, or the "last" Star Wars. There was a cultural cachet to those experiences. I continue to hold personal pride in being an opening weekend kind of guy. I want others to ask me what I thought before they go out and don't have to stand in line. They don't because it's not there. The line that is. It will be on Netflix/Hulu/HBO/Apple/Roku/AskJeeves before you know it anyway. At which point, feel free to watch these films as many times as you'd like. Memorize the dialogue. But don't expect to get paid to shut up. 

Monday, September 06, 2021

Enormous Changes

 Greetings from sunny California!

Oppressively sunny California. I have been struggling with trying to remember which comedian wondered if Eskimos ever got tired of their weather forecasts. Here in the Golden State, we are kind of done with all that extra sun. We are on fire out here. And the forecast is for more sun. And fire.

Meanwhile, on the right hand side of the country, things are underwater. Initially, there was some relief in the word that Ida had been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm. And then the flooding began. Torrential rains pounded New York and New Jersey. While folks in Louisiana are still waiting for the power to come back on, the D Train is running late because it is under of water

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents part of this undersea kingdom , tweeted, “The Green New Deal, which is a blueprint to create millions of good jobs rebuilding infrastructure to stem climate change & protect vulnerable communities, is unrealistic. Instead we will do the adult thing, which is take orders from fossil fuel execs & make you swim to work.” 

And that may seem like a bit of hyperbole, but out in California where wildfires have been raging for months, commutes, school schedules and everyday life has been disrupted by the ever-shifting realities of the climate. The changing climate. The global warming that was referenced with such irony by deniers when winter came in such a crush last year is here now. The sun is boiling the water and turning it into severe weather that is wreaking havoc in all parts of the globe. Drought on one side of a continent and torrential rains on the other. My family in Colorado has felt little of this disparity, since they have experienced fires and flood in recent years. This summer has been one of few extremes, with nothing catastrophic. However, they can remember floods and fires coming in alternating waves in summers past and they can anticipate more of the same moving forward. 

Which is not news, really. It's just science. It's not weather. It's climate. 

And it's changing.

Really. 

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Don't Fence Me In

 I grew up with a certain distaste for Texas. There was a feeling among Coloradans at that time that Texans were using Colorado as their personal playground, and when they showed up they weren't the polite guests that would have ingratiated them to their hosts. The picture I have in my mind is that of a brash and loud recreational vehicle full of brash and loud individuals who expressed their brash and loud opinions about how things ought to be. Mostly, they wanted everything brash and loud like it was back in Texas.

I know from a solid bit of hindsight that the cultures of these two states were not radically different. Cattle and oil paved the way for a lot of folks to become rich and spread out across vast expanses of land that was never theirs in the first place. Those patches were described by where you could string a barbed wire fence or drill a well. It is no surprise that the fictional Ewings of Dallas competed for ratings back in the day with the fictional Carringtons of Denver. 

But somewhere along the wagon trail the paths diverged. Those small patches of blue that existed in places like Aspen and my hometown of Boulder began to spread. Soon there was a counterculture that became culture in Colorado. Democrats began to take hold. Liberals controlled much of the politics that went through the Centennial State.

Meanwhile, down in Texas, there was the constant battle to "keep Austin weird." This has been accomplished to some degree, but not enough to impact the general drift of things to the right. Just recently, the powers that be in the Lone Star state have made it harder to vote, all but impossible to get an abortion, and easier to own and carry your trusty shootin' iron. How did this happen? 

Maybe it has something to do with that frontier spirit that made settled the west. Nobody tells me how to live my life. Everything, including the egos, are bigger in Texas. They stood up at the Alamo. They stood up to all those who said that they would never last in such godforsaken waste. 

Yee hah. 

Now that same attitude is fueling a surge in the epidemic, and crushing the rights of those who don't own a ranch or an oil well. Which I can only imagine will create some sort of exodus, with havens like New Mexico and Colorado providing safe haven for those refugees of this death cult. My suggestion? Don't drive up in your brash and loud RV. 

Saturday, September 04, 2021

These Go Up To Eleven

 Bill Gates and his ex-wife have spent so much time saving the world that they almost forgot to put out a new version of Windows. 

That's the way I am guessing it went down. Back in the day, it seemed like you couldn't turn around without finding a call to update your operating system. Way back in the late eighties and early nineties, it seemed like the first version would be fine after a few tweaks that came along with 2.0. Windows 3.0 hung on for a few more years after that, but Windows 95 came about giving us the fear that we might suddenly be asked to make a change once a year. That turned out to be three, when Windows 98 showed up, and just a couple more before we had Windows 2000 dropped in our laps. That one only held sway for a year before the very futuristically named XP was rolled out. That was replaced by Vista in 2006 after a nice run, which was in turn remanded to the shelf by Windows 7. Then 8. Then 9. Then came 10. In case you thought that this trend would continue, you're in luck because in October we will be gifted with Windows 11. Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your computer.

Of course, you could be working on one of the Apple machines and have absolutely no idea about the progression of Lion to Ocelot to Yosemite to Pleasant Valley. Or whatever it is that the self-proclaimed geniuses at Mac feel like naming their operation systems. I imagine there is a genius in an office in Cupertino sole purpose at the company is to come up with random nouns to assign to their new products. Just like all you really need to do is slap an "i" in front of anything in order to raise the price by a power of ten. 

Why am I griping about this? I run a computer lab at a school. For kids. Each time one of these "revolutions" occurs, I have to set about scrambling for funds to get the room full of machines in front of which children will eventually sit up to date. This school, as you may imagine from reading many of the other entries which I have written about my job, does not have a parents group or readily available stream of financing the sole purpose of keeping us on the cutting edge of technology. Once upon a time, we were gifted with an extremely generous benefactor who showed up on our doorstep asking if there was anything he could do. "Would you like to have a computer lab with Internet and network printers?" I jumped at that opportunity. Replacing the room full of Apple IIC boxes and tractor feed printers only loosely connected by a hive of wires was a dream. It came true. 

And now, some twenty years later, I am once again tensing for the inevitable crush for funds to make it all work. Again. Better. Faster. Eleven. 

Sheesh. 


Friday, September 03, 2021

The Way Home

 It makes sense, after all. My son is an adult now, even though I have to remind myself of the fact of twenty-four years. My instinct to reach for his hand as we cross the street will come in handy in a few more years when I need help negotiating traffic. And all those reminders I got from my mother for all these years about how I will never stop being her son make more sense now that I have this context. I want to do everything I can to make his path in life easier.

Some things, I find, are beyond my control. 

As much as I would like to be the all-knowing all-caring source of all that is good an kind in his life, my son has discovered that I am a minorly flawed being. I do not know everything. There are things that he would rather not discuss with me. No matter how interested I am. Or pretend to be. And it's not like he keeps secrets. He sometimes sighs and tells me "I'd rather not talk about it." 

And this makes sense. 

I have to remember being in my twenties myself. I have to remember that I was looking for someone who could understand those bits of me that I kept hidden. Or shared my excitement for the things that no one else seemed to appreciate. It's a calculation. It's a wager, a chance taken on the world that is spreading out in front of him. I am grateful for all the ways he has helped expand my world. Formula One racing, for example. Memes for another. These and other cultural threads might never have become part of my quilt, but I have my son to thank for bringing me the flavors I might never have tasted.

And all the permutations of meat and cheese we have always shared together. 

Now he is on a separate voyage, and even when he lives in the basement just below us, it is a separate life. When it came time to figure out who would give him a ride to the airport, it wasn't automatically his mother and father who were on the hook. He figured he could just call a friend, just like he would once he arrived at his destination. A little piece of my heart broke then, but I know I'll be okay since his parents are still the ultimate backup. And his biggest fans. I can't wait for the next postcard or text. Or the name of the Korean Barbecue place he discovered. When did that become part of his palette? 

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Granted

 "You know what, kid? You've got spunk!"

"Well - I -"

"I hate spunk!"

It was this exchange, more than anything else, that brought me to the work of Ed Asner. While it is entirely possible that I was aware of his presence before I watched this scene because of the marathon of a career he had on film and especially television, but this was the moment that captured my attention. This gruff, shirtsleeves rolled up guy, was on the verge of giving America's Sweetheart played in this case by Mary Tyler Moore a chance. Instead, he spat his pointed indifference to her presence in his office. As a result, what would eventually become a TV institution was almost over before it began. 

We all know that Lou Grant ended up hiring Mary Richards, where she worked as associate producer for WJM-TV news for seven years. I watched them all the first time they aired, and then again whenever reruns appeared. This was one of the very few shows that proved an exception to my hardline stance that all episodic TV should be limited to three seasons. For example, I could have done without the episode in which Lou attempts to act on the crush he believes he may have grown to nurture for his associate producer. But mostly it was the better part of a decade getting to know the crew at WJM News. 

And now Lou Grant is gone, along with pretty much the rest of the cast. Except Betty White, also known as Sue Ann Nivens, The Happy Homewrecker. Maker. Sue Ann's tireless pursuit of the cantankerous Lou Grant was always a reliable source of laughs, as these seasoned pros showed their stuff. Ed Asner won five of his seven Emmys for his portrayal of Mister Grant, spanning the Mary Tyler Moore Show and its dramatic spinoff that featured Lou Grant as an LA newspaper man. And before you decide that he was just a one-trick pony, don't forget the Emmy he won for playing the morally conflicted slave ship captain in Roots. 

Then there was the way he supported so many liberal causes over the course of his career, including those that may have led to the cancellation of his hit CBS series. Ed Asner probably deserved some sort of special award or recognition for the way he proved to be a burr under Ronald Reagan's saddle back in the day. 

Now, he's gone. Lou Grant probably would have hated Ed Asner. He had spunk. He stomped on the Terra and made television a little more interesting in his wake. He will be missed. Aloha, Ed. 

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Spirit In The Sky

 You take your wisdom where you find it.

In my case, at this particular moment in time, I am taking odd solace in the words of fictional character, Tyler Durden. If you are familiar with the wit and insights of this person, I will encourage you to find a copy of the movie or the novel before you complete this next bit. It's not a requirement, and there will not be a quiz, but a little background might help.

You have been warned. 

Mister Durden said, "You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you." 

I repeat this sentiment here not to stir up questions about the existence of a deity or to jab at anyone's specific beliefs. I looked at the news and I saw Haiti being leveled by an earthquake just weeks after the assassination of their president. I saw hurricanes lining up to batter communities already suffering from a global pandemic. I read about the Taliban bringing their own peculiar brand of repressive theocracy to a country that hasn't seen a day of peace for two generations. People are flocking to feed stores to buy horse ivermectin to protect them from the aforementioned global pandemic rather than taking the free FDA approved vaccine being supplied by the government. Jeff Bezos is suggesting that the solution to our tired planet's trash problem is to send it into outer space. 

So, what if Tyler was right? I suggest that we all come together whenever and however we can in what may be the waning moments of our time here on the planet, before the Taliban takes over and sends all those they consider unclean into outer space on Prime Day, and pray.

Or at least apologize. We can do better. We need to do better. Before someone hits the reset button.  

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Still

 I went to my first superspreader event. First, that is, unless you're counting the past three weeks during which I taught at an urban elementary school. So, if you're not counting those days, attending a great big rock show at a baseball stadium with forty thousand of my closest not-so-socially-distanced friends would be my own private Sturgis. Without motorcycles. With masks. And I suspect a good deal more vaccine flowing through the collective veins of the not-so-intimate gathering.

My family made the trip across the bay to see Green Day, a favorite of ours since way back when I first moved to the area near that bay. My son grew up with them, pantomiming with a group of his friends to "Holiday" at his elementary school talent show. A friend did us the solid of making a slight edit to one of the lyrics to make it appropriate to the grade school crowd. Mostly. We have seen them now in four different locations around what we and the band all call "home." This one held significance in that we had purchased tickets for a show that was to take place in the summer of 2020. That didn't happen. 

So we waited. We held on to our tickets and waited. We waited for the crisis to clear. We waited for the infection rates to slow. We waited for a vaccine. We waited. 

Then, after what seemed like forever, a new date was announced. I would like to tell you that there was some sort of family meeting to discuss the relative safety of such an enterprise, but that never really happened. We all understood the risks, at least the mounting potential for hypocrisy on our part. This was not a MAGA rally. Quite the opposite, in tone at least. It was a communal gathering of shared joy and relief. Joy for loud music. Relief from being cooped up indoors. But as I sang along at the top of my lungs as I have so many times before, I noticed the muffling effect of the cloth covering on my nose and mouth. 

Which is why there was a particularly moving moment that might have gone unnoticed by some, when the boys tore into one of their more recent hits, "Still Breathing." Because we were. Singing: 

'Cause I'm still breathing
'Cause I'm still breathing on my own
My head's above the rain and roses
Making my way away
My way to you

We were. We are. 

Together. 

It was worth the wait. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Deadline

 Back in the late seventies, marginally known ABC newsman Ted Koppel made a name for himself by hosting a show that came on after the late local news in which he described the day's events connected to the American hostages held in Iran. This broadcast became such a part of the late night landscape that even after those hostages had been released, the network chose to continue airing "America Held Hostage, Day (fill in the blank)" with a change of title: Nightline. This move not only made Ted a household name, but solidified his position at the American Broadcasting Company for another twenty-five years. And ABC didn't need to worry about how to counterprogram against Johnny Carson. They had Ted. 

I would argue that Nightline was the first shot fired in the twenty-four hour news cycle war. Did we really need that much more information at the end of the day? Or were we setting up for the day to come? What was on fire? Where was the next conflict brewing? What were the imminent threats to our way of life? Did you see Nightline? The world looks like it's going to end (checks watch) well, soon.

The world did not end on Ted Koppel's watch, confirming my suspicions that the bang that we had all anticipated will not be coming, but rather a prolonged whimper. That whimper will be punctuated by bangs of various sorts: mass shootings, explosions, hurricanes and the like. Not the big boom that we were all tensed for back in 1979.

Things are blowing up in certain corners of the globe, threatening to blow up in others. We watch the cable news networks as they play out the catastrophe du jour with a crawl at the bottom of the screen that tells us about the catastrophes for which they have yet to receive video. And if you happen to step away from the television that dominates your living room, there are multiple smaller screens which will keep you apprised of the crisis that erupted while you were on your way to the next big thing. Many of us will do the collective favor of documenting the part of the world that happens to be falling apart in front of them just in case you needed some vertical video of disaster happening. 

I honestly believe that if I could truly pry myself away from all this media, I could convince myself that things are not so bad. Sure, I'm wearing a mask, and the smoke in the air suggests that there might be a nasty bug floating around somewhere, but maybe I don't have to be attached to the happenings at the airport in Kabul on a minute by minute basis. 

I guess I'm saying that I miss Ted Koppel distilling the Apocalypse for me on a nightly basis.  

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Band Aids

 Someone asked the question: Are schools contributing to a spike in COVID cases among kids? Which, as a responsible educator and firm believer in science I can only reply, "Well duh."

You see, there's this rock, we'll call it the emotional health of our kids, and there's this hard place we'll call the physical health of our kids. Stuck right in between are all the machinations of various government agencies that insist that we put them in harm's way one way or the other. All of the talk about "learning loss" tends to obscure the way we are treating this most precious commodity like a commodity. 

Obviously, if we want everyone back at work we need kids to head back to their less-than-chosen profession: school. Mom and dad need to be out there, stimulating the economy so that we can afford the lifestyle heretofore known as "normal." Trouble is, things have yet to land anywhere near that expectation. The notion that somehow our seasonal expectations of how things turn, such as fall means kids go back to school, don't fit in very well with the mutating, surging virus that continues to kill us. 

Am I advocating for a return to distance learning? Please, no. I have become immured to the experience of children in the hallways and the playground. Banishing them back to those Zoom cells would be about the cruelest thing I could imagine. Unless I compare it to the thought of losing a single one of them or any of their family members to the plague. Meanwhile, we have a risky situation here. We try and make it less risky by doing what we can to enforce a "mask mandate" inside and out. Fourth graders don't have a lot of concern for a government issued recommendation for safety. So now I have added "pull your mask up" to the litany of phrases I repeat endlessly throughout the day: Please walk in the hall. Hands and feet to yourself.  Use respectful language. Please don't stand in the water fountain. 

That last one doesn't get used as often, but it has been used more than once since this school year began. To me, this points out the struggle we continue to experience. All of those things that we used to have to do to keep one another safe are now a layer deep, just beneath the precautions we take to avoid contracting or passing along a deadly disease. To return to that initial question, I respond with a question of my own: Have you met any fourth graders? 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Bang The Drum Slowly

 It took fifty years for the Grim Reaper to catch up to the Rolling Stones. The last Stone to die was Brian Jones, back in 1969. Just as the fame bus was pulling out of the station for the bad boys of the British Invasion, Mister Jones drowned in his swimming pool a month after being let go by the group he founded seven years earlier. He was a casualty of the era. Drinking, drugs and excess made him a poster boy for the live fast, die young generation. 

And then a half a century passed. In spite of legendary hedonism and nearly constant recording and touring, The core of the band remained intact. Back in 1990, bassist Bill Wyman bowed out, after nearly thirty years on the road. In 2009, he quit smoking. A healthy life choice for a man of seventy-three. Seven years later he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he recovered. Lately, Bill has been savoring his golden years immersing himself in the comparatively mundane passions of cricket, photography, and being a recovering member of the Rolling Stones.

Mick Jagger seems to defy aging, as he approaches eighty years of rocking and rolling. He and the boys are still regularly found somewhere on the globe, playing for crowds that are made up primarily of people who were not born when the band was formed. His movie career never fully took off, but the side gigs Mick has managed to fill in his spare time have supplemented his meager rock star earnings. His career with the Rolling Stones has easily outlasted any and all of his marriages. 

Ron Wood, Mick Taylor, well, they are guitarists who have been in and out of the band, but it's Keith Richards who everyone associated with rock and roll has assumed at some point most likely made some sort of pact with Satan. Keith's legendary abuse of his mortal frame is the litmus test for all other aspiring musicians to emulate. Live hard, die young, and leave a good looking corpse used to be the standard. Keith only seems to ascribe to that first one. And yet, he lives!

Which brings us to the passing of the drummer, Charlie Watts. Just prior to stepping out on tour one more time, a health concern gave Charlie pause. He decided not to go out on the next iteration of the traveling show that has been playing stadiums and arenas for longer than most of us can remember. As the backbone of the rhythm section of one of the greatest bands to ever play through six decades, his tastes ran more toward jazz, personally. As a graphic designer, he was also responsible for creating many of iconic stages and record jackets for the band. Until he couldn't anymore. At the age of eighty, the rocking stopped. Suggesting that any of the members of the Rolling Stones stomped on the Terra would be a vast understatement. Charlie did. He rocked until he dropped. Watch for the Aloha Charlie Tour coming to your town soon.  

Friday, August 27, 2021

Misery Loves Three's Company

 Pity poor, homeless Jack Tripper. Underemployed, he is taken in by a pair of women whose roommate has just left. The catch here is that Jack must live a lie as the only way to remain in the apartment with these newfound friends is to pretend that he is gay, which oddly enough is the only way their dim and mostly intolerant landlord will allow this cohabitation.

When we're talking intolerant, there is no better example of that than Archie Bunker. His wife is on the receiving end of much of his daily abuse, but his new son in law who lives upstairs with his daughter is also a focal point for Archie's rage. Along with anyone who does not conform to his very narrow view of the world. The suffering in this household is epic.

Those wacky surgeons of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital have to endure wave after wave of casualties brought to them by helicopter and packed ambulance as they try to eke out some sort of normal life in the middle of a war zone. The camp's clerk is stunted in his development and continues to sleep with a teddy bear. One of the corporals clings desperately to the idea that pretending to be a drag queen will allow him to be sent home on a psychiatric discharge. Everyone drinks to excess, and the war rages on around them. Comrades are ridiculed and ostracized while others are sent home or killed before they can arrive safely. 

This is the comedy. 

My wife and I watched the trials and tribulations of a Chicago Emergency Room staff for years, hoping for some sort of happy ending. When Nurse Hathaway finally left the Windy City to be reunited with her pediatrician/movie star love, that could have been the end of things. Happily ever after. But not back in the ER. That place kept serving up trauma and defeat on an hourly basis, while the lives of those who work there were subject to as much personal drama as that that crashed through the sliding doors on a gurney. 

We watched every episode. 

Now we are trying to get off the ride that brings wave after wave of rotting corpses back to rip at the flesh of the folks who survived the initial plague. Eleven years later, some of the same crew continues to forge ahead amid the most hopeless imaginable future, searching for a place that won't be overrun by more death and more dead. No matter who leaves to pursue a movie career, the mill keeps grinding. And yet, my wife and I feel compelled to sit on our couch and stare at all that suffering. 

Because somewhere in there, it makes us feel better. My life is considerably better than that of someone being harbored as a closeted gay zombie who is forced to operate on the miserable racists carted into our makeshift tent in the ruins of what used to be Chicago. Over and over again. 

That's entertainment. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Stain

 August 17 will be a holiday for Native Americans, especially for those living in the state of Colorado. They will be celebrating the day that the proclamation issued by the Centennial State that called for its citizens to kill the original inhabitants of the territory and take their property was rescinded. The proclamation was made way back in 1864, before Colorado was even a state. The cancellation of that proclamation came in 2021.

It took one hundred fifty-seven years to make that change. Why?

Well, it could be that things got so busy, what with the turn of the century coming on, and then the next one, nobody noticed this little piece of legislation just hanging out there on the books. Like the one in Wyoming that says, "no person shall move uphill on any passenger tramway or use any ski slope or trail while such person's ability to do so is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or by the use of any illicit controlled substance or other drug." Or how, in the state of Washington, "slaying of Bigfoot to be a felony and punishable by five years in prison." What about the one in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado that prohibits the use of indoor furniture outside? Interestingly, up until oh so very recently, it would have been okay to snatch up that indoor/outdoor lawn furniture and kill its owners if they had been Native Americans.

So maybe this one doesn't fit so neatly in those "weird laws" stories that get tossed around every so often. Maybe this is yet another moment at which we continue to reckon with our racist past. Yes, I understand that there are plenty of people who will jeer at this idea of being "woke." I also understand that there is a reason for this jeering. It comes directly from that place that makes us so uncomfortable with what we have done to those who did not match our conception of "American." Which is such an odd patchwork or rationalization, I do not know where to begin. Wealthy slave owners who wanted to be free from taxation? Angry mobs who destroyed a Tulsa neighborhood, killing hundreds in the name of "justice?" The list goes on and on, and it is an embarrassment to all of us who call ourselves Americans. 

That 1864 Colorado proclamation eventually led to the Sandy Creek Massacre, where two hundred Arapahoe and Cheyenne people were killed. Most of them women and children. This ugly stain is part of our history. And now, thankfully, so is this moment of reckoning. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Slogans

 "My country, right or wrong."

"America: Love it or leave it."

These two sentiments pose a somewhat problematic noise in my head. Does that first one mean that I have unconditional love for my country? No matter what direction the leaders and those who follow those leaders take, I should be fine with that. The left or right, red or blue shouldn't be a consideration here. It is my country, and I take pride in being a part of it. I liken this a little bit to the life of a sports fan, whose favorite team has fallen on hard times, but you go on rooting for them because they are "your team." 

Does the second one mean that if you start to feel the slightest discontent with your situation here in the good ol' U S of A, you should take it on your heels and get gone? The irony here is obvious, since this country is made up of malcontents and grumblers from across the globe. We didn't like it in Europe, so we sailed away. We didn't like it to the north, east, west or south, so we hightailed it over here where things would be so much better than wherever it was that we came from. This is the land of dissidents and troublemakers. Complainers made this nation what it is today. 

The trouble comes from trying to live both of these ideals at the same time. I love my country, and I would rather not leave it, even though I have harbored fantasies at various times of skipping off to some happier place where partisan politics wouldn't be background music for everything that takes place on a daily basis. The first reason why this is always a fleeting notion is the inconvenience. I hate moving. Even down the block. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to pick up and relocate in some other country? I can't. The boxes and strapping tape involved makes me break out in a sweat. Then there's the other quandary: Where else would I rather be? Really. The circumstances I described in which partisan politics play no part in daily life sound a little like I would be happy living in a dictatorship. We'll take care of you in the best way we see fit. Don't you worry your subservient little head about it. 

So instead, I think I'll just go ahead and stick this out. I want to see how this one ends. Or how it continues to roll along in spite of all the barriers and obstacles in its way. Meanwhile, it is my hope that we can avoid a few more of those obstructions as we move ahead. Running our ship of state into every iceberg it encounters doesn't seem to be the best possible navigational choice. 

America: You got any better ideas? 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Jobs Report

 A week before school started (yes, the new school year has begun in these parts), I was part of a group of folks who interviewed a new director for our site's afterschool program. Apologies for so much "school" in the last few lines. There happens to be a lot of that (school) around my life currently. And for the past quarter century. And now back to our story: There were a pair of interviews scheduled, with the afterschool directors having done the initial screening, hoping to make our job easier by picking the best of the best from which we were to select.

But only one could get the job. To paraphrase Glengary Glen Ross, "second prize is you don't get a job." We would all like to believe in a win-win world, but that wasn't really the case here. We knew going in that we would hire one person. The other one was going back to log into Monster.com. I did not think about this at the time. I was far too concerned with getting just the right person to watch over the kids at our school who stick around after that last bell. 

I'm thinking about it now. As it turned out, after the second interview, our choice was obvious. One of the candidates spoke fluent Spanish. That more than any other particular answer to our probing questions dropped the job in her lap. Our enrollment is more than fifty percent Latino, and communicating with our kids and especially their parents required a skill that probably wasn't on the application. Suddenly, I was back in the conference room at the book warehouse where I used to work, tag-teaming with the other manager. We would interrogate prospective employees for hours at a time, usually around the holidays, looking to bring on some new hands for the big push to the Christmas rush. If things worked out, they would be asked to stick around beyond that. We had a phrase back then, when we were unsure about which applicants we might end up hiring: "It's just a temp." This is how we reassured ourselves that, if we made a bad choice, we could always cut them loose. Sometimes, when pickings were slim, we would rationalize our decision by telling each other that we were "just looking for a warm body." 

Again, it is only now that I think about what must have been said about me when I wandered out of that same conference room after my initial interview with the company. Yet another warm body. And then I think about my son, and his current struggle to find a job after he graduated from college a year ago and was shot out into a world that wasn't aching to have theater arts majors, and his former employer Best Buy had furloughed him because, well, pandemic. 

I know, because I read the news, that there are "millions of jobs being created." Which is good news to read. I know that I didn't have one to give one of our applicants at our school. And though my son has been called back by a couple of the companies to which he has applied, he is still waiting to be hired. Second place. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Every Breath You Take

 I was reading an article that suggested that every hot dog you eat shortens your life by thirty-six minutes. This same piece stated that, by contrast, a portion of nuts could extend your life by as much as twenty-six minutes. I say that it depends a great deal on the hot dog. Or the nuts. Perhaps instead of garnishing your dog with relish and mustard and sauerkraut as we have for all these years, you could sprinkle some cashews over it. You still end up losing a net ten minutes, but hey - nutty hot dog. 

Because we are all born dying. Each choice we make contributes to our eventual demise. For a very long time, I used to say that I didn't want anyone to have to guess what it was that finally took me down. I used to hope that my loved ones would all gather around my corpse, nodding in unison, saying "Must've been the cheeseburgers." These were the thoughts of a younger man. I could scoff and laugh and write checks with my time on earth that I didn't have to worry about being cashed. But for every checkbook there is a balance that comes due. Do I really want fries with that?

Which will always take me to that place where I remember how healthy my father was. For his age. Which are the words we use when we want to mitigate someone's existence. My father played racquetball and ran and lived a somewhat spartan existence, living in a mountain cabin without running water or electricity when he wasn't camping out at the odd housesitting gig. It wasn't the cheeseburgers or hot dogs that got him. The portions of nuts he gobbled did not save him. It was the airplane that got him. Your diet doesn't have a lot to do with your survival rate when the small plane crashes and burns with you inside of it. I don't mean to be morbid here. Or maybe I do, but I can remember being told in the burn ward that my father's overall constitution kept him alive for several days, but the extent of his injuries were taking their toll on his internal organs. They were more than sixty years old and his kidneys didn't have the capacity to deal with all the trauma they were being asked to mediate. He fought on and surprised many for a man his age.

Which is now just about my age. Sometimes I wonder if my kidneys would be up to the task of helping me endure a stay in the burn ward. Just like I wonder where my hot dog to nut ratio currently stands. The clock is ticking. For everyone. So I suppose I can take solace in the advice of the late Warren Zevon who said, "Enjoy every sandwich." Or hot dog. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

My Word

 It has the ring of what we, in America, call "genius." A guy puts a bunch of stuffing in a bag, and markets it as "My Pillow." Before we go very much father, let me insist that this might sound as if I am promoting Mike Lindell's brainchild. Not in the least. Rather I would like very much to point out just how inane it is that our country has come so far down its twisted path that a pillowmaker can become a political force. The first thing to reckon with is how a guy like Mike could stumble into a fortune simply by selling sacks of polyurethane foam. What makes them so special? I suppose it's that clever bit of putting "My" in front. What could be more quintessentially American?

Mine.

Mike still feels that way about Presidents. He continues to cling desperately to the Orange Blob of Defiance as his leader, with multiple promotions and insistences that we have not seen the last of the OBD. And he has the cash to put up to support such beliefs. Or he appears to. He offered five million dollars to anyone who could disprove his claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election if they showed up at his "cyber-symposium." You have to pay in the neighborhood of fifty dollars for the privilege of calling one of those polyurethane foam bags "My Pillow," so he'd have to make that exchange happen a whole lot of times before he could truly afford to pay someone to disprove his claims of voter fraud. Because all the other evidence that could disprove his claims of voter fraud were not enough. We are rounding the corner into a full calendar year since the "contested" election, and all those folks recounting and blaming equipment that has been shown to work perfectly fine continue to make noises that sound like a whole mess of foxes mewling over sour grapes. The chief technology officer for Texas-based Security Institute, Bill Alderson who claims to be an OBD supporter, took Mike Pillow up on his offer. When it turned out that there was no new evidence to refute presented at the cyber-symposium, Alderson went ahead and asserted that Joe Biden had won the 2020 election fair and square. The super-secret packets of information that would have made the certified results a lie turned out to be bunk. 

This announcement only fueled the rage of Mister Pillow, and so as we look forward to another Autumn, there are still those rabid, glassy-eyed zealots who insist that two and two is in fact three. The rest of us are just looking at it wrong. Meanwhile, Sean Hannity continues to fight the good fight by working impromptu ads for My Lindell into his nightly broadcast. The pillow I use is holding up just fine, by the way. And it's mine. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Blowing Smoke

 The sun was a red ball on the horizon. I have seen that before. A couple years back when wildfires raged to the north and smoke filtered everything we saw. 

And breathed.

Back then, we struggled with the air, and eventually surrendered to the oddly twenty-first century notion of a "smoke day" for schools to close. We stayed home. We stayed inside. We sheltered in place. We worried about those with preexisting conditions like asthma or allergies or compromised immune systems. All of this history jumped into my head as I looked off onto that sunrise. To the north of us, a wildfire rages. By all accounts, the Dixie Fire has the distinction of being one of the largest to burn in California. It has already consumed two small towns, and is threatening more. The blaze is so enormous that the plumes of smoke are capable of drifting over the Rocky Mountains and endangering the health of my dear mother. 

In Colorado.

So, a few years back when those wildfires were closing schools, we had yet to confront COVID-19. There were those, a few years back, who wore masks to keep them from succumbing to smoke-related issues. A few years back, people were actively seeking out protection from the potential poisons in the air. They were easy to see. You just had to look out on the sunrise.

Now we have masks by the boatload, and we have a germ that we can't see. And smoke that we can. The air that we breathe could kill us. Which makes me think of movies like Soylent Green, where Chuck Heston was running around a dystopian future, moving through crowds of poorly masked folk who don't have the good fortune to live in the purified air of the elite. That film's prediction of the future was made for the year 2022. It would seem that I may need to update my zombie apocalypse plan to include incineration. Or being made into crackers. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Victory Through Apathy

 We worked for twenty years, and we finally achieved something in Afghanistan: This generation's Vietnam. When I say "we worked," I mean that it took a tremendous amount of apathy to generate such a horrible outcome. Replacing the images of refugees climbing the gates of the United States Embassy in Saigon are those of Afghans clinging to the side of a United States transport plane as it moves down the runway. And the bodies falling from that plane as it leaves the ground. 

For two decades, we threw more than two trillion dollars at the war in Afghanistan. We were there just after September 11, 2001 with the intent of rooting out those responsible for the attacks on American soil and making sure that Al Qaeda would and could not operate from their hideouts in the hills there. Then we figured out that many of those responsible for the terrorist attack in New York and Washington DC were from Saudi Arabia. And once we caught up with Osama bin Laden, he was not in a cave in Afghanistan, but in a nice neighborhood in Pakistan. 

Which did not keep us from pursuing objectives in the country we invaded. Thousands of American soldiers died in defense of whatever those operations were, and thousands more civilian contractors who made the trip to support the "war effort." Tens of thousands of Afghan police and military personnel died, and tens of thousands more Afghan civilians. Somewhere in the midst of all that carnage, there was a goal of returning Afghanistan back to "the good guys." Just exactly who those "good guys" were was what kept us in the fight for so very long. The Russians spent nine years fighting in Afghanistan before tucking their superpower tail between its legs and departing, leaving a mess that helped generate the conditions into which the United States fell at the beginning of this century. 

I was one of those who insisted that he "supported the troops, but not the war." This was a very popular sentiment back in 2001. It rationalized the space between the war and those on the ground suffering through it. Looking back, I wonder if we could have found ourselves out of the swamp more quickly or decisively if we had all been more committal. I'm all for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but I don't know exactly where I stand on bread. Twenty year old, blood soaked bread. 

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. And to eat those awful sandwiches. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Mapp Of The World

 A light went out at our school last weekend. Unfortunately, this isn't the kind of light for which we can call Buildings and Grounds and have them come out in their sweet time to replace. There is no replacing this light. Our good friend and colleague Brenda Mapp passed on. 

Brenda was a teacher at Horace Mann for more years than I can remember. She was there with me long enough ago that we used to have a bit which went something like this: 

"How're you doing today Mapp?"

"Keep hope alive!" she would say if it had been a tough one.

"Oh," I would reply, "Please don't. Bob Hope is nearly a hundred years old and he's not getting any funnier."

And we would both laugh and go our separate ways. Until the day some eighteen years ago when Bob finally went to that big USO show in the sky. 

Now Brenda's gone to join him. Which is nothing short of a tragedy in my book because she was a great teacher and a good friend. She held down second grade for many years, and when it came time to fill in a vacancy in fifth grade, she made the move with grace and style. Her style. She didn't mind if she ruffled a feather or two, and sometimes kids in her class wondered if she was serious. Most of the time, she was, but no child had a fiercer advocate and support than Ms. Mapp. Long before it became the rhetoric of the day, she left no child behind. Hers was the room that kids would flock to, wanting to help sort papers or staple things or just to hang around long enough to get a little bit more. Her students left with knowledge not just of the second or fifth grade, but also the knowledge that they were loved and respected. 

It was only a few years ago that Brenda left to go live in Florida with her son and grandchildren. We were all certain that those kids were lucky to have such a devoted grandma and it was easy to imagine her watching them grow up and out of the house. Into the world. 

I know that she won't stop looking after those kids, and all the kids she ever taught. She'll just be doing so from a higher point of view. 

Aloha, Brenda. You stomped on the Terra, and you will be missed. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Dry Dock

 I could tell you that I spend nights worrying about climate change and food shortages and vaccination rates. Because that's kind of true. 

But I also worry about the Jungle Cruise. If you are unfamiliar, this attraction is one of the last remaining original rides in Disneyland. It has endured when the People Mover and other visions of the future have been replaced or removed. Those moments of pleasure taken on the river with my family and friends have consistently been some of my happiest in what is already the happiest place on earth. And I am terrified that it will all change.

Please understand that I completely understand and encourage the revamping of what were a series of egregious depictions of indigenous people and their cultures. Disney/Marvel/ESPN/ABC/George Lucas has assured us that Jungle Cruise Redux will "reflect and value the diversity of the world around us." And that sounds great. In theory. How it all plays out in practice will be a slightly different matter. 

My trips to Disneyland are what some people refer to as "a guilty pleasure," but since I tend to eschew guilt I tend to revel in the pleasure. Not that I don't take time to ponder the time and place in which I find myself as I pour my money into the coffers of the mother corporation. For so very long, Disney was the whitest place on earth. Depictions of other races and colors were primarily there for cheap laughs. Like so much of the culture that exploded out of the Baby Boom, there wasn't a lot of concern paid for everyone else. This was the dominant paradigm, and princesses were white and so were the princes, and the heroes were Kurt Russell and the bad guys were Cesar Romero. 

Excuse me. I seem to have strayed a bit from the point: I have reveled in the kitsch that is Disney for my entire life. I understood when it became necessary to have the wenches chasing the buccaneers through Pirates of the Caribbean. I also understood why animatronic Johnny Depps were inserted along the track. Politically correct and financially aware. Which may explain why there was never a move to put Eddie Murphy in the Haunted Mansion. Not because he is black, but rather because his movie didn't make any money. Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are a blockbuster summer away from having their robot likenesses installed along the course of the Jungle Cruise. 

Which will be fine. As long as that wink to the crowd onboard remains. Those elephants aren't real. That tiger has been waiting to pounce for more than half a century. At the turn of this century, the river guides were told not to shoot their pistols at the animals. Only into the air to scare them. A wave of relief swept over the robotic hippo community. When piranhas were installed in 2005, their pinwheeling frothing about were every bit as tacky as the wobbly cobras. My favorite way to experience the ride is to go later in the evening. When it gets dark the skippers control what you see via spot lights at the front of the boat. Only the moments that have a painfully amusing comedy bit associated with them are featured. The best skippers weave their new bits into the tapestry of sarcasm that has been created since 1955. 

I know that I could fret about the environments of real animals along the waterways of Africa and Asia. That would make me more of a citizen of the world. But for the hours that I meander the happiest place on earth, I prefer not to fret. There will be time for fretting once we get back to shore. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

But He Could Play A Guitar Just Like Ringing A Bell

 "Clapton is God." That's what fans used to spray paint on walls back in the day. Eric Clapton describes his reaction at then as, "disgusted and pleased at the same time." I was not one of those fans. I always appreciated his talent, but his blues always seemed somewhat self-imposed. I found his hovering around the Beatles amusing, and his friendship with George Harrison bordering on the sycophantic. Clapton wrote Layla as a paean to his best friend's wife. Whom he later married after she initially turned him down. That rejection set young Eric on a four year heroin bender, from which he popped up long enough to catch the ex-Ms. Harrison on the rebound. 

By his own admission, Eric Clapton was self-medicated for the better part of twenty years, right up until the moment that his son Conor fell from the balcony of his fifty-third story apartment in New York City. Conor's mother was not the ex-Ms. Harrison but rather another woman with whom Eric had been having an affair with while married to the ex-Ms. Harrison. It was after this and a string of tragedy that has been fodder for rock journalists for decades that Mister Clapton decided to get sober. 

Happy ending?

Well, except for the part where it turns out that Eric Clapton is a vocal anti-vaxxer, going so far as to record a song with fellow rock dinosaur Van Morrison called Stand and Deliver, smearing the public health's response to COVID-19. In interviews, he has complained about his reaction to the vaccine which he claims he was coerced into. He says that he was afraid that he might never play again after a reaction to his second shot. His stated rant about the response to the virus was, “I’ve been a rebel all my life, against tyranny and arrogant authority, which is what we have now, but I also crave fellowship, compassion and love, and that I find here. I believe with these things we can prevail.”

Two things should be noted at this point: Eric Clapton recovered from the vaccine's side effects, and he has not contracted the virus. 

So, it turns out he's not God after all. He's a guitar player of note. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

For Real

I had to double back to take a look at the story of a fifth grade teacher in Virginia who resigned from her job at a school board meeting. First of all, she gets and A plus for theatrics. Making a show of her departure sends the message that she really wants us all to know why she left her position with the Loudon County Public Schools. "Within the last year, I was in one of my so-called equity trainings that White, Christian, able-bodied females currently have the power in our schools and ‘this has to change.'" The tip-off here is the "so-called" in front of equity. Laura Morris feels that her voice is being silenced and her opposition to the weird and elusive Critical Race Theory curriculum is being quashed by her superiors. "Clearly, you've made your point. You no longer value me or many other teachers you've employed in this county. So since my contract outlines the power that you have over my employment in Loudoun County Public Schools, I thought it necessary to resign in front of you," she went on, beginning to tear up. "I quit your policies, I quit your training, and I quit being a cog in a machine that tells me to push highly politicized agendas to our most vulnerable constituents – children."

Hey Laura, in all the time you spent in teacher school or even before that, did you ever run across the phrase, "History is written by the victors?" Many people attribute this quote to Winston Churchill, but that may be because he is a white male who happened to be on the winning side of a war. Time seems to have paved over the originator of that aphorism, but it has been the happy refrain of the parties in power for a very long time. So, instead of being terrified by the suggestion that we have to settle all accounts at once by indoctrinating our children with ideas like slavery was bad and entire cultures and races have been oppressed or wiped out by White Christians, maybe we can try another CRT: Culturally Responsive Teaching. The lens that we encourage our kids to peer through to see the world in which they live has been smeared with Vaseline for far too long. It's about time that we stopped painting Christopher Columbus as a brave explorer and start seeing him as the greedy merchant whose faulty navigational senses brought him to a country that was already in progress. Much in the same way that Puritans landed on a rock they decided to call Plymouth because they couldn't pronounce the Wampanoag word for it. And when things got tough out there on the new frontier, we brought people from other lands to do the dirty work of forging a new nation. The founding fathers had some great ideas, but they didn't do a lot of the heavy lifting. 

So, dry those tears and decide if you want to be a teacher. For real. Or is it more important to be a White Christian able-bodied female? 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Long Game

 It took three days, but it happened. It would have been nicer if we had made it through an entire week. Even nicer if it had taken a month. But we all knew in our minds that it was going to happen, even if in our hearts we held out hope.

There was a shoving match in one of our fifth grade classrooms this past Wednesday. It wasn't much, really. Just two boys searching for their macho. One took the other's water bottle, which led to some names being called, then chests got puffed up, and before you knew it there was a commotion. The nature of the commotion is well known to those who have taught for more than two years. But for those who have only participated in distance learning, this was a new experience: physical altercation. 

There was none of that last year. Even when we had some kids return for half days in the spring. We relaxed into the sea of love and acceptance in which we found ourselves once we finally saw each other in the flesh. But there are temptations of the flesh. And if you're a fifth grade boy who is less concerned with education that the avoidance of it, then having all those backs to shove and shoulders to punch is sometimes too great a challenge. 

I know how the problem started. I have been supporting and cleaning up after one of these young men since they were in Kindergarten. Each new year has presented us with the opportunity to find some magic that will drop into this kid's life that will make being at school less painful. That pain gets redistributed on a regular basis not through careful mediation and peer counseling, but through puffing out his chest and shoving someone he has determined will most likely shove back. It's a skill that he has honed in the absence of fully connecting to the curriculum we put in front of him. 

I know that as the weeks go by, coping mechanisms for all of us will kick in and we will figure out how to keep those moments from becoming anything that resembles familiar. We've come too far. 

And we still have so far to go.  

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Wasting Our Collective Breath

 With each passing day, I become more convinced that the infection is not COVID-19, it is us. 

With each passing day, I become more convinced that it is not the kids at school that we should be worrying about, it's the grown-ups out there trying to ignore what's going on.

With each passing day, I become more frightened by the phrase "extinction level event."

How can it be that after all these months, with millions dead and still more dying ever day, we continue to argue about a strip of cloth covering our mouths and noses? If your state has suddenly reached a new record level of cases, how could you not know that there were more ventilators heading your way from the Federal Government?

How can I be writing blogs about how to prepare/defend against a global pandemic a year and a half after the onset? After eighteen months of not being able to teach kids in a classroom? After weeks of preparation, we are still negotiating "what is safe?" There is no tastiness left in the irony of talk show hosts who denied the existence of a germ they could not see dying from infection. It is sad.

End of story.

And yet, here we are. New president, new year, and even more science later and we continue to argue the finer points of how to stay healthy. Maybe we should blame Web MD. The million or so self-diagnosed cases of bubonic plague might be a tip that being your own physician based on something you read on Al Gore's Internet may be faulty. Ben Franklin was not a medical doctor when he came up with the phrase, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." That was a few centuries ago. Now we'd just say that wearing a mask is worth keeping your lungs. 

Unless it turns out that we are the germs and COVID-19 turns out to be the cure.